On the Twentieth Anniversary of His Death -
Cardinal Giuseppe Siri
Dawn of a Pontificate - Angelo Martini
Apostolic Activity of Pius
XII - Paolo Molinari
ON THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH
Cardinal Giuseppe Siri
HE MARKED AN ERA IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AND
PREPARED THE NEW TIMES ON THE PLANE OF DOCTRINE
After the conclusion of the informative process for Pius XII's cause,
it is perhaps premature to attempt a purely historical judgment on the
function of his Pontificate. It is not too early, however, to be able to
He was faced by two tasks: to cope with wartime and to cope in good
time with the spiritual upheaval—others will call it
"transformation"—which the war itself involved.
His behaviour with regard to the war—the second world war—which,
at the side of his predecessor Pius XI, he clearly foresaw, is clear.
The attempt has been made to cloud it with literary works which are of
questionable value for art. People do not concern themselves with little
men and imponderable events: the attacks on this Pontiff are, over and
above the grave historical distortion, evidence that he was one of the
In coping with the war, he had before him a model, that of Benedict
XV, but with the advantage of a widened and updated field and technique.
He developed charity in every form; facilitated the exchange of
information to calm the anxiety of families; firmly opposed injustices;
did not give in to compromises while his own deportation was possible at
any moment; and diplomatically limited the consequences of the conflict.
The Apostolic Palaces gave hospitality to all the evacuated and
fugitives; Rome was substantially safe, even though it suffered wounds.
The whole matter is being cleared up, thanks to the opportune
publication of documents.
But already during the war, he aimed, with sure intuition, at the
The various Christmas messages, which he addressed to the world with
courageous freedom, and which still form firm points of reference today,
bear witness to this.
In fact, the worst thing about wars is what they leave behind them.
They scoop out implacable hatred, they give rise to uncontrollable
rancour; the distortion of mentality may be such as to verge, not just
on strangeness and irrationality, but on madness itself. The statistics
(those that it is possible to have in this field) are eloquent.
Movements take on the surging, raging motion of the storm-tossed sea.
The most elementary truths are obscured, the concatenation of evil
causes and frightful effects spirals on. The exasperation of
materialism, of which we are spectators, is also a fruit of the war. For
those who remember, a comparison between the period before the first
world war, that before the second one, and the period after the last
war, is revealing.
Pius XII, not omitting daily care for the Church, prepared on the
doctrinal plane the new times, which were to reveal themselves as rich
in irresistible and not always reasonable thrusts. He saw clearly. His
was a great catechesis. He followed the example of Pius XI, who began a
new form of oratorical contact with the multitudes coming to Rome. But
he perfected that system, because, as can be seen on closer observation,
he followed a logical pattern which was supplied partly by the emergent
social and juridical needs and partly by the indications of a growing
freedom with regard to revelation.
I think that the many ideas and interpretations, neither serious nor
orthodox, go back actually to some works which came out in the thirties,
and to which not too many people paid attention. In actual fact there is
a close concatenation of trends with that event and almost whispered
intellectual digression. He reacted at once, in an orderly, methodical
way. He was extraordinarily methodical. I remember one day in
Castelgandolfo I found on his desk—which was always uncluttered and
tidy—a thick volume in English on "Microphysics". The Pope
noticed my surprised look (caused by the subject) and explained to me:
in five or six months he was to deliver an address on the subject to a
meeting of scientists; he had to speak honestly, with full knowledge of
the facts. For this reason he would send for the most recent production
in the world on a subject. He struck at the most fundamental errors with
perfect theological clarity. He felt the wave of relativism and
materialism gradually pour over all human intellectual activity causing
damage to the Church, souls, and human society. I heard his successor,
the Servant of God John XXIII, say that "Pius XII had written an
His greatness was not only in the body of doctrine and in the
seriousness with which he dealt with it, but also in having anticipated
what current opinion did not yet perceive, and having, in a certain
sense, prepared the remedy even before the harm was done. It is not for
nothing that the sayings and writings of Pius XII were among the great
sources upon which the Second Vatican Council drew.
He knew that the first attack is made on the intellectual line and
that the first defence is established at the same point. Morals are
worked out on a practical ground, it is true, but they always need some
Pius XII carried out his part in constant sacrifice; solitude,
constancy, victory over an extremely sensitive temperament, precision of
method, the painful effort of always learning by heart what he said in
public, after having prepared it scrupulously. The inspiration of
constant piety that seemed to emanate from him, enabled him to carry out
an extraordinary task, without neglecting concern for aft the Churches.
Good manners and courtesy habitually accompanied a man whose very aspect
alone often moved the crowds!
DAWN OF A PONTIFICATE
PIUS XII IN THE MEMORIES OF CARDINAL TARDINI
With offices of responsibility and prestige in the service of three
pontiffs, Domenico Tardini was able to approach Pius XI as Sostituto of
the Secretariat of State, Pius XII as Secretary for extraordinary
ecclesiastical Affairs, and John XXIII as Cardinal Secretary of State.
Endowed with a sense of history, with a ready, fluent pen, he liked
to make notes which range from chronologies to remarks in his diary and
to memories of events and men that are always inspiring, always of great
The notes we are now publishing are a manifestation of these
sentiments and a confirmation of the close contacts between these
Mons. Tardini shared Pius XI's conviction that Cardinal Pacelli would
be his best successor. He writes in a note: "In the consistory on
16 December 1937, the Pope said more or less openly that it was his last
consistory and he added in a veiled way that his successor was perhaps
present: "medius vestrum stat quem vos nescitis". This is what
he said. No one understood clearly whom he wished to refer to. But I
understood very well. With the new cardinals there was present, in his
capacity as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, also His Eminence
Cardinal Pacelli". Mons. Tardini was so convinced that at the death
of Pius XI he predicted that the conclave would be a very short one if
he were elected, far more laborious and long in the contrary case.
When on the evening of 3 March the white smoke showed his prediction
to be true, he was among the first to rush to the conclave rooms. At
once he set to work with Mons. Montini to draft the message of peace to
the world which the new Pope delivered, the following morning, before
the microphones installed in the Sistine Chapel during the ceremony of
the homage of the cardinals.
In a pause of reflection on 13 March, the Coronation day, Tardini
wrote what his sentiments were as he addressed his former superior in
the Secretariat, now Pope: "It is really difficult to explain how I
enjoyed the first days of Pius XII's pontificate. The joy one feels on
seeing raised to the highest peak of the earth—which has something so
divine about it—a person to whom one has been very close for several
years, with whom an agreeable habit of long daily conversations (at
least an hour a day) had been established, is one of the greatest
emotions that a believing and loving heart can feel. The first days one
almost feels one is dreaming. Accustomed as I was to see Pius XI dressed
as Pope, it seemed to me so strange—and how unlikely—that another
person should be wearing that attire. At certain moments, it seemed to
me almost a joke. How is it possible that there is another Pope?
"The unshakeable conviction of the perennity of the Pope had
almost been transformed in me into the certainty of the perennity of
Pius XI. I just could not imagine that the Pope was another. Yet it was
so. And on the other hand such a sudden and immense change in one who
had been up to then my venerated and loved, but immediate superior,
seemed to me a dream, something absurd. I do not know to what I could
compare the sensations I felt: I saw one who until then had been only
one step higher than me, moved far away, almost infinitely. I saw, so to
speak, transfigured, transcending human nature, spiritualized, one who,
out of his kindness, had always been, more than a father, an elder
brother to me."
The white clothes
These impressions are studied more deeply as follows: "Perhaps
my sentiments could be compared to those of the apostles when Our Lord 'transfiguratus
est ante eos et vestimenta facta sunt alba sicut nix'. Never as then did
I understand the lofty significance of everything that is exteriorly a
sign and a symbol. These white clothes told me that an immense
change had taken place in Cardinal Pacelli's person. Those clothes were
enough to renew continually my faith, my veneration."
And he explains this sentiment in the following way: "It is only
those clothes, I say, because, as regards the rest, Pius XII had
remained the same. The same refined, kind, thoughtful, affectionate
manners; the same questions, as of one who doubts or depends: 'Do you
think so? Don't you think?...'. The same open, frank, resounding
laughter, with his mouth wide open...
"And every day, at the same time as before, Montini and I were
with him. Our talks were shorter, but always marked by affectionate
"It was partly that faith made that time we spent with the Pope
precious to us, partly the fact that, out of veneration and discretion,
we spoke very little, and partly that he himself was more in haste,
having so many persons who wished to see him and so many things calling
him to his daily work."
The Pope, therefore, had not changed. In fact: "When the
audience was over, he took leave of us; he got up as he did when he was
a cardinal, and accompanied us to the door, continuing his conversation,
as in the past."
It was an extraordinary sensation for the two collaborators. Tardini
goes on: "It has happened to few people to be accompanied to the
threshold by the Holy Father. Yet Montini and I, in spite of our
protests and polite attempts to deter him, enjoyed this privilege for
several days, that is, until 11 March, the eve of His Holiness's
coronation. On 13 March he began to receive the Cardinal Secretary of
State and started the audiences on the second floor, in the large
He gives further particulars: "Before that day he received us on
the first floor, in his apartment and study as Secretary of State. So
everything was the same for us: the room, the desk, the arrangement of
the papers, our Interlocutor, his gestures, his attitudes, his words. We
did not yet hear the "we", it was still unchangingly the
"I" of the past. And this is one of the greatest impressions:
to witness the slow detachment of a man from what he has been
A detachment which, however, is not a break, but rather a transfer to
a higher plane which partly conditions, dictating new attitudes, new
ways of behaviour, without excluding what his basic temperament,
education, and the habit of years has imprinted on his personality. And
such Eugenio Pacelli remained in the years of the pontificate. Even if
he had a very high awareness of the dignity to which he had been called
and felt that he had to present himself in public, behave and speak
"as a Pope", his spirit, as could be seen in private life,
remained as humble, kind, and thoughtful as ever. Bound to working hours
that knew no rest and made no distinction between days, always attending
to the papers that the offices sent daily to his desk, he was kept even
busier by the work, which has something superhuman about it, of
preparing speeches, so keenly awaited and in such demand on the part of
the most different listeners, anxious to hear the authoritative word of
the head of the Church on the problems of the moment.
Serenity of his last days
Postponing to another occasion the description of his method of work
and the elaboration of his addresses, it is worthwhile to show from
another note of Tardini's how harassed he was and how his strength was
consumed. The Secretary of Extraordinary Affairs writes: "During
his long pontificate H.H. Pius XII often spoke of the great fatigue that
his addresses cost him. But in the last few months of his life, he used
to touch on this subject more and more often. It can be said that no
audience passed without his mentioning it. And it was now like a lament.
In August he did nothing but speak of the many addresses (some, he said,
very difficult and important) which he would have to deliver in
September. During this last month, he said to me once: 'Next week I'll
have almost an address a day!' It could be seen that this continual
effort now wore him out and almost terrorized him. But his iron will
made him continue undeterred on his way."
Far more serene and fit to show the deep simplicity and joyous
humility already mentioned, is the account of an audience for the
children of Villa Nazaret, an. institution created and supported by Mons.
Tardini. The audience took place on 30 September 1958, a week before his
death, when the troublesome hiccough which had already made him ill in
1954 had started again. Mons. Tardini writes: "Audience for the
children of Villa Nazaret. It is the annual feast of my boys. They know
that the Pope expects them. I have an audience at 9.30. The one for the
Institute is fixed for 10.30."
But the hiccough had been so troublesome during the night that it was
proposed to postpone the children's audience. Tardini says: "The
Pope would not hear of it. They advise me to shorten the programme. I
tranquillize them and, sending for the Mother Superior, I tell her that
the Pope is not well, and I remove nearly all the catechetical part from
"At 9.30 I go to the Holy Father. He says to me sorrowfully:
'The hiccough has come back!', adding that it had been very bad during
the night. I say to the Holy Father: 'For Your Holiness there is only
one word required, but with Your Holiness it cannot even be uttered:
rest!' He makes a sign to me as if to say: 'Leave me alone'."
The audience having been shortened, Pius XII gets up and goes to the
Hall where the children are gathered. Mons. Tardini continues:
"Then the recitation of poetry begins. I had chosen some poems by
Belli: one about Castelgandolfo and its lake, two on Pius IX and another
"I supposed that the Pope did not know those sonnets. As a boy
was reciting the first one, I realized at once that the Pope knew it
almost by heart. He came out with some words of it and when the boy was
about to say 'tonno tonno' (round), His Holiness drew a circle in the
air with his right hand. He did not know the three other poems by Belli
and he was surprised when I told him that Belli had a special sympathy
for Pius IX."
Low veiled voice
The Pope gave no sign of fatigue or flagging interest. Then, Mons.
Tardini goes on, "The recitation of poems in Italian begins
("Angelo" by Pezzani, "Salve Regina" by Zanella, the
"Prologo della Nave" by D'Annunzio and finally Psalm 107,
recited by five boys)."
Pius XII did not tire. At the end he complimented the boys who had
made a great effort to recite really well, congratulating them and, with
words of praise, the good Monsignor. He distributed cakes, as at other
times, and then withdrew, content and serene.
But one thing had impressed Tardini: his voice. "That low,
veiled, and, at certain moments, almost inaudible voice, which always
came when he was suffering from hiccough. But in those 37 minutes that
he spent with the boys he did not hiccough even once."
This impression of serenity, of slow return to distant things (the
memory of Belli's poem) was noted also by other visitors. An Austrian
historian, Engel Janosi, who was received in audience on 15 September,
heard him speak of the years of the Nunciature in Germany and murmur,
staring into the distance, "they were happy years!" They were
years of work, of commitment, of dedication to the cause of the Holy See
and of the German Church in the country where he represented the Holy
Audiences of his last days, gladdened by the smile of the children,
at whom he smiled back! Tardini says: "None of us suspected that
that was one of the last audiences that the Holy Father granted on
earth. Mons. Nasalli Rocca said to me, after the Holy Father's death,
"The Pope's last smile was for your boys!"
It was just so. Pius XII loved children. In their midst he assumed a
delightful air of affection and fatherly understanding. He would bend
his tall figure down to them.
And it seems beautiful to conclude with this vision of a Pope and
children, while we all bear in our hearts the vision of Pope John Paul I
at the general audience, two days before he left us, with the boy who
was to help him with his catechesis. Just like Jesus, whose
representatives the Popes are: "let the little children come unto
me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
APOSTOLIC ACTIVITY OF
It is a time which calls us to reflect on the past and to study what
influence Pius XII had and continues to have on the time in which we
live. This reflection is all the more urgent just because we sometimes
have the impression that, today, we are living in a period of the
history of the Church that is very different from that of Pius XII, and
the thought may even occur to us that there is a "break"
between his age and ours.
Times, in fact, have changed, but there is a deep bond between the
pontificate of Pope Pacelli and the life of the Church today. For if we
analyse history objectively, we can clearly see that the real, great
reforms, in the renewal that has characterized the last twenty years,
were prepared, in their essential lines, precisely by Pius XII.
Just think of the impetus given to missionary activity with the
Encyclical Evangelii Praecones (2 June 1951); think of the
care to establish the local hierarchy in Third World countries,
particularly Africa and Asia, and of the internationalization of the
College of Cardinals.
To realize the positive and fruitful influence of Pius XII's thought
on developments in the theological, biblical, and liturgical field, it
is enough to refer to the Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (29
June 1943) which is the basic document for all modern ecclesiology; to
the Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (30 September 1943)
which opened new ways to the modern problems of exegetics; to the
Encyclical Mediator Dei (20 November 1947) which has
rightly been called the "Magna Charta" of liturgical renewal.
Spirit of renewal
Just think also of the contribution made by Pius XII to the renewal
of religious life with the Constitution Sponsa Christi (21
November 1950) and with the Encyclical Sacra Virginitas (25 March
1954) in which, drawing upon the data of revelation, and of the
tradition and teaching of the Church, he stressed the greatness of
religious vocation and of the gift of virginity consecrated to God. With
a happy innovation in advance of the times, Pius XII proceeded with the
official recognition of a form of consecrated life, approving the
Secular Institutes with the Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia (2
Without the preparatory work carried out by Pius XII, the Second
Vatican Council could not have had the nature, effectiveness and result
that everyone recognizes. It is enough to know the conciliar documents
to realize how true this affirmation is. A mere statistical datum is
sufficient for the purpose: the Council does not quote any other source,
except Holy Scriptures, so often as the documents of Pius XII's
magisterium. Altogether these references to his teaching, made in the
official notes, amount to over 180. This fact takes on particular
significance when it is considered that it applies to each of the
conciliar documents: the dogmatic Constitutions, the Decrees, the
Declarations which are accompanied by notes. And it is not a question of
incidental or marginal references but—in most cases—quotations and
references concerning fundamental questions. This holds good for the
dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, in which Pius XII is quoted
as many as 31 times, for Dei Verbum, 8 times, for Gaudium
et Spes, 25 times. The same imprint can be noted in the Decrees on
the of priests, on the renewal of religious life, on the lay apostolate
(31 times), on missionary activity (22 times), etc.
A great realist
Obviously the Second Vatican Council did more than codify the
magisterium of Pius XII. The Council, in fact, marked great further
progress. But at the same time it is undeniable that this progress is to
a large extent the logical evolution of Pope Pacelli's work. It is the
fruit of a seed which he sowed carefully; its roots are so deeply
planted in his magisterium and in his government actions that without
them it would be inconceivable historically.
It is unquestionable that Pius XII saw in materialism of every kind,
and therefore in indifference to spiritual and religious goods, the
greatest danger for the Church and for mankind. He was afraid that this
materialism would exercise its influence on the Church, and on the
clergy itself, leading to forms of secularism and doctrinal and
practical compromises. This he tried with all his might to prevent. But
it was also by virtue of the realism that characterized him that Pius
XII saw the great opportunities offered by the new times, promoted
initiatives and stimulated energies that had often remained latent.
Along this line are his indefatigable efforts to promote the sense of
civil responsibility among the faithful; to support ecumenical
initiatives; to shed light on the significance of sciences with regard
to the teaching of the Church, particularly medical and human sciences,
and, vice-versa, to stress the importance of this teaching to the
advantage of the sciences themselves and of their students.
Who does not remember Pius XII's addresses and his intense diplomatic
activity before and during the second world war, and his good offices in
favour of prisoners, refugees and the missing? While he did not tire of
recalling the belligerents to respect of the norms of law and the duty
of peace, he was concerned at the same time to hold up to all a new
international order based on justice, freedom and the solidarity of
nations and peoples.
Finally, I would like to mention the exercise of charity, active,
hard-working and heartfelt, towards anyone in difficulty.
Pius XII was not only a teacher, a planner, a ruler ... he was first
and foremost a priest of Christ, and as such he knew that, in all times
and in all circumstances, charity has primacy in the action of the
Church. The work of charity that Pius XII promoted and carried out
during the second world war, and in the post-war period, will always be
one of the finest pages in the history of the Church. For this reason
his constant appeal to brotherly solidarity among individuals and
nations had a very great influence on the renewed conscience of the
People of God and contributed considerably to the Church's updating,
which he undertook and started with far-sightedness and wisdom.
This last point introduces us to the deepest dimension of Pius XII's
person and pontificate. Many people who approached him in the public and
private audiences felt almost intuitively that they were in the presence
of a wholly spiritual priest, but few people knew or could know with
what generosity, élan and perseverance he lived according to the ideals
of our Catholic faith. The testimonies gathered in view of his
Beatification Cause confirm that he was a man of God, a priest according
to Christ's heart, eagerly dedicated to service of his neighbour, in an
everyday life of real poverty, humility, and compassion. Anyone who
considers the life and activity of Pius XII in the light of his personal
holiness, can easily understand why he left such a marked and fruitful
trace in the history of the Church up to our days.