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St. Pius X: Model of Papal Authority


Pope Saint Pius X
Feast Day: September 3

by John Vennari

On September 1, 1910, Pope Saint Pius X issued the last, some say the most important, of his three anti- Modernist pronouncements. It was the Motu proprio Sacrorum antistitum, that contained the famous "Oath Against Modernism". A study of this Motu proprio presents the finest representation in modern history of a Pope who truly obeyed Christ's Petrine command to "Feed My sheep" and "strengthen thy brethren".

The entire Catholic world -- to this day -- owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Pope Saint Pius X, even though his work has been severely undermined by high-level Catholic churchmen in the last 40 years.

Yet the Holy Pontiff's writings remain, and his actions still may be studied. If we wish to know a true model of Papal Authority, an ideal to which all others may strive, a standard by which to measure all else, a guiding light for our modern world, we need look no further than Saint Pius X, the greatest Pope of the 20th Century.

"To Restore All Things in Christ"

Pius X's first encyclical, issued two months after his elevation to the Papal throne, was entitled E Supremi; the programmatic encyclical for his entire papacy. In this document, Pius clearly recognizes his first duty to guard the integrity of the Catholic Faith, and to protect the flock entrusted to him from poisonous doctrine. It is a theme to which he will return continually throughout his reign.

Because he was a Thomist, Pius looked at the world as it really was, without any dreamy notions. And because he was a saint, he looked at the world from God's point of view. It was clear to him "that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ's Kingdom itself."[1]

These "enemies of the cross of Christ" were not only anti-clerical forces outside the Church. No, the greatest threat that Pius X recognized was the enemies of Christ inside the Church: priests, theologians, and laity who espoused a perverse system called "Modernism," rightly denounced by Pius X as the "synthesis of all heresies". "The danger" he said, is "in the very veins and heart of the Church"[2]

Pius knew that this poison must be eradicated. "Rest assured, Venerable Brethren," Pius wrote, "that we on our side will use the greatest diligence to prevent the members of the clergy from being drawn to the snares of a new and fallacious science, which savoreth not of Christ, but with masked and cunning argument, strives to open the doors to the errors of rationalism and semi-rationalism."[3]

Pius did not simply talk a good line. Nor did he pray only. His duty, he knew, was to take effective action. Thus he proclaimed his intention "to hasten the work of God - and
not merely by praying assiduously ... But more important still, by affirming both by word and deed and in the light of day, God's Supreme domination over man and all things, so that His right to command and His authority may be fully realized and respected."[4]

"We proclaim that we have no other program in the Supreme Pontificate" said the newly-elected Pius X, "but that
'of restoring all things in Christ' (Eph. 1:10), so that 'God may be all in all'."

Three years later, in the 1906 Encyclical Pieni l'animo, he gave voice to his reverential fear about the grave responsibility before God that the Petrine Office demands:

  • "With our soul full of fear for the strict account we shall have to give one day to the Prince of Pastors, Jesus Christ, with regard to the flock entrusted to us by Him, we pass our days in continued anxiety to preserve the faithful, as far as possible, from the most pernicious evils by which human society is at present afflicted." [5]

Pius knew that if he did not protect the flock from poisonous doctrine, if he allowed heretical priests to pervert the minds of Catholics, if he left the flock at the mercy of apostate teachers who operate freely inside of the Church, that God would hold him accountable for his dereliction of duty, and that he, the Pope himself, would lose his soul.

The knowledge of this strict accounting before God caused Pius to tremble with fear, and no doubt, was one of the prime motivations for his effective actions. It is a normal and healthy Catholic conviction. Saint Bernard, in fact, wrote to the Pope of his day that if the Pope did not correct his wayward bishops, he (the Pope) would not be saved.[6] "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" says the psalmist. The fear of the Lord is what also makes a courageous, effective Roman Pontiff.

One can only imagine what Pius X would say about those today who remain inactive while homosexual priests seduce children and rape teenage boys, and of those who do not discipline bishops who allow these perverse clergymen to defile -- and ruin for life -- the little ones of Christ's flock. How would Pius react to today's Church leaders who are so delinquent in their duty that Catholic parents must home school to protect their children's faith against heretical and perverse programs in Catholic schools?

In any event, when it comes to "restoring all things in Christ," Pius was as good as his word, as is evident when in 1907 the battle against Modernism was joined.

The "Synthesis of All Heresies"

The first skirmish between Catholic truth and Modernism occurred in the field of biblical studies. It was countered by Pope Leo XIII's 1893 Encyclical on the study of sacred Scripture, Providentissimus Deus.

Father Alfred Loisy, a prominent figure of Modernism, lost his Chair of Sacred Scripture at the Institut Catholique de Paris immediately after the Encyclical's publication. Both Father Loisy and Father George Tyrell, a leading Modernist in England, would later refuse to submit to the anti- Modernist decrees. They were excommunicated by Pope Pius X and died outside the Church.

Pope Saint Pius X launched his attack against Modernism with the Syllabus of Errors, Lamentabile sane exitu, issued on July 4, 1907. Here Pius X condemned Modernism's principal errors listed as 65 "Condemned Propositions".

Five months later, on December 8, 1907, Pius X issued the blockbuster encyclical Pascendi. This masterful text unmasked Modernists by exposing their seemingly elusive and impenetrable doctrine.

So completely did Pius X explain this heresy that Modernists who did not convert would tell their initiates that if they wanted to fully understand the Modernist system, read Pascendi.[7]
A key tenet of modernism is that religion must change for the sake of changing times.

Pius knew it was his first duty as Pope to protect the integrity of the Catholic Faith. In the first lines of Pascendi, Pius stated that one of the "primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord's flock is
that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and the gainsay of knowledge falsely so called". He explains that in the face of this Modernist heresy, "We may no longer keep silence, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty ..."[8]

Pius knew that the deadly system of Modernism destroyed not only all idea of religion but all idea of truth. In Pascendi, he laid bare the doctrine of Modernists, and also explained Modernism's causes: Pride, curiosity and ignorance.

In the same encyclical, Pius established effective remedies to Modernism, which gave teeth to the document. For seminarians and all theological students, he ordered firm adherence to the philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. "We will and strictly order" says Pius X in Pascendi, "that scholasticism be made the basis of sacred sciences."[9] Thomism is the remedy to Modernism.

Pius then ordered the bishops to implement the following:
  • * the exclusion from seminaries and universities of all directors and professors "found in any way imbued with Modernism,"
    * episcopal vigilance over all publications to detect any taint of Modernism in them, and to allow no books infected with Modernism sold in Catholic bookstores,
    * the establishment in each diocese of "Vigilance Committees" composed of priests chosen by the bishops, who are to be on the watch for any evidence of Modernist tendencies.[10]
These measures, as forceful as they were, he concluded were not enough. His watchword was vigilance, vigilance and ever more vigilance. Thus three years later, to counter what he knew to be an enemy "inside the gates" who never quits, he promulgated the Motu proprio Sacrocrum Antistium that contained the famous Oath Against Modernism.

- Excepted from "Pope St. Pius X: A Model of Papal Authority," published in CFN, August, 2003


1. From Pascendi, quoted from A Symposium on the Life and Work of Pope Pius X; entry by Father James E. Earn, O.P, S.T.D., "Pius X and the Integrity of Doctrine" (Washington, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 1946) p. 50.
2. Pascendi, Pope Saint Pius X, Translation from The Popes Against Modern Errors, (Rockford: Tan Books, 1999) p. 181.
3.Symposium, p. 52.
4. Quotation from E Supremi from Ibid., p. 52.
5. Ibid., p. 51
6. After the pathetic American Bishops' meeting in Dallas in June, 2002, that was to address the clerical scandals of homosexuality and pedophilia in the clergy, Rod Dreher of the National Review published a June 17, 2002 article entitled "Done in Dallas". It contained a report of a press conference in which Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln Nebraska called the United States hierarchy "a hapless bunch of bishops". The article says, "When an audience member asked Bruskewitz why Pope John Paul II has given the church in the U.S. so many lousy bishops, the bishop of Lincoln said he had no idea. Then he cited a letter that the medieval St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to the pope of his day, warning the pontiff that if he (the Pope) was going to be sent to hell, it would be because he failed to get rid of bad bishops."
7. According to Canon Barthod, who taught at the Seminary at Econe in the 1970s.
8. Pascendi, Pope Saint Pius X, par. 1. Translation from The Popes Against Modern Errors, p. 180.
9. Cited from Saint Pius X, Restorer of the Church, Yves Chiron (Kansas City, Angelus Press, 2002), pp. 209-210.
10. Symposium, p. 63.

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