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The Papal Allocution: Christmas, 1945

John Courtney Murray

On Christmas Eve, Pius XII again spoke to the whole world, in an utterance that reveals the same spiritual depth and sharply contemporaneous point, the same statesmanlike and paternal qualities that marked his previous Allocutions.


The Allocution has two themes: first, the supra-national character of the Church, as rooted in her unity and universality; second, the fundamental moral prerequisites of true peace. The Pope did not explicitly connect these two themes. In effect, however, he was driving home once again the twofold thought that has dominated his pontificate: the external structure of world peace will not be stable unless it is built on the living idea of man's spiritual unity; and man's spiritual unity is the work of the Church.


In his opening paragraphs, the Pope touches upon the world's present situation. The gory conflict of the past six years is ended; and for this —may God be thanked. But what have we now? "Peace on earth? True peace? No. Only the 'post-war period,' to use a sad but very pregnant term." There still remains the long task of "bringing the world back from physical and spiritual devastation and ruin to law, order and peace."

            At the beginnings of this postwar period, Pius XII takes a step of immense spiritual significance both to the life of the Church and also to the life of the world—the reconstruction of the College of Cardinals, the body that most closely collaborates with the Roman Pontiff in the guidance and government of the Church. He develops at considerable length the spiritual meaning of his action: "At a time of stress such as ours still is, the Church, in her own interest and in that of mankind, must make every effort to use to the best advantage her undivided and indivisible integrity. She must now more than ever be supra-national."

            Therefore, in bringing the College of Cardinals up to its full strength, he brought into it men of all nations, in order "that this creation may portray in a living manner the universality of the Church," and the true character of Rome as "the city of which all are citizens."

            The "stress" of the times lies in the fact that the old order of competing nationalisms is still struggling against the advent of a new order, in which national policy and action will submit itself to the demands of the international common good. Pius XII has already made it clear that the whole weight of the Church must be thrown on the side of the new order, to further its still hesitant progress. Now he insists that her children must be imbued with her supra-national spirit. This spirit, he implies, will, be the strongest support of that generous international collaboration and solidarity for which he again calls in the second part of his Allocution.

            This supra-national spirit is native and necessary to the Church; for in her very being, as the Body of Christ, she is supra-national—for all nations, and in all nations, one and indivisible, always herself. Woe to those who disregard the fact! The Pope calls attention to the attempts that have been made and are being made "to put the Church, like a prisoner or slave, in the service of this or that particular people, to tie her up within the confines of a single nation." Such attempts, he says, are "sacrilegious," a violation of the sacred being of the Church. They are also a "dastardly blow struck at the unity of mankind."

            This is indeed a strong warning. Excessive nationalism is always disastrous. But it is particularly sinful and dangerous when it attempts to bolster itself by religion and seduce churchmen or statesmen to further its exclusivisms. in the name of the Church. This is a timely warning, too, in a day when national cultures are threatened by foreign influences, and the temptation is to summon the Church to defend ramparts that are not her own.

            No less strong and timely is the Pope’s warning to those who attempt "to ostracize the Church from any nation." Today's work of reconstruction demands the fullest release of all sound spiritual energies within every nation. To bar the Church would be not only sacrilege against her Catholicity, but also injury to the victim nation —a crippling, at the very source, of her powers of resurrection.

            In the second part of his Allocution, the Pope turns to the problem of the structure of the peace. He sees the problem as created, not merely by World War II, but "by thirty years of world war, economic crises and incalculable destitution." And he emphasizes, first, the responsibility of leaders in politics and economics; this is an old idea with him. However, he puts a major emphasis on the idea developed in the Allocution of Christmas, 1944, namely, that the peoples, too, must be allowed to be creative agents in the work.

            With his wonted optimism, he shows confidence in the leaders of nations; there is, he says, "an accumulation, hitherto perhaps never achieved, of experience, good will, political insight and organizing talent." But it is clear that his chief confidence is in the peoples of the world. Popular responsibility for the peace, and the necessity of freedom for the peoples that they may discharge their responsibility—these familiar ideas appear again, strongly.

            The three fundamental moral prerequisites of peace here set down do not really add to the "Peace Points" developed in previous discourses. But they are matters of great contemporary import.

            The first is the necessity of "collaboration, good will, reciprocal confidence in all peoples." To have peace, men must renounce all that divides them: "hate, vengeance, rivalry, antagonism, unfair and dishonest competition." And they must seek all that unites them. The Pope strongly suggests that the first thing that should unite all nations today is a sense of common guilt for the material and moral catastrophe of the war. This universal awareness of guilt will sharpen the moral sense that must guide present relations between victor and vanquished.

            In three special fields this moral sense must now be active. First, let war criminals be punished according to their guilt; but let no nation do that for which it punishes others. Second, reparations must be morally just, that is, they must respect those inviolable natural rights that are retained "even by those who have unconditionally surrendered to the victor." Third, the quest for security is not simply a military problem; security rests on wholesome internal order within States and on wholesome relations between States.

            The second moral condition of peace has far-reaching implications. In effect, what the Pope here calls for is the protection of the true freedom of thought of the peoples of the world, and the obedience of leaders to freely formed and freely uttered public opinion. Negatively, what he demands is the abolition of external pressures on public opinion, exerted by "the power of wealth, arbitrary censorship, one-sided judgments and false assertions." The "public opinion" they mold is an "artificial creation." True public opinion rises from the interior of man, from his moral judgments, his true sense of his own human needs and those of his family. This is the public opinion that must be freed from pressures: "Let due heed be paid to the true and overwhelming majority of men, made up of those who live honestly and peacefully by their own labor in their own family circle, and who desire to do the will of God." This is "the public"; and its "opinion" wants a happy family life, and the peace in which to live it.

            Here is at once a strong plea for a free press, and a condemnation of what is often meant by a free press. Here, too, is a strong emphasis on what must be the focus of all peace-making endeavor—the needs and rights of the family.

            From the standpoint of the family, the Pope goes on to the third prerequisite of peace—the destruction of all totalitarian government. With its arbitrary rule, and its preoccupation singly with growth in State power, such government fails the moral test of all good government, namely: "the progressive creation of ever more ample and better conditions in public life, to ensure that the family can evolve as an economic, juridical, moral and religious unit." Christian morality, as the Holy See has often insisted, will not acknowledge the totalitarian State; for it is "man in the framework of the family and of society who by his labor is the lord of the world."

            In a passage clear enough in its tendency, the Pope also condemns totalitarianism in international life. He evidently refers to the idea developed on Christmas Eve, 1944, that international society is not truly democratic as long as it is based on the concept of power. Democracy in international life demands the subjection of all nations to a law higher than their sovereign wills. It demands, too, the equality of all nations before the law. And it rejects the notion that sheer size and strength invest any nation, or any group of nations, with the divinity of rule over others.

            Generous international collaboration, a free voice for the common man, the primacy of the family over the State—these three principles must be incorporated into the structure of peace.

            How shall this be done? The Pope is forthright with the ancient solution: "a return to God and to the order established by him," a real Christianity within the State and between States. But the old injunction is given with a newly triumphant sharpness: "Let it not be said that this is not realism in politics. Experience should have taught all that the policy guided by eternal truths and the laws of God is the most real and tangible of policies. Realistic politicians who think otherwise only pile up ruins." The ruins around us surely have refuted the ancient sneer, uttered by what the Pope calls "a musty Liberalism." Its effort was "to create, without the Church or in opposition to her, a unity built on lay culture and secularized humanism." What it did, together with the totalitarianism that moved into the vacuum it created, was to bring about a world that "for its tragic disunity and insecurity has never known an equal." On the solid grounds of fact, and in the name of the common man, Pius XII has once again called for a "peoples' peace," based on what the peoples still believe, that God is Lord of human life.