Frenchman's Portrait Of Pius XI
So Sainiete Pie XI. By Mgr. R. Fontenelle. (Spes, Paris, 15 francs).
Reviewed by HERBERT KILDANY
On the eve of Holy Week the convalescent of the Vatican startled the world by two notable gestures, an encyclical on Communism and a challenge to Hitler, which indicated conclusively that his recent illness had in no wise impaired his strength of mind. On Easter Sunday Pope Pius XI, somewhat thinner but not less determined in looks than at his last public appearance, descended to the Basilica of St. Peter for Mass and later bestowed his blessing urbi et orbi from the balcony overlooking an unusually crowded and vociferous piazzafull of visitors.
With the addition of a few lines to that effect by way of epilogue the book which Mgr. Fontenelle has just published might easily be delivered to the breakfast table in company with the more ephemeral pur veyors of " hot news." It certainly deserves to become the biography of the day.
That the history of yesterday is always better known than that of today is a corn: *on-place but it is not easy to understand how it comes about that the long reign of 15 years has not received the attention which it deserved in an age of popular biographers. Among slighter sketches there have appeared the learned studies by Montgomery Belgion and George Seldes, but we have had to wait a long time for a ftt11length portrait of "one of the greatest of the 261 successors of Si. Peter, to use the words of Giovanni Papini.
At the age of eighty, Pius XI • has achieved au arduous spell at the tiller of Peter's barque. He is the only sovereign who has survived the peace treaties which he decried, with an enhanced reputation, and the figure of Achille Ratti, the modest silk-weaver's son who spent a lifetime as a scholarly librarian before being called to his apostolic charge emerges from the turbulent background of the post-war period as a spiritual giant threading his way calmly through a number of self-styled strong men.
This timely publication will endebt all students of international affairs to Mgr. Yontenelle if only for the sake of the skill with which he unravels the tangled skein of relations with Germany, Russia and Italy. Although in no sense an official life it is clear that its author has access to the inner circles of the Vatican and was indeed an eye-witness of much that he describes. This is explained by the fact that he has been the correspondent of the French Catholic daily, LaCroix, for some years, and no one whom business or pleasure leads to study his columns will hesitate to describe them as the most authoritative among many distinguished rivals. Gallic insight. careful attention to detail and the ease of familiarity result in a portrait which is not likely to be superseded for many a day.
The early chapters add little to what was already known of the Pope's formation but even the well-read should be grateful for the very full accounts of recent questions which arc brought down to the bedside conference with the German bishops that is only now bearing fruit, One of the most valuable is the record of the difficul ties which followed the signature of the Concordat in 1929; the lesson of Non Abiamo Bisogno has yet to be learnt in other lands.
The author wisely leaves to posterity the task of choosing between the titles Pope of the Missions. Pope of the Concordats or Pope of Catholic Action, but he would seem to favour the latter on page 83 "I'Action Catholique est sans conieste Ia note dam/name du pontifical." Certainly the development of a lay apostolatc has played
a prominent part in the Pope's personal
preoccupations, and may well prove to he the most fruitful among them.
Contemporaries, however, will approve the emphasis which is properly laid on the series of magisterial restatements of Christian doctrine culminating in the recent encyclical on Communism. Many will find the chapter on Peace most welcome, for it knits together the scattered evidence of the continuous efforts made to stem the tide of fractricidal enmities, throughout the pontificate begun under the motto, Pax Christi in regl,to Christi.