8. “The most enigmatic war of this century”
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira had written as early as 1936: “Shortly, only the blind can contest it, there will be an international deluge: world war is knocking at the doors of western civilization.”106 At the beginning of 1939, in the Legionário he drew a dramatic picture of the international events. “In this angry sea sails the mystical Bark of Saint Peter. Against it, mysterious wave movements are forming. They will quickly degenerate into an immense storm.”107
On 1 September 1939, after the Polish refusal to give Hitler the Danzig “corridor”, the German army invaded Poland. In his “Nota internacional” of 3 September, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira commented on the event with these words:
“Everything leads to the belief that war was decided on not by a simple non-aggression pact but by a secret accord between Russia and the Reich, from which will probably result the partition of Poland. Thus, the sides seem to be defining themselves as they were always seen by those who knew how to see: the close ideological proximity between Nazism and communism, translated into a positive military alliance against civilization and peace. It is war that begins, with all its hideous cortege of death, misery and suffering, to attempt to impose on Europe a lord who is the antithesis of Catholic civilization, and the product of a centuries-long series of errors, the materialization of error against the Truth.”108
On that same 3 September, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War, which Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in a five-column article in the Legionário defined “The most enigmatic war of our century”109 had begun. The enigma was contained in the veil of apparent contradictions with which “the dark forces of evil”110 covered their manoeuvres to destroy what was still left of Christian civilization. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s intention continued to be that of revealing with acuity of vision the mysterium iniquitatis which was unravelling itself in the history of his time.
The first months of the conflict saw the fulminating advance of Germany which occupied Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. On 10 June 1940, on the eve of the entrance of the German troops into Paris and of the armistice between Hitler and Pétain,111 Mussolini entered the war on the side of the Reich. Meanwhile in England, on 10 May 1940 Chamberlain had resigned and had been replaced as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill. The new head of the government promised the British people “blood, toil, tears and sweat” until the final victory, while declaring at Admiralty House:
“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’. (…) You ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”112
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira always admired the figure of Churchill, a Protestant, but strong in character and steadfast in his ideas, while the common trait of the Catholic politicians of the time seemed to be willingness to “compromise” and to collaborate with the enemy.113
At the end of June 1940, Churchill, having rejected all peace proposals, faced the “Battle of Britain”, launched by the Führer to break the English people. Already in the month of October the obstinacy of the British resistance forced Hitler to renounce his project.114 The German hope to conclude the blitzkrieg disappeared with the same speed with which it had begun. Europe was however under the heel of the Führer who announced the creation of his millenary “new order”. The map of Europe in 1941 seemed to confirm his dreams: in the form of annexed, “protected”, collaborating or satellite States, the majority of the European nations by now moved in the orbit of the Third Reich.
For the Catholic Church, this was a radically new situation which, as has been observed, had an analogous precedent only during the Napoleonic expansion.115 There was talk of the possibility of a Nazi invasion of the Vatican and of the deportation of the Pontiff.116 The “silence” with regard to Nazism of which Pius XII has been accused, was not born however from this fear, but from that of causing by a solemn protest from him even more ruthless reactions against Catholics and the Jews themselves.117 The Pope invoked his vocation as moral judge derived from his spiritual Magisterium. The Lateran Pacts, which in art. 24 guaranteed the neutrality and inviolability of the Vatican City, offered him a freedom of action which none of his immediate predecessors had been able to enjoy.
“Whose side is the Pope on?” Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira replied in the Legionário to this question heard so many times. The Pope is the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the infallible teacher of Truth, the sovereign of a spiritual and indestructible kingdom: “Supreme hierarch of the whole universe, the Holy Father represents everything that is divine, supernatural, immutable, eternal”.118 The Pope therefore has neither “allies” nor “enemies”. The Pope is not on Hitler’s side, nor on that of Stalin. “The Pope is on the side of Jesus Christ, on the side of indefectability, of eternity. It is the Pope who will win.”119
During the war, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira sorrowfully commented on the bombardments of the Eternal City, the seat of the Vicar of Christ,120 and he repeatedly expressed his solidarity with the Pope and the Holy See.
“If the Pope suffers, we should suffer with him, we should fight for him, we should pray for him. On the threshold of 1944, let us form the resolution to shine more than ever in filial and enthusiastic devotion to the Supreme Pontiff.”121
106) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Unidade nacional”, O Legionário, no. 219, 22 November 1936.
107) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Ainda o fascismo”, O Legionário, no. 330, 8 January 1939.
108) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Nota internacional”, O Legionário, no. 364, 3 September 1939; cf. also ID., “Ao celebrarmos o advento da Paz, não nos esqueçamos da lição que encerra esta guerra”, O Legionário, no. 666, 13 May 1945.
109) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “A guerra mais enigmática de nosso seculo”, O Legionário, no. 381, 31 December 1939. On the Second World War, cf. the classic works of Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, 6 vols., London, Cassell, 1948-54, Alan John P. Taylor, The origins of the Second World War, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1961.
110) Pius XII, Address to the Sacred College of 24 December 1946, in IP, La pace internazionale, p. 469.
111) “We do not understand how one can desire the Reign of Christ in France while at the same time supporting, with brotherly solicitude those who insult, vilify and persecute Our Lord Jesus Christ in Germany. One cannot be a friend of St Peter and of Herod at the same time”. P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “As máscaras cairam”, O Legionário, no. 504, 10 May 1942.
112) Quote in M. Gilbert, Finest hour. Winston S. Churchill, 1939-1941, (London, Heinemann, 1983), p. 333.
113) Cf. for example P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Quisling, Mosley & C.”, O Legionário, no. 396, 14 April 1940 where he criticizes the “great international consortium Quisling, Mosley, Degrelle, Seyss-Inquart & Co.”.
114) “During the war — Pius XII stated — the English people put up with more than what was humanly possible”. Pius XII, Address to the new Minister of Great Britain on 30 June 1947, in DR, vol. IX, p. 137.
115) J. Chélini, L’Eglise sous Pie XII, pp. 121-2.
116) Cf. G. Angelozzi Gariboldi, Pio XII, Hitler e Mussolini, pp. 193-4. At the time that Italy entered the war, there was talk of a voluntary exile of Pius XII in a neutral country, to safeguard the independence of his mission as head of the Church. The archbishop of New York, The Most Rev. Francis Joseph Spellman, had even suggested that the Pope could take refuge in a country of Latin America and, according to Giorgio Angelozzi Gariboldi, “the name of Brazil was mentioned” (ibid, p. 113).
117) G. Angelozzi Gariboldi, op. cit., pp. 148-149; A. Rhodes, Il Vaticano e le dittature, pp. 347-62.
118) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Com quem está o Papa?”, O Legionário, no. 589, 21 November 1943. Cf. also ID., “Pastor Angelicus”, O Legionário, no. 568, 27 June 1943. “Our position between two opposing fields — states Pius XII in the Christmas Radiomessage of 24 December 1947 — is averse to any consideration of a temporal nature. To be with Christ or against Christ: this is the whole question”. Pius XII, in DR, vol. IX, p. 394.
119) P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “Com quem está o Papa?” Cf. also ID., “7 dias em revista”, O Legionário, no. 541, 20 December 1942.
120) Cf. P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “O bombardamento de Roma”, no. 572, 25 July 1943; ID., “7 dias em revista”, O Legionário, no. 597, 16 January 1944. On the occasion of Christmas 1944, he published various articles commenting on the Message of Pius XII. P. Corrêa de Oliveira, “A mensagem de Natal”, O Legionário, no. 647, 31 December 1944, no. 648, 7 January 1945, no. 649, 14 January 1945, no. 651, 28 January 1945.
121) P. Corrêa de Oliveira,"Anti Komitern!", O Legionário, no. 363, 27 August 1939.