Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich

Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich

by Hubert Wolf
     
 

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The Vatican’s dealings with the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich have long been swathed in myth and speculation. After almost seventy years, the crucial records for the years leading up to 1939 were finally opened to the public, revealing the bitter conflicts that raged behind the walls of the Holy See. Anti-Semites and philo-Semites, adroit diplomats and

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Overview

The Vatican’s dealings with the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich have long been swathed in myth and speculation. After almost seventy years, the crucial records for the years leading up to 1939 were finally opened to the public, revealing the bitter conflicts that raged behind the walls of the Holy See. Anti-Semites and philo-Semites, adroit diplomats and dogmatic fundamentalists, influential bishops and powerful cardinals argued passionately over the best way to contend with the intellectual and political currents of the modern age: liberalism, communism, fascism, and National Socialism. Hubert Wolf explains why a philo-Semitic association was dissolved even as anti-Semitism was condemned, how the Vatican concluded a concordat with the Third Reich in 1933, why Hitler’s Mein Kampf was never proscribed by the Church, and what factors surrounded the Pope’s silence on the persecution of the Jews.

In rich detail, Wolf presents astonishing findings from the recently opened Vatican archives—discoveries that clarify the relations between National Socialism and the Vatican. He illuminates the thinking of the popes, cardinals, and bishops who saw themselves in a historic struggle against evil. Never have the inner workings of the Vatican—its most important decisions and actions—been portrayed so fully and vividly.

Editorial Reviews

Commonweal

[An] excellent examination of the Pius XI archives...No stranger to the dark side of church history, and intimately familiar with ecclesiastical dogma, politics, and procedure, Wolf presents sensitive material with admirable evenhandedness, avoiding both apology and easy condemnation...Pope and Devil gives us a behind-the-scenes exploration of what made the Vatican tick, providing the sort of background information with which political historians contextualize the decisions of secular leaders like Churchill or Roosevelt. Wolf shows that in the last months of his life Ratti became consumed with the issue of Nazi-inspired racism, and devoted much of his waning energy to it; while Pacelli, for his part, "was clear in his rejection of racial anti-Semitism, and...believed that the church had a general responsibility to support human rights." Both men, however, understood their responsibilities in the light of traditional Catholic priorities. Both viewed Catholic dogma as immutable; and both consistently put Catholic institutional objectives—understood as an essential requirement of salvation—first and foremost.
— Michael R. Marrus

New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal

Hubert Wolf's extraordinarily lucid and well-researched Pope and Devil performs the much valued task of throwing light into dark corners sans the sensationalism and tendentious argumentation that have defined too much scholarship in the area...Pope and Devil takes the reader through the labyrinthine corridors of Vatican diplomacy in the 1920s and 1930s, the political turmoil that defined those papal strategies that tried to make sense of or at least limit the damage of the rising totalitarianism inundating Europe, and the intrigue and politicking that characterized the often fraught relationship among such parties as the nuncios or Vatican ambassadors in Berlin and Munich, the papal Secretary of State and the Head of the Supreme Congregation more commonly known as the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition. No easy feat and Wolf manages it in a way that is both enlightening and entertaining.
— Michael W. Higgins

The Scotsman

Wolf's absorbing study shows in fascinating detail how ready Pius XI was to sup with authoritarian devils of both left and right in hopes of striking the best balance he could.
— Michael Kerrigan

Times Higher Education

The Vatican's dealings with the Third Reich during the reign of Pius XII's predecessor, Pius XI (1922-1939), have received rather less attention. But since the archives for that pontificate were opened in 2006, our understanding has increased enormously. Hubert Wolf's book contributes greatly to that understanding.
— John Pollard

The Tablet

Wolf has written a very important book. It does not explain the 'silence' of Pius XII, though it certainly exonerates him of the charge that he was in any way sympathetic to the regime in Germany. It also reveals a man with a misplaced confidence in his own competence.
— Michael Walsh

Haaretz

[Pope and Devil] is useful in helping us understand the reasons for the Vatican's consistent refusal to take a bold stand against Hitler and his policies in the years leading up to the war.
— Sergio I. Minerbi

Choice

The "silence of Pius XII" remains a contentious issue among historians studying the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Based on documents released by the Vatican Secret Archives during the last decade, Wolf offers an analysis of the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939). He carefully sketches the Vatican view of Germany during these years when Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was a nuncio in Germany and subsequently cardinal secretary of state. Wolf's explication of these documents reveals the historical environment within which Pacelli matured and developed his Roman perspectives on Germany and so helps explain his future "silence" as pope. The documents (memoranda, etc.) offer clarifying insights into the sometimes convoluted policies of the Vatican with respect to its position on anti-Semitism, racism, the negotiations surrounding the Concordat of 1933, and the relationship between politics and dogma, always a tense problematic within the Roman Catholic Church. This book also opens windows on the Vatican perception of German Episcopal reactions to Hitler's ideology and to such issues as the euthanasia policy. Wolf's groundwork will make future archival releases more comprehensible.
— D. J. Dietrich

New Republic online

[An] important book...In 2008, [Pope] Benedict [XVI] resuscitated a Good Friday prayer for the Jews, and last year he raised the cause of canonizing Pius XII to a higher stage. For many students of church history, such steps have been deeply troubling. Those hoping to form a judgment of Benedict's course should read Wolf's learned book and ask themselves whether the Pius they encounter in the memoranda salvaged from the Vatican's secret archives seems like a saint—with a charisma that speaks through the ages—or whether he appears as fallible as any of us, a man who sought wisdom but ultimately failed to see beyond the horizons of his own time.
— John Connelly

John W. O'Malley
Pope and Devil is a must-read for anybody interested in the Vatican's relationship with Germany in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II, including the hotly debated issue of 'the silence of Pius XII.' This book brings new complexity and insight to the debate on Pius XII's 'silence.'
Commonweal - Michael R. Marrus
[An] excellent examination of the Pius XI archives...No stranger to the dark side of church history, and intimately familiar with ecclesiastical dogma, politics, and procedure, Wolf presents sensitive material with admirable evenhandedness, avoiding both apology and easy condemnation...Pope and Devil gives us a behind-the-scenes exploration of what made the Vatican tick, providing the sort of background information with which political historians contextualize the decisions of secular leaders like Churchill or Roosevelt. Wolf shows that in the last months of his life Ratti became consumed with the issue of Nazi-inspired racism, and devoted much of his waning energy to it; while Pacelli, for his part, "was clear in his rejection of racial anti-Semitism, and...believed that the church had a general responsibility to support human rights." Both men, however, understood their responsibilities in the light of traditional Catholic priorities. Both viewed Catholic dogma as immutable; and both consistently put Catholic institutional objectives--understood as an essential requirement of salvation--first and foremost.
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal - Michael W. Higgins
Hubert Wolf's extraordinarily lucid and well-researched Pope and Devil performs the much valued task of throwing light into dark corners sans the sensationalism and tendentious argumentation that have defined too much scholarship in the area...Pope and Devil takes the reader through the labyrinthine corridors of Vatican diplomacy in the 1920s and 1930s, the political turmoil that defined those papal strategies that tried to make sense of or at least limit the damage of the rising totalitarianism inundating Europe, and the intrigue and politicking that characterized the often fraught relationship among such parties as the nuncios or Vatican ambassadors in Berlin and Munich, the papal Secretary of State and the Head of the Supreme Congregation more commonly known as the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition. No easy feat and Wolf manages it in a way that is both enlightening and entertaining.
The Scotsman - Michael Kerrigan
Wolf's absorbing study shows in fascinating detail how ready Pius XI was to sup with authoritarian devils of both left and right in hopes of striking the best balance he could.
Times Higher Education - John Pollard
The Vatican's dealings with the Third Reich during the reign of Pius XII's predecessor, Pius XI (1922-1939), have received rather less attention. But since the archives for that pontificate were opened in 2006, our understanding has increased enormously. Hubert Wolf's book contributes greatly to that understanding.
The Tablet - Michael Walsh
Wolf has written a very important book. It does not explain the 'silence' of Pius XII, though it certainly exonerates him of the charge that he was in any way sympathetic to the regime in Germany. It also reveals a man with a misplaced confidence in his own competence.
Haaretz - Sergio I. Minerbi
[Pope and Devil] is useful in helping us understand the reasons for the Vatican's consistent refusal to take a bold stand against Hitler and his policies in the years leading up to the war.
Choice - D. J. Dietrich
The "silence of Pius XII" remains a contentious issue among historians studying the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Based on documents released by the Vatican Secret Archives during the last decade, Wolf offers an analysis of the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939). He carefully sketches the Vatican view of Germany during these years when Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was a nuncio in Germany and subsequently cardinal secretary of state. Wolf's explication of these documents reveals the historical environment within which Pacelli matured and developed his Roman perspectives on Germany and so helps explain his future "silence" as pope. The documents (memoranda, etc.) offer clarifying insights into the sometimes convoluted policies of the Vatican with respect to its position on anti-Semitism, racism, the negotiations surrounding the Concordat of 1933, and the relationship between politics and dogma, always a tense problematic within the Roman Catholic Church. This book also opens windows on the Vatican perception of German Episcopal reactions to Hitler's ideology and to such issues as the euthanasia policy. Wolf's groundwork will make future archival releases more comprehensible.
New Republic online - John Connelly
[An] important book...In 2008, [Pope] Benedict [XVI] resuscitated a Good Friday prayer for the Jews, and last year he raised the cause of canonizing Pius XII to a higher stage. For many students of church history, such steps have been deeply troubling. Those hoping to form a judgment of Benedict's course should read Wolf's learned book and ask themselves whether the Pius they encounter in the memoranda salvaged from the Vatican's secret archives seems like a saint--with a charisma that speaks through the ages--or whether he appears as fallible as any of us, a man who sought wisdom but ultimately failed to see beyond the horizons of his own time.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674050815
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
05/31/2010
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

John W. O'Malley
Pope and Devil is a must-read for anybody interested in the Vatican's relationship with Germany in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II, including the hotly debated issue of 'the silence of Pius XII.' This book brings new complexity and insight to the debate on Pius XII's 'silence.'
John W. O'Malley, S.J., author of What Happened at Vatican II

Meet the Author

Hubert Wolf is Professor of Church History at the University of Münster.

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