Pius X

Pius X (1835-1914) was pope from 1903 to 1914. He is best remembered for his liturgical and canonical reforms rather than for any contribution to world peace or Church unity.

Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, who became Pius X, was born at Riese, Trieste Province, Italy, on June 2, 1835. His parents were poor. He was trained for the priesthood at Padua and became a parish priest in Venice, where he stayed until 1875, when he became canon at Treviso Cathedral and superior of Treviso Seminary. Becoming bishop of Mantua in 1884, he was made a cardinal by Leo XIII in 1893. Three days later Leo made him patriarch of Venice. He was elected pope on Aug. 4, 1903.

In his policies Pius X reverted to the main lines of Pius IX, forgoing the social reforms and political intent which had characterized Leo's pontificate. Pius X set out to develop the spiritual qualities of priests and people and to ensure that modern scientific theories and methodology made no inroads into the faith of his Church. Here he showed a complete and dogmatic intransigence. He seized the occasion for action when a group of Catholic Bible scholars applied the latest scientific data to the Bible and produced certain conclusions. Pius X took action chiefly in the form of an encyclical letter, Pascendi, and in a decree, Lamentabili (both issued in September 1907).

In the letter Pius X attacked what has been called modernism, condemning 65 propositions which according to Pius undermined the traditional dogma of Christianity. Modernism, in essence, tended to renounce certain traditional dogmas for the sake of accommodating certain modern scientific theories. It represented a "modernizing" attempt, and hence its name. The letter of Pius had untold effects on both the faith of individuals and the intellectual life of the Church as well as on the whole approach of the Church to modern man. Many left the Church or were excommunicated. Research and intellectual inquiry were stifled for well over 40 years until the reign of Pius XII.

The attitude of Pius X made the Church unattractive to many outside it, and it cut off Church institutions from any active participation in the intellectual life of biblical scholars. Pius imposed the annual renewal of an oath by all Roman Catholic seminary professors and academicians that they reject the 65 propositions, or formulations, of modernism, thus effectively hampering the inner development of Roman Catholic philosophy and theology. Pius X backed up this decree and letter by relegating a whole series of books to the Index of Forbidden Books and by imposing a rigorous control over the Pontifical Biblical Commission, so that all professors and students of Bible matters were under surveillance and control.

Pius X instituted a reaction against the Christian Democrats, the Catholic party in Italy. He objected to any Catholic in Italy or elsewhere conducting a social or political life independently of the Church hierarchy. He condemned popular Catholic parties in Italy and France, including Charles Maurras's Action Française. In this matter Pius carried Leo XIII's political paternalism to an extreme and rejected democratic ideals. In pursuance of this policy a break with the French government was inevitable because of the secularizing philosophy of that government and the law of 1905 separating Church and state in France. Tension between Russia and the Vatican grew over Poland. Pius had uneasy relations with Germany, Austria, and the United States for the same reasons.

As a Church reformer, Pius X was more successful. He reformed the teaching of catechism and the education and preaching of priests. He promoted reverence for the Eucharist and various other liturgical reforms. He initiated a rewriting of the Church Code of Canon Law, and he modernized the Curia, or central administration of the Roman Church.

Perhaps one of Pius's greatest achievements was the improved condition of Vatican relations with the Italian state. Pius ceased labeling the state as a usurper of papal possessions, and by abstention from polemics he reached a modus vivendi with the state in which neither side admitted wrong or accused the other of doing wrong. A more realistic view of the facts came to be held on both sides. The fear of socialism also seemed to draw liberals and conservatives together on the political scene, and gradually Italian Catholics were allowed to participate in political life. Pius laid down seven conditions under which a Catholic might vote for political candidates. These were summarized in the so-called Gentilioni Pact of 1913. Pius X's moral attitude was again clearly manifested in his refusal to approve of the Austrian and German cause at the outbreak of World War I and in his denunciation of all recourse to violence as a means of settling disputes. Pius, who died on Aug. 20, 1914, was declared a saint by Pius XII in 1954.

Further Reading on Pius X

Biographical works on Pius X include Katherine Burton, The Great Mantle (1950); M.G. Dal-Gal, Pius X: Life Story of the Beatus (1954); Francis A. Forbes, Pope St. Pius X (1954); and V.A. Yzermans, All Things in Christ (1954). For background see A.R. Vidler, The Modernist Movement in the Roman Church (1934).

Additional Biography Sources

Diethelm, Walter, Saint Pius X: the farm boy who became Pope, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994.

O'Brien, Felicity, St Pius X, London: Catholic Truth Society, 1976.

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