One hundred years after his death the figure of Saint Pius X stands erect, majestic and heavy-laden in the firmament of the Church. The sadness which clouds Pope Sarto’s expression in his last photographs, not only reveals a sense of the catastrophic consequences of the First World War, which had started three weeks before his death, but seems to foresee an even greater tragedy than the wars and revolutions of the 20th Century: the apostasy of nations and of churchmen themselves in the century which would follow.
The main enemy which St. Pius X had to face, had a name, which the Pontiff himself gave: Modernism. His relentless fight against Modernism characterized his Pontificate indelibly and was a fundamental element in his sanctity. “The lucidity and firmness with which Pius X conducted his victorious fight against the errors of modernism – affirmed Pius XII in his speech at the Canonization of Pope Sarto – testifies to what heroic degree the virtue of the faith burned in his saintly heart (…)”.
To the Modernism that was proposed, “a universal apostasy of the Faith and Church discipline”, St. Pius X opposed it with an authentic reform which had its major point in the custody and transmission of the Catholic truth. The encyclical Pascendi (1907), where he struck down the errors of Modernism, is the most important theological and philosophical document produced by the Catholic Church in the 20th century. Yet, St. Pius X did not limit himself to fighting the evil of the ideas, as if they were disincarnated from history. He wanted to strike at the historical bringers of these errors by imposing ecclesiastical censures, by watching over seminaries and Pontifical universities and imposing the anti-modernist oath on all priests.
This coherence between doctrine and pontifical praxis gave rise to violent attacks from “crypto-modernist” environments.
When Pius XII promoted his beatification (1951) and his canonization (1954), Pope Sarto was defined by opponents extraneous to the renewing ferments of his time, guilty of having repressed modernism with brutal and police-like methods. Pius XII entrusted Monsignor Ferdinando Antonelli, a future cardinal, with the compilation of a historical Disquisitio dedicated to dismantling the accusations against his predecessor, based on witnesses and documents. Today, however, these accusations appear once again even in the “celebration” that the “Osservatore Romano” dedicated to St. Pius X, by the writer Carlo Fantappiè, exactly on the anniversary of his death on August 20.*
In the Holy See’s newspaper, Professore Fantappiè’s review of Gianpaolo Romananto’s Pius X, The Origins of Contemporary Catholicism (Turin, Lindau, 2014), by being concerned about disassociating himself from “the manipulations of the Lefebvrians”,as he writes in an unfortunate way, using a term devoid of any theological significance, ends up identifying himself with the Modernist historians. He attributes to Pius X “an autocratic way of conceiving the government of the Church”, along with “a basically defensive stance in regard to the establishment and with diffidence in regard to his own collaborators, to whom, he not infrequently, had doubts about their loyalty and obedience. That is to say “concerning some cardinals, bishops and clerics. Availing himself of recent research in Vatican papers, Romanato eliminates definitively those apologetic hypotheses that attempted to attribute responsibility for the police-like methods onto the close collaborators rather than directly onto the Pope himself.”
They are the same criticisms re-proposed some years ago in an article dedicated to Pius X, The Scourge of Modernists, by Alberto Melloni,** according to whom, “the papers permit us to document the spirit in which Pius X was a conscious and active part of the institutional violence carried out by the anti-modernists,” (Corriere della Sera, 23rd August 2006).
The basic problem, would not then be “the method by which modernism was repressed, but rather it was concerning the timeliness and validity of the condemnation”. St. Pius’ vision “had been surpassed” by history, since he did not understand the developments of theology and ecclesiology in the 20th century. His figure basically had a dialectic role of an anti-thesis with respect to the theses of “theological modernity.” So Fantappié concludes that Pius X’s role would have been that of “ferrying Catholicism from the structures and mentality of the Restoration to juridical and pastoral institutional modernity.”
In an attempt to sort out this confusion, we may turn to another volume by Cristina Siccardi, just published by San Paolo, under the title, St. Pius X, The Life of the Pope who Ordered and Reformed the Church, which includes a precious foreword by His Eminence, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
The Cardinal recalls that from his very first Encyclical Letter of October 4, 1903, E supremi apostulatus, St. Pius X indicated the programme of his pontificate, which faced a state of confusion in the world and errors about the Faith in the Church and the loss of the faith on the part of many. He opposed this apostasy with the words of St. Paul: Instaurare omnia in Christo (To Restore All Things to Christ).
“Instaurare omnia in Christo” Cardinal Burke writes, “is the sum total of St. Pius X’s pontificate, everything was aimed at the re-Christianizing of society assailed by liberal relativism, which trampled on the rights of God in the name of a “science” freed from any type of relationship with the Creator.” (p.9)
It is in this perspective that St. Pius X’s reforming work lies, which is most of all, a work of catechesis, since he understood that the widespread errors needed to be countered with a deeper knowledge than ever of the Faith imparted to the most simple, starting with children. Toward the end of 1912, his desire became reality with the publication of the Catechism which bears his name, destined originally for the Diocese of Rome , but afterwards diffused in every diocese of Italy and the world at large.
The colossal reforming and restoring work by St. Pius X was carried out under the incomprehension of the ecclesiastical world itself.
“St. Pius X,” writes Cristina Siccardi, “did not look for the approval of the Roman Curia, the priests, the bishops, the cardinals, the faithful, and most of all he did not look for the approval of the world, but always and only he looked for the approval of God, at the risk of damaging his public image, and doing thus, he undoubtedly made many enemies whilst alive, and even more in death.” (p.25).
Today we may say that his worst enemies are not those who attack him openly, but those who try to diminish the importance of his work, making him a precursor of the conciliar and post-conciliar reforms.
The daily newspaper “La Tribuna di Treviso”, informs us that on the occasion of the centenary of St. Pius X’s death, “ the Diocese of Treviso opened its doors to divorced and cohabiting couples.”, inviting them, in five churches, among which is the church of Riese, the birthplace of Pope Giuseppe Sarto, to pray for a good outcome at the October Synod on the Family, for which Cardinal Kasper laid down the lines in his report at the Feburary 20, 2014, Consistory.
To make St. Pius X the precursor of Cardinal Kasper is an affront to which Melloni’s contemptuous definition “the scourge of Modernists” is turned into a compliment.