Pope Pius X was a true reformer of the Church, but has been misunderstood, according to the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.
ZENIT on Thursday spoke with Fr. Bernard Ardura during the course of a day dedicated to studying the late pontiff, titled “Saint Pius X: A Reforming Pope Facing the Challenges of the New Century.”
Pius X served as Pope from 1903 to his death in 1914.
ZENIT: Could you give background on your role and how the idea of this day, dedicated to Saint Pius X, came to fruition?
Fr. Ardura: I am the president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences.We are in charge of developing all the historical aspects, related to the history of the Church.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pope Pius X’s death; he passed away during the night of August 21, 1914, three weeks after the start of the first World War, having served as Pope for 11 years. During his pontificate he was a very important reformer, but between his reformative activities, he also had to intervene on doctrine-related issues, as he was facing a difficult movement, called modernism. And his condemnation of modernism obscured the positive parts of his ministry. He was remembered as a Pope of condemnation, but, instead was truly a great reformer, a great innovator. Yes, he condemned modernism, but he, in fact, was very modern, which is obvious through his reforms.
ZENIT: Could you provide an example?
Fr. Ardura: He reformed the Roman Curia, that was the same curia created in 1538 that exists here today. He was more aware than other papal predecessors that the state of the pontificate had to go forward and could not go backward, only forward. Therefore, he had this central idea in his ministry that the mission of the Church is spiritual, and must inspire the life of the world, renew the world. Therefore, all the activities of Pius X were reformative, as he worked to promote the Christian life, that of the person, and peace.
Another key contribution was related to receiving the sacraments, particularly Communion. He advanced the idea that the young, around the age of seven, could receive their First Holy Communion, even if they didn’t fully know Church doctrine at that point. Also, he advanced the idea of adults going to Communion more often. Before the thought was that one had to have confessed before going to Communion. Although he advocated going to confession regularly, he advanced the idea of going to Communion often, even encouraging Christians to go daily.
Also important were his liturgical reforms, including those of sacred music.
Another aspect of life of the church that until then, the laws were dispersed and a bit everywhere, in various documents, but he asked, for the first time, for a clear code of canonical rights to be promulgated. He did, and this code had a lasting impact after his death.
Therefore, here, today we have the chance to look at all these reforms and advancements, which were so important to him, together. They were important not just for renewing the Church, but for the Church’s ability to inspire the Christian life.
ZENIT: Do you notice similarities between Pius X and Pope Francis?
Fr. Ardura: There are. There absolutely are, as there are resemblances between the two. But we can’t forget there is an entire century between the two. Therefore, the contexts are very different. But it is true that Pius X and Pope Francis focused very much on the quality of the life of Christians — of laity, priests, and bishops — the quality of the life necessary for giving witness to the Gospel. Therefore, for this, they shared the view that whatever can be reformed, should be. They both, also, have the ability to distinguish what is incidental from what is essential.
I would like that this day is a contribution to make one discover the rich personality and the grand reformative works of Saint Pius X.
He is a Pope who was not well-known, and was somewhat badly known. And, therefore, we want to give a contribution to make him better known and understood.
ZENIT: Why do you believe he was misunderstood?
Fr. Ardura: He became misunderstood, and almost all of his good, reformative works were not given credit, because of the issue of modernism. Therefore, with his condemnation of modernism, he became to be understood by many as a Pope who didn’t understand anything, but it was not true.
ZENIT: For those who don’t know, what is modernism?
Fr. Ardura: It is an error, a philosophical error, that relativizes a bit of everything, and from a doctrinal point of view, is something delicate. For example, different ideas were promulgated in the particular, cultural context of the time. But today, we don’t have to relativize these different views on the doctrine. Pius X, we can say, was working in a particular context.
The Church in which we believe, is inspired by the Holy Spirit in a context that is not by some accidental cause, but contains the substance of teachings inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, we don’t have to relativize these realities, which are fundamental, because otherwise, we would have to put into discussion all we believe.
ZENIT: What type of reform, which he promoted, do you believe is the most important and necessary reform in the Church of today?
Fr. Ardura: The reform of the conversion of the heart, a reform of the interior. We must remember what Jesus said, if salt loses its flavor, it’s useless. Like a light, we are to be witnesses of the Gospel, and therefore, as Pius X’s message and efforts reflected, we constantly need to reform.