Colin Jory has responded to my post about Pius XII with some memories of his own about the great Pope and with a poem commemorating Pius’ death by the Australian poet, A. D. Hope. Both are worth sharing …
Back in the late 1960s I bought a fantastically good defence of Pius XII against the lying bigotry of Hochuth for which there proved to be such a voracious appetite among the Church’s enemies — I am speaking of Pinchas Lapide’s “The Last Three Popes and the Jews”. Lapide was an Israeli diplomat, and he showed that despite all the persecutions of and discrimination against the Jews of Europe, it was only because of the protection of the Catholic Church against populist and political hatreds that substantial Jewish communities survived . In other words, except for the Church there would have been no persecution of the Jews because no Jews would have survived to be persecuted. He also maintained that the Church saved more Jewish lives from the Nazis than all other institutions or individuals combined. I lent the book to someone decades ago and it wasn’t returned, but I hope it has continued to do good.
My studies in the 1960s and 1970s into Catholic social action in the 1930s, and the special History Honours unit I did on Germany between the wars, brought me to appreciate the profound wisdom of those two outstanding popes, Pius XI and Piux XII — who were like father and son in their like-mindedness. I think I mentioned to you some time back that splendid Australian poet A.D. Hope’s “Ode on the Death of Pius XII”, but didn’t send you a copy. I do so below. Hope, as I mentioned, was a complete secularist and a civilized libertine, but he recognized that there exist depths of grace and goodness which he profoundly admired but felt were inaccessible to him.
Ode On the Death of Pius the Twelfth
To every season its proper act of joy, To every age its natural mode of grace, Each vision its hour, each talent we employ Its destined time and place. I was at Amherst when this great pope died; The northern year was wearing towards the cold; The ancient trees were in their autumn pride Of russet, flame and gold. Amherst in Massachusetts in the Fall: I ranged the college campus to admire Maple and beech, poplar and ash in all Their panoply of fire. Something that since a child I longed to see, This miracle of the other hemisphere: Whole forests in their annual ecstasty Waked by the dying year. Not budding Spring, not Summer's green parade Clothed in such glory these resplendant trees; The lilies of the field were not arrayed In riches such as these. Nature evolves their colours as a call, A lure which serves to fertilise the seed; How strange then that the splendour of the Fall Should serve no natural need And, having no end in nature, yet can yield Such exquisite natural pleasure to the eye! Who could have guessed in summer's green concealed The leaf's resolve to die? Yet from the first spring shoots through all the year, Masked in the chlorophyll's intenser green, The feast of crimson was already there, These yellows blazed unseen. Now in the bright October sun the clear Translucent colours trembled overhead And as I walked, a voice I chanced to hear Announced: The Pope is dead! A human voice, yet there the place became Bethel: each bough with pentecost was crowned; The great trunks rapt in unconsuming flame Stood as on holy ground. I thought of this old man whose life was past, Who in himself and his great office stood Against the secular tempest as a vast Oak spans the underwood; Who in the age of Armageddon found A voice that caused all men to hear it plain, The blood of Abel crying from the ground To stay the hand of Cain; Who found from that great task small time to spare: - For him and for mankind the hour was late - So much to snatch, to save, so much to bear That Mary's part must wait, Until in his last years the change began: A strange illumination of the heart, Voices and visions such as mark the man Chosen and set apart. His death, they said, was slow, grotesque and hard, Yet in that gross decay, until the end Untroubled in his joy, he saw the Word Made spirit and ascend. Those glorious woods and that triumphant death Prompted me there to join their mysteries: This Brother Albert, this great oak of faith, Those fire-enchanted trees. Seven years have passed, and still, at times I ask Whether in man, as in those plants, may be A splendour, which his human virtues mask, Not given to us to see? If to some lives at least comes a stage When, all active man now left behind, They enter on the treasure of old age, This autumn of the mind. Then, while the heart stands still, beyond desire The dying animal knows a strange serene: Emerging in its ecstasy of fire The burning soul is seen. Who sees it? Since old age appears to men Senility, decreptitude, disease, What Spirit walks among us, past our ken, As we among these trees, Whose unknown nature, blessed with keener sense Catches its breath in wonder at the sight And feels its being flood with that immense Epiphany of light?
-- A D Hope