Rorate Caeli

The Encyclicals of March 1937: Divini Redemptoris - I

As some may have already noticed from our special masthead, this is a (Lenten) month of celebration for us, with the 70th anniversary of three encyclicals of one of the greatest pontiffs in living memory, Pius XI: in their order of publication, Mit brennender Sorge (March 14); Divini Redemptoris (March 19); and Nos es muy conocida (March 28). In very different ways, the three encyclicals deal with the same matter: how do the Church and the Catholic faithful deal with a Totalitarian regime, run by National-Socialist pagan nation-worshippers, Communist Atheists, or "Fraternal" Mexican post-Revolutionary lords?

There is no doubt that the most relevant of them is Divini Redemptoris, not because its original text was in Latin, but because, as this linguistic aspect already makes clear, it is a universal encyclical for a universal problem, which endures up to our days: Communism. In the months leading to the release of the encyclical on the Feast of Saint Joseph, 1937, the greatest concern in the mind of the Pontiff as political tensions reached feverish proportions throughout the world was undoubtedly the Spanish situation.

Pius XI is often and unjustly accused of "silence" regarding the unbelievably gruesome persecution of Catholics in the Republican-occupied territory of Spain since the early days of the Republic and particularly since the Nationalist alzamiento of July 18, 1936, which marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (see our ongoing series on "The Passion of Spain"). There was no silence -- but there was caution so that the slaughter of Catholics would not reach even greater proportions; this while the Holy See did all it could to protect the Spanish faithful under persecution (does this "silence libel" sound familiar?):

...the most persistent enemies of the Church, who from Moscow are directing the struggle against Christian civilization, themselves bear witness, by their unceasing attacks in word and act, that even to this hour the Papacy has continued faithfully to protect the sanctuary of the Christian religion, and that it has called public attention to the perils of Communism more frequently and more effectively than any other public authority on earth.
Pius was aware, more than any other leader of the age, of the violence perpetrated by Marxists in Spain, as he used it as a warning to all civilized nations, two years before the war and the persecutions were over:

Even where the scourge of Communism has not yet had time enough to exercise to the full its logical effects, as witness Our beloved Spain, it has, alas, found compensation in the fiercer violence of its attack. Not only this or that church or isolated monastery was sacked, but as far as possible every church and every monastery was destroyed. Every vestige of the Christian religion was eradicated, even though intimately linked with the rarest monuments of art and science. The fury of Communism has not confined itself to the indiscriminate slaughter of Bishops, of thousands of priests and religious of both sexes; it searches out above all those who have been devoting their lives to the welfare of the working classes and the poor. But the majority of its victims have been laymen of all conditions and classes. Even up to the present moment, masses of them are slain almost daily for no other offense than the fact that they are good Christians or at least opposed to atheistic Communism. And this fearful destruction has been carried out with a hatred and a savage barbarity one would not have believed possible in our age. No man of good sense, nor any statesman conscious of his responsibility can fail to shudder at the thought that what is happening today in Spain may perhaps be repeated tomorrow in other civilized countries.

From the past, Pius XI seems to warn us even today: "Catholics, never forget what Communism is, what inspires it, what Communists have done, still do, and will always do to Christians, given the opportunity! Catholic faithful, never forget '36! Always forgive, but never forget what Socialists and Communists did to you!"

And the Pian warning resonates in the tablelands of Iberia as "modern" Socialists harass and attempt to silence the Church anew.


  1. Huzzah! Never let us forget that every one of us is called to a heroic martyrdom if the situation should ever arise. How can we fear such a death, even if coupled with tortures, when Our Lord suffered the most ignominious of all deaths out of His Love for us? Blessed José Sánchez del Río, pray for us!

  2. Viva Christo Rey!

    Remember Santiago!

    Long live Los Cristos!

  3. Anonymous5:23 AM

    I wonder what were the feelings of Pius XI when faced with the massacre of priests in Spain and Mexico. Did he pray for them?

  4. Anonymous1:50 PM

    Did you *really* ask that question, Anonymous?

  5. Anonymous3:30 PM

    Yes, but my interest is in the feelings of Pius XI when faced with these calamities. Nothing has been reported of his emotional state witnessing these massacres. And I am not making any accusation against Pius XI. Nothing is known of how the Vatican responded to this, besides writing encyclicals.

  6. Quite the opposite, much is known, and much was done in several different ways (there are references in many different works on the persecution). Nevertheless, there was great caution in the Holy See, a caution which is certainly understandable.

  7. Anonymous7:07 PM

    New Catholic, then it would be a good deed if you publish some of that material in your web blog.

  8. (1) "Angry Anonymous" and the ICRSS: this is not the right place for such alarming accusations, which need to be presented to the proper ecclesiastical and civil authorities.

    (2) Other anonymous: seek and ye shall find... From care to Spanish refugees to specific liturgical instructions to priests who needed to perform their job under severe persecution, the Holy See did all it could in a very volatile situation whose result was unpredictable (and could have gone either way) until 1938. If it had not acted with great care, the slaughter of Catholics could have become a complete annihilation.

  9. Jordan, how is the tiniest of Potters coming along??? I keep thinking about him / her.

    Pius XI:
    Oh yes, to be sure,like Christ,he wept.

    First anon: either you are insane, a stone-cold liar, or your first language is not English.

    "And I am not making any accusation against Pius XI"

    Really, that what on earth did you mean by this?

    "Did he pray for them?"

    and the snide

    "...[besides] writing encyclicals."

    Do you have any idea of the gravity of the sin of omission you have just suggested? The complete violation of the order of Charity you are more than intimating?

    Quit it.

    Pacifists one day, Jack Chick readers the next...


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