St. Pius X – A Soul Conformed to Truth and Love
Pope St. Pius X, the pope from 1903 – 1914, is one of two modern popes that I like to call the “I told you so” popes. Along with Pope Paul VI, Pius was well known for his strong and prophetic warnings against the nascent evils of his time; evils which have in both cases now come to fruition and begun to reap their bitter harvest among human society.
Paul VI accurately predicted the social and spiritual consequences of the advent of birth control in Humanae Vitae, and any serious Catholic is certainly aware of these consequences. But Pius X warned of an even greater threat to the faith, one that encompasses many others, including the sexual revolution. His warning was about Modernism.
What is Modernism?
Now this is probably the point where a large amount of readers are confused. Perhaps some are even thinking, ‘Aha! I knew the Church hated science and progress!’ or something along those lines. The problem is that the word modernism has many meanings, and the pope only intended to use one of those meanings.
The heresy of Modernism is not simply modern thinking in general, the pursuit of scientific knowledge, nor the modernist art movement. The heresy of Modernism is a movement dedicated to adapting Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social fashions of the present time. Essentially, it is a movement which aims to conform the Church to the world.
Modernism grows from two main attitudes. First is the arrogant conviction of the superiority of present things over the things of the past. Chesterton described such an attitude in his usual, straightforward way, as “people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” This inward assumption can be very subtle, but if you look, you will see it constantly in modern thinking. Think of opponents of the Church who attack the Bible, simply by pointing out that it is 2000 years old. The modernist attitude is now so pervasive that most people don’t even consider the question of why being old is a bad thing.
The second attitude is one of rebellion against moral authority, over the individual, the corporation, and the government. This boils down to a form of relativism, where any suggestion of immutable truth is seen as a form of oppression. Rather than admit anything is right, the modernist prefers to gloss over any disagreements and aim for a superficial ‘tolerance.’ The best recent example of this attitude is the infamous Melinda Gates, who excused her anti-Catholic work with the tired adage, “we’re not going to agree about everything, but that’s okay.”
The Character and Example of St. Pius X
St. Pius X was the stark opposite of all that.
The good pope was the kind of man that the modern world hates and fears, the kind of man the modern church has in such short supply, to its great detriment. He was a man who consistently, bravely, and zealously stood up for the truth.
Where our society, and the society of Pius’ time, demand that a person should avoid any mention of truth, or at least walk on eggshells around it to avoid hurting feelings, this saint was not in the least bit afraid to condemn error and present the unchanging gospel. Instead, he firmly exercised his authority as pope. In his own words, “We champion the authority of God. His authority and Commandments should be recognized, deferred to, and respected.” He responded to dissenters and critics of his time in clear and learned writing and preaching.
Instaurare Omnia in Christo
To “restore all things in Christ,” this was the papal motto, and personal mission of St. Pius X. To this end he introduced numerous changes in the discipline of the Church, in order to bring more souls deeper into relationship with Christ.
First and foremost, he placed a great emphasis on the importance of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Confession. He reversed commonly held wisdom of the time by encouraging Catholics to seek both of these sacraments far more often, and strongly promoted daily communion. For this reason he was often called the Pope of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Pius X also worked to improve the common prayer of the Church by revising the breviary. He strongly believed in the liturgy of the hours as well as the Mass as the ordinary means of seeking holiness. He even said that the “primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit is participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public, official prayer of the church.”
In terms of doctrine, Pius worked hard to promote orthodox belief and combat heresy. He ordered the writing of a universal Code of Canon Law, which was eventually finished by his successor. He wrote a popular Catechism, which was used around the world, although it was not promulgated as universal. He combated heresy by his syllabus of errors, Lamentabili Sane Exitu, and his encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, which clearly and concisely condemned and refuted numerous modernist errors.
The Heart of a Christian
Like many great preachers, St. Pius X was considered by his contemporaries and his opponents to be far too outspoken, to be dismissive, brusque, and even cold. But these critics were as wrong about the man as they were about his doctrines. St. Pius X’s strong teaching came from a loving heart conformed to Christ, who is both truth itself, and love itself.
We know that Pius X was very fond of the poor, especially children. He often personally taught catechism to the homeless street children of Venice, and gathered children during papal audiences, sometimes not even to teach but to talk to the children about whatever interested them.
Pius also flatly refused to give any promotions to his family, which had often been a point of corruption or distraction for other popes, who used their position for material benefit rather than to serve the Church.
St. Pius X was very quickly named a saint after his death in 1914, and is patron saint of pilgrims, first communicants, and, of course, Team Orthodoxy!
Pray for this great saint’s intercession whenever you go on a journey, he has really come through for members of Team Orthodoxy in the past.