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During this Passion Week we would do well to remember that during Passion Week 1937, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany were secretly undertaking a momentous underground effort.

No, this was not something from a novel from Dan Brown or Philip Pullman. This was no sinister conspiracy in league with the Freemasons or Illuminati. This was the proclamation of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge.

By 1937, the situation for the church and society under the Nazi government had grown worse and worse to the point where, at the request of German bishops, Pius XI, though ill, was determined to speak out in the hearing of the German people. But how to avoid speaking to the air? How to avoid Nazi censorship?

First, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of issuing the encyclical not in Latin but in German. Then it was smuggled into Germany and over 300,000 copies were made, both by press and by hand, and distributed to churches secretly. The clandestine operation was a complete success. Apparently the Reich was not at all tipped off, certainly not in time to stop it — something of a miracle given the many involved.

So on Palm Sunday, Mit Brennender Sorge was read from every Roman Catholic pulpit in Germany. The choice of one of the most attended Sundays of the year was purposeful, assuring its widespread dissemination.

And Hitler and his regime immediately noticed the success and moved to suppress and punish the dissemination of the encyclical. Although it did not mention Hitler or Nazism by name, its denunciations were clear and strong. On Monday, the Gestapo raided churches across Germany and confiscated all the copies they could lay their hands on. Printing presses that assisted in making the copies were closed. Pressure on the church increased. Hundreds were sent to prisons and concentration camps.

The encyclical was that consequential and more. So do read the English translation of Mit Brennender Sorge from the Vatican. Several points are all too relevant today. The eighth paragraph contends:

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

This was aimed chiefly at the Nazis, but tragically could be aimed at many in the organized church today. While government is instituted by God, it should never become an idol. Yet many church leaders seem to look to ever expanding government rather than to Christ to cure all ills. They constantly push for an expansion of government power, even of world government. They make a show of hating nationalism because they want a more powerful and tyrannical globalism. They pay little heed to Scripture’s depictions of tyrannical transnational governments as ravenous beasts. If the Beast of Revelation were to be revealed, one wonders if they will worship it.

Many, often the same people, make an idol out of being Black or other person of color, even daring to advocate blatant discrimination against those who are not Black or POC. Although without the murderous intent (one hopes), woke obsession with race often approaches that of the Nazis. Both the idolatry of the state and the idolatry of race are idolatry to be banished among church leadership and warned against in the congregations. Our bishops especially must do so as written in paragraph 12:

The Bishops of the Church of Christ, “ordained in the things that appertain to God” (Heb. v, 1) must watch that pernicious errors of this sort, and consequent practices more pernicious still, shall not gain a footing among their flock. It is part of their sacred obligations…

Speaking of woke churchers, remember #LeaveLoud? Remember the exhortation to leave with trumpets and tweets churches that fail to be woke enough? That’s nothing new. Paragraph 21 begins:

In your country, Venerable Brethren, voices are swelling into a chorus urging people to leave the Church, and among the leaders there is more than one whose official position is intended to create the impression that this infidelity to Christ the King constitutes a signal and meritorious act of loyalty to the modern State.

Substitute wokeness or Critical Race Theory for “the modern State,” and you’ve got “Leave Loud.” There is nothing new under the sun.

And just as there were “German Christian” so-called churches loyal to Nazism, false churches that Dietrich Bonhoeffer denounced, there are any number of woke churches to chose from if one finds Christ’s Holy Catholic Church not woke enough for thee.

Something else not new are the attacks against parental rights in education. The Nazis wanted control over education as woke and gender ideologues do today in order to indoctrinate children for their evil purposes — yes, a kind of grooming. Therefore this from paragraph 31:

Parents who are earnest and conscious of their educative duties, have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions. Laws and measures which in school questions fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law, and are immoral.

Much more could be said. Again, although this stubborn Anglican rejects its calls to loyalty to the papacy, I do recommend reading Mit Brennender Sorge for both its importance in that awful time and for most of its teaching.

And I thank the Venerable Dr. John Hunwicke for bringing this moment in history to my attention. I cannot summarize and conclude better than he does, so I will allow him to do so:

The real object of [the encyclical’s] condemnation was the habit of pandering to the Spirit of the Age. At our present moment, the Zeitgeist summons us to applaud Abortion; Fluid Gender; all Sexualities which dissociate the sexual act from the actions of a Man married to a Woman. Then, the Age commended to its craven victims and stooges the murderous ideology of Race and Blood. 

Then, the Vicar of Christ condemned the error of his day, and did so boldly, even dramatically. This is the duty of every Roman Pontiff … and every minister of the Word of God … of every Christian!! … in every age.

Evil wears a different face and speaks a different patois in each different era. The smart thing is to be able to spot it despite its differing disguises.

Pius XI’s Mit Brennender Sorge is a condemnation of all the fashionable dogmas of all the ages which challenge the Lordship of the Redeemer.

Image: Pope Pius XI

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