Pius XI's life have been made a hundred times familiar. Let us, then, try to see him first in his position in the series Pius IX to Pius XI. Pius IX ended with personal dignity an inglorious period. I do not only mean that Napoleon, for example, had seemingly dragged the papacy at his heel by getting himself crowned by a Pope at Notre Dame, but, Rome had for Ion been counting for very little in the affairs of Europe or what Europe called civilisation.
Pius IX was recognised as amiable and good : but people saw him as the Pope of the Syllabus, in which everything that modern men prized seemed to be condemned; as the Pope of the Immaculate Conception, a dogma of whose meaning the secular world had no idea at all, and which therefore it automatically misconstrued in fantastic ways ; and as the Pope of Infallibility. Protestant superstition was profoundly impressed by the ,fact that there was a thunderstorm when the dogma was defined— the God of Sinai roared his indignation : and in next to no time the Temporal Power was abolished.
Leo the Last .
When I was a boy, I was regularly told that, after Leo, there would be no more Popes. True, Leo had for some time been publishing his social encyelicals, but there were terribly slow in reaching the consciousness even of Catholics, let alone of others, who had as first principle that no Pope could say anything worth listening to.
Suddenly it was perceived that Leo teas an astounding personality. It was felt that neither he nor Queen Victoria would ever die. in one sense, he seemed a throw-back to renaissance times. Diplomats tumbled over one another in their eagerness to approach him. The world rained gifts upon him at his jubilee. St. Peter's went mad 111ken he was carried in—rising excitedly front his portable throne to bless the people with wide gestures, with his tremendous smile, with his air of being the frailest of alabaster vases lit miraculously from wit kin.
Pius X : Reactionary Democrat
Pius X succeeded amid much good will. Son of a postman ! Surname, Sarto-Taylor! Men liked his open countenance and rough forelock. Democracy ! Masculinity ! Venetian gondolas! Now we shall have the democrat, knowing what's what ! Then he began to seem rather off the beat. Interested in music. Occupied in making small children go to Communion before they could possibly know what they were up to. And in the middle of it all—Modernism! Once more, a Syllabus. Everything go-ahead was damned. Criticism was vetoed. The Roman Church was subjected to a iigime of panic, espionage and repression. After all, the poor man was but a peasant. Meanwhile the most impious Roman chauffeur was becoming sure he was a saint; and the instinct of such men never errs.
The war came, and he died, respected, but pitied, indeed, resented, by the world. France seemed, religiously, in her death-agony, imposed on her by this good-man-no-diplomat. . .
Benedict succeeded " We don't want a hunchback Pope," the Roman populace is said to have cried out when it saw him. His reign practically coincided with the War. He wrote not a little : every Government abused him.
At that time I was allowed to read German, Austrian and Turkish newspapers as well as the Allied ones. In England, we said that his ideas were imposed from Berlin and Constantinople : there, they said " From Paris and London." To-day it is seen how perfectly just he was" impartial " is not the same as " indifferent "—let alone, biassed. • Politicians now would be giving their heads if but Bene.dict's advice had been taken. Financiers ought to be able to reckon up what hundreds of millions would not have been wasted had. he but been listened to. A diplomat soon after the War said to me " We stood aghast to see that alone among Chancelleries the Vatican at the Outset announced its • principles, and stood accurately by them throughout. All we others were opportunists. . ."
This Pope Would be Tough
Anyone could have seen that what next. was needed was a. in of iron. Yet Cardinal Ratti was first welcomed as a student. . . . It had been, in fact, as librarian at Milan that we first met him. We were looking for manuscripts in the Ambrosian library; we asked the shadowy librarian to help us : he knew exactly what we wanted and provided it in five minutes when the British Museum or the National Library in Paris would have taken an hour. We were certainly impressed, but thought little more about it.
Well, the learned world knew of his scholarship. Then the wider world suddenly heard of his Alpine exploits. He had found new tracks over important mountains. He had sat whole nights, his legs dangling over unfathomed precipices.. . . The notion of iron began to replace that of leather. Anyway, this Pope would be tough.
Then the entire world (England, naturally, last, partly because its Press never relates anything " papal " if it can possibly help it, and also because our islanders are determined that nothing " foreign," let alone Catholic, can ever be really important or interesting), began to realise, his extraordinary performance when he was sent to Poland after the War.
Whole populations waited for his blessing, on their knees in the snow. He talked to Rabbis in Hebrew. He had to cope with Germans to the west ; Lithuanians on the very edge of Russia. Icicles draped the engines by which he travelled : bridges broke down ; telegraph wires were swept away in squalls—yet he went on ; always got where he intended to; went much further than most men towards getting what he wanted—which was always mutual understanding, peace and co-operation. He returned to Italy when the horizon was at its reddest, and for brief space was made Archbishop of Milan, and then Pope. This, and much more, became visualised by the world at large.
Resolved to Simplify
Here, at any rate, was a man with none of the pathetic bonhomie of Pins IX ; or of the spectacular incandescence of Leo XIII ; without the meticulous legal acumen of Benedict, yet with more than his erudition and sense of balance; with less of the apparent piety of Pius X but with all and more than all of his drastic reformational resolve.
The Pope began to be felt as a redoubtable fifth in a series such as no other, State has ever shown any symptoms of providing. Of course, he had collaborators, Cardinal Gasparri in particular. But the world was not thrilled when the Canon Law of the Latin Church was codified. Still, it was an example of the comprehensive outlook and resolve to simplify which was a characteristic of this Pontiff. When the codification of the Canon Laws proper to the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome is accomplished, heaven knows how many barriers to union between East and West will not. have been removed !
The Pope of Condordats
With his instinct for getting down to the essence of things, and. his rock-like inability to be beaten by anybody, he disentangled what was permanent and tractable in the ideals of Mussolini, who was making a heroic effort to reduce Italian chaos into order; and the world suddenly heard that the Pope had made terms with those Christianisable elements.
True, Mussolini is said to have said that the. difficulties remaining to be overcome after the signing of the Lateran Treaty and Concordat would be far worse than what would have to be overcome before it : yet, when he was asked : "Is Christ using you, or are you using Christ?" he is said to have answered : "I have, the former.' And his ecclesiastic friends easily saw that there was a version of the State that he visualised, which should not he its parody—the State-God.
The Pope made many Concordats, and probably did not much care for any of them. When criticised for accepting so microscopic a State, he said that he wished he had even less. I am sure he would have preferred to go down to posterity with a better title than Pope of Concordats with which some have decorated him.
That there should be order and harmony bettveen the Church and, the Perfect State is certain. But where is there such, a State Is. eoncordataire countries, the, Church, survives indeed and energises, bid is seldom comfortable.
Condemned Capitalism and State-Deism
But what the Pope, by many of his actions, caused to emerge is what Leo laboured at for so long and so hard—the ever clearer vision that capitalist society, as it has existed, is wrong, and needs reform of a most drastic sort: and, that the Almighty State, which claims the whole of the citizen for itself, is no reform, but an even worse tyranny.
The Pope, who insisted on reading personally all the documents concerned with the Action Franeaise before he condemned it (an action complementary to Pius X's when he condemned the •Sillon), in reality already proclaimed that. no form of government was alone the proper one, and that no Government had rights over conscience.
The claim of Caesar to be paramount also in the things of the spirit. is, of course, immemorial : Our Lord Himself (=fronted it, and so did the Apostles and all the early Christians, and the struggle has endured ever since then, even when the Caesar had become a Catholic. But never till to-day has the world taken sides so clear-headedly and with such determination ; nor has any Christian " denomination " defined, declared and maintained the Rights of God in a way even remotely similar to that. used by the Roman Church between Pius IX and Pius XI.
What possibly he ought to be most remembered for is his insistence on that enigmatic idea : Catholic Action.
Why enigmatic? Because hardly anyone professes to understand the notion thoroughly, though may that not be partly because many do not, like what. they understand of it ? They may not like the. a lmost rigid. organisational form of Catholic Action that the Pope prefers. They may not like the idea of being so much as " active "—after all, most men are lazy. And the clerical-minded certainly do not like the enormous position assigned by Pius to the laity who are, within his scheme, constantly to be " presidents " with an ecclesiastic for " assistant " only.
But after all, the Pope is only declaring that the Church, clergy and laity, is One, and is Alive, and must therefore. act, as a whole. The temperamentally anti-clerical will find no excuse, in what the Pope really means, to crow over the clergy : the clergy, no forgiveness if they want to do everything themselves, merely on behalf of a subservieet laity.
But the positive element in Catholic Action is the fact that t he entire Church is " apostolic," in the sense that to be properly Christian she must all the while be Christianising. " To reChristianise what has become paganised : to Christianise what never has been Christian."
" Africanista "
Hence the Pope's forceful carrying forward of the missionary ideals of his predecessors. When we call him, again. " Pope of the Missions," we have to remember that he urges forward the claims of " foreign missions," practically in the very words of those predecessors. There never is any break in papal principles! But their application will change, in view of the " vertiginous rapidity " with which, said Pius XI, the mission-field is changing. The Africa -of to-day is totally different froin the Africa that was so " dark " when the boy Ratti read and re-read Stanley and was nick-named " Africa,nista "!
Though the Foreign Missions were, therefore, only an inevitable department in Pius's outlook, they certainly afford us a compact area, for the study of his methods, which were, as ever, intensification, acceleration, and simplification, combined with an amazing objectivity of outlook.
He had seen the fact that Italy and the Holy See could be reconciled, and. proceeded to get that done. May the Duce's successors not undo it, He saw that rites in the Far East, religious in origin., had become purely social, and settled the controversies of years by allowing Christia.ns to take part in, them. He had for long had a Vatican Observatory; he hastened to instal a Vatican radio and to use it; and displayed astonishing insight into the proper function of the cinema, let alone of the Press. Into his revived Academy of the Sciences he admitted. Protestants and Jews: he recognised the value of all, trained minds which, in. the,.se days when. an ignorant atheism, is preached, do Annum() to God.
This Pope's work will endure, unless he have enemies within his owii household; and even then it will. Yet doubtless acknowledgment will be given but grudgingly, since the materialist world always resents bitterly the eminence, let alon.e priotity, of the spiritual.