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A Prophetic Treasure From The Pen Of Venerable Pope Pius XII

April 14, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By JAMES MONTI

We have all heard many times our Lord’s parable of the hidden treasure, as recounted by St. Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44).
That hidden treasure is, of course, our faith, our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. But notice here that to obtain this hidden treasure the man buys the entire field. Having “bought the field” whether as converts or as cradle Catholics, we come to find that in the field are buried a myriad of other treasures, treasures that over the course of two millennia Holy Mother Church has buried there for us to discover and rejoice in.
I am thinking here of the hidden treasures of our Catholic patrimony, from the great pronouncements of the Magisterium across the centuries to works of Catholic literature, art, architecture, and music. Some are “hidden” simply in the sense that they are new to us personally when we first learn of them.
Others are hidden in a deeper sense insofar as they are new not only to us but to most of our fellow Catholics, literary and artistic effusions of the faith of Catholics from centuries past whose names have long since been forgotten but whose spiritual handiwork quietly rests on long-since unvisited bookshelves or in seldom-visited corners of Catholic churches, monasteries, and museums, awaiting rediscovery.
For me personally, these “discoveries” are most often in the form of beautiful Catholic books or liturgical ceremonies from the late Middle Ages and the Baroque Era. But this time I want to share with you a discovery of a somewhat more recent sort, an encyclical less than a century old from the pen of Venerable Pius XII.
Perhaps this 1939 encyclical Summi Pontificatus is not new to many of you, but it is certainly new to me, and what the venerable Pontiff has to say about the battle for the faith in an increasingly hostile world is timelier than ever. But in addition to hearing in these words the clear and resolute voice of Peter, we also catch a glimpse of Pope Pius as a man of God, a man of singular sanctity and prophetic perception grieved to the depth of his soul by the evils he was confronting.
In this his first encyclical, the Pontiff identifies the renunciation of moral norms as the root of all modern evils:
“. . . It is certain that the radical and ultimate cause of the evils which We deplore in modern society is the denial and rejection of a universal norm of morality. . . . We mean the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself. . . . When God is hated, every basis of morality is undermined; the voice of conscience is stilled or at any rate grows very faint, that voice which teaches even to the illiterate and to uncivilized tribes what is good and what is bad” (Summi Pontificatus, October 20, 1939, n. 28 — Vatican website translation — © Libreria Editrice Vaticana).
Drawing upon one of the most dramatic details of the Passion, Pope Pius sees this repudiation of morality as nothing less than a return to the depravity of paganism, extinguishing the light of Christ in modern culture in a manner not unlike the darkness that overspread the Earth at the crucifixion:
“The Holy Gospel narrates that when Jesus was crucified ‘there was darkness over the whole earth’ (Matthew xxvii. 45); a terrifying symbol of what happened and what still happens spiritually wherever incredulity, blind and proud of itself, has succeeded in excluding Christ from modern life….The consequence is that the moral values by which in other times public and private conduct was gauged have fallen into disuse; and the much vaunted civilization of society . . . has caused to reappear, in regions in which for many centuries shone the splendors of Christian civilization, in a manner ever clearer, ever more distinct, ever more distressing, the signs of a corrupt and corrupting paganism: ‘There was darkness when they crucified Jesus’ (Roman Breviary, Good Friday, Response Five)” (n. 30).
Pope Pius traces the origin of this “denial of the fundamentals of morality” to the Protestant Reformation in Europe, a continent that in former times, “educated, ennobled and civilized by the Cross, had reached such a degree of civil progress as to become the teacher of other peoples,” but where, in the aftermath of the Reformation, all too many of those estranged from the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church had grown willing to deny even “the central dogma of Christianity,” the divinity of Christ, thereby accelerating the advance of “spiritual decay” (n. 29).
Many have been lured to this decay by a false promise of freedom couched in “a mirage of glittering phrases,” such that, “. . . they spoke of progress, when they were going back; of being raised, when they groveled” (n. 31). And then as now, the expulsion of Christ and His teachings from the public square threatens the life of “the primary and essential cell of society,” the family:
“Before Us stand out with painful clarity the dangers We fear will accrue to this and coming generations from the neglect or non-recognition, the minimizing and the gradual abolition of the rights peculiar to the family. . . . Whoever has the care of souls and can search hearts, knows the hidden tears of mothers, the resigned sorrow of so many fathers, the countless bitterness of which no statistics tell nor can tell. . . . 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” (nn. 63-64, 66).
The Pontiff, “tempted to lay down Our pen,” he confesses, by the appalling specter of the world war that had begun as he was writing his encyclical (n. 23), sees such events as passing the ultimate verdict upon the ideologies from which they arose: “From the immense vortex of error and anti-Christian movements there has come forth a crop of such poignant disasters as to constitute a condemnation surpassing in its conclusiveness any merely theoretical refutation” (n. 25).
And just as St. Thomas More had foreseen four centuries earlier as an eyewitness to the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, so too, Pope Pius sees in the slippery slope of ever-increasing alienation from the teachings of Christ and His Church a descent toward societal anarchy: “The present age, Venerable Brethren, by adding new errors to the doctrinal aberrations of the past, has pushed these to extremes which lead inevitably to a drift towards chaos” (n. 28).
Yet the purpose of the Pontiff’s encyclical is not simply to catalog and lament the evils and errors of modern civilization, but rather to see in these dangers a spiritual “call to arms” for the Catholic faithful, a rallying cry to reverse these evils with the weapons of prayer, personal sacrifice, and unswerving fidelity to the truth:
“What age has been, for all its technical and purely civic progress, more tormented than ours by spiritual emptiness and deep-felt interior poverty?. . . 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?
“Who among ‘the Soldiers of Christ’ — ecclesiastic or layman — does not feel himself incited and spurred on to a greater vigilance, to a more determined resistance, by the sight of the ever-increasing host of Christ’s enemies; as he perceives the spokesmen of these tendencies deny or in practice neglect the vivifying truths and the values inherent in belief in God and in Christ; as he perceives them wantonly break the Tables of God’s Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai, standards in which the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross has no place?” (nn. 5-7).

A Rag-Tag Army

When we consider the current situation within the Church in 2018, and look to see who is enlisted in the same battle of which Pope Pius XII spoke almost eighty years earlier, we are at first glance rather discouraged to behold not an elite corps but instead a culled together “rag-tag army” — pathetically small contingents of faithful priests manning the altars and confessionals, vastly diminished communities of cloistered monks and nuns keeping up their daily rounds of the Divine Office, small bands of elderly women staying after daily Mass to recite the rosary, and homeschooling families struggling to stand their ground against a hostile culture of death and hedonism.
Yet it was precisely with a rag-tag army that George Washington defeated the highly trained regiments of the British military. Recall also that it was with a meager slingshot and five smooth stones that David defeated his battle-hardened adversary Goliath. Indeed, when our Lord established the Church he chose for the College of Apostles a handful of fishermen and a tax collector.
This “rag-tag army” is led into battle, no less, by a King riding into battle on a donkey. By contrast Satan has had at his disposal over the centuries many of the most highly trained and well-equipped armies in the world, the armies of Pharaoh, of Hitler and Stalin, to name but a few, and also his elite “special forces,” many an academe ensconced within the most prestigious universities in the world. Yet in the end the humility of Christ reduces Satan’s “strategic advantages” to a heap of dust.
St. Paul said it best: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

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