In light of the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s death, the new President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop-designate Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, published an article in L’Osservatore Romano this week on the important contribution of the 43 encyclicals the Pontiff contributed to the Second Vatican Council.
Bishop Fisichella said that while many aspects of Pius XII’s life have been studied, something that is not as well-known is his influence on the development of the Second Vatican Council. “His profound teaching with a vision towards the future is reflected in the sequence of the 43 encyclicals that marked his pontificate and the numerous discourses with which he confronted the most controversial issues of the day.” The prelate continued by explaining that the Pope’s influence could be broken down into three aspects, the first of which is “the promotion of doctrine.”
This is evident, he continued, in the Pope’s definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, and in his letter Mystici Corporis dated June 29, 1943, “which at the time was considered theologically innovative.” The archbishop also pointed to the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu from September 30, 1943, which promoted biblical studies and renewed devotion to Sacred Scripture.
The second aspect of the Pope’s influence was “the defense of doctrine and the relevance of errors,” which was evident in the letter Mediator Dei. The letter, dated November 20, 1947, was written on the liturgy and the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the distinction between the priesthood of the laity and the priestly ordination. Bishop Fisichella said Humani Generis, published on August 22, 1950, addressed theological relativism and in hindsight was a prophetic document in light of what happened in the Church after Vatican II.
The third aspect, the bishop continued, was Pope Pius XII’s “clear and direct manner of speaking when circumstances required it or when there was exact information about issues and their consequences.”
Pope Pius XII’s legacy, he said, demonstrates the continuity of the Church’s doctrine and her patient and unwavering commitment to passing on the one true faith.