Be Ye Enlightened
DUTIES OF CHRISTIANS TODAY
By POPE PIUS XII
Translation of Christmas Address broadcast over the Vatican as recorded and transcribed by The Associated Press,December 25, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 166-170
ONCE again, for the fifth time, beloved sons and daughters throughout the world, the great Christian family is preparing to celebrate the magnificent feast of peace and love, which, in a somber atmosphere of death and hate, redeems us and makes us all brothers.
This year once more is felt keenly the gentle message of Bethlehem and the fierce hate by which mankind is being torn. Sorrowful were these past years, disturbed by the din of arms, but the bells of Christmas, giving our souls courage, awakened and raised timid hopes and inspired longing, vehement desires of peace.
Unfortunately the world, as it looks around, must still behold with horror the reality of strife and destruction which, growing daily wider and more cruel, dashes its hopes and with the icy blast of harsh experience destroys and cuts short its most sanguine impulses. We see, indeed, only a conflict which degenerates into that form of warfare that excludes all restriction and restraint, as if it were the Apocalyptic expression of a civilization in which evergrowing technical progress is accompanied by an ever greater decline in the realm of the soul and of morality.
It is a form of war which proceeds without intermission on its horrible way and piles up slaughter of such a kind that the most bloodstained and horrible pages of past history pale in comparison with it. The peoples have had to witness a new and incalculable perfection of the means and arts of destruction while at the same time they see an interior decadence which, starting from the weakening and deviation of the moral sense, is hurtling ever downward toward the state where every human sentiment is being crushed and the light of reason is eclipsed, so that the words of wisdom are fulfilled: "They were all bound together with one chain of darkness" (Wisdom, xiii, 17).
But in this dark night the faithful see the light from the Star of Bethlehem shine out to indicate and illuminate die road to Him "of whose fullness we have all received" (John ii, 16); the road to our Redeemer who became inthis world by His advent essentially the Prince of Peace and our peace: "For He is our peace" (Ephesians ii, 14).
Christ alone can drive out the dreadful spirits of error and sin, which have subjected mankind to a tyrannical and degrading servitude, making them slaves of one thought and one purpose, dominated in their movements by the insatiable desire of limitless wealth.
Christ alone, who has rescued us from the sad slavery of sin, can point out and open up the way to a noble, controlled liberty supported by genuine righteousness and a moral sense. Christ alone, "on whose shoulders is government" (Cf. Isaias ix, 6) can by His omnipotent aid raise the human race from the harsh privations which torture it in this life and set it on the road to happiness.
A Christian who is nourished and lives by faith in Christ, in the conviction that He alone is the way, the truth and the life, carries his share of the sufferings and sorrows of the world to the crib of the Son of God and finds in the presence of the newly born child a consolation and support such as the world knows not, which gives him strength and courage to resist and to remain imperturbable without desponding or weakening in the midst of the direst and gravest trials.
To the Disillusioned
It is tragically sad, dear children, to think that countless men, while in their search for a happiness that will satisfy them on this earth, they feel the bitterness of deceptive illusions and painful disillusionment, have closed the door to all hope; and living, as they do, far from the Christian faith, they cannot retrace their steps toward the crib and toward that consolation which makes the heroes of the faith abound in toy in all their tribulations.
They see dashed to pieces the structure of those beliefs in which they humanly trusted and set up their ideal. But they never achieved that one true faith which would have given them comfort and renewed spirit.
In this intellectual and moral trial they are seized by a depressing uncertainty and live in a state of inertia which weighs down their soul. It is a state which can be deeply understood and commiserated only by those who enjoy the delight of living in the clear, warm atmosphere of a supernatural faith which ascends above the storms of temporal contingency to dwell with the eternal.
Those Who Put Their Faith in the World Expansion of Economic Life
In the ranks of these straying disillusioned souls it is not hard to find those who placed all their faith in a world expansion of economic life, thinking that this alone would suffice to draw the peoples together in a spirit of brotherhood, and promising themselves from its grandiose organization, perfected and refined to an ever-greater degree, unheard of and unsuspected increase of prosperity for human society.
With what complacency and pride did they not contemplate the world growth of commerce, the interchange even between continents of all goods and all inventions and products, the triumphal march of widely diffused modern technical perfection, overcoming all limits of time and space to day, what is the reality that they behold?
They see now that this economic life with all its gigantic contacts and wide ramifications, with its superabundant division and multiplication of labor, contributed in a thousand ways to generalize and accentuate the crisis of mankind, while, not having the corrective of any moral control, or any guiding light from beyond this world, it could not but end in the unworthy and humiliating exploitation of the nature and personality of man, in a sad and terrifying want on one side contrasting with a proud and provoking opulence on the other, in a torturing, implacable divergence between the privileged and those who have nothing—ill-omened effects which are not the last link in a chain of causes which led to the immense tragedy of today.
Let not these disillusioned votaries of science and the economic force fear to come before the crib of the Son of God. What will the Child, just born and adored by Mary and Joseph, by the shepherds and the angels, say to them?
Undoubtedly the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem is a condition which He chose for Himself only, and it does not therefore imply any condemnation of the economic life as far as it is necessary for the physical or natural development and perfection of man.
But that poverty of the Lord and Creator of the world, deliberately willed by Him, a poverty which will accompany Him in the workshop of Nazareth and throughout his public life, signifies and portrays the command and the dominance He had over material things; and thus it shows with striking efficacy the natural and essential subjection of material goods to the life of the spirit and to a higher cultural, moral and religious perfection which is necessary for man endowed with reason.
Those who looked for the salvation of society from the machinery of the world economic market have remained thus disillusioned because they had become not the lords and masters but the slaves of material wealth, which they served without reference to the higher end of man, making it an end in itself.
Those Who Put Their Faith in Godless Science
In the same way acted and thought in the past those other deluded ones who placed happiness and prosperity exclusively in a form of science and culture which was averse to recognizing the Creator of the universe; these were the exponents and followers not of the true science (which is awonderful reflection of the light of God), but of an arrogant science which did not allow place for a personal God who is untrammeled by any limitations and is superior to all things earthly, and boasted that it could explain the happenings oi the world exclusively by the rigid and blind application of fixed laws of nature.
Such a science cannot give happiness or prosperity. The apostasy from the divine word, by whom all things were made, has led man on to apostasy from the spirit and has thus made it difficult for him to reach ideals and aims of a high intellectual or moral order. In this way the science which has apostasized from the life of the spirit, while it deluded itself into thinking that it has acquired full liberty and autonomy in denying God, finds itself today punished by a servitude more humiliating than ever before.
For it has become the slave and the almost blind follower of policies and orders which take no account of the rights of truth or of the human person. What to this science seemed liberty was in fact a humiliating and degrading fetter; and dethroned as it is, it will not resume its primitive dignity unless by a return to the divine word, the source of wisdom so foolishly abandoned and forgotten. To such a return, in fact, the Son of God, who is the way, the truth and the life, invites us. He is the way of happiness, the truth which exalts, the life which gives man eternity.
He invites those deluded ones in a mute but deep language through His very coming into the world. For He does not delude the human soul, but gives it the impetus which carries it on toward Him.
To Those Afflicted Without Hope
Besides those who go through life profoundly disconcerted because of the bankruptcy of social and intellectual trends largely followed by political leaders and scientists stands the not less numerous class of those who are in great distress and sorrow because of the collapse of their own personal and private ideal of life.
Those for Whom the End of Life Was Labor
It comprises the immense number of those for whom labor was the end of life, and for whom the goal of their fatigue was a comfortable material existence, but who in the struggle to attain this end had put far from them religious considerations and had neglected to give to their life a healthy moral orientation.
The war has torn them from this customary congenial activity which was the delight and support of their life. It has dragged them from their profession and their tasks, so that they feel within themselves a dreadful void.
And if some can still continue their usual activities, the war has imposed conditions of work in which all personal initiative has been eliminated, orderly family life is made difficult or impossible, and that satisfaction of soul is no longer found which can only be had from work as it was ennobled and ordained by God.
Workers, approach the crib of Jesus! Do not shrink from that cave; shelter of the Son of God. It is not by chance but a deep, ineffable design of God that you find yourselves just simple workers, Mary, the virgin mother of a working family, Joseph the father of a working family, the shepherds guarding flocks, and finally the wise men from the East—they are all workers—manual workers, watchmen by night, students. They bow down and adore the Son of God who by His sympathetic and loving silence, more telling than speech, explains to them all the meaning and the worth of labor.
Labor is not merely the fatigue of body without sense or value; nor is it merely a humiliating servitude. It is a service of God, a gift of God, the vigor and fullness of human life,
the gage of eternal rest. Lift up your heads, and hold their up, workers! Look at the Son of God who with His eternal Father created and ordered the universe; becoming man like us, sin alone excepted, and having grown in age, He enters the great community of workers; in His work of salvation He labors, wearing out His earthly life.
It is He, the Redeemer of the world who by His grace which runs through our being and our activity, elevates and ennobles every honest work, be it high or low, great or little, pleasant or tiresome, material or intellectual, giving it a meritorious and supernatural value in the sight of God, and thus gathering every form of multifarious human activity into one constant act of glorifying His Father who is in heaven.
Those Who Place Their Hopes in the Enjoyment of Earthly Life
Unfortunate, too, are those who see dashed their hope of happiness, which in their daydreams they placed in the enjoyment of this passing earthly life alone, considered solely as the full expression of bodily energies and beauty of form and person or as opulence joined to a superabundance of comfort, or as the possession of force and power.
But see how today, in the whirlwind of war, the vigor and beauty of so much of our youth, developed and perfected on fields of sport, declines or loses its burnish in the military hospital, while many young people wander, physically and morally mutilated or unfit, through the streets of their native land, which in the cities of some of its finest regions has been reduced to a heap of ruins by aerial bombardment and by military operations.
If a section of the young men have no longer the energy to labor and work, the mothers-to-be of the next generation, forced as they are to do straining work beyond all measure and time limit, are losing the possibility of giving to a people bled white that healthy increase of body and spirit which promotes the life and education of those children without whom the future of their native land is threatened with a tragic eclipse.
The painful irregularity of work and of a life far from God and from His grace, seduced and misguided by bad example, induces and facilitates a harmful relaxation of marriage and family relations so that the poison of lust tends now to defile much more than heretofore the sacred wells of life.
From these sad facts and dangerous tendencies it appears unfortunately evident that, although the strengthening of the family and of the people was considered by many nations one of their noblest aims, there is growing and spreading now instead a physical deterioration and moral perversion which can be cured in part only after many generations of a process of healing and preventive education. If the war has caused in many people such havoc in soul and body it has not spared those who are all out for opufence and sheer enjoyment of life; they stand now dumb and perplexed before the destruction which has swept over their own property like a destructive hurricane. Their , wealth and homes are brought to nought by fire and sword; their life of comfort and pleasure has disappeared; the present is tragic; the future holds little hope and much fear.
Sadder still is the view which presents itself to those who aspired to the possession of force and mastery: They now contemplate with horror the ocean of blood and tears that bathes the world, the tombs and graves full of corpses multiplied and scattered over every region of the earth and through the isles of the sea, the gradual eclipse of civilization, the progressive disappearance of even material prosperity, the destruction of famous monuments and of edifices built with consummate art, which could have been called thecommon heritage of the civilized world, the sharpening and deepening of hatred which enflames the peoples against one another, and leaves no room for hope in the future.
To the Faithful—Consolation from the Faith in the Present Calamities
Come forward now, you Christians, the faithful, linked by an ineffable supernatural bond with the Son of God who made Himself little for us, guided and sanctified by His gospel, nourished by grace, fruit of the passion and death of our Redeemer. You too, feel the sorrow, but with the hope of consolation which comes from your faith. The present miseries are ours too. Destructive war visits and tortures you also, your bodies and your souls, your possessions and your goods, your hearth and your home. Death has broken your heart and has left scars slow to heal.
The thought of graves of dear ones far away and perhaps not even identified, anxiety for those lost or missing, the ungratified desire to greet once more your dear ones who are prisoners or deported, leave you in a state of sorrow which discourages you, while a future full of grave uncertainty weighs on all, parents and children, young and old. At all times, and especially at this hour, our paternal heart is near you, in deep and unchanging affection, dear sons and daughters, in your hour of sorrow and trial.
But all our efforts cannot cause this horrible war to cease of a sudden. We cannot give back life to your dear dead; cannot reconstruct your wrecked home; cannot free you wholly from your anxiety. Much less is it in our power to open to you the future, of which God holds the keys—God who governs the course of events and has fixed the time for their peaceful conclusion. Two things, however, we can and will do.
The first is that we have used and shall use all our resources, material and spiritual, to lessen the sad consequences of the war for prisoners, wounded, missing, straying, needy —for all those in suffering and trouble of every language and nation.
The second is that in the course of sad time of war we want you above all to remember the great consolation with which our faith inspires us when it teaches that death and the sufferings of this life lose their bitter sorrow for those who can with calm and serene conscience make their own that prayer of the church in the mass of the dead: "Unto Thy faithful, O Lord, life is changed, not taken away; and the abode of this earthly sojourn being dissolved, an eternal dwelling is prepared in heaven." (Preface of the mass of the dead.)
While others, who have no hope, find themselves faced with a fearful abyss and their hands groping for some support, close on the emptiness, not of their immortal souls but of a happiness of this world which has escaped them, you instead, by the grace and liberality of a merciful God have, beyond "the certainty of dying," the ineffable divine consolation of "the promise of future immortality."
Through this faith you attain an interior serenity, a confident moral fortitude which do not go down even before the most terrible sufferings. This is a sublime grace and a priceless privilege which you must ascribe to the bounty of our Saviour, It is a grace and a privilege which demands from you the response of practising exemplary' constancy and Calls for a daily apostolate to give back confidence to those who have lost it and to set on the road of spiritual salvation those who, shipwrecked on the ocean of the present calamities, are about to drown and perish.
Duties of Christians at the Present Moment
The progress of mankind in the present confusion of ideas has been a progress without God and even against God;without Christ and even against Christ. In saying this we do not wish or intend to offend the erring ones; they are and remain our brethren. It is fitting, however, that Christians reflect on that share of responsibility which belongs to them for the present afflictions. Have not many Christians made concessions to those false ideas and ways of life which have been so many times disapproved by the teaching authority of the church?
Every slackening and every thoughtless compromise with human respect in the profession of the faith and its moral precepts; every act of cowardice and vacillation between right and wrong in the practices of Christian life, in the education of children, in the government of the family; every hidden or open sin; all this and more that might be added has been and is a deplorable contribution to the disaster which today overwhelms the world.
And is there anyone who has the right to say that he is blameless? Reflection on yourselves and your deeds, and the humble recognition of this moral responsibility will make you realize and feel in the depth of your souls how necessary and how holy a thing it is for you to pray and work in order to placate God and invoke His mercy, and to participate in the salvation of your brethren, thus restoring to God that honor which was denied Him for so many decades, securing and acquiring for your fellowmen that interior peace which cannot be found except by coming close to the spiritual light of Bethlehem's cave.
To action, then, beloved children! Close your ranks! Let not your courage fail! Do not remain helpless in the midst of the ruins! May the star that guided the Magi to Jesus shine above you. The spirit which comes from Him has lost nothing of its force and of its power to heal fallen humanity. It triumphed once over paganism in its ascendancy. Why should it not triumph today, too, when sorrows and delusions of every kind show to so many souls the vanity and deception of the roads hitherto followed in public and private life? A great number of minds are searching for new ideals in politics and social life, in private and public, in training and education, and feel a deep yearning to satisfy the needs of their hearts.
May the example of your Christian life guide them and your burning words stir them. As the form of this world passes away, show them that true life means that they "may know Thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent" (John 17:3).
Through your words let there be regenerated in your fellowmen the knowledge of our Heavenly Father, who, even in times of terrible misery, rules that world with a wise and provident goodness. Let them feel the tranquil happiness which comes from a life aflame with the love of God.
The love of God renders the mind responsive to the needs of one's brethren, ready to give spiritual and material aid, disposed to make every sacrifice in order that fervent and practical love may flourish again in the hearts of all.
Power of the charity of Christ 1 We feel it pulsating with all tenderness in our paternal heart, which, open and loving toward all alike, makes us give utterance to an appeal for works of mercy and of generous charity. How often have we not had to repeat with a throbbing heart the exclamation of our Divine Master: "I have pity on the multitude," and how often, too, have we not had to add: "They have nothing to eat" (Mark 8:2), especially as we behold so many places devastated and desolated by the war!
And there never was a moment or a period when we did oot feel the contrast between the scantiness of our resources, Which are insufficient for the work of relief, and the gigantic increase in the need of many, who raise to us their suppliantcry and sorrowful groans, at first from regions far away, and now also from those near by, in ever increasing numbers.
In the face of such want, growing every day, we raise to the Christian world an insistent cry of fatherly appeal for help and pity: "Behold, 1 stand at the door and knock" (Apocalypse 3:20).
And we do not hesitate to turn, in the confidence with which God inspires us, to the humane and Christian sentiments of those peoples and those nations which Providence has up to now preserved from the direct impact of the horrors of war, or which although at war, still live in conditions which allow them to give generous expression to their charitable intentions, and to offer help and support to those who, surrounded by the hardships of the conflict and bereft of outside aid are already in want of necessities and will be in greater need in the future.
For such an appeal we are inspired and sustained by the hope that it will meet with genuine sympathy in the hearts of the faithful and of all who are endowed with a lively sense of humanity.
Amid the animosity which the world conflict has aroused and intensified there appears in ever clearer light a consoling development of plans and purpose—we mean the reawakening of the sense of common responsibility in the face of the problems arising from the general impoverishment caused by the war.
The destruction and devastation which have followed it urgently demand work of reconstruction and relief to meet all the harm done. The errors of the recent past are warnings for free and enlightened minds to which, for reasons of prudence as well as from a sense of humanity, they cannot remain deaf. They look upon the spiritual reconstruction and the material restoration of the peoples and states as an organic whole, in which nothing would be more fatal than to leave unhealed centers of infection, from which tomorrow disastrous consequences could again arise. They feel that in a new organization of peace, of law and of labor, the treatment of some nations in a manner contrary to justice, equity and prudence should not give rise to new dangers which would jeopardize its solidity or its stability.
Expectation of Peace
Scrupulously faithful as we wish to be to the duty of impartiality inherent in our pastoral ministry, we formulate the desire that our dear children will not let slip any opportunity of securing the triumph of the principles of farseeing and even-minded justice and brotherhood in the questions that are so essential for the salvation of states.
It is indeed a virtue characteristic of wise minds, who are true friends of humanity, to understand that a real peace in conformity with the dignity of man and the Christian cony science can never be a harsh imposition supported by arms, but rather is the result of a provident justice and a responsible sense of equity toward all.
If, while waiting for such a peace which shall restore calm to the world, you, dear sons and daughters, still suffer intensely in body and mind from privations and injustice, you must not tomorrow stain the peace and repay injustice with injustice, or commit an even-greater injustice.
On this eve of Christmas let your hearts and minds turn to the Divine Child in the crib. See and meditate how in that abandoned cave, exposed to cold and winds, He shares your poverty and misery—He, the Lord of Heaven and Earth and of all the riches for which men contend.
All is His; and yet how often in these days has He not had to leave churches and chapels destroyed, burnt, collapsed or in danger! Perhaps where the devotion of your ancestors had dedicated to Him magnificent temples with rearing arches and lofty vaults, you can offer Him, amid the ruins, only a miserable dwelling in the shelter-chapel or a private house.
We praise and thank you, clergy and laity, men and women who not infrequently, with every risk to your life, have rescued and kept in a safe place our eucharistic Lord and Saviour. Your zeal did not want the words spoken of Christ to be verified again: "He came unto His own and His own received Him not" (John 1:11).
So our Lord did not refuse to come into the midst of your poverty He who once preferred Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the stable and the crib to the magnificence of His Father's temple. Poverty and misery are bitter; but they become sweet if one keeps within oneself God, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and His grace and truth. He remains with you as long as your faith, your hope, your charity, your obedience and devotion remain alive in your heart.
In union with you, dear sons and daughters, we place our prayers at the feet of the Child Jesus and we beg Him that this may be the last war Christmas and that humanity may be able, in the coming year, to celebrate the recurrence of the. Christmas feast in the brilliant light and joy of a truly Christian peace.
Principles for a Peace Program
And now do you all, who have responsibility, all of you who by the disposition and permission of God hold in your hand the destiny of your own and other peoples, hear the suppliant "Erudimini" (Be ye enlightened) which resounds in your ears from out the abysmal ruins of this terrible war.
It is a duty and a warning for all, a trumpet call anticipating the coming judgment which will decree the condemnation and punishment of those who were deaf to the voice of humanity—which is also the voice of God. In the consciousness of your power your war aims may well have embraced entire peoples and continents. The question of guilty responsibility for the present war and the demand for reparations may also lead you to raise your voice.
But today the devastation which the world war has produced in every walk of life, material and spiritual, has already reached such unprecedented gravity and extent, and the dreaded danger that, as the war goes on, the destruction will be increased by frightful horrors for both sides and for those who, against their will, have been drawn into it, appears to us so gloomy and threatening that we, anxious for the welfare and even for the very existence of each and every people, address this appeal to you:
Rise above yourselves, above every narrow calculating judgment, above every boast of military superiority, aboveevery onesided affirmation of right and justice. Take cognizance also of the unpleasant truths and teach your peoples to look them in the face with gravity and fortitude.
A true peace is not the mathematical result of a proportion of forces, but in its last and deepest meaning is a moral and juridical process. It is not, in fact, achieved without the employment of force, and its very existence needs the support of a normal measure of power. But the real function of this force, if it is to be morally correct, should consist in protecting and defending, and not in lessening or suppressing rights. An hour like the present—so full of possibilities for vast beneficent progress no less than for fatal defects and blunders—has perhaps never been seen in the history of mankind.
And this hour demands, with insistent voice, that the aims and programs for peace be inspired by the highest moral sense. They should have as their supreme purpose nothing less than the task of securing agreement and concord between the warring nations—an achievement which may leave with every nation, in the consciousness of its duty to unite with the rest of the family of states, the possibility of cooperating with dignity, without renouncing or destroying itself, in the great future task of recuperation and reconstruction.
Naturally the achievement of such a peace would not imply in any way the abandonment of necessary guarantees and sanctions in the event of any attempt to use force against right. Do not ask from any member of the family of peoples, however small or weak, for that renunciation of substantial rights or vital necessities which you yourselves, if it were demanded from your people, would deem impracticable. Give mankind, thirsting for it, a peace that shall reinstate the human race in its own esteem and in that of history—a peace over whose cradle the vengeful lightning of hate and the instincts of unchecked desire for vengeance do not flash, but rather the resplendent dawn of a new spirit of world union which, sustained by the indispensable, supernatural help of the Christian faith, will alone be able to preserve humanity, after this unhappy war, from the unspeakable catastrophe of a peace built on wrong foundations and therefore ephemeral and illusory.
Inspired by this hope, with fatherly affection toward you, dear sons and daughters, and especially toward those who are suffering more painfully than others from the trials and sorrows of the war and who need divine consolation, and not least to all those who in answer to our appeal will open their hearts to practical charity and pity, or who, while ruling the destinies of the nations, are anxious to give them back the olive branch of peace, we impart, as a pledge of abundant favors from Heaven, our apostolic benediction.