Today is the feast day Saint Pius X. Ora pro nobis.
Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was born 2 June, 1835, at Riese, Province of Treviso, in Venice. His parents were Giovanni Battista Sarto and Margarita (née Sanson). He was the oldest of eight children. Giovanni Sarto was a postman, and his wife Margarita was a seamstress. His humble family background gave the future Pope a lifelong appreciation of poverty and simplicity.
He attended the parish school. The pastor arranged a scholarship for Giuseppe at the high school in Castelfranco, a town two miles from Riese. After completing the course of instruction at Castelfranco, he made known that he had felt the call to the priesthood. His parents saw that the will of God was in their son’s calling, and they did all in their power to encourage him.
His pastor again came to the rescue by arranging another scholarship to the seminary at Padua. In November of 1850, young Sarto arrived at Padua and was immediately taken up with the life and studies of the seminary. Giuseppe worked hard and finally on September 18, 1858, Father Sarto was ordained at the cathedral in Castelfranco.
Father Sarto served as a parish priest in a poor area of the Trentino district, assisting a pastor who observed his pastoral gifts. In 1867 he became a pastor in the Treviso diocese, where he was known for his charity and sound teaching. For nine years he was chaplain at Tombolo, having to assume most of the functions of parish priest, as the pastor was old and an invalid. He sought to perfect his knowledge of theology by studying Saint Thomas and canon law.
He established a night school for adult students, and devoted himself of the ministry of preaching in other towns. In 1867 he was named arch-priest of Salzano, a large borough of the Diocese of Treviso. He provided for the enlargement and maintenance of the hospital by his own means, consistently with his habitual generosity to the poor; he especially distinguished himself by his abnegation during the cholera.
On 10 November, 1884, he was named Bishop of Mantua, then a very troublesome see, and consecrated on 20 November. His chief care in his new position was for the formation of the clergy at the seminary, where, for several years, he himself taught dogmatic theology, and for another year moral theology. He wished the doctrine and method of St. Thomas to be followed, and to many of the poorer students he gave copies of the “Summa theological”; at the same time he cultivated the Gregorian Chant in company with the seminarians. The temporal administration of his see imposed great sacrifices upon him. In 1887 he held a diocesan synod. By his attendance at the confessional, he gave the example of pastoral zeal. The Catholic organization of Italy, then known as the “Opera dei Congressi”, found in him a zealous propagandist from the time of his ministry at Salzano.
At the secret consistory of June, 1893, Leo XIII created him a cardinal under the title of San Bernardo alle Terme; and in the public consistory, three days later, he was preconized Patriarch of Venice, retaining meanwhile the title of Apostolic Administrator of Mantua. Cardinal Sarto was obliged to wait eighteen months before he was able to take possession of his new diocese, because the Italian government refused its exequatur, claiming the right of nomination as it had been exercised by the Emperor of Austria. This matter was discussed with bitterness in the newspapers and in pamphlets; the Government, by way of reprisal, refused its exequatur to the other bishops who were appointed in the meantime, so that the number of vacant sees grew to thirty. Finally, the minister Crispi having returned to power, and the Holy See having raised the mission of Eritrea to the rank of an Apostolic Prefecture in favour of the Italian Capuchins, the Government withdrew from its position.
The international Eucharistic Congress of 1897, the centenary of St. Gerard Sagredo (1900), and the blessing of the corner-stone of the new belfry of St. Mark’s, also of the commemorative chapel of Mt. Grappa (1901), were events that left a deep impression on him and his people. Meanwhile, Leo XIII having died, the cardinals entered into conclave and after several ballots Giuseppe Sarto was elected on 4 August by a vote of 55 out of a possible 60 votes. His coronation took place on the following Sunday, 9 August, 1903.
In his first Encyclical, wishing to develop his programme to some extent, he said that the motto of his pontificate would be “instaurare omnia in Christo” (Ephesians 1:10). Accordingly, his greatest care always turned to the direct interests of the Church. Before all else his efforts were directed to the promotion of piety among the faithful, and he advised all (Decr. S. Congr. Concil., 20 Dec., 1905) to receive Holy Communion frequently and, if possible, daily, dispensing the sick from the obligation of fasting to the extent of enabling them to receive Holy Communion twice each month, and even oftener (Decr. S. Congr. Rit., 7 Dec., 1906). Finally, by the Decree “Quam Singulari” (15 Aug., 1910), he recommended that the first Communion of children should not be deferred too long after they had reached the age of discretion.
The fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was an occasion of which he took advantage to enjoin devotion to Mary (Encyclical “Ad illum diem”, 2 February, 1904); and the Marian Congress, together with the coronation of the image of the Immaculate Conception in the choir of St. Peter’s, was a worthy culmination of the solemnity. As a simple chaplain, a bishop, and a patriarch, Giuseppe Sarto was a promoter of sacred music; as pope, he published, 22 November, 1903, a Motu Proprio on sacred music in churches, and at the same time ordered the authentic Gregorian Chant to be used everywhere, while he caused the choir books to be printed with the Vatican font of type under the supervision of a special commission. In the Encyclical “Acerbo nimis” (15 April, 1905) he treated of the necessity of catechismal instruction, not only for children, but also for adults, giving detailed rules, especially in relation to suitable schools for the religious instruction of students of the public schools, and even of the universities.
Wherefore, in 1907, he caused the publication of the Decree “Lamentabili” (called also the Syllabus of Pius X), in which sixty-five propositions are condemned. The greater number of these propositions concern the Holy Scripture, their inspiration, and the doctrine of Jesus and of the Apostles, while others relate to dogma, the sacraments, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Soon after that, on 8 Sept., 1907, there appeared the famous Encyclical “Pascendi”, which expounds and condemns the system of Modernism. It points out the danger of Modernism in relation to philosophy, apologetics, exegesis, history, liturgy, and discipline, and shows the contradiction between that innovation and the ancient faith; and, finally, it establishes rules by which to combat efficiently the pernicious doctrines in question. Among the means suggested mention should be made of the establishment of an official body of “censors” of books and the creation of a “Committee of Vigilance”.
The familiar notion of Pius X as the Teacher of Christian Truth and the firm guide and staunch foe of error was forceably illustrated in 1907 when he issued more than fourteen pronouncements against the growth of Modernism. This subtle philosophy, in which Pius saw the poison of all heresies, pretended to “modernize” the Church and to make it keep pace with the changing times. In reality, its end would have been the destructions of the foundation of faith. The crowning achievement of the Pontiff’s writings and pronouncements against this philosophy came in the encyclical, <Pascendi dominici gregis>, “On the Doctrines of the Modernists.” In this work, which was a death blow to Modernism, he gave a systematic exposition of the errors involved, their causes, and provisions for combatting the errors by definite preventive measures.
Pius X labored for the Master until the very last days of his life. His 79 years had not set too heavily upon him, but overwork and anxiety over the impending doom of a World War began to take their toll. Pius saw clearly the horrors of the coming conflict and felt helpless that he could not prevent it. A little more than a month after the outbreak of the war, the Pope was seized with an attack of influenza, and his weakened constitution could not combat the illness. The end for the Christ-like Pius came peacefully on August 20, 1914, and the world, though in the throes of a death struggle, paused to mourn the gentle and humble man whose last will and testament gave such an insight into his character. It read, in part, “I was born poor, I lived poor, I die poor.” Shortly after his death, the faithful began to make pilgrimages to his tomb, bringing flowers, prayers, and petitions for favors.
Accounts of miraculous favors and cures, some even accomplished during his lifetime and granted through his intercession, were announced and given widespread acclaim. In 1923, the Church, always cautious in such matters, began inquiry into the life and virtues of Pius X, and in February of 1943, the first official step in his Cause was taken when the necessary decree was signed by the present Pontiff, Pius XII. In honor of the work which Pius X had accomplished in its behalf, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine actively contributed in promoting the Cause for his beatification and canonization. On June 3, 1951, Pius X was declared Blessed, and finally on May 29, 1954, amid the traditional pealing of the bells in the great churches of Rome, Giuseppe Sarto, the humble parish priest of the world, was canonized a saint of God. He was the first Pope to be declared a saint since the 1712 canonization of the 16th century Pope St. Pius V.
Oath Against Modernism
With the decree Lamentabili (1907) and the encyclical Pascendi (1907), the dangers of the modernist interpretation of Catholic truth had been exposed and fully expounded. Nevertheless, efforts to promote the modernist cause were continued in various countries. To eliminate the possibility of modernist error spreading through the clergy, St. Pius X (1903-14) drew up and published on September 1, 1910, the following oath against modernism and imposed it on all clergy to be advanced to major orders, on pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and on professors in philosophical and theological seminaries.
The first part of the oath is a strong affirmation of the basic Catholic truths opposed to modernism: the demonstrability of God’s existence by human reason; the value and suitability of miracles and prophecies as criteria of revelation; the historical institution of the Church by Christ; the invariable character of Catholic tradition; the reasonableness and supernaturalness of faith.
The second part of the oath is an expression of interior assent to the decree Lamentabili and the encyclical Pascendi with their contents. Particular modernist errors are singled out for censure and rejection.
I firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day.
And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:20), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated:
Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.
Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time.
Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.
Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord.
Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality–that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm.
Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.
Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact–one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history–the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.
I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God. (6)
Image: Pope Pius X portrayed working in the Vatican Gardens, after recovering from an illness. (4)
Research by REGINA Staff