14th Sunday after Pentecost
In addition to being the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, today is the feast of Pope St Pius X, about whom I would like to share a few thoughts. We cannot really do so adequately without calling to mind the historical context in which he was elected pope. For more than a century already the atheistic powers at work in the French Revolution had been working for the overthrow of both Church and State. Atheistic communism was on the verge of taking over Russia, and the destruction of the family through divorce, abortion and the wiping out of the God-given distinction and complementary of the sexes had already been initiated. With his keen intellect and above all his deep sanctity, Pius X saw all these forces feverishly at work in the Church. Whereas for most people at the time, the problem was outside the Church, he rightly discerned that an even greater problem was rising within the Church, and he promptly came to the conclusion that he would do something about it.
His entire pontificate of only eleven years (1903-1914) would be spent putting together a plan to secure the future of the Church by anchoring it more deeply to the sources of the faith. This is why he promoted the Blessed Sacrament and came to be called the pope of the Eucharist. He allowed children to receive our blessed Lord at the age of reason in order to give them the bread of angels before they could be corrupted by sin. He encouraged adults to receive our Lord daily provided they were in a state of grace and wanted to progress in sanctity. To ensure that the Church would have even greater recourse to Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, as the tentacles of Satan sought to lay hold on the Church herself, he published a beautiful encyclical for the 50th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Furthermore, he would give enlightened guidelines for the teaching of the Catechism (promoting a catechism that he himself had published as a bishop and known as the Catechism of St Pius X) and for the formation of seminarians, reminding bishops that they have no more important task than the formation of their priests. He also took upon himself the gigantic task of compiling in a single volume all the Church’s canonical legislation, monumental task that previous popes had shunned. Amazing as it is to say, the work was nearly completed during his pontificate and would be promulgated by his successor, Benedict XV. Finally, Pius X has the distinction of having fostered a greater understanding and devotion to the sacred liturgy, in particular by his promotion of Gregorian Chant. Famously he wanted his people to not just pray at Mass, but to pray the Mass and do so with beauty.
St Pius X was greatly loved during his lifetime. He was the epitome of pastoral solicitude, uniting strength of soul with profound humility and meekness. Everyone wept when he died of a broken heart at the onset of the First World War which he had done so much to prevent. To this day, he would be in veneration with every Christian heart, if only he had not made one fatal mistake: that of condemning Modernism. Indeed, almost everything else has been forgotten about this exceptionally holy and learned pope, and as those whom he condemned rose to prominent ranks in the Church, his memory was more and more confined to that of the embarrassing ancestor whom you want people to forget, or about whom you will say the least you possible can. When Pius XII decided to canonise him in 1954, he had to oppose the cardinals who, so it is told, were all against it. This shunning of Pius X is nowhere more evident than in the fact that he is the only pope of the 19th and 20th centuries who is not cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church, a very telling omission when you know the caliber and sanctity of the man. It is reported that Abbé Alfred Loisy, the French arch-modernist priest, who was excommunicated by Pius X, said with scorn: “Pius X – he is as stupid as the Curé of Ars”. I myself know a French bishop, deceased a few years ago, who told his flock that Pius X governed the Church “à coup de gaffes” (an expression difficult to translate, meaning roughly “with repeated blunders”). When we read that Jacques Maritain in one of his last books, Le Paysan de la Garonne, wrote that the Modernism of the time of Pius X was a modest hay fever compared to the kind reigning in the Church then (in the late 1960’s), we can only wonder, What happened? How was the limpid teaching of Pius X left aside, and above all why?
It is no surprise that his teaching on Modernism is scorned and passed over by Modernists, who have every interest in making sure this teaching remains buried in old libraries. What is surprising is that many true Catholics, whose faith and morals are impeccable, do not see the relevance of his teaching today. Certainly, few people today would share the exact brand of Modernism that Pius X wrote about, mainly because few people today have enough intellectual formation to actually understand the intricacies of that system of thought, and that you can read about in the encyclical Pascendi (8 September 1907). It is my contention, however, that St Pius X hit the nail on the head; he knew exactly what he was talking about, and if his teaching had been heeded, confirmed and promoted by subsequent popes, we would certainly not be at the impasse we find ourselves in at the moment. Let me try to explain why.
1) Modernism is based on systems of modern philosophy which are mixed in with the truths of faith, and out of which comes a hybrid that in many respects sounds Catholic, but is essentially a sophisticated form of rationalism. For the modernist, the faith is subservient to reason, and if anything in the faith surpasses reason, then it cannot possibly belong to the realm of reality. The insidious way by which the Modernists sought to avoid the obvious opposition such madness would have given rise to at every level in the Church is by stating that something could be perfectly true in the mind and heart of the believer which does not correspond with objective reality. To make a long story short, it does not matter really who God is or what He said; all that matters is that the believer hold sincerely whatever he holds, for that is the essence of modernist faith, which rises up from the depths of the believer’s own heart by means of what they called vital immanence. It’s easy to see how this delirium would find favour with those who wanted to change the faith. Indeed, if God is only who I feel He is, then in the end, religion is what I make of it. It is therefore mine to manipulate as pleases me, and there will be as many religions as there are people, and our only task is to have a common language that allows us to refer to the same things while meaning something quite different.
2) The rationalism on which modernism is founded leads straight to three fundamental tenets which are the quicksand on which they sought to build their creed, and into which the whole edifice of the Church would inevitably founder. First of all, we need not think that the Bible is true. All we need to know is that the Bible relates to us a number of religious experiences to which we can relate in our own experience of God. These stories help us become religious people, but the events they recount are not intended at all to be historical; most of them never really happened, and most of them could not have happened because they are not possible! How could it be possible to stop the flow of a river or to resurrect a dead person with a few words, or how could the son of a poor carpenter be God in any sense other than that he was really a nice person who makes us think of God? This is the reason for the distinction used ad nauseam by Modernists between the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith; it is also why for the Modernist, revelation was not complete with the last apostle, but revelation is constantly happening in the hearts of each believer.
The second fundamental tenet is that dogma is meant only to establish the personal beliefs which have evolved from the most common religious experiences, but since such experiences evolve with each passing age, so must dogma evolve. It is therefore not possible to set in stone the beliefs of the Church in such a way that they may never change. The Church can only go forward, and being backward is not a good way of having a complete experience of the divine, for as we have already seen, the divine really comes through my heart and my heart evolves with me and you never know where the Holy Spirit might be leading the Church.
The third tenet is that the moral teaching of the Church must adapt itself not only to times and places, but even to each individual. The Church may, in certain ages, have found it helpful to affirm the indissolubility of marriage, but now she may very well come to understand that personal feelings of spouses can change and therefore the choice of another spouse may very well be a valid expression of the divine in one’s life. In former times, she found it useful to proscribe contraception, abortion and sodomy, but now she may very well accommodate herself to the personal choice of such behaviours, since no one can really know how the divine is manifesting itself in other people’s relationships or actions.
By now, it should be clear in what way Modernism leads to the dissolution of all religion and even of society. In the words of Pius X himself: “These reasons suffice to show superabundantly by how many roads Modernism leads to atheism and to the annihilation of all religion. The error of Protestantism made the first step on this path; that of Modernism makes the second; Atheism makes the next.”
While a few of the ringleaders were imprudent enough to voice their opinions in the press and were subsequently excommunicated, one of the most important tactics of the Modernists from the start is to change the Church from within. That is why during the pontificate of Pius X they went underground, only to appear again later in prominent roles in the Church. Nor can we fail to add that, whatever might be said about the Second Vatican Council itself, it is a fact of history that the council was clearly the opportunity for many Catholics to start living like protestants while retaining the name of Catholic. Most Catholics today do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; most Catholic couples use contraception and have abortions. In this the many Catholics today whose faith is not integral find themselves playing the same games as the Modernists, appearing to be Catholic, paying lip service to the Magisterium but actually picking and choosing what they will believe and how they will live. And this is destructive of the truth.
A century after Pius X’s vigorous condemnation of Modernism, the Church finds herself on the brink of disaster. In the name of radical inclusion, everyone in the Church is supposedly in a position to know what the Holy Spirit is calling us to, as if the Holy Spirit read the daily newspapers and were wanting to create a democratic consensus about the future. It is true that the Holy Spirit is in the hearts of true believers who are in the state of grace. It is perfectly true that sometimes in history, the lay faithful are more faithful to the truth than the bishops. But, as one theologian has put it so well, the truth must be sought “not in the average views of the mass of sinners that populates the Church, but rather where, according to the Church’s prayer, the forma Christi best comes to prevail and best becomes impressed on the form of the Church – in Mary, in the saints, in all those who have consciously made their own form to wane so as to yield the primacy in themselves to the form of the Church”.
In other words, it makes no difference at all what anyone in the Church – laity or clergy including the pope and bishops – feels about what we should be doing in the future; all that matters is whether or not we are united with the “form of Christ”; and every true Catholic knows what that means: it means taking up our cross daily and following Jesus, the God-Man, to Calvary; it means not being conformed to this world; it means turning a deaf ear to the clamour of the world, for the whole world lies under the power of the evil one (cf. 1 Jn 5:19) and Satan is the prince of this world (cf. Jn 12:31).
And so we can conclude with these two affirmations:
Either the Church as a whole reverts to the form of Christ and His cross and reconnects with its 2,000 year history of doctrine and sanctity, or it dissolves.
Those who are faithful to the form of Christ as it is expressed in “the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church” (Profession of Faith Pius IV) – whatever their rank –, are the true church, nor can they ever be in schism.
May the glorious Pontiff St Pius X, who was filled with apostolic fortitude and never feared what people might say about him, intercede for us that we may, each of us, work towards the true restoration of the Catholic Faith, restoring all things in Christ (instaurare omnia in Christo, Eph 1:10), through the Immaculate Virgin who crushes the head of the ancient serpent. Amen.