Father Antonio Costantini was a devoted priest to his flock. He was not so old a priest, but his health was badly failing, causing his parish work in Tombolo, Italy, to suffer neglect. In the fall of 1858, a newly ordained priest on his first assignment came to assist the ailing pastor, and Don Antonio was soon to say of him: “They have sent me a young man as curate, with orders to form him in the duties of parish priest. I assure you it is likely to be the other way about. He is so zealous, so full of common sense and other precious gifts that I could find much to learn from him. Some day he will wear the miter — of that I am certain — and afterwards? Who knows?”
Don Antonio’s keen intuition proved to be prophetic. The curate was Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, who successively came to wear the bishop’s miter, the red hat of cardinal-patriarch, the papal tiara, then finally — and for all eternity — the crown of sainthood. Don Giuseppe, the country curate, the model priest and prelate, the beloved “Children’s Saint,” is venerated in all the Catholic world today as Saint Pius X.
He was born at Riese, a village on the Venetian plains of northern-most Italy, on June 2, 1835.1 In him God once again exemplified His tender love for the poor, from whose numbers have come so many shining saints. For Giuseppe Sarto (literally translated as “Joseph Taylor”) was the eldest of eight children, whose parents raised this large family by the most meager of means. The father, a municipal messenger and janitor, earned the equivalent of fifty cents a day, and this income was only barely supplemented by his wife’s scant earnings as a seamstress. But they taught their children to relish humble poverty as they themselves did. It was a lesson that Giuseppe, nicknamed “Beppi,” cherished and earnestly put into practice all his holy life, even after his elevation to the highest dignity on earth. Typically he was to record these sentiments in his last will and testament: “I was born poor, I have lived in poverty, and I wish to die poor.”
Little Beppi, it is true, was remarkably intelligent. But at the same time he was a red-blooded, two-fisted lad who not infrequently excited the minor wrath of his teacher with his distracting mischief. An old farmer from Riese remembered, after the “little rascal” became a cardinal, that “many a cherry of mine found its way down his throat!” A mischievous boy, yes, but one who intensely loved the holy Faith painstakingly nurtured in him by his mother. Even in his youth Beppi made it a daily practice to read a chapter of Holy Scripture on his knees. As a child he also regularly visited a nearby shrine of the Madonna delle Cendrole and poured out his joys and sorrows at the feet of the Mother of God. No doubt it was here that he first confided to Her his desire for the sacerdotal life. The earliest steps toward that vocation were taken by his becoming an altar boy, a duty which he performed with devotion and efficiency, but at the same time with a sense of anxiety. For so many years did he faithfully serve at the altar of God so near to the Most Adorable Jesus in the Eucharist, and yet he could not receive Our Lord sacramentally before his First Holy Communion at the age of twelve. This tender memory, too, he carried through life on the way to Peter’s Throne.
Anything tending to the knowledge of God and the Faith enticed the growing saint. It was this appetite for pious wisdom that prompted him to beg instruction in Latin from two parish priests, who realizing the boy’s exceptional aptitude and seeing prominent qualities of spiritual greatness in their ambitious student, helped him enroll at the junior seminary at Castelfranco. Day after day, whatever the weather, young Beppi eagerly trod the four miles each way to school almost always barefoot, with his shoes slung across his shoulder, to save the leather and to fortify the soul. A companion recollected about this virtuous classmate: “He was goodness itself, an angel of purity, and a lover of studies.” Yet he never used academics as an excuse to pass off other responsibilities, for he returned home faithfully every day to put in long hours of work for the household.
Giuseppe completed his studies at Castelfranco after four years, scoring highest marks in the final examinations in all subjects. But now a serious problem had to be faced, since it was expected of the oldest Sarto son that he presently should begin to help support the family as a wage earner. His heart, of course, was set on serving in the priestly ministry of Christ — an ambition which seemed beyond hope at this point, considering the critical financial obstacles that stood in the way. But Beppi characteristically placed his whole trust in the Blessed Mother and prayed fervently for what would require nothing less than a minor miracle to enable his entering the seminary. The miracle came. The future pope was granted a free scholarship — a rare and very selective blessing in those days — to the Tours Campion College of the Seminary of Padua.
A Priest according to the Order of Melchisedech
It was 1850 when Giuseppe Sarto at the age of fifteen entered the seminary, brimming with joy and wondrous anticipation of the career he was beginning. Beppi’s parish priest Don Tito Fusarini, who helped to make the boy’s dream a reality, said of his spiritual charge on that occasion, “He has the noblest heart in this land.” His joy, however, was soon interrupted by a tragedy that once again threatened his sacerdotal vocation. The seminarian had heard no word of it at Padua, yet mystically he knew that his father suddenly had fallen gravely ill, when he tearfully approached the Director requesting leave to return home. After only four days of illness — on the same day his last child was born — the senior Sarto passed away, leaving his wife and family more impoverished than ever. It was apparent the Beppi would now have to go to work.
But that courageous and saintly mother, Margherita Sarto, well knew it was as much the will of Divine Providence that Beppi should become a priest as it was that her beloved husband should be taken away at this most difficult time. Further trusting to the same Providence for the means to support the family, therefore, she insisted that her son promptly return to the seminary. Obediently, though painfully, he did so, all the more strengthened by this experience, and he grew mightily in wisdom and sanctity.
Again he surpassed all others in the various studies throughout his years in the seminary. Remarking on that period in Beppi’s life, his superior at Padua stated: “In all the eight years he has passed at the Seminary, Sarto left nothing to be desired. He was a constant example of sincerity, piety and conduct. I often pray that God will multiply men of his stamp in our Seminaries.” In September of 1857, he received subdeaconate orders; five months later, those of deacon. Then on September 18, 1858, at the age of twenty-three, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was, by a special papal dispensation, ordained to the eternal order of the priesthood eight months short of the minimum age required by canon law. The following day — significantly on the feast of the Mother of Sorrows — he celebrated his first Mass.
It was many years later when His Holiness Pope Pius X paternally counseled his bishops, saying: “A holy priest makes a holy people, and a priest who is not holy is not only useless, he is harmful to the world.” However, Giuseppe Sarto clearly possessed that wisdom in its fullness when, a month after ordination, he set off to serve as curate in the parish of Tombolo. The lively farming village had a reputation for sinfulness, and its ailing pastor, Don Antonio Costantini, was in no condition to reform the evils by himself. Don Beppi was an ideal choice to assist in that task. Shortly after his arrival, he wrote to his mother, “I shall like it here because the people are mostly poor, and I always lived among the poor, and I am poor myself. I will understand them, and they will understand me.” Indeed, understanding and practicing poverty made him well fitted to give Tombolo the kind of “holy priest” he would later prescribe from the papal chair.
Swearing was almost a culture among the illiterate townsfolk. So Father Sarto presented a shrewd bargain: “Stop swearing” in return for his teaching them to read and write. The crude habit quickly stopped and the young cleric happily found himself busy conducting a night school. But more than this, his exemplary devotion to the parishioners soon brought heavy demands on his time — especially in the confessional — since many were now encouraged freely to seek spiritual assistance and to return to the sacraments. Giuseppe was, in effect, the only priest on duty; and yet he did the work not merely of two clerics, but rather of ten, thus earning the nickname “Perpetual Motion.” Then too, though quite poor himself, no one who came to Don Beppi seeking charity was ever refused. Often his sister, who kept house for him, would scold the curate for giving in such excess that he deprived himself, to which he would answer: “Rosa, we are not born to eat, but to work and labor.” And that he did unsparingly. He allowed himself only four hours of sleep; the rest of the day was given to work and prayer.
Tombolo loved its young curate for his immeasurable generosity and devotion. But his power in the pulpit was equally as captivating. Don Sarto disdained two types of sermons: The slovenly, improvised, hit-or-miss kind on one hand; and on the other, the kind rendered by pompous orators with a consuming ambition some day to hear their thundering verbiage issued from beneath a miter and booming off the walls of a famous cathedral. Giuseppe’s singular ambition at all times was to win souls for Christ. Hence he took great pains in preparing his sermons, which, while delivered with unaffected eloquence, were always, clear, comprehensible, and compelling in doctrine. It was primarily his reputation as a preacher that led to his appointment as pastor of the parish of Salzano.
The people of Salzano were just as poor as those of Tombolo, and in most respects just as needy of a holy priest’s care. Only here there were twice as many parishioners. Father Sarto, therefore, determined that commensurately he must double his labors — however this was to be possible. Comments to the effect that he was trying to do too much were dismissed with this stock reply: “The priest is a man obliged to work hard; ‘priest’ and ‘hard work’ are synonyms.”
Every need of his flock was seen to with as much love and care as the Good Shepherd Himself would have shown, were He to walk the streets of Salzano. A cholera epidemic struck in 1873, for example, to which the saintly pastor responded with heroic personal sacrifice. Monsignor Marchesan relates a typical incident that was repeated many times over: “Once Don Sarto…went to the farthest point of his parish to accompany a corpse to the church…There were only three men, including the sacristan, on hand to carry the corpse, a four-man job. Don Giuseppe took in the situation, intoned the De profundis, and then, in surplice and stole just as he was, became the fourth pallbearer.” The future pontiff himself was extremely weak at the time, having severely overtaxed his strength by serving endless hours as priest, doctor, and undertaker throughout the terrible ordeal. “He was everybody’s servant and look at the result-skin and bones!” For he often went without eating just to feed others. His door was always open, day or night, and he would not hesitate to give away his fuel or food to needy callers. The housekeeper lamented, “He never thinks of himself; he can’t say ‘no’ to anyone!”
One chronicler writes: “He even performed wonders, true miracles, to help the poor. A fire would be extinguished at his work of command and insects devouring the vine would vanish as the result of his prayer.” It is not surprising, then, that he was called “Don Santo”.
To gauge by Don Beppi’s ceaseless charity, one would think he possessed the comforts of a nobleman, But he managed such holy extravagance only by becoming the local pawnbroker’s foremost client. When the bishop called at Salzano, he chided the saint: “You will not be satisfied until you have pawned the thurible. To keep you from other follies, I shall make you a canon of my cathedral.”
From Priest to Pontiff
The new appointment was not decided so lightly as it was announced. Not only does a canon, given the title of Monsignor, merit a high priestly dignity, but in this instance the office carried enormous responsibilities with it. For at the same time, Beppi also became Spiritual Director and a teaching professor of the diocesan seminary, Chancellor of Treviso, and Vicar-General, not to mention his acting unofficially as prelate owing to Bishop Zinelli’s bad health, And as may be guessed, he performed each duty as if it were his most important one, though indeed he had especial concern for the proper spiritual formation of his seminarians, knowing the pernicious doctrines and subversive philosophies were gaining wider currency amongst the clergy. “I ask you, there,” he said, “to remember the words of the Apostle: ‘Walk carefully, that our ministry be not blamed;’ let our actions be such that our enemies shall find nothing in us worthy of reproach.”
As always, it was long hours and wholehearted dedication that made it possible for this outstanding priest to meet so many great responsibilities. A cleric whose room adjoining the canon’s would call out, on hearing Giuseppe moving about late in the night: “Go to bed, Monsignor. He works ill who works too long.” “Quite true, Don Francesco,” would come the response. “Put that into practice; go to bed and sleep well.” As if he were not already doing far more than enough, Monsignor Sarto chose to give up his evening walk — his only recreation — so that he personally could prepare young boys at the school for their First Holy Communion. The vice-rector, concerned that the holy man was overworking himself, begged him to leave the task for staff workers who had more time. “It is my duty,” countered the Monsignor. “Am I not their spiritual father?” So loving a father was he that, fearing the cold Treviso winters, he had warm cloaks made for the poorer students, paying for them out of his own pocket and enjoining the merchant to keep the matter a secret.
Whether resolving intricate administrative matters or helping a seminarian with a personal problem, Monsignor Sarto’s demeanor was ever that of a humble priest, obediently meeting the obligations charged to him. What is more, he refrained from wearing the customary purple cassock and pectoral cross of the canon, preferring instead to wear — as he did all his life — the simple garb of a priest. For that office by itself was to Giuseppe Sarto a supreme dignity.
In September of 1884, Beppi was summoned unexpectedly by Monsignor Apollonio, then bishop of Treviso. “Let us kneel before the Blessed Sacrament,” bade His Excellency, “and pray about a matter which concerns us both intimately.” Upon rising from prayer, the bishop handed his bewildered chancellor a letter. As he read it, that stalwart priest who at all other times confronted every kind of matter with calmness and resolute strength now wept like a child. The communication brought word that Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto had been nominated to the bishopric of Mantua. Claiming to be utterly incompetent and wholly unworthy of such a trust, he made every effort to be withdrawn from the nomination, going even so far as to write to Rome in the conviction that the Pope had been mistaken in his judgment of him. His arguments naturally were not accepted. Instead, Pope Leo XIII was only more confident of his selection, later stating: “If the people of Mantua do not love their new pastor, they are incapable of loving anyone, for Monsignor Sarto is the most lovable of bishops.” Giuseppe was consecrated in Rome on November 18, 1884, the local feast of Our Lady of Mantua, and left about two weeks later to assume the vacant see. About this time at a city within that diocese, two men, sharing a railroad compartment with two clerics, were privately speculating in idle conversation about their new bishop, who in those parts was altogether unknown. As much as had been heard of him was that most of his career had been spent as a country priest, and obviously, the gentlemen agreed, this was hardly sufficient experience for the spiritual shepherd of so important a diocese. One of the priests riding with them then joined the conversation, not only endorsing the apprehensions about the prelate, but enlarging their doubts by very capably describing the qualities that were necessary in a good bishop. This priest was the first to leave the carriage, and as the other was disembarking, the gentlemen inquired of him, “Who is that delightful priest?” Capitalizing on an amusing situation, the hitherto silent cleric responded with premeditated affection, “Monsignor Sarto, Bishop-elect of Mantua!”
On the day of his solemn entry into the city of Mantua, Giuseppe presented his policy to his flock in these words: “Your new bishop, the poorest of all, have but one ambition — to see all the children under his care united in one large, happy family, in the shelter of which their souls shall be safe. For the well-being of souls I shall consider no sacrifice too great, and have nothing more at heart than your salvation. I know that for the salvation of my little flock I shall have to bear great difficulties, encounter dangers, bear insults, and struggle against the foe who seeks its ruin. But my people will find me ever at my post, always meek and full of charity.”
Indeed, they did, too. For he promptly returned to his ways as a country pastor, always ready with alms for the needy and wares for the pawnbroker. More often than not, the door of the bishop’s home was opened to callers of whatever station, and regardless of the hour, by Monsignor Sarto himself.
Nor was the bishop exaggerating the dangers and difficulties he would encounter. The diocese was in a horrible state. For an indication of this, consider that of the thirty thousand inhabitants of Mantua, ten thousand — one third — were Jews.(This, in a near totally Catholic country.) Moreover, Freemasons, Socialists, and murderous bands of revolutionaries, having formed an unholy alliance, had gained and held without challenge the reins of governmental power. In their contemptuous hatred for the Church, they had choked much of the religious reverence out of the people, both by force of intimidation and by dissemination of false and insidious doctrines.
The effects of this situation were manifested among the clergy as well as the laity. “Can you imagine,” Giuseppe wrote to another bishop after visiting one parish, “that in a parish of three thousand souls there were only forty women at the Bishop’s Visitation Mass, of whom only eight receive Holy Communion, and at the Christian Doctrine instruction only a hundred children with same number of curious onlookers? And the man who presides over the parish wants me to believe that things are not as bad as I suggest!” The exceptionally holy shepherd was perceptive enough to realize that not even the evil forces prevailing within his see could so quench spiritual life in the people unless their priests were culpably negligent. He saw his approach to remedying the critical condition, therefore, along two courses, both of which met at the point of priesthood.
The first was to improve the spiritual lives of all priests in the Mantuan diocese and to restore in them a worthiness of their sacred office. This he began by letters and exhortations: “A priest must bring his every action, every step, every habit into harmony with the sublimity of his vocation. The priest who at the altar celebrates eternal mysteries, assumes, as it were, a divine form; this he must not relinquish when he descends from the High Mount and departs from the Temple of the Lord. Wherever he is, or in whatever work he engages, he must never cease to be a priest, accompanied by the dignity, gravity and decorum of a priest. He must, therefore, be holy; he must be saintly, so that his words and work express his love, impress his authority, and command respect. Exterior dignity is more powerful than eloquent words…. On the other hand, if he forgets the dignity of his character, if he does not show in his exterior comportment more gravity than seculars, he incurs the displeasure of those very people who applaud his levity but are not slow to despise both him and what he stands for.”
But words, the saint knew, were insufficient without actions to reinforce them. In large part, the actions were implemented through personal example that sometimes was calculated to produce mild embarrassment. To illustrate, not infrequently did it happen that a parish priest, given to the bad habit of rising late and thus neglecting the confessional before Mass, would come to his church and find in sheer horror that the bishop had arrived there hours earlier and was hearing confessions in his stead. In a similar manner Bishop Sarto often made the rounds of the sick and dying late at night, to hear their confessions and console these poor souls. Afterwards he would politely but effectively correct a local pastor for overlooking this responsibility by asking him to be good enough to bring Holy Viaticum to the same bedridden parishioners. There was also an instance when two priests, held in unpleasant report, were summoned to the bishop’s residence. When they arrived, Giuseppe asked them to join him for a ride to discuss certain matters. Before they knew it they were at the door of a Franciscan Friary. It was no small shock to them when Bishop Sarto presented his riding companions to a friar, saying: “Father, here are two of my priests who are very anxious to make a spiritual retreat, as they have not made one for a long time!”
The saintly apostle took his most significant step towards clerical reform by convening a synod — the first one held in Mantua in more than two centuries — to enable priests “to learn what is necessary for the good of the souls entrusted to them.” Over two hundred ecclesiastics attended the conferences, which proved to be eminently successful.
Giuseppe now could pursue with full confidence that other course necessary for correcting conditions in Mantua. His objective in this endeavor was to restore in the laity a lively devotion to the Faith and a worthy esteem for the priesthood. By the example he portrayed through his own goodness and sanctity, the task was easily accomplished. For the Mantuans quickly had come to love their bishop as dearly as had the people of Tombolo and Salzano when he was a priest in those towns.
Pearl of the Sacred College
Pope Leo had been keenly attentive to the remarkable reforms worked in Mantua and was especially mindful of them in 1891, when a successor to the late Cardinal-Patriarch of Venice had to be chosen. Everyone who knew Bishop Sarto was certain he would be nominated — everyone, that is, but the humble bishop. Nevertheless, poor Giuseppe had cause for weeping once more when the letter arrived from Rome. And again as before, he could only confess his unworthiness, saying the nomination left him “anxious, terrified, and humiliated.” The Red Hat was conferred upon the pious pontiff at Rome on June 15, 1893, along with the honorary title of Patriarch of Venice.
Don Beppi served nine years at each station of his ecclesiastical life — as a curate, as pastor, as canon, as bishop, and as cardinal — prior to his papal reign, thus uniquely having held every office in the hierarchy of the Church. With each new elevation this venerable servant, who always described himself as “a simple priest” and cherished that dignity above all others, increasingly distinguished himself through his rare sanctity, noble achievements, and courageous defense of the Faith against the most evil and powerful enemy ever to attack it. And so it was that Providence raised Giuseppe Sarto to the Sacred College of Cardinals, where he was to be fully tempered and finally proved for the greatest role of his epic career.
Actually the future pope was a cardinal in title for ten years, but had to remain in Mantua for eighteen months before he could take possession of the diocese of Venice. For the fires of adversity already were blazing furiously when he was chosen for the vacant see. The foe was quite familiar to Cardinal Sarto, as he constantly had confronted its forces on a smaller scale throughout his episcopate at Mantua. It was anticlerical masonry, which by now was the dominant power both in the national government under Crispi (a Grand Master of Italian Masons) and in the local government of Venice. The Crispi government claimed the right to nominate the Patriarch, and therefore spitefully obstructed Giuseppe from taking residency by withholding its Exequator (civil right of approval). In the meantime, the city government was only too happy to have this pretext to show its contempt for the Church by lending its full cooperation in confiscating all diocesan revenues. On September 5, the feast of Saint Laurence Justinian, the first Patriarch of Venice, the Exequator was finally granted. That evening the church bells of Venice began ringing — by themselves!
The Masons for years had been waging a relentless war on the Church in Italy, making use of such militant fanatics and revolutionaries as Socialists, Communists, and the Carbonari to do much of their evil handiwork for them. Veiling their insidious designs behind the subtle and elusive doctrine of Rationalism and Liberalism, they passed laws forbidding religious teaching in the schools. Charity was “laicized,” meaning state socialism or, more aptly, legal extortion. And, in short, everywhere and in all phases of life God and religion were being replaced by Naturalism and its unholy cult of worship called Reason.
Cardinal Sarto summarized the appalling state, in terms equally well suited to the present day, as follows: “God is driven out of politics by this theory of the separation of Church and state. He is driven out of learning by systematized doubt; from art by the degrading influence of realism; from law by a morality which is guided by the senses alone; from the schools by the abolition of religious instruction; from the Christian marriage, which they want to deprive of the grace of the sacrament; from the cottage of the poor peasant, who disdains the help of Him Who alone can made his hard life bearable; from the palaces of the rich, who no longer fear the eternal Judge Who will one day ask from them an account of their stewardship….We must fight this great contemporary error, the enthronement of man in the place of God. The solution of this, as of all other problems, lies in the Church and the teaching of the Gospel.”
His Eminence was prompt to take up this fight personally. In his first pastoral letter to the Venetians, he began by identifying the faceless enemy within — that is, those nominal Catholics who, having little or no real faith in the Church’s teaching infallibility, would try to compromise her eternal values and principles so as to make them compatible with “Modern” science and knowledge: “Let priests be on their guard against accepting any doctrines of the Liberalism which under the pretext of good, aims at effecting a reconciliation between right and wrong….Liberal Catholics are wolves in sheep’s clothing; and therefore the true priest is bound to unmask them, and to disclose to the people entrusted to his care their dangerous snares and evil designs.” He added, “The whole body of society is sick; all of its noble parts are affected, the very sources of life have been tainted. The one refuge, the one remedy is in the Pope.” Never did he suspect that he soon would serve to provide that refuge and that, in his capacity as Pope, one of his remedies would be to require all priests in the world to take an oath against Modernism, which requirement tragically as been dispensed with in recent years.
The future Pius X, as we have seen, did not rest on mere rhetoric. He was a fighter whose actions spoke even louder then his words, and his adversaries soon were recognizing him as “the cardinal with the mailed fist in the velvet glove.” In Venice, as in Mantua, he was convinced the that proliferation of Masonically conceived subversive ideologies was successful only because of the failure of the clergy to oppose them. The truth is that many priests themselves were imbued with the Modernist spirit. If, then, Venice was to be rid of the conspiratorial enemies of God in its midst, the advocates of their perfidious doctrines first would have to be driven out of the Church.
“He began by sending a rousing letter to the priests,” relates Father McAuliffe, “in which he enunciated the fact that ignorance of Christian teaching is the greatest enemy of the Faith….” For there was, in Cardinal Sarto’s words, “too much preaching” on secular and social matters, frequently inspired by erroneous ideologies, “and too little teaching.” He insisted that simple, clear catechetical instruction be given regularly to young and old alike, in the schools and from the pulpits, and that this duty take major preference. “The people are thirsting for truth; give them what they need for their souls’ health, for this is the first duty of a priest.”
Next he focused on the seminary. A number of professors were promptly dismissed and replaced by teachers untainted by theories of Naturalism and Socialism. Courses of social studies were added to the curriculum “to meet the sophistries of the demagogues of political liberalism.” Giuseppe himself devoted much time to instructing the students. He also set up regular conferences for all the clergy. Finally, in the face of blasphemous demonstrations by Masonic lodges and their associated secret societies, he inaugurated an imposing International Eucharistic Congress to make reparation for the sacrileges against Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, whence all the life of the Church must flow.
The Patriarch, furthermore, took a direct interest in those social issues in which the people were being seriously misled. Again we quote Father McAuliffe: “Alert to the menace of Socialism, and its affinity to Communism, he warned the working people of its dangers. He was ever ready to meet the inherent challenge to the Faith. He….went into the factories and workshops, and there exposed the false principles of the agitator.” And where labor grievances — the fodder for Socialists and Communists — were found to be legitimate, he lent his influence to have them corrected in a morally proper and fair manner. A true father to his congregation, Giuseppe organized a savings bank, hospital projects, and mutual benefit societies. But above all, he taught the people self-respect and gave them a sense of dignity for their laboring class.
The well-known Sarto charity, too, was ever at work — in such great measure, in fact, that he had to write to a needy priest, “I am sorry that I cannot give you more help than this small offering. When I was in Mantua I was poor, but now I am a beggar.”
The Venetians in their turn increasingly came to love this holy prince of the Church and returned his magnanimous goodness by their reawakened devotion to the Faith. Moreover, they rallied strongly behind his moral guidance and drove the Masons and the Socialists from office in the elections of 1895.
As in all earlier times in his sacerdotal life, the eminent Patriarch continued to portray the quiet personal profile of Don Beppi, fulfilling the same duties as a common curate by hearing confessions, bringing Holy Viaticum to the sick, conducting retreats, and visiting the hospitals and prisons. He still traveled about, concealing his high rank behind the unpretentious everyday dress of an ordinary priest. How typical of his humility is the incident involving a visiting friend, who asked if he might celebrate an early Mass in the Cardinal’s private chapel so that he could catch a train the next morning. His Eminence to the friend, “I will see that all is ready for you.” When morning came the priest was astonished to find the preparations for his Mass being made by the Cardinal himself. “But who will serve?” asked the celebrant. Giuseppe casually replied, “I will.” “But Eminence!” stammered the priest, blushing at the suggestion. To ease his guest’s embarrassment, the Patriarch facetiously retorted, “What! Do you think that a prelate of my rank does not know how to serve Mass? A fine idea you have of the princes of the Church!”
Pope Leo was never disappointed in his great expectations for the Patriarch of Venice. It was he who described Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto as “the Pearl of the Sacred College.” Nor was he rendering empty flattery, for he privately intimated on several occasions that he believed the self-described “country curate,” who was hardly known outside northern Italy, would be elected to succeed him on the Throne of Peter.
The Reluctant Pope
Pope Leo XIII once given a most terrifying vision wherein he beheld Satan and his agents soon to be reigning triumphantly over the world. The Holy Father died a short time later, on July 20, 1903. On that mournful occasion Cardinal Sarto, knowing of the unequaled evils of the times to come, said that the Church must choose only a very holy man for her next pope, and he urged Venice to “pray that God may send to His Church a Shepherd after His own Heart.”
The prayers were answered, though hardly in the way that the Patriarch expected — or wanted. God, however, did send one of the greatest and holiest supreme pontiffs in history — only the second pope in five hundred years to be canonized a saint.
Pius X is called “the reluctant Pope” because few have so strongly resisted the call to succeed the Prince of the Apostles as he. Did he do so out of humility? Yes, of course. But true humility in a saint is a practical virtue, not an empty social mannerism. Giuseppe Sarto knew what tremendous ordeals and sorrows would befall the next Roman Pontiff, and as the conclave votes increasingly mounted in his favor, he vigorously protested, claiming to be an “unworthy and incompetent” candidate. The holy prelate was dissuaded only by Cardinal Ferrari’s sobering suggestion of a worse fate in refusing: “Go back to Venice, if you wish, but until your dying day you will be plagued with qualms of conscience.” Giuseppe finally resigned himself to the inevitable and declared, “I accept the Pontificate as a cross.” For days after the election he could not restrain the tears welling up from his profoundly sad and humble heart. This great agony that he willingly accepted with the Papacy, thereby becoming a saint, cannot be fully understood, however, without some awareness of the little-known background of those forces that met in collision impact against his stormy Pontificate.
In the Eighteenth Century two groups ranked foremost amongst the enemies of Catholicism: The Masons, and the so-called “free-thinking philosophers.” The Masons were bonded together in their wicked conclaves by a covetousness of the Church’s supreme authority in the world and a determination to destroy her. So too with the “free-thinkers” — men like Rousseau, Voltaire, Frederick the Great, and others, whose degenerate doctrines had been condemned by the infallible Guardian of Truth — who likewise shared a consuming hatred of the Catholic Faith. “It must be destroyed by a hundred invisible hands,” they brazenly proclaimed. “It is necessary that the philosophers should course through the streets to destroy it, as its missionaries course over the earth to propagate it. . . . Let us crush the wretch!”
The very worst of these elements later were welded into a much stronger, rigidly unified, and infinitely more ambitious force, thus producing the greatest menace of all time both to the Church and society. By its earliest identity, it was known as the Order of Illuminati (Enlightened Ones). It was founded on May 1, 1776 — the original May Day now celebrated as the central holiday of the Communist empire — by Adam Weishaupt, an apostate Catholic, whose genius for evil seems to have been inspired directly by the fallen Angel of Light himself, Lucifer. Weishaupt’s diabolical plan was to tear down all existing forms of government and order, to abolish all “religious superstition,” and to replace them with a universal tyranny he called the “New World Order”: “These powers [priests and princes] are despots, when they do not conduct themselves by its [the Order’s] principles; and it is our duty to surround them with its members….We must do our utmost to procure the advancement of Illuminati into all important offices.” And he added, “By this plan we shall direct all mankind. In this manner, and by the simplest of means, we shall set all in motion and in flames.”
Weishaupt never had any intention of competing with Masonry in that regard. On the contrary, because its secretive structure was tailor-made for his designs, he wanted to take it over. And that is exactly what he did, by infiltrating key influential positions of Masonic ranks with his own agents. Masonry by this time had spread like a vaporous plague across Europe and much of America. When its international convention, called the Congress of Wilhelmsbad, was held in 1782, “Illuminated Freemasonry” was unanimously acclaimed as the only “pure” Masonry. The Order of the Illuminati thereby took control of Masonic lodges and their associated secret societies through the western world, and used them as the principal means of advancing the Order’s conspiratorial network into every sphere and activity of life.
The undiminished ambitions and successes of this satanic force for over two centuries make for a horrifying study in themselves. We can catch some tiny glimpse of it, and at the same time shatter the fatal fantasy of Masonry’s being just another “benevolent fraternity,” through the incredibly bold and candid Letter to the Sovereign Pontiff, written in 1937 by Albert Lantoine, a thirty-third degree Mason who proposed a “truce,” if not a reconciliation, between the Church and Freemasonry. Here are some of his random remarks: “We are freethinkers–you are believers.” “Freemasonry seeks to exalt man; the Church to exalt God.” “We are the servants of Satan. [He later corrected himself: “I should have said; servants of Lucifer.’”] You, the guardians of truth, are the servants of God.” “…Your God cannot pardon the Rebellious Angel, and that Angel will never submit or renounce his dominion. But need we remain enemies?” [!] “Lenin has fulfilled the hope sown by the Son of Man.” [!!]
But for the scope of these pages we are concerned only with those events that relate to the Church. The Illuminati found great advantage in fomenting violent insurrections such as, and beginning with, the French Revolution in 1789. The same terrorists began in 1791 to confiscate the papal States. In 1797 they invaded Italy. The following year Napoleon, having been raised to power by the conspirators, seized all the Papal States, and Pope Pius VI was taken captive. These vile enemies of the Faith “were already rejoicing that the Papacy and the Church had come to an end” when the captive Pontiff died. The their dismay, in 1800 Pius VII was elected — in exile. the Papal States were recovered, but only for a time. Meanwhile, the seizure of the other ecclesiastical properties went on. Terrorist activities were renewed in 1830 during the brief Pontificate of Pius VIII. And throughout most of the Nineteenth Century the revolutionaries and secret societies — including Socialists, the Carbonari, Circulo Romano, and “Young Italy” — continued their vicious assaults on the popes, who served as the focal point for inciting hatred of the old order standing in the way of “democracy.” None, however, suffered more than Pius IX. Bloody insurrections exploded again during his reign. The Papal States were finally seized forever. His prime minister and a papal prelate were brutally murdered. The Pope himself was forced to flee from Rome in disguise to escape death. And once more the radicals were openly boasting that they had at last annihilated the Catholic Church through the Papacy.
The advantages of revolution to those arch-conspirators who fostered it were many. Not the least of these was that it drew suspicion away from their primary means of amassing power in their hands — that being the quiet infiltration of their agents into the most important levels of influence and authority. And this method of subversion, once begun, was never interrupted.
The most important seat of authority, of course, is the Church, which “Illuminated Masons” knew could not be destroyed from without. Adam Weishaupt formulated the only feasible strategy: “We will infiltrate that place [the Vatican] and once inside we will never come out. We will bore from within until nothing remains but an empty shell.” He was so boldly confident of his designs that he mused: “I have so contrived things that I would admit even Popes…and they would be glad to be of the Order.” The Illuminati and their successors thereafter were determined to install an “enlightened Pontiff” on the Papal throne.
The learned scholar Monsignor Join was alert to the impending success of their monstrous scheme, when Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, who was later discovered to have a close affinity with the French Masons and who Jouin was certain belonged to a lodge, entered the conclave of 1903 favored with sufficient popularity to become the next Pope. Jouin implored Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria to use his archaic — yet seemingly still valid — power of veto to block Rampolla. It is clear that the Emperor was in no way pleased in having to interfere with the sacred function of a papal election. Yet it seemed to him an unescapable task.
The conclave of sixty-two cardinals was sealed off in the Vatican on July 31. At the first scrutiny Cardinal Rampolla led with twenty-four ballots; Cardinal Sarto, unknown to most of the Scared College, had only five — the fewest number of votes of any of the candidates. The second scrutiny increased Rampolla’s votes to twenty-nine, and it was then the Cardinal Puzyna conveyed the Austrian Emperor’s intention to use his veto. (This obviously was the most respectable manner Franz Joseph could find to pursue his unhappy duty.) Rampolla rose quickly and with skill to stir the indignation of the conclave, saying, “I thoroughly deplore this serious blow aimed by a civil power at the dignity of the Sacred College and at the liberty of the Church in choosing its Head, and therefore I protest with the utmost vehemence.” None of the cardinals knew the reason for the intended veto, of course, and so the sentiment was widely supported. Nevertheless, Austria was the one daughter of the Church still faithful to her, and this also had to be considered. Rampolla’s ballots did increase, but only out of protest, only briefly and only one vote before they diminished.
Meanwhile the votes for Cardinal Sarto grew — all the more so as the humble soul tearfully begged that he not be considered any further. Bishop Merry del Val tells of discovering Giuseppe in the darkened chapel, praying and weeping profusely before the tabernacle, some time after the fourth balloting when it was apparent that the Patriarch might be elected. “Never shall I forget the impression produced upon me by the sight of such intense anguish….I felt I had been in the presence of a saint.”
The Sacred College disregarded Giuseppe’s pleas, and on the fifth scrutiny chose him to be the Vicar of Christ. When finally persuaded to accept the election as the will of God, he was asked what name he would take. Reflecting on the recent past and on the trials he knew to lie ahead, he answered: “As the Popes who have suffered much for the Church in the last century have been known as Pius, I too shall take that name.”
“Instaurare Omnia in Christo”
His Holiness Pope Pius X issued his first encyclical letter on October 4, 1903, recalling “with what tears and urgent prayers” he had tried “to fend off the formidable burden of the Papacy.” “We were terrified beyond all else,” He explained, “by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society at the present time, more than in any age past, is suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady, which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction?” One senses in these remarks a foreknowledge of World War I, which immediately was to follow the saint’s death, and the coming of still greater horrors, which were revealed at Fatima fourteen years later. “You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is: apostasy from God…”
His language becomes more prophetic: “All who consider these matters have a right to fear that such perversion of mind may be the beginning of the evils predicted for 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, may have already appeared in our midst. . .
“Without any doubt there is a desire in all hearts for peace….But how foolish is he who seeks this peace apart from God; for if God be driven out, justice is banished, and once justice fails, all hope of peace is lost. . .
“We know well that there are many who…unite together on the side of order, as they call it. Alas, their hopes are vain, their labours wasted! Only those can be on the side of order and have the power to restore calm in the midst of this upheaval, who are on the side of God…
“This return of nations to reverence for the Divine Majesty and Sovereignty, whatever other efforts may be made to bring it about, can only come through Jesus Christ….Now what is the way that will lead us to Jesus Christ? We have it before us: the Church. Behold, therefore, Venerable Brethren, the great work that is entrusted to Us, to Us and to you also. We have to bring back mankind, now straying far from the Wisdom of Christ, to obedience to the Church….”
By “the Church,” His Holiness did not mean some vague, unspecified entity, generally defined today by modern theologians as the boundless “spirit” of Christianity. when Bishop Delany of Manchester, New Hampshire, met in audience with Pius X, the Pope asked him how many Catholics there were in his diocese. “Their number is about one-third of the population,” the bishop replied. ‘You must strive to make the remaining two-thirds Catholics also,” said Pius, and “good Catholics” at that.
Thus the Shepherd of mankind set down in his first encyclical the goal he would pursue to his last breath: “The sole aim of Our Pontificate will be to restore all things in Christ (instaurare omnia in Christo).”
In this purpose the holy Pontiff’s efforts were directed before all else at restoring piety among the faithful — the same remedy he had used so often and so effectively in the past. And toward that end his most outstanding achievements followed from the two great devotions he sought to renew in increased measure.
One was to the Blessed Mother. The Golden Jubilee of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception provided Pius with the opportunity to urge this intensified devotion in his second encyclical, issued in 1904. The encyclical was as beautiful and inspiring as Saint Louis Marie de Montfort’s True Devotion to The Blessed Virgin. (In fact the language of both writings is strikingly similar, which is not surprising, since Saint Pius highly esteemed True Devotion and granted an Apostolic Blessing to all who read it.) His Holiness said, “There is no surer or easier way than Mary in uniting all men with Christ….It is necessary to recognize that upon Her, as upon the noblest after Christ, is built the faith of all ages….It is chiefly through Her that a way has been opened to obtain the knowledge of Christ; as no one ever knew so profoundly as She did, so no one can be more competent as a guide and teacher in knowing Christ.”
The other great devotion, by which to restore holiness in the faithful and thus “restore all things in Christ,” was to Christ Himself, in the Blessed Sacrament. Over the centuries the concern for safeguarding the sacredness of this precious Gift from irreverent reception or even sacrilegious abuse had led to certain prescribed limitations as to how often the Sacrament should be received. Unfortunately, by the turn of the present century, such caution, with the perverse influence of the still-surviving heresy of Jansenism had been so exaggerated as to give rise to the notion that frequent Communion was only for holy people. Many received the Holy Eucharist no more than once a year. Communion more frequent than once a week was allowed only by special permission, and at that only in select instances.
“Holy Communion is the shortest and surest way to Heaven,” said Saint Pius. “The custom of keeping the faithful away out of pretended respect for the august Sacrament had been the cause of numerous evils.” And so in 1905 he issued a decree: “Let Holy Communion, frequent and even daily, a thing so desired by Jesus Christ and His Church, be available to all the faithful of whatever condition of life they may be, so that it may never be denied to anybody who is in the state of grace and has a right intention.” A few weeks later he set forth further instruction: “It is necessary that children be nourished by Christ before they are dominated by their passions, so they can with greater courage resist the assaults of the devil, of the flesh, and their other enemies, whether internal or external.” For it regrettably was also a custom that children not be allowed to make their First Communion before the age of ten, twelve, or sometimes even fourteen, and then they usually would have to wait another year to receive Our Lord again. A second decree was issued, determining seven years as the average age for a child’s first reception of the Eucharist, although it could even be earlier in many cases. “Children from their tenderest years should cling to Jesus Christ, live His life, and find protection from the dangers of corruption.”
A woman once brought her little boy to receive the great Pope’s blessing. Pius asked, “How old is he?” And the mother answered, “He is four, and in two or three years I hope he will make his First Communion.” His Holiness then spoke to the child who had crept onto his lap: “Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?” Without hesitation the boy replied, “Jesus Christ.” “And who is Jesus Christ?” “Jesus Christ is God.” Needing no more assurance than that of the child’s sufficient use of reason, Pope Pius instructed his mother: “Bring him to me tomorrow and I will give him Holy Communion myself.”
Hundreds of First Communicants made pilgrimages to Rome to thank their beloved Holy Father for allowing them by his decree to receive Jesus as an early age. Saint Pius always welcomed them with tears in his eyes, embracing each one individually. Such was the Pontiff’s tender, Christlike love for children. And the little innocents, known for their sometimes amazing powers of discernment, loved him as much as if he himself were the Savior. When he would bend to them and offer a word of paternal guidance, some looking up into his gently and holy face would answer in touching simplicity, “Yes Jesus!” Indeed, was his majestic countenance unlike what might be imagined of the Beatific Vision?
Catholic Action was still another offensive strategy set in motion by the saintly apostle, to counter directly the snares of modern error and falsehood. The social and economic spheres were the areas where the Socialists, directed by the higher powers of Masonry, were making the greatest headway towards the destruction of civilization, with their treacherous lies about “liberty, equality, brotherhood, and peace.” So it was in those spheres that the Church would have to present herself, drive out Satan’s accomplices, and begin to guide society in all its endeavors back to Christ. “The field of Catholic Action is exceedingly vast: from it nothing whatsoever is excluded that in any way directly or indirectly pertains to the divine mission of the Church,” wrote Pope Pius. “There is no need to remind you. Venerable Brethren, what prosperity and well-being, what peace and concord, what respectful obedience to authority, what excellence in government might be obtained and maintained in the world, could we but realize the ideal of Christian civilization.”
But he did not fail to mention the insidious forces already arrayed to do battle against the Church in the same field: “The Church knows that the gates of hell will not prevail against her. She knows, too, that she will ever encounter opposition, that her apostles go forth as lambs among wolves, that her faithful will always encounter hatred and disdain, just as her Divine Founder encountered them in full measure. But the Church moves forward unafraid, and while she spreads the Kingdom of God to regions which have hitherto not known the Gospel she also strives to repair the losses in the Kingdom already established. To make all things new in Christ has ever been the watchword of the Church, as in a particular way it is Ours in the fateful moments through which We are now to give history its fulfillment by resuming everything in Him, all that is Heaven, all that is on earth, summed up in Him: to restore in Christ not only what properly pertains to the divine mission of the Church, in bringing souls to God, but also, as We have said, those things which spontaneously flow from this divine mission — Christian civilization in all and the single elements that make it up.
“In this second task the faithful laity must use all their forces to restore the social order, conscious of the necessity of rolling back the tide of ‘anti-Christian civilization,’ and of bringing Jesus Christ back to the family, the school, the whole of society….”
The Attack from Without
If the “son of perdition” had not “already appeared in our midst,” as Saint Pius X speculated in 1903, there is no question that his prophets were busy preparing for his arrival — and had been for a long time. The grieved Supreme Pastor looked out all through his Pontificate upon a world that was recklessly abandoning the security of proven traditions and moral values to pursue the false promises of utopian paradise. The consequence was that many countries soon were found teetering on the brink of tyranny.
Italy, for all intents and purposes, might have been regarded as a mere colony, annexed to France by Masons who controlled both nations. So tragic, in fact, was the degenerate state of Italy that even in Rome itself, the seat of all Christendom, a Jew named Ernesto Nathan, who thoroughly despised Catholicism, had been installed as Mayor. Every year, on the anniversary of the armed entry into Rome of that blasphemous and brutal thug, Garibaldi, Mayor Nathan celebrate the occasion by delivering public addresses in which he contemptuously heaped unlimited insults on the Church.
Saddest of all to the venerable Pontiff were those countries in which Catholics were being openly persecuted, such as Germany, Portugal, Ecuador, and Macedonia. Elsewhere, as in Mexico and Russia, the same affliction was visibly approaching, promising even crueler torments. These and other grave problems existing in so many separate countries weighed oppressively on poor Pius, who was said to have “the greatest heart of any man living,” and who was moved to tears by the very sight of suffering. But let us briefly recount just one situation that by itself characterizes the whole rising tide of human misery with which the noble Pope had to contend.
The government of France was held firmly in the grasp of Masons like a tyrannical noose which they were anxious to tighten. Since France was an almost totally Catholic nation, however, their biggest obstacle was the Church. For this reason they had long ago avowed that “the Church and religion must be shattered.” Arago, a French Senator, in 1876 burst out with this infamous blasphemy: “Get Thee hence, Crucified One, Who for 1800 years has held the world bound beneath Thy yoke. No more God, no more churches — we must crush the Infâme…. We must eliminate from French society all religious influence, under whatever form it presents itself.” Another prominent Mason said at the close of the Grand Orient’s general assembly in 1902, “Until we have completely done away with the religious congregations,…as long as we have not broken with Rome, denounced the Concordat, and re-established lay teaching definitely throughout this country, nothing will have been accomplished. This same apostle of “liberty” went on to add, “I drink to the Republic. For the Republic is simply Freemasonry emerged from its temples, as Freemasonry is the Republic masked by the aegis of our traditions and symbols.: He was joined on this occasion by a like-minded comrade: “The triumph of the Galilean [Christ] has lasted twenty centuries. He is dying in His turn. The mysterious voice which in olden days on the mountains of Epirus announced the death of Pan, today announces the end of the deceitful God.”
With the same such hateful antipathy holding sway, therefore, the following resolution was carried at a Masonic assembly: “It is the strict duty of a Freemason, if he is a member of Parliament, to vote for the suppression of the Budget des Cultes, for the suppression of the French embassy at the Vatican, and on all occasions to declare himself in favor of the separation of Church and State without abandoning the right of the State to police the Church.” Accordingly, French Premier Waldeck-Rousseau determinedly sought after a breach with Rome without actually taking that final step himself. Why his reluctance? Combes, who later was to succeed the Premier, explained to the Senate in 1903: “To denounce the Concordat just now, without sufficiently having prepared men’s minds for it, without provoking it and rendering it inevitable, would be bad policy on the part of the Government, by reason of the resentment which might be caused in the country. I do not say that the connection between Church and State will not some day be severed; I do not even say that that day is not near. I merely say that the day has not yet come.”
A series of measures were initiated, all calculated increasingly to provoke Saint Pius to rash retaliation, or otherwise to force him to cower before the might of the Masonic “Republic” for the sake of saving Church properties. In the latter instance, of course, since the socialistic dogma, “Private ownership is theft,” was widely accepted in France, the Pope would appear to fit the role contemptibly described by the anticlericals — that of a capitalistic theocrat, hoarding Church wealth which had been wrung from the proletariat.
And so the noose began to tighten, beginning with legislation that “laicized” school and State. The next step was the outlawing of the teaching of religion in the schools. Religious then were forbidden to teach anywhere in France. Furthermore, a law was enacted which provided that no Religious Order or Institute could exist unless approved by the government. Subsequently Church patrimony was seized. Religious Orders were suppressed and forced into exile. Bishops were denied contact with Rome. and the “Republic” demanded the prerogative of appointing its own bishops free of Rome’s interference.
The ultimate break was reached in 1905 with the Law of Separation of Church and State, nullifying the Napoleonic Concordat of 1802. The law established “Associations of Worship” whose function was to administer the property of churches. Very simply, it meant that the State set itself up as the supreme authority over the Church, confiscating all ecclesiastical property and reserving to itself the right to regulate all religious activities. If, then, Catholicism hoped to survive if France, it appeared that the Pope would have to submit — or rather surrender — to the usurped power of the Masonic regime.
With victory over the Church now seemingly imminent, and the way apparently clear for the total de-Christianization and subjugation of the country, the Masons were jubilant. “We have bound ourselves to the work of anti-clericalism, a work of irreligion,” boasted Viviani. “We have extinguished in the firmament lights which shall never be rekindled.”
But it was not to be. Saint Pius steadfastly refused to compromise with the government. “Our conscience would not permit Us to tolerate any form of experiment on this question in order to save the French Catholics from the dangers which threaten them.” In his encyclical, Vehementer, he condemned the theory of separation of Church and State as being “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….” Concerning the loss of ecclesiastical properties, he wrote to the French bishops: “The Church has not yielded up her right to these possessions. 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.”
By his firmness in an impossible situation, His Holiness not only saved the Faith in France, but revivified it through the immense admiration on the part of the French people for his courage and patience. He thereby roundly defeated the conspirators in their primary objective. Clemenceau, a Mason, as much as conceded this moral defeat when he said, “No one foresaw what resistance the Pope would show to the new law.”
The great Pontiff’s example in the French crisis served notice to the enemies of the Faith the world over. And in 1909, symbolically at the time of the beatification of Saint Joan of Arc, he verbally reiterated this warning, specifically addressing himself “to politicians who detect an enemy in the Church and therefore perpetually oppose her, to members of secret societies who with all the hatred inspired by Satan increasingly 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, civilization and intellectual progress….”
The Attack from Within
An infinitely greater danger than the open persecutions against the Church — and not unrelated in their origin — were the attacks on the Faith from within. Pope Pius spoke of both in his encyclical Communion rerum, in which he told how his heart bled continually because of the assaults on the Church, waged in an “internecine and domestic war, all the more perilous because it was unknown to most. Carried on by unnatural sons who hide in the bosom of the Church to wound her in silence, this war strikes more directly at the very roots, at the soul of the Church; its purpose is to muddy the springs of piety and Christian living, to poison the founts of doctrine, to corrupt the Deposit of Faith, to overturn the foundations of divine constitution, to mock all authority, whether of the Roman Pontiff or of the bishops, to give a new form to the Church, new laws, new tendencies, according to the pretensions of certain monstrous systems of thought, in short, to deform the beauty of the Souse of Christ by forcing upon her the empty glitter of a new culture, a pseudo-science.”
The perfidious war against the Faith by subversion was waged under the banner of Modernism, described by the Pope as “the seed-plot of errors and perdition” which “broods like a poison in the bowels of modern society, alienated from God and from His Church.”
What is Modernism? It is a dogmatic medium for the “humanitarian tendency of contemporary society — the ambition to eliminate God from all social life,” says one writer. It “is denial of God and His Christ in their living reality, to be replaced by replicas which it can adore without needing to leave the self or submit to any other person,” says another. More specifically, it “is an organized and methodic skepticism of thought in the matter of Scripture, Theology and Church History,” as our own Sister Catherine summarized it.
Giordani explains Modernism as an ostensible “desire to modernize the Church, as if it had become senile, adapting Catholicism to the needs — intellectual, moral, and social — of the new times; or as declared in the Program of the Modernists (answering the encyclical Pascendi), it was the desire to live in union with Christians and Catholics who had adopted the spirit of the epoch: a desire to emancipate the faithful from ecclesiastical authority, science form dogma, the State from the Church, the heart from the head….” And he says the inevitable result would be to make of Catholicism “a sort of Protestantism: a mere noisy religious opinion, to be modified from generation to generation, to be changed from person to person, resolving itself at length into a system of natural ethics.”
To be still more specific, Modernism was inspired by the “free-thought” philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who actually coined its very name. It was institutionalized by the Subjectivism of Immanuel Kant. But it was germinated and nurtured like a deadly fungus on the body of the Church by the same “enlightened” disciples of Lucifer who long have contrived to “infiltrate that place” and to “bore from within until nothing remains but an empty shell.”
The subtlety of Modernism is that under the presumptuous guise of bringing “Reason” to the Faith, it provided the means by which to compromise that infallible Faith with condemned heresies — to “reconcile truth with falsehood,” as Saint Pius observed. Hence he described it not as a mere heresy itself, but as “the synthesis and poison of all heresies which tend to undermine the fundamentals of the Faith and to annihilate Christianity.”
Despite repeated stern warnings from the holy Bishop of Rome, the heretical poison continued to spread, particularly amongst the clergy. And so he issued the decree Lamentibili on July 3, 1907, condemning sixty-five erroneous propositions taken from the writings of the arch-Modernist, Alfred Loisy. One learned scholar writes: “It arrived as a thunderbolt. That…. August the Modernists had the audacity to gather at Molveno in the Trentino to organize their resistance… They protested their innocence to the Pope in an open letter entitled ‘That which we wish.’ But in secret they decided to cloak their revolt by remaining within the Church, to help her evolve according to their plans.”
Pius, however, well knew the treachery of his enemies and was not to be fooled. In September of that same year, he intervened even more solemnly by issuing his famous encyclical Pascendi, a lengthy and masterly exposition of the heretics, their false principles, and their evil purposes: “…Through pride the Modernists have overestimated themselves. They are puffed up with the vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and, elated with presumption, makes them say, ‘We are not as the rest of men,’ and which leads them, lest they should seem as other men, to embrace and to devise novelties even of the most absurd kind. It is pride which …causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty. It is owing to their pride that they seek to be reformers of others while they forget to reform themselves.
“….These very men who pose as Doctors of the Church, who speak so highly of modern philosophy and show such contempt for Scholasticism, have embraced the one with its false glamour, precisely because their ignorance of the other has left them without the means of recognizing the confusion of their ideas and of refuting sophistry. Their system, replete with so many errors, has been born of the union between Faith and false philosophy.”
A storm of criticism and insult rained down on Christ’s holy Vicar after this final and inescapable condemnation of the heresy. Typical was this insolence from George Tyrell, a former Jesuit: “The Modernist movement had quickened a thousand dim dreams of reunion [with what? or whom?] into its enthusiastic hope, when lo! Pius X comes forward with a stone in one hand and a scorpion in the other.” Exemplifying the pompous arrogance for which they had been cited, other Modernists attempted to belittle the solemn condemnation by calling the Sovereign Pontiff, in his own humble words, a “country curate,” by which they meant to imply that he was no intellectual like themselves. The truth, of course, is that for all his humility Saint Pius was a brilliant theologian and philosopher, as Pascendi ably demonstrated. In fact, their having to stoop to base insults — many far worse than these — proves in itself that the Modernists were without any defense against this intellectual giant.
Pascendi is a literary monument to the splendid holiness, to the luminous wisdom, to the alert perspicacity, to the unflinching courage, to the uncompromising firmness and yet also the paternal gentleness — in short, to all the magnificent attributes of this contemporary Pope and Saint, whose disarmingly modest stature cast an awesome shadow on a worldwide battlefield. Brazen and determined enemies of the divinely founded Church, both within and without, who were emboldened by the very powers of hell, had unexpectedly met far more than a match for their sinister craftiness in the person of one soft-spoken little man, Giuseppe Sarto. Those within the Church were forced to retreat back into dark shadows, and the ugly contagion of their Modernism was arrested — at least for a time.
Reforming the Priesthood
But Pius knew that neither the devil nor his disciples ever rest — much less do they ever give up. With characteristic action, therefore, he moved positively against the lingering “atmosphere of poison,” focusing on the infected clergy. Recalcitrant Modernist priests were excommunicated, and the warning of like justice was directly conveyed to all — regardless of ecclesiastical rank — who entertained notions of defying the Holy Office in its condemnation. All priests were required to take an oath against Modernism. Moreover, the Pope issued his encyclical Pieni l’amina, in which he commanded the bishops to ordain only those whose discipline, obedience, and mental docility were completely assured. “You will have just the kind of priests you have educated,” he reminded them, and he ordered them to be particularly attentive to the seminaries: “Let bishops furthermore exercise the most scrupulous vigilance over professors and curricula, recalling to their duty any who might be inclined to follow dangerous novelty, and removing from teaching posts any who do not profit by admonitions given them…. Discipline in seminaries must be constant and vigilant….”
All his sacerdotal life, Giuseppe Sarto had regarded unholy priests as a menace and a main reason why so many evils were able to flourish in the world — even more so in recent times because of the many abuses of the sacred ministry. And so as Pope in 1908 he wrote his famed Exhortation to the Catholic Clergy, a spiritual formula urging those ancient prescriptions of the Church — prayer, meditation, the study of holy works, and other practices conducive to an interior life — as the means by which to acquire priestly sanctity. “The priest is not a man who can be good or bad just for himself alone; it is impossible to realize what an influence his manner and habit of living have on the faithful. A genuinely good priest is a treasure beyond compare!”
It is “interior holiness” that makes for a good priest: “If this holiness — the supereminent wisdom of Jesus Christ — is lacking in a priest, everything is lacking in him. Because — without holiness — a vast store of the finest learning (which We Ourselves are trying so hard to cultivate in priests), keenness and efficiency in management, while they may occasionally be of some service to the Church or to individual souls, are much more frequently the deplorable cause of harm to the Church and to souls. How much a priest, even the lowliest, can do if he be holy, how many salutary works he can conceive and accomplish for the benefit of the faithful, all this is evident from the experience of every age of the Church. Suffice it to recall the comparatively recent Curé d’Ars, John the Baptist Vianney, whom We Ourselves are happy to have declared Blessed.”
(It was most fitting that His Holiness should have cited as an example for priests the Curé d’Ars, who is now canonized and is the Patron Saint of the priesthood. But it was all the more fitting that Saint John Vianney, the country curate to whom this Pontiff had a great devotion, should have been beatified by Saint Pius X, another model priest who called himself a “simple country curate.”)
“In this connection the point of first importance is to spend a part of our time every day in meditation on things eternal. No priest can omit this meditation without being notably careless, without causing detriment to his soul.”
Consider the example of priests who are lax about meditation: “In them you see men in whom the sensus Christi, the inestimable treasure, has become dimmed; men entirely attracted to worldly things, followers of mere vanities, giving themselves over to frivolities; priests who treat sacred things remissly, coldly, perhaps even unworthily… Among these priests, however, who are loathe, or who neglect entirely to consider their heart, there are some who do not try to hide the poverty of their souls, but they excuse themselves with the pretext that they have given themselves over entirely to the duties of their ministry and are spending themselves for the good of others. As a matter of fact they are miserably mistaken. Unaccustomed as they are to speaking to God, when they talk of Him to men or try to teach men the counsels of a Christian life, they are utterly lacking in divine inspiration, so that in their mouth the word of God seems to be something that is almost dead. Their voice, no matter how renowned for prudence and eloquence, is not at all like the voice of the Good Shepherd, to which the sheep well hearken; it is but an empty vainglorious noise, at times productive of dangerous example, and not without detriment to religion and scandal to the faithful.”
The Broken Heart of a Saint
Pope Pius achieved magnificent reforms among the priesthood. In fact, he brought numerous practical reforms to many aspects of Church life: ecclesiastical music and art, Canon Law, the Breviary, the Roman Curia, the study of Sacred Scripture, among so much more. And certainly his most notable reform was in restoring to the faithful in a great measure the spirit of Christian piety which had been rapidly shrinking.
It would be very difficulty to account for all the splendid works of this loving Pastor of Christendom who labored and prayed tirelessly “to restore all things in Christ.” Nor would such an account, for that matter, really help us to know the true greatness of so saintly a Servant of the Servants of God. For that appreciation comes from knowing the man not as the Pope, but rather as a tremendously holy and fervent priest who merely obediently accepted that supreme duty. As his Secretary of State and closest friend, Cardinal Merry del Val, wrote, “He gave me the impression that in his private life, it required a definite act on his part and an almost positive effort to realize that he was the Supreme Pontiff, endowed with all the prerogatives of that great office.”
Heroic sanctity is a requisite for canonization. Giuseppe Sarto, like all other saints, did not consciously seek to be heroic. He merely wanted to be holy, and God rewarded him by providing the occasion for his heroism as Pope Pius X.
We see the beautifully glowing sanctity of Saint Pius in his simplicity, his humility, and his complete dedication to God and His Church. But the key to all these shining virtues lies in his spirit of poverty and his loving charity — two qualities in Pius that were inseparable.
Detachment from worldly desires and comforts constitutes a proper spirit of poverty. And, indeed, Giuseppe Sarto practiced not merely the spirit, but the poverty itself. It is said that he was poorer as the Head of the Church than he had been as a pastor at Salzano. As Bishop of Rome he could no longer travel about a village, a city, or a diocese dispensing alms, as he routinely had always done in lower ecclesiastical offices. So instead he received the poor in vast numbers at the Vatican. Moreover, those in need throughout the whole world benefited from his immense and unceasing generosity. He was impoverished at the time of his death, but he managed to provide a sizable endowment for the homeless children who had survived a terrible earthquake in 1908. And at the time of that disaster, it was Pius who rushed with large sums of his own money to bring relief to the stricken area.
But perhaps his being poor in spirit was the greater attribute than his material poverty. Was it not a supreme sacrifice for him to accept the Pontificate which he beheld as an unbearable cross? To leave the Venice he loved so much, never to see it again? To spend the rest of his eleven years of life as “a prisoner” inside the Vatican walls, enduring the unimaginable trials and sufferings of his lonely office? Some tell of finding the melancholy Pope on occasion sadly staring at a postcard picture of a railroad station in Rome — the escape route, as it were, back to the world. Others mention his ready alertness to the sound of a distant train whistle: “Do you hear it? That is the train for Venice!”
Just as much a part of that spirit, however, was his practice of shunning as much as possible all pomp and ceremony customarily due his noble office. Typically, on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination, tells Father McAuliffe, Pope Pius celebrated “his jubilee Mass not as Pope, but as a simple priest. Clad in snow-white vestments, without pontifical regalia, he walked to the altar simply, humbly and devoutly, just as he had done fifty years previously in the little village church of Riese; the only difference now being that he was surrounded by four hundred bishops and over fifty thousand people.” And we can be sure that it was by this same spirit that he ever remained aloof from adulation and praise — the certain pitfalls of pride. Thus he was able to maintain his conscience and clearmindedness to make decisions and to act justly in critical matters, free of the flattering persuasions of those who had vested interests.
In discussing the charity of this blessed soul, the subject could never be exhausted. For we speak here of charity in its highest sense: spiritual love — a virtuous commodity that Pius possessed in boundless measure. So much so, that it would seem it was the Heart of Jesus beating within his bosom, motivating his every act. And anyone in his presence always sensed it. Monsignor Benson commented, “Who that has seen him can ever forget the extraordinary impression of his face and bearing, the kindness of his eyes, the quick sympathy of his voice, the overwhelming fatherliness that enabled him to bear not only his own supreme sorrows, but all the personal sorrow which his children laid on him in abundance?”
Another visitor said, “My attention was completely captivated by his expression and his eyes.” And another, “You cannot go near him without loving him.” But all who met him almost universally commented, “He is a saint!” One visitor told him so in Italian, and the Pope genially replied, “You have made a mistake in your consonants. I am a Sarto, not a santo.”
How fortunate were those ever to be in the presence of Saint Pius, to have some relic of his, or to receive his blessing. Many were miraculously cured of their infirmities. One nun, dying from abdominal cancer, swallowed a particle of the Pope’s clothing. All pain instantly vanished and she was restored to health. The Mother Superior of a girls’ boarding school in Ireland contracted a disease of the hip, which gave her excruciating pain and forced her to take leave of her work. The disease spread rapidly, and before long she had to be continually on her back. One of her students, a six-year-old, wrote to the Holy Father to ask him to pray for the afflicted Superior. One evening, a short time later, the pain suddenly left the ailing nun along with all traces of the disease. A man once brought his child, paralyzed since birth, to a public audience with Saint Pius. His holiness beckoned to the man, “Give him to me,” and sat the youngster on his lap while he talked to other visitors. After a few moments the small child slipped off the Pontiff’s knee and began running about the room.
There were many such miracle associated with Pope Pius X, all of which the Saint humbly attributed to the power of “the Keys,” dismissing his own personal sanctity. One of the more dramatic of them is worth telling. A cab once carried two Florentine nuns, both suffering from an incurable disease, to the Vatican. They asked the cab driver to wait while the two, badly afflicted and barely able to walk, met in private audience to beg the Pope to cure them. “Why do you want to be cured?” asked the Holy Father. They answered, “So that we may work for God’s glory.” Laying his hands on the nuns’ heads and blessing them, His Holiness said, “Have confidence; you will get well and do much work for God’s glory.” In that same moment the nuns were cured, but Pius bade them to keep the matter silent. As it turned out, the charge immediately presented some difficulty, for when the two now healthy women returned to their waiting cab, the driver refused to admit them. They insisted that they were the same sisters he had brought, but the man could not be convinced: “The two I brought were half dead. You are not the least like them.”
The compassion of Saint Pius was indeed Christ-like as well. We have already mentioned how the blessed man would weep at the sight of suffering. Consequently there was nothing that could arouse his anger more than cruelty. Once, as Patriarch, he heard from the streets the cries of a small child being unmercifully punished. He rushed toward the direction of the cries and yelled up to an open window, whence they came, “Stop beating that child!” A woman appeared at the window, then quickly retreated at the sight of the infuriated Cardinal-Patriarch on her doorstep. Needless to say, the beating stopped.
So much the greater was he agonized as Pope, witnessing the inhuman treatment accorded to South American Indians; the Sultan ruler who took perverted pleasure of having his victims tortured to death; and the barbaric persecutions inflicted on Christians by Communist revolutionaries in many different countries. And in every instance he tried to intervene with all the might and indignation of his sacred office.
Perhaps the most painful of such afflictions was World War I. Pius prophetically had foreseen its coming years before the actual outbreak, and his soul bore that terrible vision as the body would an unhealing wound that progressively deepened as the war approached.
Cardinal Merry del Val recalled that as early as 1911, Pope Pius spoke to him of the matter: “Your Eminence, things are going badly; there will be a terrible war! I am not speaking of this war [the Libyan campaign], but of the big war!” The Cardinal, not really knowing what this meant, tried to console the Pontiff with more optimistic observations. But the Holy Father raised his hand in gesture to indicate the gravity of the matter: “Things are going badly; we shall not get through 1914.” Dr. Bruno Chaves, a retiring Brazilian minister to the Holy See, heard these comments in his last audience with the Pope on May 30, 1913: “You are fortunate, Dr. Chaves, to be able to return to your home in Brazil. Thus you will not be here for the world war.” Dr. Chaves assumed that the reference was to the then ongoing Balkan conflict, but Pope Pius, seeming to read the minister’s thoughts, added: “The Balkans are but the beginning of a world conflagration that I am helpless to prevent and which I shall not be able to withstand.”
In his last months Saint Pius became increasingly preoccupied with the thought of the impending cataclysm. While walking one day with Monsignor Bressan in the Vatican Gardens, he stopped before a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and exclaimed in words that seemed cryptic to his confused guest: “I feel pity for my successor. I shall not be here. Truly ‘devastated religion’ is upon us.” (Giordani notes that religio depopulato was the prophecy of Saint Malachy for the reign of Pope Benedict XV.)
When in July of 1914 the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, the great Pontiff knew that the time of the inestimable human suffering which he had long anticipated had finally arrived. Pius lapsed into a state of such aching sadness that it could only be compared to Our Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Within a few weeks, on the Feast of the Assumption, Saint Pius became ill. It did not seem serious — a mild inflammation of the throat that settled into his chest. But on the nineteenth of August the meek, white-robed figure collapsed. In a few hours the great bell of St. Peter’s was tolling the Pro pontifice agonizante. “Holy Viaticum and Extreme Unction,” Cardinal Merry del Val records, “were administered to him…in the simplest form possible. On a little table by the bedside, covered with a white cloth, a crucifix and two lighted candles were the only evidence of ceremony. I could not help thinking that after all Pope Pius X was receiving the rights of the Church in the way most congenial to him…. It was not unlike the scene one might have witnessed in the humblest cottage of a dying laborer, without pomp or splendor of any kind.” In this modest disposition the quiet little Saint, who had courageously and firmly stood up against Satan’s soldiery like a colossal warrior, happily was to depart from this world, clutching a small crucifix, in the same poverty and simplicity in which he was born. At about one o’clock on the morning of August 20, 1914, in the gentle peace of sleep, the magnificent fatherly heart that had loved and suffered so much was stilled by the Finger of God and beat no more. The glorious and beautiful soul of Pope Saint Pius X at last was blissfully where it had always longed to be — with the Heavenly Father. And his body was left perfectly incorrupt till this day as relic and testimony of his exceptional sanctity.
One cardinal announced, “The Holy Father has died of a broken heart.” That was very true. But Cardinal Merry de Val also reported that the saintly Pontiff possessed an “extraordinary serenity” in his last moments of life. And we are certain that this was because Saint Pius was immeasurably happy, knowing that in Heaven he could now intercede for us ever more powerfully against the wiles of the devil.
Pope Saint Pius X,
Pray for Us.
- After the shelling of Riese in World War I, the birthplace of Saint Pius was the only house still standing. ↩