Rorate Caeli

85 Years of The Encyclicals of March 1937: Divini Redemptoris
and the ever-present dangers of Communism

(2022 Reminder: When Pope Pius XI published this encyclical, the population of Ukraine had just suffered, under the Moscow secret police, the second genocide of the 20th Century, the Holodomor. The Cheka is the NKVD, which is the KGB, which is the current FSB, which still controls Moscow, where old and new Russian errors still dominate. The same Moscow, under new ideological veneer, whose genocidal intents in Ukraine would lead, if allowed to succeed, to the end of Catholics in that martyred nation.)


Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, on the 19th of March, 1937... 

This is a (Lenten) month of celebration for us, with the 85th 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 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 accusation" 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!"

Divini Redemptoris was not an exercise in rhetorical craftsmanship, but a real response to a real problem: the severe persecution of Catholics by Communists.

Yet, it was so much more than a protest. Pope Pius had already made clear several years earlier that "no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist" (Quadragesimo Anno). He was now ready to explain to the Universal Church and to the whole of mankind why Communism must be fought, how Communists infiltrate Holy Mother Church, and how much all should be prepared to detain and reverse its advance.

Pius XI warns the Church and the world of the danger of Communist deceitfulness and infiltration:

[Communism] has therefore changed its tactics, and strives to entice the multitudes by trickery of various forms, hiding its real designs behind ideas that in themselves are good and attractive. Thus, aware of the universal desire for peace, the leaders of Communism pretend to be the most zealous promoters and propagandists in the movement for world amity. Yet at the same time they stir up a class-warfare which causes rivers of blood to flow, and, realizing that their system offers no internal guarantee of peace, they have recourse to unlimited armaments. Under various names which do not suggest Communism, they establish organizations and periodicals with the sole purpose of carrying their ideas into quarters otherwise inaccessible. They try perfidiously to worm their way even into professedly Catholic and religious organizations. Again, without receding an inch from their subversive principles, they invite Catholics to collaborate with them in the realm of so-called humanitarianism and charity; and at times even make proposals that are in perfect harmony with the Christian spirit and the doctrine of the Church. Elsewhere they carry their hypocrisy so far as to encourage the belief that Communism, in countries where faith and culture are more strongly entrenched, will assume another and much milder form. It will not interfere with the practice of religion. It will respect liberty of conscience. There are some even who refer to certain changes recently introduced into soviet legislation as a proof that Communism is about to abandon its program of war against God. See to it, Venerable Brethren, that the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived!

Pope Pius XI explains that Catholics cannot accept Communist deception, because Communism has only one nature: it is intrinsically wrong, perverse, evil (pravus):

Since Communism is intrinsically perverse, no one whose aim is to save Christian civilization and culture from destruction may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.* Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the triumph of Communism in their own country, will be the first to fall victims of their error. And the greater the antiquity and grandeur of the Christian civilization in the regions where Communism successfully penetrates, so much more devastating will be the hatred displayed by the godless.

The Holy Father exposes Communism for what it is: an inherently distorting ideology whose nature is crushing to the human soul:

Communism... strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system. In man's relations with other individuals, besides, Communists hold the principle of absolute equality, rejecting all hierarchy and divinely-constituted authority, including the authority of parents. What men call authority and subordination is derived from the community as its first and only font. Nor is the individual granted any property rights over material goods or the means of production, for inasmuch as these are the source of further wealth, their possession would give one man power over another. Precisely on this score, all forms of private property must be eradicated, for they are at the origin of all economic enslavement.

Communism is not a danger of the past. It is impossible not to see in our own age the heavy influence of Communist ideology, that "new gospel which ... Communism offers the world as the glad tidings of deliverance and salvation", in the perversion of modern Civilization, in the destruction of family life, and of the dignity of women - and in the ongoing debate on the redefinition of marriage to include the protection and promotion of unnatural and abhorrent practices and of an "objectively disordered" lifestyle:

Refusing to human life any sacred or spiritual character, such a doctrine logically makes of marriage and the family purely artificial and civil institution, the outcome of a specific economic system. There exists no matrimonial bond of a juridico-moral nature that is not subject to the whim of the individual or of the collectivity. Naturally, therefore, the notion of an indissoluble marriage-tie is scouted. Communism is particularly characterized by the rejection of any link that binds woman to the family and the home, and her emancipation is proclaimed as a basic principle. She is withdrawn from the family and the care of her children, to be thrust instead into public life and collective production under the same conditions as man. The care of home and children then devolves upon the collectivity. Finally, the right of education is denied to parents, for it is conceived as the exclusive prerogative of the community, in whose name and by whose mandate alone parents may exercise this right. ... Communists claim to inaugurate a new era and a new civilization which is the result of blind evolutionary forces culminating in a humanity without God.

May Saint Joseph, under whose patronage Pius XI placed "the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism", protect us from the dangers of Communism, as great today in its most insidious forms as ever. "While the promises of the false prophets of this earth melt away in blood and tears, the great apocalyptic prophecy of the Redeemer shines forth in heavenly splendor: 'Ecce nova facio omnia'."


*(Communismus cum intrinsecus sit pravus, eidem nulla in re est adiutrix opera ab eo commodanda, cui sit propositum ab excidio christianum civilemque cultum.)