In recalling the life and legacy of St. Pius X, I am reminded of the opening editorial salvo of National Review, the conservative magazine launched in the 1950s: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it. So it was with St. Pius X, who, as Pope from 1903 to 1914, went on a crusade against a whole series of errors he denounced collectively as modernism. Pius X issued a letter declaring Gregorian chants to be the highest form of liturgical music. He opposed the separation of church and state in France. He urged Catholic workers to join only those labor unions that were faithful to the Church. And he penned a 932-word oath against modernism that he required all priests, professors, and other Church leaders to take.
If the Church at the Second Vatican Council was throwing open its windows to the world, Pius X would seem to be one who was slamming them shut, nailing the door closed, and pulling up the drawbridge.
But that would be a simplification. Pius was hardly the curmudgeon clinging stubbornly to the skeleton of dead traditions. Rather, this saint and successor to St. Peter was moved by a sincere attachment to the truths of the Church and a deep love for God and His children. St. Pius opened his papacy with a positive call to restore all things in Christ. He was known by his devotion to Mary, to whom he dedicated at least two encyclicals. He urged frequent reception of the Eucharist by the faithful and lowered the age at which children could receive First Communion. St. Pius reportedly shunned the many luxuries of his papal office, opening the Apostolic Palace to refugees from the Messina earthquake in 1908 and refusing any special treatment for family members.
So, yes, it is true that St. Pius perhaps took a more confrontational approach to the relationship between the Church and the world, but he acted out of true Christian charity, not sheer obstinacy to a changing world. Given all the events that followed after his death—two world wars and the holocaust come to mind—who can blame him for so urgently trying to halt history from hurtling into the abyss?
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