Our Glorious Popes

Chapter X

The Holy Roman Pontiff, Pope Pius X, whom the Church – in the unparalleled outburst of heavenly joy, exultant praise and sublime solemnity which she reserves for the canonization of those whose lives of heroic virtue and God-centered love are her great and shining glory – proclaimed on May 29, 1954, through His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, to be the glorious Pope of our own day, died of a broken heart after a pontificate of eleven years.

He had been born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, and he came from the little village of Riese, not far from the beautiful seaport of Venice, in Venetia, the northeastern province of Italy. He was born on the second day of June, in the year 1835. His devout Catholic parents were very poor – his father earned no more than about fifty cents a day – and he was the oldest living child in a family of eight. While he was in his second year in the Seminary, his father died, in May, 1852, and his mother, Margherita Sanson Sarto, who bequeathed to her eldest son the full nobility of her Italian peasant’s culture and the straightforward courage of her pure, wise and loving heart, undertook the support of the bereaved family while Giuseppe went on with his studies.

Giuseppe Sarto had risen, by virtue of his wonderfully compelling sanctity and the rare gifts of his marvelously intelligent mind, through all the posts of the hierarchy, when he was elected, on August 4, 1903, to succeed Pope Leo XIII – who had come to the Chair of Peter on the death of Pope Pius IX and who had ruled the Church of Jesus Christ for twenty-five years. No other Pope in the history of the Church ever made the ascent to the throne of the Prince of the Apostles by such gradual stages as had Pope Pius X, filling every office on the way and wearing cassock after cassock of one color or another until his death as a white-robed Pope.

For the first nine years of his priesthood he had been a zealous, humble sad hard-working country curate at Tombolo. He then spent nine years as pastor in the small town of Salzano, followed by nine years as Diocesan Chancellor and Seminary Prefect, at Treviso, with the rank of Monsignor, and Canon. He was then made Bishop of Mantua, in the province of Lombardy, where for nine years he labored to overcome the terrible inroads which the Liberal and anti-Christian teaching had made into the Faith, both of the clergy and of the people. After this, he was made Patriarch of Venice, one of the four minor patriarchates of the Church. He held this post for ten years by assignment, but for only nine years by residence, inasmuch as the Masonic Government of Italy at the time would not give him an official leave to take up his duties there for well over a year after his appointment. And finally, he was crowned Pope.

Giuseppe Sarto had not wanted to become Pope. He did all in his power to prevail upon the Cardinals to choose another in his stead, but when they at last prevailed upon him that it was without question what God willed for him, he answered them, with tears running down his face, “As the Popes who have suffered most for the Church during the last century were called Pius, I too shall take that name.” He was thinking of Pius VI, Pius VII and, most of all, of Pope Pius IX, whose great sufferings for the Faith so edified him, and of whose holiness he had always been so much aware.

But, more than all that, he knew that the enemies of the Church in their time were more than ever the enemies of the Church in his. Their fight was his fight, their struggle his struggle, only a thousand times more intensified! The anti-Christian forces which had worked all through the nineteenth century to wipe out the papacy and the whole Christian order had not only not ceased their efforts since the death of Pope Pius IX, but they had succeeded in their original aims to such an overwhelming extent that everywhere, over the whole world, the values, traditions and doctrines of Christianity were being assailed by extraordinary numbers – thanks to the cleverly planned and carried out non-Christian education which had been spread for generations now through the teaching in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, newspapers, magazines and a shrewdly formed public opinion. Never before, in the history of Christian civilization, had so many men and women been taught to doubt and to disbelieve!

Possessed of the supreme simplicity of the truly great, Pope Pius X was the very soul of kindness and gentleness in his dealings with his people in spiritual or material need, but he was inflexible, immovable, and a mountain of iron strength and firmness against those who attacked or threatened the doctrines of the Faith and the welfare of the Church. He had many times come to grips with the Freemasons and Jews in control of the government while he was Bishop of Mantua and Patriarch of Venice. But he knew that as Pope the battle would be world-wide. A look of great sadness came into his face, and never left it for the eleven years of his pontificate. It hovered even behind the smile which lighted his tender and beautiful countenance when he was in the presence of those whose pure hearts were so akin to his own and who gave him his greatest consolation, the children of Italy – whose doctrinal and spiritual protection, along with that of his priests, he had made the first interest and labor of his life. Pope Pius X had the gift of prophecy, and his soul was heavy – laden with the knowledge of the evil which everywhere beset the Church and which would violently assail her after his death. He did everything in his power to head it off. He performed acts of supreme courage, and fearlessly entered every department of life in order “to renew all things in Christ,” the words he had chosen as the motto for his pontificate.

“We are convinced that many will resent our intention of taking an active part in world politics,” he said at his first consistory, on November 9, 1903, “but any impartial observer will realize that the Pope, to whom the supreme office of teacher has been entrusted by God, cannot remain indifferent to political affairs or separate them from the concerns of Faith and Morals…. One of the primary duties of the Apostolic Office is to disprove and condemn erroneous doctrines and to oppose civil laws which are in conflict with the Law of God, and so to preserve humanity from bringing about its own destruction.”

When the anti-clerical Government of France succeeded in breaking the Napoleonic Concordat of 1802, declaring that between the spiritual and temporal affairs of men there was absolutely no connection, and passed a law, in December, 1905, subjecting the Church still further to the power of the hostile State, Pope Pius X condemned the so-called Law of Separation, in his encyclical Vehementer, and proclaimed that the opinion that Church and State are two absolutely distinct societies “is completely false and an insult to God. It is the primary duty of the State to assist its subjects in every way possible to reach their eternal salvation. In any Christian State separation from the Church is reprehensible. . . .”

He refused to consider a compromise with the Government of France. “Our conscience would not permit us to tolerate any form of experiment on this question,” he said, “in order to save the French Catholics from the dangers which threaten them.” And when the Government retaliated by confiscating all the property of the Church in France and by refusing to pay further indemnity on the possessions of the Church which had been seized during the French Revolution, Pope Pius X wrote the French bishops, on January 6, 1907, that he suffered deeply with the faithful and the clergy, and that their loyalty and obedience to him were the greatest source of consolation to him in that hour. “The Church has not yielded up her right to these possessions,” he said. “They belong to the worship of God and have been ruthlessly confiscated. The Church was faced with the choice between material ruin and the surrender of the rights given her by God. She courageously refused the latter though this meant the loss of all the world holds valuable…. We lose our churches, but the Church remains secure. It is better to sacrifice property than freedom.”

The clergy and the faithful of France rallied heroically to the support of the Holy Father, just as their fathers and grandfathers had done, when their courageous and outspoken defense of Pope Pius IX had forced Napoleon III, in order to save his political life, to send his soldiers to Rome for the protection of Pio Nono.

“No one foresaw what resistance the Pope would show to the new law,” said Georges Clemenceau, the Freemason, who, although he had asked for a Catholic nun to nurse him through his last illness (“because they do it so well”), maintained – in spite of all the holy nun’s prayers, tears and devoted hours at his bedside – to his last breath his hatred of God. He asked to be buried standing upright beneath the earth lest his body in a prostrate position might be construed as an act of acknowledgment or submission to Him!

“To politicians who detect an enemy in the Church,” Pope Pius X said in an address in April, 1909, at the time of the beatification of Saint Joan of Arc, “and therefore perpetually oppose her, to members of secret societies who with all the hatred inspired by Satan unceasingly calumniate, vilify and attack her, to the false champions of science who by sophistry of every kind strive to render her objectionable, as if she were a foe to liberty, to civilization, and to intellectual progress, reply that the Church mistress of souls and ruling the hearts of men, exercises her supremacy throughout the world because she alone, being the Bride of Christ and having all in common with her Divine Spouse, is the depositary of the truth, she alone can win from all nations veneration and love. Thus he who rebels against her authority for fear lest it should encroach upon the dominion of the State, sets up barriers to the truth; he who proclaims her authority to be foreign to a nation, wishes truth to be foreign to that nation also; he who dreads that her authority may diminish the freedom and greatness of a people, manifestly believes that a nation can be great and free without the truth….”

The most terrible assault on the Catholic Faith made during the reign of Pope Pius X, and combatted by him with every ounce of his paternal power, was that of the heresy of Modernism. For not only did the wolves rage now outside the fold of Jesus Christ, but they had come inside; they were tearing and ravening now from within. The Revolution had at last seized upon the revealed dogmas which Christ had taught through His Apostles and which were the very life line of the Faith.

Modernism, although it is as complicated in its origins as are those persons complicated in character who espouse it, was noticed first among the younger clergy of Italy, exposed during all of their lives to the Liberal teaching. Pope Pius X had attacked it as far back as 1887, when he was Bishop of Mantua and had denounced “Modern Christianity,” as it was then called. Pope Leo XIII had described it, along with Liberalism, in his letter to the American bishops on January 22, 1899, condemning Americanism, when he said that there were those who held that:

“The Church ought to adapt herself more to our advanced civilization and, relaxing her ancient rigor, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods. Many think that this is to be understood not only with regard to the rule of life, but also to the doctrines which constitute the Deposit of Faith. For they contend that it is opportune, in order to work in a more attractive way upon the wills of those who are not in accord with us, to keep silence on certain points of doctrine as being of lesser importance, or to soften them until they have no longer the sense to which the Church has always held.”

Modernism is an organized and methodic skepticism of thought in the matter of Scripture, Theology and Church History, of the kind instituted in the early nineteenth century by Immanuel Kant, in philosophy. It earned the name “Modernism” on the ground that modern scholarship had not tested religious truths according to modern standards so as to determine their value! Pope Pius X called it “the synthesis and poison of all heresies which tend to undermine the fundamentals of the Faith and to annihilate Christianity,” and it was especially heartbreaking to him since it affected the clergy, for whose purity of doctrine and holiness of life he had spent his greatest efforts.

“We priests must grow in sanctity of life and purity of doctrine if people are to be formed in Christ,” he had written in his first encyclical, and later, in the apostolic letter, Scripturae Sanctae, he expressed his ardent desire to advance the study of Holy Scripture among the clergy, “especially in our time when the human intellect tries to overstep the boundaries of its own limitations and attack the fountain of Divine Revelation.”

Pope Pius X not only excoriated the Modernists for their teachings, but he undertook to smoke them out of the Church by the strongest of disciplines. He laid down a law requiring that no candidate should henceforth be admitted to the priesthood until he took an oath before his bishop against Modernism and all it stands for. He never ceased, during all of his pontificate, to express his horror and condemnation of the Liberals as the waterers-down of Catholic doctrine and religious allegiances. He said of them, when he was Cardinal, “Catholic ‘Liberals’ are wolves in lambs’ clothing; hence any priest worthy of the name must unmask for the faithful confided to his care their insidious plotting, their unholy design. You shall be called papists, clericals, retrogressives, intransigents. Be proud of it!”

And then – and for this he is most universally known and loved and blest – he undertook to restore the communicant to the altar rail. The glorious Pope – whose personal holiness was so marked that invariably those who spoke with him came away filled with the conviction that they had talked with a saint, and whose two devotions all through his deeply holy life were to his Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary – issued two great edicts on the Blessed Eucharist. The first was given in 1905, and concerned frequent Communion. In this edict it was urged on all the faithful to return to the injunction made by the Council of Trent when it stated that the ideal attendance at Mass is daily attendance, and with a daily reception of Holy Communion.

“Holy Communion is the shortest and surest way to Heaven,” the Holy Father once wrote. “There are others, innocence, for instance, but that is for little children; penance, but we are afraid of it; a generous endurance of the trials of life, but when they approach us we weep and pray to be delivered. Once and for all, beloved children, the surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Holy Eucharist.”

Pope Pius X’s second decree on the Blessed Eucharist, issued in 1910, concerned Early Communion. In it he urged all pastors not to refuse the Blessed Eucharist to any child who, at the age of reason (seven) or thereabouts (Pius X is known himself to have given Communion to a child of four) can be taught to distinguish through Faith, in any act of simple assent, between ordinary bread and the Bread of Life given him in the Mass. And every Early Communicant was urged, of course, to become a Daily Communicant.

And then the Holy Father – who threw open every Sunday the gates of the Vatican and came himself to teach the Catechism to the multitudes of young and old who flocked to hear him – issued a most forceful encyclical commanding priests to teach Catechism to simple children, and not to stay speculating on the theology of the universities. He kept on his desk always before him a statue of the Cure d’Ars, John Baptist Mary Vianney, who was the kind of simple, self-effacing parish priest he himself had always wanted and tried to be.

He beatified Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, and John Eudes, a holy French priest, whose crusade had been for the special veneration of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. And, by way of a challenge to the Church’s enemies, he beatified, on August 29, 1904, Gaspare del Bufalo, Founder of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, and known to his contemporaries (he was a Roman and died in 1837) as “The Hammer of Freemasons.”

He performed constantly so many miracles, this wondrously holy Pope whom the worldly-wise on his election had called a “good country curate,” only to live to ask, in the manner of the Prussian envoy who inquired of Cardinal Merry del Val after His Holiness’ first reception to the Diplomatic Corps when, instead of the embarrassed, shy and awkward man they had more than half expected, they were met by a Pope wholly at his ease, possessed of unstudied majesty, quiet dignity, great wisdom, an amazing knowledge of human nature, and something infinitely more compelling than all of these, “Monsignor, tell us, what is it about this man which attracts us so much?” – that the Vatican was obliged to appoint a staff to answer the letters of supplication which poured into Pope Pius X from all over the world. He continued to give of himself, and of all that he had until the day of his death.

The Sovereign Pontiff, Pius X, one of the greatest of the Popes in the Church’s long and glorious history, died on the twentieth of August, 1914, one month after the outbreak of the First World War, which he had foretold with all of its attendant catastrophes as early as 1906. Pope Pius X, whose title “The Holy Father” best befitted him of all the titles of honor bestowed upon him by his deeply devoted and grateful people, died of a broken heart.

He died of a broken heart because he saw that the terrible deluge which he had been unable to prevent, the worst war in history, was but the beginning of an unending state of war. He saw the great general apostasy, the great abandonment of the Faith, by the clergy and the faithful, so heart-rending and apocalyptic that for a long time there had been no doubt in his mind as to its cause. It was this which occasioned his cry, in his first encyclical, on October 4, 1903: “We were terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today…. So extreme is the general perversion that all who consider these matters have a right to fear that we are experiencing the foretaste and beginnings of the evils which are to come at the end of Time – their first contact, as it were, with the world – and that in very truth the Son of Perdition, of whom the Apostle speaks, has already arrived upon earth.”

Today, forty years and five months after his death, confronted with still another in the succession of great wars of this sorry century, we more than ever understand the words of the Holy Father whose love for God and His Immaculate Mother consumed him always with an “ignis ardens,” an ardent fire, and who, we may be sure, is still the glorious father in Heaven of those who desire even yet on this earth to overcome the power of the seed of Lucifer and to do battle as the children of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the one true Church of her Son, Jesus Christ, founded for the sanctification of souls who will dwell with Him and His Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit forever in the unending happiness of Heaven.