Pope Benedict XV, 1914-1922
by
Gerald Darring


Pope Benedict XV was Bishop of Rome from 1914 to 1922. His tenure coincided with World War I and its aftermath, and the great theme of his writings was peace. He did not issue any encyclicals that were socially oriented or were accepted into the tradition of Catholic social teaching. He has the reputation of being less autocratic than Pius X and more sympathetic than Pius to the thrust of Leo XIII's social teaching.

CRITICAL COMMENTS

John C. Reville, S.J. America (28 January 1922) 338. Benedict ought to be represented artistically "as pope, not like Leo, the pope of the workingman with the charter of the laborer's rights in his hands, or pointing to his epoch-making encyclical on Christian democracy, but holding aloft the words of the beatitude pronounced by the lips of Christ, his master: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.' That was Benedict's program."

Richard L. Camp. The Papal Ideology of Social Reform (1969) 16. Benedict XV's social policy showed an openness and desire for conciliation. "He held no brief for the ultratraditionalism of Pius X's era and did not resist efforts of social Catholics to experiment with new methods and original forms of organization." He wanted to expand the social program of the Church as much as he possibly could, but his contribution to Catholic social doctrine was not great. During his short reign he had to deal with overwhelming problems, such as war, not directly related to the social question. His social pronouncements were unoriginal and they did not form an important part of his total writing.

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 55. Pope Benedict insisted that the division of society into classes was natural and was willed by God. He encouraged Catholics to help the poor, but at the same time he wanted to instill in the poor "a spirituality that would discourage them from seeking vainly for a higher situation than they could reach and from trying to escape from evils they could not avoid; they should rather be encouraged to put up with their troubles peacefully in the hope of the good things of heaven."

Ronald G. Musto. The Catholic Peace Tradition (1986) 171. Benedict was a true "Pontiff of Peace." Elected as Europe plunged into the First World War, he had a clear vision of the role of the Christian peacemaker. He was as close to an absolute pacifist as any pope since Benedict XII during the Hundred Years War. Benedict opposed war in any form and rejected the theory of the just war as historically outmoded and theologically inadequate. "He saw the theory as only a lame excuse designed to prolong wars. In the best tradition of Catholic peacemaking he rejected the Machiavellian distinction between private and public morality."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dorr, Donal. Option for the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983, pp. 54-56.

Musto, Ronald G. The Catholic Peace Tradition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1986.

Reville, John C., S.J. "Benedict the Peacemaker." America 26 (28 January 1922) 337-39.

Rhodes, Anthony. "The Pope of the First World War: Benedict XV (1914-1922)." Month 250 (June 1989) 248-52.



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