Pope Pius XI

Pius XI

Pius XI in 1930
Papacy began 6 February 1922
Papacy ended 10 February 1939
Predecessor Benedict XV
Successor Pius XII
Ordination 20 December 1879
by Raffaele Monaco La Valletta
Consecration 28 October 1919
by Aleksander Kakowski
Created Cardinal 13 June 1921
by Benedict XV
Personal details
Birth name Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti
Born (1857-05-31)31 May 1857
Desio, Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire
Died 10 February 1939(1939-02-10) (aged 81)
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Previous post
Motto Raptim Transit (It goes by swiftly Job 6:15) [1]
Pax Christi in Regno Christi (The Peace of Christ in the Realm of Christ)[2]
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Other popes named Pius

Pope Pius XI, (Italian: Pio XI) born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti[lower-alpha 1] (Italian pronunciation: [amˈbrɔ:dʒo daˈmja:no aˈkille ˈratti]; 31 May 1857 – 10 February 1939), reigned as Pope from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939. He was the first sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929. He took as his papal motto, "Pax Christi in Regno Christi," translated "The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ."

Pius XI issued numerous encyclicals, including Quadragesimo anno on the 40th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's groundbreaking social encyclical Rerum novarum, highlighting the capitalistic greed of international finance, the dangers of socialism/communism, and social justice issues, and Quas primas, establishing the feast of Christ the King. The encyclical Studiorum ducem, promulgated 29 June 1923, was written on the occasion of the 6th centenary of the canonization of Thomas Aquinas, whose thought is acclaimed as central to Catholic philosophy and theology. The encyclical also singles out the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum as the preeminent institution for the teaching of Aquinas: "ante omnia Pontificium Collegium Angelicum, ubi Thomam tamquam domi suae habitare dixeris" (before all others the Pontifical Angelicum College, where Thomas can be said to dwell).[3][4]

To establish or maintain the position of the Catholic Church, he concluded a record number of concordats, including the Reichskonkordat with Germany (Germany's betrayals of which he condemned four years later in the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ("With Burning Concern")). During his pontificate, the longstanding hostility with the Italian government over the status of the papacy and the Church in Italy was successfully resolved in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. He was unable to stop the persecution of the Church and the killing of clergy in Mexico, Spain and the Soviet Union. He canonized important saints, including Thomas More, Petrus Canisius, Konrad von Parzham, Andrew Bobola and Don Bosco. He beatified and canonized Thérèse de Lisieux, for whom he held special reverence, and gave equivalent canonization to Albertus Magnus, naming him a Doctor of the Church due to the spiritual power of his writings. Pius XI created the feast of Christ the King in response to anti-clericalism. He took a strong interest in fostering the participation of lay people throughout the Catholic Church, especially in the Catholic Action movement. The end of his pontificate was dominated by speaking out against Hitler and Mussolini and defending the Catholic Church from intrusions into Catholic life and education.

He died on 10 February 1939 in the Apostolic Palace and is buried in the Papal Grotto of Saint Peter's Basilica. In the course of excavating space for his tomb, two levels of burial grounds were uncovered which revealed bones now venerated as the bones of St. Peter.[5][6][7]

Early life and career

The parents of Pius XI.

Achille Ratti was born in Desio, in the province of Milan, in 1857, the son of an owner of a silk factory.[8] He was ordained a priest in 1879 and embarked on an academic career within the Church. He obtained three doctorates (in philosophy, canon law and theology) at the Gregorian University in Rome, and then from 1882 to 1888 was a professor at the seminary in Padua. His scholarly specialty was as an expert paleographer, a student of ancient and medieval Church manuscripts. Eventually, he left seminary teaching to work full-time at the Ambrosian Library in Milan, from 1888 to 1911.[9]

During this time, he edited and published an edition of the Ambrosian Missal (the rite of Mass used in Milan), and researched and wrote much on the life and works of St. Charles Borromeo. He became chief of the Library in 1907 and undertook a thorough programme of restoration and re-classification of the Ambrosian's collection. He was also an avid mountaineer in his spare time, reaching the summits of Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Presolana. The combination of a scholar-athlete pope would not be seen again until the pontificate of John Paul II. In 1911, at Pope Pius X's (1903–1914) invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.[10]

Nuncio to Poland and Expulsion

The young Ratti as a newly ordained priest.

In 1918, Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922) asked him to change careers and take a diplomatic post: apostolic visitor (that is, unofficial papal representative) in Poland, a state newly restored to existence, but still under effective German and Austro-Hungarian control. In October 1918, Benedict was the first head of state to congratulate the Polish people on the occasion of the restoration of their independence.[11] In March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, upgraded Ratti's position in Warsaw to the official position of papal nuncio.[11] Ratti was consecrated as a titular archbishop in October 1919.

Benedict XV and Nuncio Ratti repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting the Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy.[12] During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, the Pope asked for worldwide public prayers for Poland, while Ratti was the only foreign diplomat who refused to flee Warsaw when the Red Army was approaching the city in August 1920.[13] On 11 June 1921, Benedict XV asked Ratti to deliver his message to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again peaceful coexistence with neighbouring people, stating that “love of country has its limits in justice and obligations”.[14]

Ratti intended to work for Poland by building bridges to men of goodwill in the Soviet Union, even to shedding his blood for Russia.[15] Benedict, however, needed Ratti as a diplomat, not as a martyr, and forbade his traveling into the USSR despite his being the official papal delegate for Russia.[15] The nuncio's continued contacts with Russians did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. After Pope Benedict sent Ratti to Silesia to forestall potential political agitation within the Polish Catholic clergy,[12] the nuncio was asked to leave Poland. On 20 November, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti's expulsion climaxed.[16] Ratti was asked to leave. “While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure, after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned”[17] by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to the Polish nuncio supervising local elections, and patriotic Poles were upset because he curtailed political action among the clergy.[16]

Achille Ratti, shortly after his consecration as bishop.

Elevation to the papacy

Main article: Papal conclave, 1922
Pius XI makes his first public appearance as pope in 1922. The coat of arms on the banner is that of Pope Pius IX

In the consistory of 3 June 1921, Pope Benedict XV created three new cardinals, including Achille Ratti, who was appointed Archbishop of Milan simultaneously. The pope joked with them, saying, "Well, today I gave you the red hat, but soon it will be white for one of you."[18] After the Vatican celebration, Ratti went to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino for a retreat to prepare spiritually for his new role. He accompanied Milanese pilgrims to Lourdes in August 1921.[18] Ratti received a tumultuous welcome on a visit to his home town Desio, and was enthroned in Milan on 8 September. On 22 January 1922, Pope Benedict XV died unexpectedly of pneumonia.[19]

At the conclave to choose a new pope, which proved to be the longest of the 20th century, the College of Cardinals was divided into two factions, one led by Rafael Merry del Val favoring the policies and style of Pope Pius X and the other favoring those of Pope Benedict XV led by Pietro Gasparri.[20]

Gasparri approached Ratti before voting began on the third day and told him he would urge his supporters to switch their votes to Ratti, who was shocked to hear this. When it became clear that neither Gasparri nor del Val could win, the cardinals approached Ratti, thinking him a compromise candidate not identified with either faction. Cardinal Gaetano de Lai approached Ratti and was believed to have said: "We will vote for Your Eminence if Your Eminence will promise that you will not choose Cardinal Gasparri as your secretary of state". Ratti is said to have responded: "I hope and pray that among so highly deserving cardinals the Holy Spirit selects someone else. If I am chosen, it is indeed Cardinal Gasparri whom I will take to be my secretary of state".[20]

Ratti was elected pope on the conclave's fourteenth ballot on 6 February 1922 and took the name "Pius XI", explaining that Pius IX was the pope of his youth and Pius X had appointed him head of the Vatican Library. It was rumoured that immediately after the election, he decided to appoint Pietro Gasparri as his Cardinal Secretary of State.[20]

As his first act as pope, he revived the traditional public blessing from the balcony, Urbi et Orbi ("to the city and to the world"), abandoned by his predecessors since the loss of Rome to the Italian state in 1870. This suggested his openness to a rapprochement with the government of Italy.[21]

Public teaching: "The Peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ"

Pius XI in later life.

Pius XI's first encyclical as pope was directly related to his aim of Christianising all aspects of increasingly secular societies. Ubi arcano, promulgated in December 1922, inaugurated the "Catholic Action" movement.

Similar goals were in evidence in two encyclicals of 1929 and 1930. Divini illius magistri ("That Divine Teacher") (1929) made clear the need for Christian over secular education.[22] Casti connubii ("Chaste Wedlock") (1930) praised Christian marriage and family life as the basis for any good society; it condemned artificial means of contraception, but acknowledged the unitive aspect of intercourse:

Political teachings

In contrast to some of his predecessors in the nineteenth century who had favoured monarchy and dismissed democracy, Pius XI took a pragmatic approach toward the different forms of government. In his encyclical Dilectissima Nobis (1933), in which he addressed the situation of the Church in Republican Spain, he proclaimed, "Universally known is the fact that the Catholic Church is never bound to one form of government more than to another, provided the Divine rights of God and of Christian consciences are safe. She does not find any difficulty in adapting herself to various civil institutions, be they monarchic or republican, aristocratic or democratic."[25]

Social teachings

Pius XI argued for a reconstruction of economic and political life on the basis of religious values. Quadragesimo anno (1931), was written to mark 'forty years' since Pope Leo XIII's (1878–1903) encyclical Rerum novarum, and restated that encyclical's warnings against both socialism and unrestrained capitalism, as enemies to human freedom and dignity. Pius XI instead envisioned an economy based on co-operation and solidarity.

In Quadragesimo anno, he stated that social and economic issues are vital to the Church not from a technical point of view but in terms of moral and ethical issues involved. Ethical considerations include the nature of private property[26] in terms of its functions for society and the development of the individual.[27] He defined fair wages and branded the exploitation both materially and spiritually by international capitalism.

Private property

The Church has a role in discussing the issues related to the social order. Social and economic issues are vital to her not from a technical point of view but in terms of moral and ethical issues involved. Ethical considerations include the nature of private property.[26] Within the Catholic Church several conflicting views had developed. Pope Pius XI declares private property essential for the development and freedom of the individual. Those who deny private property, deny personal freedom and development. But, said Pius, private property has a social function as well. Private property loses its morality, if it is not subordinated to the common good. Therefore, governments have a right to redistribution policies. In extreme cases, the Pope grants the State a right of expropriation of private property.[27]

Capital and labour

A related issue, said Pius, is the relation between capital and labour and the determination of fair wages.[28] Pius develops the following ethical mandate: The Church considers it a perversion of industrial society to have developed sharp opposite camps based on income. He welcomes all attempts to alleviate these differences. Three elements determine a fair wage: the worker's family, the economic condition of the enterprise, and the economy as a whole. The family has an innate right to development, but this is only possible within the framework of a functioning economy and a sound enterprise. Thus, Pius concludes that cooperation and not conflict is a necessary condition, given the mutual interdependence of the parties involved.[28]

Social order

Pius XI believed that industrialization results in less freedom at the individual and communal level, because numerous free social entities get absorbed by larger ones. The society of individuals becomes the mass class-society. People are much more interdependent than in ancient times, and become egoistic or class-conscious in order to save some freedom for themselves. The pope demands more solidarity, especially between employers and employees, through new forms of cooperation and communication. Pius displays a negative view of capitalism, especially of the anonymous international finance markets.[29] He identifies certain dangers for small and medium-size enterprises, which have insufficient access to capital markets and are squeezed or destroyed by the larger ones. He warns that capitalist interests can become a danger for nations, which could be reduced to “chained slaves of individual interests”[30]

Pius XI was the first Pope to utilise the power of modern communications technology in evangelising the wider world. He established Vatican Radio in 1931, and he was the first Pope to broadcast on radio.

Internal Church affairs and ecumenism

In his management of the Church's internal affairs Pius XI mostly continued the policies of his predecessor. Like Benedict XV, he emphasised spreading Catholicism in Africa and Asia and on the training of native clergy in those mission territories. He ordered every religious order to devote some of its personnel and resources to missionary work.

Pius XI continued the approach of Benedict XV on the issue of how to deal with the threat of modernism in Catholic theology. The Pope was thoroughly orthodox theologically and had no sympathy with modernist ideas that relativised fundamental Catholic teachings. He condemned modernism in his writings and addresses. However, his opposition to modernist theology was by no means a rejection of new scholarship within the Church, as long as it was developed within the framework of orthodoxy and compatible with the Church's teachings. Pius XI was interested in supporting serious scientific study within the Church, establishing the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences in 1936.

Pope Pius XI (1922–1939). Warsaw forced his departure as Nuncio. Two years later, he was pope. He signed concordats with numerous countries, including Lithuania and Poland.

Pius XI strongly encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928). He canonised some important saints: Bernadette Soubirous, Therese of Lisieux, John Vianney, John Fisher, Thomas More and John Bosco. He also named several new Doctors of the Church: John of the Cross, Albert the Great, Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine.

Pius XI was the first pope to directly address the Christian ecumenical movement. Like Benedict XV he was interested in achieving reunion with the Eastern Orthodox (failing that, he determined to give special attention to the Eastern Catholic churches). He also allowed the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans which had been planned during Benedict XV's pontificate to take place at Mechelen. However, these enterprises were firmly aimed at actually reuniting with the Roman Catholic Church other Christians who basically agreed with Catholic doctrine, bringing them back under papal authority. To the broad pan-Protestant ecumenical movement he took a more negative attitude.

He rejected, in his 1928 encyclical, Mortalium animos, the idea that Christian unity could be attained by establishing a broad federation of many bodies holding conflicting doctrines; rather, the Catholic Church was the true Church of Christ "the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it".

International relations

The pontificate of Pius XI coincided with the early aftermath of the First World War. The old European monarchies had been largely swept away and a new and precarious order formed across the continent. In the East, the Soviet Union arose. In Italy, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took power, while in Germany, the fragile Weimar Republic collapsed with the Nazi seizure of power.[31] His reign was one of busy diplomatic activity for the Vatican. The Church made advances on several fronts in the 1920s, improving relations with France and, most spectacularly, settling the Roman question with Italy and gaining recognition of an independent Vatican state.

Pope Pius XI's major diplomatic approach was to make concordats. He concluded eighteen such treaties during the course of his pontificate. However, wrote Peter Hebblethwaite, these concordats did not prove "durable or creditable" and "wholly failed in their aim of safeguarding the institutional rights of the Church" for "Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were regarded as mere scraps of paper".[32]

From 1933 to 1936 Pius wrote several protests against the Nazi regime, while his attitude to Mussolini's Italy changed dramatically in 1938, after Nazi racial policies were adopted in Italy.[31] Pius XI watched the rising tide of totalitarianism with alarm and delivered three papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds: against Italian Fascism Non abbiamo bisogno (1931; 'We do not need (to acquaint you)'); against Nazism "Mit brennender Sorge" (1937; 'With deep concern') and against atheist Communist Divini redemptoris (1937; 'Divine Redeemer'). He also challenged the extremist nationalism of the Action Française movement and anti-Semitism in the United States.[31]

Relations with France

France's republican government had long been strongly anti-clerical. The Law of Separation of Church and State in 1905 had expelled many religious orders from France, declared all Church buildings to be government property, and had led to the closure of most Church schools. Since that time Pope Benedict XV had sought a rapprochement, but it was not achieved until the reign of Pope Pius XI. In Maximam gravissimamque (1924), many areas of dispute were tacitly settled and a bearable coexistence made possible.[33] In 1926 Pius XI condemned Action Française, the monarchist movement which had until this time operated with the support of a great many French Catholics. The Pope judged that it was folly for the French Church to continue to tie its fortunes to the unlikely dream of a monarchist restoration, and distrusted the movement's tendency to defend the Catholic religion in merely utilitarian and nationalistic terms. Action Française never recovered.[34][35]

Relations with Italy and the Lateran Treaties

Pius XI aimed to end the long breach between the papacy and the Italian government and to gain recognition once more of the sovereign independence of the Holy See. Most of the Papal States had been seized by the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1861–1878) in 1860 at the foundation of the modern unified Italian state, and the rest, including Rome, in 1870. The Papacy and the Italian Government had been at loggerheads ever since: the Popes had refused to recognise the Italian state's seizure of the Papal States, instead withdrawing to become prisoners in the Vatican, and the Italian government's policies had always been anti-clerical. Now Pius XI thought a compromise would be the best solution.

To bolster his own new regime, Benito Mussolini was also eager for an agreement. After years of negotiation, in 1929, the Pope supervised the signing of the Lateran Treaties with the Italian government. According to the terms of the treaty that was one of the agreed documents, Vatican City was given sovereignty as an independent nation in return for the Vatican relinquishing its claim to the former territories of the Papal States. Pius XI thus became a head of state (albeit the smallest state in the world), the first Pope who could be termed a head of state since the Papal States fell after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The concordat that was another of the agreed documents of 1929 recognised Catholicism as the sole religion of the state (as it already was under Italian law, while other religions were tolerated), paid salaries to priests and bishops, gave civil recognition to church marriages (previously couples had to have a civil ceremony), and brought religious instruction into the public schools. In turn, the bishops swore allegiance to the Italian state, which had a veto power over their selection.[36] The Church was not officially obligated its support the Fascist regime; the strong differences remained, but the seething hostility ended. The Church especially endorsed foreign policies, such as support for the anti-Communist side in the Spanish Civil War, and support for the conquest of Ethiopia. Friction continued over the Catholic Action youth network, which Mussolini wanted to merge into his Fascist youth group.[37]

The third document in the agreement paid the Vatican 1750 million lira (about $100 million) for the seizures of church property since 1860. Pius XI invested the money in the stock markets and real estate. To manage these investments, the Pope appointed the lay-person Bernardino Nogara, who, through shrewd investing in stocks, gold, and futures markets, significantly increased the Catholic Church's financial holdings. The income largely paid for the upkeep of the expensive-to-maintain stock of historic buildings in the Vatican which until 1870 had been maintained through funds raised from the Papal States.

Boundary map of Vatican City, taken from the annex of the Lateran Treaty.

The Vatican's relationship with Mussolini's government deteriorated drastically after 1930 as Mussolini's totalitarian ambitions began to impinge more and more on the autonomy of the Church. For example, the Fascists tried to absorb the Church's youth groups. In response, Pius issued the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno ("We Have No Need)" in 1931. It denounced the regime's persecution of the church in Italy and condemned "pagan worship of the State."[38] It also condemned Fascism's "revolution which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence".[39]

From the earliest days of the Nazi takeover in Germany, the Vatican was taking diplomatic action to attempt to defend the Jews of Germany. In the spring of 1933, Pope Pius XI urged Mussolini to ask Hitler to restrain the anti-Semitic actions taking place in Germany.[40] Mussolini urged Pius to excommunicate Hitler, as he thought it would render him less powerful in Catholic Austria and reduce the danger to Italy and wider Europe. The Vatican refused to comply and thereafter Mussolini began to work with Hitler, adopting his anti-Semitic and race theories.[41] In 1936, with the Church in Germany facing clear persecution, Italy and Germany agreed to the Berlin-Rome Axis.[42]

Relations with Germany and Austria

Signing of the Reichskonkordat on 20 July 1933. From left to right: German prelate Ludwig Kaas, German Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, representing Germany, Monsignor Giuseppe Pizzardo, Cardinal Pacelli, Monsignor Alfredo Ottaviani, German ambassador Rudolf Buttmann.

A threatening, though initially mainly sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the 1933 Nazi takeover in Germany.[43] In the dying days of the Weimar Republic, the newly appointed Chancellor Adolf Hitler moved quickly to eliminate political Catholicism. Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen was dispatched to Rome to negotiate a Reich concordat with the Holy See.[44] Ian Kershaw wrote that the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite "continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations".[45] Negotiations were conducted by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII (1939–1958). The Reichskonkordat was signed by Pacelli and by the German government in June 1933, and included guarantees of liberty for the Church, independence for Catholic organisations and youth groups, and religious teaching in schools.[46] The treaty was an extension of existing concordats already signed with Prussia and Bavaria, but wrote Hebblethwaite, it seemed "more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre Party... ".[32]

"The agreement", wrote William Shirer, "was hardly put to paper before it was being broken by the Nazi Government". On 25 July, the Nazis promulgated their sterilization law, an offensive policy in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Five days later, moves began to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders began to be targeted, leading to thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or "immorality".[47]

In February 1936, Hitler sent Pius a telegram congratulating the Pope on the anniversary of his coronation, but he responded with criticisms of what was happening in Germany, so much so that Neurath, the foreign secretary, wanted to suppress it, but Pius insisted it be forwarded.[48]


The pope supported the Christian Socialists in Austria, a country with a majority Catholic population but a powerful secular element. He especially supported the regime of Engelbert Dollfuss (1932–34), who wanted to remold society based on papal encyclicals. Dollfuss suppressed the anti-clerical elements and the socialists, but was assassinated by the Austrian Nazis in 1934. His successor Kurt von Schuschnigg (1934–38) was also pro-Catholic and received Vatican support.[49] The Anschluss saw the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in early 1938.[50] Austria was overwhelmingly Catholic.[51]

At the direction of Cardinal Innitzer, the churches of Vienna pealed their bells and flew swastikas for Hitler's arrival in the city on 14 March.[52] However, wrote Mark Mazower, such gestures of accommodation were "not enough to assuage the Austrian Nazi radicals, foremost among them the young Gauleiter Globocnik".[53] Globocnik launched a crusade against the Church, and the Nazis confiscated property, closed Catholic organisations and sent many priests to Dachau.[53] Anger at the treatment of the Church in Austria grew quickly and October 1938, wrote Mazower, saw the "very first act of overt mass resistance to the new regime", when a rally of thousands left Mass in Vienna chanting "Christ is our Fuehrer", before being dispersed by police.[54] A Nazi mob ransacked Cardinal Innitzer's residence, after he had denounced Nazi persecution of the Church.[51] The American National Catholic Welfare Conference wrote that Pope Pius, "again protested against the violence of the Nazis, in language recalling Nero and Judas the Betrayer, comparing Hitler with Julian the Apostate."[55]

Papal styles of
Pope Pius XI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Mit brennender Sorge

The Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity, interfered with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers' clubs and cultural societies.[56] By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical - accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further that it was sowing the "tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church". The Pope noted on the horizon the "threatening storm clouds" of religious wars of extermination over Germany.[47]

Copies had to be smuggled into Germany so they could be read from their pulpits[57] The encyclical, the only one ever written in German, was addressed to German bishops and was read in all parishes of Germany. The actual writing of the text is credited to Munich Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber and to the Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.[58]

There was no advance announcement of the encyclical, and its distribution was kept secret in an attempt to ensure the unhindered public reading of its contents in all the Catholic churches of Germany. This encyclical condemned particularly the paganism of National Socialist ideology, the myth of race and blood, and fallacies in the Nazi conception of God:

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds."[59]

The Nazis responded with an intensification of their campaign against the churches, beginning around April.[60] There were mass arrests of clergy and church presses were expropriated.[61]

Response of the press and governments

While numerous German Catholics, who participated in the secret printing and distribution of the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, went to jail and concentration camps, the Western democracies remained silent, which Pope Pius XI labeled bitterly a "conspiracy of silence".[62][63] As the extreme nature of Nazi racial anti-Semitism became obvious, and as Mussolini in the late 1930s began imitating Hitler's anti-Jewish race laws in Italy, Pius XI continued to make his position clear, both in Mit brennender Sorge and after Fascist Italy's Manifesto of Race was published, in a public address in the Vatican to Belgian pilgrims in 1938: "Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we [Christians] are all Semites"[64] These comments were neither reported by Osservatore Romano or Vatican Radio.[65] They were reported in Belgium in the 14 September 1938 issue of La Libre Belgique[66] and in the 17 September 1938 issue of French Roman Catholic daily La Croix.[67] They were then published worldwide but had little resonance at the time in the secular media.[62] The "conspiracy of silence" included not only the silence of secular powers against the horrors of National Socialism but also their silence on the persecution of the Church in the Soviet Union, Mexico, and Spain. Despite these public comments, Pius was reported to have suggested privately that the Church's problems in those three countries were "reinforced by the anti-Christian spirit of Judaism".[68]


When the newly installed Nazi government began to instigate its program of anti-Semitism, Pope Pius XI ordered the papal nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, to "look into whether and how it may be possible to become involved" in their aid. Orsenigo proved a poor instrument in this regard, concerned more with the anti-church policies of the Nazis and how these might affect German Catholics, than with taking action to help German Jews.[69]

On 11 November 1938, following Kristallnacht, Pope Pius XI joined Western leaders in condemning the pogrom. In response, the Nazis organised mass demonstrations against Catholics and Jews in Munich, and the Bavarian Gauleiter Adolf Wagner declared before 5,000 protesters: "Every utterance the Pope makes in Rome is an incitement of the Jews throughout the world to agitate against Germany".[70] On 21 November, in an address to the world's Catholics, the Pope rejected the Nazi claim of racial superiority, and insisted instead that there was only a single human race. Robert Ley, the Nazi Minister of Labour declared the following day in Vienna: "No compassion will be tolerated for the Jews. We deny the Pope's statement that there is but one human race. The Jews are parasites." Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Schuster of Milan, Cardinal van Roey in Belgium and Cardinal Verdier in Paris, backed the Pope's strong condemnation of Kristallnacht.[71]

Relations with East Asia

Under Pius XI, Papal relations with East Asia were marked by the rise of the Japanese Empire to prominence, as well as the unification of China under Chiang Kai-shek. In 1922 he established the position of Apostolic Delegate to China, and the first person in that capacity was Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini.[72] On 1 August 1928, the Pope addressed a message of support for the political unification of China. Following the Japanese invasion of North China in 1931 and the creation of Manchukuo, the Holy See recognized the new state. On 10 September 1938, the Pope held a reception at Castel Gandolfo for an official delegation from Manchukuo, headed by Manchukuoan Minister of Foreign Affairs Han Yun.[73]

Involvement with American efforts

Mother Katharine Drexel, who founded the American order of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, corresponded with Pius XI, as she had with his papal predecessors. (In 1887, Pope Leo XIII had encouraged Katharine Drexel—then a young Philadelphia socialite— to do missionary work with America's disadvantaged people of color). In the early 1930s, Mother Drexel wrote Pius XI asking him to bless a publicity campaign to acquaint white Catholics with the needs of these disadvantaged races among them. An emissary had shown him photos of Xavier University, New Orleans, LA, which Mother Drexel had established to educate African-Americans at the highest level in the USA. Pius XI replied promptly, sending his blessing and encouragement. Upon his return, the emissary told Mother Katharine that the Pope said he had read the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin as a boy, and it had ignited his lifelong concern for the American Negro.[74]

Pope Pius XI at his workdesk.


In 1930, Pope Pius XI declared the Immaculate Conception under the title of Our Lady of Aparecida as the Queen and Patroness of Brazil.[75]

Persecution of Christians

Pius XI was faced with unprecedented persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico and Spain and with the persecution of all Christians especially the Eastern Catholic Churches in the Soviet Union. He called this the "terrible triangle".[76]

Soviet Union

Worried by the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union, Pius XI mandated Berlin nuncio Eugenio Pacelli to work secretly on diplomatic arrangements between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. Pacelli negotiated food shipments for Russia and met with Soviet representatives, including Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, who rejected any kind of religious education and the ordination of priests and bishops, but offered agreements without the points vital to the Vatican.[77] Despite Vatican pessimism and a lack of visible progress, Pacelli continued the secret negotiations, until Pius XI ordered them discontinued in 1927, because they generated no results and would be dangerous to the Church, if made public.

The "harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church",[78] continued well into the 1930s. In addition to executing and exiling many clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscating of Church implements "for victims of famine" and the closing of churches were common.[79] Yet according to an official report based on the census of 1936, some 55% of Soviet citizens identified themselves openly as religious.[79]


During the pontificate of Pius XI, the Catholic Church was subjected to extreme persecutions in Mexico, which resulted in the death of over 5,000 priests, bishops and followers.[80] In the state of Tabasco the Church was in effect outlawed altogether. In his encyclical Iniquis afflictisque[81] from 18 November 1926, Pope Pius protested against the slaughter and persecution. The United States intervened in 1929 and moderated an agreement.[80] The persecutions resumed in 1931. Pius XI condemned the Mexican government again in his 1932 encyclical Acerba animi. Problems continued with reduced hostilities until 1940, when in the new pontificate of Pope Pius XII President Manuel Ávila Camacho returned the Mexican churches to the Catholic Church.[80]

There were 4,500 Mexican priests serving the Mexican people before the rebellion, in 1934, over 90% of them suffered persecution as only 334 priests were licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people. Excluding foreign religious, over 4,100 Mexican priests were eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination.[82][83] By 1935, 17 Mexican states were left with no priests at all.[84]


The Republican government which came to power in Spain in 1931 was strongly anti-clerical, secularising education, prohibiting religious education in the schools, and expelling the Jesuits from the country. On Pentecost 1932, Pope Pius XI protested against these measures and demanded restitution.

Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

Pope Pius XI accepted the Reunion Movement of Mar Ivanios along with four other members of the Malankara Orthodox Church in 1930. As a result of the Reunion Movement, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church.

Condemnation of racism

The Fascist government in Italy abstained from copying Germany's racial and anti-Semitic laws and regulations until 1938, when Italy introduced anti-Semitic legislation. The Pope publicly asked Italy to abstain from adopting a demeaning racist legislation, stating that the term “race” is divisive but may be appropriate to differentiate animals.[85] The Catholic view would refer to "the unity of human society", which includes as many differences as music includes intonations. Italy, a civilized country, should not ape the barbarian German legislation, he said.[86] In the same speech, he criticized the Italian government for attacking Catholic Action and even the papacy itself.

In April 1938, at the request of Pius XI, the Sacred Congregation of seminaries and universities developed a syllabus condemning racist theories. Its publication was postponed.[87]

In one historian's view:

By the time of his death ... Pius XI had managed to orchestrate a swelling chorus of Church protests against the racial legislation and the ties that bound Italy to Germany. He had single-mindedly continued to denounce the evils of the nazi regime at every possible opportunity and feared above all else the re-opening of the rift between Church and State in his beloved Italy. He had, however, few tangible successes. There had been little improvement in the position of the Church in Germany and there was growing hostility to the Church in Italy on the part of the fascist regime. Almost the only positive result of the last years of his pontificate was a closer relationship with the liberal democracies and yet, even this was seen by many as representing a highly partisan stance on the part of the Pope. In the age of appeasement, the pugnacious obstinancy of Pius XI was held to be contributing more to the polarization of Europe than to its pacification. These reservations about the wisdom of Pius XI's policies were held by his closest and most loyal collaborator, Cardinal Pacelli ... Yet the policies followed by Pius XII soon proved to be very different from those of Pius XI. At heart, Pacelli ... was an appeaser. Pius XII rejected his predecessor's combative stance against the nazi and fascist regimes in favour of a politically disinterested position from which the Pope could act as a mediator to ensure European peace. Only if the papacy had an open and friendly relationship with all the great powers, could the Pope use his influence for the resolution of conflicts and the avoidance of war.[88]
E. Pacelli--1922--Nuncio to Germany

Humani generis unitas

Pius XI planned an encyclical Humani generis unitas (The Unity of the Human Race) to denounce racism in the US, Europe and elsewhere, as well as antisemitism, colonialism and violent German nationalism. He died without issuing it.[89]

Pius XI's successor, Pope Pius XII, who was not aware of the text before the death of his predecessor,[90] chose not to publish it. His first encyclical Summi Pontificatus ("On the Supreme Pontificate", 12 October 1939), published after the beginning of World War II, bore the title On the Unity of Human Society and used many of the arguments of the document drafted for Pius XI, while avoiding its negative characterizations of the Jewish people.


Pius XI was seen as a blunt-spoken and no-nonsense man and those were qualities he shared with Pope Pius X. He was passionate about science and was fascinated with the power of radio, which would soon result in the founding and inauguration of Vatican Radio. He was intrigued by new forms of technology which he employed during his pontificate. He was also known for a rare smile.

Pius XI was known to have a temper at times and was someone who had a keen sense of knowledge and dignity of the office he held. He insisted that he ate alone with no one around him and would not allow his assistants or any other priests of other clergy to dine with him. He would frequently meet with political figures but would always greet them seated. He insisted that when his brother and sister wanted to see him, they had to refer to him as "Your Holiness" and book an appointment.

Pius XI was also a very demanding individual, certainly one of the stricter pontiffs at that time. He held very high standards and did not tolerate any sort of behaviour that was not up to that standard. In regard to Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, a diplomatic blunder in Bulgaria, where Roncalli was stationed, led Pius XI to make Roncalli kneel for 45 minutes as a punishment.[91][92] However, it should also be indicated that when in due course Pius learnt that Roncalli had made the error in circumstances for which he could not fairly be considered culpable, he apologized to him. Aware of the implied impropriety of a Supreme Pontiff's going back on a reprimand in a matter concerning Catholic faith and morals, but also deeply conscious that on a human level he had failed to keep his temper in check, he made his apology "as Achille Ratti" and in doing so stretched out his hand in friendship to Monsignor Roncalli.[93]

Death and burial

Pius XI on his deathbed.

Pope Pius XI had been ill for some time when, on 25 November 1938, he suffered two heart attacks within several hours. He had serious breathing problems and could not leave his apartment.[94] He gave his last major pontifical address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which he had founded, speaking without a prepared text on the relation between science and the Catholic religion.[95] Medical specialists reported that heart insufficiency combined with bronchial attacks had hopelessly complicated his already poor prospects.

Pope Pius XI died at 5:31 A.M. (Rome Time) of a third heart attack on 10 February 1939, at the age of 81. His last words to those near him at the time of his death were spoken with clarity and firmness: "My soul parts from you all in peace."[96] Some believe he was murdered, based on the fact that his primary physician was Dr. Francesco Petacci, father of Claretta Petacci, Mussolini's mistress.[97][98][99][100][101] Following a funeral he was buried in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica on 14 February 1939, in the main chapel, close to the tomb of St. Peter. His tomb was modified in 1944 to be more ornate.[102]


The tomb of Pope Pius XI in the Vatican grottos.

Pius XI is remembered as the pope who reigned between the two great wars of the 20th century. The onetime librarian also reorganized the Vatican archives. Nevertheless, Pius XI was hardly a withdrawn and bookish figure. He was also a well-known mountain climber with many peaks in the Alps named after him, he having been the first to scale them.[103]

A Chilean glacier bears Pius XI's name.[104] In 1940, Bishop T. B. Pearson founded the Achille Ratti Climbing Club, based in the United Kingdom and named for Pius XI.[105]

Pius XI also refounded the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1936, with the aim of turning it into the "scientific senate" of the Church. Hostile to any form of ethnic or religious discrimination, he appointed over eighty Academicians from a variety of countries, backgrounds and areas of research.[106] In his honour, John XXIII established the Pius XI Medal that the Council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences awards to a young scientist under the age of 45 who has distinguished himself or herself at the international level.[107]

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church founded a school in his name in Kattanam, Mavelikkara, Kerala, India.

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  1. English: Ambrose Damian Achilles Ratti


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Pope Pius XI
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Andrea Ferrari
Archbishop of Milan
13 June 1921 – 6 February 1922
Succeeded by
Eugenio Tosi
Preceded by
Benedict XV
6 February 1922 – 10 February 1939
Succeeded by
Pius XII
Regnal titles
New title Sovereign of the State of Vatican City
11 February 1929 – 10 February 1939
Succeeded by
Pius XII
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Carter Glass
Cover of Time Magazine
16 June 1924
Succeeded by
Hiram W. Evans

[Category:Diplomats of the Holy See]]

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