The Feast of Pope St. Pius X (#7) - The Canonization of Pope Pius X by Pope Pius XII

Source: District of the USA

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 April, 2004 issue, written by Fr. Christian Thouvenot.

The light that shone in the Church during eleven years of pontificate was extinguished on August 20, 1914. Pope Pius X fell sick on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (Aug. 15) and received extreme unction and Holy Viaticum before dying. He was buried August 23, and his tomb immediately became the object of a popular devotion.

Santo Subito

Pope Pius X's reputation of sanctity was immediate. This was undoubtedly due to his qualities as a "miracle-saint" but also on account of the respect he inspired by his supernatural bearing. A number of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, vicars and prefects apostolic, pious societies, groups of Catholic Action, Catholic universities, and many of the faithful quickly wrote expressing their desire to see Pius X proclaimed a saint without delay. Thus in a letter dated September 24, 1916, Msgr. Leo, Bishop of Nicotera and Tropea, speaks of "a great saint and a great pope."

The flood of pilgrims was such that the Vatican crypt could no longer contain them all. As a result, Cardinal Merry del Val, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, had a small metal cross set into the floor of the basilica so that the faithful might kneel down directly above the tomb. The cross bore the inscription Pius Papa X.

Cardinal Merry del Val, the former Secretary of State of Pope Pius X celebrated Holy Mass near the tomb on the 20th of every month, until February 20, 1930, when he did so for the last time–six days before his own death.

The Cause for Canonization Opened

The honor of having introduced the cause of Pius X falls to the cardinals of Rome–a fact that is unique in the history of the Church. It was they who selected the postulator, appointed February 14, 1923: Dom Benedetto Pierami, abbot of the Benedictine monks of Vallombroso, of the Roman monastery of St. Praxedes. The various diocesan processes were then opened.

On the 20th anniversary of Pope Pius X's accession to the papal throne, Pope Pius XI had a monument raised in St. Peter's Basilica in homage to "the Father, the Saint, and the Pontiff." Catholic devotion to Pius X between the two world wars remained steadfast. This was clear in 1935, the 100th anniversary of his birth. During this anniversary, faithful from all over the world came to visit the Vatican, as well as Riese, Giuseppe Sarto's hometown. Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, earlier referred to him in the anniversary year of his birth as that "ardent flame of charity and radiant splendor of sanctity."

For the 25th anniversary of his death, an imposing procession was organized for the area dioceses to the tomb of the Servant of God. On August 19, 1939, led by the patriarch of Venice and by Cardinal Salotti, pilgrims arrived at Castel Gondolfo where Pius XII delivered a stirring tribute to his predecessor. It would not be the last; Pius XII would sign the Decree for the Introduction of the Cause in February, 1943. The canonical examination of Pope Pius X's remains took place in the chapel of the Holy Crucifix in the Vatican Basilica the next year, where they had been transferred. They were exposed for a period of 45 days.

An Intact Saint

Jerome Dal-Gal, in his book Pie X, published in Paris in 1953, gives this account:

Opening the coffin, they found the body intact, clothed in the papal insignia as it had been buried 30 years before. The pectoral cross and the pastoral ring shone brilliantly....Under the taut skin which covered the face the outline of the skull was clearly recognizable. The hollows of the eyes appeared dark but not empty; they were covered by eyelids much wrinkled and sunk. The hair was white and covered the top of the head completely. All of the body, which Pius X had forbidden to be touched by unconsecrated hands, even for the traditional embalming, was in an excellent state of conservation; no part of the skeleton was uncovered, no bones were exposed. The body was rigid, but the arms were mobile and flexible, at the shoulders as well as the elbows. The hands–the humble hands of Pius X–were beautiful and slender, with the nails on the fingers perfectly preserved.

Once the apostolic processes had been completed and the final objections had been dismissed–notably those concerning the conduct of the Servant of God in his attacks against modernism [see "St. Pius X: Sodalitium Pianum," The Angelus, Nov. 2003, pp. 5-10–Ed.] Pius XII, having heard the cause, proclaimed that Pius X had "practiced the virtues to an heroic degree" and bestowed on him the title of Venerable.

Awaiting Miracles

With the proclamation of heroic virtue, the Church's role as judge reaches an end, and she only awaits a confirmation by God Himself. The commission of experts of the Sacred Congregation of Rites recognized two miracles. The first was the instantaneous cure in December, 1928 of a Visitandine nun of Dole, in eastern France, Sr. Marie-Francoise Deperras, who had bone cancer in her left femur and was declared to be incurable by her doctors. While she was suffering from horrible pain, the community began a novena, placing a relic of the Pope Pius X on her chest. She got worse. The community did not let itself be discouraged, and the cure took place during the course of a second novena. In 1950, the commission of experts of the Congregation of Rites judged that the cure was "instantaneous, perfect, definitive, and clearly of a supernatural order."

The second miracle was that worked upon a Poor Clare from Boves, Italy, Sr. Benedetta De Maria, afflicted with a malignant tumor of the abdomen. The novena began February 26, 1938. One morning, the sick Sister touched a piece of a relic of Pius X to herself and was immediately cured. The tumor, as big as a grapefruit, entirely disappeared and the pain stopped. Sr. Benedetta dressed and went to join the community in choir, crying "Healed! Healed! Pius X! Pius X!"

De Tuto - Beatification

Pius XII gave his sanction to these two miracles. On the Feast of the Apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes in 1951 he signed the decree of approval of the two miracles needed for the beatification. Finally, in his decree De Tuto just a month later, he declared that the Church could safely proceed to the beatification of the Servant of God, Pope Pius X.

On June 3, 1951 at St. Peter's in Rome, before 23 cardinals, hundreds of bishops and archbishops, and a crowd of 100,000 faithful, Pius XII explained the circumstances under which he proceeds to this beatification:

"Behold that God, in the secret designs of His Providence, chose his [Pius X's] unworthy allow the brilliant star of his white presence to shine forth in the shadows that darken the yet uncertain path of today's world, in order to light the way and strengthen the step of disoriented humanity."

After having pointed out that no pope had been canonized in the last 200 years, Pius XII divided his allocution into two parts: First, Pius X was a pastor patterned after the model of the Good Shepherd, and second, his works give testimony of his zeal for the universal Church. A summary of this address follows:

Model of the Good Shepherd

Pope Pius X shone by his great simplicity and affability, as well as by his approachability–but also by the firmness of his fatherly hand. Poor in earthly goods but rich in faith and the Catholic virtues, he seemed to have been born to hold the rudder of the Church.

E Supremi Apostolatus, his first encyclical (Oct. 4, 1903), was a flame enlightening minds and enkindling hearts. In it he enunciated the exact diagnosis of the evils and the errors of the age, and at the same time the means and the remedies necessary to cure them. It is a trophy of clarity and persuasion, forceful and wise. His very words revealed the soul of a Pastor who lived in God and of God, with no other intention than to lead his lambs and sheep back to Him.

The virtues of force and of prudence, which he was able to practice in perfect balance, were the fruit of his pastoral solicitude for the freedom of the Church, for the purity of doctrine, and for the defense of the flock of Christ against threatening danger. Some, however, did not greet the government of Pope Pius X with the comprehension and loyal adhesion expected of them. In any case, the experience of Pope Pius X had taught him not to be surprised at being treated as "intransigent" when fighting liberalism or Freemasonry.

In fact, Pius X gave evidence of an enlightened prudence during those periods that were the most difficult and the most trying, when his responsibilities weighed most heavily. At these times, he turned to the assistance of his faithful Secretary of State, that great Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val. The Pope's admirable balance allowed him to deliver judgments that were indeed inspired by heavenly wisdom:

With his eagle-eye, more perceptive and more accurate than the myopic view of short-sighted reasoners, he saw the world such as it was. He saw the mission of the Church in the world. He saw with the eyes of a holy Pastor exactly where his duty lay in the midst of a dechristianized society, and of a Christianity infected–or at least threatened–by the errors of the time and the perversity of the age.

Pope Pius XII sketched the portrait of a gentle pope, who was kind, paternal and peace-loving, but firm and unshakable when his duty commanded him to speak:

The humble "country priest," as he sometimes liked to describe himself–and it does not lessen his greatness to call him thus–in the face of the attacks perpetrated against the indefeasible rights of liberty and human dignity, and against the sacred rights of God and the Church, knew how to draw himself up to the stature of a giant in all the majesty of his sovereign authority. Then his non possumus–"It is not possible"–made the powerful of the earth tremble and sometimes retreat, as it reassured the hesitant and galvanized the timid.

A Zeal for the Church

Pope Pius XII drew attention to his zeal for the moral influence of the Church. Pius X was to become the incomparable patron of the sciences, both sacred and profane: Biblical, philosophical, and theological studies, as well as art, chant, and sacred music. He called Pope Pius X's codification of canon law (1917 Code of Canon Law) a "masterpiece."

Another zeal which enflamed him was that of priestly holiness–a zeal to look after the pastors of the sacred flock. More than anything, Pope Pius X was vigilant that the clergy be well formed in both learning and sanctity, above all by studying and teaching Christian doctrine. He took care to define and research the collaboration of the laity in the priestly apostolate, so isolated by the age:

Without undermining the principles, he was able to organize popular Christian action, mitigate the rigor of the Non Expedit, and prepare the ground for that conciliation which was to bring religious peace to Italy.

He was to the highest degree a "Pope of the Eucharist" because, Pius XII said, he "gave Jesus to the children and the children to Jesus." In conclusion, Pius XII insisted that:

In the person [of Pius X] and by his work, God wished to prepare the Church for the new and difficult duties that a troubled future held in store for her. He wished to prepare, in so timely a way, a Church united in her doctrine and efficient in her pastors; a generous laity and an educated faithful; a vigilant conscience, aware of dangers threatening the life of society. If today the Church of God–far from retreating before the forces that would destroy all spiritual values–suffers, combats by the divine strength, progresses, and redeems, it is due to the active foresight and the sanctity of Pius X. Today it becomes manifest that all of his pontificate was supernaturally oriented according to a plan of love and redemption to dispose our hearts and minds to engage in our own battles, and to assure our triumph and those of future generations.


The Sacred Congregation of Rites placed his feast day on September 3 for the dioceses of Rome, Treviso, Mantua, and Venice. The canonization took place less than three years later. This final step required that the Sacred Congregation of Rites record two new miracles which had both occurred after the beatification.

The first was that of attorney Francesco Belsami of Naples who was struck by a serious heart illness declared incurable by his doctors. Threatened with imminent death, Mr. Belsami received a picture of the Blessed on his chest. At the point of death and left alone one night by his attending physician, he suddenly felt himself cured. His extremely serious infectious pulmonary abscess had been cured instantaneously, perfectly, and by a supernatural cause.

The second miracle was to effected upon a Daughter of Charity, Sr. Maria Ludovica Scorcia, of Palermo Italy, afflicted by a serious meningeal encephalomyelitis due to a neurotropic virus. From the onset of the illness–which was absolutely organic, according to her doctors–the entire community multiplied novenas to the Blessed. During one night, she fell into a peaceful sleep. At dawn, she was able to go to the chapel unassisted, having recovered all of her strength–entirely cured. The doctors confirmed her cure that same morning, perfect, immediate, and lasting due to supernatural causes.


The canonization by Pope Pius XII of Blessed Pope Pius X on May 24, 1954, 40 years after his death, took place at a very precise epoch in the life of the Church, and in a very particular context, one that could almost be called a doctrinal and disciplinary "getting a grip" against the united influences of the "New Theology" (in doctrinal matters) and Marxism (in the social arena) in the post-World War II world. The dates speak for themselves:

  • 1945: This was the year an article by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. was published denouncing the New Theology as a throwback to modernism. The immanentism of Blondel, taken up again by Fathers de Lubac, Rousselot, and Huby, and also different movements, such as that of the priest-workers, were the objects of surveillance by the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. The same applies to the Dominicans Congar, Feret, and Chenu, whose work A School of Theology: The Saulchoir had been put on the Index of Forbidden Books a few years earlier.
  • 1950: In this year, the dogma of the Assumption of our Lady was proclaimed. Humani Generis against evolution, false ecumenism, and the abandonment of scholasticism, was published.
  • 1954: The year of Pope St. Pius X's canonization, which must be seen in the light of three documents of Pope Pius XII:

    Discourse of Canonization (May 29, 1954)

    Allocution to Cardinals and Bishops (May 31, 1954),

    Allocution to the Sacred College and to the Episcopacy (Nov. 2, 1954).

Discourse of Canonization

In his Discourse of Canonization, Pope Pius XII expressed his great joy:

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the Church, the formal canonization of a pope is proclaimed by him who once had the privilege of serving him as a member of the Roman Curia.

He then paid homage to "the illustrious champion of the Church."

The first great accomplishment of St. Pius X, acknowledged Pope Pius XII, was his formulation and publication of Canon Law. When Pope Pius X declared in his first encyclical that his goal was to "restore all things in Christ," he meant to "recapitulate" all things, to bring all things back to Christ. But what is the way that gives us access to Jesus Christ? The response, which was just as valid yesterday as it is today, and forever, is the Catholic Church. This was therefore his primary concern, to render the Church ever more apt and open, in a very concrete way, to the movement of mankind toward Jesus Christ. To this end, he conceived the ambitious task of renewing the body of ecclesiastical laws in such a way as to give to the entire organism of the Church a more regular way of functioning and a greater accuracy and rapidity of movement, necessary in view of an outside world ever more dynamic and complex.

This "assuredly difficult work," underlined Pope Pius XII, was certainly worthy of Pope Pius X's practical common sense and of his energetic personality. But more profoundly, it reflected his conviction that the reality of God

is the origin and the foundation of all order, all justice, and every right in the world. Where there is God, there order reigns, and justice and right; and, conversely, all just order, sustained by right, manifests the presence of God. But what institution on earth ought to manifest this fecund relation between God and right more eminently than the Church, the mystical body of Christ?...[That is why] the Code of Canon Law will ever remain the great monument to his pontificate, and we can consider the man himself to be the providential saint of the present time.

The second distinctive characteristic for which Pius XII canonized his predecessor was that he was an intrepid champion "of the unity of the Church in her deepest foundations: the Faith."

The lucidity and the firmness with which Pius X led the victorious battle against the errors of modernism bear witness to what heroic degree the faith burned in the heart of the saint....[He] had the clear awareness of fighting for the most sacred cause of God and human souls...[with] the indomitable stamina of an athlete.

Not only did he save the Faith, but also the intelligence necessary to pose an act of faith. Said Pope Pius XII:

The conservation of the intimate union between faith and science is so great a good for all humanity that this second noble work of the Pontiff is also of such an importance that it reaches far beyond the frontiers of the Catholic world.

When we see the consequences of modernism, concerning the Faith (atheism) and scientific understanding (agnosticism and immanent subjectivism), it is clear that St. Pius X saved human intelligence along with Catholic truth. Without doubt, "his firmness in the face of error may still remain a scandal for some," but "in reality it is a service of great charity rendered to all humanity by a saint, in his quality of Head of the Church."

A third characteristic of Pius X's personality was, obviously, his sanctity. "As a humble parish priest, as a bishop, as Supreme Pontiff, he was always convinced that the sanctity to which God had destined him was priestly sanctity," especially in the perpetual renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross in the Holy Mass, and by the Eucharistic ministry. Pius XII remarked:

Thanks to the profound vision that he possessed of the Church as a society, Pius X recognized the power of the Eucharist to nourish her interior life most substantially, and to raise her far above all human associations....[This is a] providential example for the modern world, in which earthly society, become ever more of a puzzle in its own eyes, seeks with anxiety the solution that will give it back a soul! May it thus regard as a model the Church gathered around her altars....In the Church alone-and, through her, in the Eucharist, which is "a life hidden with Christ in God"–can be found the source and the secret of a renewal of the life of society....The Eucharist and the interior life: such is the supreme and most universal predication that Pius X now addresses, from the heights of glory, to every soul. He was the apostle of the interior life, and in this age of machines, technology and organization, he now emerges as the saint and the guide of the men of today.

The canonization of Pope St. Pius X, therefore, bears a triple message:

  1. The effort of the Pontiff to organize the Church–the only path to Jesus Christ–was the Code of Canon Law; 
  2. The defense of the Faith–foundation of the unity of the Church–took the form of a battle against modernism;
  3. His priestly sanctity, through the primacy of the spiritual life, transformed Pius X into the Pope of the Eucharist.

The Allocutions

In the two allocutions, already cited, of 1954, delivered to the cardinal and bishops, Pope Pius XII delivered a very precise message to the episcopacy concerning the duties incumbent upon them in virtue of their triple charge and their divinely instituted prerogatives: magisterium, priesthood, and government. These are the three offices (teaching, sanctifying, and governing) of the priest.

As for what concerned the duty of magisterium, Pius XII reaffirmed that, by divine right, the only true doctors and masters are the pope and the bishops. All other teachers, be they learned theologians, only act by delegation, and according to a mission or an office that could never exist independently of this authority. Thus he puts bishops on their guard against professors or theologians who neglect the common teaching of the magisterium to cultivate, each within his method or his discipline, "modern ways of thinking" by a culpable curiosity for "all that is new: in the manner of speaking of divine things, in the celebration of the divine worship, in Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety."

The Pope went on to remind the bishops that "the questions of religion and morality–truths which absolutely transcend the sensible order-fall exclusively to the office and the authority of the Church." Finally, Pius XII warned against a certain theology "of the laity" that tends to claim a sort of autonomy with respect to the magisterium, in the name of an effusion of charisms like those mentioned by St. Paul, and in the name of certain laymen who, throughout history, have been remarkable for their apostolic zeal, moved by an interior force, without reference to any magisterial authority:

Exactly the opposite is true: for there has never been in the Church–there is not today nor will there ever be–a legitimate lay magisterium which God would have released from the authority, the guidance and the oversight of the sacred Magisterium. What is more, their very refusal of submission provides a convincing argument and a basis for their condemnation. Those laymen who speak and act in such a way are not led by the spirit of God and of Christ.

In what regarded the duty to sanctify, after having pointed out to what extent the altar and the Eucharistic Sacrifice were the essence and center of Pope Pius X's devotion, Pius XII presented the priest as he who offers the sacrifice. "Where there exists no real power to offer sacrifice," he said, "there is no true priesthood." It was the Apostles, and not the faithful, "whom Christ Himself created and constituted priests, and it is upon them that He bestowed the power to offer the Sacrifice." The Priesthood as such and the common "priesthood" of the faithful, of which spoke St. Peter, are essentially different.

As for the duty of government, Pope Pius XII combated the tendency to restrict the power of pastors to purely religious matters by limiting the scope of their teaching on natural law and morality. The pope here cites Pope St. Pius X:

Whatever the Christian may do, even in the domain of earthly pursuits, he does not have the right to neglect the supernatural. What is more, he must ordain all things toward the sovereign good as to his last end, following the precepts of Christian wisdom: all of his actions, insofar as they are morally good or evil–that is, insofar as they are in conformity with natural and divine law or on the contrary depart from them–are subject to the judgment and the jurisdiction of the Church.

That is why social questions, by reason of their moral aspect, also fall under the competence of the hierarchy, for the social reign of Christ and the salvation of the greatest possible number of souls.

Why Do We Have Recourse to St. Pius X?

In light of these discourses of Pope Pius XII calling witness to the "eagle-eye" of St. Pius X, we have to try to understand why, in 1954, the pope wished to canonize his predecessor fewer than 40 years after his death. Who, in 1954, was attacking the traditional structure of the Church? the traditionally accepted ecclesiology? the Faith itself, foundation of the unity of the Church? Who was seeking to transform the liturgy and the reception of the sacraments by invoking the notion of the "people of God," and in the name of a common "priesthood"? Who was speaking of paving the way for a theology of the laity? Undoubtedly, the new theologians are numerous who would defend one or another of these condemnable or dangerous viewpoints, be it in ecclesiology, or touching the Faith, or else concerning the liturgy–the life of the Catholic Church that includes the Holy Mass, the sacraments, and all her public acts of praise and adoration.

Would it be too audacious to cite a name, pointing a finger at Yves Congar, in religion Marie-Joseph, Dominican, and later cardinal? In any case, we would not be the first.

In La Pensée Catholique, Fr. Luc Lefevre cites abundantly from Fr. Congar as one of the theologians urging the laity to claim its independence, thus representing a certain "lay theology" against which Pope Pius XII had spoken. The Dominican was to protest, and even demanded the right to respond. The fact remains that numerous citations drawn from Paving the Way for a Theology of the Laity [published 1953 by Cerf, Paris–Ed.] correspond to the warning issued by Rome. Moreover, Fr. Congar had been militating for this "lay theology" for years. This element of the modern movement, advanced by Fr. Congar as early as 1947, was expressed by Fr. Dabin such:

[Lay theology] rediscovers and reaffirms, within the mystery of the Church, a mystery of the Holy Spirit and a mystery of the laity: a pneumatology and a "laicology."

As early as February 18, 1954, Congar himself had a presentiment, fearing that Pope Pius XII's Allocution to the Cardinals and Bishops of May 31 would finally be Rome's document regarding the laity.

The canonization of St. Pius X by Pope Pius XII came at a very precise time in the life of the Church and in a very particular context, which one is tempted to describe as a doctrinal and disciplinary "getting a grip." lu fact, that is the moment at which Fathers Chenu, Boisselt, Feret, and Congar are removed and sent into exile, as were many other adepts of the New Theology–a theology under fire at the time, but which would come back into its own at the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Congar describes this period as follows:

The reign of Pius XII was suspicious and authoritarian. At the time, the Supreme Pontiff was glorified in the most appalling fashion; "autocratic," he did not accept [my] new vision of the Church, which threw into doubt the pyramidal, hierarchical, juridical system put in place by the Counter-Reformation. My ecclesiology was that of the "people of God.

It was a period of "galloping Mariology," just as people used to talk about galloping consumption, an illness that spread extremely rapidly and in an abnormal way. The Pope himself ordered the preparation of the dogmatic definition of the bodily Assumption of Mary, Mother of God–I was not at all in favor of that....

So much so that we can fully agree with Professor Fouilloux when he writes:

In the beginning of the 1950's, the threat of an internal subversion once again appeared so serious that it was absolutely necessary to have recourse to the anti-modernist pope. The sense of the beatification (1951) and the canonization (1954) cannot be reduced simply to a desire to combat modern errors. Nonetheless, although it stagnated for a time, the cause of Pope Sarto came to completion in the middle of an ecclesiastical "cold war.

Interesting reflection. Without reducing Pope Pius X's canonization to the combat against modern errors alone, it was "absolutely necessary" to have recourse to the anti-modernist pope in order to do so. The noble figure of Pope St. Pius X–Pope of Order, Faith, and the Holy Eucharist–will long remain "the saint and the guide of the men of today."

We conclude with the words of Fr. Luc Lefevre:

With his eagle-eye, and with the eye of a prophet and a saint, Pius X saw the forces of materialism and false spiritualism conspiring against the Church and her priesthood, for the ruin of Christendom. He saw the deformation of the Gospel and of the sacred character of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the absurdities that would weaken the Catholic sense. Pius X saw these rejections, these denials and these attacks, for which some dare draw profit or glory....And the clarity, the accuracy of his perception should put us to shame, we, miserably short-sighted, who stumble against grains of dust; we, miserably short-sighted, obsessed by the present moment and haunted by the pleasure of "acquired gain" that barely lasts the day; we, miserably short-sighted, who see only ourselves, no longer seeing–or feigning no longer to see–the sacred heritage that we have received and that it is our duty to pass down in its entirety, pure and ever richer.


The profound, broad, and elevated vision of Pius X, at the beginning of this century, should put to shame the prideful of every age.