The Feast of Pope St. Pius X (#3) - Pope Pius X, Our Guide through the Crisis

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For the week leading up to the feast of our patron on September 3, we will revisit seven articles that each tell something different about Pope St. Pius X.  The following was originally published by The Angelus in its September, 2012 issue, and was written by Fr. Emmanuel Herkel.

Pope St. Pius X is praised for many virtues. His story has been told in many ways. This will be an intellectual biography, limited to only one idea—the condemnation of Modernism. The ordinary history must be omitted, except for a few details. In 1903 Giuseppe Sarto was elected Pope Pius X. He died at the beginning of World War I, so he was a modern man. He understood the modern world, but he was not a Modernist. The virtue of faith made him the ideal choice as the patron of the Society of St. Pius X. This pope clearly condemned the heresy that is now ravaging the Church; he identified it and acted against it so strongly that the heretics did not dare to teach openly for 50 years. Unfortunately, the heretics have gained a certain prominence now, and that is a reason to invoke the patronage of St. Pius X.

Identifying the Error

Modernism is not an easy heresy to identify because it is not simply the denial of one or two truths of faith. Modernism is a different way of thinking about the faith; at its root it is a bad philosophy, and it touches every aspect of the faith. Previous popes had condemned Modernism, but they condemned only part of the heresy. It required the clear vision of St. Pius X to identify the error and condemn it effectively. This he did, and still today the best explanation of Modernism is the condemnation by St. Pius X in the encyclical Pascendi. The principles found in this encyclical were the guiding light for Archbishop Lefebvre. They continue to guide the SSPX in our relations with the heretics of today.

The Modernist as Believer

Let us begin with faith itself. A traditional definition of faith is “the adherence of the intellect to the truth revealed by God.” We believe in a truth that comes from outside, a truth that exists whether we believe it or not. We believe because of the authority of God who reveals, and there is no need to seek elsewhere.

No one has the right to take this faith from us and replace it by something else. What we are now seeing in the Church is the revival of a Modernist definition of faith that was condemned a hundred years ago by Pius X. According to this, faith is an internal feeling: there is no need to seek further than within a man’s heart to find the explanation of religion. The heretics think of faith as something purely subjective, a personal experience of God. They deny that God can be known by external means. It is everyone for himself, in his own conscience. This internal faith shuts us up within our human-ness.

The true Catholic faith does come to us from the outside, as a revelation from God. But the Modernists believe that “human reason is incapable of raising itself up to God, or even of knowing, from the fact of created beings, that God exists” (Pascendi). This was directly condemned by Vatican I (Dei Filius, Dz. 1806). As any external revelation is impossible for the Modernist, he will seek within himself to satisfy the need he feels for the divine, a need rooted in his subconscious. This need arouses in the soul a particular feeling which in some way unites us with God. If there is any reference to revelation in this heretical idea of faith, it is an immanent revelation of God created within the soul.

From Immanent Faith to Ecumenism

When Archbishop Lefebvre went to see Pope Paul VI in 1976, the Pope reproached him for making his seminarians swear an oath against the Pope. The Archbishop found it hard to conceive where that idea had come from. Then it dawned on him that someone had maliciously interpreted in this way the Anti-Modernist Oath that until recently every priest had to take before his ordination, and every Church dignitary when he received his office. Here is what we find in this oath:

I hold most certainly and I profess sincerely that faith is not a blind religious feeling which emerges from the shadows of the subconscious under the pressure of the heart and the inclination of the morally informed will. But it is true assent of the intellect to the truth received from outside, by which we believe to be true on God’s authority all that has been said, attested and revealed by God in person, our Creator and Lord.

This Anti-Modernist Oath is no longer required before becoming a priest or a bishop. It was one of the great safeguards established by St. Pius X to keep Modernism out of the Church. But today the concept of faith has been falsified and many people are influenced by Modernism. That is why they are ready to believe that all religions save. If each man’s faith is according to his conscience (since it is conscience that produces faith) then there is no reason to believe that one faith saves any better than another. We see from this how Ecumenism is not an isolated problem; it is part of the Modernist heresy.

The Catholic faith and the Modernist faith are completely different. The Catholic faith comes from an external God who came into this world and taught the Apostles all that we need to believe. The Modernists tell us that we did not receive truth; we construct it. The heresy is subjective to the point where we are told to tolerate everyone and everything because only sincerity matters, and we cannot judge other people’s sincerity.

Enemies inside the Church

How can we defend ourselves against these perverse doctrines that are ruining religion, all the more since the heretics are found in teaching positions within the Church? Thank God, they were unmasked by St. Pius X in a way that allows them to be easily recognized. Do not think of this as an old phenomenon of interest only to Church historians. Pascendi is a text that could have been written today; it is extraordinarily topical and depicts the “enemies within” with admirable vividness.

Here is a description of the Modernists from St. Pius X’s encyclical: we see them “lacking in serious philosophy and theology and passing themselves off, all modesty forgotten, as restorers of the Church” (Pascendi). These restorers of the Church are not afraid to change the traditional wording of prayers, or even of the Creed. The words, for them, are meaningless formulas, so they can be changed to other words that perhaps have more meaning. Continuing in St. Pius X’s exposition of Modernism, we read:

These formulas, if they are to be living formulas, must always be suited to the believer and to his faith. The day they cease to be so, they will automatically lose their original content, and then there will be nothing to do but change them. Since dogmatic formulas, as the Modernists conceive them, are of such an unstable and precarious nature, one understands perfectly why they have such a slight opinion of them (Pascendi). 

The current phrase for this is the somewhat ambiguous expression “living faith” or even “living tradition.” Remember that by those words the Modernists mean something entirely subjective.

Forming a Collegial Church

After his personal faith experience, the believer will share this in a faith encounter. If the faith comes to be shared by many it is called “collective”; then the need is felt to combine together in a society to preserve and develop the common treasure. This is how a Church is formed. The Modernist Church is “the fruit of the collective conscience, in other words, of the sum of individual consciences, which all derive from one original believer—who for Catholics is Jesus Christ” (Pascendi).

The next step for the modernists is to re-write the history of the Church: At the beginning, when the Church’s authority was still believed to come from God, it was conceived as an autocratic body. “But now the mistake has been realized. For just as the Church is a vital emanation of the collective conscience, so authority in its turn is a vital product of the Church” (Pascendi). Power, therefore, must change hands and come from the bottom. As political consciousness has created popular government among the nations, the same thing must happen in the Church: “If ecclesiastical authority does not wish to provoke a crisis of conscience, it must bow to democratic forms” (Pascendi).

Since Vatican II, the Church has been largely governed through bishops’ conferences. The Pope is expected to ask the permission of the bishops, the bishops defer to their priests, and the priests are told what to do and say by the laity on the parish council. The post-conciliar crisis is largely a crisis of authority, called Collegiality, which ensures that almost no heretics are ever condemned.

Loose Ends

That is almost enough about the Modernists. Briefly, here are a few other parts of the system. For the Modernists, 

[the] sacraments are simply signs or symbols, although endowed with efficacy. They compare them to certain words that have a vogue because of their power of expressing and disseminating impressive, inspiring ideas. As much as to say that the sacraments were only instituted to nourish faith: a proposition which the Council of Trent condemned (Pascendi).

The Bible is also distorted by this heresy. For the Modernists, the books of the Bible are a record of faith experiences. God speaks through these books, but He is the God who is within us. The books are inspired rather as one speaks of poetic inspiration; inspiration is likened to the urgent need felt by the believer to communicate his faith in writing. Thus, the Bible is a human work, and because the Bible is just a record of experiences they

do not hesitate to affirm that the books in question, especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, were gradually formed by additions made to a very short original narrative: interpolations in the form of theological or allegorical interpretations, or simply linking-passages and tackings-on (Pascendi). 

In this way the Modernists feel free to reject any part of Scripture that does not correspond to their personal faith experience by saying that it was not part of the original experience.

The Modernists have given new definitions to Catholic terms like faith, the Church, and the sacraments. Catholics who wonder at the new language employed in the “Conciliar Church” will be helped by knowing where it comes from. But the religion of Christ has not changed and never will. In this modern age, when the light of faith seems to be so dark, we need to appreciate and learn from the saints. St. Pius X is a bright light that God gave us at the beginning of this Modernist crisis, and he will guide us safely to the end.