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Sunday, June 15, 2014

St. Pius X Misunderstood? Only by Vatican Committees Featured

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Pope-Pius-X-1905When I heard the news back on June 11th that The Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences was organizing a “study day” on the Pontificate of St Pius X, my first reaction was to wonder what the Committee was up to. The Vatican has issued so few words about this illustrious Saint in the post-Conciliar years one would have thought he never existed. So why now of all times, in the midst of one the most liberal pontificates in history, would this Pontifical Committee choose to study Pius X? 

On the “study day” in question ZENIT interviewed the President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences himself, Fr. Bernard Ardura. The ZENIT headline ran: Pius X Is Misunderstood, Says Leader of Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences: Study Day Aims to Give Fuller Vision of Little-Known Pre-WWI Pontiff”

In the course of the interview Fr. Ardura makes very interesting statements about St. Pius X. In his first answer, Fr. Adura states:

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.

Thus, Fr. Ardura sets the stage for the great conciliar makeover of St. Pius X as a modern innovating reformer. If we listen to Fr. Ardura, it's as if St. Pius X had his innovating modern reforms rudely interrupted by having to deal with some pesky movement called modernism. Further, Fr. Ardura apparently sees Pius X's condemnation of modernism as a negative “part of his ministry.” 

As we know, Pius X was not a “reformer” he was a “restorer.”  St. Pius X’s motto was: “To Restore All Things in Christ” It was the very subject of his first encyclical, which historically sets the tone for the entire papacy. One would think an historical committee tasked with studying a pontificate might have noticed. Instead, the word “restore” is not used in any variation during the entire interview.

While a restorer returns something which has been tarnished to its original pristine form, a “reformer” changes something flawed into something better. While the Church does not need to be “changed” or “transformed” into something better it may sometimes need restoring. This was never more the case than in our day after decades of tarnishing by innovating, modern, reformers.

Contrary to Fr. Ardura, St. Pius X’s crowning achievement and what he is best known for is precisely his magnificent and repeated condemnations of modernism, which he called “the synthesis of all heresies.” His first and foremost priority, as that of any pontiff, was to root out and condemn error, which was infecting the Church and endangering souls.

Any disciplinary restorations St. Pius instituted, although definitely meritorious, would seem to take a distant second to this accomplishment. Far from being opposed to the “positive” side of his “ministry”, Pius' condemnation and suppression of modernism was the most positive aspect of his entire pontificate. Only in the liberal mind of current day Vatican committee heads can condemnation of evil be equated with “negativity.”

Fr. Ardura was then asked to produce examples of these “reforms.” Fr. Ardura states:

He reformed the Roman Curia, that was the same curia created in 1538 that exists here today. 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.

“Forward”? Are we to believe that St. Pius X’s motivation for administrative changes to the Curia was modern progress? If one bothers to read Pius X’s Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia one would see that St. Pius X explains why he made the changes.

While Fr. Ardura makes it seem as if St. Pius X was fond of deleting and replacing centuries old disciplines for the sake of modernity, nothing could be farther from the truth. Pope Sixtus V set up the Roman Curia the way he did in 1538 was for efficiency’s sake. It worked well when first set up, but over time it had lost its intended purpose and started to become a source of confusion and bureaucracy.

Thus, St. Pius X went about restoring the Curia so it could once again carry out its original function. St. Pius X explains this in the opening to his Constitution:

But in the course of time the organization of the Roman Curia, mainly effected by Sixtus V in the above-mentioned letters apostolic, lapsed from its original state. The number of the Roman Congregations was increased or diminished according to the necessities of time and circumstance, and even the jurisdiction originally attributed to the different congregations underwent changes either by new enactments of the Roman Pontiffs or by the gradual growth of customs which became accepted. The result is that today the jurisdiction, or competence, of each of them is not quite clear to all nor is it well apportioned, that many of the sacred congregations have the right to define the law on the same matters, and that some of them have been reduced to the transaction of very little business, while others are overcharged with work.

Fr. Ardura then gives another “example” of a Pius X "reform":

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.

This quote from Fr. Ardura is extremely dangerous. “Before the thought was that one had to have confessed before going to Communion”? Is Fr. Ardura here implying that St. Pius X himself either decreed or implied that Catholics did not need to confess serious sin before receiving Holy Communion? Hopefully not, for he would be embarassingly mistaken.

St. Pius X himself stated in the very document in question:

Although it is especially fitting that those who receive Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless, it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future; and if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossible by that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.

Even assuming Fr. Ardura was not implying this, he again seems to equate a restoration of Tradition in this regard with some sort of progressive reform. As St. Pius X himself explains:

The Holy Council of Trent, having in view the ineffable riches of grace which are offered to the faithful who receive the Most Holy Eucharist, makes the following declaration: "The Holy Council wishes indeed that at each Mass the faithful who are present should communicate, not only in spiritual desire, but sacramentally, by the actual reception of the Eucharist." These words declare plainly enough the wish of the Church that all Christians should be daily nourished by this heavenly banquet and should derive therefrom more abundant fruit for their sanctification…

Piety, however, grew cold, and especially afterward because of the widespread plague of Jansenism, disputes began to arise concerning the dispositions with which one ought to receive frequent and daily Communion; and writers vied with one another in demanding more and more stringent conditions as necessary to be fulfilled. The result of such disputes was that very few were considered worthy to receive the Holy Eucharist daily, and to derive from this most health-giving Sacrament its more abundant fruits; the others were content to partake of it once a year, or once a month, or at most once a week. To such a degree, indeed, was rigorism carried that whole classes of persons were excluded from a frequent approach to the Holy Table, for instance, merchants or those who were married. 

The ZENIT interviewer then asked what might be the most interesting question of all time:Do you notice similarities between Pius X and Pope Francis?” As we know, any answer besides “they both wear white” would be incorrect. Nevertheless, Fr. Ardura states:

There are. There absolutely are, as there are resemblances between the two. But we can’t forget there is an entire century between the two. Therefore, the contexts are very different. But it is true that Pius X and Pope Francis focused very much on the quality of the life of Christians -- of laity, priests, and bishops -- the quality of the life necessary for giving witness to the Gospel. Therefore, for this, they shared the view that whatever can be reformed, should be. They both, also, have the ability to distinguish what is incidental from what is essential.

This statement leaves me, as I’m sure it does you, somewhat speechless. I’ll simply remind the reader that while St. Pius X condemned modernism, Pope Francis’ top Cardinal, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga stated ithe following in 2013:

The Second Vatican Council was the main event in the Church in the 20th Century. In principle, it meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council. On the contrary: neither the world is the realm of evil and sin –these are conclusions clearly achieved in Vatican II—nor is the Church the sole refuge of good and virtue. Modernism was, most of the time, a reaction against injustices and abuses that disparaged the dignity and the rights of the person. The Vatican II Council officially acknowledged that things had changed, and captured the need for such a change in its Documents…

The interviewer then asked Fr. Ardura why he believes Pius X was misunderstood:

He became misunderstood, and almost all of his good, reformative works were not given credit, because of the issue of modernism. Therefore, with his condemnation of modernism, he became to be understood by many as a Pope who didn’t understand anything, but it was not true.

Fr. Ardura should rather say that St. Pius X came to be understood "by many modernists" as a Pope who didn’t understand anything.

Fr. Ardura is then asked what modernism is:

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.

First of all, modernism is more than just a philosophical error. It is first and foremost a theological one.

Second, what “particular, cultural context of the time” was Pius X “working in” when he condemned all aspects of modernism? Does the particular cultural context of 2014 somehow change whether or not modernism is still erroneous? If so, Is this not precisely what relativization is? The idea that a teaching can be erroneous in 1907, but rehabilitated in 2014?  Is this not precisely what Cardinal Maradiaga stated?

In the final analysis, it seems depressingly obvious what is going on. The Pontifical Committee is trying to recast St. Pius X as some sort of modern, innovating, reformer for his time. They will play up all of the disciplinary aspects of the Church that he attempted to restore and reinterpret this as “reform” or “moving forward.” In this way, they will attempt to give cover to Pope Francis, who, it seems, has not met a custom or discipline he does not want to change.

In addition, the Vatican Committee will have to play down Pius X's most stunning accomplishment and one explicitly mentioned as a reason for his canonization by Pius XII: his brilliant condemnation and suppression of modernism. Indeed, the commitee will have us believe that modernism was erroneous and dangerous in 1907, but somehow harmless today. And they will do this despite the obvious irony that modernist elements in the Church today are the cause of the very crisis they ignore.

The only way that their propaganda campaign will succeed is if the faithful don’t bother reading St. Pius X’s documents for themselves. Unfortunately, I believe this is precisely what they are counting on. That being the case, I encourage you to read the actual documents of St. Pius X referenced by the Committee and see for yourself whether St. Pius X was a reformer or a restorer.


Last modified on Monday, June 16, 2014