Pope St. Pius X was a great reformer and a holy pope. He fostered liturgical renewal, frequent Holy Communion from childhood, and the codification of canon law. He also waged war against the heresies of his day.
Unfortunately, this last facet of his pontificate receives an outsized share of attention from certain people, influenced by the “spirit of St. Pius X.” This spirit, the younger sister of the more popular “spirit of Vatican II,” unfortunately distorts the legacy of the real St. Pius X.
The spirit of Vatican II was born in the 1960s by those seeking to use the excitement and, quite ironically, the authority of the Second Vatican Council to support their own unique views. From then until now, this spirit is infamously invoked to provide a veil of legitimacy for ideas and interpretations that are not present in the council itself.
Others, who felt the disagreement between their views and the council spanned a wider chasm than a letter-spirit divide, rejected the council explicitly. Thus, invoking the pope who had been most recently canonized, the “spirit of St. Pius X” was born, closing itself off from the renewal inspired by the Holy Spirit and championed by Pope St. Pius X and Vatican II. Not to be outdone in rebellion by their “liberal” counterparts, they set their own spirit of St. Pius X against the gathering hurricane of the spirit of Vatican II.
To reach the truth beyond these noisy spirits, let us mirror the approach of the most recent popes, who emphasize the actual text and a hermeneutic of continuity to understand the Second Vatican Council. Let us similarly allow Pope St. Pius X to speak in his own words and view him in a historical context of continuity.
Popes reveal their priorities by their papal mottos, as well as their first encyclicals. For Pope St. Pius X, these were one and the same: “Restore all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
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