St. Joseph against Socialism: 100 Years of Bonum Sane

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the motu proprio Bonum Sane. On July 25, 1920, Pope Benedict XV promoted devotion to St. Joseph to combat the Marxist revolutions and the breakdown in family morals after World War I. As it is difficult to find an English version online, we have provided a rough translation below for the benefit of our readers.

Motu Proprio
Of His Holiness
Benedict XV


Devotion to St. Joseph,
Half a century as
Patron of the Catholic Church

It was a good and salutary thing for the Christian people that Our Predecessor of immortal memory Pius IX decreed the most chaste Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God and Custodian of the Word Incarnate, Joseph, to be patron of the Catholic Church, and as the 50th anniversary of the auspicious event occurs next December, we believe it useful that it would be solemnly celebrated by the entire world.

If We look over this period of time, it displays to us a long series of pious institutions which attest that the cult of the most holy Patriarch has gradually grown among Christ’s faithful to the present. If we also consider the calamities that afflict the human race at present, it appears all the more necessary that this cult be substantially increased among the people and more widespread everywhere.

In fact, after the grave tensions of the war, we have indicated in Our recent Encyclical “On the Reconciliation of Christian Peace” what was missing to re-establish a tranquility of order everywhere, particularly in the relations that exist between peoples and between individuals in the civil sphere. And now it is necessary to consider another cause of disturbance, much deeper, that lurks in the inmost bowels of human society. Namely, when the scourge of war struck the human race, people were already deeply infected with naturalism, that great pestilence of the century that, where it takes root, diminishes the desire for heavenly things, extinguishes the flame of divine charity, and takes from man the grace of Christ that heals and elevates, and — finally taking away the light of Faith and leaving him only the corrupt forces of nature — leaves him at the mercy of his wildest passions. Thus it happened that many people dedicated themselves only to the acquisition of earthly goods, and while the strife between the proletarians and the owners grew more acute, this class hatred increased all the more with the duration and atrocity of the war, which on the one hand caused intolerable economic hardship to the masses, and other hand made spectacular fortunes flow into the hands of a very few.

It should be added that the sanctity of faith in marriage and many people’s respect for paternal authority have been not a little wounded by the war, both because the absence of one spouse has diminished in the other the bond of duty, and also because the absence of a vigilant eye has furnished the occasion for rashness, especially for the woman, to live too freely according to one’s own tastes. Therefore we cannot fail to notice with true pain that popular morals are now quite a bit more depraved and corrupt than before, and that therefore the so-called “social question” has been getting worse to the point of threatening irreparable ruin.

Indeed, in the votes and the expectations of the most seditious, an idea has matured of a certain universal republic to come, founded on the absolute equality of men and on the communion of goods, in which there would no longer be any distinctions of nationality, and in which is recognized neither the authority of the father over his children, nor the public authority over the citizens, nor the authority of God over men united in a civil consortium. All things which, if they were realized, would necessarily give rise to tremendous societal convulsions, such as that which is now devastating a not small portion of Europe. And precisely to bring about a similar condition of things among other peoples, we see that the common people are agitated by the fury and the impudence of a few, and here and there we see riots.

We however, concerned more than anything by the course of these events, did not neglect, when the opportunity offered itself, to remind the sons of the Church their duty, as we recently did with the letter addressed to the Bishop of Bergamo and to the bishops of the Veneto region. And now with the same motive, that is to remember the duty to the men on our side who earn their bread with labor, however many and wherever they are, to keep them immune from the contagion of socialism, the bitter enemy of Christian principles, We with great solicitude offer them in a particular way St. Joseph—that they might follow him as their special guide and honor him as their heavenly Patron.

He, in fact, lived a life similar to theirs, so much so that Jesus, God, despite being the Only Begotten of the Eternal Father, willed to be called “the carpenter’s son.” But he knew how to adorn that humble and poor condition of his with so much and so many types of virtue! Above all, those virtues were to shine in the spouse of Mary Immaculate, and in the putative father of Our Lord Jesus. Therefore, at the school of Joseph, all will learn to consider passing current events in the light of their futures that last eternally, and consoling the inevitable hardships of the human condition with the hope of the good things of heaven, they should aspire to the latter through obeying the divine will, living soberly, according to the dictates of justice and piety. As regards the workers specially, it pleases Us to restate here the words proclaimed by our Predecessor of happy memory Leo XIII, since they are such that, in Our opinion, nothing can be said better about the matter:

“Through these considerations, the poor and those who live by the labour of their hands should be of good heart and learn to be just. If they win the right of emerging from poverty and obtaining a better rank by lawful means, reason and justice uphold them in changing the order established, in the first instance, for them by the Providence of God. But recourse to force and struggles by seditious paths to obtain such ends are madnesses which only aggravate the evil which they aim to suppress. Let the poor, then, if they would be wise, trust not to the promises of seditious men, but rather to the example and patronage of the Blessed Joseph, and to the maternal charity of the Church, which each day takes an increasing compassion on their lot.”

With the flourishing of the faithful’s devotion to St. Joseph, there will simultaneously increase as a consequence their devotion to the Holy Family of Nazareth, of which he was the august Head, the two devotions spontaneously welling up one from the other. In fact, through Joseph we go directly to Mary, and through Mary, to Jesus, the origin of all holiness, who consecrated the domestic virtues with His obedience to Joseph and Mary.

We therefore desire that Christian families be fully inspired by these marvelous examples of virtue and conform to them. In this way, since the family is the fulcrum and the basis of human unity, strengthening domestic society with the defense of holy purity, harmony, and fidelity, with all these a new vigor and, we might even say, a new blood would circulate through the veins of human society, by virtue of Christ, and there will follow not only an amelioration of private morals, but also in the discipline of community and civil life.

We, therefore, full of trust in the patronage of him, to whose vigilant providence God was pleased to grant custody of his Incarnate Only Begotten and of the Virgin Mother of God, we strongly exhort all the Bishops in the Catholic world so that, in these stormy times for Christianity, they will lead the faithful to implore with greater commitment the valuable help of St. Joseph. And because there are many ways approved by this Apostolic See by which one can venerate the Holy Patriarch, especially on all the Wednesdays of the year and in the entire month consecrated to him, We desire that, by request of each Bishop, all these devotions be practiced in every diocese as much as possible. But in a particular way, because he is justly held as the most efficacious protector of the dying, having expired with the assistance of Jesus and Mary, holy Pastors should take care to inculcate and favor with all the prestige of their authority those pious associations instituted to supplicate Joseph in favor of the dying, such as those “of a Happy Death”, of the “Transit of St. Joseph”, and “for the Dying.”

To commemorate the aforementioned Pontifical Decree, we order and enjoin that within a year, beginning at the 8th of December, in all the Catholic world there will be celebrated, in honor of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patron of the Catholic Church, a solemn ceremony, how and when each Bishop deems appropriate: and to all those who assist you, We grant now, with the usual conditions, a Plenary Indulgence.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on July 25, the feast of St. James the Apostle, 1920, in the sixth year of Our pontificate.


July 24, 2020