January 2015 Print

Apologia Pro St. Pius V


by Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P.

The Reverend Father Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P., wrote the lines that follow for the journal Itinéraires in April 1972. More than forty years later, his defense of St. Pius V remains relevant because he analyzed the present crisis in light of eternal principles. That is also why the remedies enacted by the Council of Trent and implemented by the holy Dominican pope have not gone out of date, still less have they been transcended. They are grounded in the vital principles of the Church of all time—for the 16th century as for the 21st.

It would be hardly be fair to reproach St. Pius V with a lack of broadness of outlook because of his intransigence over the law of ecclesiastical celibacy, the rite of Communion, or the early retirement of eight French bishops as abettors of heresy.

Athwart the New Religion’s Real Emptiness

One can easily imagine a pope “sensitive to the aspirations of his time” who, in the name of a theoretical non-incompatibility between the Christian faith and some of its practical realizations, might become incapable of seeing that, in fact, this non-incompatibility... is ultimately bound to result in rather limited and exacting realizations. In the contingent and historical conduct of the government of the Church, possible courses of action compatible with the faith and effectively beneficent for faith and morals are always rather restricted. This is so because the Church is not out of this world; it is not situated in the expanding sphere of the not-absolutely-contradictory, but it makes its way through the centuries and combats in the midst of nations, surrounded by enemies. Moreover, she has developed with the aid of the Holy Spirit according to a determined Tradition that is part and parcel of herself...

Standing in the Breach

At the historical juncture of the Western Church in the 16th century, when in England, Germany, and France there were so many concubinary priests debasing the office of pastor, and in the train of a tradition as ancient as that of priestly celibacy; in a word, when the peril was so grave and ecclesiastical tradition so firm, the successor of Peter would have betrayed his mission and played into the hands of heretics had he allowed the introduction of the least break in this holy history, justified in so many respects. We could make analogous remarks about other measures taken by St. Pius V: the codification of the Ordo Missae, the maintenance of Latin in the liturgy, Communion under one species. These measures safeguarded the life of the Church. Facing the Protestant kingdom of absence; facing the heresy according to which Christ would have withdrawn completely from the world leaving us only the Bible; facing the icy, empty kingdom of the new religion, holy Church remained standing as the Kingdom of the Real Presence, the impregnable kingdom where the Incarnate Word will continue His presence till the end of time in the Eucharistic species.

A Good Leader of the Church of Jesus Christ

It is easy for us to see and to say this four centuries later. But just after the Council of Trent, when Protestantism was still powerful and expansive, it is not unthinkable that the successor of Pius IV might have considered things a little less piously from the Lord’s outlook—“Levavi oculos meos ad montes unde veniet auxilium mihi—I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me” (Ps. 120). Indeed, until his dying breath, Pius IV never stopped hoping that he might win back some of the Protestants by making concessions in the discipline of the ecclesiastical state and the rite of Communion. So Pius V might credibly have let himself be persuaded by a thousand reasons, each more cogent than the next, and they would have all led to the invariable conclusion of bad pontiffs: “We shall not lose the holy City even if we dismantle the ramparts; we shall become, on the contrary, much more accessible, and the world will be grateful. Let us in any case begin by reducing the height of the ramparts by half, and let us take down the towers. After all, with the progress of humanity, the so-called enemies of religion are not so wicked as has been said; the devil is not so furious. There is no intrinsically perverse apparatus of domination. And then, to tell the truth, we cannot quite admit that the Lord should require of us continual combat and a witness that might go so far as the shedding of blood. Why do you insist that the Lord expects us to always be on the alert night and day?”

Why indeed? because He desires to conform us to Himself out of love, and because love does not sleep.

The goodness of the leader, like the goodness of every man, surely consists in mercy, comprehension, liberality, self-sacrificing devotion. The leader, however, to deserve to be called good, must combine with the common virtues the accomplished exercise of virtues particular to one invested with authority: sound judgment, strong character, imperviousness to human respect, and indifference to unpopularity. If Pope Pius V was good to the point of being a saint, and a canonized saint; if he was a good leader of the Church of Jesus Christ; if he was on earth and in the 16th century a holy Vicar of the eternal Pontiff, it was because in his soul realism and energy were but one with mercy and liberality. He was such because his soul, like that of a true son of St. Dominic, dwelt in the truth of God and acted in His light.

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth

Our age is not better than his was. It even seems to be worse, for the methods of Communists are more effective for suffocating the life of the soul and extinguishing temporal freedom than Turkish domination, and modernism is deadlier than Protestantism; in effect, it does not proceed by open negation but by interior sterilization. Dogmas and sacraments are not denied outright, but, by a diabolical process of dismantling, modernism leads gradually to their denaturing and the voiding of their proper mystery.

The Church after Pius XII has known a distress deeper and more universal than the Church of the age of St. Pius V. But what can we do? Obviously, hold fast to Tradition, be it the Mass—the Mass of St. Pius V, Latin in the liturgy, the Catechism, the tried and true customs of Catholic prayer, especially the Rosary, and temporal Christian institutions, at least whatever remains of them. Even so doing, it is not out of the question that we may experience the temptation, What’s the use? What is out of the question is that we should take this temptation seriously, or let it gain a foothold in our hearts, or impinge on our resolutions by a fraction of an inch. It is impossible to say What’s the use? when one knows that it is always good to prove to God our love, the first proof of love being to persevere in the Faith and to keep Catholic Tradition.

All the reasons we have for losing heart—the prolonged fight, the extensive betrayal, increased isolation—should only be considered in the supreme light of faith. The greatest misfortune that could befall us is not to be bruised in the depth of our soul by the woes of the present times and the scandals from on high; it would be to lack faith and consequently to fail to see that the Lord makes use of the present distress to urge us to turn our gaze towards Him, to invite us to show Him more than ever our trust and love. So, the first thing to do—and it is here that the intercession and example of the great Pope, a true son of St. Dominic, are such a boon—the first thing to do is to look at the Lord, and then to keep this supernatural contemplation inseparable from consideration of the attacks to be repulsed and the struggle to be engaged till the end.

A Nouvelles de Chrétienté article (July-August 2012), excerpted from Fr. Calmel’s “Saint Pie V, un pape fils de saint Dominique,” Itinéraires, April 1972, and reprinted in Nous sommes fils des Saints (NEL, 2011), pp. 113-119. Translated and edited by Angelus Press.