6. The denouncement of National Socialist paganism
On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler received from President Hindenburg the mandate of chancellor of the Reich.(56) After the elections of 5 March to the Reichstag, held in a climate of blatant intimidation, on 23 March “full powers” were granted by law to the National Socialist cabinet. That same spring, the Führer asked that a Concordat be drawn up between the Holy See and the new regime. The agreement was signed in the Vatican on 20 July 1933.(57) However the Holy See stated that the Concordat with the Reich should not in any way appear as an approval of the doctrines and tendencies of National Socialism.(58)
As the person in charge of the “surveillance” of the ideological education of the party and of all the aligned associations, Hitler nominated Alfred Rosenberg, the man who was “the quintessence of all the forces present in the NSDAP hostile to the Church and Christianity”.(59) The decade that goes from 1935 to the end of the regime was marked by a growing aggravation of the anti-religious struggle, with the progressive suppression of Catholic schools, institutions and press and the systematic denigration of the principles and institutions of the Church.
On 14 March 1937, the Encyclical of Pius XI, Mit brennender Sorge, was published. Moved by the desire to see that “faith in God, the first and irreplaceable foundation of every religion”, should remain “pure and integral in the German regions”, the Pope condemned the errors of National Socialism, stating moreover:
“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 honourable 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.”(60)
“Mit brennender Sorge, for its clarity, its call to the truths of the Christian faith and to their opposition to Nazi neopaganism, for the condemnation of racism and the totalitarian state, caused a violent shock to German and international public opinion. It surprised the Führer and made him explode in abominable anger. But the encyclical had the effect of a threat.”(61) As Pius XII recalled, it “revealed to the world what National Socialism really was: the proud apostasy from Jesus Christ, the negation of his doctrine and of his redeeming work, the worship of force; idolatry of race and blood, the oppression of human freedom and dignity.”(62)
In the resistance to National Socialism in Germany, two prelates especially were noticeable: Konrad von Preysing,(63) bishop of Berlin, and Clemens von Galen,(64) bishop of Münster. Both intervened from their Episcopal seats to defend the Christian idea of the human person and the sovereign rights of God over society and families. During his sermon on 13 July 1941 in the Church of St Lambert in Münster, Bishop von Galen proclaimed:
“I raise my voice and as a German, an honourable citizen, a minister of the Catholic religion, a Catholic bishop, I cry: we demand justice! If this cry goes unheard, it will never be possible to restore the dominion of sovereign justice. Thus our German people and our homeland, in spite of the heroism of our soldiers who achieve glorious victories, will sink because of internal corruption!”(65)
The attitude and tone of these German prelates was admired by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira who, like them, belonged to the indomitable ranks of the defenders of the faith. Between 1929 and 1947, a total of 2,936 articles against Nazism and Fascism were published in the Legionário, of which 447 were by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. It is important to emphasise that a large number of these articles appeared not only before the war, but before the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, at a time when there were still many ambiguities about Nazism. Dr Plinio did not see Nazism’s anti-religious persecutions as an accidental and extrinsic aspect of the politics of the Third Reich, but rather the logical consequence of a world view antithetical to the Catholic one.
“The truth is that the anti-religious policy of the Third Reich is one of its essential characteristics, a fundamental aspect of its ideology, indeed, the deeper meaning and the very reason of being of Nazism.”(66)
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira reconstructed what he defined as a “genealogy of monsters”, tracing the ideological ancestors of National Socialism from Luther to Hitler.
“Protestantism produced in Germany an evolving process of philosophical ideas and sociopolitical facts that, together with liberalism and apparently in conflict with it, begot with an iron-clad logic (that would be correct if its premises were not wrong) Nazism…. Nazism is the result of a profound evolution; its anti-religious policy is integral to its thought, and that thought is so viscerally anti-religious, that I would be less surprised by the conversion of Freemasonry into a pious association than by the transformation of the Nazi Party into a bulwark of Catholic ideals in Eastern Europe.”(67)
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira did not fail to denounce Nazi anti-Semitism, demonstrating its fundamental difference from the cautious measures historically taken by the Church as regards the Jewish people.
“The prudent measures recommended regarding Jews are legitimate and even necessary when the Jew has not converted, or when he converted with the evident intent of ‘impressing the bourgeois’. But this caution is directed exclusively at the doctrinal errors of the Jew and not against his race, which is the race in which the Word was made flesh. When he sincerely converts, the Jew is a well-beloved son of the Church.”(68)
This being so, the Church established “with unrelenting energy, that there be no failing in charity toward God’s former people. Nazism, on the contrary, treats the Jews with a cruelty that is at the same time brutal and useless.”(69) “A new Saint Bernard is needed in Germany to invoke for the people of Israel the mercy that not even its great victim refused to give it.”(70)
56) After the death of president Hindenburg, on 2 August 1934, the powers of the president of the Reich and of the Chancellor were united in the hands of Hitler. Thus began the rapid transformation of the society in the totalitarian sense. On this development, cf. among others: Karl Dietrich Bracher, Die deutsche Diktatur, Köln, Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 1380 (1969); Martin Broszat, Der Staat Hitlers, München, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981; Hans-Ulrich Thamer, Il terzo Reich – La Germania dal 1933 al 1945, It. tr. Il Bologna, Mulino, 1993.
57) The plenipotentiaries of Pius XI and of Hitler in the negotiations were respectively Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, Secretary of State, and the Vice-Chancellor of the Reich, Franz von Papen. On the Concordat of 1933 and on the relations between the Holy See and National Socialism, cf. Michele Maccarrone, Il Nazionalsocialismo e la Santa Sede, Rome, Studium, 1947; Friedrich Engel-Janosi, Il Vaticano fra fascismo e nazismo, Florence, Le Monnier, 1973; Anthony Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of Dictators 1922-1945, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1973; Robert Graham, Il Vaticano e il nazismo, Rome, Cinque Lune, 1975; Giacomo Martina, Storia della Chiesa, vol. IV, L’età contemporanea, (Brescia, Morcelliana, 1995), pp. 129-218.
58) Cf. l’Osservatore Romano of 27 July 1933. “The question may certainly be raised whether the conclusion of the Concordat with the Reich did effectively contribute, as was later stated a number of times, to the Nazi Machtbefestigung (consolidation of power), once it had attained power. It is certain that the Concordat, signed by Pacelli not without anxiety, gave the government of the Church an indisputable legal foundation and at the same time the effective possibility to constantly reproach the German regime, in the subsequent period, with the abuses and violations of peoples’ rights”. Bukhart Schneider, Pius XII. Friede, das Werk der Gerechtigkeit, Göttingen-Zürich-Frankfurt, Münsterschmidt, It. tr. Pius XII. Pace, opera della giustizia, (Rome, Edizioni Paoline, 1984), p. 24.
59) H.-U. Thamer, Il terzo Reich, p. 550. With his two pamphlets To the obscurantists of our time (1935) and Protestant pilgrims of Rome (1937), Rosenberg openly declared the incompatibility between National Socialism and Christianity.
60) Pius XI, Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, of 14 March 1937, in Igino Giordani, Le encicliche sociali dei Papi, da Pio IX a Pio XII, (Rome, Studium, 1944), p. 410, pp. 405-426. The text of the encyclical was secretly sent to hundreds of towns and villages in Germany, where it was printed on the spot and distributed to the various dioceses. On 21 March 1937, in order to give the greatest importance to the event, the German bishops personally read, from the pulpit, the encyclical of Pius XI. On the encyclical cf. Heinz-Albert Raem, Pius XI. und der Nationalsozialismus. Die Enzyklika “Mit brennender Sorge” vom 14 marz 1937, Paderborn, Schöningh, 1979.
61) Jean Chélini, L’Eglise sous Pie XII. La tourmente (1939-1945), (Paris, Fayard, 1983), p. 87.
62) Pius XII, Speech of 2 June 1945, in DR, vol VI, p. 70. In this speech Pius XII outlines the situation of this struggle against the Church and of the resistance opposed to it by the Holy See and the German people.
63) Count Konrad von Preysing, was born in Kronwinckel on 30 August 1880 and died on 21 December 1950 in Berlin. He belonged to a family of the Catholic aristocracy that had always been in the service of the Church. Ordained to the priesthood in 1912, he met the Nuncio Pacelli in Munich. The latter, when he became Secretary of State, had him appointed bishop of Eichstatt in 1932 and then of Berlin on 6 July 1935. From 1933, he appeared as a point of reference for the unbending opponents to National Socialism, in contrast to the “soft” line of Cardinal Adolf Bertram, President of the Episcopal Conference. He was nominated cardinal on 18 February 1946.
64) Count Clemens August von Galen was born on 16 March 1873 in the castle of Dinkloge, of an old Catholic family of Oldenburg. Ordained to the priesthood in 1904, he was sent to Berlin, and then appointed parish priest of St Lambert in Münster, of which he was appointed Bishop in 1933. From then to 1945, he led a relentless struggle against Nazism, so much so that he won the nickname of the “lion of Münster”. Nominated cardinal in the consistory of 18 February 1946, he died immediately after his return from Rome to Münster on 22 March 1946. The diocese of Münster has introduced the cause for his beatification. Cf. Clemens August Graf von Galen. Un vescovo indesiderabile. Le grandi prediche di sfida al nazismo, edited by Rosario F. Esposito, Padua, Edizioni Messaggero, 1985; Aa. Vv., Il leone di Münster e Hitler. Clemens August cardinale von Galen, edited by Mgr Reinhard Lettmann and Mgr Heinrich Mussinghoff, Roma-Freiburg-Wien, Herder, 1996.
65) Quoted in Clemens August Graf von Galen. Un vescovo indesiderabile, pp. 123-124.
66) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, Falsificação, O Legionário, no. 397, 21 April 1940.
67) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, Genealogia de monstros, O Legionário, no. 302, 29 June 1938. He adds: “In the overall German panorama, Protestantism inoculated another virus besides liberalism which was that of the theories of strength. These theories (very similar to the democratic idea of the systematic victory of the majorities) are what brought about the whole militaristic and brutal idea of Frederick II’s international policy and of many of the Hohenzollern. Afterwards they created the Empire of Bismark, the German passion for militarism, the German philosophical schools of the nineteenth century and, finally, Hitlerism as an arch-type product of Nietzsche’s philosophy” (ibid). On the cultural roots of National Socialism, cf. Edmond Vermeil, Les doctrinaires de la Révolution allemande, Paris, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1948; Peter Viereck, Metapolitics. The roots of the nazi mind, New York, Capricorn Books, 1961 (1941); G. L. Mosse, The crisis of German Ideology, New York, 1964; Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The occult roots of Nazism, Wellingborough, The Aquarian Press, 1985; Luciano Pellicani, La società dei giusti. Parabola storica dello gnosticismo rivoluzionario, (Milan, Etaslibri, 1995), pp. 371-87.
68) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, Uma velha ambição dos Judeus, O Legionário, no. 308, 7 August 1938.
69) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, 7 dias em rivista, O Legionário, no. 232, 21 February 1937.
70) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, 7 dias em rivista, O Legionário, no. 215, 25 October 1936. In other articles he shows how the anti-Semitic persecutions of Hitler contributed indirectly but powerfully to the realization of the Zionist dream. “What those behind Zionism did not obtain, Hitler did with his anti-Semitic campaign which was to populate Tel-Aviv, the new Hebrew city of Palestine that is now improved and very comfortable. Hitler filled the ‘national home’ of the Jews.” ID., 7 dias em rivista, O Legionário, no. 599, 30 January 1944.