The Catholic Church had been offering condemnations of Nazi racism since the earliest days of the Nazi movement. Following the outbreak of war, Pius followed Vatican precedent and pursued a policy of “impartiality.”
The 1942 Christmas address was 26 pages and over 5,000 words long and took more than 45 minutes to deliver. The majority of the speech spoke generally about human rights and civil society. The speech was “crafted to fit the circumstances as he saw them—that is to say, he addressed principles and omitted particulars.”
A New York Times editorial called Pius XII a “lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent.” The head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Mueller, commented that the encyclical was “directed exclusively against Germany.” So outspoken was it that the Royal Air Force and the French air force dropped 88,000 copies of it over Germany.
Five points for ordering society…
Anyone who considers in the light of reason and of faith the foundations and the aims of social life, which we have traced in broad outline, and contemplates them in their purity and moral sublimity, and in their benefits in every sphere of life, cannot but be convinced of the powerful contribution to order and pacification which efforts directed towards great ideals and resolved to face difficulties, could present, or better, could restore to a world which is internally unhinged, when once they had thrown down the intellectual and juridical barriers, created by prejudice, errors, indifferences, and by a long tradition of secularization of thought, feeling, action which succeeded in detaching and subtracting the earthly city from the light and force of the City of God. Today, as never before, the hour has come for reparation, for rousing the conscience of the world from the heavy torpor into which the drugs of false ideas, widely diffused, have sunk it. This is all the more so because in this hour of material and moral disintegration the appreciation of the emptiness and inconsistency of every purely human order is beginning to disillusion even those who, in days of apparent happiness, were not conscious of the need of contact with the eternal in themselves or in society, and did not look upon its absence as an essential defect in their constitutions. What was clear to the Christian, who in his deeply-founded faith was pained by the ignorance of others, is now presented to us in dazzling clearness by the din of appalling catastrophe which the present upheaval brings to man and which portrays all the terrifying lineaments of a general judgment even for the tepid, the indifferent, the frivolous. It is indeed, an old truth which comes out in ever new forms and thunders through the ages and through the nations from the mouth of the Prophet: “All that forsake thee shall be confounded; they who depart from thee, shall be written in the earth; because they have forsaken the Lord, the Vein of Living Waters.”
The call of the moment is not lamentation but action; not lamentation over what has been, but reconstruction of what is to arise and must arise for the good of society. It is for the best and most distinguished members of the Christian family, filled with the enthusiasm of Crusaders, to unite in the spirit of truth, justice and love to the call; God wills it, ready to serve, to sacrifice themselves, like the Crusaders of old.
If the issue was then the liberation of the land hallowed by the life of the Incarnate Word of God, the call today is, if We may so express Ourselves, to traverse the sea of errors of our day and to march on to free the holy land of the spirit, which is destined to sustain in its foundations the unchangeable norms and laws on which will rise a social construction of solid internal consistency. With this lofty purpose before Us, We turn from the crib of the Prince of Peace, confident that His grace is diffused in all hearts, to you, beloved children, who recognized and adore in Christ your Savior; We turn to all those who are united with Us at least by the bond of faith in God; We turn, finally to all those who would be free of doubt and error, and who desire light and guidance; and We exhort you with suppliant paternal insistence not only to realize fully the dreadful gravity of this hour, but also to meditate upon the vistas of good and supernatural benefit which it opens up, and to unite and collaborate towards the renewal of society in spirit and truth.
The essential aim of this necessary and holy crusade is that the Star of Peace, the Star of Bethlehem, may shine out again over the whole mankind in all its brilliant splendor and reassuring consolation as a pledge and augury of a future better, more fruitful and happier. It is true that the road from night to full day will be long; but of decisive importance are the first steps on the path, the first five mile-stones of which bear chiseled on them the following maxims:
Dignity of the Human Person. Defense of Social Unity. Dignity of Labor. The Rehabilitation of Juridical Order. Christian Conception of the State.
Beloved Children, may God grant that while you listen to Our voice your heart may be profoundly stirred and moved by the deeply felt seriousness, the loving solicitude, the unremitting insistence, with which We drive home these thoughts, which are meant as an appeal to the conscience of the world, and a rallying-cry to all those who are ready to ponder and weigh the grandeur of their mission and responsibility by the vastness of this universal disaster.
A great part of mankind, and, let Us not shirk from saying it, not a few who call themselves Christians, have to some extent their share in the collective responsibility for the growth of error and for the harm and the lack of moral fiber in the society of today.
What is this world war, with all its attendant circumstances, whether they be remote or proximate causes, its progress and material, legal and moral effects? What is it but the crumbling process, not expected, perhaps, by the thoughtless but seen and depreciated by those whose gaze penetrated into the realities of a social order which hid its mortal weakness and its unbridled lust for gain and power? That which in peace-time lay coiled up, broke loose at the outbreak of war in a sad succession of acts at variance with the human and Christian sense. International agreements to make war less inhuman by confining it to the combatants, to regulate the procedure of occupation and imprisonment of the conquered remained in various places a dead letter. And who can see the end of this progressive demoralization of the people, who can wish to watch helplessly this disastrous progress? Should they not rather, over the ruins of a social order which has given such tragic proof of its ineptitude as a factor for the good of the people, gather together the hearts of all those who are magnanimous and upright, in the solemn vow not to rest until in all peoples and all nations of the earth a vast legion shall be formed of those handfuls of men who, bent on bringing back society to its center of gravity, which is the law of God, aspire to the service of the human person and of his common life ennobled in God.
Mankind owes that vow to the countless dead who lie buried on the field of battle: The sacrifice of their lives in the fulfillment of their duty is a holocaust offered for a new and better social order. Mankind owes that vow to the innumerable sorrowing host of mothers, widows and orphans who have seen the light, the solace and the support of their lives wrenched from them. Mankind owes that vow to those numberless exiles whom the hurricane of war has torn from their native land and scattered in the land of the stranger; who can make their own the lament of the Prophet: “Our inheritance is turned to aliens; our house to strangers.” Mankind owes that vow to the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline. Mankind owes that vow to the many thousands of non-combatants, women, children, sick and aged, from whom aerial warfare—whose horrors we have from the beginning frequently denounced—has without discrimination or through inadequate precautions, taken life, goods, health, home, charitable refuge, or house of prayer. Mankind owes that vow to the flood of tears and bitterness, to the accumulation of sorrow and suffering, emanating from the murderous ruin of the dreadful conflict and crying to Heaven to send down the Holy Spirit to liberate the world from the inundation of violence and terror.