Pius XII

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Pius XII

Pius XII, 1876–1958, pope (1939–58), an Italian named Eugenio Pacelli, b. Rome; successor of Pius XI. Ordained a priest in 1899, he entered the Vatican's secretariat of state. He became (1912) undersecretary of state and, after becoming a bishop, was appointed (1917) nuncio to Bavaria. He stayed in Germany until 1929 and concluded concordats with Bavaria and Prussia. He was made cardinal in 1929 and papal secretary of state in 1930, succeeding his teacher, Cardinal Gasparri. He negotiated the concordat with Nazi Germany in 1933. Elevated to the papacy in 1939, Pius was the first papal secretary to be elected in centuries and the first Roman pope since 1730. In his first encyclical (Summi pontificatus, 1939) Pius made a general attack on totalitarianism. During World War II, however, he believed that the Vatican could best work to achieve peace by maintaining formal relations with all the belligerents. He was later much criticized for not speaking out against the Nazi persecution of the Jews and accused of not doing enough to protect them within Italy. After the war Pius was alarmed by the resurgence of Communism in Italy and fostered the growth of Catholic Action groups to strengthen the Christian Democratic party. In 1949 he excommunicated Italian Catholics who joined the Communist party. In retaliation for the political persecution of the church in Communist Eastern Europe, Pius excommunicated the political leaders of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Poland. Pius issued his main directives in encyclical form; their subjects included the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, i.e., the church (Mystici Corporis Christi, 1943); biblical studies (Divino afflante spiritu, 1943); the 14th centenary of St. Benedict (1947) and the liturgy and practices surrounding it (Mediator Dei, 1947); and the future of Africa (Fidei donum, 1957). He continued Pius XI's educational pontifical universities in South America (at Lima, Medellín, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago de Chile), and he favored the appointment of native hierarchies in overseas dioceses. In 1950, in the papal bull Munificentissimus Deus, the pope defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. He reformed (1956) the Holy Week liturgy, relaxed the rules for fasting, and increased the hours during which Mass may be said. Pius had only one secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione; after his death (1944) the pope acted as his own secretary of state. He was succeeded by John XXIII. Pope Pius was widely venerated during his lifetime, and proceedings for his beatification were begun in 1965.

See his Guide for Living, ed. by M. Guinlan (1960); biographies by K. K. Burton (1958), T. J. Kierman (1958), J. H. L. Smyth (1958), F. J. Coppa (2012), and R. A. Ventresca (2012); C. Falconi, The Silence of Pius XII (tr. 1970); J. Cornwell, Hitler's Pope (1999).

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