Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Biography of His Holiness, Saint Pius X
But as we were approved by God that the gospel should
be committed to us: even so we speak, not as pleasing
men but God, who proveth our hearts. 1 Thess 2:4.
Saint Pius X, Pope (1835 – 1914)
Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was born 2nd June 1835, at the village of Riese, Province of Treviso, in Venice.
He was the oldest of eight children; his parents were Giovanni Battista Sarto and Margarita (née Sanson); the former, a postman, died in 1852 when he was 17, but Margarita lived to see her son a cardinal. They were a poor family. Their house at the centre of Riese had just eight rooms (four up and four down). The floors were earthen on the ground floor and rickety staircase led from the kitchen to the upstairs hall. The house is now and preserved in its original state with the original furniture and even plates, cutlery and cooking utensils.
Guiseppe Sarto as a youth was a bright student and pious too. One of his pleasures when he had the time was to walk 2km to assist at Mass in his favourite church Santa Maria in Cendrolli in a neighbouring village. In order to save his shoes, for they were the only ones he possessed, he walked bare foot whenever he could. He tied his shoe laces together and hung his shoes around his neck.
After finishing his primary education, Giuseppe at first received private lessons in Latin from the arch-priest of his town, Don Tito Fusaroni, after which he studied for four years at the gymnasium of Castelfranco Veneto, walking to and fro every day.
Having being recognised as having a possible vocation, in 1850 at 15 years old he received the tonsure from the Bishop of Treviso, and was given a scholarship of the Diocese of Treviso in the seminary of Padua, where he finished his classical, philosophical, and theological studies with distinction. It is a credit to Don Tito Fusaroni that he was singled out and found a scholarship for Guiseppi Sarto, for his family were too poor to support him themselves and would not have dreamt of an honour so high for their son.
Guiseppi Sarto was ordained in 1858 at 23 years old, and was sent to a village called Tombolo as a curate. This was a difficult posting for the village was a poor one and the faith was dying among its inhabitants and what-is-more the parish priest was an invalid and required much care and attention. Father Sarto worked and prayed tirelessly. He was gifted in that he could survive on just four of sleep a night. The housekeeper for the parish priest reproached him on one occasion for leaving the oil lamp burning at night. She had seen it a 4 o’clock in the morning from the street. But Father Sarto was not sleeping at his time - he was already at his desk.
He not only performed the functions of the parish priest in Tombolo, he found time to study, seeking to perfect his knowledge of theology by assiduously studying Saint Thomas and canon law; and, at the same time he established a night school for adult students, and devoted himself to the ministry of preaching in other towns to which he was called.
In 1867, after his parish priest had signalled to the local bishop that Father Sarto had extraordinary talents and was wasted in a place like Tombolo, he was named arch-priest of Salzano, a large borough of the Diocese of Treviso. Here he restored the church, and 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 epidemic.
He also cared and provided much for the religious instruction of adults.
In 1878, on the death of Bishop Zanelli, he was elected vicar-capitular – which made him successor to the bishop.
And then on 10th November, 1884, he was named Bishop of Mantua, then a very troublesome see, and was consecrated on 20th November.
His chief care in his new position was for the formation of the clergy at the seminary. “Love your seminary” was his motto among the faithful. In one year the number of seminarians rose from about 9 to 149. Bishop Sarto himself taught dogmatic theology for several years at the seminary. At the seminary he insisted that the doctrine and method of St. Thomas be followed, and to many of the poorer students he gave copies of the "Summa theologica". He also cultivated the Gregorian Chant among the seminarians.
The temporal administration of his see imposed great sacrifices upon Bishop Sarto. He visited every parish of his diocese and, despite his gentle disposition towards others, he insisted on strict discipline among his clergy ensuring that their spiritual lives were in order and that their duties to study be fulfilled.
It was not unknown for Bishop Sarto, when visiting the presbyteries of his diocese, to select moral theology textbooks from the libraries of his priests, blow the dust off them and then fix the trembling priest with an inquisitive glare.
By his attendance at the confessional, he gave the example of pastoral zeal. He never ceased to promote the catechism as the principal tool for Catholic education and encouraged the Catholic political movement "Opera dei Congressi".
On the death of Pope Leo XIII, the princes of the Church, the cardinals, entered into conclave. Mgr Merry de Val, the young sophisticated and brilliant diplomat was unexpectedly made Secretary of the Conclave and after the dramatic attempt to veto the liberal Cardinal Rampolla by the Emperor Franz-Joseph, and after several ballots Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto was elected on 4th August by a vote of 55 out of a possible 60 votes. He was under no illusions about the task that faced him so that when the Cardinal Dean asked Cardinal Sarto what name he would assume the answer was: “Since the Popes who have suffered most for the Church in this age have borne the name of Pius, I will to take this name.” His coronation took place on the following Sunday, 9 August, 1903.
The election of St. Pius X was a surprise to the world. He was not from the Roman Curia, he had no diplomatic experience, he was of humble origin, the son of a postman, and virtually unknown outside of Italy. He didn’t even speak French (imagine!). He was the first to ascend the throne of Peter having passed through every clerical rank from curate to pope. It was only after the official reception of the Diplomatic Corps, where the ambassadors of the nations of the world, were officially presented to the new pope that the wisdom of the conclave became apparent.
Pope St. Pius X ascended the Papal throne at a critical stage in Church history. The Church had lost the last of its Papal States in 1870 to the Italian Revolutionaries; the major secular powers of the world were controlled by the enemies of the Church; the morals of the age were in deplorable decline; and the Church herself was being corrupted from within by pernicious errors.
While Leo XIII had done much the to increase the prestige of the Church in the eyes of the world, and while he had made some reforms and encouraged a rekindling of the intellectual and spiritual life among Catholics, the situation was still near desperate.
The biggest battle of all was one of ideas. While the Church possesses the integral truth, there have been times during the Church’s history where her children have veered away from the perennial doctrine of the Church. The error of his time and of our time is the most pernicious of all errors. It was not like Arianism, Pelagianism, or any of the heresies that denied some aspect of the Church’s doctrine in the preceding centuries. This heresy was a synthesis of all heresies, it challenged not one doctrine but everything together. The heresy was called Modernism.
Modernism destroys the order of man to God. God made man with an intellect, with a will and with passions. When man is ordered to God his passions are submitted to his will, his will is submitted to his intellect and his intellect is submitted to God. Modernism destroys this order, it consists of two elements:
The first element is to separate the intellect of man from God. This error is called Agnosticism and claims that whatever is unknowable by the direct experience of man cannot be the object of science. Revelation is discredited as is natural theology. In effect, it holds that it is folly to search for God using our intellects because God cannot be seen, touched or heard.
The second element is to submit the intellect and the will to the passions by holding that the supernatural virtue of faith, instead of being an infused virtue that moves the intellect to adhere to divinely revealed truth, is really a religious sentiment, a feeling, a movement of the passions resulting from the subconscious innate need of man for God. It is called Vital Immanence and not only does it deny the origins of faith, it denies the distinction between natural and supernatural because it claims that faith is natural to man.
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 Scriptures, 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 8th September 1907, there appeared the famous EncyclicalPascendi, 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 other measures (the Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum on the regulation of teaching in ecclesiastical institutions, and the prescription of the anti-modernist oath [abandoned at the time of Vatican II - when it was most needed!]) Pope Pius X established a committee to censor books and to root out Modernism in the dioceses and especially in the seminaries.
It was a liberal age and the errors of modernism found ready adherents in the young seminarians. New and exciting ideas, the promise of freedom from the sound discipline of the past were causing many to adhere to Modernist ideas. Pius X was ruthless in weeding out these pernicious elements. The danger to the faith was so great that he encouraged those with responsibility to expel without scruple anyone who showed signs of sympathy towards Modernist ideas.
In the Encyclical Acerbo nimis (15th 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. He caused a new catechism to be published for the Diocese of Rome and subsequently the Catechism of Saint Pius X.
The catechism is the most efficient means of teaching the fundamental truths of the faith. While is might appear dry and uninteresting, if it is memorised it provides the Catholic with a starting point in meditation, discussion and defence of every aspect of the faith.
Another invaluable contribution Pope Pius X effected was the codification of Canon Law. Canon Law is the law of the Church. Just as every society needs laws to govern itself, the Church which is the perfect society, also needs laws. Until that time the system of Canon Law had evolved haphazardly on a regional basis. Every country, every diocese and every religious community had its own laws which overlapped; there was no unity within the Church. Pius X, therefore, on 19th March 1904, created a special congregation of cardinals, of which Mgr Gasparri, later a cardinal, became the secretary. The most eminent authorities on canon law, throughout the world, collaborated in the formation of the new code. He died before the completion of the project which terminated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law published under Pope Benedict XV.
The inscription on his tomb, in St. Peter's reads: "Born poor and humble of heart, Undaunted champion of the Catholic faith, Zealous to restore all things in Christ, Crowned a holy life with a holy death."