Pope Pius X's journey from a village to the Vatican
By MAURICE QUINLAN
BLESSED Pius X received the name Joseph at
his baptism only because his parents' first child, also named Joseph, died a few days after his birth ; and it was only by what seems to have been a series of accidents—but which of course was the action of Providence—that he eventually became Pope.
When the Bishop of Treviso died the Chapter elected Canon Sarto as Vicar Capitular. He administered the diocese for several months, but Pope Leo XIII chose another priest to become the new Bishop. It was some time later that he was appointed Bishop of Mantua.
Had he not been named to this see and in consequence made a member of the Sacred College. he would hardly have been considered at the next Conclave, for no one but a Cardinal has been elected Pope for hundreds of years.
Finally, when Pope Leo died, the largest group of the Cardinals in Conclave concentrated their votes upon Cardinal Rampolla. The Patriarch of Venice was practically unknown to most of the Cardinals from abroad; some of them when they arrived at the Vatican even had to ask their Italian colleagues to point him out to them, whereas Cardinal Rampolla, who had long been Papal Secretary of State, was known and revered by all,
Probably among those voting for Rampolla was Cardinal Sarto himself, for while the world at large knew him only as a brilliant ecclesiastical diplomat. the Patriarch of Venice regarded him first and foremost as a priest of great holiness.
From the beginning, Cardinal Rampolla received the largest number of votes, and as ballot succeeded ballot, it seemed practically certain that he would be elected.
At this point Cardinal Puzyna, Bishop of the Polish diocese of Cracow—then part of the AustroHungarian Empire—rose at his throne in the Sistine Chapel and invoked the ancient royal veto. Cardinal Rampolla, he declared, would be unacceptable to the Emperor as Pope.
Cardinal Rampolla, with great dignity and humility. whilst protesting against this outrageous intrusion, urged his colleagues, for the good of the Church. to turn away from him. Many went on voting for him. but gradually the majority turned to Cardinal Sarto. He was elected by 50 of the 62 votes, One of the new Pope's first acts was to abolish the veto for ever, and decreed that any Cardinal who should dare to raise it again would thereby be excommunicated.
Consecration of 14 Bishops
The 50.000 people who went into St. Peter's last Sunday to hear the beatification decree saw a great picture showing Pope Pius X consecrating 14 French Bishops.
That picture recalled a tragedy— the tragic events which led up to and followed the Separation of Church and State in France. But it also recalled Pius X's immense courage, his inflexible determination to do what he believed to be right, whatever the results.
Never did he fear the consequences of any action which. after prudent and prayerful consideration, he had decided to take because he believed that it was the will of God.
When the worst came—as it did in France when. against the advice of a majority of the Hierarchy, he refused to allow lay organisations under State control to administer Church property and affairs—he had no anxiety.
Again when the Modernism was threatening the Church, he did not hesitate. once his mind was made up, to utter a most stern and all
embracing condemnation. He had seen, after the definition of Papal Infallibility at the Vatican Council of 1870, what permanent harm could be done even by good, zealous men who might be involved in what was in effect a challenge to the teaching authority of the Holy See.
Great and swift reforms
His great reforms were not sudden inspirations but the fruit of considerations throughout his priestly life. This was particularly the case in his reform of Church Music, or rather the restoration of the Gregorian Chant. All his life he had been afflicted by the sounds of an operatic concert. with violins, trumpets and what not, at one end of the church while the Holy Sacrifice was being offered at the other end.
Here again he acted at once: the celebrated morn proprio was issued within a few weeks of his election. And he ordered his Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Respighi, to abolish the musical abuses forthwith: "Do you, Lord Cardinal, neither grant indulgence nor concede delays. The difficulty is not diminished but rather augumented by postponement, and since the thing is to be done, let it he done immediately and resolutely. Let all have confidence in us and in our word, with which heavenly grace and blessing are united."
There was no searching for words when in his first Encyclical Letter he chose as the motto of his pontificate: "To restore alt things in Christ." That had been his purpose since the day of his ordination, in regard to his own life and in the lives of all to whom he was to minister.
Holy Communion for children
Without any qualms at all he issued the famous Ne temere decree which in 1908 at one stroke abolished register office marriages among Catholics — a decree which through misunderstandings of its meaning, misunderstandings which the Pope himself was prepared for. Is still often the subject of antiCatholic letters in English provincial newspapers.
When Pope Pius X issued his decree ordering the clergy to administer Holy Communion to children several years before the normal age customary at that time, a great many people were shocked at what they considered 'o be his temerity.
His Holiness, on the contraiy, was scandalised by the fact that the children were being kept waiting so long. Many years before he himself had been giving Holy Communion to seven-year-olds; and all he required to know from them was the answer to one question, perhaps two, before he decided that he would administer the Sacrament.
He, the man of simple faith. tackled problems that had daunted and defeated Popes with deserved reputations as great men of action.
In the very first year of his pontificate he decided that the whole body of Canon Law should be codified. It had long been in a chaotic state, like a vast jig-saw puzzle from which numerous pieces were missing and in which numerous pieces had no place at all.
Then one day, in conversation with Mgr. Pietro Gasparri — a future Papal Secretary of State—Pope Pius asked if it were possible for one man to complete the codification. Mgr. Gasparri, an eminent canonist and a man of great drive, energy and stamina, replied that he thought it might well be accomplished in one lifetime.
" Very well," said the Holy Father, "do it."
What had seemed impossible to others was done in 14 years.
The Pope himself drew up the preliminary scheme, making the way clear.
While the work was going on— with the cooperation of every Bishop in the world, who each had his say in the wording of every single canon—Pope Pius took in hand the reform of the Roman Curia, the Sacred Congregations, Offices and Tribunals which are the
Ministries " through which the Sovereign Pontiff exercises a great deal of his universal jurisdiction.
The plan was there: the Franciscan Sixtus V in 1588 had completed the greatest single reform by establishing 15 Sacred Congregations, but Pius X was faced by the necessity of a complete overhaul. Not only had some of the existing Congregations, because of changed circumstances, little to do while others had too much, but the boundary lines of jurisdiction had become blurred, causing overlapping, delay and confusion: and there had been the upheaval caused by the seizure of the Papal States.
The diplomats accredited to the Holy See, most of them members of noble families. who had become accustomed to meeting Pius X's aristocratic predecessor in an atmosphere familiar to them, wondered what was now to happen, what sort of man they were now to meet at official receptions in the Vatican.
True greatness in humility
Would there be any awkwardness when they came face to face with the son of the handyman at the little town hall in the village of Riese, the Pope whose mother took in other people's needlework; the Pope whom some Riese villagers remembered as " Beppo" Sarto, who in bare feet stood astride the shafts of a cart and drove a donkey; the Pope who disliked all social trappings and fuss, the Pope who had had to he persuaded after his • election to change his pectoral cross of brass and wear a gold one ?
When they emerged from their first audience, none was more eager to hear their "verdict" that Mgr. Merry del Val, the London-born Spaniard who was soon, though only 38, to become Cardinal Secretary of State, himself a member of a noble family.
None of them could find words to express their thoughts. Mgr. Merry del Val, however, knew from their silence and their faces what they were thinking. They had heard him speak—and had recognised the voice of authority. They had watched his face—and had seen an expression of culture and noble dignity. They had learned that the countryside. where simple faith flowers and flourishes, also produces humble men of true greatness.
And to whom in this world did Blessed Pius owe most? He gave the answer himself when Pope Leo made him Cardinal. He went back to his home in Riese. put on his grand scarlet robes, and stood before his mother. In her humble cottage, Margherita Sarto looked upon her son, standing there in silence and gratitude.