Pius XII: La solennità della Pentecoste

Introductory Note

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

The Altar of Victory

Epistle XVII

by St. Ambrose of Milan


Among the Fathers of the Church St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-370) is particularly important for the subsequent development of Catholic Social Teaching. On many questions his teaching constitutes both a precious witness to the perennial tradition, and a solid foundation on which subsequent teachers built. For example, he gives one of the clearest patristic witness to the principle of the universal destination of goods. But perhaps his most important contribution was to the question of the relation of spiritual and temporal power. A talented politician, as well as a great pastor and theologian, Ambrose expounded his teaching in direct confrontation with several Christian emperors at a time in which the persecutions of the Christians had but recently ended, and Christianity was becoming the majority religion of the empire.

Epistle XVII, written in the Summer of the year 384 to the young emperor Valentinian, was occasioned by a controversy over the altar of the goddess Victoria in the Curia Julia, the Senate house in Rome. The altar, with its statue of the goddess, had been removed by Constatius II, restored by Julian the Apostate, and removed again by Gratian. Conservative, pagan aristocrats in the Senate asked the young emperor to restore the altar. It appeared to be the prudent and generous thing to do— a sign of respect to the old, pagan aristocracy by a young, Christian emperor who could use their support. But St. Ambrose protests vigorously against the request. Christian senators, he argued, would be forced by the erection of the altar to take part in pagan worship. But more fundamentally, he lays down a principle that contains the germ of all subsequent Catholic integralismThe Christian emperor is a servant of God, and must promote the true religion. He must be “zealous for the true faith,” and not give equal rights to error. Political justice cannot be reduced to a balance of interests in which various influential groups are conceded something of what they want. Rather, justice consists in giving what is truly due to each, especially in giving the one, true God what is His due. “I myself advise you to defer to the merits of illustrious men, but undoubtedly God must be preferred to all.” Continue reading

Brief Introductions to Texts in The Josias’s Library

The Josias’s Library links important texts that inform our attempt to articulate an authentically Catholic political stance from which to approach the present order of society. Most of the links have been to texts hosted on other websites, with the exception of our own Translations. We have generally prefaced our translations with short, introductory notes, explaining the context of those texts, and showing their relevance for our project. We now intend to provide similar Introductions to the other texts in the Library. The first of the new series of introductions introduces an excerpt from the Apology of Tertullian.

Tertullian on the Duty of Praying for the Emperor


The following chapters from the Apology of the early Church Father Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240) defends Christians against the charge that their refusing to offer pagan sacrifices for the well-being of the emperor is treasonous. They are a testimony to the continuity of Christian teaching on politics. Tertullian recognizes the legitimacy of the Roman emperor— the kingdom of God does not at once replace the rulers of the world. The political goods that such rulers can achieve are really good, and therefore the Christians pray for them: “We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Cæsar, an emperor would wish.” The authority of the emperor is in fact derived from God: “I might say Cæsar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him.” And yet, “my relation to him is one of freedom,” for there is a higher authority than the emperor. Continue reading

Integralism in Three Sentences

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.