Justice, Not Vengeance, Must Prevail



Translation of address delivered to the Sacred College of Cardinals, Broadcast over the Vatican Radio Station, Vatican City, June 2, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 546, 548-550.

IT is a full year, Venerable Brethren, since We had the consolation of receiving for the fifth time, on the feast day of Our holy patron and predecessor, from the Hps of the much-loved and venerated Cardinal Dean, whom We are sorry not to see in Our midst today, your devoted congratulations, your offering of prayers, the promise of your complete dedication of yourselves to the ever-growing tasks and to the grave responsibilities of the Apostolic ministry, and the reiterated pledge of your unfailing participation in the cares and anxieties that weigh on the father of Christendom.

A year has gone—a brief span of time, and yet so filled with hate and mournful happenings and unmeasured, unspeakable suffering. For the terrible tragedy of the world war, as it unfolds itself before and around us, has reached a pitch and kind of frightfulness which smite and shock every Christian and human sense.

That is why, as this, Our feast day, comes around, and We see you gathered here once again. We feel the need of confiding to you the intimate anguish of Our soul and of deploring, with you, the rampant and sanguinary accumulation of destruction, ruin and carnage, so vast that what, a year ago, many might have thought impracticable or impossible is now, alas, a reality.

The Eternal City, mother cell of civilization, and even the holy ground around the Tomb of St. Peter have had to learn by experience how far the spirit inspiring present-day methods of warfare, for a variety of reasons becoming ever more ferocious, has departed from those abiding norms which were once hailed as inviolable laws. On the other hand, amidst so much suffering, We do not wish to overlook the fact that threat of air raids on districts not beyond the outer parts of Rome has given way in fact, to conduct that shows greater regard. We nourish hope that this more equitable and moderate trend will prevail over the opposing considerations of seeming utility and so-called military exigencies or needs, and that the Eternal City in every eventuality and at all costs, may be saved from becoming a theater of war.

We, therefore, do not hesitate to repeat once again, with complete impartiality and due firmness: Whoever dared raise a hand against Rome would be guilty of matricide in the eyes of the civilized world and in the eternal judgments of God. If we now pass on to consider the present state of affairs throughout the world, We find ourselves confronted with events, which in their spiritual and material issues, fill our soul with justifiable anxiety.

The bitter dissensions and quarrels between children of the same people, while carrying with them the germs of more serious consequences, create an atmosphere in which the authority of the Church (which stands above all earthly and passing currents of thought) finds itself drawn by both sides into a vortex of controversies which not infrequently creates a lack of essential clarity of ideas and true balance of judgment. Thus it is that the heavy responsibility that weighs on Our weak shoulders, increases and intensifies to a degree unknown in other times, and demands from Us, from day to day and from hour to hour, an indefatigable largeness of heart, open to all souls who seek sincerely the true and the good.

Here We may aptly appeal to the thoughts expressed in 449 by an eastern Bishop, Eusebius of Dorileus, in a letter to Pope Leo the Great. "The Apostolic Throne," he writes "has been from the beginning accustomed to defend those who suffered injustice . . . to relieve, as far as it could, the prostrate; you indeed commiserate all men. The reason is that you are inspired by the sense of right and keep inviolate the faith towards Our Lord Jesus Christ, as you also portray a genuine charity towards all the brethren and towards everyone who is called in the name of Christ." These noble words, which pay tribute to the constant defense of truth and right by this Apostolic See, and to its practicalcharity towards all who suffer and are oppressed, were inspired by the experience of the first centuries of Christendom.

But the Roman Church thanks and praises Our Lord for having maintained, with the help of the Divine Assistance, this holy custom in successive ages also. Thus it is that one of the best known historians of the nineteenth century, a man who certainly is under no suspicion of being favorable to the See of Peter, did not hesitate to make this confession at the end of his work on the City of Rome in the Middle Ages: "History has not sufficient titles for heroes . . . with which to indicate even approximately the worldwide activity, the great achievements and the imperishable glory of the Popes (reference is to Ferdinand Gregorovius)."

Following, therefore, the example of Our predecessors, We, too, Venerable Brethren, in this period of unparalleled want and poverty, deem it Our sacred duty to devote Our pastoral care to an extent hitherto scarcely surpassed or reached, to the indigence which surrounds Us on every side and calk for help.

It is not that the Church, least of all at the present moment, aspires in any way after earthly advantage or human glory; for Our thoughts, day and night, are bent on one only purpose: how We may be able to meet this bitter trial, helping all without distinction of nationality or race, and how We may help towards restoring peace at last to tortured mankind.

If at the moment Out anxiety is especially for Rome, it is because such sentiments are evoked by the pitiable conditions in which so large a part of the population of the city —which is also Our Diocese—finds itself. It is certainly not the first time that the storm has smitten the Eternal City. Christian Rome, in the course of its history, has known other very bitter calamities: occupation and sackings, from that of Alaric to the terrible sack of 1527; internal party strife as in the tenth century; dereliction as in the Avignon period and at time of the great Western Schism; pests, as in the calamitous days of St. Gregory and under Pope Sixtus IV; starvation and famine from natural causes, as during the reign of Clement XIII in the years 1763 and 1764.

During this last public calamity the famished crowds also flocked to Rome from all the States of the Church and even from Tuscany and Naples, and the provision of food and lodging for them demanded the greatest exertion. The Pope, with untiring and generous hand, succeeded in averting a catastrophe. But what were the 6,000 refugees of that occasion, joined to the less than 160,000 Romans—the whole of the Papal States numbered a little more than two million souls—what were they, We say, in comparison with the situation of today with the sum of the population, with the want, the risks, the worries, the separations, the sufferings of all kinds by which they are stricken and intimidated?

In a few parts of Italy, not to say of the world, is there experienced at the present moment as extensively as in Rome and its environs, the want of the necessities of life and the danger that this want may culminate in an ail-but incalculable impoverishment of whole masses of the people. On the other hand, the force of the attraction which the Eternal City exerts on many war victims, who come here in search of shelter and help, brings those who provide for their housing and feeding face to face with problems which are at times almost insoluble.

In spite of the laudable zeal of the public authorities and charitable associations, the army of the poor grows from day to day. With ever greater anxiety these unfortunate ones torn their gaze, and with ever greater insistence hold out their hands, to the Common Father: not a few of them find themselves now constrained to seek that charity which but yesterday they themselves generously dispensed.

To the very utmost limit of Our means and Our powers, helped and supported by the offerings of generous souls, by the organizing activity of provident and industrious experts, by the courage and self-sacrifice of upright and capable workers—to all of whom we wish to express our lively gratitude—We have often been able to send into the gloom of direst misery and crudest abandonment a comforting ray of light in the form of practical paternal charity. It has not, alas, always been adequate to the vast need or to the deeper promptings of Our heart. Without shirking any sacrifice— neither losing courage because of any refusal nor fearful before any violation of Our rights—We have contributed uninterruptedly, as far as We could, towards providing the population of Rome and the country around it, with at least the most urgent and essential food.

We have also initiated negotiations in order to secure the transport of food by sea in Papal ships. But We are still waiting for the consent of one of the belligerents to this undertaking, which would provide a really efficacious remedy for the immense evil. In any event, We shall not, for Our part, diminish Our efforts to surmount obstacles and to overcome opposition in order that this, Our native city and Our Episcopal See, which today, as at no other period, counts within its walls sons and daughters of every region of Italy, may be spared as far as possible, in one of the gravest moments of her history, so rich in glory and sorrow, from having to apply to itself the words of the Prophet: "All her people sigh, they seek bread" (Lamentations 1:2) "The little ones have asked for bread and there was none to break it unto them." (Lamentations 4:4).

But, above such external cares and those of the particular duties imposed by the contingencies of time and place, there stands, Venerable Brethren, Our supreme and paramount duty, from whose full and conscientious fulfillment no human power can detach us, no external crisis distract us; it is the unquestioning obedience to the commandment of Our Lord: "Feed my lambs; feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17).

This divine command, which, from the first Peter, has passed down through the long line of Roman Pontiffs, even to Us, their unworthy successor, entails in the confused and torn world of today an even vaster multitude of responsibilities, and meets with obstacles and opposition which demand that the Church, in her visible head and in her members, be ever more on the alert and vigilant.

Today, in fact, more than ever before, is to be seen by any clearsighted and honest observer, the sadly deficient balance sheet which cleavages from the Church in the course of centuries have effected for Christendom. In a turbulent and afflicted age like ours, when mankind is engaged in reaping the consequences of a spiritual decadence that has hurled it into the abyss, and when in every nation voices are raised to insist that, for the gigantic work of restoring order anew, not only external guarantees but the essential juridical and moral foundations be secured, it is of vital importance to know what influence the current of Christian ideas and of Christian moral standards can exert on the content and on the spirit of such a future reconstruction, and what influence it can have to prevent false and dangerous tendencies again predominating.

Mother Church, Catholic, Roman, she who has remained faithful to the constitution received from Her Divine Founder, and who even today stands firmly on the solid rock on which He willed to found her, possesses in the Primacy of Peter and of his legitimate successors, the assurance, guaranteed by Divine promises, of maintaining and transmitting whole and inviolate, through centuries and tens of centuries, even to the end of time, the whole body of truth and grace contained in the redemptive mission of Christ. And while she finds in the stimulating and comforting consciousness of this double possession, her force to conquer allthe darkness of error and all moral deviations, she exerts her activity to the advantage not only of Christendom but of the entire world, inspiring sentiments of justice and of genuine fraternal charity in those great divergencies in which blessings and calamities, abundant harvests and poor gleanings, often are to be found side by side.

But how much more potent and efficacious would be the influence of Christian thought and Christian life on the moral substructure of the future plans for peace and social reconstruction, if there were not this vast division and dispersal of religious confessions, that in the course of time have detached themselves from Mother Church. Who today can fail to recognize what substance of faith, what a genuine power of resistance to anti-religious influence is lost in many groups as result of that separation.

A striking proof—among many others—of this painful reality is afforded by the history of rationalism and naturalism in the past two centuries. In those quarters where the office of "confirming his brethren" (Luke 22:32), committed to him who is invested with the primacy, cannot exercise and exert its preservative and protective activity, the cockle of rationalism has penetrated in a thousand different forms, with its stalks and baneful off-shoots, into the thought and mentality of many souls who call themselves Christian, and has poisoned what was still left in them of the divine seed of revealed truth, spreading everywhere darkness, schism and a growing abandonment of faith in the Divinity of Christ.

Between Christ and Peter there reigns, from the day of the promise near Cesare Phillippi and that of the fulfillment by the Sea of Tiberias, a mysterious but eminently real bond which was effected once in time but which draws its roots from the eternal counsels of the Almighty. The Eternal Father, Who revealed to Simon Bar Jona the mystery of the Divine Sonship of Christ, and thus rendered him capable of answering with an open and ready confession the question of Our Redeemer, had from all eternity, predestined the Fisherman of Bethsaida for his singular office. And Christ, Himseli, only fulfilled the will of His Father when, promising and conferring the primacy, he used expressions which were to fix forever the uniqueness of Peter's privileged position.

Those therefore, who—as was said (or better, repeated) some time ago by representatives of religious confessions who profess themselves Christian—declare that there is no Vicar of Christ on earth because Christ Himself, promised to remain with His Church as its Head and Lord to the end of time, besides depriving the whole Episcopal office of its foundation, are ignoring and misinterpreting the profound meaning of Papal primacy, which is not the negation but the fulfillment of that promise. For if it be true that Christ in the fulness of His Divine Power disposes of the most varied forms of enlightenment and sanctification, in which He is really with those who confess Him, it is no less certain that He wished to entrust to Peter and to his successors the guidance and government of the Universal Church and the treasures of truth and grace of His work of redemption.

The words of Christ to Peter leave no doubt as to their meaning; that was recognized by West and East in times that cannot be questioned and with marvelous harmony. To try to create an opposition between Christ, as Head of the Church, and His Vicar; to see in the affirmation of one the negation of the other, means distorting the clearest and most luminous pages of the Gospel. It means closing one's eyes to the most ancient and venerable testimonies of tradition, and depriving Christendom of that precious heritage, the correct knowledge and appreciation of which, at the moment known only to God and by the light of grace which He alone gives, can instill into the separated brethren the longing to return to their Father's house, and the efficacious will to come back to it.

Every year when, on the eve of the Feast of the Prince of the Apostles, We visit Our patriarchal Vatican Basilica, to implore at the tomb of the first Peter strength to serve the flock committed to Us according to the designs and purposes of the Eternal and Supreme Priest, from the majestic architrave of that lofty temple there appear before our gaze in glittering mosaic the words of power with which Christ manifested his intention of founding the Church on the Rock of Peter. And they remind Us of Our insistent duty to keep intact that incomparable heritage of Our Divine Redeemer. Then as We see glistening before Us the "Gloria" of Bernini, and above the Chair, held aloft by the giant figures of Ambrose and Augustine, Athanasius and John Chrysostom, behold refulgent and supreme, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, We are deeply conscious of all the sacred character, all the superhuman mission, which the will of Our Lord, with the assistance of the Spirit Whom He promised and sent, has conferred on this central point of the Church of the Living God. "The pillar and ground of truth." (Timothy 1:3-15.) And in this Octave of Pentecost there breaks forth from Our heart and Our lips the invocations to the Creator Spirit that He may arouse in Our separated brethren the desire to return to the unity they desire.

Would that all those who are counted Christians could understand what an unsurpassed field of action would be open to Christianity at the present moment if, in full unity of faith and purpose, they were to dedicate their activity to saving the human family and preparing it for a better future. One thing that has contributed significantly towards making men open their hearts to the hope of this fair and more peaceful morrow is the fact that, while the instruments of destruction have reached a potency never before known, and while the world finds itself on the eve of still more dramatic and, according to some, decisive events, the discussion of the fundamental outlook and of the detailed guiding principles of the future peace attracts more and more participants; the numbers and the interest of those joining in that discussion grow from hour to hour.

Yet, beside the heralds of wisdom and moderation there are not wanting others who scarcely dissimulate their program of violence or who openly espouse vengeance. While the former follow the suggestion of that Greek leader, of whom we read that he reckoned that victory outstanding in which clemency prevailed over cruelty, the latter, on the contrary, recall vividly the saying of Cicero that victory is essentially insolent and overbearing. In many is thus born the impression or the fear that there may not be, even for the peoples and nations as such, any alternative but this: a complete victory or complete destruction. When once this sharp dilemma has entered men's minds, its baneful influence is a stimulant towards prolonging the war, even among those who, by natural impulse or for realistic considerations, would be disposed to a reasonable peace, the spectre of that alternative and the conviction of a real or supposed will of the enemy to destroy national life to the very roots, smothers all other reflections and instills into many the courage of desperation.

Those who are under the domination of such feelings go on, as in a hypnotic sleep, through abysses of unspeakable sacrifice and constrain others to a war of extermination that drains their lire blood, a war whose economic, social and Spiritual consequences threaten to become the scourge of the age to come.

It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that this fear should give way to a well-founded expectation of honorable solutions; solutions that are not ephemeral or carry the germsof fresh turmoil and dangers to peace, but are true and durable; solutions that start from the principle that wars, today, no less than in the past, cannot easily be laid to the account of peoples, as such.

You, Venerable Brethren, know well how, in fulfillment of the serious obligation imposed by Our apostolic ministry, We have already on several occasions, in concrete form, outlined the essential fundamentals, according to Christian thought, not only with regard to peaceful relations and international collaboration among men, but also with regard to the internal order of State and peoples.

Today We limit Ourselves to observing that any right solution of the world conflict must take into consideration and treat as quite distinct, two grave and complex questions: the guilt of beginning and of prolonging the war on the one hand, and on the other, the kind of peace and its maintenance ; it is a distinction which naturally leaves untouched the demands for a just expiation of acts of violence, not really called for by the conduct of the war, committed against persons or dungs, as well as the guarantees necessary for the defense of right against possible attempts of violence. These two different aspects of the formidable problem have been widely echoed in the conscience of peoples; and in the public declaration of competent authorities has been expressed the resolutions and decision to give to the world, at the end of the armed conflict, a peace that all nations can bear.

We desire and hope that the prolongation of the war, together with the progressive harshening of the methods of warfare and the resulting heightening of tension and exasperation of spirit, do not end by lessening and extinguishing these healthy sentiments and along with them, the readiness to subordinate the instinct of vengeance and anger which is the enemy of counsel, to the majesty of justice and equanimity. In any war where one of the belligerents succeeded only through the power of the sword and other means of irresistible coercion, in reaching a clean and unquestioned victory, it would find itself in the position of being physically able to dictate an inequitable peace imposed by force. But it is certain that nobody, whose conscience is illumined by the principles of true justice, could recognize in such a precarious solution the character of assured and prudent wisdom.

Although in the nature of things, it may be that the period of transition that runs from the termination of hostilities and the formal conclusion of peace, to the attainment of normal social stability, is determined, in large part, by the power of the victor over the vanquished, nevertheless, wise, and hence moderate political skill, never forgets or fails to give the losing side the hope—We should like to say confidence—that even to their people and its vital necessities a worthy place be prepared and judicially assigned.

We should, therefore, wish that governments and peoples should keep before their minds, at least as an ideal at which to aim, the words spoken in compliment to Marcus Claudius Marcellus by the most distinguished orator of ancient Rome: "To conquer oneself, to curb anger, to spare the vanquished, to raise the fallen enemy—a man who does this I shall not compare with the greatest of men, but will deem as most like to a God."

We nourish the hope that all Our sons and daughters scattered over the earth may have a lively consciousness of their collective and individual share in the responsibility for the setting up and organization of a public order confirmable to the fundamental exigencies of the human and Christian conscience, being always mindful of the fact that for those who glory in the name of Christian, every peace proposal is always made under the unerring standard: "To reject all that is hostile to that name, and to promote that which is consonant with it."

With the fervent wish that the grace of Almighty God may cause to break soon over the hills of the Eternal City and over the whole world, the dawn of such a peace, We express to you, Venerable Brethren, Our sincere gratitude for the good wishes so kindly offered Us through your eminent Vice-Dean, while We impart from Our heart on you and all those especially dear to you in the Lord, Our Apostolic Benediction.