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