Rorate Caeli

The Encyclicals of March 1937: Mit brennender Sorge - I

Pius XI reaped the fruits of the principled stance of his predecessors for the liberty of the Church in many different countries.

In 1924, difficult negotiations, as well as post-Great War circumstances, induced the French Republic to accept the need to adapt the disgraceful legislation on the Associations Cultuelles to the needs and structure of the Catholic Church (Maximam Gravissimamque -- see our past article on the issue), a position which was only possible due to the holy "intransigence" of Pope Saint Pius X in defense of the rights of the Church.

A few years later, the holy "intransigence" of Pope Blessed Pius IX and his successors on the "Roman Question" also yielded good fruits in the form of the Lateran Pacts of 1929 (which did not have any kind of ideological meaning for the Vatican -- as the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno would make clear in 1931).

The wild political winds which agitated Germany since the end of the Great War forced the Holy See to try to negotiate repeatedly with the Republic a legal agreement in accordance with the Weimar Constitution. Concordats were signed with Bavaria, Prussia, and Baden, but a national concordat was still rejected by the government in the early 1930s. The rise of Hitler and the dictatorial powers which the Reichstag afforded him with the Enabling Act of 1933 elevated the concern of the Holy See for the Catholic faithful, Catholic schools, and Catholic property in Germany to an alarming level.

An extremely weakened Franz von Papen was sent to Rome to negotiate the terms of a National Concordat (Reichskonkordat) with the new Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli (who had signed the first German concordat with the Free State of Bavaria as nuncio in Munich in 1924). The Concordat was signed in Rome on July 20, 1933 (in the picture, future Cardinals Pizzardo, Ottaviani, and Montini-Pope Paul VI stand next to Cardinal Pacelli-Pope Pius XII).

Pius XI himself describes his feelings about the Concordat at the time of negotiations in the first paragraphs of Mit brennender Sorge:

When, in 1933, We consented ... to open negotiations for a concordat, which the Reich Government proposed on the basis of a scheme of several years' standing; and when, to your unanimous satisfaction, We concluded the negotiations by a solemn treaty, We were prompted by the desire, as it behooved Us, to secure for Germany the freedom of the Church's beneficent mission and the salvation of the souls in her care, as well as by the sincere wish to render the German people a service essential for its peaceful development and prosperity. Hence, despite many and grave misgivings, We then decided not to withhold Our consent for We wished to spare the Faithful of Germany, as far as it was humanly possible, the trials and difficulties they would have had to face, given the circumstances, had the negotiations fallen through. It was by acts that We wished to make it plain, Christ's interests being Our sole object, that the pacific and maternal hand of the Church would be extended to anyone who did not actually refuse it.
The National-Socialist government confirmed in the post-Concordat period all papal misgivings, and worse:

...anyone must acknowledge, not without surprise and reprobation, how the other contracting party emasculated the terms of the treaty, distorted their meaning, and eventually considered its more or less official violation as a normal policy. The moderation We showed in spite of all this was not inspired by motives of worldly interest, still less by unwarranted weakness, but merely by Our anxiety not to draw out the wheat with the cockle; not to pronounce open judgment...
Despite all the pain which the persecution of Catholics caused to the heart of the Pontiff, the disobedience of the terms of the Concordat by the Reich's government was not his main concern (" the purpose of this letter"). Rather, the encyclical, signed on March 14, 1933 (the first letter of "the month of three encyclicals", though released only on Palm Sunday, 1937, after Divini Redemptoris) contained severe warnings against the "aggressive paganism" which the Nazi regime imposed throughout Germany:

Take care, Venerable Brethren, that above all, faith in God, the first and irreplaceable foundation of all religion, be preserved in Germany pure and unstained. The believer in God is not he who utters the name in his speech, but he for whom this sacred word stands for a true and worthy concept of the Divinity.
And here the Pope established clear doctrinal guidelines on what is true belief in God and what defines true faith in God:

[1.] Whoever identifies, by pantheistic confusion, God and the universe, by either lowering God to the dimensions of the world, or raising the world to the dimensions of God, is not a believer in God.

[2.] Whoever follows that so-called pre-Christian Germanic conception of substituting a dark and impersonal destiny for the personal God, denies thereby the Wisdom and Providence of God who "Reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wisdom viii. 1). Neither is he a believer in God.

[3.] 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.
Christian Rome could not be clearer about who the new barbarians were (in the picture, Albert Speer's "Cathedral of Light" in the Nuremberg Rallies of 1937).