Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Great Pius X

Today we honor the revered memory of undoubtedly the greatest, saintliest and most visionary pope of the modern age: Giuseppe Sarto, St. Pius X, whose glorious pontificate came (1903-1914) came to a close one hundred years ago today.

When I first set up the current incarnation of this blog back in June of 2007, I really had no clue what sorts of graphics or images would work. In fact, I wasn't even really sure what my vision for this blog was or what I wanted it to grow into; at the time I just wanted a platform to vent my anger about Haugen-Haas music and complain about the lack of Latin in my diocese. I had no idea there was a 'traditionalist' movement out there, had very little knowledge about what the Traditional Latin Mass was, and was certainly not aware of a traditionalist blogging community.

Not knowing what I was trying to express, I defaulted to a powerful symbol - that of Pope St. Pius X. I was not sure what I was feeling or what I wanted this blog to be, but it all seemed to be summed up in the image of the great pontiff, whose picture I found and lovingly placed on the right sidebar with a citation from Lamentabile Sane, the great syllabus of Pius X. And there that image has remained for the last seven years, still a very fitting symbol of everything this blog and its sister site stand for.

There are many things praiseworthy about Pope St. Pius X. Indeed, he is not the patron pope of traditionalists simply because he is pre-Vatican II or because he had some wonderful insights about the dangers of modernism. This pontiff was truly saintly, and not only in his personal life, but in the manner in which he conducted the papacy and wielded the office entrusted to him. In other words, with Pius X we need make no distinction between his "personal holiness" and his conduct as pope. The two are beautifully synthesized in the person of the great pontiff.

It is beyond my skill and available time to present a comprehensive biography of Pope St. Pius X, but I would like to offer a few observations about why he was such a praiseworthy successor of St. Peter.

First I would like to highlight the striking clarity and uncompromising straight-forwardness of Pius X. This is nowhere more evidenced than in Pius' famous 1904 with Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, who came to the pontiff seeking support for the Jewish movement in Palestine. When if he would support Jewish independence in a restored Israel, Pope Pius X responded:

"We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem—but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people"

Herzl, recounting the interview in his diary, noted:

At the outset, to be sure, I tried to be conciliatory. I recited my little piece about extraterritorialization, res sacrae extra commercium [holy places removed from business]. It didn't make much of an impression. Gerusalemme, he said, must not get into the hands of the Jews.

"And its present status, Holy Father?"

"I know, it is not pleasant to see the Turks in possession of our Holy Places. We simply have to put up with that. But to support the Jews in the acquisition of the Holy Places, that we cannot do."

I said that our point of departure had been solely the distress of the Jews and that we desired to avoid the religious issues.

"Yes, but we, and I as the head of the Church, cannot do this. There are two possibilities. Either the Jews will cling to their faith and continue to await the Messiah who, for us, has already appeared. In that case they will be denying the divinity of Jesus and we cannot help them. Or else they will go there without any religion, and then we can be even less favorable to them. The Jewish religion was the foundation of our own; but it was superseded by the teachings of Christ, and we cannot concede it any further validity. The Jews, who ought to have been the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ, have not done so to this day."

The rest of the interview is available online here.

Can you imagine a modern pontiff speaking with such clarity to the Jews about the necessity of embracing the Messiah and the Church He founded? Can you imagine any modern pontiff speaking such straight forward, lucid terms as "the Jewish religion...was superseded by the teachings of Christ and we cannot concede it any further validity"? Interestingly enough, if you click on the above link and continue to read the reflections of Theodor Herzl, he speaks about the great respect he had for Pius.

Pius X was also master at identifying the root causes of problems within the Church and the world. This is especially evident in his treatment of Modernism in the encyclical Pascendi. It might not seem evident that this is such a difficult task, but remember how varied and far-reaching are the heresies of Modernism. The Modernist heresy encompassed liturgy and history, philosophy and Scripture study, ecclesiology and spirituality, theology and music. A less astute theologian might have been tempted to see these as multiple, heresies, diverse and unrelated. After all, what commonality is there between a liturgist pushing for incorporation of more patristic elements into the Mass and an Old Testament scholar of the historical-critical school? Or what concord hath the progressive Catholic philosopher who rejects Thomism and the cleric laboring in the Pan-Christian movement? It took the particular genius of Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi to identify the common factor that drew these trends together and made them not only a heresy, but the synthesis of all heresies: that factor was what Pius called vital immanence, which essentially means that the objective data of revelation is beyond the capability of man's reason; all man can grasp are the impressions or internal effects of this on man, with the consequent that religious experience trumps religious truth and spirituality becomes a purely subjective reality. This synopsis of the Modernist heresy was so spot-on and so thorough that Modernism throughout the Church went into hibernation to lick its wounds for several decades.

Not only was Pope Pius X astute at identifying problems, but in backing up his words with powerful and decisive action. After condemning the theories of the Modernists, he goes on to  say:

"All these prescriptions and those of Our Predecessor are to be borne in mind whenever there is question of choosing directors and professors for seminaries and Catholic Universities. Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn" (Pascendi, 48).

Can you imagine Paul VI or John Paul II not only speaking out against religious errors in seminaries and universities but actually taking positive steps to ensure that these heretics are systematically removed? This kind of decisiveness can scarcely be imagined today. Regarding the sort of education Pius seeks in candidates for higher studies, he asks for a background in Scholastic theology - but he does not just ask:

"For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred it shall be held as null and void" (Pascendi, 49).

He not only expresses his will, but mandates it and threatens to nullify degrees conferred in disobedience of his will! He orders bishops "to do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdiction, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there" (ibid., 51); clearly Pius believes pastoral admonitions are insufficient if not followed up by firm action! He institutes the Oath Against Modernism to root out heretical tendencies from the clergy on pain of sin, and establishes "Councils of Vigilance" within each diocese whose sole purpose is "noting the existence of errors and the devices by which new ones are introduced and propagated" and to make recommendations to the bishop on "the best means for suppressing the evil at its outset" (55). Unlike modern bishops and pontiffs who identify errors in only the most cautious of terms and then throw up their hands when it comes to taking action, Pius took vigorous action, right down to the diocesan level, to make sure that Modernism was rooted out and that life in the Church was made very difficult for Modernists.

Even as a priest and bishop, Pius X was known for his charity and devotion to Christ, especially in the poor. Lest anyone try to contrast our current "humble" Holy Father with some sort of alleged pre-Vatican II triumphalism, see how Pius X loved the poor and least among his flock, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"In 1867 he was named arch-priest of Salzano, a large borough of the Diocese of Treviso, where he restored the church, and provided for the enlargement and maintenance of the hospital by his own means, consistently with his habitual generosity to the poor."

While Bishop of Mantua he distributed copies of the Summa to poorer seminarians at his own expense and took care to see that all seminarians were formed in Scholastic theology and Gregorian Chant, for which he had a particular love. As Cardinal of Venice, he held a synod in 1898 for the promotion of Gregorian Chant - something he would later mandate in his motu proprio Tra le Sollecetudine - and promoted cooperative rural banks in accord with the social teaching laid down by Leo XIII.

To Pius X we also must attribute the consolidation of the Church's canonical tradition which led to the great 1917 Code of Canon Law.

In every way a model of holiness, clarity, zeal and vigorous action against the enemies of the Church and in promotion of the Kingdom of Christ. St. Pius X, pray for us!

"It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications of a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilisation. Language of this kind is not to be tolerated either in books or from chairs of learning" -Pope St Pius X, Pascendi #55.



MaestroJMC said...

Of course, I agree that Pius X was a great pope as far as his condemnation of modernism and personal holiness goes. I do think, though, that he was one of the first major reformers in the realm of liturgy. He radically revised the ancient Psalter of the Roman Breviary, which had some of its origins in the time of Christ, thereby setting a precedent for liturgical change which could be used to justify later papal action. It is a sort of liturgical ultramontanism which holds that the pope is the sole arbiter of the liturgy, with the right to dispense with centuries of tradition with the swipe of a pen.

Boniface said...

Perhaps, but then again, the concept that the liturgy was never touched before the 20th century is largely a myth. Various popes, going back to the 17th century, made modifications to the liturgy - nothing so sweeping as what happened in 1965-1975, but still, there were certainly small changes here and there.

MaestroJMC said...

Certainly they made modifications, and that's fine; but methinks for the most part earlier modifications still kept preserved the ancient tradition of the liturgy. Pius X did not do that, as regards the Psalter. His reform was the first big one.

St. Corbinian's Bear said...

In answer to your rhetorical question, no, the Bear cannot imagine a present-day pope speaking thusly, nor is there any reason to expect such forthrightness from a future pope.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, but the last citation from Pascendi gave me chills; isn't this precisely what has happened?