Pius XI, Pope

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Pontificate: Feb. 6, 1922 to Feb. 10, 1939; b. Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, at Desio, near Milan, May 31, 1857.


After ordination (1879) and studies at the Gregorian University, Rome (Ph.D., D.D., J.C.D.), he became (1882) a professor at the major seminary in Milan and was appointed to the staff of the Ambrosian Library, Milan (18881911, after 1907 director). During this period he became known especially for his work in paleography and published Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (4 v. Milan 189099) and Missale Duplex Ambrosianum (Milan 1913). From 1911 to 1918 Ratti worked at the Vatican Library, first as proprefect under F. X. ehrle, and after 1914 as prefect. In April 1918 Benedict XV entrusted Ratti with the difficult task of apostolic visitator to the young Polish Republic, which had just established diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Ratti was appointed nuncio to Poland in June 1919 and titular archbishop of Lepanto on Oct. 28, 1919. His mission, extending to the areas that had formerly been part of the Czarist Empire, acquainted him with the difficulties in reconstructing the State and Church in Poland and in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. He was also drawn into the rivalries and border disputes of these young states. Still more delicate was his task as papal delegate on the Inter-Allied Commissions for the plebiscite areas in Upper Silesia, where his sympathies were with Polish Catholicism. As national passions heightened, the nuncio's situation became so untenable that Benedict XV transferred him (June 13, 1921), making him archbishop of Milan and a cardinal. After the death of Benedict XV, Achille Ratti was elected pope on the fourteenth ballot on Feb. 6, 1922.


Pius XI's 17-year pontificate was devoted to achieving the great task of peace and the reordering of the Church. After the collapse of the old systems in World War I, he strove for the Pax Christiana in a world that had not reestablished genuine peace. In the age of disappearing monarchies he referred the nations, war-weary and yet filled with unrest, to the kingdom of Christ. For him, the highest goal was the unification of humanitya humanity seeking true peace and communityunder the royal scepter of Christ.

Encyclicals. In his program of religious renewal, the Pope's encyclicals were of special significance. The first, Ubi arcano (Dec. 23, 1922), inaugurated catholic action or "the participation of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate" for the purpose of restoring a society animated by Christian spirit and of permeating all manifestation of public life with the Catholic doctrines of faith and morals. Although the organization of Catholic Action in all countries was very close to the heart of Pius XI, it took on special importance for Italy, where it was linked up with existing organizations. The pope stressed repeatedly its nonpolitical, purely religious character. The encyclical on Christian education, Divini illius magistri (Dec. 31, 1929), lays the foundation for a genuinely Christian theory of education, opposes the modern state's monopoly of schools, and undertakes the demarcation and coordination of the education rights of the family, the Church, and the state. The marriage encyclical casti connubii (Dec. 30, 1930) treats of the properties of marriage (children, mutual trust, holiness), warns against contemporary false solutions (marriage for a specified duration, trial marriage, marriage of comradeship, abortion, sterilization, infidelity, mixed marriage, divorce, birth control), and asks for respect for the divine commandments and esteem for the graces conferred by the Sacrament of Matrimony. Besides the primary purpose (children), the "mutual and harmonious development of the partners" is recognized as a "primary reason for marriage" (Catechismus Romanus 2:8, 13).

The encyclical on the Christian social order, quadragesimo anno (May 15, 193l)forty years after leo xiii's rerum novarumis the second great social encyclical. Going beyond the demands of Leo XIII, it presses for social reform, and under this aspect develops the ideas of the principle of subsidiarity and of the "corporate order." As a supplement to Quadragesimo anno, the encyclical Nova impendet (Oct. 2, 1931) treats of the world crises of financial distress, unemployment, and the international military arms race. The pope's concern over the growing distress after the 1929 world economic crisis found expression in the encyclical Caritate Christi (May 3, 1932). To offset the widespread misery in the world, the pope called for the Christian activity of love, prayer, penance, and devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus. In the face of growing dangers from the totalitarian systems of various states, Pius XI, in numerous addresses and writings, warned urgently against ideologies that alienated men from God, and he emphasized that the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the family, and the order and security of society would be secured above all by religion and the apostolic work of the Church. These papal efforts culminated in Non Abbiamo Bisogno (July 5, 1931) against Italian Fascism, Mit brennender Sorge (March 14, 1937) against National Socialism, and Divini Redemptoris (March 19, 1937), a defense of human society and culture against atheistic communism. The encyclical Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (Dec. 20, 1935) was devoted to the priesthood of the Church.

Also directed to the goal of renewing and deepening religious-ecclesiastical life were the World Eucharistic Congresses; the Jubilee Years of 1925, 1929, and 1933; the encyclicals quas primas (Dec. 11, 1925), instituting the Feast of Christ the King, Miserentissimus Redemptor (May 8, 1928), Caritate Christi (May 3, 1932), and Mens Nostra (Dec. 20, 1929); and a decree concerning catechetical instruction of Jan. 1, 1935.

Beatifications and Canonizations. Among those beatified or canonized by Pius XI were St. thÉrÈse of lisieux, St. John vianney, St. Robert bellarmine, St. John bosco, St. Peter canisius, St. albert the great, St. John eudes, St. Madeleine Sophie barat, St. Marie Madeleine postel, St. conrad of parzham, st. bernadette soubirous, St. Thomas more, St. John fisher, St. Andrew bobola, and others. Pius XI elevated to Doctors of the Church Peter Canisius, john of the cross, Robert Bellarmine, and Albertus Magnus.

World Mission. In pursuit of the goals of Pope Benedict XV's Maximum illud (Nov. 30, 1919), Pius XI gave new direction to the Church's world mission by urging the renunciation of the prevailing Eurocentrism, by the planned training of a native clergy and the recognition of the intellectual-cultural individuality of the peoples to be evangelized, by the 1925 Missions Exhibit in the Vatican (thereafter housed in the Lateran as a missions and ethnological museum), and by the encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae (Feb. 28, 1926). Despite considerable opposition, the pope ordained the first six Chinese bishops in St. Peter's on Oct. 28, 1926, and the first Japanese as bishop of Nagasaki on Oct. 30, 1927. Additional episcopal ordinations of native priests from India, Southeast Asia, and China took place in 1933. At the beginning of Pius XI's pontificate there was no mission diocese under native direction; at the pope's death there were 40. In addition, the number of native priests in mission lands rose from 2,670 to more than 7,000, and about 200 apostolic vicariates and prefectures were established. The Catholic population in the mission countries increased from 9 million to 21 million. Moreover, the apostolic constitution deus scientiarum dominus (May 24, 1931) officially included missiology among the subjects of theological study in colleges. A faculty of missiology was established at the Gregoriana and an institute in the same field at the Roman Propaganda College.

The Eastern Catholic Churches. The encyclical Ecclesiam Dei (Nov. 12, 1923) honored the memory of the martyr-archbishop Josaphat of Polozk. The abbot primate of the Benedictines was commissioned to promote the work of union by founding a special congregation. A novitiate of the Society of Jesus for the Greek-Slavic rite was established in Albertyn, Poland. The Oriental Institute founded by Benedict XV was promoted. Colleges for the training of priests of the Eastern rite Churches were founded or reorganized. The Ethiopian and Ruthenian Colleges in Rome were rebuilt. The encyclical Rerum orientalium (Sept. 8, 1928) called for greater understanding of the Eastern Churches, reviewing the past and planning for the future. In 1929 work was begun on the codification of Eastern Church law, under the direction of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri. In 1935 the Syrian rite Patriarch Tappouni was elevated to the cardinalate.

Non-Catholic Christendom. On the invitation of the learned Belgian primate and cardinal Désiré Mercier, conversations on the subject of union took place between Catholics and Anglicans at malines in the years 1921 to 1926, at first with the knowledge and toleration, later with the express approval, of the Holy See and the archbishop of Canterbury. However, the Holy See took a negative attitude toward the ecumenical movement of non-Catholic Christendom, which rapidly acquired strength especially through the support of the Protestant Archbishop Nathan sÖderblom of Uppsala.

Art and Science. Having come from a scholarly background, Pius XI gave sustained support to art and science. Among other things he had a new building erected for the Gregoriana and combined with it the Bible Institute and the Institute for Oriental Studies. At the Gregoriana he established faculties for Church history and missiology. The apostolic constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus (May 24, 1931) produced a unified, improved arrangement of Church study on the college level. In 1925 the Pope established the Roman Institute for Christian Archaeology. He promoted the Vatican Library, published new editions, encouraged the establishment of Catholic universities (especially the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan), and interested himself in church music and church art.

Church Diplomacy. It was only in the pontificate of Pius XI that the catastrophic consequences of World War I became clear. In the states deranged by the aftereffects of war and revolution, the pope strove for Church consolidation. His pontificate was a new era of concordats. In part the preparatory work extended back into the time of Benedict XV. Aided by his two cardinal secretaries of state, Pietro Gaspatti (till 1930) and Eugenio Pacelli (193039), Pius XI concluded concordats with the following states: Latvia (Nov. 3, 1922), Bavaria (March 29, 1924), Poland (Feb.10, 1925), Rumania (May 10, 1927), Lithuania (Sept. 27, 1927), Italy (Feb. 11, 1929), Prussia (June 14, 1929), Baden (Oct. 12, 1932), Austria (June 5,1933), Germany (July 20, 1933), and Yugoslavia (1935, not ratified). In addition he signed agreements with Czechoslovakia (1926, 1928), France and Portugal (1928), and Ecuador (1937). World War II and its consequences caused many of these treaties to lapse.

Roman Question. The most significant political event of the reign of Pius XI was the settlement of the roman question, which had festered since 1870. This settlement meant reconciliation of the papacy with the Italian state, since 1922 under the dictatorial leadership of Benito Mussolini. After two and a half years of difficult negotiations the lateran pacts were signed on Feb. 11, 1929. They comprised: (1) a treaty on the founding of the sovereign state of Vatican City (Stato della Città del Vaticano, 44 hectares in area) as a guarantee of the freedom and independence of the papacy in the governance of the Church; (2) a concordat of the Holy See with the Italian state whereby the Catholic religion was confirmed as the state religion in Italy, with freedom of pastoral work and of religious instruction in the schools and with state recognition of Christian marriage and religious orders and societies; (3) a financial agreement awarding the Holy See a lump-sum payment of 1,750,000,000 lire as compensation for damages sustained. For Italy this peaceful settlement meant the ideal conclusion of the risorgimento; for the Catholics, Rome was made secure as the center of the Catholic Church. After the fall of the monarchy (1946) the Lateran Pacts were incorporated into the new republican constitution of Italy.

Totalitarian States. In the aftermath of World War I and against the background of dictated peace treaties, powerful upheavals in economic life, and changes in social structure that affected all the Christian churches, there grew up in many parts of the world a completely new form of national life: the totalitarian state. Three principal forms developed: Russian Bolshevism of Marxist-Communist origin, Italian Fascism, and German National Socialism.

Between the Papacy and the Soviet Union there was no direct liaison whatever. In 1922 Pius XI made a vain effort, through diplomatic mediation, to achieve the cessation of Russian persecution of Christians. An attempt, through the Jesuit Michael d' herbigny and the secret consecration of bishops, to strengthen the Catholic Church in Soviet Russia also miscarried. D'Herbigny was expelled, and the bishops were sent to penal camps. In the encyclical Divini Redemptoris (March 19, 1937) Pius XI issued a sharp condemnation of atheistic communism.

Mindful of the stable power of Catholicism, the Italian "Duce" Benito Mussolini sought to avoid conflict with the Church. In the Lateran Pacts of 1929 he made a satisfactory arrangement with the Holy See. In 1931 serious difficulties in the interpretation of the Italian concordat were compromised, though Catholic organizations were gravely damaged. The Vatican's relation to Fascist Italy worsened considerably in 1938, when National Socialist racial doctrine was introduced.

In 1933 it appeared that the way was being paved for a settlement with the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler. On the strength of his repeated and solemn assurances as Reich chancellor to make the two Christian churches "the cornerstone of the work of national renewal," the German bishops believed that they had to modify their hitherto sharply negative attitude and that they could not withhold from the new state the cooperation of Catholics. On July 20, 1933, the Holy See concluded a concordat with the German Reich, the initiative for which had come from Hitler. Though the concordat was not the first international treaty concluded by Hitler's government (it was preceded by a trade agreement with the Soviet Union on May 5, and a treaty with England, France, and Italy on July 15) it enhanced Hitler's prestige in the eyes of foreign states. Combined with the German bishops' modification of their previous sharp condemnation of Hitler's movement (mentioned above) the concordat introduced an element of uncertainty into German Catholics' instinctive mistrust of the regime. In the atmosphere of increasing lawlessness and terror in Germany, the Holy See sought to bind the suspect new system to legal guarantees of Church rights. The German concordat was "the attempt to save the Concordats with several states of the German Reich by means of territorial and substantive enlargements as Germany moved into a quite uncertain future" (Pius XII on July 19, 1947). After its brief initial camouflage, National Socialism soon showed its atheistic face. Against the growing oppression suffered by the Catholic Church in Germany, between 1933 and 1936 Pius XI directed 34 notes of protest to the Reich government. Most of these went unanswered. These protests climaxed in the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (Latin Ardenti cura [March 14, 1937], which was written by Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli with the help of Cardinal Michael von faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich, and was read from all Catholic pulpits in Germany. The encyclical condemned with unusual sharpness the constant violations of law and the un-Christian teachings and practices of National Socialism. Taken together with the previous papal protests, the encyclical constituted a public demonstration of Hitler's duplicity the like of which was not attempted by any other sovereign power prior to the outbreak of World War II. From March 1937 on there began an intensified persecution of the Church in Germany, which was moderated somewhat only in World War II.

France. The relationship of the Holy See to France was substantially improved under Pius XI The encyclical Maximam gravissimamque (Jan. 18, 1924) confirmed a practical accommodation on the vexing issues consequent on the Law of Separation (1905). Aided by the resumption of Franco-Vatican relations in December 1921, Pius XI extended the efforts of Benedict XV to find a path of accommodation with the government of the French Third Republic. His primary objective was to encourage those elements in the French Church that wished to work constructively within the democratic framework. He opposed all extremist political statements and consistently appointed conciliatory candidates to the episcopacy and other key posts. The climax of this vigorous policy, properly termed the Second Ralliement, came with the condemnation of the nationalistic and monarchistic action franÇaise (letter to Archbishop and Cardinal Andrieu of Bordeaux, Sept. 5, 1926), which produced severe shock waves for parts of French Catholicism. The Pope, after long examination, excommunicated the adherents of this movement as atheistic and neopagan. The consequence was a release of the pent-up energies of French Catholics and the dawn of a new era in the French Church.

Other Countries. In Spain under the republican government (after 1931), anti-Catholic excesses occurred, including wild attacks on churches and monasteries. Against the harsh anti-Church separation of Church and State, decreed in 1931 on the French model, Pius XI raised a protest in the encyclical Dilectissima nobis (June 3, 1933). The civil war, begun in July 1936, led to frightful atrocities on both sides and the murder of many bishops, priests, members of religious orders, and Catholic laymen. In Portugal the situation of the Church visibly improved, and there was even a resumption of diplomatic relations with the Holy See. However, during the pontificate of Pius XI, Mexico witnessed a hard and bloody persecution of the Church there as President P. Calles (192428) executed the harsh anti-Church provisions of the Constitution of 1917. In the encyclical Iniquis afflictisque (Nov. 18, 1926), the pope described the "Diocletian persecution" of the Church in Mexico. In several addresses he repeated his complaints and protests and censured the "conspiracy of silence" in the world press toward the atrocities. After a temporary improvement, Pius XI again (1932, 1937) strongly protested the persecution in Mexico. Only after the 1930s did the situation of the Church gradually improve.

Jews and Anti-Semitism. Pius XI several times condemned anti-Semitism in the sharpest manner. In September 1938 Pius XI told a group of Belgian pilgrims: "Anti-Semitism is inadmissable. Spiritually we are all Semites." Ten years previously, on March 25, 1928, the Holy Office, with papal approval, had issued a formal condemnation of anti-Semitism. In the summer of 1938, after the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, Pius XI, wishing to expand that document's condemnation of racism, commissioned another encyclical which would condemn anti-Semitism. Drafted by the Jesuits John LaFarge, Gustav Gundlach, and Gustave Desbuquois, the text was not yet ready for publication at the death of Pius XI on Feb. 10, 1939. His successor, pius xii, felt that the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe required him to concentrate all his efforts toward preventing the outbreak of war. When these efforts failed, he incorporated portions of the draft in his first encyclical summi pontificatus (Oct. 20, 1939).

Character. A man of simple, sober character and strong integrity, Pius XI was averse to all ostentation.Quite conscious of the fragility of the peace in the inter-war years, he made every effort to strengthen the will to peace, to encourage international organization, and to contain racism and excessive nationalism, which he saw as the major threats to peace. Despite the external misfortunes of his pontificate, Pius XI appears as one of the most significant and most able of the popes of modern times. He died shortly before the outbreak of World War II and was interred in the grotto under St. Peter's.

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