"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 30, 2016

Popes, Dictators, and Money

When it was published nearly a decade ago now, I read with utter fascination, not a little horror, and occasional laughter John Pollard's study Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950. Published by Cambridge University Press, the same university where he is a professor of history, the book showed, inter alia, the rather complicated relationship popes have had to their own finances and those of the Holy See--to say nothing of the sometimes complicated tangles popes worked themselves into when Vatican holdings were considered in light of Catholic social teaching about, e.g., usury, the dangers of greed, and the obligation to care for the poor. But the achievement of Pollard's study was not to issue in some sanctimonious screed about the solemn necessity of selling Michelangelo's frescoes to finance a soup kitchen; nor did it result in a gauzy hagiography of how every penny is piously proffered to widows and orphans. Instead, it was a judicious piece of scholarship noted for its sobriety and its ability to avoid these pitfalls.

If money is messy and complicated, how much more so were the relations between the papacy, the Vatican, and the dictators of Europe in the first half of the last century. These come in for Pollard's expert scrutiny in a paperback version, released in June, of his 2014 book: The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 (Oxford UP, 2016), 556pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 examines the most momentous years in papal history. Popes Benedict Xv (1914-1922), Pius Xi (1922-1939), and Pius Xii (1939-1958) faced the challenges of two world wars and the Cold War, and threats posed by totalitarian dictatorships like Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and Communism in Russia and China. The wars imposed enormous strains upon the unity of Catholics and the hostility of the totalitarian regimes to Catholicism lead to the Church facing persecution and martyrdom on a scale similar to that experienced under the Roman Empire and following the French Revolution. 
At the same time, these were years of growth, development, and success for the papacy. Benedict healed the wounds left by the 'modernist' witch hunt of his predecessor and re-established the papacy as an influence in international affairs through his peace diplomacy during the First World War. Pius Xi resolved the 'Roman Question' with Italy and put papal finances on a sounder footing. He also helped reconcile the Catholic Church and science by establishing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and took the first steps to move the Church away from entrenched anti-Semitism. Pius Xi continued his predecessor's policy of the 'indigenisation' of the missionary churches in preparation for de-colonisation. Pius Xii fully embraced the media and other means of publicity, and with his infallible promulgation of the Assumption in 1950, he took papal absolutism and centralism to such heights that he has been called the 'last real pope'. Ironically, he also prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council.

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