Sandro Magister today posted an article titled "Pope Pius X a Backward Pope? No, an Unprecedented Cyclone of Reform." It is based on a new two-volume study of the papacy of Pope Pius X, written by Carlo Fantappiè and recently reviewed in "L'Osservatore Romano" by historian Gianpaolo Romanato. The new study shows Pius X's work in canon law in the context of changes brought about by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, as well as the philosophical modernism that was emerging in the early 20th century. As those changes in the secular world, Pope Pius X took what had been a Church, described by Magister's review, "regulated by an immense and disordered profusion of laws" and brought it into a more global consistency. Without that new Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1917 and revised by Pope John XXIII in 1959 (now in effect in its second edition), together with Vatican II, "it would have been impossible to imagine a global role for the papacy like the one embodied by John Paul II, and, today, by Benedict XVI."
Pope Pius X's encyclicals are available in English online at the Vatican website. Magister particularly mentions an encyclical titled Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Among its discussions is one regarding the development of agnostic, modernist philosophical perspectives that were largely existentialist in form and originated in the late 19th century, and the impact of those perspectives on the study of Church history and an agnostic psychological view of faith.
Magister's article was of interest to me partly because I recently skimmed over several of the encyclicals of Pope Pius X looking for comments about his support for missionary efforts in Asia. Last week, I mentioned his connection to missions to Burma in a post on a saint and a blessed with ties to that country, following the cyclone there. Also, having posted about international missions this past week, I was looking for quotes from the popes related to such missions for Pentecost (see this post) and thought I might find one in the encyclicals of Pope Pius X. I did not find what I was looking for. However, I found the extent of his discussions of philosophical developments surprising, and that in a pope I had previously known for his importance to the Asian Church and his importance to liturgical traditionalists.
Without claiming to have any more knowledge of Pope Pius X than that, I would like to offer a couple of examples. Here is one example taken from the encyclical cited by Sandro Magister, showing Pope Pius X's grasp of the theological effect of existentialist thinking if incorporated into Christianity. His understanding of its implications was clear, as can be seen today in the impact in liberal Anglican thinking and the thinking of Protestant denominations that have begun to rely on experience from an existentialist perspective in deciding issues of faith and morality (Pascendi Dominic Gregis, 15):
"But this doctrine of experience is also under another aspect entirely contrary to Catholic truth. It is extended and applied to tradition, as hitherto understood by the Church, and destroys it. By the Modernists, tradition is understood as a communication to others, through preaching by means of the intellectual formula, of an original experience. To this formula, in addition to its representative value, they attribute a species of suggestive efficacy which acts both in the person who believes, to stimulate the religious sentiment should it happen to have grown sluggish and to renew the experience once acquired, and in those who do not yet believe, to awake for the first time the religious sentiment in them and to produce the experience. In this way is religious experience propagated among the peoples; and not merely among contemporaries by preaching, but among future generations both by books and by oral transmission from one to another. Sometimes this communication of religious experience takes root and thrives, at other times it withers at once and dies. For the Modernists, to live is a proof of truth, since for them life and truth are one and the same thing. Hence again it is given to us to infer that all existing religions are equally true, for otherwise they would not live."
In another encyclical Communium Rerum, about St. Anselm of Aosta/Canterbury, he again addressed the effects of modernism on the Church and the need for a global unity and understanding of authority to address it (39, 40):
"But, venerable brethren, it behooves us to strive by all means to preserve this divine union and render it ever more intimate and cordial, fixing our gaze not on human considerations but on those that are divine, in order that we may be all one thing alone in Christ. By developing this noble effort we shall fulfill ever better our sublime mission which is that of continuing and propagating the work of Christ, and of His Kingdom on earth. This, indeed, is why the Church throughout the ages continues to repeat the loving prayer, which is also the warmest aspiration of Our heart: "Holy Father, keep them in thy name, whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we also are" (Ioan. xvii. 11).
"This effort is necessary not only to oppose the assaults from without of those who fight openly against the liberty and the rights of the Church, but also in order to meet the dangers from within, arising from that second kind of war which We deplored above when We made mention of those misguided persons who are trying by their cunning systems to overthrow from the foundations the very constitution and essence of the Church, to stain the purity of her doctrine, and destroy her entire discipline. For even still there continues to circulate that poison which has been inoculated into many even among the clergy, and especially the young clergy, who have, as We have said, become infected by the pestilential atmosphere, in their unbridled craving for novelty which is drawing them to the abyss and drowning them."