By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Elected one month after the Great Powers of Europe declared war against each other in August 1914, Pope Benedict XV issued his first encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum on November 1, after nearly a million men had died at the Battles of the Marne and Ypres and in the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia.
It was clear to the young Pope — Giacomo Cardinal della Chiesa was only 59 at the time of his election on September 3, 1914 — that the war would not “be over by Christmas,” as the optimistic rulers — all cousins, all of them — in Germany, Russia, France, and England believed.
Pope Benedict XV saw the war, as most modern historians do today, as the culmination of decades of an armaments race and territorial disputes, in Europe and among Europeans for control over the globe, and the abandonment of Christian morals and ethics by the modern states of Europe.
His passionate encyclical dealt with the war, but it also dealt with issues before the world today, notably the inequalities of wealth, unbridled greed, growing hatred of the rich by the poor, a festering contempt of the masses for the ruling elite, the poisoned fruit of atheistic education, the winnowing of the faithful due to the influence of modernism, and growing dissension among Catholics which imperiled the unity of the Church and its witness to the world.
Benedict’s encyclical opened with a lament: “On every side the dread phantom of war holds sway: there is scarce room for another thought in the minds of men. The combatants are the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth; what wonder, then, if, well provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. . . .
“Yet, while with numberless troops the furious battle is engaged, the sad cohorts of war, sorrow, and distress swoop down upon every city and every home; day by day the mighty number of widows and orphans increases, and with the interruption of communications, trade is at a standstill; agriculture is abandoned; the arts are reduced to inactivity; the wealthy are in difficulties; the poor are reduced to abject misery; all are in distress.”
Moved by these great evils, Benedict XV wrote: “We implore those in whose hands are placed the fortunes of nations to hearken to Our voice. Surely there are other ways and means whereby violated rights can be rectified. Let them be tried honestly and with goodwill, and let arms meanwhile be laid aside.”
Benedict XV’s appeal for peace — as would subsequent appeals during the course of the war — fell on deaf ears.
In addition to the war, however, “another evil [is] raging,” Benedict warned, “in the very inmost heart of human society, a source of dread to all who really think, inasmuch as it has already brought, and will bring, many misfortunes upon nations, and may rightly be considered to be the root cause of the present awful war.
“For ever since the precepts and practices of Christian wisdom ceased to be observed in the ruling of states, it followed that, as they contained the peace and stability of institutions, the very foundations of states necessarily began to be shaken. Such, moreover, has been the change in the ideas and the morals of men, that unless God comes soon to our help, the end of civilization would seem to be at hand.
“Thus we see the absence from the relation of men of mutual love with their fellowmen; the authority of rulers is held in contempt; injustice reigns in relations between the classes of society; the striving for transient and perishable things is so keen, that men have lost sight of the other and more worthy goods they have to obtain.”
Men Are Brothers!
“Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring amongst men the Kingdom of Peace, which the envy of the devil had destroyed, and it was His will that it should rest on no other foundation than that of brotherly love. These are His own oft-repeated words: ‘A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another’ (John 14:34); ‘This is my commandment that you love one another’ (John 15:12); ‘These things I command you, that you love one another’ (John 15:17); as though His one office and purpose was to bring men to mutual love.
“He used every kind of argument to bring about that effect. He bids us all look up to Heaven: ‘For one is your Father who is in Heaven’ (Matt. 23:9); He teaches all men, without distinction of nationality or of language, or of ideas, to pray in the words: ‘Our Father, who are in Heaven’ (Matt. 6:9). . . .
“Never perhaps,” the Holy Father observed, “was there more talking about the brotherhood of men than there is today; in fact, men do not hesitate to proclaim that striving after brotherhood is one of the greatest gifts of modern civilization, ignoring the teaching of the Gospel, and setting aside the work of Christ and of His Church. But in reality never was there less brotherly activity amongst men than at the present moment.
“Race hatred has reached its climax; peoples are more divided by jealousies than by frontiers; within one and the same nation, within the same city there rages the burning envy of class against class; and amongst individuals it is self-love which is the supreme law overruling everything. . . .
“The unrestrained striving after independence, together with overweening pride, has little by little found its way everywhere; it has not even spared the home, although the natural origin of the ruling power in the family is as clear as the noonday sun; nay, more deplorable still, it has not stopped at the steps of the sanctuary. Hence come contempt for laws, insubordination of the masses, wanton criticism of orders issued, hence innumerable ways of undermining authority; hence, too, the terrible crimes of men who, claiming to be bound by no laws, do not hesitate to attack the property or the lives of their fellowmen. . . .
“We remind the peoples of the earth of that doctrine, which no human opinions can change: ‘There is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God’ (Romans 13:1). Whatever power then is exercised amongst men, whether that of the King or that of an inferior authority, it has its origin from God. Hence St. Paul lays down the obligation of obeying the commands of those in authority, not in any kind of way, but religiously, that is conscientiously — unless their commands are against the laws of God: ‘Wherefore be not subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake’ (Romans 13:5). . . .
“Let the Princes and Rulers of peoples remember this truth, and let them consider whether it is a prudent and safe idea for governments or for states to separate themselves from the holy religion of Jesus Christ, from which their authority receives such strength and support. Let them consider again and again, whether it is a measure of political wisdom to seek to divorce the teaching of the Gospel and of the Church from the ruling of a country and from the public education of the young. Sad experience proves that human authority fails where religion is set aside.”
The Rule Of Charity
“[L]et us strive to exhort all men, that in virtue of the divine law of charity they should love one another with brotherly love. Brotherly love is not calculated to get rid of the differences of conditions and therefore of classes — a result which is just as impossible as that in the living body all the members should have the same functions and dignity — but it will bring it to pass that those who occupy higher positions will in some way bring themselves down to those in a lower position, and treat them not only justly, for it is only right that they should, but kindly and in a friendly and patient spirit, and the poor on their side will rejoice in their prosperity and rely confidently on their help — even as the younger son of a family relies on the help and protection of his elder brother.
“But there is still, Venerable Brethren, a deeper root of the evils we have hitherto been deploring, and unless the efforts of good men concentrate on its extirpation, that tranquil stability and peacefulness of human relations we so much desire, can never be attained. The apostle himself tells us what it is: ‘The desire of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim. 6:10). If any one considers the evils under which human society is at present laboring, they will all be seen to spring from this root.
“Once the plastic minds of children have been molded by Godless schools, and the ideas of the inexperienced masses have been formed by a bad daily or periodical press, and when by means of all the other influences which direct public opinion, there has been instilled into the minds of men that most pernicious error that man must not hope for a state of eternal happiness; but that it is here, here below, that he is to be happy in the enjoyment of wealth and honor and pleasure: what wonder that those men whose very nature was made for happiness should with all the energy which impels them to seek that very good, break down whatever delays or impedes their obtaining it.
“And as these goods are not equally divided amongst men, and as it is the duty of authority in the State to prevent the freedom enjoyed by the individual from going beyond its due limits and invading what belongs to another, it comes to pass that public authority is hated, and the envy of the unfortunate is inflamed against the more fortunate. Thus the struggle of one class of citizen against another bursts forth, the one trying by every means to obtain and to take what they want to have, the other endeavoring to hold and to increase what they possess.”
No Name Calling!
“Let us now turn our thoughts from human society to the immediate affairs of the Church, for it is necessary that Our soul, stricken with the evils of the times, should seek consolation in one direction at least. Over and above those luminous proofs of the divine power and indefectibility enjoyed by the Church, We find a source of no small consolation in the remarkable fruits of the active foresight of our Predecessor, Pope Pius X, who shed upon the Apostolic Chair the luster of a most holy life….
“The enemies of God and of the Church are perfectly well aware that any internal quarrel amongst Catholics is a real victory for them. Hence it is their usual practice when they see Catholics strongly united, to endeavor by cleverly sowing the seeds of discord, to break up that union. And would that the result had not frequently justified their hopes, to the great detriment of the interests of religion!. . .
“It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as ‘profane novelties of words,’ out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics.
“Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: ‘This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved’ (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim ‘Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,’ only let him endeavor to be in reality what he calls himself.”