Pius XII – First Encyclical…

According to news reports this week, Pope Francis’ first encyclical is to be published on 5 July. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to prepare for his first encyclical with a look back at the first encyclical of at least one of his predecessors. Pope Pius XII, as the immediate pre-Vatican II pontiff, seems to me to be the obvious choice.


Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII
On the Unity of Human Society
October 20, 1939

Venerable Brethren; Health and Apostolic Benediction.

In the very year which marks the fortieth anniversary of the consecration of  mankind to our Redeemer’s Most Sacred Heart, the inscrutable counsel of the  Lord, for no merit of Ours, has laid upon Us the exalted dignity and grave care  of the Supreme Pontificate; for that consecration was proclaimed by Our immortal  predecessor, Leo XIII, at the beginning of the Holy Year which closed the last  century.

2. And We, as a newly ordained priest, then just empowered to recite “I will  go in to the altar of God” (Psalm xlii. 4), hailed the Encyclical Annum Sacrum  with genuine approval, enthusiasm and delight as a message from heaven. We  associated Ourselves in fervent admiration with the motives and aims which  inspired and directed the truly providential action of a Pontiff so sure in his  diagnosis of the open and hidden needs and sores of his day. It is only natural,  then, that We should today feel profoundly grateful to Providence for having  designed that the first year of Our Pontificate should be associated with a  memory so precious and so dear of Our first year of priesthood, and that We  should take the opportunity of paying homage to the King of kings and Lord of  lords (I Timothy vi. 15; Apocalypse xix. 6) as a kind of Introit prayer to Our  Pontificate, in the spirit of Our renowned predecessor and in the faithful  accomplishment of his designs, and that, in fine, We should make of it the alpha  and omega of Our aims, of Our hopes, of Our teaching, of Our activity, of Our  patience and of Our sufferings, by consecrating them all to the spread of the  Kingdom of Christ.

3. As We review from the standpoint of eternity the past forty years in their  exterior events and interior developments, balancing achievements against  deficiencies, We see ever more clearly the sacred significance of that  consecration of mankind to Christ the King; We see its inspiring symbolism We  see its power to refine and to elevate, to strengthen and to fortify souls. We  see, besides, in that consecration a penetrating wisdom which sets itself to  restore and to ennoble all human society and to promote its true welfare. It  unfolds itself to Us ever more clearly as a message of comfort and a grace from  God not only to His Church, but also to a world in all too dire need of help and  guidance: to a world which, preoccupied with the worship of the ephemeral, has  lost its way and spent its forces in a vain search after earthly ideals. It is a  message to men who, in ever increasing numbers, have cut themselves off from  faith in Christ and, even more, from the recognition and observance of His law;  a message opposed to that philosophy of life for which the doctrine of love and  renunciation preached in the Sermon on the Mount and the Divine act of love on  the Cross seem to be a stumbling block and foolishness.

4. Even as the precursor of the Lord proclaimed one day to those who sought  and questioned him: “Behold the lamb of God” (Saint John i. 29), in order to  warn them that the desired of the nations (cf. Aggeus ii. 8), dwelt, though as  yet unrecognized, in their midst, so, too, the representative of Christ  addressed his mighty cry of entreaty: “Behold your King” (Saint John xix. 14) to  the renegades, to the doubters, to the wavering, to the hesitant, who either  refused to follow the glorious Redeemer, living ever and working in His Church,  or followed Him with carelessness and sloth.

5. From the widening and deepening of devotion to the Divine Heart of the  Redeemer, which had its splendid culmination in the consecration of humanity at  the end of the last century, and further in the introduction, by Our immediate  predecessor of happy memory, of the Feast of Christ the King, there have sprung  up benefits beyond description for numberless souls — as the stream of the  river which maketh the City of God joyful (Psalm xlv. 5). What age had greater  need than ours of these benefits? What age has been, for all its technical and  purely civic progress, more tormented than ours by spiritual emptiness and  deep-felt interior poverty? May we not, perhaps, apply to it the prophetic words  of the Apocalypse: “Thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of  nothing: and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and  blind, and naked.” (Apocalypse iii. 17.)

6. Can there be, Venerable Brethren, a greater or more urgent duty than to  preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians iii. 8) to the men of our  time? Can there be anything nobler than to unfurl the “Ensign of the King”  before those who have followed and still follow a false standard, and to win  back to the victorious banner of the Cross those who have abandoned it? What  heart is not inflamed, is not swept forward to help at the sight of so many  brothers and sisters who, misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice,  have strayed away from faith in the true God and have lost contact with the  joyful and life-giving message of Christ?

….. Given at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, on the twentieth day of October, in the  year of Our Lord, 1939, the first of Our Pontificate.   

Read entire encyclical here

26 responses

  1. The first thing that struck me when I read this was not the theology, but the grammar.

    One thing I love about pre-conciliar papal documents: the use of the royal pronoun (plural and capitalised). Why drop it? As a speaker at the June CT conference said, “the Papacy has lost all the outward signs of majesty”. Which is a tragedy, because He is the Father of princes and kings, Ruler of the world, to quote the Traditional coronation rite.

    In the Annuario Pontificio Pope Francis is styled this way

    Bishop of Rome

    As opposed to the style his predecessor took in the same document in 2012

    Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of Vatican City-State, Servant of the Servants of God.

    I don’t think I will read this encyclical when it is put up on the Vatican website. I have so much excellent Catholic material to catch up on. I am ashamed to say I have never read a papal encyclical, which really is is bad because I have tons of them available at my finger tips. Which do you learned people recommend I start on?

    • If some of you read the above, and think to yourselves, “silly boy, he must have read at least one, the same one reproduced in full above.” Quite right, but I must confess, I am in the bad habit of not always reading blog entries to the end. It’s late now, but I resolve to read this tomorrow!

      • oops, Turns out it’s not reproduced in full, I didn’t see the link. Oh well, don’t think I’ll be reading that one!

        • Miles Immaculatae,

          The above encyclical IS given in full – in the very last paragraph where it reads:

          ….. Given at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, on the twentieth day of October, in the year of Our Lord, 1939, the first of Our Pontificate. Read entire encyclical here

          The “here” is linked to the encyclical at Papal Encyclicals Online (a terrific resource if you plan to read the papal encyclicals).

    • Miles,

      I got a study edition of “Against The Heresies” by Archbishop Lefebvre. In this study pack, you have about 10 traditional encyclicals from PIus IX, X Leo XIII etc. Not only do you have the full encyclicals, but you have Archbishop Lefebvre’s commentary. I can’t recommend this enough.

  2. “Can there be, Venerable Brethren, a greater or more urgent duty than to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians iii. 8) to the men of our time? Can there be anything nobler than to unfurl the “Ensign of the King” before those who have followed and still follow a false standard, and to win back to the victorious banner of the Cross those who have abandoned it? What heart is not inflamed, is not swept forward to help at the sight of so many brothers and sisters who, misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice, have strayed away from faith in the true God and have lost contact with the joyful and life-giving message of Christ?”

    WOW! That is what we need in the Year of Faith!

    • Petrus,

      Absolutely true, without a doubt. But we won’t get that because it’s offensive to the heretics and pagans.

      To be honest, I’m not sure that the modern Popes acutally believe in the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus any longer. When was the last time anyone heard them preach the necessity of conversion to the Catholic religion for salvation, or even heard them refer to the dogma itself. Their words and actions rather tend to suggest that they favour the great error of universal salvation. If not, then why do they never preach Our Lord to Jews and Muslims. They usually dance around the that duty with the falsehood that we are all the children of Abraham. But listen to what Our Lord says: “Abraham saw my day and was glad.” So only those who accept Jesus Christ as Redeemer can truly be called children of Abraham. Anyway, enough for now.

  3. Miles Immaculatae,

    Hang your head in shame, wretch!

    Right, there’s no time like the present. Get your nose into those books of Encyclicals and start swatting. Actually, when you start reading the pre-Vatican II Encyclicals you’ll find it hard to put them down, they are so enthralling by their brilliance and wisdom and utter fidelity to the deposit of faith handed down. They are also, as you rightly point out, magnificent in their language, the royal We, Us, Our, etc., that the Popes used to signify the great dignity of the Petrine Office above every other exalted throne in the world. And they were so concisely written that everyone could understand them.

    Switch to the post-Vatican II Encyclicals and it’s a completely different story. They are vague, indirect and ambiguous, boring, often lengthy scripts that leave the reader wondering just exactly what the Pope is trying to tell us. Most significantly, after Paul VI (who did use the proper papal language) – from then on – there is no use of language to emphasise the supernatural dignity of the Petrine Office, there are no Papal commands to obedience and there is no call to win the world to Christ the King and His true Church. It’s all respect for human dignity, ecumenism and interfaith rot, similar to what one would expect from a United Nations declaration. Something indeed has gone very wrong at the top.

    Anyway, I would advise as your first Encyclical Mediator Dei of Pius XII. You’ll enjoy that one.

    • You’re obviously very familiar with many post-conciliar texts. I think you’ll find this little game I found absolutely hilarious. The Pope John Paul II Random Speech Generator. Some light hearted relief in tormenting times like these.

      I think I am going to go with the book Petrus suggested, with commentary from Archbishop Lefebvre. I have been meaning to read some of the Archbishops works, so this way I’ll kill two birds.

      You’re absolutely right come to think of it: so may of the Church’s texts are waffly. I never took to the CCC. But I love the to-the-point Baltimore Catechism (and probably would the Tridentine Catechism).

  4. Yes, I agree with you, Athanasius, about Mediator Dei. Here one sees Pius XII’s vision of what the Sacred Liturgy should be just eleven years before his death and fifteen before the convocation of the Council that would eventually wreck it.

    I could weep when I read that third paragraph of this, his first Encyclical, and think about what Pope Francis might say in his third paragraph if he loosely models its structure on that of Pius.

    “As I look back, from the standpoint of the world upon the last forty years, balancing their great achievements against a few unimportant deficiencies, I see more clearly than ever the wisdom of my predecessors in refusing to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I see how the glorious achhievements of the Second Vatican Council have……………”

  5. I agree about the the beauty of Pius’ language, a beauty that lasted until Paul VI who continued to use the Papal ‘We’. John Paul II may have been many things, but his magisterial writings were usually verbose in the extreme and I find his use of Italics to be tedious.

    Let us not forget that the decades since World War II have witnessed an ever accelerating dumbing down of culture generally. Go onto Youtube and look for Mrs Thatcher’s last PMQs before she left office. She stands to Cameron as cheese stands to chalk.

    • It’s obvious, as you indicate, Firmiter, that the modern popes (especially this one) take their lead from the secular culture around them (dispensing with formal dress, taking the bus etc spring to mind) instead of setting a higher example. Very sad.

      It will be very interesting to read Pope Francis’s first encyclical. For the sake of recording history, I’m inclined to launch a separate thread on that, although I could change the title of this one and update with a link to Pope Francis’s letter.

      If anyone has strong views one way or the other, please speak now or take what you get!

  6. Thank you, Editor for posting this encyclical, the first in a long list of magisterial examples of Pope Pius XII confirming the brethren in the faith.

    The title of the encyclical, Darkness over the Earth is very appropriate. Like those of his predecessors throughout the twentieth and nineteenth centuries, the clarity and precision of language, and continuity with previous papal teaching are striking. What is also very obvious is that many of these encyclicals, including Summi Pontificatus are very relevant today.

    So much of the encyclical bears repetition in these times. I wonder will we see anything like the following in Pope Francis’ first encyclical:

    “The denial of the fundamentals of morality had its origin, in Europe, in the abandonment of that Christian teaching of which the Chair of Peter is the depository and exponent. That teaching had once given spiritual cohesion to a Europe which, educated, ennobled and civilized by the Cross, had reached such a degree of civil progress as to become the teacher of other peoples, of other continents. But, cut off from the infallible teaching authority of the Church, not a few separated brethren have gone so far as to overthrow the central dogma of Christianity, the Divinity of the Savior, and have hastened thereby the progress of spiritual decay.” – para. 29

    Paragraphs 52 -58 could well have been written in consideration of the modern day antichrist secularists in power throughout the western world.

    It’s worth noting that Allied planes dropped 88,000 copies of the encyclical over Germany. The reason isn’t hard to figure out, considering what the Germans thought about it:

    “This encyclical is directed exclusively against Germany. Both in ideology and in regard to the German-Polish dispute; how dangerous it is for our foreign relations as well as our domestic affairs is beyond dispute.” – Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo

    It was “partly very aggressive towards us, though covertly.” – Joseph Goebbels, October 28, 1939

    “This declaration of the Pope makes an unequivocal accusation against Germany.” – Reinhard Heydrich, leader of the SS Security Office in Warsaw.

    Nobody who knows anything about the Church’s dealings with the Nazis during the 1930s, or the attitude of the future Pope Pius XII should be in any way surprised.

    In March 1935, in an open letter to the bishop of Cologne, Cardinal Pacelli called the Nazis “false prophets with the pride of Lucifer.” The same year, speaking to a large gathering at Lourdes he condemned ideologies “possessed by the superstition of race and blood.”

    “As early as November 14, 1923, just five days after Adolf Hitler’s failed attempt to take over the local government in Munich, Pacelli wrote to Cardinal Gasparri denouncing Hitler’s National Socialist movement and favourably noting Munich Archbishop Michael Faulhaber’s vocal defence of Bavarian Jews. Of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave in Germany as papal nuncio between 1917 and 1929, forty denounced some aspect of emerging Nazi ideology.” – The Myth of Hitler’s Pope, by Rabbi David Dalin, p.63

  7. I agree that there is a definite difference between this encyclical and the ones we have had to date from modern popes. I look forward to comparing it to the first encyclical from Pope Francis.

    I think it would be easier to discuss and compare if we use the same thread, so since our opinions are asked for, I vote to keep this thread and change the title.

    • I will edit this thread when Pope Francis’ encyclical is online – presumably later today. In the meantime, the only update I can find dated today is this article on Catholic World Report.

  8. So, Pope Francis’s first Encyclical that we’re waiting for was ‘largely written by Pope Benedict before his abdication’.

    • Sorry, I posted before Editor. The Catholic Herald just said “…the Pope has already made clear that it was largely written by Benedict XVI before his abdication” – not quite the same as the Catholic World Report’s account.

  9. Editor: on the home page the Pope’s use of the word “Christian” instead of “Catholic” is asked. In fairness to the Pope I’d like to point out that in Latino countries the term “Christian” is used to mean “Catholic” as that is the religion of the country. Even in France and Spain it is the same. I never heard a Spaniard calling himself “Catholic” as it is supposed that if one adheres to Christianity, one IS a Catholic.

  10. semperfidelis

    You are right: “it is supposed that if one adheres to Christianity, one IS a Catholic” but today that is not the case. A “Christian” can be a Baptist, Methodist, Anglican etc.

    That’s why it should always be that Catholic popes and priests and bishops write “Catholic” or rather the translation should be “Catholic” – otherwise it suggests Catholics are no different from others.

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