Monday 11 October 2021

Benedict XV and World War I - Father Ashley Beck - CTS Biographies

Benedict XV & World War I
Fr. Ashley Beck
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860829000
CTS Booklet B757

Over the last few years I have read over 200 volume from the Catholic Truth Society. I am a huge fan of the Catholic Truth Society’s books and booklets. I have read many volumes from the CTS Great Saints Series, CTS Biographies, and also Saints of the Isles Series. And have loved almost all of them. This one is a little different the booklet code is B757 making it a biography, but it is also tagged as history, but the books on the Concise Histories series are prefaced with an “H”. But no matter how hard it is to classify it is an excellent read, and well worth the read today. It is one of eight volume written by Father Ashley Beck for the Catholic Truth Society and it is the second that I have read. In the acknowledgements we are informed that this book was published on the 90th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s ‘Peace Note’ from the summer of 1917. The description of this booklet is:

“Giacomo della Chiesa was elected pope in September 1914, only weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. On the centenary of that tragic development, this booklet examines how he (Benedict XV) and so many others worked courageously to stop the carnage – against all the odds. Arguably now, as then, he remains a dishonoured prophet who yet offers a lasting example to all who seek peace and an end to war. His example is ever more inspiring in this centenary year to a world so troubled with violence, hatred and wars.”

In the introduction to this book was are informed that:

“This booklet is a study of his consistent and outspoken opposition to the war, shown, for example, in one of the least noticed events of the First World War: the publication of the ‘Peace Note’ by the Pope in August 1917 in an effort to bring about a negotiated end to the war.”

And further on that:

“This underrated successor of St Peter and Vicar of Christ was thus a prophet ahead of his time.”

Father Beck does an excellent job of setting the historical context. The events, and the men that was Pope Benedict XV. He was well ahead of the curve on the focus on peace, and that war was changing in ways most devastating. Devastating to the soldiers and to the innocent civilians. We are informed that

“Pope Benedict XV’s urgings in the First World War were the fruits of the “science of peace” (to use the phrase coined many years later by John Paul II) which he learned in his long years in the Secretariate of the State.”

We are told about Benedict XV’s personality that:

“Benedict’s humanity and gentleness (although he was also at times short-tempered) are an important backdrop for his theology of reconciliation and peace.”

From the popes first encyclical he stove to avoid the conflict and once started did all he could to resolve it. 

“For the Pope to begin his pontificate with an encyclical devoted to the war was the clearest possible sign that striving for an end to the carnage would be at the heart of his ministry.”

But his efforts were often misunderstood and open opposed. Often both sides saw him as favouring the other. 

“Not for the last time, combatant countries could not understand that the international character of the Catholic Church cuts across national rivalries and conditions how the Church responds to specific incidents.”

Some of his greatest opposition came from other Catholics. This booklet makes reference to a CTS Volume called A Little Book of Prayers for Peace, It included Benedict’s XV’s prayer for peace and many other prayers from approved sources. (Note I have been trying to track this down but cannot find a copy anywhere.) In regards to Benedict XV’s vision of perception of warfare we are informed that:

“We can see that the development of modern warfare in the twentieth century has had the effect of driving Christian teaching to be more and more negative about war per se – and in this process Benedict’s teaching was clearly pioneering and prophetic.”
Even after the war Benedict had a deep concern for those lost on all sides:

“Benedict’s Incruentum Altaris showed that for him, the priority was praying for the souls of dead soldiers in purgatory and offering Masses for them.  How far do we follow this priority?”

This volume concludes with these words:

“A prophet is not primarily one who foretells the future, but one who speaks the Word of God in truth: and the truth about the First World War was not something which those in power in Europe wanted to face.  As we seek to deepen the Church’s theology of peace and help men and women to turn their backs on war and on all that glorifies war, Benedict XV is a great inspiration.”

This book is an excellent read. It is great for those looking into the history, and the development of the doctrine of peace. Benedict was a man ahead of his times, but his messages and concerns are just as relevant today. A great read. And one that leaves me wanting to track down Benedict XV Courageous Prophet of Peace by Father Ashely Beck, which is currently out of print.

Another excellent volume from the Catholic Truth Society. 

(This is a revised edition of Benedict XV – CTS Biographies B694 2007 Edition.)

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Ashley Beck:
Europe's Soul and Her Patron Saints
Ronald Knox
Thomas Merton: Contemplative and Peace-maker

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