Today is the traditional Feast Day of St. Pius X. This is, of course, a day of prayer and remembrance of this great and holy Saint. However, it is also a day where we should perhaps ask a few questions as to the reason behind the odd praise modern certain prelates, including the pope, are giving him.
On August 21st, the Feast Day of St. Pius X in the New Calendar, Pope Francis raised eyebrows by attending a Mass in St. Pius X’s honor and expressing admiration for him. As Vatican Insider reported:
“I am a devotee of St. Pius X…” This is how Francis explained his presence among the faithful in the chapel dedicated to St. Pius X to Mgr. Lucio Bonora. The chapel, located in St. Peter’s Basilica, houses the relics of the late Venetian Pope. Lucio Bonora is a prelate from Treviso in northern Italy who works in the Secretariat of State and is a scholar of St. Pius X. On Friday 21 August, the day the Church commemorates St. Pius X, Francis celebrated a private early morning mass and entered the Basilica to pray at the tomb of his predecessor. At 7, while he was kneeling down at the altar, Fr. Bonora began his own mass celebration. When he entered the chapel, he saw about 50 or so faithful and lo and behold, the Pope was there too. According to the website of Treviso’s diocesan weeklyLa Vita del Popolo, Francis decided to stay for the mass celebration. He rose from the pew to exchange the embrace of peace and got in line to receive communion, followed by a moment of worship when Francis gave thanks kneeling…
Many traditional Catholics were wondering, and still are wondering, how a very liberal pope like Francis could possibly be a devotee of St. Pius X. Most shook their heads and chalked it up to the seemingly erratic and contradictory nature of many of the pope’s other actions. But is there a method to this madness?
The key is to recognize the difference in how traditionalists see St. Pius X and liberals see St. Pius X. Traditionalists see the man who bravely fought a crusade against the plague of Modernism in the Church, and sanctioned clergy spreading this error, all the while defending Catholic Truth. Liberals, on the other hand, dismiss St. Pius X’s actions against Modernism as limited to their time and historical context, and instead focus on St. Pius X’s love of poverty and his reforms of the liturgy and curia. But most of all, liberals love to cite his loosening of Eucharistic reception laws to enable the faithful to receive daily and opening up Communion reception to children of younger ages.
Now, to be certain, all of these acts and aspects of St. Pius X that liberals point to were good in and of themselves. The danger lies in the disingenuous way the left spins these events, attempting to co-opt St. Pius X’s legacy to support their own agenda. The first thing they do is to confuse, perhaps deliberately, the irreformable doctrinal acts of Pius X with the changeable pastoral and prudential acts of Pius X.
The writings of Pius X condemning Modernism were not just limited to his time, but are for all time. Modernism was erroneous then and it is erroneous now precisely because it is an attack on the very nature of the Church and of the unchanging nature of dogma.
On the other hand, the disciplinary changes Pius X made, such as allowing more frequent reception of Holy Communion, were changeable and were brought about by the times in which he lived. No doubt Pius X believed that holy reverence and respect for the Eucharist was at such a high point in the Church that there would be no danger of the faithful treating frequent Communion in a casual manner. Instead, Pius X believed that, in this context, expanding the opportunities for Holy Communion could only increase holiness and devotion in the faithful. This was a prudential judgment and a wise one for the times Pius X lived in.
In contrast, it is interesting to think what Pius X would do in our own day. Today hardly anyone goes to confession, yet the Communion lines are full. In addition, the Body of Christ is often treated with no more reverence than potato chips being handed out by laymen to the hands of other standing laymen. In this context, it is not unreasonable to believe that Pius X would immediately roll back his allowance of frequent reception of Communion until this tragic attitude on behalf of the laity was remedied.
In addition to the Eucharist, liberals focus on the poverty and love of the poor of Pius X. It is true Pius X possessed these qualities. Yet there are key differences in how St. Pius X approached these issues and liberals approach these issues. For one, the focus in Pius X’s pontificate was the defense of orthodoxy. For being generous to the poor means nothing if the poor, and the rest of the Church, are infected with soul-destroying error. In addition, although St. Pius X grew up in poverty and disliked the ostentation of the papacy, he endured it out of respect for the papal office. All of his acts of humility and poverty were done in private. We only know about them through the later writing of witnesses. He did not make public shows of disowning and condemning the glory that all Catholics wanted to bestow upon Christ’s vicar, thereby, in effect, making all of his predecessors appear to have been proud and vain. (For more information on the true poverty and humility of St. Pius X, see the Remnant article “The False God of Poverty”)
The process of co-opting and distorting St. Pius X’s legacy can be seen most clearly through a June 13, 2014 ZENIT interview with Fr. Bernard Ardura, the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. 2014 was the 100th anniversary of St. Pius X’s death and the Committee held a day of study titled, “Saint Pius X: A Reforming Pope Facing the Challenges of the New Century." In the interview Fr. Ardura stated the following:
During his pontificate he was a very important reformer, but between his reformative activities, he also had to intervene on doctrine-related issues, as he was facing a difficult movement, called modernism. And his condemnation of modernism obscured the positive parts of his ministry. He was remembered as a Pope of condemnation, but, instead was truly a great reformer, a great innovator. Yes, he condemned modernism, but he, in fact, was very modern, which is obvious through his reforms.
St. Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism “obscured” the “positive” parts of his ministry? Does this mean St. Pius X’s fight against Modernism was a “negative” part of his ministry? “A Pope of condemnation”? Since the advent of Vatican II has the very notion of condemning anything, no matter how dangerous to souls, considered a bad thing? Yet look at what Fr. Ardura focuses on as the “positive.” He calls St. Pius X a “great reformer, great innovator” “very modern.” If one listens to Fr. Ardura one would think St. Pius X was the early 20th century forerunner to Hans Kung. When you see liberal prelates praising St. Pius X, remember these words of Fr. Ardura. For this invented caricature is what they have turned the great Pope into. Fr. Ardura continues:
He was more aware than other papal predecessors that the state of the pontificate had to go forward and could not go backward, only forward…Another key contribution was related to receiving the sacraments, particularly Communion. He advanced the idea that the young, around the age of seven, could receive their First Holy Communion, even if they didn’t fully know Church doctrine at that point. Also, he advanced the idea of adults going to Communion more often. Before the thought was that one had to have confessed before going to Communion. Although he advocated going to confession regularly, he advanced the idea of going to Communion often, even encouraging Christians to go daily.
“Before the thought was that one had to have confessed before going to Communion”? What an appallingly strange thing for the President of a Pontifical Committee to say. Is Fr. Ardura saying St. Pius X felt this no longer to be the case? That as long as Catholics went to confession “regularly” they did not have to make sure that all mortal sins were confessed each time they received Holy Communion? Obviously, St. Pius X thought no such thing. And Fr. Ardura is in charge of studying the legacy of this great sainted pope? God help us. Yet Fr. Ardura saved the “best” for last as he tries to define Modernism to ZENIT…
It is an error, a philosophical error, that relativizes a bit of everything, and from a doctrinal point of view, is something delicate. For example, different ideas were promulgated in the particular, cultural context of the time. But today, we don't have to relativize these different views on the doctrine. Pius X, we can say, was working in a particular context.
The Church in which we believe, is inspired by the Holy Spirit in a context that is not by some accidental cause, but contains the substance of teachings inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, we don’t have to relativize these realities, which are fundamental, because otherwise, we would have to put into discussion all we believe.
And there you have it. Modernism, called “the synthesis of all heresies” by St. Pius X is now “something delicate?” Apparently Pius X did not agree. For it was reported how he responded when asked to go easy on the Modernists:
“Kindness is for fools. They want them to be treated with oil, soap, and caresses but they ought to be beaten with fists! In a duel you don’t count or measure the blows, you strike as you can. War is not made with charity, it is a struggle, a duel. If Our Lord were not terrible he would not have given an example in this too. See how he treated the Philistines, the sowers of error, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the traitors in the temple. He scourged them with whips!”
Hardly a “delicate” approach. Then Fr. Ardura states that “Pius X, we can say, was working in a particular context.” But what possible “context” could Pius X have been working in that would change one iota of his clear and repeated doctrinal condemnations of Modernism? For the context these decrees were issued in changes nothing regarding their content. The author of the Modernism entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia even had this to say about the nature of Pius X’s condemnations:
In the present writer's opinion, since the new confirmation accorded to these decrees [Pascendi and Lamentabili] by the Motu Proprio, they contain in their doctrinal conclusions the infallible teaching of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
So why all of the sudden praise and rewriting of St. Pius X’s legacy by liberal clerics, you ask? The answer may have something to do with the upcoming Synod on the Family. We know the left is desperate to find theological support for allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion. If they are able to spin the legacy of St. Pius X into one of a “modern reformer” especially as regards the reception of Holy Communion, they can explain their position as simply a furtherance and logical extension of the late pope’s “liberalizing” Eucharistic policy.
Just consider some of the quotes I cited above in the context of allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion (emphasis added):
· He was remembered as a Pope of condemnation, but, instead was truly a great reformer, a great innovator. Yes, he condemned modernism, but he, in fact, was very modern, which is obvious through his reforms.
· He was more aware than other papal predecessors that the state of the pontificate had to go forward and could not go backward, only forward.
· Another key contribution was related to receiving the sacraments, particularly Communion…, he advanced the idea of adults going to Communion more often. Before the thought was that one had to have confessed before going to Communion…
In addition, we recall that in Evangelii Gaudium Francis stated that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness.” These words of Francis make the following line in the closing paragraph of the Vatican Insider article all the more interesting: “He [St. Pius X] presented the Eucharist not as a prize for those who are already perfect but as a daily support for people to get closer to God.”
As Pope Francis stated, he is a “devotee of St. Pius X.” The question we should be asking is which St. Pius X is the pope referring to? The true St. Pius X who defended unchanging doctrine? Or the fictional modern, innovating, and reforming “Pius X” of Fr. Ardura? Come October, we may find out.
The Real St. Pius X
Finally, lest I be accused of depressing my readers on such a glorious feast day, I would like to end with the words of Eminence Cardinal Mercier regarding St. Pius X in his Lenten Pastoral letter of February 2, 1915:
The winning kindness of the Holy Father had none of the soft sentimentality of the weak. Pius X was strong. It is currently reported that he was the writer of a short prayer which priests have to say at certain times for their bishop. It runs as follows:
“Stet et pascat in fortitudine tua, Domine, in sublimit ate nominis tui” (Strong in Thy strength, 0 Lord, let him stand and feed the flock in the sublimity of Thy name).
And this, unless I am mistaken, is the characteristic note of the late Pope—a wonderful combination of fatherly tenderness with a force of character that made him master of himself and imparted to his soul steadiness of equilibrium, filling his expression with that blending of gravity, serenity, condescension, and almost of playfulness, which so strongly attracted everyone by its charm.
The public looked on with wonder, sometimes with anxiety, and admired the virile Pontiff in his hand-to-hand struggle with Modernism.
In the days of Luther and Calvin, had the Church possessed a Pope of the temper of Pius X, would Protestantism have succeeded in getting one-third of Europe to break loose from Rome?
Pius was a man of keen insight and decision. He would not let himself be seduced by the cajoleries of reformers, naively ambitious of infusing the veins of the Church with new blood, and dreaming of modernizing her to suit the fancies and errors of up-to-date Protestantism and Rationalism. True to Catholic Tradition, he blazoned forth the axiom that in the fifth century, St. Vincent of Lerins, himself the disciple of a martyr-bishop of the third century, St. Cyprian, used against those who favoured a doctrinal advance which the Christian conscience would have felt to be not an improvement but a revolution, wherein all the treasures of the past would have disappeared: Nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est (No innovations: cleave to tradition).
His plan once laid down, the Pope pursued it, both as a whole and in detail, in the sphere of doctrine and also of discipline, in scientific works, in the Press, in literature, in the teaching of Seminaries and of Universities and even in the persons of those whom he loved most; he pursued its fullest realization, I say, with an energy and perseverance that were sometimes disconcerting.
When we survey from afar this line of action, many-sided yet one, broad, and yet penetrating, we are unanimous in our admiration of our great Pope’s force of character, and in thanking Providence for saving Christianity from an immense peril, not only of a single heresy but of all heresies combined, amalgamated together in a more or less treacherous way.” (Leltre Pastorale et mandement de Carême de 1915)
(Republished from The Remnant's blog, September 3, 2015, for the Feast of Pope St. Pius X)