Life of Pius X - F. A. Forbes

Pius X and France

We are inclined as a nation to pride ourselves on our sympathy with everything that stands for liberty, and as a consequence are not infrequently deceived. "Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality," are fine words, but in France they cover a great deal that is poles apart from any of the three. The liberty of France is a very different thing from the liberty of England or of the United States; it keeps a very strong hold on everybody and on everything, and acts with a high hand.

There are two forces at work in modern France, and the struggle between them is by no means at an end. On the one side stands the spirit of old France, Christian and Catholic, fitting heritage of "La File ainee de l'Eglise"; on the other the spirit of unfaith—anti-clerical, material, what you will which has found its embodiment in the policy of the Third Republic. That this spirit of unfaith has its roots in the influence of the Masonic Lodges, no one who has studied the matter can for a moment doubt; and that its idea of liberty is not ours is equally obvious.

"I am for liberty even in crime," cried one of the representatives of this party in the Chambre.

"Liberty is the ideal of slaves," says Ernest Psichari, a son of that brave new France which has arisen to-day on the ruins of the old, and of this kind of liberty it is undoubtedly true.

There is also a tendency in this England of ours to scoff at the idea that freemasonry in foreign countries is a force which makes wholly for evil. It is claimed that it is possible in this country for a man to be not only a freemason and a gentleman, but a freemason and a Christian. Freemasonry, we are told, is a wholly benevolent society, humanitarian and philanthropic in its aims. It exists only for the welfare of the masses, forming a universal brotherhood which offers inestimable advantages. It is due to the narrow-minded and overbearing intolerance of the Catholic Church that she should condemn it wholesale. It is not of her making, therefore she will have none of it.

That the Radical party in France, with its watch-word of Anti-clericalism, has been from the beginning closely connected with freemasonry, and that its influence on the Republic is wholly anti-religious, is an open secret.

As long ago as 1876, M. Arago, Senator and French Minister in Switzerland, avowed this plainly. "The Church and religion must be shattered," he said. "Get Thee hence, Crucified One, who for 1800 years hast held the world bowed beneath Thy yoke. No more God, no more Churches—we must crush the Infame; but the Infame is not clericalism, it is God. We must eliminate from French society all religious influence, under whatever form it presents itself."

The programmed of the Masonic Lodges was drawn out in 1902 with as sure a hand as that of Pius X. a year later.

"Until we have completely done with the religious congregations, whether authorized or not," said a prominent freemason at a banquet which took place at the close of the general assembly of the Grand Orient, "as long as we have not broken with Rome, denounced the Concordat and re-established lay teaching definitely throughout this country, nothing will have been accomplished."

In drinking to French masonry," added this apostle of liberty, "I drink in reality to the Republic. For the Republic is simply freemasonry emerged from its temples, as freemasonry is the Republic masked by the aegis of our traditions and symbols."

"The triumph of the Galilean has lasted for twenty centuries," said another member on the same occasion, "He is dying in his turn. The mysterious voice which in the olden days on the mountains of Epirus announced the death of Pan, to-day announces the end of the deceitful God who had promised an era of justice and peace to those who believed in Him . . . "

Many other instructive sidelights on the views and aims of the Grand Orient may be found in the utterances of prominent freemasons at their General Assemblies, at one of which it was decided that the duty of man to God should no more be taught to children in primary schools, its place being taken by instructions on the rights of the man and the citizen.

Let us glance for a moment at the policy and the laws of the Republic, and see how this programmed was carried out.

On one point the freemasons and the Pope were in accord the importance of the education of the child. But whereas education in the Pope's eyes was to make of the child an earnest Christian and an influence for good in the world, it seemed likely in the hands of the Republic to turn into an instrument for filling prisons.

Already in 1800 laws had been passed which were to open the way to the total exclusion of religious influence from education. Step by step during the nineteenth century the work proceeded. In 1904 a fresh decree forbade any member of a religious congregation to teach on any subject whatever. The best schools in France were those of the teaching Orders; the blow was struck at them. Within a few years the great religious houses were closed, the Religious themselves driven out of their country and their property seized by the State.

Bills were then introduced by the apostles of liberty imposing heavy penalties on those Christian parents who refused to allow their children to use the irreligious books provided for the scholars in the primary schools. What kind of books these were can be judged by the fact that they were condemned by the Roman Congregation of the Index as being unfit for the instruction of Christian children. The existence of a Supreme Being was consistently denied or ignored; the municipal Council of Paris even considered it necessary to have the name of God struck out of one of the fables of La Fontaine when an edition was being prepared for use in the State schools.

In 1906 freemasonry seemed in a fair way to attain its ends; education had become almost completely irreligious. The elementary schools were infected with atheism through the teaching of men and women who were often open enemies of Christianity. Looking back on the work that had been done during the past twenty years, M. Viviani, speaking in November, 1906, pronounced its panegyric. "We have bound ourselves to a work of anti-clericalism," he said, "to a work of irreligion . . . We have extinguished in the firmament lights which shall not be rekindled. We have shown the toilers that heaven contained only chimeras . . ."

Having done their best to dechristianize education—and the terrible increase of juvenile crime in France bore sad witness to the efficacy of their measures—the anti-clericals proceeded to attack the adult. Promotion was refused in both the Army and Navy to officers who practiced their religion; for a school teacher to enter a church meant in many districts dismissal. People holding official positions were warned that their attendance at Mass could not be tolerated; in some cases the prohibition extended even to their wives.

"No one has any idea what a noxious and insupportable creature is the anti-clerical in the provinces," wrote a Frenchman in the Journal des Debats. "Always eager to accuse others of fanaticism, he is the bitterest and most oppressive of fanatics himself. Under the mask of free-thought he would like to prevent his neighbor thinking differently from himself . . . He is an aggressive persecutor, malignantly meddling in things which do not concern him, attacking or denouncing honest folks, public functionaries, or others with whose consciences he has nothing to do, threatening them on account of their opinions, which he calls 'subversive ' because they do not agree with his own. If he be a town councilor, or in any similar position, he uses all his influence to set up irreligion as a standard of citizenship."

So much for liberty—as interpreted by the French Government.

On the throne of Peter sat one who was watching—and had watched for years—the progress of events in France.

The separation of Church and State had long been the deliberate aim of the French Government. During the Pontificate of. Leo XIII. the following resolution had been put to the vote and carried at an assembly of freemasons:

"It is the strict duty of a freemason, if he is a Member of Parliament, to vote for the suppression of the Budget des Cultes, for the suppression of the French Embassy at the Vatican, and on all occasions to declare himself in favor of the separation of Church and State without abandoning the right of the State to police the Church."

The Waldeck-Rousseau Ministry had already brought France to the verge of a breach with Rome. By means of a concession on the part of the Pope the difficulty had been bridged over, but all the efforts of M. Combes were directed towards making the separation inevitable. There was one difficulty in the way—how to make it appear that Rome was to blame.

"To denounce the Concordat just now," he said in a speech delivered in the Senate in March, 1908, "without having sufficiently prepared men's minds for it, without having clearly proved that the Catholic clergy themselves are provoking it and rendering it inevitable, would be bad policy on the part of the Government, by reason of the resentment which might be caused in the country. I do not say that the connection between Church and State will not some day be severed; I do not even say that that day is not near. I merely say that the day has not yet come."

The way was paved by a series of mean provocations designed to cast the responsibility and odium on the Pope. Pretexts for a quarrel were soon found in the visit of M. Loubet to Rome and the protest of the Holy See against the intended insult; in the discussions which arose with regard to the nomination of Bishops, and in Rome's treatment of the Bishops of Dijon and Laval. The Vatican White Book sufficiently indicates the long-suffering patience of the Pope with regard to these questions.

There were critics, even Catholic critics, who thought that Pius X. was slow in vindicating the rights of the Church. "God," said the Holy Father, speaking to a loyal son of France on this very subject, "could have sent us the Redeemer immediately after the Fall. And He made the world wait thousands of years! . . . Yet they expect a poor priest, the Vicar of that Christ so long desired, to pronounce without reflection grave and irrevocable words. For the moment I am passive—passive in the Hands of Him who sustains me, and in whose Name—when the time comes—I shall speak."

On the 10th of February, 1905, the Chambre declared that the "attitude of the Vatican" had rendered the separation of Church and State inevitable. "An historical lie," as M. Ribot, a Protestant member of the Chambre, trenchantly described the statement.

The Law of Separation of the Churches and the State, passed by the French Government in 1905, completely dissociated the State from the appointment of Bishops and parish priests, but, lest this might seem to be an unalloyed blessing, it must be added that it also suppressed the annual revenue of the Church, amounting to 42,824,938 francs. The departments and communes were forbidden to vote appropriations for public worship. Life pensions equivalent to three-quarters of the former salary were granted to priests who were not less than sixty years of age at the passing of the law, and life pensions equivalent to half to the former salary to those under forty-five. As a matter of fact, the State became the richer by eight million francs. The use of Catholic buildings was to be regulated by the "Associations Cultuelles." Without any reference to the Holy See it was decided by the Government that these associations for religious worship should be formed in each diocese and parish to administer the Church property. Several articles in the law regarding the constitution of these "Associations Cultuelles" left to the Council of State—a purely lay authority the settlement of any dispute that might arise. In other words it lay with the Council of State to pronounce on the orthodoxy of any association and its conformity with the rules of public worship.

There was a good deal of discussion in ecclesiastical circles as to whether the "Associations" could be formed. Pius X., in his Encyclical "Gravissimo," August, 1906, definitely decided the question. He had examined the law, he declared, to see if it were at all possible to carry on under its provisions the work of religion in France while safeguarding the sacred principles on which the Church was constituted. After consultation of the episcopate he had sorrowfully to declare that no such arrangement was possible. The question at issue was whether the associations for worship could be tolerated. His answer was that "With reference to these associations as the law establishes them, We decree that it is absolutely impossible for them to be formed without a violation of the sacred rights pertaining to the very life of the Church." As to any other associations at once "legal and canonical," which might preserve the Catholics of France from the difficulties by which they were threatened, there was no hope of them, while the law remained as it was. "We declare that it is not permissible to try any other kind of association as long as it is not established in a sure and legal manner that the Divine Constitution of the Church, the immutable rights of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops, as 'well as their authority over the necessary property of the Church, and particularly over the sacred edifices, shall be irrevocably placed in the said associations in full security."

"God's law alone is of importance," said the Holy Father at a private interview. "We are no diplomatist, but our mission is to defend it. One truth is at stake: was the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ or not? Since it was, nothing can induce us to give up its constitutions, its rights, or its liberty."

"Let it be clearly understood," said the Pope on another occasion, "we do not ask the members of your Government to go to Mass—although we regret that they do not. All we ask, since they pride themselves on recognizing nothing but facts, is that they should not ignore one very considerable fact—the existence of a Catholic Church, its constitution, and its Head, which We at present happen to be."

Once more there were not wanting critics who spoke regretfully of the wholesale sacrifice of the "goods of the Church." "They speak too much of the goods of the Church and too little of her good," said the Holy Father. "Tell them that history repeats itself. Ages ago on a high mountain two powers stood face to face. 'All this will I give thee,' said the one, offering the kingdoms of the earth and their riches, 'if thou wilt fall down and worship me.' The other refused—he is refusing still . . . "

The reply of the French Government to the Pope's Encyclical was the appropriation of all that was left of the property of the Church in France. The law of January, 1907, permitted the exercise of religious worship in the churches purely on sufferance and without any legal title. This looked like a concession, but had its uses. The simple citizen still saw the priest in the church; Mass was still said there. "All of which proves," said the Government to the unthinking public, "that the Church is in nowise persecuted; if she is not as prosperous as of old, she has only the Pope to blame."

The separation of Church and State was the signal for open war on the Church. Law after law was passed, making it more and more difficult for the priest to minister to the people. He was forbidden to enter a hospital unless his presence had been formally demanded by a patient. He was forced to serve his time in the Army in the hope that his vocation might be ruined. He was forced to pay a rent for his own presbytery, although he was often poorer than the poorest of his parishioners. Many of the beautiful old churches of France fell gradually into ruins, or were used for other purposes than worship—the more degrading the purpose the better. One has only to read M. Maurice Banes' La Grande Pitie des Eglises de France  to learn for what anti-clericalism has been responsible.

Yet the principle which underlay the attitude of Rome in the matter was clear and consistent. The State having proclaimed its indifference, not to say hostility, to religion, having ignored the constitution of the Church and suppressed all means of negotiating with the Pope, claimed the right to legislate for Catholics, to control their organization, to limit their material resources, and to decide their differences. The men who made the law had openly declared that their purpose was to decatholicize France. "In making his decision, has not the Pope appealed from the French Parliament to the French people?" was a thoughtful question asked at the time.

"The apparent apathy of most French Catholics, the energy and cunning of their adversaries," says the same writer, "have deceived the world into believing that a little faction has the strength of a whole people behind it . . ."

The refusal of the Pope to accept the Bishops proposed by the French Government had left many episcopal sees vacant in France. In February, 1906, immediately after the break with the French Government, Pius X. himself consecrated, at the Altar of St. Peter's Chair, fourteen French Bishops. It was the act of a great and apostolic statesman. "I have not called you to joy," said the Pope, "but to the Cross," and bearing the cross on their breasts they went forth, without stipend, without Government protection, intervention, or recognition. They went as merely apostolic men—to gain souls to God and the result of their labors is manifest.

Pius X


"Destroy the Church in France, and dechristianization will follow," cried her enemies. "A short period of separation," said an orator at the General Assembly of the Grand Orient in September, 1904, "will complete the ruin of dogma, and the ruin of the Church."

Thirteen years have passed, and how has that prophecy been fulfilled?

"Our Bishops, priests, and people," wrote M. Georges Fonsegrive in 1918, "are absolutely devoted to Rome and obedient to the Pope. After the passing of the Separation Law all the orders of the Pope were immediately executed. At one word from him our Bishops and priests gave up their palaces and their presbyteries, and abandoned all their goods. Nowhere else has there been such docility and such unanimity. Our Church is truly and absolutely Roman; therefore, every attack on its members attaches them more strongly to the source and centre of their life. The religious life is everywhere increasing in depth and in intensity . . . The human mind has found the limits of science, and has felt that they are narrow and hard; all men of culture recognize to-day that our whole life is, as it were, wrapped in mystery. Faith is no longer looked upon as a suspect but as a friend. Those who have it not are seeking it, and those who have found it treasure it. Even those who despair of finding it respect it. And all, or nearly all, recognize that truth can only be where she declares herself, where she is supplied with all she needs to make her accessible to man, that is to say, in Catholicism, and finally in Rome."

And the world who during the last three years has seen the latent faith of France breaking out into a white heat of heroism can bear witness to the truth of what he says.