Europe and the Church, Part 12: A Period of Change for the Papacy

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In 1870 the First Vatican Council declared the pope infallible while solidifying his role as supreme spiritual and administrative head of the church. As Europe became embroiled in two World Wars, this decision laid the foundation for Pope Pius XII, whose influence in political events of the time has become a subject of investigation

In my New King James Version of the Bible, Revelation chapter 17 carries the title: "The Scarlet Woman and the Scarlet Beast." The chapter is a prophecy about seven revivals of the Roman Empire that culminate in the second coming of the Messiah (verse 14).

"The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits" (verse 9). These are seven great empires that involve the church, the "woman" mentioned here.

The two women of Revelation

A woman is sometimes used to symbolize religion. In Ephesians 5 we see the analogy between marriage and the relationship Christ has with His Church. Just as the Church submits itself to Christ, so the wife should submit herself to the husband (Ephesians:5:22-25).

In Revelation chapter 12 we read an account of "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars" (verse 1). This woman symbolizes God's people Israel, both the physical nation of Israel in the Old Testament and the spiritual nation of Israel, the true Church, in the New Testament. Satan hates the woman and goes to war with her and her offspring "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (verse 17).

This Church is not to be confused with the false church that is described in chapter 17 as "the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (verses 1-2).

The apostle Paul warned in 2 Corinthians:11:14-15 that "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness."

The false church, pictured as a harlot, a church that compromises, or sells itself for gain, was prophesied to commit "fornication" with the "kings of the earth." This is a political church. God's true Church stays out of politics, heeding the words of Jesus Christ that His Kingdom is not of this world (John:18:36). Fornication, however, is not the same as marriage. In marriage there is commitment. Each partner tries to please the other in order to make the marriage successful.

In a relationship based on fornication, there is only "get." Each partner is trying to seek his or her own. This is the way it has been throughout the history of church and state. Each has used the other for self-centered gain, just as two people fornicating use each other.

The church in the 19th century

By the time of the French Revolution, after 15 centuries of the supremacy of the political church, there was a great deal of anticlerical feeling. The French Revolution was an anticlerical revolution. Napoleon learned later that it was better to use the church for his own ends—he was crowned by the pope in 1804. But the 19th century was a difficult time for the church in France, in Italy and elsewhere. The papacy had lost its landholdings (the Papal States) under Napoleon. These were restored by the Congress of Vienna, only to be lost again during the period of Italian unification in the 1860s.

"Ever since the Reformation, the papacy had been reluctantly readjusting to the realities of a fragmented Christendom amid the challenge of Enlightenment ideas and new ways of looking at the world. In response to the political and social changes that gathered pace in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the papacy had struggled to survive and exert an influence in a climate of liberalism, secularism, science, industrialization, and the evolving nation-state. The popes had been obliged to fight on two fronts—as primates of an embattled Church and as monarchs of a tottering papal kingdom. Caught in a bewildering series of confrontations with the new masters of Europe, the papacy had been attempting to protect the Church universal while defending the integrity of its collapsing temporal power" (John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, 1999, pp. 4-5).

Within the church there was division between the centrists who believed in stronger papal power and those who argued for decentralization by giving more power to the bishops. "The triumph of the modern centrists...was sealed at the First Vatican Council of 1870 against the background of the Pope's loss of his dominions. At that Council, the Pope was declared infallible in matters of faith and morals as well as undisputed primate —supreme spiritual and administrative head of the Church" (ibid., pp. 5-6).

Pope Pius XII

In the century following the doctrine of papal infallibility, the most autocratic pope was Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII on the eve of World War II in 1939. He was and remains one of the most controversial popes in history, largely due to his failure to speak out against Hitler and the Holocaust. His career in the Vatican bureaucracy leading up to the papacy is very revealing of the political power and influence of the church when it comes to worldly politics, the very politics Jesus Christ told His disciples to stay out of.

"In his capacity as highly favored undersecretary, and as a coming figure in the world of international diplomacy and law, [Pacelli] now became involved in a series of negotiations that contributed significantly to the extreme tensions between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the period preceding the outbreak of the First World War...

"At precisely 11:30 on the morning of June 24, 1914, just four days before Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated at Sarajevo, representatives of the Holy See and the government of Serbia sat down in the salone of the Secretariat of State to put their signatures to a treaty known as the Serbian Concordat" (ibid., pp. 48-49).

The concordat between the Vatican and predominantly Orthodox Serbia came at the expense of Austria-Hungary, which had previously been the protector of Catholics in the region.

"Vienna reacted to news of the concordat with outrage. 'The Austrian press and people,' wrote the Italian ambassador from Vienna on June 25, 'consider the Serbian Concordat a major diplomatic defeat for their Government'" (ibid., p. 50).

Cornwell continues, "The result was a sharp increase in anti-Serbian rhetoric and calls for action. When the archduke was murdered in Sarajevo only days later, emotions were already volatile. The Serbian Concordat undoubtedly contributed to the uncompromising terms that the Austro-Hungarian Empire pressed on Serbia, making war inevitable" (ibid., p. 51).

World War II

Pacelli's contribution to global conflict did not end there.

He was papal nuncio (ambassador) to Bavaria from 1917-1929, during which time he became very knowledgeable on German affairs. Made a cardinal in 1929, he was appointed secretary of state the following year.

After Hitler came to power on Jan. 30, 1933, Pacelli on July 20 signed a concordat with the German diplomat Franz von Papen that gave the Catholic Church complete freedom within Germany, in exchange for which the Church would stay out of politics. This meant the end of the Catholic Center Party, the only party big enough to counteract Hitler. The treaty was seen as a major triumph for Hitler, who was now well on the way to turning Germany into a dictatorship.

It is interesting to observe that one man in the Vatican bureaucracy contributed to both world wars! As Pope Pius XII, he was the only man in fascist-controlled Europe who conceivably could have stood up to Hitler and condemned the Holocaust. Instead, he chose not to.

This is not surprising when the history of the church is taken into account. The roots of anti-Semitism lie within the church, which has always taught that the Jews killed Christ. Medieval Europe, dominated by the church, persecuted the Jews for centuries.

Foreshadowing the 1933 deal with Hitler, the Vatican had signed a pact with Mussolini in February 1929 that made Catholicism the only legal religion in Italy and gave the church the authority to impose the Code of Canon Law on the country. The Catholic Popular Party, which was similar to the Catholic Center Party in Germany, was disbanded and its leader went into exile. Members of the church were told to stay out of politics. Hitler welcomed the agreement, interpreting it as support for fascism.

The church's involvement in worldly politics is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy in Revelation 17 that speaks of false religion and secular political leaders in cahoots with one another.

Today, Pius XII is in the process of being canonized by the Catholic Church. WNP

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