October 20

1939 Pope Pius XII attacks Nazi and Soviet war aims

Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (1876-1958) was elected pope as Pius XII in 1939, having spent much of his ecclesiastical career as in the Church’s diplomatic service. He was well acquainted with Germany have negotiated with its imperial rulers, its democratic regime and its Nazi officials — Pius XI’s encyclical Mit brennender Sorge which condemned Nazi policy was written by Pacelli. His election took place while peace was collapsing in Europe and Adolf Hitler was plotting a continent-wide war. In September 1939, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR collaborated to invade Poland and divide the conquered nation, an act which triggered World War II.

Summi Pontificatus was Pius XII’s first encyclical, appearing on this date in 1939. In it the pope notes the growing strength of the “host of Christ’s enemies” and the outbreak of war. These calamities he blamed on the denial and rejection of a universal norm of morality as well for individual and social life as for international relations; We mean the disregard, so common nowadays, and the forgetfulness of the natural law itself, which has its foundation in God, Almighty Creator and Father of all, supreme and absolute Lawgiver, all-wise and just Judge of human actions. 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, what lawful, what forbidden, and makes men feel themselves responsible for their actions to a Supreme Judge.

Pius XII went on to condemn racism, totalitarianism and the rape of Poland. The Nazi government in Berlin recognized the encyclical as an attack on their policies; in neutral America, the New York Times praised the pope: A powerful attack on totalitarianism and the evils which he considers it has brought upon the world was made by Pope Pius XII in his first encyclical…It is Germany that stands condemned above any country or any movement in this encyclical-the Germany of Hitler and National Socialism. The French air force scattered copies of the bull over Germany.

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