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public thing, Res publica. And this profound will within us is patriotism.
Our country is not a mere concourse of persons or of families inhabiting the same soil, having among themselves relations more or less intimate, of business, of neighborhood, of a community of memories happy or unhappy.
Not so; it is an association of living souls subject to a social organization, to be defended and safeguarded at all costs, even the cost of blood, under the leadership of those presiding over its fortunes. And it is because of this general spirit that the people of a country live a common life in the present, through the past, through the aspirations, the hopes, the confidence in a life to come, which they share together.
Patriotism, an internal principle of order and of unity, an organic bond of the members of a nation, was placed by the finest thinkers of Greece and Rome at the head of the natural virtues. Aristotle, the prince of the philosophers of antiquity, held disinterested service of the city—that is, the State to be the very ideal of human duty.
And the religion of Christ makes of patriotism a positive law; there is no perfect Christian who is not also a perfect patriot. For our religion exalts the antique ideal, showing it to be realizable only in the absolute. Whence, in truth, comes this universal, this irresistible impulse which carries at once the will of the whole nation in one single effort of cohesion and of resistance in face of the hostile menace against her unity and her freedom?
Whence comes it that in an hour all interests were merged in the interest of all, and that all lives were together offered in willing immolation? Not that the State is worth more, essentially, than the individual or the family, seeing that the good of the family and of the individual is the cause and reason of the organization of the State. Not that our country is a Moloch on whose altar lives may lawfully be sacrificed. The rigidity of antique morals and the despotism of the Caesars suggested the false principle -and modern militarism tends to revive
it-that the State is omnipotent, and that the discretionary power of the State is the rule of right. Not so, replies Christian theology; right is peace—that is, the interior order of a nation, founded upon justice. And justice itself is absolute only because it formulates the essential relation of man with God and of man with man.
Moreover, war for the sake of war is a crime. War is justifiable only if it is the necessary means for securing peace. St. Augustine has said: "Peace must not be a preparation for war. And war is not to be made except for the attainment of peace." In the light of this teaching, which is repeated by St. Thomas Aquinas, patriotism is seen in its religious character.
Family interests, class interests, party interests, and the material good of the individual take their place, in the scale of values, below the ideal of patriotism, for that ideal is right, which is absolute. Furthermore, that ideal is the public recognition of right in national matters and of national honor. Now there is no absolute except God. God alone, by His sanctity and His sovereignty, dominates all human interests and human wills. And to affirm the absolute necessity of the subordination of all things to right, to justice, and to truth, is implicitly to affirm God.
When, therefore, humble soldiers whose heroism we praise answer us with characteristic simplicity, "We only did our duty," or "We were bound in honor," they express the religious character of their patriotism. Which of us does not feel that patriotism is a sacred thing, and that a violation of national dignity is in a manner a profanation and a sacrilege?
I was asked lately by a staff officer whether a soldier falling in a righteous cause-and our cause is such, to demonstration-is not veritably a martyr. Well, he is not a martyr in the rigorous theological meaning of the word, inasmuch as he dies in arms, whereas the martyr delivers himself, undefended and unarmed, into the hands of the executioner; but if I am asked what I think
of the eternal salvation of a brave man who has consciously given his life in defense of his country's honor and in vindication of violated justice, I shall not hesitate to reply that, without any doubt whatever, Christ crowns his military valor, and that death, accepted in this Christian spirit, assures the safety of that man's soul. "Greater love than this no man hath," said our Saviour, “ that a man lay down his life for his friends."
And the soldier who dies to save his brothers and to defend the hearths and altars of his country reaches this highest of all degrees of charity. He may not have made a close analysis of the value of his sacrifice, but must we suppose that God requires of the plain soldier in the excitement of battle the methodical precision of the moralist or the theologian? Can we who revere his heroism doubt that his God welcomes him with love?
Christian mothers, be proud of your sons. Of all griefs, of all our human sorrows, yours is perhaps the most worthy of veneration. I think I behold you in your affliction, but erect, standing at the side of the Mother of Sorrows, at the foot of the Cross. Suffer us to offer you not only our condolence, but our congratulation. Not all our heroes obtain temporal honors, but for all we expect the immortal crown of the elect. For this is the virtue of a single act of perfect charity-it cancels a whole lifetime of sins. It transforms a sinful man into a saint.
Assuredly a great and a Christian comfort is the thought that not only among our own men, but in any belligerent army whatsoever, all who in good faith submit to the discipline of their leaders in the service of a cause they believe to be righteous are sharers in the eternal reward of the soldier's sacrifice. And how many may there not be among these young men of 20 who, had they survived, might possibly not have had the resolution to live altogether well, and yet in the impulse of patriotism had the resolution to die so well?
Is it not true, my brethren, that God has the supreme art of mingling His mercy with His wisdom and His justice? And shall we not acknowledge that if
war is a scourge for this earthly life of ours, a scourge whereof we cannot easily estimate the destructive force and the extent, it is also for multitudes of souls an expiation, a purification, a force to lift them to the pure love of their country and to perfect Christian unselfishness?
We may now say, my brethren, without unworthy pride, that our little Belgium has taken a foremost place in the esteem of nations. I am aware that certain onlookers, notably in Italy and in Holland, have asked how it could be necessary to expose this country to so immense a loss of wealth and of life, and whether a verbal manifesto against hostile aggression, or a single cannon shot on the frontier, would not have served the purpose of protest. But assuredly all men of good feeling will be with us in our rejection of these paltry counsels. Mere utilitarianism is no sufficient rule of Christian citizenship.
On the 19th of April, 1839, a treaty was signed in London by King Leopold, in the name of Belgium, on the one part, and by the Emperor of Austria, the King of France, the Queen of England, the King of Prussia, and the Emperor of Russia, on the other; and its seventh article decreed that Belgium should form a separate and perpetually neutral State, and should be held to the observance of this neutrality in regard to all other States. The co-signatories promised, for themselves and their successors, upon their oath, to fulfill and to observe that treaty in every point and every article without contravention or tolerance of contravention. Belgium was thus bound in honor to defend her own independence. She kept her oath. The other powers were bound to respect and to protect her neutrality. Germany violated her oath; England kept hers.
These are the facts.
The laws of conscience are sovereign laws. We should have acted unworthily had we evaded our obligation by a mere feint of resistance. And now we would not rescind our first resolution; we exult in it. Being called upon to write a most solemn page in the history of our coun
try, we resolved that it should be also a sincere, also a glorious page. And as long as we are required to give proof of endurance, so long we shall endure.
All classes of our citizens have devoted their sons to the cause of their country, but the poorer part of the population have set the noblest example, for they have suffered also privation, cold, and famine. If I may judge of the general feeling from what I have witnessed in the humbler quarters of Malines and in the most cruelly afflicted districts of my diocese, the people are energetic in their endurance. They look to be righted; they will not hear of surrender.
Affliction is, in the hand of Divine Omnipotence, a two-edged sword. It wounds the rebellious, it sanctifies him who is willing to endure.
God proveth us, as St. James has told us, but He "is not a tempter of evils." All that comes from Him is good, a ray of light, a pledge of love. "But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence. *** Blessed is he that endureth temptation, for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love Him."
Truce, then, my brethren, to all murmurs of complaint. Remember St. Paul's words to the Hebrews, and through them to all of Christ's flock, when, referring to the bloody sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross, he reminded them that they had not yet resisted unto blood. Not only to the Redeemer's example shall you look, but also to that of the 30,000perhaps 40,000-men who have already shed their life's blood for their country.
In comparison with them, what have you endured who are deprived of the daily comforts of your lives, your newspapers, your means of travel, your communication with your families? Let the patriotism of our army, the heroism of our King, of our beloved Queen in her magnanimity, serve to stimulate us and support us. Let us bemoan ourselves no more. Let us deserve the coming deliverance. Let us hasten it by our virtue even more than by our prayers. Courage brethren! Suffering passes away;
the crown of life for our souls, the crown of glory for our nation, shall not pass!
I do not require of you to renounce any of your national desires. On the contrary, I hold it is part of the obligations of my episcopal office to instruct you as to your duty in face of the power that has invaded our soil and now occupies the greater part of our country. The authority of that power is no lawful authority. Therefore in soul and conscience you owe it neither respect nor attachment nor obedience.
The sole lawful authority in Belgium is that of our King, of our Government, of the elected representatives of the nation. This authority alone has a right to our affection, our submission.
Thus the invader's acts of public administration have in themselves no authority; but legitimate authority has tacitly ratified such of those acts as affect the general interest, and this ratification, and this only, gives them juridic value. Occupied provinces are not conquered provinces. Belgium is no more a German province than Galicia is a Russian province. Nevertheless, the occupied portion of our country is in a position it is compelled to endure. The greater part of our towns, having surrendered to the enemy on conditions, are bound to observe those conditions. From the outset of military operations the civil authorities of the country urged upon all private persons the necessity of abstention from hostile acts against the enemy's army.
That instruction remains in force. It is our army, and our army solely, in league with the valiant troops of our allies, that has the honor and the duty of national defense. Let us intrust the army with our final deliverance.
Toward the persons of those who are holding dominion among us by military force, and who assuredly cannot but be sensible of the chivalrous energy with which we have defended and are still defending our independence, let us conduct ourselves with all needful forbearance. Some among them have declared themselves willing to mitigate, as far as possible, the severity of our situation and to help us to recover some minimum of
regular civic life. Let us observe the rules they have laid upon us so long as those rules do not violate our personal liberty, nor our consciences as Christians, nor our duty to our country. Let us not take bravado for courage, nor tumult for bravery.
You especially, my dearest brethren in the priesthood, be you at once the best examples of patriotism and the best supporters of public order. On the field of battle you have been magnificent. The King and the army admire the intrepidity of our military chaplains in face of death, their charity at the work of the ambulance. Your Bishops are proud of you. You have suffered greatly. You have endured much calumny. But be patient; history will do you justice. I today bear my witness for you.
Wherever it has been possible I have questioned our people, our clergy, and particularly a considerable number of priests who had been deported to German prisons, but whom a principle of humanity, to which I gladly render homage, has since set at liberty. Well, I affirm, upon my honor, and I am prepared to assert upon faith of my oath, that until now I have not met a single ecclesiastic, secular or regular, who has once incited civilians to bear arms against the enemy. All have loyally followed the instructions of their Bishops, given in the early days of August, to the effect that they were to use their moral influence over the civil population so that order might be preserved and military regulations observed.
I exhort you to persevere in this ministry of peace, which is for you the sanest form of patriotism to accept with all your hearts the privations you have to endure; to simplify still further, if it is possible, your way of life. One of you who is reduced by robbery and pillage to a state bordering on total destitution, said to me lately: "I am living now as I wish I had lived always."
Multiply the efforts of your charity, corporal and spiritual. Like the great Apostle, do you endure daily the cares of your Church, so that no man shall suffer loss and you not suffer loss, and no man fall and you not burn with zeal
for him. Make yourselves the champions of all those virtues enjoined upon you by civic honor as well as by the Gospel of Christ.
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things." So may the worthiness of our lives justify us, my most dear colleagues, in repeating the noble claim of St. Paul: The things which ye have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of Peace shall be with you."
Let us continue then, dearest brethren, to pray, to do penance, to attend holy mass, and to receive holy communion for the sacred intention of our dear country. *** I recommend parish priests to hold a funeral service on behalf of our fallen soldiers on every Saturday.
Money, I know well, is scarce with you all. Nevertheless, if you have little, give of that little for the succor of those among your fellow-countrymen who are without shelter, without fuel, without sufficient bread. I have directed my parish priests to form for this purpose in every parish a relief committee. Do you second them charitably and convey to my hands such alms as you can save from your superfluity, if not from your necessities, so that I may be the distributer to the destitute who are known to
Our distress has moved the other nations. England, Ireland, and Scotland, France, Holland, the United States, Canada, have vied with each other in generosity for our relief. It is a spectacle at once most mournful and most noble. Here again is a revelation of the Providential wisdom which draws good from evil. In your name, my brethren, and in my own, I offer to the Governments and the nations that have succored us the assurance of our admiration and our gratitude.
With a touching goodness, our Holy Father Benedict XV. has been the first to incline his heart toward us. When, a few moments after his election, he
deigned to take me in his arms, I was bold enough there to ask that the first Pontifical benediction he spoke should be given to Belgium, already in deep distress through the war. He eagerly closed with my wish, which I knew would also be yours. Today, with delicate kindness, his Holiness has decided to renounce the annual offering of Peter's Pence from Belgium.
In a letter dated on the beautiful festival of the Immaculate Virgin, Dec. 8, he assures us of the part he bears in our sufferings. He prays for us, calls down upon our Belgium the protection of Heaven, and exhorts us to hail in the then approaching advent of the Prince of Peace the dawn of better days. Here is the text of this valued message: To Our Dear Son, Désiré Mercier, Car
dinal Priest of the Holy Roman
Our Dear Son: Health and apostolic benediction. The fatherly solicitude which we feel for all the faithful whom Divine Providence has intrusted to our care causes us to share their griefs even more fully than their joys.
Could we, then, fail to be moved by keenest sorrow at the sight of the Belgian Nation, which we so dearly love, reduced by a most cruel and most diastrous war to this lamentable state?
We behold the King and his august family, the members of the Government, the chief persons of the country, Bishops, priests, and a whole people enduring woes which must fill with pity all gentle hearts, and which our own soul, in the fervor of paternal love, must be the first to compassionate. Thus, under the burden of this distress and this mourning, we call in our prayers for an end to such misfortunes. May the God of mercy hasten the day.
Meanwhile we strive to mitigate, as far as in us lies, this excessive suffering. Therefore the step taken by our dear son, Cardinal Hartmann, Archbishop of Cologne, at whose request it was arranged that French or Belgian priests detained
in Germany should have the treatment of officers, gave us great satisfaction, and we have expressed our thanks to him for his action.
As regards Belgium, we have been informed that the faithful of that nation, so sorely tried, did not neglect, in their piety, to turn toward us their thoughts, and that even under the blow of so many calamaties they proposed to gather this year, as in all preceding years, the offerings to St. Peter, which supply the necessities of the Apostolic See.
This truly incomparable proof of piety and of attachment filled us with admiration; we accept it with all the affection that is due from a grateful heart; but having regard to the painful position in which our dear children are placed, we cannot bring ourselves to favor the fulfillment of that project, noble though it is. If any alms are to be gathered, our wish is that the money should be entirely devoted to the benefit of the Belgian people, who are as illustrious by reason of their nobility and their piety as they are today worthy of all sympathy.
Amid the difficulties and anxieties of the present hour we would remind the sons who are so dear to us that the arm of God is not shortened, that He is ever able to save, that His ear is not deaf to prayer.
Let the hope of Divine aid increase with the approach of the festival of Christmas and of the mysteries that celebrate the birth of our Lord, and recall that peace which God proclaimed to mankind by His angels.
May the souls of the suffering and afflicted find comfort and consolation in the assurance of the paternal tenderness that prompts our prayers. Yes, may God take pity upon the Belgian people and grant them the abundance of all good.
As a pledge of these prayers and good wishes, we now grant to all, and in the first place to you, our dear son, the apostolic benediction.
Given in Rome, by St. Peter's, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, in the year MCMXIV:, the first of our Pontificate.
BENEDICT XV., Pope.