Yves Congar Reflects on the Death of John XXIII

Since I wrote these last things, great events have taken place, but I have not written anything here about them. There was the last suffering and the death of John XXIII. In this, the Church and even the world have been through an extraordinary experience. All at once, one became aware of the immense impact this humble and good man has had. It has become clear that he has altered the religious map and even the human map of the world, simply by being what he was. He did not operate by great expositions of ideas, but by gestures and a certain personal style. He did not speak in the name of the system, of its legitimacy, of its authority, but simply in the name of the intuitions and the movement of a heart which, on the one hand, was obedient to God and on the other loved all people, or rather he did both these things in a single action, and in such a way again, the divine law has proved true: God alone is great; true greatness consists in being docile in the service of God in himself and in his loving plan. God raises up the humble. Blessed are the meek for they shall possess the land. Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God. Everyone had the feeling that, in John XXIII, they had lost a father, a personal friend, someone who was thinking of and loving each one of them. Continue reading

Thomas Merton Mourns John XXIII


Pope John died yesterday. A holy and good man, and he was both because he was first of all a man — that is to say, human. This is the great meaning of his papacy, of the Council, of Pacem in Terris. Not humanism, “but the bare statement of the fundamental value of humanity.” Pacem in Terris is not theological. It simply says war is unhuman, and therefore a sin — (not war is a sin and therefore you must not use the bomb). Certainly everyone loved him, and statements to this effect, despite the fact that language is too exhausted to convey it, are probably sincere. May he rest in peace, this great and good Father, whom I certainly loved, and who had been good to me, sending me the stole and many blessings. And I don’t think he has stopped being a father to us, to me. He will one day be canonized, I think (if we last that long), and I do not hesitate to ask his intercession now.

Turning Toward the World: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Four, 1960-1963, edited by Victor A. Kramer

The Death of Pope John

There many explanations why John XXIII had so unparalleled a number of individuals and different religious bodies praying for him in his last illness-why peoples of various religious persuasions throughout the world manifested a deep personal concern when it became known that his death was near. Pope John had a most engaging personality. In his dealings with his fellow men of every rank and station he was genial, warm, solicitous and human, humble, simple and direct. The anecdotes about his simple friendliness are legion. He strongly impressed all, most appropriately, as wholly benign and fatherly.

Pope John XXIII

Pope John’s strong personal appeal had a lot to do with the wide and eiithusiastic acceptance of his many statements that directly carried on and developed principles expounded by his predecessors, notably Pius XII. It was Pius who instituted, for instance, maior liturgical reforms that led to the further changes recently approved by the Fathers of the Vatican Council. Continue reading

Pius XII and the Jews

In a recent comment (3/23, p. 389), America briefly noted a West Berlin play built around the thesis that Pope Pius XII could have stopped Hitler from killing the Jews but, for purely political reasons, did not do so. The play, Der Stellvertreter (literally, The Vicar, but best translated as The Vicar of Christ), has been playing to capacity crowds in West Berlin and is now in preparation for staging in London.

The heart of the author’s indictment is that perhaps never in the history of the world have so many men paid with their lives for the passivity of one politician. Thirty-one-year-old playwright Rolf Hochhuth undeviatingly builds up his picture of Pope Pius XII as an unprincipled politician who operates solely according to the dictates of reasons of state. Continue reading

How To Read an Encyclical

David Lawrence read it Right
Lippmann saw a liberal light
William Buckley sounded coolish
Pearson’s line was mostly foolish
Courtney Murray wasn’t certain
(We haven’t heard from Thomas Merton)
Nation-readers learned to hope
That J.F.K. would heed his Pope
Welch saw Red, red, redder than titian
As Rome fell under Birch suspicion
Time caressed each Lucid text
While Playboy found it undersexed
Pravda praised the portions peacenik
(No comment on the UN policenik)
The Dept of State was terribly kind
The Pope, it said, had us in mind
By now we know the simple trick
Of how to read Pope John’s encyc
To play the game, you choose your snippet
Of Peace on Earth and boldly clip it

John Cogley was an editor at Commonweal and an adviser to John F. Kennedy. This poem was part of his “Poems on a Postcard” series for America.

On Discussing Freedom

From America, May 11, 1963:

If our Protestant brethren still wondered whether our hierarchy is a monolithic bloc, the activity and comments of our bishops during and after Fr. Hans Küng’s recent lecture tour must have proved something to them. Cardinal Cushing, Cardinal Ritter and Archbishop Alter, for example, listened to what the Tübingen theologian had to say; there were others who let it be known they didn’t want him around.

Now that the visiting Vatican Council expert has returned to Germany, one hears complaints that some of his remarks were difficult to understand. The observation pinpoints an important, and often overlooked, fact about Fr. Küng’s tour. He spoke only in a university context or the equivalent. Continue reading