Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pius XII Re-Considered UPDATED

"He was glorious, ol' Pius was!" recalled the porter of the lodge of the Oxford Oratory to me one night several years back. Those who remember Eugenio Pacelli tend to think of him as either the last great pope before the cruel hammer of Vatican II smashed the glass Church into shards or as a spiritual jailer from whom the Council freed us. When one thinks of Pope Pius XII the mind naturally travels to images of the native Roman Pontiff waiving to enthralled crowds from the sedia gestatoria or him wearing the tiara with pious solemnity. What everyone often forgets is who he was and what he did. Perhaps no pope in centuries is as misunderstood and inaccurately remembered as Pope Pius XII. History may be very kind or very harsh to him, but that does not preclude our contemporary endeavor to evaluate his time atop the Petrine chair with greater scrutiny than previous generations.

First, we should get the Holocaust story out of the way. Pius XII was not Hitler's pope nor was he anti-Semitic. On the contrary, one would be hard pressed to find anyone since Moses who did as much for the Jews as Pius XII. Many compare his quiet approach to Nazism during World War II with his predecessor's more visible opposition to Nazism and Fascism, ignoring that Pacelli engineered Pius XI's foreign policy as Secretariat of State for the Vatican. As Pius XII Pacelli undercut Nazi deportation attempts in Poland, France, and Italy by delaying trains and applying pressure to local authorities through the Church's prestige. More locally he ordered the churches, monasteries, and convents of Rome to house whatever Jews approached seeking refuge. His very own Castel Gandolfo housed 3,000 Jews on the run from the Nazi occupants. Hitler found Pius so loathsome he at one point considered an assassination. Pius XII and the Church emerged from the Second World War with tremendous prestige and popular approval for combating Nazi efforts. The chief rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism and took Eugene as his baptismal name in honor of Papa Pacelli. Golda Meir and Leonard Bernstein (who as a secular Jewish bisexual would be as far from Catholicism as London from the ISS) expressed deep sorrow when Pius XII died in 1958. His reputation did not suffer until 1963 when playwright Rolf Hochhuth wrote The Deputy, a historically imaginative bit of nonsense wherein Pius XII daydreams about the Vatican's banking issues whilst his staff cry over the sufferings of the Jewish people of Europe. Without carrying on too much concerning Pius XII's efforts between 1939 and 1944, it suffices to say that his efforts saved many Jewish lives and the people of his time recognized this.

Yet we can say this was Pius XII the diplomat and Pius XII the humanitarian. What of Pius XII the pope? Again, many see Pius XII as a staunch conservative in all matters and the last pontiff of a particular age. Like him or not, little could be further from the truth. Pius XII was certainly not a liberal, but he was no staunch conservative either. The best term the Rad Trad can find to describe this pope is "modernizer." His papacy was a bridge between the declining ultramontanist mood after Vatican I and the budging urge to engage directly with the non-Catholic world which triumphed at Vatican II.

Consider his personality. The cult of personality that surrounds Pope Francis did not begin with John Paul II in 1979, when he first started to travel. It began during the reign of Pius XII, whose charisma and charm made him a powerful personality at a time when television and radio began to supplant newspapers as the primary means of transmitting information. His waves, smiles, rolling voice, and other dramatic gestures rival those of Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, and Roosevelt. Outwardly he looked like everything an optimistic, post-War, Papa-centric Church could want in a leader. He was  the product they demanded.

Next, think about the influence of his pontificate on centralization. After his election, Pacelli appointed Luigi Cardinal Maglione as Secretariat of State. After Maglione's death, the Pope absorbed the secretary's duties into the Papacy, making the him both a spiritual leader and a visible political player in the new media age. It also meant that the Pope had very direct dealings with bishops throughout the world, who, though they had the right to meet with the Pope before Pius XII, would normally interact with the Vatican through the Secretariat's office. Consequentially, the Papacy, not just the Vatican, became an administrative, political, and spiritual center for governments and dioceses. The Pope, in Mystici Corporis in 1942, went as far as to state that bishops receive their power not from the Church, generally speaking, but from the Roman Pontiff (cf. Mystici Corporis, 42). Cardinal Ottaviani stated that this was infallible. Whether it is or not is not our purpose here. The point is that Pius XII centralized not just spiritual dignity, but political power around the Holy See.

Yet Papal prestige was not enough to efface the blossoming power of liberal factions, particularly in secular universities and in religious orders. Men like Jesuit Karl Rahner lost very little sympathy among his fan base after the publication of Mystici Corporis and perhaps even gained an excitement factor that made his ideas all the more potent two decades later.

Can you imagine the diffusion of the "Spirit of Vatican II" without the "Spirit of Pius XII?" I cannot. Pius XII's governing style was not an immediate cause of the "Spirit of Vatican II," but it was certainly a necessary cause. The cardinals and bishops who went along with the changes in liturgy, Church policies, and attitude did so because they thought Rome wanted it. Is it any coincidence that most of these cardinals and bishops were appointed by Pius XII, not Paul VI or John XXIII?

Pope Pius also re-introduced some Eastern elements of thought into Rome. First the de-Latinization process in Eastern Catholic Churches began not with the Conciliar document Orientalium Ecclesiarum, but a decade earlier. The aforementioned Mystici Corporis, although brimming with statements of Papal  supremacy (42, 44, 50, 69, 91), incorporates a very Eastern and organic approach to defining the Church, returning to St. Paul's statements that the Church is the "Body of Christ" (15) visible on earth, that Christ is the Head through which grace flows, that the Church is not entirely about hierarchy (17), that the Sacraments nourish the Body (18-19), that Baptism does not just wipe out Original Sin but actually incorporates one into the Body of Christ (26), and that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the Church (31). At one point Pius even quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses in bluntly equating the Church with Christ (53). The Rad Trad can hardly imagine Pius IX referencing a then-obscure Eastern Father. The Western fascination with the East, seemingly in everything save liturgy, was just beginning when the Pope published this encyclical.

Lastly there was Pope Pacelli's novel liturgical moves. Saturday night Masses substituting for Sunday worship, lay people reading at Mass, shortened Eucharistic fasts, excessive singing of hymns, and lay people speaking the priest's parts did not begin in the 1960s, but under Pius XII in a series of liturgical innovations meant to make the liturgy more accessible. If the Rad Trad is forgetting something, perhaps the more knowledgeable Rubricarius can chime in below. Above all, Pius XII assembled the team of reformers that would make the liturgical overhaul of the 1960s happen. They began their work under Papa Pacelli's patronage in 1948. Some remove blame for the liturgical novelties of the 1950s from Pius XII for health reasons; his health declined quickly after the War. Still, Pius XII was, if anything, a powerful and competent administrator. Under Pius XII a new Common of Popes was introduced, as was a new Holy Saturday liturgy in 1951 and again in 1952, a brand new Holy Week came out in 1955—the same year most octaves were eliminated and semi-doubles merged with simples and doubles, and the commemoration system was reduced in 1958. The liturgy of Vatican II c.1965 only differed in the suppression of Prime and the introduction of more vernacular in Mass. Eugene Pacelli was, beyond dispute, a very progressive pope in liturgical matters. As Pope Paul VI wrote in his Constitution Missale Romanum: "The beginning of this renewal was the work of Our predecessor, this same Pius XII, in the restoration of the Paschal Vigil and of the Holy Week Rite, which formed the first stage of updating the Roman Missal for the present-day mentality."

The Rad Trad lacks a formal opinion on Pope Pius XII. He did a lot to save lives during World War II. He centralized power and set the scene for the big changes of the 1960s. His foreign policy against the Russians was vocal, yet forgettable. And his liturgical novelties put the key in the door and turned it, leaving the handle to Paul VI. Pius XII remains an anomaly. He was no liberal nor was he a traditionalist. For the time being the Rad Trad will consider him a "modernizer." What say ye?


  1. I enjoyed this summary very much. I knew about
    Golda Meir and the Chief Rabbi of Rome but not
    Leonard Bernstein. As a paver of the way for
    the Novus Ordo, it makes a good deal of sense.
    No quarrel with the term "modernizer."

  2. I think you're largely correct, dear Rad Trad. There was a certain friendliness to modern mass communication, photographers, newsmen, films, television broadcasts, etc. The content, so to speak, was still the traditional Faith, but there was a certain openness to the secular media that was a "new thing on the earth." After the war, when meeting U.S. servicemen, Pius XII only smiled when a news photographer yelled, "Hey, Pope, smile!" Now, picture the reaction if, per impossibile, the same thing had happened to Pius XI.

    1. What a story! Better yet, can you imagine Gregory XVI, who thought Pius IX's pets would be liberals, doing something like that? I hope you're safe in your part of the world.

      Praying for you,
      The Rad Trad

  3. Excellent piece, Rad Trad. Though a bit of a third rail in most Trad circles, scrutinizing the pontificate of Pius XII is absolutely essential to getting to some of the root causes of our modern malaise. He was, like most men, a product of his age, an age fascinated with modernization. Perhaps your characterization will hold as it's easier than saying "liturgical liberal, theological conservative". Personally, I would still hold that, even given the drastic liturgical changes of his reign, that the aftermath was not inevitable unless a Paul VI came along to do so. Would a Pope Siri (I don't believe that conspiracy) or Ottaviani have retained the 1955 Holy Week while not touching anything else let alone promulgate a Novus Ordo? I think so.

  4. I agree with your assessment of Pacelli: a modernizer with strange but selective aspirations towards the East.

    I mentioned some of this in a discussion of the holy week rites on the S Lawrence Press blog a while ago, in part involving Mr Paul Goings of S. Clement’s, Philadelphia. I recall he made some useful observations, but I think I was the first to quote the line from Pius himself to the effect that he wished Catholics would emulate the Orthodox and attend his new Easter Vigil in the night, and then pretty much sleep it off on Easter morning (and we may pause there to note how outrageous that would be) and return for Vespers on Sunday evening. I cannot recall the source of the supposed quote, sorry.

    The standard Byzantine parish practice seems to be to celebrate the Paschal Vigil rite earlier on Holy Saturday, with four OT lessons – very like the West, and incorporating the colour change from black to white during the ‘gradual’ between Epistle and Gospel. Vespers of that day themselves seem not to be used and are not present in the popular holy week text I purchased several years ago. (The cost of a complete range of Byzantine rite books to cover the entire rite – priest’s copies alone exist – would probably leave little change from a couple of thousand. The largest body of Byzantine rites in English translation is probably the online collection by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) whose site is called Anastasis. I found it very useful in providing the text of the Vesperal Liturgy of the Presantified). What happens at midnight, after the Xristos aneste, is the slightly earlier start of the normal Sunday round of Mattins and the Liturgy. Most people attend mattins and it tails off by the time of the Liturgy. Not sure if that was what Pius was hoping for.

    I also noted that the 1955/6 Palm Sunday rite with its change of colour from red to violet in the course of one event feels like the Byzantine practice on the same day although that is done for different reason – and the practice may not be universal within that Rite. While the Orthodox sit pretty light to prescriptions of colours for certain occasions, red is ordered for Lent (although I have seen a dilution to the point of being pink) and black – as the Trad has noted, ‘if possible’ for all of holy/great week. On Palm Sunday the Liturgy is celebrated in the same colour as the rest of Lent – perhaps why Pius left the mass in violet – but the people usually stay for the immediate start of ‘the Bridegroom service’ and that is the, somewhat abbreviated and anticipated, matins of the Monday of holy week. Again, vespers of the day seem to disappear in parochial practice.
    Pius introduced the same idea of colour change but for specious reasons.
    There is a reason why emulation is wrong.

    His intervention in holy week seems, at least in his own case, to have been motivated by a personal admiration for an alien tradition, rather than an attempt to confuse the faithful by constant change, believed to have been the concern of his servants who in this one sense, used him for their own ends. He probably hoped they would last, rather than be a bridge to a different future. He was ill-served, but then he served the Church ill. When I say ‘alien’, I merely mean foreign – it can hardly be controversial to say that East and west have their own traditions, that have cross-fertilized from time to time, but are distinct.

    I have a personal theory about Pius XII’s interest in modernization that may be total nonsense. From time to time, various protestants get interested in Orthodoxy instead of genuine western forms, mostly due to anti-catholic prejudice. (What goes on in the east would be a lot stranger to the average Presbyterian than a standard western mass). Pius would have had the opportunity to observe the beginnings of the protestant ecumenical movement and may have noticed this and been planning for it.

    1. Right you are about the Byzantine Holy Week. As I have written before, their Great Week and our pre-Pius XII Holy Week have a lot of convergence, particularly in times of the services (Bridegroom Services, Holy Saturday Liturgy/Vespers in the morning, primacy of Paschal Mattins/Lauds). The research used to concoct the new Holy Week was imaginative and very spotty. Palm Sunday in the Byzantine rite is really a bit different from our sense. I think the reformers were attempting to imitate the Gallican rites of Europe on the assumption that whatever Rome did at the time was corruption or a-historical. Really Holy Week was a liturgical common ground, which should not be surprising because we Romans shared political unity with the Byzantines until the late sixth century and a common culture longer than that. The Holy Week post-1955 would not be recognizable to a Byzantine or Roman in the eighth century!

      Good point about the protestants. Many flirt with Orthodoxy, maybe because it's so distinct and different from what they are accustomed to seeing. Some people have described Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli as Scholastics in rebellion, and there is some truth to that. It's a pity few of them learn about Eastern Catholicism. Interestingly, in the 19th and early 20th century Orthodox in the USA adopted a lot of protestant literature and rhetoric concerning the papacy, maybe the only major view they held in common!

  5. I meant to observe above that of course, to this day, the 'Vesperal Divine Liturgy' on Holy Saturday is celebrated in the day time BEFORE the morning services are anticpated in the night. It tends to be in the morning rather than at vespers time, so EAXCATLY the same practice was followed in the East as in the West before the Pacelli 'modernizing' intervention. But in trying to emulate the spirit of an Orthodox Easter Night at the same time as substituting the old vigil for it, Pius was attempting to achieve two different results at one go.

    I was lucky to be able to have attended a full great week in the local Byzantine rite church. They did more than is usual of parochial practice in this country. But of course joining the community would have meant conversion to the jurisdiction of Constantinople, which I did not feel able to do as a westerner.

    Apropos of very little, I had some comments to make on your post about the Sarum Use, specifically in Scotland, from ages ago, but I had to take advice about how to do it. It was in fact Rubricarius who told me the simplest method among the options allowed by your system is to set up a gmail account which I have done. The long-winded posting name was chosen at short notice because I had limited time in the internet place I was forced to use and I was not sure where the google system was taking me. I couldn't afford the time to be told I had to go back and think of a different name. My name actually is John, but there are a lot of us.

    Thanks to you also for directing me and others to John R's Current Tridentine Ordo. Very important contribution, but for the moment I am remaining true to Rubricarius's work at the S Lawrence Rress. I need to keep to the 1911/13 changes for the moment because the most traditional rite I can get to, thanks to the Inst X the K is 1962, for which we are very grateful. The criticism of that use is very useful!

    I shall try to get my other comments posted about Scotland now. They're not earth-shattering and only of note if you were interested in Scotland.

  6. Is it too harsh to refer to him as a "practical bureaucrat"?