August 19, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

20th-century Church: Pius XI ‘in the Kingdom of Christ’

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

Last week, I wrote about Pope Pius XI’s diplomacy during his papacy from 1922 to 1939, especially the creation of the Vatican City State. But he accomplished much more that seems to have been forgotten as he was overshadowed by some of his successors.

I guess I have a special affection for Pius XI because I was born while he was pope, so he was my first pope. He also made my great-uncle, John Noll, bishop of Fort Wayne. When we visited him in Fort Wayne, he had a bust of Pius XI in the entryway to his home.

Pius XI emphasized that there was a place for the laity in the Church. His first encyclical inaugurated what was called the “Catholic Action Movement.” It called for “the participation of the laity in the mission of the hierarchy.”

Organizations like the Catholic Workers movement, Young Catholic Students and the Catholic Family Movement learned how to “learn, judge and act” about their environs. Catholic Action continued until the Second Vatican Council taught that the laity weren’t only to participate in the mission of the hierarchy; they had their own mission.

Pius XI also published an encyclical, “Quadragesimo anno,” to mark “forty years” since Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on social issues, “Rerum Novarum.” He restated the Church’s opposition to both socialism and unrestrained capitalism, and called for an economy based on cooperation and solidarity.

He had a particular interest in spreading missions in Africa and Asia. In 1926, he ordained six Chinese bishops for China. In 1933, he ordained other bishops for China, India and other places in Asia. He saw the number of native priests in mission dioceses increase from about 2,600 to more than 7,000, and the number of Catholics in missionary areas more than double to 18 million.

His papal motto was “the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ,” and, in 1925, he established the feast of Christ the King for universal observance.

On the sixth centenary of the canonization of St. Thomas Aquinas, in 1923, Pius XI issued the encyclical “Studiorum ducern,” which commanded that only Thomas’s theology be taught in Catholic universities. That rule was still in effect when I went to Notre Dame.

He canonized 34 saints, including the Jesuit martyrs of North America, Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas More, John Fisher, Bernadette Soubirous, John Vianney and John Bosco. He added the title of Doctor of the Church to Sts. Albert the Great, Peter Canisius, John of the Cross and Robert Bellarmine.

He was the first pope to directly address the Christian ecumenical movement, giving special attention to the Orthodox Churches (which is still going on today). He also allowed dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans (which is also still going on).

But in his 1928 encyclical “Mortalium animos,” he rejected the idea that Christian unity could be attained through a federation of many bodies. Rather, he said, Christian unity could be achieved only by Christian ecclesial communities rejoining the Catholic Church, and accepting the doctrines they had rejected. †

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