Anglo-American Originalism: A Satire

Author’s Note: One evening, I was reading the Federalist Papers and fell into a trance, no doubt hypnotized by the blessings of Liberty, such as the taxing power. In my trance, I was, I believe, shown this piece, which represents originalism as it perhaps is in another world. Given Adrian Vermeule’s attack on our founding documents of the 1980s, I thought the time was right to reveal what had been shown to me.

One hears much today about the Anglo-American conservative tradition, consisting of such nice, liberty-loving men as Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, and Joseph Story. There are any number of other names that are enrolled—enshrined, even—among the heroes of the Anglo-American conservative tradition. It is not uncommon to read people waxing very tender about the common law and all the innovations of the common-law courts. Prose poems to limited government, due process, and liberty are thick on the ground. 

At The American Mind, for example, some of the leading lights of the conservative movement have turned to the Anglo-American conservative (legal) tradition to answer Adrian Vermeule’s “common-good conservatism” argument from The Atlantic. Vermeule wishes to jettison originalism in favor of a robust judicial and legislative approach ordered to the common-good. One would have thought that Catholics would acknowledge Vermeule’s approach as just about the only approach on offer. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, which might fairly be called the Church’s great approach to modernity, calls for the state to seek the common good and total well-being of its citizens (nos. 74–75). One would be sorely disappointed in that expectation, though. This leads to endless, unedifying recitations of all the old chestnuts about the Anglo-American tradition. 

But the Anglo-American tradition, one surmises from all these interventions, is no older than 1687 or so, except for occasional fragments of earlier times. One might hear about Magna Carta or the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 (31 Car. II c. 2). One might, if one listens closely, hear whispered the names of Bracton or Coke. But for the most part, history begins in 1687. However, to begin the Anglo-American tradition on the cusp of the so-called Glorious Revolution is to do violence to the tradition. One example of this tradition, which leaps off the page and offers a rebuttal to Vermeule, is the long history of common law and the statutory punishment of heresy in England. These laws, which have a surprising source, spanned Catholic and protestant reigns. 

The punishment of heresy is a significant component of the English tradition and part of the Anglo-American tradition. Vermeule’s critics seem, therefore, to be missing a golden opportunity to meet Vermeule on his own turf. He calls for common-good conservatism: a strong president assisted by strong administrative organs and a compliant judiciary ordering the state to the common good in accordance with Catholic doctrine and right reason. A deep understanding of Anglo-American tradition, rooted in the lived laws and customs of England and the United States, demonstrates conclusively that the government already has the sort of power Vermeule seeks—and more. Why not answer Vermeule by reminding him of the English tradition of burning? This common-law tradition, which spanned centuries, made its way into American common law. One need not jettison the jurisprudential achievements of the 1970s and 1980s for the state to have the sort of power Vermeule seeks. To recover the whole Anglo-American tradition, therefore, is to find the perfect answer to Vermeule.

The tradition begins in some sense with Frederick II, the great Hohenstaufen emperor, who promulgated decrees against heresy. Known by their incipits, Commissi and Inconsutilem (MGH Legum II, ed. Pertz, pp. 288, 327), Frederick’s decrees are part of a tradition of imperial legislation against heretics. For example, Justinian’s Codex begins with a long decree about orthodoxy and heresy (1.1). Frederick’s decrees, however, are marked by their salutary severity, imposing the death sentence upon heretics. This is one of history’s ironies, considering that Innocent IV, at the Council of Lyons, deposed Frederick for, among many complaints about Frederick’s personal conduct and public administration, the crime of heresy. Of course, the laws themselves were not tainted by their association with the infamous Hohenstaufen. Following Frederick’s death, Boniface VIII ratified these constitutions specifically with the decretal Ut inquisitionis negotium (c.18 in Sexto 5, 2). 

As an aside, Frederick II’s value as an integralist model becomes clearer in this context. Indeed, it is necessary to consider Frederick in the same breath as St. Louis IX, recently the subject of Andrew Willard Jones’s (mostly) excellent Before Church and State. Whatever happened later, Boniface’s approbation demonstrates clearly that, when Frederick promulgated Commissi and Inconsutilem, he was acting in a manner congenial to the Roman Church. More than that, he was acting in a manner that the pope felt all rulers in the west should emulate. One can deplore Frederick’s disagreements with Innocent III, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV while still admiring the actions he took that later met with the Church’s approval. Simply pointing to the ultimate dispute between Frederick and Innocent IV is inconsistent with the Church’s actual attitude toward the great Hohenstaufen. 

Frederick’s decrees, of course, were imperial legislation, not applicable in other realms of their own force. However, Bishop William Lyndwood, the eminent English canonist, held that Boniface VIII’s decretal made them part of the common law of the west. In his Provinciale, as Maitland and Pollock have noted, Lyndwood had to answer the question why heretics were burned in England. Lyndwood found the answer in Archbishop Thomas Arundel’s January 1408 constitution Reverendissimae, in the phrase “poenas in jure expressas” of the first chapter, Quod nullus. Expanding upon the phrase, Lyndwood pointed to the decretal Ut inquisitionis negotium and the constitutions Commissi and Inconsutilem. In other words, the punishments found in the law, according to Lyndwood, were the imperial punishments endorsed by Boniface VIII. 

From our vantage point, this is an amazing argument. By means of the canon law, Pope Boniface VIII made Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s constitutions Commissi and Inconsutilem binding in England, so that Archbishop Arundel could simply allude to them in his constitution Reverendissimae. To put it another way, the Pope inserted into English common law the decrees of the Holy Roman Emperor. 

Today, it is a hopeless, thankless task to get anyone to read Pope St. John Paul II’s canons 1311 and 1312, stating the Church’s right to coerce the faithful even in terms of temporalities, much less John Paul’s assertion in his constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges that the 1983 Code, which presumably includes canons 1311 and 1312, presents the true ecclesiology even of the Second Vatican Council. One hears flowery rejections of ecclesiastical coercion, even from people who might otherwise be expected to scan the Code of Canon Law and John Paul’s apostolic constitution promulgating it. One can scarcely imagine the reaction to Lyndwood’s argument that the pope can make foreign law into common law merely by approving it. 

Lest anyone suggest that the good kings of England resisted the encroachments of popish tyranny, it ought to be noted that English statutory law conformed with the European common law established by Boniface VIII. During Richard II’s minority, a statute was adopted in his name authorizing the arrest and imprisonment of heretical preachers (5 Ric. II stat. 2, c. 5). Then, under Henry IV, a very severe statute against the Lollards was introduced (2 Hen. IV c. 15). Many cite Henry IV’s statute as the beginning of the writ de heretico comburendo. However, in his magisterial Roman Canon Law in the Church of England, Maitland argues that Archbishop Arundel had the Lollard priest William Sawtrey burned even before Parliament had actually passed the statute (on the strength of Boniface VIII’s Ut inquisitionis negotium and Frederick’s constitutions). Certainly there is no conflict between the two. 

Then, in 1414, Henry V renewed the severe legislation against the Lollards (2 Hen. V stat. 1, c.7), demanding first an oath from practically everyone engaged in civil administration for the extirpation of Lollardy and for close cooperation with the spiritual authorities in their work against heresy. He also provided for the forfeiture of the lands and property of those convicted of heresy. Blackstone notes that Henry V’s law against the Lollards made that heresy a temporal offense and claimed concurrent jurisdiction with the ecclesiastical courts. This is an interesting observation, which deserves to be repeated: Henry V made heresy a temporal offense. These three statutes (5 Ric. II stat. 2, c. 5, 2 Hen. IV c. 15, and 2 Hen. V stat. 1, c. 7) were renewed by Philip and Mary in 1554 (1 & 2 Phil. & Mar. c. 6). 

The English legislation against heretics was not limited to Catholic monarchs. In 1562, although Elizabeth repealed the prior statutes against heresy (1 Eliz. I c. 1), she reformed the process for the writ de excommunicato capiendo by the statute 5 Eliz. I c. 23. The purpose was not, as one might think, to suppress the state’s cooperation with ecclesiastical authority. Instead, Elizabeth’s statute was framed to ensure the due execution and return of the writ so that the excommunicated could be properly addressed by ecclesiastical authorities. Blackstone reliably informs us that Elizabeth also put the writ de heretico comburendo into execution against Jan Pietersz and Hendrick Terwoort (4 Commentaries *49). It was not until 1677 that Parliament finally abolished the writ de heretico comburendo (29 Car. II c. 9). However, the statute contained a lengthy proviso that the abolition of the writ did not diminish the jurisdiction of “Protestant Arch-Bishops or Bishops or any other Judges of any Ecclesiasticall Courts in cases of Atheisme Blasphemy Heresie or Schisme and other damnable Doctrines and Opinions” to punish offenders. 

One might also note that, while the monarchs of the so-called reformation were eager to roll back the heresy laws of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V, they were also eager to punish witchcraft most stringently. Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and James all issued severe laws against witchcraft (e.g., 33 Hen. VIII c. 8; 1 Jac. I c. 12). James in particular made witchcraft a secular felony, punishable with death, echoing Henry V’s statute making heresy a temporal offense. Blackstone notes that heresy and witchcraft had been treated similarly in English law (4 Commentaries *60). However, witchcraft was ultimately removed from the judgment of the ecclesiastical courts. But by the time of George II, the ancient severity of the English law against witchcraft had been relaxed significantly, to the point where the law seemed to hold that only the pretense of witchcraft was punishable and then only with a year’s imprisonment (4 Commentaries *61). 

All of this is interesting as English legal history, to be sure, but one might justly wonder the extent to which it has any bearing on American jurisprudence. There are two answers to that question. First, English legal history served as the omnipresent background for the founding fathers. Coke’s Institutes and Blackstone’s Commentaries were the cornerstone of early American legal education and jurisprudence, and retain, as a consequence, a privileged place in the understanding of the founding fathers’ legal thought. The founding fathers, moreover, were not above borrowing specific concepts from English law. Alexander Hamilton, in describing the Senate as a high court of impeachments in Federalist No. 65, noted frankly that the Constitution’s arrangement for impeachments had been borrowed from England. 

The long history of Christianity and English law—indeed of the extent to which secular courts were obliged to follow ecclesiastical law—was certainly not unknown to the founding fathers. In February 1814, Thomas Jefferson forwarded an extract of his commonplace book to Dr. Thomas Cooper. Jefferson had obtained for Cooper appointment as a professor in the University of Virginia, which he was forced to resign over religious matters. Jefferson’s extract is a long summary treating the question of whether Christianity was part of English common law. After listing numerous authorities in support of the proposition that Christianity was in fact part of the English common law, Jefferson, ever the freethinker, attempts to prove it was never so. But Jefferson never quite manages to batter down the judges, including Sir Matthew Hale’s judgment in Rex v. Taylor, I Ventr. 293, 3 Keb. 607 (1676). In forwarding the extract to Cooper, Jefferson suggested that Cooper might “find the conclusions bolder than the historical facts and principles will warrant.” 

The other answer is this: the English common law is part of the organic law of many states. Often one reads in state law that the English common law as of the fourth year of the reign of James I (1607) is received as part of the law of a state. No doubt this date is connected to the establishment of James Fort, later known as Jamestown, by the Virginia Company in May 1607, after which courts sitting in the United States adopted and developed the common law. While Elizabeth repealed Philip and Mary’s renewal of the older heresy statutes, it is clear that Elizabeth’s common law included the writ de heretico comburendo and the writ de excommunicato capiendo. The former would not be abolished until 1677 and Elizabeth herself reformed the procedure for the latter in 1562. It stands to reason, therefore, that Frederick II’s stringent decrees against heresy, made part of English common law by Pope Boniface VIII, lurked in the body of the common law as it made its way to the New World. 

The founding fathers, most of whom knew their Blackstone as well as anything, would no doubt have read in the fourth volume of Blackstone a brief account of Frederick II, Boniface VIII, and Lyndwood (4 Commentaries *45–46). Indeed, Blackstone traces quickly the history of English heresy law, including Henry VIII’s statutes defining heresy and Elizabeth I’s repeal of the former heresy laws, and comes to the conclusion that the writ de heretico comburendo was left as it was in common law, which is to say available only to the provincial synod (4 Commentaries *46–49). Anyone who consults Blackstone must therefore conclude that at least some of the provisions against heresy were part and parcel of the common law as of the fourth year of James I. 

Originalists, frantic to find an answer to Vermeule, are no doubt rejoicing at this conclusion. The common law adopted by the states, as it was understood by the framers of the Constitution and those who ratified it, included in some sense the stringent heresy laws of Emperor Frederick II, which had been grafted into the common law by Pope Boniface VIII. Subsequent statutory enactments may have broadened or narrowed the scope of the civil authorities in heresy cases, but at no point before 1677 or so (i.e., after English common law became American common law) was the scope abolished. Recall that the First Amendment was not incorporated against the states at ratification, and the Tenth Amendment leaves the states’ powers untouched except where specifically modified by the Constitution. 

The answer to Vermeule becomes clear, does it not? If one accepts  a thick understanding of originalism and the Anglo-American tradition, you see that the power to execute heretics is already part of the constitutional order in this country. Federalism is nothing if not a warrant for the states to pursue heretics—as good originalists, we note that these are heretics as Frederick II and Boniface VIII would have seen them—while the federal government sticks to its knitting. Our great separation of powers means that state-court judges shall issue writs de heretico comburendo and de excommunicato capiendo upon the application of ecclesiastical authorities for governors and sheriffs to execute. If the states have modified this understanding by various enactments—here we should remember that statutes in derogation of the common law are always construed narrowly—that is their choice. Other states may make other choices. 

One takes a step back, breathless, at this moment. The genius of the framers was not merely a system of checks and balances, a finely wrought mechanism for the preservation of liberty. It was also to leave untouched the English-speaking peoples’ tradition of stringent punishments for heresy carried out by civil officials at the behest of the ecclesiastical authorities. A tradition that finds its root in the decision of the Pope who issued the bull Unam sanctam and the bull Ausculta fili to issue a decretal ratifying the ordinances of a Holy Roman Emperor. They built better than they knew. 

Some Fragments toward an Integralist Penal Law

By P.J. Smith


A preliminary observation: when someone demands a complete policy proposal, what are they seeking to enthrone? What are they seeking to minorize? Here I am thinking of Michel Foucault’s January 7, 1976 lecture at the Collège de France (collected in the volume “Society Must Be Defended”). It seems patent to me that the declaration that such and such is a science, made always with the intent to disqualify other knowledge, is the same thing as demanding that integralists present complete policy proposals, made with the same intent. That is, the guardians of liberalism seek to disqualify integralist thought by asserting that only ideologies completely concretized with laws and regulations and white papers are serious ideologies. The demand is obviously made in an attempt to tap into the power-structures of the existing regime, which necessarily has laws and regulations and white papers.

One of course can approach the question of laws and regulations in purely technical terms, that is to say, as an exercise in drafting statutes. A person who, being validly baptized, knowingly or intentionally holds a doctrine condemned by the Supreme Pontiff or an ecumenical council commits heresy, a felony. One can even go so far as to draft statutes establishing proof. A certified copy of a judgment from an ecclesiastical tribunal finding that the defendant has committed the canonical delict of heresy shall be sufficient proof that the defendant has committed heresy, a felony. In and of itself, this is not very difficult work. If the demand for an integralist penal law is a demand that integralists engage in the purely technical task of writing statutes that would be adopted in a hypothetical integralist state, this is no demand at all.

Yet no one really conceives of the demand as a demand for technical examples of integralist penal law. Such a demand would be of interest only to lawyers and the answers intelligible for the most part only to lawyers. By and large the individuals demanding such work are not lawyers. The demand is made on a much lower level: who will be punished and for what? Here, we find a new attempt to disqualify integralist thought. However, the question of who will be punished and for what is just about the last question to be asked. Only after the hard work—the very hard work, in fact—has taken place with respect to theoretical questions can we even begin to approach the concrete question.


Recall Professor Pink’s thesis: Dignitatis humanae represents a change in the Church’s policy with respect to coercion, not a change in the Church’s doctrine. Consider in this regard canon 1311 of the 1983 Code, declared by John Paul II to be consistent from top to bottom with the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. For now, if Professor Pink is correct, the Church does not require the assistance of the state in vindicating its “innate and proper right” to coerce the baptized with penal sanctions. This could change, but the announcement of the change would have to come from the Church.

This is perhaps the central question for an integralist penal law. The policy of the Church is not to seek assistance for its coercive activities from the state. Under these circumstances, is it necessary (or appropriate) for an integralist regime to adopt penal law addressing heresy? The integralist state would take on the role of Lisa Simpson, once described by Ned Flanders as “Springfield’s answer to a question nobody asked,” if it adopted penal measures with respect to heresy without a request from the Church. This is to say that the state ought not to assume the role of an officious interloper, acting on behalf of the Church when the Church has not asked for assistance.

We must also acknowledge the limits of the Church’s coercive power: it extends only to the validly baptized. Non-Christians are simply outside the limits of the Church’s power, not least since Thomas’s position on forced baptism prevailed over Scotus’s. To be sure, if the rites of non-Christians somehow imperiled the unity and order of the state—that is to say, the peace of the state—the state would not be powerless to act. And if the rites of non-Christians imperiled the Church, the state, presumably, would not be powerless to act. However, this would not be necessarily a concrete expression of integralist penal law. And the state’s action would be aimed only at restoring the peace of the state, not coercing belief. All of this is entirely consistent with Dignitatis humanae and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

Another important question on this point: who has the authority to request the state’s assistance on behalf of the Church? It is understood implicitly that the pope, acting on his own, or an ecumenical council cum Petro et sub Petro, could request the assistance of the state. But could a diocesan bishop? Could intermediate bodies, such as an episcopal conference, request the assistance of the state? This is not merely a question to be answered in the context of penal law, but a question to be answered in the context of all law.

One more question: who has the authority to answer the Church? That is to say, if the Church changes its policy tomorrow and requests the assistance of the state, who shall attend? Much turns on this question, as well.


By the same token, what are the state’s rights? Remember that Frederick II, the great Hohenstaufen emperor, adopted stringent legislation against heresy, both in Sicily and the Empire. Remember that Justinian, the great lawgiver, began his Codex with no less stringent laws against heresy. Was this misguided? An overreach by authoritarians—indeed, proto-totalitarians? Perhaps Cardinal Danielou’s assertion that religion is part of the temporal common good provides the key. In Prayer as a Political Problem, he wrote, “Religion is not concerned solely with the future life; it is a constituent element of this life. Because the religious dimension is an essential part of human nature, civil society should recognize it as a constituent element of the common good for which it is itself responsible.” Nevertheless, in acknowledging that the state has the right—because it has the duty to defend the true religion, which constitutes part of the temporal common good—to suppress heresy, we must still consider the nature of that right and its extent. We return also to our fundamental question, in a different way: does the Church’s change in its policy mean that the state’s right is suspended or even abrogated?

Moreover, is there not more to integralism than merely addressing heresy? As noted above, the debate is often joined on this point for purely rhetorical reasons: look at the wicked integralists, who might be stern, even stringent, with protestants. Yet there are areas entirely separate from the content of one’s creed where Catholic teaching could be implemented by the state. Consider the social doctrine of the popes. Consider, for a more recent example, Pope Francis’s ecological teaching. Considering the teaching of Leo XIII and Pius XII, among others, it is clear that the Church does not claim the right to direct minutely the activities of the state on matters such as industrial relations or environmental protection. The state has latitude here to tailor its laws to the common good. Yet would anyone deny that a regime that attempted to implement the Church’s teachings on industrial relations or the environment was profoundly integralist—whether or not it adopted a penal law touching upon heresy?


In almost every interaction with the law, there is coercion. Worse than coercion, there is persuasion. We see this most obviously in the criminal law: if you commit certain acts, you will be punished with fines or imprisonment (in some cases, even death). We see this also in the juvenile law: if a parent does or fails to do certain acts, he or she will be compelled under a court order to cooperate with the government in receiving services. Violation of the court order could result in jail. If the parent fails to comply long enough, his or her relationship with the child will be terminated. But there are all sorts of other coercions: in zoning law, in environmental regulations, in professional licensing.

More insidious than the coercion backed up with prison or fines or contempt powers (which is to say, prison or fines) is the persuasion that is implicit in tax laws. It is a fact—a fact of long standing, a consequence of central banking—that the government does not actually need income tax for revenue. The Internal Revenue Code in the United States therefore becomes an enormous mechanism of persuasion. If you do certain things, you will receive financial benefits; if you do other things, you will receive financial penalties. Over time, as the deductions and credits add up, you may find yourself adopting views without knowing it.

But we must stop here to ask a question. Why are the coercion and persuasion under liberalism privileged? Is there a stronger moral basis for the rule that you must pay a penalty if you take money out of your 401(k) before age 59 1/2 than a hypothetical rule that you must pay a penalty if you defame the Blessed Virgin Mary? Is there a stronger moral basis for a prohibition of possession of methamphetamine than a hypothetical prohibition of possession of Calvin’s Institutes? You may say in the latter case that methamphetamine destroys lives and communities, which it surely does, but even that betrays a privilege for laws addressing material harms as opposed to laws addressing spiritual harms. There must be some reason for the privilege, then. Could it be that what is is considered immutable (and therefore good)? Could it be that we can see in a concrete (i.e., biological) way material harms but usually cannot see spiritual harms? There are necessarily metaphysical presuppositions to the privilege assiduously afforded to coercion under liberalism. There are probably consequences to such privilege. Here we can turn to the vista of political theology.


“Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 485 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). Law is framed as a measure of human acts and its purpose is to lead men to virtue, albeit gradually (ST IaIIae q.96 a.2 co. & ad 2). The resistance to an integralist penal law seems fundamentally to be a denial of these principles; that is, those who resist—or even reject—the concept of an integralist penal law hold, ultimately, that the government ought not to teach by means of the penal law, the government ought not to adopt measures intended to lead men to virtue by punishing the more flagrant vices (cf. ST IaIIae q.96 a.2 co.). Or, once again, we return to the metaphysical presuppositions behind such positions: the bizarre privilege for laws addressing material harms and the steadfast denial of spiritual harms as subjects for redress by the state. Whatever the motivation, the resistance to an integralist penal law represents fundamentally an impoverished notion of government, which reduces the state to little more than a traffic cop or hall monitor.

There are difficulties—serious difficulties—that must be surmounted before engaging in the technical task of writing statutes. For the integralist, the most serious task is addressing the fact that the Church, for the moment, does not seek the assistance of the state for its coercive activities, claimed as its “innate and proper right” even after the Second Vatican Council. However, for the integralist, there is no question that the impoverished liberal sense of government-as-traffic-cop is inadmissible. Indeed, the reason why integralism is being debated so hotly is because the traffic cop has failed in his duties. At the risk of carrying the analogy too far (or the more serious risk of lapsing into preciosity), the only question is, really, how best to sweep up the mess he has left, how best to tend to the wounds caused by the accidents he has caused, and how best to lead the drivers back to sane driving.

Paul VI: Credo of the People of God

Introductory Note

June 30, 2018, marks the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s proclamation of the Credo of the People of God. This event will likely be overshadowed by two other major events pertaining to Paul VI. One is, of course, the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s prophetic encyclical letter On the Regulation of Birth, known around the world by its incipit, Humanae vitae. The encyclical, which cut through the error and confusion of its age and ours like lightning, remains a central point in the ongoing struggle against modernism and liberalism in the Church. The other event is the likely canonization of Paul by Pope Francis sometime this fall. However, it would be a shame to let the fiftieth anniversary of the Credo of the People of God pass unremarked.

Paul’s Credo of the People of God was, according to Paul himself, an act by the successor of Peter to confirm his brethren in the faith of Peter. Confronted with the explosion of heresy in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, especially the infamous Dutch Catechism, Paul declared a Year of Faith, which culminated in the proclamation of the Credo of the People of God. Seen in this context, it is clear that Paul, exercising solemnly his office as Supreme Pontiff, sought to combat the errors of the age with his profession of faith. Additionally, in preparing and proclaiming a profession of faith, Paul was making good a significant failure of the Second Vatican Council. Continue reading “Paul VI: Credo of the People of God”

Pius XI: Mit brennender Sorge

Introductory Note

Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical on the Church and the German Reich, Mit brennender Sorge (With burning concern), is today probably most known for the circumstances under which it was brought into Germany. Composed in German—allegedly by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, then secretary of state, and Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, longtime Archbishop of Munich—the encyclical was smuggled into Germany, distributed by the nuncio by courier, and printed in the utmost secrecy. Then, on Palm Sunday 1937, it was read out from the pulpit to German Catholics throughout the Reich. Hitler’s furious response came quickly: the Gestapo was sent out to round up those who participated in the distribution of the encyclical and to shut down the printing presses used. To Hitler and his circle, there was no mistaking what Mit brennender Sorge was: it was a declaration of war against the Reich by the Church. Continue reading “Pius XI: Mit brennender Sorge”

Pius XII: La solennità della Pentecoste

Introductory Note

It remains one of The Josias’s aims to make available to Catholics some of the great statements of the Church on the social question. It is unfortunately the case that many important documents are either unavailable in English or very scarce. This series of documents continues with Pius XII’s June 1, 1941 radio address, La solennità della Pentecoste (“The Feast of Pentecost”), commemorating the 50th anniversary of Leo XIII’s great social encyclical, Rerum novarum.

Standing on its own, La solennità della Pentecoste is a significant intervention in the social magisterium. Despite the conflict raging when Pius spoke, the Pope focused primarily upon the social questions as they had developed between 1891 and 1941, expanding upon themes that he identified in Leo’s Rerum novarum and Pius XI’s 1931 social encyclical, Quadragesimo anno. The address would continue to have significance in the Church’s social magisterium in the following years, despite the disruption caused by the war. Pius himself returned to it at length in his 1952 apostolic constitution on migrants, Exsul Familia Nazarethana. His successor, St. John XXIII, relied upon it heavily for his own social encyclical, Mater et magistra, and his encyclical on peace and development, Pacem in terris. Despite the great importance that Pius XII and St. John XXIII attached to La solennità della Pentecoste, it became something of a missing link in the Church’s social teaching in later years. Neither Paul VI nor St. John Paul II relied upon it especially heavily in their own social encyclicals. Today, it is available on the Vatican’s website in Italian and Spanish. However, it has not been, to the editors’ knowledge, widely available in English before now. 

Pius’s address is first and foremost an act of “humble thanks” to God for the “gift” of Leo’s Rerum novarum. In the course of the address, Pius focuses intensely upon the right, which he describes as a natural right, “to make use of the material goods of the earth.” While this right may be implemented in positive law, Pius holds that “[t]his individual right cannot in any way be suppressed, even by other clear and undisputed rights over material goods.” It soon becomes plain that the great Pope saw this right as fundamental for the Church’s social teaching. It is connected, he tells us, not only with a just distribution of property, but also with the duty to support one’s family and the corresponding right to dignified work. Indeed, for Pius XII, the connection between the universal destination of goods and integral human development, especially the development of the family, was plain as day. 

The question of private property is one of the most difficult points in the Church’s social magisterium. On one hand, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas taught that private property was necessary for life in society, if not a natural right per se. On the other hand, Leo taught that the right to private property was sacred and inviolable. Pius XI, in Quadragesimo anno, explained that the right to private property must be subordinated to the common good in some instances. In La solennità della Pentecoste, Pius XII expands upon this teaching and explains that the right to private property flows from the right to make use of the goods of the earth. But, by the same token, the right to private property must be ordered to the universal right to the fruits of the earth. It must also serve man’s fulfillment of his duties, particularly his duties to his family, and his development. 

It is in this same vein that Pius XII explores the question of migration. For the Pope, the family requires a “vital space”—a homestead of its own—for it to make use of the earth and to secure a living for itself. Pius looks to the diversity of the environment and sees opportunity for families to migrate across the face of the earth to find suitable land to carve out for themselves a vital space and to develop not only themselves but also the society of their new homes. The applicability of La solennità della Pentecoste to a question much debated by Catholics today—the question of migration—shows in one way the great value of Pius’s thought.  Continue reading “Pius XII: La solennità della Pentecoste”