Life Worthy of Living


January 27, 2012

This is the last of Fr. Rutler’s columns on World War II. In future weeks, look forward to excerpts from his classic A Crisis of Saints, and short pastor’s reflections from his weekly bulletin at Our Saviour’s Church in the Holy City.


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June  of 1943 marked a new high point in the war between Germany and Russia, the latter still fighting with remarkable energy in “The Great Patriotic War” in spite of, or perhaps inspired by, the largest numbers of casualties in the history of warfare.  Germany no longer was guided by a hunger for “lebensraum” in Ukraine and the Russian frontier districts.  An esoteric  symbol of this revised strategy was the Russian defector, General Andrey Andreyovich Vlassov.  The Communist Party which he joined in 1930 eventually gave him the Order of Lenin and the Red Banner. Chian Kai-shek used him as a military advisor, bestowing on him the Order of the Golden Dragon,  and the commanded the Fourth Mechanized Soviet Army Corps at Lwow when the Germans invaded, held several commands in Ukraine., and the commanded guerrillas behind the German lines for six months before being taken prisoner on the Volkhov front in 1942.  Declaring himself an anti-Stalinist, he soon embraced National Socialism–at least to the degree that it might help him form a Russian Liberation Army. To this end, the Germans helped him drop millions of copies of his “Smolensk Proclamation” from aircraft over Russian troops, and by May of 1943 the Russian Liberation Army, (an official entity only when Himmler overcame Hitler’s reservations about it in 1944), numbered 150,000 men according to the Aftonbladet, a pro-German newspaper in Sweden.

This hybrid army included numbers of White Russians who had settled in Germany after the Russian Revolution. At the end of the war, on the twelfth of May , 1945,  an American escort which had held Vlassov prisoner, offered no resistance to his capture by a Russian contingent.  Imprisoned and tortured in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow,  he finally was hanged on August 1, 1946.  However mixed his motives were,  the Russian Federation has eventually de-classified him as a traitor and there even is a monument to the general–who had studied for the priesthood in a Russian seminary before the Revolution–in the Novo Deveevo Russian Orthodox convent in Nanuet, New York, where special prayers are offered on the anniversary of his assassination.

The Vlassov saga was a sign that the Germans had concluded that they could not defeat the Russians and were aiming at a stalemate. The Aftonbladet concluded from Hitler’s gesture of granting a private meeting with Vlassov, that the Fuhrer had decided “to seek collaboration among the occupied eastern countries.” The propaganda began by arguing that “there is no reason why the German and Slav brethren should not live peacefully side by side. England started the war, so Stalin was actually a prisoner of the British plutocrats, and therefore it is the duty of every decent Slav to fight together with the Germans until Stalin is overthrown and peace is secured.”

In the United States,  the Japanese war was a specter as grave as the hostilities in Europe, and many eyes were looking on Stalinism as a problem that would outrun Nazism.  A forty-eight year-old Mgr. Fulton J. Sheen of the Catholic University of America was already so well known as a speaker and Catholic apologist, that he had been invited in April of 1943 to speak in Montreal on Nazism as a pseudo-religion challenging Christianity. He switched the focus to Stalinism, quoting what he claimed was a secret report of the Third international Congress in Mexico in 1941:

This war is but an accident. The end of it is to be used for fostering revolution. The immediate foe is Nazi Germany, but it must never be forgotten that there are two great capitalist regimes to be overthrown – America and Britain. Directives were given the delegates. Russia must be everywhere portrayed as the saviour of democracy and her right established to dictate, and dictate alone, the condition of post-war world. Everyone who opposes Communism is to be labeled Fascist, whether he be a Conservative, Monarchist, Liberal, or anything else.

In a very different and highly esoteric vein, were the ponderous, if not pretentious, musings of Baron Giulio Ceasare Andrea Evola, who wrote a regular cultural column, “Panorama” in Farinacci’s Regime Fascista.  Evola was hard to categorize philosophically, and he never joined the National Fascist Party despite a close association with Mussolini.  It is doubtful that the Duce knew what to make of Evola’s “radical traditionalism” which was mixed up with Vajcayantist Tantric Yoga and Tibetan Lamaism, and it is clear that Evola was too much of an intellectual aesthete to think of institutionalized  Fascism as anything but structuralized vulgarity. As one of his baroque flights of fancy, he identified his racial philosophy with the Germano-imperialism of the mediaeval Ghibbelines  opposed to the pro-Papal Guelphs.  In his parallel universe, he espied the Catholic Church of Pius XII, in its inhospitality to Fascism, as a “neo-Guelph” corruption of European idealism, manipulated by Freemasons and democrats.

The neo-Guelphs speak of Christ, of Rome, of Roman universality, and so on. But the effective cement of their common front is composed of the following elements: They will not listen to any talk about race; they view the anti-Jewish struggle as a retrogression into obscurantism; they cherish anti-German sentiments; they look upon the Axis as an error, and consider any rapprochement with Germany as a betrayal of the German tradition….As the Duce himself has said, if  ‘Fascist’ and ‘Catholic’ can exist at the same time, it is the term ‘Fascist’ which must be the most In evidence, and must set the standard for those elements of Catholicism which may be accepted and assimilated on the ethical and political plane.

 In London, The Tablet described Georges Suarez of the Paris Aujourd’hui as “among the chief collaborating haters of the Church.  Particularly disgusted by Cardinal Suhard’s resistance to compulsory labor conscription, Suarez wrote that “the higher clergy had been turned into instruments of Stalinist and Gaulliste propaganda in our country.”  Suarez called  those clergy opposed to the Nazi occupiers “cassocked demagogues.”

In mid-June, Archbishop Francis J. Spellman  was on one of his mysterious international voyages. By  the third week, he was in Uganda.  His visit to the Polish Army in the Middle East got wide praise in the Polish- American press. The Nowiny Polskie of Milwaukee hailed him and the Boston Kurier Codzienny expected that Spellman’s visit would be significant for post- war reconstruction.

On the 14th of June, the United States VIII Corps arrived in the European theater.  On the 16th, a vast Soviet offensive took back Kalinin.  The next day marked the death of the legendary Dominican friar, Father Vincent McNabb.  His disquisitions on the Faith in Hyde Park and his austere practice of poverty, even to the point of eccentricity in the eyes of more comfortable witnesses, made him a  prime figure in the Catholic life of London, but one described as flitting back and forth between the twentieth century and the thirteenth .  Mgr. Ronald Knox, thinking McNabb possibly a saint,  noticed “a kind of light about his presence.”  G.K. Chesterton had said  “…he is one of the few great men I have known in my life… he is great in many ways, mentally and morally and mystically and practically… nobody who ever met or saw or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him.”  Almost exactly seven years before, on June 14, Father McNabb attended Chesterton on his deathbed and chanted the “Salve Regina” hymn precious to the Dominicans, one of whom, St. Thomas Aquinas, had been the subject of Chesterton’s biography, The Dumb Ox.  Under war rationing and restrictions on transportation. Hillaire Belloc traveled from Sussex to London for his Requiem. In the tumultuous war years, Father McNabb pushed with a particular urgency for a memorial to St. Thomas More  in the Law Courts, as a reminder of the integrity of the law in a lawless world.

Perhaps worn down by the experience of recent years, the publishers of the International Who’s Who placed an advisory at the beginning of  their new edition: “American readers are asked to note that the term ‘politician’ is used in the English sense, as meaning ‘one engaged in politics,’ and has no derogatory application.” St. Thomas More would have understood the clarification.

A new book by the Oxford don C.S. Lewis was published under the title Christian Behaviour.  It consisted of radio broadcasts he had given on Christian ethics. A 39 year-old Robert Speaight reviewed it in The Tablet. He had converted to Roman Catholicism and, as an actor, distinguished himself in the role of  Becket  in the first production of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. Speaight was not an enthusiast of Lewis, and welcomed the new book on the heels of The Screwtape Letters–which, despite its “acrid brilliance’ bespoke  “a dualism which at least one reader reader found unappealing.”  Speaight welcomed Lewis’s newly found “sane Christian humanism” which seemed only fledgling in earlier works. Spaight wrote:

The Christian teaching on purity is generally unpopular and generally unpracticed; and so – though fewer will admit it –is the Christian teaching on forgiveness and humility. How many people who talk glibly about Christian principles really believe that chastity or lowliness of heart are admirable things?

General Eisenhower was named head of ”Overlord,” the projected invasion of Normandy. On June 29, the Japanese gave control of the Andaman Islands to Hakumet-e-Azad Hind, a “Provisional Government of Free India” established om Singapore in 1943,  opposed to British rule in India and virtually a puppet state of Japan, not recognized as a diplomatic entity by the Allies or Vichy France.  Azan Hind had less influence on the next generation than the encyclical Mystici Corporis, published on the same June 29th.  The winds of war detracted attention from it at the time, but it influenced the Second Vatican Council and much conversation about human rights even in the secular sphere.

By teaching the supernatural and incarnational realities of the Church, Pope Pius XII rejected materialistic reductions of the Church to merely a humanitarian and social organization.  Equally, the pope rejected a falsely pious impression of the Church as nothing more than an association of individuals engaged in a personal experience of God with no social consequences.  Much of its language was obviously, save to the most obtuse, a commentary on unreal social engineering of the Nazis.   Of racial mythology and eugenics, the pope said:

And first of all let us imitate the breadth of His love. For the Church, the Bride of Christ, is one; and yet so vast is the love of the divine Spouse that it embraces in His Bride the whole human race without exception. Our Saviour shed His Blood precisely in order that He might reconcile men to God through the Cross, and might constrain them to unite in one body, however widely they may differ in nationality and race. True love of the Church, therefore, requires not only that we should be mutually solicitous one for another as members and sharing in their suffering but likewise that we should recognize in other men, although they are not yet joined to us in the body of the Church, our brothers in Christ according to the flesh, called, together with us, to the same eternal salvation.

As for brutal extermination of  “life unworthy of life” (“Lebensunwertes Leben“) as the Nazis had refrained earlier genetic theory:

Conscious of the obligations of Our high office We deem it necessary to reiterate this grave statement today, when to Our profound grief We see at times the deformed, the insane, and those suffering from hereditary disease deprived of their lives, as though they were a useless burden to Society; and this procedure is hailed by some as a manifestation of human progress, and as something that is entirely in accordance with the common good. Yet who that is possessed of sound judgment does not recognize that this not only violates the natural and the divine law written in the heart of every man, but that it outrages the noblest instincts of humanity? The blood of these unfortunate victims who are all the dearer to our Redeemer because they are deserving of greater pity, ‘cries to God from the earth.’

So the warring went on, as it would for more than two years, and the philosophical commentaries mixed with political plans made sense only by looking at Jesus being crucified in those days. In the spiritual combat of World War II,  the fighters had to be fed and sheltered as Jesus did when He fed the multitudes before He preached.  The pope spoke in every wartime appeal for assistance to those who were fighting. Christ, engaged on the palisades and frontiers of each battle, would have  understood, and perhaps inspired, advertisements in the daily papers such as this one in London:

The word ‘retreat’ is not one with acceptable associations for soldiers, but nearly 1,000 of them, British, American and Dominion, have attended the week-end retreats for Service men that are held at Campion House, Osterley, and they are wearing out the house’s limited supply of sheets. Despite careful patching, the preset stock is in urgent need of replenishment. Any number of sheets of any size or colour or kind (but preferably stout and of single size) will be gratefully received.

Sheets were sent and the war was won, but there is no end to such a war, for it began in Eden and will contend until the world itself returns to the eternity from which it was made.


  • Fr. George W. Rutler

    Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael’s church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

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