Even if late in getting to Saint Pius X (+1914), better that than never. A peasant, he was the first such in centuries, the popes all being chosen from the ‘nobility’. He brought his simple ways into the papal office, rescinding the custom, amongst others, of Popes eating alone, established by Urban VIII in the early 17th century – yes, the same one who condemned Galileo, but also sent the Jesuit missionaries to the New World. Perhaps sharing a meal and a fine bottle of Chianti with the irascible scientist may have helped them smooth things over, and history would have been a whole lot different.
Known for his holiness, patience, kindness, which shines forth even in old photographs, Pius’ eyes seem still to pierce one’s soul – what must he have been like as a confessor? Yet, for all that, he stood his ground unflinchingly for orthodoxy, with no toleration for heretics or liturgical innovators. Pius reformed the Church from the inside out: music – reinstating Gregorian chant and polyphony; the reception of Holy Communion – he put paid to Jansenist rigourism; canon law; seminary instruction; the breviary, as well as numerous encyclicals on a variety of topics. He is perhaps best remembered for his attempt to root our ‘modernism’, which he described in Pascendi as the ‘synthesis of all heresies’, an insidious, agnostic doctrine, undermining the very basis of the Faith, all the while masking as rational, and even, ironically, pious.
As we have seen of late, modernism is still with us – and Christ may well ask if there be any Faith upon earth at His return. But error and falsehood will not have the final say.
It is said the holy Pontiff died of a broken heart when he heard of the outbreak of World War I, for, in a mystical way, he perhaps foresaw what human and societal carnage it would wreak.
A century on, may Pope Pius intercede for us in our own fractious times, keeping the barque of Peter not just afloat, but well on course towards the eschaton. Like the Apostles in that first storm-tossed boat, and their worthy successors through the centuries, why should we be afraid?