Pope Saint Pius X, 1903-1914
by
Gerald Darring


Pope Pius X was Bishop of Rome from 1903 to 1914. His tenure was characterized by internal reforms such as frequent Communion, early first Communion for children, proper training of the clergy, and the restoration of plain chant. In style, he was autocratic, and he is often most remembered for his forceful condemnation of 'modernism,' which earned for him the reputation of being opposed to most of what goes to make up the modern world. He did not issue any encyclicals that were socially oriented or were accepted into the tradition of Catholic social teaching. In discussions of the tradition, Pius X is usually discussed in terms of his contribution--or lack thereof--as successor to Leo XIII, whose principles he seems to have interpreted in a narrow, 'conservative' fashion. Pius X was canonized a saint in 1954.

CRITICAL COMMENTS

Joseph V. Sommers. Review for Religious (1946) 15-16. Pius X's contributions are these: he restricted the term Catholic Action to the laity's share in the apostolic mission of the hierarchy; he set the universal aim for Catholic Action--to establish, defend, and fully extend the Kingdom of Christ in individuals, in families, and in the whole of society; he stressed its special necessity in our times: he gave it pre-eminence among the means recommended for the reconstruction of the social order according to a Christian pattern; he based the obligation of Catholic Action on membership in the Mystical Body, on the law of charity, and obedience to the pope; he outlined its subordination to the direction of the hierarchy; and he recalled to priests their obligation to guide and encourage this apostolic organization among the laity.

Liam Brophy. Social Justice Review (1951) 113. "It would be an excellent thing if the Democrats of the dogmatic egalitarian type could read this concentrated Letter of Pius X, if those who claim that power is from the people instead of from God, if the noisy advocates of rights could be induced to ponder its persuasive and penetrating logic. And if the strictures directed against Sillon were effectively directed against our own secularist idea of Democracy, how few of its accepted dogmas would go uncondemned!"

L.J. Twomey. Catholic Mind (1951) 694. His preoccupation with eternity made him no less the practical man. He saw clearly that if society was to be won for Christ, the problems of society must come within the active apostolate of the Church. His plan for meeting these problems effectively was based on "Catholic Action whereby the laity under the direction of the hierarchy would carry Christian solutions to the problems existing in family, economic, social and political life."

Igino Giordani. Pius X: A Country Priest (1954) 131. "A true son of the soil, more preoccupied with conserving than with innovating, he spoke more easily of ownership and rights and of inequality and of resignation than of the social obligation of riches, of changes in the social structure, and of democracy." Conservatives especially took heart from his pronouncements since they were of a mind to solve the 'social question' by charity (a charity considered in terms of abundant almsgiving) rather than by justice.

Richard L. Camp. The Papal Ideology of Social Reform (1969) 89. Pius X encouraged efforts of social Catholics to aid the workers and to combine material relief with moral and spiritual betterment, but he was more cautious and negative in his approach than was Leo XIII. He wrote nothing comparable to Rerum Novarum and confined his remarks to occasional letters. Since he thought social problems were primarily a matter for charity, many observers have accused him of not being interested in reform. Such a conclusion is not entirely fair. "It would have been more just to say that Pius X felt social Catholics were neglecting the role of charity too much in their zeal for reform, and he wanted to right the balance. He never rejected reform itself as a goal for Catholics as long as it was kept within the bounds of Catholic teaching and tradition."

David Hollenbach. Claims in Conflict (1979) 50. "Pius X's social writings can be characterized as an attempt to bring about a 'restauration' of more traditional theoretical frameworks and theological interpretations of the basis of Christian morality. It is clear that Pius X solved the problem of the tension between the egalitarian and hierarchical conceptions of society present in Leo XIII's writings by opting firmly for hierarchy and traditionalism."

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 53-54. Pius applied the distinction between justice and charity by saying that there is a 'claim, in the strict sense of the word' only when justice has been violated. He suggested that it is 'merely' an obligation of charity to bring about an equitable social order. This was an unfortunate set back to the concept of 'social justice' that was beginning to emerge after Rerum Novarum. "It gave the impression that any social obligation which could not be specified in the strict interpersonal terms of commutative justice was not really a matter of justice at all and was for that reason less compelling or could be ignored with greater impunity."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brophy, Liam. "'The Furrow's' Defection: Pius X's Condemnation of the Errors of Secularist Democracy." Social Justice Review 44 (July-August 1951) 111-13.

Dorr, Donal. Option for the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983, pp. 52-54.

Giordani, Igino. Pius X: A Country Priest. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1954, pp. 130-39.

Kerins, Joseph L., C.Ss.R. "Introduction to the Social Thought of Pope Pius X, 1903-1914." Unpublished master's dissertation, Department of Sociology, Catholic University of America, 1946.

Sommers, Joseph V. "Pius X and Catholic Action." Review for Religious 5 (January 1946) 3-16.

Twomey, L.J. "Blessed Pius X: A Great Social Apostle." Catholic Mind 49 (October 1951) 694-96.

Yzermans, V.A. "St. Pius X and the World of Labor." Social Order 4 (September 1954) 297-99.


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