One God, many peoples: Pope Pius XII on patriotism and the unity of mankind

The Catholic Church is accused on the one hand of destroying peoples with a creeping cosmopolitanism and on the other hand of encouraging warlike national loyalty.  There seems to be a law of nature that whatever a man doesn’t like, he will find some way to blame it on the Catholic Church.  Let us ask what the Church herself teaches.  Fortunately, the Church has addressed this issue at length, and once more did so before Vatican II, when the Church spoke clearly in her own idiom rather than trying to cloak her teaching in secular categories.

Excerpts from Summi Potificatus:  “Encyclical of His Holiness Pope Pius XII On the Unity of Human Society October 20, 1939”.

23. Venerable Brethren, as We write these lines the terrible news comes to Us that the dread tempest of war is already raging despite all Our efforts to avert it…

34. Among the many errors which derive from the poisoned source of religious and moral agnosticism, We would draw your attention, Venerable Brethren, to two in particular, as being those which more than others render almost impossible or at least precarious and uncertain, the peaceful intercourse of peoples.

35. The first of these pernicious errors, widespread today, is the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the redeeming Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross to His Heavenly Father on behalf of sinful mankind.

42. In the light of this unity of all mankind, which exists in law and in fact, individuals do not feel themselves isolated units, like grains of sand, but united by the very force of their nature and by their internal destiny, into an organic, harmonious mutual relationship which varies with the changing of times.

43. And the nations, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture, are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by the sharing of their own peculiar gifts and by that reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and a lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same Father and all those redeemed by the same Divine Blood.

44. The Church of Christ, the faithful depository of the teaching of Divine Wisdom, cannot and does not think of deprecating or disdaining the particular characteristics which each people, with jealous and intelligible pride, cherishes and retains as a precious heritage. Her aim is a supernatural union in all-embracing love, deeply felt and practiced, and not the unity which is exclusively external and superficial and by that very fact weak.

45. The Church hails with joy and follows with her maternal blessing every method of guidance and care which aims at a wise and orderly evolution of particular forces and tendencies having their origin in the individual character of each race, provided that they are not opposed to the duties incumbent on men from their unity of origin and common destiny.

51. Venerable Brethren, forgetfulness of the law of universal charity — of that charity which alone can consolidate peace by extinguishing hatred and softening envies and dissensions — is the source of very grave evils for peaceful relations between nations.

52. But there is yet another error no less pernicious to the well-being of the nations and to the prosperity of that great human society which gathers together and embraces within its confines all races. It is the error contained in those ideas which do not hesitate to divorce civil authority from every kind of dependence upon the Supreme Being — First Source and absolute Master of man and of society — and from every restraint of a Higher Law derived from God as from its First Source. Thus they accord the civil authority an unrestricted field of action that is at the mercy of the changeful tide of human will, or of the dictates of casual historical claims, and of the interests of a few.

55 Where the dependence of human right upon the Divine is denied, where appeal is made only to some insecure idea of a merely human authority, and an autonomy is claimed which rests only upon a utilitarian morality, there human law itself justly forfeits in its more weighty application the moral force which is the essential condition for its acknowledgment and also for its demand of sacrifices.

59. Hence, it is the noble prerogative and function of the State to control, aid and direct the private and individual activities of national life that they converge harmoniously towards the common good. That good can neither be defined according to arbitrary ideas nor can it accept for its standard primarily the material prosperity of society, but rather it should be defined according to the harmonious development and the natural perfection of man. It is for this perfection that society is designed by the Creator as a means.

60. To consider the State as something ultimate to which everything else should be subordinated and directed, cannot fail to harm the true and lasting prosperity of nations. This can happen either when unrestricted dominion comes to be conferred on the State as having a mandate from the nation, people, or even a social order, or when the State arrogates such dominion to itself as absolute master, despotically, without any mandate whatsoever. If, in fact, the State lays claim to and directs private enterprises, these, ruled as they are by delicate and complicated internal principles which guarantee and assure the realization of their special aims, may be damaged to the detriment of the public good, by being wrenched from their natural surroundings, that is, from responsible private action.

61. Further, there would be danger lest the primary and essential cell of society, the family, with its well-being and its growth, should come to be considered from the narrow standpoint of national power, and lest it be forgotten that man and the family are by nature anterior to the State, and that the Creator has given to both of them powers and rights and has assigned them a mission and a charge that correspond to undeniable natural requirements.

66. In any case, the more burdensome the material sacrifices demanded of the individual and the family by the State, the more must the rights of conscience be to it sacred and inviolable. Goods, blood it can demand; but the soul redeemed by God, never. The charge laid by God on parents to provide for the material and spiritual good of their offspring and to procure for them a suitable training saturated with the true spirit of religion, cannot be wrested from them without grave violation of their rights.

67. Undoubtedly, that formation should aim as well at the preparation of youth to fulfill with intelligent understanding and pride those offices of a noble patriotism which give to one’s earthly fatherland all due measure of love, self-devotion and service. But, on the other hand, a formation which forgot or, worse still, deliberately neglected to direct the eyes and hearts of youth to the heavenly country would be an injustice to youth, an injustice against the inalienable duties and rights of the Christian family and an excess to which a check must be opposed, in the interests even of the people and of the State itself.

And, just to confuse those of you who’ve bought the party line about Vatican II discovering the laity, I leave you with this:

89. This collaboration of the laity with the priesthood in all classes, categories and groups reveals precious industry and to the laity is entrusted a mission than which noble and loyal hearts could desire none higher nor more consoling. This apostolic work, carried out according to the mind of the Church, consecrates the layman as a kind of “Minister to Christ” in the sense which Saint Augustine explains as follows: “When, Brethren, you hear Our Lord saying: where I am there too will My servant be, do not think solely of good bishops and clerics.” You too in your way minister to Christ by a good life, by almsgiving, by preaching His Name and teaching to whom you can. Thus every father should recognize that it is under this title that he owes paternal affection to his family. Let it be for the sake of Christ and for life everlasting, that he admonishes all his household, teaches, exhorts, reproves, shows kindness, corrects; and thus in his own home he will fulfill an ecclesiastical and in a way an episcopal office ministering to Christ, that he may be for ever with Him” (on The Gospel according to Saint John, tract 51, n. 13).

90. In promoting this participation by the laity in the apostolate, which is so important in our times, the family has a special mission, for it is the spirit of the family that exercises the most powerful influence on that of the rising generation. As long as the sacred flame of the Faith burns on the domestic hearth, and the parents forge and fashion the lives of their children in accordance with this Faith, youth will be ever ready to acknowledge the royal prerogatives of the Redeemer, and to oppose those who wish to exclude Him from society or wrongly to usurp His rights.


5 Responses

  1. […] The unity of all men in Christ does not mean the destruction of groups and stations, but their confirmation and purification in the spirit of charity.  This, at least, has always been the official Catholic view. […]

  2. […] The unity of all men in Christ does not mean the destruction of groups and stations, but their confirmation and purification in the spirit of charity.  This, at least, has always been the official Catholic view. […]

  3. I don’t really understand it. I was always under the impression that for the first 1000 or so years of the Church, it was generally thought that Christians should live in one Roman Empire, not many nations. This is why later empires and nations liked to pretend that they are the successor of the Empire and hence the only ones who have true wordly authority. When Saint Stephen, king of Hungary, found his country wedged between two large empires who both thought they are the only lawful wordly rulers and other kings should be their representatives, had to invent an independent source of Christian sacral authority behind the kingdom (the whole Regnum Marianum story) just to have a justification for independence.

    Is this acceptance of nations ruled by kings who derive their authority from nothing particularly divine – let alone democracies – just an adaptation, or something more profound and older?

    When was the first time non-imperial subjects were converted en masse and yet not even pushed to become subjects of the Imperator or the kaisers, tzars and basilei who pretended to be his successors?

  4. > this acceptance of nations ruled by kings who derive their authority from nothing particularly divine
    I certainly wouldn’t go that far! A king, emperor, commune, or tribal cheif in Christendom would always be seen as receiving whatever authority he had from God. For scholastic theologians, this would be just a statement of the nature of legitimacy, but at the popular level there was nearly always embedded in civic myths. You are right, of course, that there was always a strain of thought in Christendom that regarded its political unity under a rejuvinated Roman Empire as ideal (cf. Dante).

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