“When still very young,
I marvelled at the ruins of Christendom
and gave them my heart.
I turned my back on all I could expect
and made of that past,
so full of blessings, my future.”
With these words taken from an address made by the Brazilian jurist and eminent conservative thinker, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Professor Roberto de Mattei commences his biography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable Catholic men of action. Dr. Corrêa de Oliveira’s life spanned the period from 1908 to 1995, and it was as a man of faith that he confronted the harrowing events of the past century.
Roberto de Mattei’s work, The Crusader of the 20th Century, is the first full-length biography of the life and times of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, university professor, journalist and man of action.
In his preface to this work, the late Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler, Librarian and Archivist of the Vatican wrote:
“With the integrity of his life as an authentic Catholic, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira offers us a confirmation of the Church’s continuing fecundity. The difficulties of these times for true Catholics are, in fact, occasions to influence history by affirming perennial Christian principles. Such was the case with this eminent Brazilian thinker, who demonstrated it boldly – maintaining, in an age of totalitarianism of every stripe and colour, his unshakable faith in the fundamental teachings and institutions of the Church.”
Prof. de Mattei’s interesting book does not claim to produce a complete biography of Dr. Corrêa de Oliveira nor does it claim to expound the collection of his doctrinal corpus, but merely proposes to offer the reader an introduction that will make it possible to formulate a judgement of this great personage, loved and opposed with the same passion.
It must be added that a rapid perusal of this work clearly demonstrates that it was carried out in an objective and scientific spirit, through a scrupulous control of the documents, which include the nineteen books published by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira and the more than 2,500 articles and essays he wrote in the journals O Legionario and Catolicismo as well as in Brazil’s largest daily, Folha de S.Paulo.
Roberto de Mattei commences by describing Brazilian society at the start of the twentieth century, and in particular the lifestyle and customs in São Paulo, where Corrêa de Oliveira was born on 13 December 1908. His father Dr. Joao Paulo Corrêa de Oliveira and his mother, Dona Lucilia Ribeiro dos Santos, both had distinguished lineages. In 1919, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira entered the Jesuit Colegio São Luiz, where the traditional ruling class of São Paulo was educated. Having completed his secondary studies in 1925, he enrolled in the Law School of the University of São Paulo, where he founded, together with a small group of young Marian Congregation members, the University Catholic Action (AUC).
On graduating in law from that institution, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira proposed and helped organise the Catholic Electoral League (LEC) in 1932, when elections were called for Brazil’s Constitutional Convention. With the LEC’s support, he was elected to the national Congress as the country’s youngest representative at the age of 24, and served as one of the leaders of the Catholic congressional bloc.
Professor de Mattei goes on to describe how, at the end of his congressional term, Dr. Corrêa de Oliveira dedicated himself to university teaching, and was offered the Chair of the History of Civilization at the University College of the University of São Paulo Law School and, subsequently the chair of Modern and Contemporary History in the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. In 1933, he was appointed editor of O Legionario, a simple parochial paper which rapidly became the semi-official weekly organ of the Archdiocese of São Paulo.
Under his direction, this newspaper became renowned for its simultaneous active anti-Nazi and anti-communist positions. In 1940, the now Professor Corrêa de Oliveira was appointed President of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Action by the Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Jose Gaspar de Afonseca e Silva. In 1943, in this capacity, he published his first book, In Defence of Catholic Action, a keen analysis of the first stages of the progressivist and leftist infiltration into the lay Catholic movement, as well as a denunciation of the harmful action being exercised upon Brazil by the French philosopher Jacques Maritain.
The work was endorsed and applauded by the Vatican, which sent Professor Corrêa de Oliveira an official letter of approbation in the name of Pope Pius XII in 1949, but not before he suffered a storm of calumnies, culminating with his removal from leadership positions among the Catholic laity, and, finally, the loss of one of his main forums, O Legionario.
Undeterred, he launched the cultural monthly Catolicismo in 1951. Between that year and 1959, with comprehensive essays in Catolicismo, he cast the doctrinal foundations of what was to be his masterpiece: Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Published in April, 1959, Revolution and Counter-Revolution proposes the concept of Christian civilization as a remedy for contemporary political, social and moral ills, showing how medieval society conformed harmoniously to the natural order laid down by God Himself when He created the Universe. The work led to the establishment of Brazil’s first anti-communist civic organization of Catholic inspiration, namely the Brazilian Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), which became known nationally for its many public stands against socialist-inspired confiscatory “agrarian reforms” as well as against divorce and the corruption of morals in Brazil.
Under his leadership, the Brazilian “TFP” — as it became known — collected 1.6 million signatures in a petition addressed to Pope Paul VI requesting measures against leftist infiltration in Catholic circles. With the so-called aggiornamento of the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira maintained his steadfastness in traditional Catholic doctrine and maintained a vigorous stance against the twin errors of socialism and communism.
His 1963 essay, The Church and the Communist State: The Impossible Coexistence, was acclaimed in a letter by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities, describing the work as a “most faithful echo of all the Documents of the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.”
His counter-revolutionary ideals spread across Latin and North America as well as across Europe, and 23 national, albeit autonomous, TFP organizations came into existence. In 1981, he denounced French President Francois Mitterand’s platform of self-managing socialism in an expose carried in magazines and newspapers in 52 countries, with some 33.5 million copies circulating internationally. In 1990, Professor Corrêa de Oliveira inspired an international “Pro Lituania Libera” petition campaign demanding Lithuania’s independence from the then crumbling Soviet Bloc; 5.2 million signatures were delivered to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Kremlin that year. Five years later, on October 3, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira surrendered his soul to God, comforted by a Papal Blessing.
Prof. de Mattei vividly describes these and several other events in Dr. Corrêa de Oliveira’s life, amply demonstrating that this Brazilian gentleman’s line of thought falls squarely within the school of those authors as Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, Juan Donoso Cortes and Henri Delassus.
“Whether we like it or not” Professor Corrêa de Oliveira once wrote, “we are all writing our biography. And on the day of judgement the book will be opened and read.”
The models of men such as Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira who wrote their own biographies in the “lived Christianity” of their existence can also contribute to direct our lives and our future. This is certainly the main fruit of Roberto de Mattei’s work dedicated to the life of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
Written by Philip M. Beattie
The Crusader of the 20th Century: Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
by Professor Roberto de Mattei
with a Preface by Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler