Page 18, 10th February 1939

10th February 1939
Page 18
Page 18, 10th February 1939 — THE LIFE 0 THE POPE

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.



Related articles

The Pope's Eightieth Year

Page 1 from 3rd September 1937

Desio Chapter Revived

Page 1 from 17th April 1953

Ope Of The Space-age

Page 10 from 11th August 1978

The Conclave To Elect A New Pope Will Open On June 19

Page 13 from 7th June 1963

'a Cool, Quiet Place Near Rome...'

Page 3 from 28th July 1972


p OPE PIUS XI, 261st in the line of the Roman pontiffs, was born at Desio, a town to the north-west of Milan. His native place has not waited until his death to pay him material homage and to hand down to future generations of the the townsmen the memory of his name; for there stands in Desio to-day a statue of honour, marking the sacerdotal golden jubilee, seven years ago, and commemorating with pride the circumstance that Achile Ratti, a silk weaver's son, first saw the light in that town on May 31, 1857.

Of Achille Ratti's early education we know that the boy stood indebted to the labours of a zealous old priest named Volonteri, who for upwards of forty years had taught a class in his own house. In the weaver's son he had an apt pupil, whom he equipped well with knowledge and prepared for seminary studies. The young student passed from Desio to the Milan seminary, where he remained for about three years, going afterwards to the Gregorian University in Rome.


in his twenty-third year the future Pope was ordained a priest, Not many years later, in 1882, he was again at Milan, as a teacher of theology and sacred eloquence. With that northern eity his life was deztined to be linked during two periods, The first one extended over many years; the latter was comprised in the few months of rule, as Archbishop and Cardinal, before the call came to him to the Conclave which made him Benedict XV's suceesssor.

From 1888, Father Ratti's work lay among books and that for thirty years. Two of Europe's most famous libraries: the Arnbrosian Library at Milan and the Library of the Vatican, engaged in turn his scholarly energies. The connection began with his appointment as one of the College of Doctors of the Ambrosian, of which library he became Chief Librarian in 1907. Three years afterwards Pope Pius X called him to Rome as assistant to Fr. Ehrle, S..1., —the Cardinal Ehrle of a later time— in the work of the Vatican Library, where he took up the office of Prefect in 1914, on Fr. Ehrie'e retirement, without, however, ending his connection with the great library at Milan.

To these, the more active years of Achille Ratti's life, belong the holiday visits which made him acquainted with a number of European countries, and the physical energies by which he was to earn the affectionate title of " the Alpinist Pope" from all who, like himself, loved the mountains and explored their heights. On his election as Pontiff, Pius XI was hailed with enthusiasm, in many journals, for his mountaineering exploits; and he himself has left us in notes and letters, accounts of Alpine travel.

A Link with England

In 1891 there was a visit to Vienna, and in 1893 to Paris with Mgr. Radini Tedeschi. But it will be of more interest to Catholics in England to recall Pius XI as a. Pope who both visited and studied in this country. Some years ago, at Oxford, the Bodleian placed his portrait on its walls, in tribute to a great librarian and to commemorate the fact that Mgr. Ratti had himself visited and profited from its shelves.

Both at Milan and at Rome the work of the Librarian was not without difficulties. Between Germans and Italians there were saute racial asperities. Anticlericalism, too, was rife. It needed a man of tact to deal with such problems of the time and to make relations run smoothly. Achille Ratti was that man. His admirable skill, his success in overcoming obstacles, was noted, so that, although without any previous diplomatic experience, he was chosen by Benedict XV, in 1918, to be Apostolic Visitor to Poland.

At Warsaw

When Mgr. Ratti took up his duties at Warsaw he entered upon a situation in which Poles and Germans were at daggers drawn—not without reasou, for the Brest Litovsk Treaty imposed by the German power, together with the couneii of regents who were given control of the capital, repreeented to the nation nothing but foreign oppression. The affairs of the Church called for careful handling. The Armistice of 1918, paving the way for Polish independence, brought opportunities of which the Visitor made swift and wise use, Among other things he secured from the Constituent Assembly a resolution that there should be no law affecting Church properties without pmvious consultation wth the Holy See.

In June, 1919, with Polish independence an established fact, Mgr. Ratti was appointed Papal Nuncio to the renascent State. In that capacity he showed statesmanlikequalities and a firm courage; in the latter respect he proved himself signally, in the following

year, by remaining at his post in Warsaw when other officials fled in face of the Bolshevik invasion. Later on, when made High Ecclesiastical Commissioner for the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, he was active in securing the release of Bolshevik prisoners, the humble as well as the high, among them the Bishop of Minsk and the Archbishop of Mohileff. As almoner of the Pope he organised food distribution among the country's hungry children.

All this successful work was soon to meet with reward at the hands of Pope Benedict In July, the Nuncio was nominated titular Archbishop of Naupacte (Lepanto), and he was consecrated at Warsaw, by Archbishop Kakoweley, now a Prince of the Church, in the following October. The consecration ceremony was made a day of high rejoicing for the Polish city, it was attended by the bishops, government officials and members of the Constituent Assembly

Archbishop of Milan

June. 19a1, brought to the Archbishop his penultimate honours; he was translated to the see of Milan and was created a Cardinal. General jubilation, in which even Milan's anti-clericals had a part, greeted the appointment. When the Cardinal took up his work in the city, there was the hope, among the people, that the new member of the Sacred College, who was then vigorous at sixty-four, would be with them as their Archbishop for many years. Circumstances ordered otherwise. Benedict XV died in January of the following year and on February 6 Cardinal Achille Ratti became the choice of the Conclave, his coronation as Pope taking place six days later.


To a traveller and a lover of great mountain spares it must have been a wrench indeed to face the prospect then opening before him. In 1922 the expression, the Prisoner of the Vatican" still pointed to what was, in effect, a reality. Pius XI faced the possibility of spending the remainder of his life within a single domain. Destiny held rather less than that restriction for him,

but even had it not been so, he was prepared for the sacrifice, and to the extent that it was demanded of him he accepted and embraced it.

Into his fifteen years of rule the late Pope crowded an immense amount of labour. He rose early and worked late. The whole world knows that he would only take to what proved to be his death bed with the utmost reluctance. He shrank from the idea of giving up the daily tasks, and almost literally he could no longer stand when at length he obeyed his doctor and remained in bed. Fortunately, until that last illness, health and strength had not failed him, so that he was able to bear the fatigues of a very full pontificate.

Among the early events of that pontificate—it took place in 1923—was one that gave great pleasure to Catholics throughout the British Empire. It was the occasion when His Holiness received a visit from King George the Fifth and Queen Mary. To recall, after the lapse of years, that the announcement ot that visit aroused something like fury among anti-Catholics in this country, is merely to point the fact that these bigots struck a note entirely out of earmony with the feelings of the people as a whole. The royal visit to the Pope was widely welcomed.

A yea, of more than ordinary importance iii the Holy Father's spiritual apostolate came in 1925; for that year, the Holy Year of Jubilee, was marked by the institution of the feast of Christ the King. Another jubilee year was proclaimed in 1933, this time a Holy Year Extraordinary for the nineteenth centenary of the Crucifixion. The affluence of pilgrims to Rome, from all parts of the Catholic world, during these jubilee periods, brought the liveliest consolation to the Pope, whose pastoral interest extended the jubilee throughout Christendom so that all the faithful, of every rank and condition, might have participation.

Midway between the two Holy Years there occurred another jubilee, one personal to His Holiness himself. On Decembei 20, 1929, Achille Hatt' had served God for fifty years in the priesthood; and on that anniversary ho was able to celebrate his thanksgiving Mass in St. John Lateran, " mother and mistress of all the churches." The Lateran accord signed and ratified earlier in the year, a treaty to be referred to presently in more detail, had made possible that consoling event. Other churches In Rome which were later to welco ne Pius XI were St. Mary Major's and St. Paul's Outside the Walls.


Of the many accords made between the late Pontiff and secular States one stands out as of first importance: the Lateran Treaty of February 11, 1929, ratified on June 8 of the same year. That treaty settled and did away with the "Roman Question" which had divided, diplomatically, the Holy See and the Italian kingdom since the fall of the Temporal Power in 1870. The pontificate of Plus XI would be noteworthy foi the Lateran accord alone.

By the Lateran Treaty there was mutual recognition of the rights of sovereignty. The Holy See recognised the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy, with Rome as its capital. Italy recognised the international sovereignty of the Holy See de jars and de fanto, with its absolute sole jurisdiction over a State to be known as the City of the Vatican; that State, miniscule as to its area, put upon the map the territory of an independent sovereign power, territory declared permanently neutral and inviolable. The accord of 1929 abrogated the Law of auarantees, which the Holy See had never recognised. It healed a wound that lied been open for nearly sixty years, and brought about a state of ordinary diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Quirinal.

Many affects have followed from the Treaty, not least being the fact that, for the first time since the days of Pio Nono, a Bishop of Rome has been seen In his cathedral church, St. John Lateran, and has been able to seek change and rest in the Papal villa at Castelgandolfo. In quite another aspect there has been the interest of the Vatican City's internal development as a sovereign State: the new administrative buildings, the short but so significant railway, the creation of various pieces of departmental machinery.

A Score of Concordats

By comparison with the Lateran Treaty. the concordats and other agreements concluded, under Pius XI, with something like a score of countries appear on the surface as though calling for but little mention. But each of these accords had its own importance, and some were of considerable moment.

There was, for instance, the concordat with Italy, in September, 1931, on the subject of Catholic Action. After the signing of the 1929 Treaty, the Church's enemies liked to think that the Papacy bad been drawn by superior diplomacy into the toils of a bad bargain, that in exchange for the freedom of a few square miles liberty of action had been endangered, if not already sacrificed, throughout the Italian kingdom. In Italy itself certain tendencies manifested themselves, during the ensuing year, which for a time caused the Holy Father some concern. The questions at issue were resolved by the 1931 concordat.

An important concordat with France, in 1926, clarified the position with regard to the Church's work in Syria; and similarly there were agreements with Portugal, affecting Catholic Interests in Portuguese India and in the East Indies. In his last years the Pope was saddened by the knowledge that a concordat made with the Reich had been broken by Germany in the spirit if not in the letter of that agreement.


HIS TEACHING IN ENCYCLICALS Upwards of a score of encyclicals and other Letters Apostolic are monuments of Pius XI's pastoral teaching and guidance on many matters affecting mankind whether as individuals or in the economy of States. Between his first encyclical, UN arcane Deis and the letter, Vigitantf cura, on film censorship, issued last June, the late Pontiff sent forth a succession of documents which left hardly any year of his pontificate unmarked in this way.

In that first encyclical just mentioned the Pope laid down the programme which he would seek to realise: the bringing of " the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ," and history will bear witness to his efforts to that end untii the day of his death. To promote this sacred cause the encyclical Quas primer was written, in 1925. proclaiming the institution of the feast of Christ the King. The duty of honour and reparation to Our Lord was emphasised in the letter MIserentissimus Redemptor, and later in Caritate Chriati oompuist, wherein devotion to the Sacred Heart was enjoined in atonement for the calamitous condition of the world.

Missionary Interest

Among the titles by which Pius XI was affectionately acclaimed was that of " the Pope of the Missions." His interest In the spread of the Church in the mission fields was constant; in particular he worked ardently for the widening of the ranks of native prelates and clergy. Uuwards of ten years ago the encyclical Reran% Reelesto was Issued to promote missionary expansion and to give new directions for bringing this about. Two other encyclicals also have a bearing upon the Church's ministry: the lengthy De Sacerdotio of 1935, dealing with the subject of the sacred priesthood; and Mena Nostra, in which His Holiness counselled priests to spread the work of retreats and encourage a more extended use of spiritual exercises.

Social and domestic teaching formed the subject matter of a group of encyclicals of which one of the most important was Cast% ootinubii, an outspoken letter on Christian marriage and the evils threatening it, while in Divinis Theits Magtstri the Pope stressed the importance of a Christian education for children. Covering a wider field there was the great encyclical Quadragestmo An-so, belonging to 1931. In that letter Pius XI did two things; he commemorated the fortieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, on the condition of the working classes; and he re-stated the leading principles in that earlier document, applying them to the circumstances of our own time: he directed his words, as his predecessor Pope Leo had done, to reconstructing the social order and perfecting it conformably to the precepts of the Gospel.

Words for a World in Arms

Later in that same year the Pontiff was moved to utter a weaning, by the Apostolic Letter Nova Thipendit, against what he described ea the " insensate competition " of the Powers' rivalry in armaments. This letter addressed Itself b. the economic crisis generally, with the incidence of unemployment and other evils of the time.

The Pope of the Missions was likewise " the Pope of Catholic Action." The year 1931 produced also the encyclical Non Abbiamo S'isogno. In defence of the principles of true Catholic Action there had to be at the same time a clear reference to causes of anxiety felt by the Vatican, in that year, on account of certain actions in Italy. Similarly there had been, in 1924, an encyclical ilfaximain Graviasiinaanque, in which the note of protest was directed against anti-clerical activities in France.

But the situations which called forth these two letters weigh lightly in the balance compared with what the Church has suffered in two other countries, where there has been real persecution— Mexico and Spain. Several times the Sovereign Pontiff had to put his sorrow and indignation into writings addressed to the entire Catholic world. In 1926 Mexico's onslaught on religion drew from him the encyclical Intquis Afflictisque, and a further letter on the subject, Acerba Antmt, was issued in 1932. Less than a year later Spain's anti-clericalism called forth the encyclical Delectissima Nobis.

Christian Unity

That East and West might be reunited into a real and true union of Christendom was a desire very close to the heart of the pastor now taken from us. This purpose impelled several encyclical letters, of which the first was Ecelestam Deti (1923). In Rerum OrientaIiiint there was counsel as to promoting Oriental studies to prepare the way for the return of the separated Christians of the East. But Plus XI made it plain that one cannot posit Christian Unity except by the unity that is of faith. This he emphasised strongly in the encyclical AC ortalium Animas, a bombshell of truth to some, in the West, who had clung to chimerical hopes.

A number of the late Pope's encyclicals were issued in connection with centenaries and other events. Thus Quinquagesimo Ante Ann° (December, 1929), was written in connection with the Pontiff's own golden jubilee, and recalled events during the fifty years since his ordination. In Rite Expiatis there was commemoration of the seventh centenary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi. The encyclical Lux Veritatis came for the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus: it was an opportunity to His Holiness to treat of the Hypostatic Union and of Our Lady's rightful title as Mater Del. Another special occasion produced the Apostolic Letter Providentiasimits Deus, proclaiming St. Robert Bellarmine as a Doctor of the Church.

A Proclaimer of Saints

Among the joyous and consoling functions witnessed during the late pontificate were a large number connected with canonisations or with beatifications. Pius XI raised upwards of thirty servants of God to the highest honours of the altar, and hundreds of others were enrolled in the vast company whom the Church calls Blessed.

In some of these great ceremonies Great Britain had direct lot and part. A happy day ip December, 1929, saw the beatification of 136 of the English Martyrs, followed shortly afterwards by that of the Scot e Martyr, Fr. John Ogilvie. A cause for even greater rejoicing came when the Pontiff added two English saints to the Calendar: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

But the saints belong to us all; they are not to he confined, in their glory to any national category. And this is the more to be emphasised in the cases of men and women whose fame in sanctity is world-wide, whose names are familiar to the faithful in every Christian country. There were many such among those canonised by Pius XI, St. Teresa of Lisieux; St. John Vianey, the Cure of Ars; St. John Bosco; St. Peter Canisius; St. Marie-Bernard Soubirous -Bernadette of Lourdes. These are names which were already of universal note among CathoIlee.

Among others raised by the late Pontiff to the altar are St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Louise de Maxillae, St. John Eudes, St. Albert the Great, St. Madeleine-Sophie Beret, St. Jeanne Thouret, St. Conrad of Parzhara, St. Lucy Filippini, St. Marie-Madeleine Postal, St. Catherine Thomas, St. Andrew Fournet, St. Joseph Cottonlengo, and St. Teresa Redi.

Two Vatican Exhibitions

Two exhibitions held in the Vatican reflected the late Pope's deep and practical interest in two factors in the apostolate of spreading the faith: missionary activity and the work of the Catholic Press. To the "Pope of the Missions," whose fruitful labours in the encouragement and extension of that vast field of effort constitute in part his monument, it was a joy to welcome to the Eternal City the Church's missionary workers from many territories. The Missionary Exhibition was one of the great attractions of its year.

As to the Catholic Press, indeed the words of Pius XI on that subject are so recent. that readers will scarcely need to be reminded of them. When it was decided to honour the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Osservatore Romano by holding in Rome the Catholic Journalists' Congress, the Pope entered with paternal enthusiasm into the project of an international exhibition. The extent, character, and significance of that display have been realised by thousands of visitors and described for millions who have not been able to journey to the Vatican City.

The Cultural Side

In the promotion of scholarship and culture, Pius XI initiated important undertakings for the good of religion, and science and art. His pontificate saw, for one thing, and that not the least, the work of the codification of the Canon Law. Three years ago he welcomed to Rome the International Congress La. Jurists. He established in the city some half-dozen new college buildings. The establishment, also, of the Lateran Missionary Museum was a further proof of his interest in the missions.

The cause of scientific progress had, as part of the Pope's work, not only a constant solicitude for the Pontifical Academy of Science, but also the erection of the Vatican City radio station, by which means His Holiness became the first Pontiff to be heard in his own voice by listening millions of men, and the transfer and re-equipment of the Vatican Observatory. The new Vatican Picture Gallery is a legacy of his interest in art, an interest which drew from him, a few years ago, outspoken words in condemnation of certain unpleasant "modernistic " developments In art and architecture.

When the history of the late pontificate comes to be written, the picure will have to include also more than a glimpse of Pius XI as universal pastor of souls in the work of worldwide religious administation: his setting of native Bishops in the Far East, his establishment of many new ecclesiastical provinces, his care for education for the priesthood, his labour generally for Church Extension. Nor must the historian omit record of an abounding charity which, quite early on in the pontificate, appealed for generosity to relieve a starving land, the land of all lands which waged war against Christianity—Soviet Russia.

Obituary continued on Page 4

blog comments powered by Disqus