JMC : The State and the Church / by Ryan and Millar

17. Encyclical on International Reconciliation

by Pope Benedict XV

PEACE, the great gift of God, than which, in St. Augustine's words, there is no happier thing among men, nothing more desirable or better; peace, which all good people have implored for more than four years, with the prayers of the faithful and the tears of mothers, has finally begun to shine among the peoples, and We are among the first to rejoice at it. But still too many and too bitter anxieties disturb this Our paternal joy, for if almost everywhere the war has in a way come to an end, and several treaties of peace have been signed, nevertheless the germs of old bitterness remain and you know well, Venerable Brethren, that no peace can have consistency, no alliance can have strength, though elaborated in daily laborious conferences and solemnly sanctioned, if at the same time hatreds and enmities are not quenched by means of a reconciliation based on mutual charity.

It is on this consideration, which is full of anxiety and dangers, that We wish to dwell, Venerable Brethren, that at the same time the peoples entrusted to your care may have it brought home to them. In truth, ever since by the hidden designs of God We were raised to the See of Peter, we have never ceased to do everything in Our power, from the very beginning of the war, that all the nations of the world might resume cordial relations among themselves. To that end We never ceased to pray, to repeat exhortations, to propose ways of arrangement, to try every means, in fact, to open, by Divine aid, a door of some sort to a peace that might be just, honorable, and lasting; and at the same time We exercised all Our paternal care to alleviate everywhere that terrible load of sorrow and disaster of every sort accompanying the immense tragedy.

And now, just as from the beginning of Our troubled Pontificate, the charity of Jesus Christ led Us to work both for the return of peace and to alleviate the horrors of the war, so now that a certain peace has been finally concluded, it is this same charity which urges Us to exhort all the children of the Church, or better, all men in the world, that they may put aside the old bitterness and give place to mutual love and concord.

There is no need for Us to dwell long on showing how humanity is incurring the risk of terrible disasters if, while peace indeed is concluded, latent hostility and enmity among the peoples continue. No need to dwell on the harm to all that is fruit of civilization and progress, to commerce and industry, literature and the arts, all of which flourish only when the peoples live together in tranquillity.

But more important still -- grave harm would be done to the very life of Christianity, which is essentially based on charity, being called the very preaching of the law of Christ, "the Gospel of peace."

Indeed, as you well know and as We have often called to mind, nothing was so often and so insistently taught by the Divine Master to His disciples as this precept of fraternal charity as the one which includes all the others in itself; and Our Lord called that precept new and His own, desiring that it should be as the hall mark of the Christians by which they might easily be distinguished from all others.

No other, indeed, was the testament that He left to His followers when He died, praying them to love one another, and loving one another try to imitate the ineffable unity that exists between the Persons of the Holy Trinity: "That they may be one as we also are one that they be made perfect in one."

And the Apostles, following the order of the Divine Master and taught by His very voice, were unceasing in their exhortation to the faithful: "But before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves"; "And above all these things have charity which is the bond of perfection"; "Dearly beloved, let us love one another for charity is of God."

The teaching of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles was faithfully observed by Our brethren of the old times who belonged indeed to different nations, often at war among themselves, but who nevertheless wiped out the record of past differences in voluntary oblivion and lived in perfect concord.

And indeed there was marked contrast between such intimate union of minds and hearts and the deadly hostilities that then broke out among the nations.

What has already been said to teach the precept of charity holds good for the pardoning of offenses, no less solemnly commanded by the Lord: "But I say to you, love your enemies; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad." Hence that terribly severe warning of the Apostle St. John: "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in himself."

Finally, Jesus Christ has taught us to pray the Lord so that we ask for forgiveness on condition of forgiving others: "And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors." And if sometimes the observance of this law seems too severe and difficult, the Redeemer of the human race Himself assists us not only with the Divine Grace but also by His admirable example, for as He hung on the cross He prayed pardon of His Father for those who so unjustly and wickedly tortured Him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

We too should be the first to imitate the pity and loving kindness of Jesus Christ, whose Vicar We are here, though without any merit of Our own; with all Our heart, following His example, We forgive all and every one of Our enemies who knowingly or unknowingly have heaped and are still heaping on Our person and Our work every sort of vituperation, and We embrace all with supreme charity and benevolence, neglecting no opportunity to do them all the good in Our power; and that is indeed what Christians really worthy of the name are bound to do towards those from whom they have received offenses during the war.

Christian charity in fact is not confined to not hating our enemies and loving them as brothers; it desires also that we do good to them, following the rule of the Divine Master who "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the Devil," and ran the course of His mortal life giving it all up to doing untold good to men, even shedding His blood for them. So said St. John: "In this we have known the charity of God, because He hath laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. He that hath the substance of this world and shall see his brother in need and shall shut up his bowels from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth."

Never indeed was there a time when we should "spread the limits of charity" more than in these days of universal suffering and sorrow; never perhaps as to-day has humanity needed that common beneficence which grows from sincere love of our neighbor and is full of sacrifice and fervor. For if we look anywhere where the fury of the war has passed we see immense regions utterly desolate and squalid; multitudes reduced to such extremes as to be without bread, clothing, and shelter; innumerable widows and orphans awaiting help from someone; and lastly a great crowd of enfeebled beings, particularly infants and children, whose malformed bodies bear witness to the atrocity of the war.

To the mind of anyone who sees this picture of misery by which the human race is oppressed there must come back at once the story of the Gospel traveler who was journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who robbed him and covered him with wounds and left him half dead by the wayside. The two cases are very much alike; as to the traveler there came the good Samaritan, full of compassion, who bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine over them, took him to the inn and undertook all care of him, and so, to cure the wounds of the human race the hand of Christ Jesus is needed, of whom the Samaritan was figure and image.

That indeed is the work which the Church takes upon itself as heir and guardian of the spirit of Jesus Christ -- the Church whose entire existence is a marvelously varied network of good deeds, the Church "that real mother of Christians which has such tenderness of love for its neighbor that for every one of the different evils which trouble the soul with sin it has ready every kind of medicine" and so "treats and guides children as children, young men with courage and strength, old people with quiet calm, as each has his condition not only in body but in soul." And all this many-sided Christian beneficence, by sweetening the spirit, has wonderful effect in restoring tranquillity to the peoples.

Therefore We pray you, Venerable Brethren, and We exhort you in the bowels of charity of Jesus Christ, do everything in your power, not only to urge the faithful entrusted to you to lay aside hatred and pardon offenses, but also to promote more actively all those works of Christian benevolence which bring aid to the needy, comfort to the afflicted, protection to the weak, opportune assistance, in fact, of every kind to all who have suffered most gravely through the war. We wish that you should specially exhort your priests, as ministers of peace, to be assiduous in this work, which is indeed the very compendium of the Christian life, in preaching love towards one's neighbors, even if enemies, and being "all things to all men." So as to afford a shining example, let them wage war everywhere on enmity and hatred, knowing well that in doing so they are doing a thing very welcome to the most loving Heart of Jesus and to him who, however unworthy, is His Vicar here on earth. And in this connection also they should exhort and pray Catholic journalists and writers in that "as elect of God, holy and beloved," they may clothe themselves in "the bowels of mercy and benignity," expressing it in their writings, abstaining not only from false and empty accusations but also from all intemperance and bitterness of language which is contrary to the law of Christ and does no more than reopen sores as yet unhealed, especially in that men who are suffering bitterly from recent wounds find it difficult to endure even the lightest injury.

All that We have said here to individuals about their duty of practicing charity We wish to apply also to those peoples who have fought the great war, in order that, when every cause of disagreement has been removed as far as possible, and saving of course reasons of justice, they may resume friendly relations among themselves. For the Evangelic law of charity is the same between individuals as between States and Nations, which are indeed but collections of individuals. From the moment that the war ended, both from motives of charity and also through a certain necessity of things, there has begun a universal drawing together of the peoples, moved to unite by their mutual needs as well as by reciprocal benevolence, which is more marked now that civilization is so extended and means of communication so marvelously increased.

Truly, as We have already said, this Apostolic See has never wearied of teaching during the war such pardon of offenses and the fraternal reconciliation of the peoples, in conformity with the most holy law of Jesus Christ and in agreement with the needs of humanity; nor did it allow that these moral principles should be forgotten, even in the clash of dissension and hatred. And now, after the treaties of peace, it puts forward these principles and proclaims them even more strongly, as indeed it did a short time ago in the letter to the Bishops of Germany and in the letter addressed to the Archbishop of Paris. And inasmuch as one very useful means of maintaining and increasing this concord among the peoples is found in the visits which the heads of States and Governments are accustomed to exchange to consult on matters of special importance, considering the changed circumstances of the times and the dangerous trend of events, in order to co-operate in this brotherhood of the peoples We are willing to mitigate in some measure the severity of the conditions which were justly laid down by Our predecessors, when the civil power of the Holy See was destroyed, to exclude visits to Rome of Catholic Princes in official form.

But at the same time We solemnly proclaim that this concession, determined, or rather willed, as is seen, on account of the seriousness of the present times, must not be interpreted as a tacit renunciation of sacrosanct rights as if the Holy See were satisfied with the abnormal condition in which it is now placed. Indeed the protests which Our predecessors have several times made, not in the least moved thereto by human interests but by the sanctity of duty, to defend the dignity and rights of this Apostolic See, We on this occasion renew for the very same reasons, claiming once again and with even greater insistence that now that peace is made among the nations "for the Head of the Church too an end may be put to that abnormal condition which does serious harm, for many reasons, to that very tranquillity of the peoples."

Things being thus restored in the order desired by justice and charity, and the peoples reconciled among themselves, it would be truly desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all States should put aside mutual suspicion and unite in one sole society or rather family of peoples, both to guarantee their own independence and safeguard order in the civil concert of the peoples. A special reason, not to mention others, for forming this society among the nations, is the need generally recognized of reducing, If it is not possible to abolish it entirely, the enormous military expenditure which can no longer be borne by the States, in order that in this way murderous and disastrous wars may be prevented and to each people may be assured, in the just confines, the independence and integrity of its own territory.

And once this League among the nations is founded on the Christian law in all that regards justice and charity, the Church will surely not refuse it valid aid, inasmuch as being itself the most perfect type of universal Society; through its very essence and its aims it has wonderful power for bringing this brotherhood among men, not only for their eternal salvation but also for their material well-being; it leads them, that is, through temporal happiness so as not to lose the eternal. Indeed we know from history that when the spirit of the Church pervaded the ancient and barbarous nations of Europe, little by little the many and varied differences that divided them disappeared; in time they joined together in a homogeneous society from which originated modern Europe, under the guidance and auspices of the Church while it preserved for each nation its own characteristics culminated in a compact unity bringing prosperity and greatness. Well does St. Augustine say in this regard: "This celestial city, while in exile here on earth, calls to itself citizens of every nation and forms out of all the peoples one sole pilgrim society; no thought is had of differences in customs, laws, and institutions; everything which tends to the conquest and maintenance of peace on earth the Church, far from repudiating and destroying, jealously preserves; for however these things may vary among the nations, they are all directed to the same end of peace on earth as long as they do not hinder the exercise of the religion which teaches adoration of the one supreme true God."

And the same holy teacher thus spoke to the Church: "Citizens, peoples, and all men, recalling their common origin thou shalt not only unite among themselves but shalt make them brothers."

We meanwhile, coming back to what we said at the beginning, turn affectionately to all our children and conjure them in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ to forget mutual differences and offenses and draw together in the embrace of Christian charity before which there are no strangers; and we fervently exhort, too, all the nations that under the influence of Christian benevolence they establish a true peace among themselves and join together in one single alliance which, under the auspices of justice, will be lasting; and finally we appeal to all the men and all the peoples of the earth to adhere in mind and heart to the Catholic Church and through the Church to Christ the Redeemer of the human race, so that we may address to them in very truth the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians: "But now in Christ Jesus you who sometime were afar off are made nigh by the Blood of Christ. For He is our peace who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition . . . killing the enmities in Himself. And coming he preached peace to you that were afar off and peace to them that were nigh."

Nor less appropriate are the words which the same Apostle addressed to the Colossians: "Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all in all."

Meanwhile, trusting in the protection of the Virgin Immaculate who not long ago We directed should be universally invoked as "Queen of Peace," as also in that of the three new Saints, We humbly implore the Divine Spirit the Paraclete that He may "graciously grant to the Church the gift of unity and peace" and with even further outpouring of charity for the common salvation may renew the face of the earth. As harbinger of these celestial gifts and as pledge of Our paternal benevolence, We impart with all Our heart to you, Venerable Brethren, to all your clergy and people, the Apostolic Benediction.

Given in Rome at St. Peter's the 23d day of May, the solemnity of Pentecost 1920, the sixth year of Our Pontificate.

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