On August 1, 1917 Pope Benedict addressed a peace plan to the heads of the belligerent nations. The plan had not a prayer of success, as both the Central and Allied Powers had reasons to believe that a military victory was still within their grasp. The plan is not a mere plea for peace but has some interesting features including: freedom of the seas, the recognition of the rights of submerged nations, including Armenia and Poland, no war reparations, some sort of league of nations. Although President Wilson, along with the heads of all the other powers, other than Austria-Hungary, would reject the Pope’s plans, his later Fourteen Points would reflect a borrowing from the Pope’s peace plan. Here is the text of the Pope’s message:
From the beginning of Our Pontificate, amidst the horrors of the terrible war unleashed upon Europe, We have kept before Our attention three things above all: to preserve complete impartiality in relation to all the belligerents, as is appropriate to him who is the common father and who loves all his children with equal affection; to endeavour constantly to do all the most possible good, without personal exceptions and without national or religious distinctions, a duty which the universal law of charity, as well as the supreme spiritual charge entrusted to Us by Christ, dictates to Us; finally, as Our peacemaking mission equally demands, to leave nothing undone within Our power, which could assist in hastening the end of this calamity, by trying to lead the peoples and their heads to more moderate frames of mind and to the calm deliberations of peace, of a “just and lasting” peace.
Whoever has followed Our work during the three unhappy years which have just elapsed, has been able to recognize with ease that We have always remained faithful to Our resolution of absolute impartiality and to Our practical policy of well-doing.
We have never ceased to urge the belligerent peoples and Governments to become brothers once more, even although publicity has not been given to all which We have done to attain this most noble end has not always been made public.
At the end of the first year of war, in addressing to them the most forceful exhortations, we also identified the road to follow to achieve a peace which was lasting and dignified for all. Unfortunately, our appeal was not listened to: the war continued fiercely for another two years with all its horrors; it grew worse and indeed it extended by land, sea and even air, where on defenceless cities, on quiet villages, on their innocent inhabitants, there descended desolation and death. And now nobody can imagine for how long these shared evils will multiply and become worse, whether for a few more months, or even worse whether another six years will become added to these bloodstained three years. Will the civilised world, therefore, be reduced to a field of
death? And will Europe, so glorious and flourishing, almost overwhelmed by a universal madness, rush to the abyss, to its true and authentic suicide?
In such a highly worrying state of affairs, in the face of such a grave threat, we, not for mere particular policies nor in response to the suggestion or interest of one of the belligerent parties, but moved solely by awareness of the supreme duty of the shared Father of the faithful, by the sighs of children who invoke our action and our peacemaking word, of the very voice of mankind and reason, raise once again the call for peace, and renew a warm appeal to those who hold in their hands the destiny of the nations.
But no longer to dwell upon the general, as the circumstances suggested to us in the past: we want now to descend to more concrete and practical proposals, and to invite the governments of the belligerent peoples to agree upon the following points, which appear to be the bases of a just and lasting peace, leaving to the same governments to apply them at a specific level and to complete them.
First of all, the fundamental point should be that for the material force of arms should be substituted the moral force of law; hence a just agreement by all for the simultaneous and reciprocal reduction of armaments, according to rules and guarantees to be established to the degree necessary and sufficient for the maintenance of public order in each State; then, instead of armies, the institution of arbitration, with its lofty peacemaking function, according to the standards to be agreed upon and with sanctions to be decided against the State which might refuse to submit international questions to arbitration or to accept its decisions.
Once the supremacy of law has been established, let every obstacle to the ways of communication between the peoples be removed, by ensuring through rules to be fixed in similar fashion, the true freedom and common use of the seas. This would, on the one hand, remove many reasons for conflict and, on the other, would open new sources of prosperity and progress to all.
With regard to the damage and costs of war, we do not see any other path than that of the general rule of an entire and mutual remission, justified, for that matter, by the immense benefits of disarmament; and this is even more the case because one cannot understand the continuance of so much slaughter solely for reasons of an economic character.
If in some cases special reasons are in opposition to this, these should be considered with justice and fairness.
But these peaceful agreements, with the immense advantages that flow from them, are not possible without the mutual return of territories which are presently occupied. Therefore, with regard to Germany, there should be a total evacuation both of Belgium, with the guarantee of her full political, military and economic independence in relation to any power, and also of French territory; from the party on the other side there should be equal return of the German colonies.
With regard to territorial questions, such as those disputed between Italy and Austria, and between Germany and France, there is ground for hope that in consideration of the immense advantages of a lasting peace with disarmament, the conflicting parties will examine them in a conciliatory frame of mind, taking into account so far as it is just and practicable, as We have said previously, the aspirations of the peoples and co-ordinating, according to circumstances, particular interests with the general good of the great human society.
The same spirit of equity and justice should direct the examination of other territorial and political questions, notably those relating to Armenia, the Balkan States, and the territories composing the ancient Kingdom of Poland, for which especially its noble historical traditions and the sufferings which it has undergone, particularly during the present war, ought rightly to enlist the sympathies of the nations.
Such are the principal foundations upon which We believe the future reorganization of peoples should rest. They are of a kind which would make impossible the recurrence of such conflicts and would pave the way for a solution of the economic question, so important for the future and the material welfare of all the belligerent States.
In presenting them to you, who in this tragic hour hold in your hands the destinies of the belligerent peoples, we are animated by the dear and precious hope that they will be accepted, and that as soon as possible the end of this terrible struggle will be reached, a struggle which every day, even more, appears to be a useless massacre. All recognise, for that matter, that on both sides the honour of arms is saved. Here, therefore, our prayer: welcome the paternal invitation that we address to you in the name of the divine Redeemer, the Prince of peace! Reflect upon your most grave responsibility in front of God and all men! Upon your reflections will depend the peace and joy of innumerable families, the lives of thousands of young people, the very happiness of the peoples, which you have the absolute duty to secure. May the Lord inspire you in decisions which conform to His most holy will, and ensure that you, deserving the applause of the current age, will equally ensure that in future generations you will bear the name of peacemakers.
We in the meanwhile, fervidly joining ourself in prayer and penitence to all the faithful souls who sigh in peace, implore from the Divine Spirit light and counsel.