When silence speaks louder than words

Pope Pius XII  the people of Rome

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has written a great post about the absolute need to not remain silent in the face of evil. He writes: “what truly stains our hearts is our consistent failure to stand for what is right, in word and in deed.”

He makes an especially important point near the end: “I know that silence has its place and the speaking out can be inappropriate in certain contexts.”

We often forget this.

Occasionally in its history, the church and its leaders have chosen subversive action or overt words in order to accomplish its task. During World War II Pope Pius XII chose refrain from outright statements, while working intensely behind the scenes to save Jews from extermination. At the time he was loudly praised for his actions, but later in more contemporary times came under attack for not issuing more public denials (though he certainly spoke up at times). These attacks are largely understood to be fabrications of Germans and Russians.

“The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. He is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.” – Editorial, The New York TImes. Dec 25,1941.

He didn’t issue them because when he did people died in retaliation. He once sent a letter to read in German church to an Archbishop in Germany (forget which one), and it was immediately destroyed by the Archbishop who sent a reply back saying: if we read this, people will die. In the end his actions saved countless Jews by hiding them in churches, monasteries, and even the Vatican itself. All this with Nazi’s on its doorstep waiting to kidnap him. The Church issued baptismal certificates to Jews so they could claim to be Catholic and they were taught liturgical practices so they wouldn’t “look” too Jewish to the authorities.

This isn’t to say all the actions were appropriate and historians will forever be debating whether he did all he could, but speaking out loudly and vociferously does not seem to have been a useful tool at the time.

“There probably was not a single ruler of our generation who did more to help the Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy, during the Nazi occupation of Europe, than the late Pope” – The Jewish Post. Nov 6, 1958.

The truth must out, but sometimes speaking is not the only way to promote the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ certainly was not afraid to speak up, but he also used actions as well as words. When he was being arraigned in front of the Jewish council, he barely spoke a word. When He raised people from the dead, it was His actions more than His words that raised eyebrows. When we consider our call to promote peace as ambassadors and witnesses of the King of kings, we must consider that we were given a body with multiple ways of engaging with the world. We are also given creative capacity which when we engage it, can produce incredible good or incredible evil.

Whichever way you feel led to promote the cause of peace – do promote the cause of peace. Never remain silent against evil, whether it be with your voice or your actions.

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