by Fr. JEAN CHARLES-ROUX, I.C.
The SileUce of Pius XII by Carlo Falconi (Faber & Faber 70s.)
THAT Gullivers should appear to Lilliputians as a land and not as a man, is a current mistake in human history. Indeed. is it not one of the very reasons of the Crucifixion'? For to nothing is average man more unfair than to superiority in his fellow men. at least in his own times.
As regards relationship between the author and the subject of this book, there is the further discrepancy that the fOrmer is an ex-priest or. in other words, one who has parted from his full integration in Christ; while the latter is one. on the contrary, who was in the most Christlike of all human functions, totally immersed in the Lord.
This explains why Pius XII Presents the author with a problem. One cannot say that Mr. Falconi is hostile to Pius XII. since in many passages of his book he gives a glowing . tribute to that Pope's courage, sanctity, and even simply to his style and personality. Rut on the other hand there are many aspects of Pius Xll's activity, of his pursuits. and especially Of his handling of things, that Mr Falconi is so far from understanding, that he goes to the rather daring extreme of stigmatising them as objectively Wrong. and. what is still more surprising. wrong from Christ's Own point of view.
Yet. even within a merely human perspective, this book is not very convincing. For it is in no way that of a professional historian. It is that of a journalist, using important and interesting documents, and presenting us with his own personal opinion or interpretation of the attitudes of the Holy See to Germany, then to Poland, and finally to Yugoslavia, during the second world war. These three parts are treated separately, and there is no attempt to study the inter-relationship of these problems, and hence to consider the "weltanschaung" of Pius XII during those apocalyptical years.
. Moreover there are quite a number of inconsistencies, or Of somewhat childish conclusions and deductions, For we are told that because Mr. Myron Taylor and Sir Francis D'Arcy Osborne were allowed to go and consult their Governments in Washington and London. during the war, and then return to their claustration in the Vatican, the Sovereign Pontiff could only be fully informed on what was occurring in the Nazi's concentration camps. One wonders why?
London and Washington were indeed still more unaware of the horrors taking place in those camps, than we were ourselves in occupied Europe or in Germany itself; though we Were all under the threat of being driven there, and saw alas, day after day, friends and members of our own I amity being snapped away into that frightful unknown.
One realizes now that this ignorance was a tremendous mercy. For had we known at the moment, what was discovered when we actually entered those camps. the anguish would have been unbearable and might have had still more tragic consequences on the mental health of the semi-free. In that regard God treated us, as He does concerning the Lord's Passion. which, were we to know it as did the Blessed Virgin, St. Mary Magdalen and St. John, would probably drive us mad.
In addition to these non sequiturs. one finds that for Mr. Falconi most of the opinions of diplomatists. in eluding those of so experienced a political observer as is Count Vladimir d'Ormesson, are suspicious or considered as pious nonsense. So when this French Ambassador claims that Pius XII feared that any theatrical gesture of his against the Nazis would worsen the fate of their victims, and only be to the advantage of the Papacy's vanity, we are told that this argument is not valid. The reason given is that the Pope considered theatricals to be part of his job, as he proved. according to Mr. Falconi, when he most spectacularly dashed to the bombed San Lorenzo, before the all-clear had sounded, wearing a cassock which, as Mr. Falconi suggests, had been porposedly stained with artificial blood.
One feels immediately like pointing out to the author. that his parallel is unreal. For in the last case the Pope's gesture involved personal risks, and did not imply that while others suffered he would remain relatively safe; moreover Italian reprisals were never at a level with German ones.
Resides, as Mr. Falconi very honestly and even movingly reveals, Pius XII had been threatened with a treatment at the hands of Hitler. similar to that experienced by Pius VI and Pitts VII at those of the French Revolutionaries. The Pope fully aware of this. had taken all dispositions for the automatic transfer. were it to occur. of the Papal function to the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon.
But why that threat. if not because the Nazis understood as clearly as we all did on this continent and on the moment, the words of Pius XII, in message after message, broadcast by the Vatican radio. In one of them God's wrath was called to descend upon those who were responsible for the atrocities of the war.
Moreover it was Pius XII, who initiated. inspired and, as Cardinal Secretary of State. partly wrote Mit Brennende Sorge, and thus condemned Nazism and all its evils; who succeeded by the power of his words and his diplomatic skill, in stopping Hitler from beginning the war on the 25 August: who thus awarded the West and the world a short delay during which it might have dealt with the Germans in a positive manner. Having achieved all this, he considered, once war was declared, and Christians were scandalously at each other's throats, that, as Christ's first representative, his first duty was to bring back peace, and preach a world order that would no longer allow the outbreak of such hideous slaughters at least among Christians.
Hence while peoples and nations were raging and murdering one another, he devoted himself unceasingly with all his heart and mind. to save human lives, not by words but by works. and by physically rescuing 800,000 Jews. As a result, when the Western powers and the Stalinist Empire brought Germany to its knees. and demanded its unconditional surrender it was on the basis of Pius XII's views, as far as they had penetrated men's minds, coupled with pis unparalleled personal prestige, that a new Europe began to be built : that is to say a united Europe, organised on the principle of what he himself had, as early as Christmas 1939, called "supranationality."
Moreover, as Pope. one of his primary duties was to hold his flock together. One cannot deny that in the face of the fiercest fanaticism to have ever been known in Europe. and in the face of such diabolical characters as Hitler and Stalin were, he succeeded in achieving this task, which, in far less strenuous and tragic conditions, has proved too much for his immediate successors, just as it had done for his predecessors. (Pius X and Pius XI by some of the decrees of their reigns— concerning, for example, the Modernists and the Action Francaise—left the flock more divided than they had found it.
Yet Pius XII was not blind to the magnitude of the evil he had to deal with. For, when meeting with an anti-Nazi German leader. after the war, the Pope told him : "We have contended with devilish forces." (He was here restating a judgment he had already expressed to the wife of the French Ambassador to the Holy See, on the eve of his election to the Chair of Peter.)
Here lies, perhaps, the deeper explanation of his attitude: Pius XII lived, indeed-,-in total heart-to-heart rapport with his Lord. Now the Lord, before Herod, had not tried to enlighten him, once the dice were cast; he had attempted that previously through John the Baptist; the King's conscience was already informed. So when the time came for the Passion and when as the Man of Sorrows Christ was led before Herod. He kept silent. taking upon himself that royal guilt together with that of the whole of humanity, in order to wash it away in his own muted sufferings.
And so of Pope Pius XII. Mr. Falconi, quoting Cardinal Tardini who had spent the whole of the war by the side of the Pope, does mention the physical condition to which his penances had reduced Pius XII during those years of tragedy. And thus, when humanity came flocking to him. after 1945 and right up to his death. to tear away bits of his cassock and keep them as relics, it was simply because everyone felt intuitively, through some revelation given to the soul, that had it not been for his prayers and watches and sacrifices in his Vatican Gethsemane the load of sufferings the world would have had to bear would have been far heavier still.
Before concluding I deem it fair to recommend the excellent quality of Mr. Bernard Wall's translation, and also Mr. Falconi's choice of extracts from Pius Xli's own addresses and speeches, which have that especial ring and impact that are the unmistakeable mark of those who, like Pascal or Newman, are the elected sons of the Spirit of the Word.