The Kings Herald
This past year saw the celebration in the French provincial town of Poitiers of its illustrious bishop, Cardinal Pie, who was born 200 years earlier. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, he was a prominent figure of the Catholic hierarchy to request a return of France under Christ’s sweet yoke.
Cardinal Louis-Édouard Pie (1815-1880) was arguably the leading French bishop of the 19th century. No other country had been so much affected by the Revolution and, after the Napoleonic wars and the various shortlived attempts at a Christian Restoration, the “little Emperor”, Napoleon III (1852-1870), did very little to favor religion. He played too much on the side of the Italian Resorgimento which was dealing its death blow on the Papal Estates to secure the unification of Italy under Masonic auspices.
By that time, the Catholics were divided behind two religious leaders, the then bishop Pie of Poitiers and Bishop Dupanloup of Orléans. The latter was known for his eloquence and his approach of compromise vis-à-vis the liberal movement set up by Félicité de Lamenais. As liberalism became condemned by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos, Dupanloup adopted a mitigated version, voiced by Montalembert in Belgium under the slogan of “A Free Church in the Free State” which begged only for the liberty of the Catholic religion.
This was the context of the long episcopate of the bishop of Poitiers. Pope Pius IX appointed Pie to the episcopate on September 28, 1849. In France, he contributed much to the restoration of religious life which had been eradicated for 40 years by the French Revolution. He created many parishes, established in his seminary a canonical faculty of theology, founded for the missions of the diocese the Oblates of Saint Hilary, and brought the Jesuits to Poitiers and the Benedictines to Solesmes and Ligugé.
Very early in his priestly career, Father Pie took to anti-liberal principles. No sooner was he out of the St. Sulpice seminary than, as vicar general of Chartres at age 29, he expressed his leitmotiv in no uncertain terms: “The liberal neo-Catholic party is child of the Revolution, and the Revolution is satanic in its essence.” His life and his mind would be in perfect harmony with this fundamental thesis.
Cardinal Pie was the champion of orthodoxy against the error of liberalism (the State is free from Church laws) and naturalism (human life is free from divine laws). He became the flag-bearer in the battle against the Revolution. He wrote two Synod instructions “against the errors of the present days and of philosophy.” This explains why Pius IX requested some of his writings which would become the basis for his most famous publications, the Encyclical Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of 80 Modern Errors. Here are some thoughts of Cardinal Pie on this twin scourge:
“The legislation professes indifference, an awful thing for a Christian nation…it is naturalism replacing Christianism, man instead of God, the State above the Church…Societies are spiritually dying of this evil awaiting only their temporal death.”
“Germany has tried to turn theology into a transcendental philosophy. France has pretended to control faith by science. Religion, for most people was hardly more than a sentiment, faith an instinct, charity an enthusiasm, prayer a pious reverie…They have systematically pushed away, suppressed, abolished the divine question, pretending to suppress thereby what divides men, and rejecting thus the fundamental stone from the building, under the pretense that it is a stone of scandal and of contradiction.”
Pius IX, who held him in admiration and had wished to create him a cardinal, was forced to desist because his entourage wanted to give equal treatment to the two prominent French figures, Pie and Dupanloup, and Pius IX was adamant that he would not promote Dupanloup forward. As he was the first to die, the obstacle was lifted, and Leo XIII created Bishop Pie a cardinal in 1879, just one year before his death. He was buried in the crypt of Notre Dame la Grande, an exquisite church in the heart of Poitiers (as seen in the aquarelle).
This gesture was a way for the pope to thank him, especially for his work in France and at the First Vatican Council Vatican. Indeed, he had been a great artisan of the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility. What is not so well known is that, by his vast experience of apologetic issues against naturalism, he was the main composer of the first decree of Vatican I on faith and reason. Although the French episcopate had a poor reputation as Latinists, Bishop Pie was the exception and, with masterly art, was able to produce concise and clear documents, there where Franzelin, the official Roman apologetist, had come up with a muddled and complex script.
In 1875, the Pope wished to gratify the Bishop of Poitiers with a letter on the occasion of the publication of his Episcopal Works: “Not only have you always taught the good doctrine but, with the talent and eloquence which are your hallmark, you have touched with finesse and prudence such points are were necessary or opportune to clarify… So that, to judge lucidly of questions and to adapt one’s conduct, one needs only to have read your works.”
His Privileged Disciple
It is hardly surprising that Giuseppe Sarto, barely a bishop at the time of Cardinal Pie’s death, took great interest in his writings.
One time, Canon Vigué went to visit the Pope and had no sooner mentioned the name of his diocese than the Pope exclaimed: “Oh! The diocese of Cardinal Pie,” said the Holy Father, raising his arms as soon as he had heard the name of Poitiers. “I have the works of your cardinal right here, and for years hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t read a few pages.” As he spoke, he took one of the volumes and put it in the hands of his visitors. These could tell, by the wear on the binding, that they must have belonged to the parish priest of Salzano or the spiritual director of the seminary of Treviso long before entering the Vatican. “As soon as I can snatch a few moments,” admitted Pius X on another occasion, “I read something by your great cardinal, Cardinal Pie. He is my mentor.”
Pope Pius X rendered homage to Poitiers in 1912, in which he referred to St. Hilary, Doctor of the Church, the intrepid champion of the divinity of Christ against the Arians. He added: “but alongside of him it is sweet to remember Louis-Edouard Pie, cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, who, like a second Hilary—alter Hilarius—avenged the integrity of the Faith against the modern Arians by his victorious eloquence.”
This explains why, often, one can read word for word a text under the Pope’s pen which seems taken from the cardinal. One major instance will illustrate this point beyond doubt. The doctrine of cardinal Pie represents a theology of politics. “We shall always belong to the party of God; we shall deploy all our efforts, we shall dedicate our whole life to the divine cause. If we were to enunciate a motto, it would be this one: Instaurare omnia in Christo.” These lines would be echoed in the momentous first encyclical of St. Pius X.
To his seminarians, he explained that: “Whereas the kingship of man asserts itself obstinately as a dogma of modern society, let us affirm more than ever the kingship of Christ, His right to be honored, served and obeyed.”
This reign of Christ the King is tied to the mystery of Jesus understood integrally: “Jesus for the earth is something more than the God of heaven; Jesus is God come into his work, it is God with us, and God among us, it is the God of humanity, the God of the nation, the God of the domestic hearth, the God of our first communion, the God of our heart.”
The cardinal would be endlessly the herald of Christ’s dominion over the world: “Has the greatness of kings been diminished by the crosses glittering atop their diadems? Have their thrones been less renowned or less secure on account of their kingship being recognized as an emanation of, and participation in, the kingship of Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is King, and the true dignity, the true liberty, the true emancipation of modern nations lies in their right to be governed in a Christian manner. Have such nations fallen short of their glory? Has their fate been less noble, less happy on account of their ruling scepters being bound to submit to the scepter of Jesus?”
He would not tire of letting this doctrine known, to rulers and citizens alike. In his meeting with Emperor Napoleon III, he spoke superbly:
“It is the right of God to command both the State and individuals. Our Lord came to earth for no other reason. He must reign by inspiring the laws, by sanctifying the morals, by enlightening the teaching, by directing the advice, by ruling over the actions of governors and governed. In every place where Jesus Christ does not exercise this reign, there is disorder and decadence…”
The emperor stopped the bishop: “But, do you believe that the period in which we live carries this state of things and that the moment is come to establish this exclusively religious reign which you request? Do you not think, Your Excellency, that this would unleash all evil passions?”
“Sire, when great politicians as your Majesty object that the moment is not come, I can only bow down because I am no great politician. But I am a bishop and, as a bishop, I answer them: ‘The moment is not come for Jesus Christ to reign? Well! then, the moment is not come for the governments to last.’”
Cardinal Billot, himself a champion against modernism, on the 100th anniversary of his birth made a vibrant eulogy: “Cardinal Pie was a great figure. Now, more than ever in this battle waged between the Church and the Revolution, he remains the man who dominates the situation. He is a light, a standard-bearer, a leader worthy of a rank of honor among those fathers of our generation whom we should praise, whose counsels we should follow, whose example we should imitate, and upon whose teachings we should meditate. If our heart’s ambition is to serve the sacred cause of God and His Holy Church in the troubled times in which we are living we can benefit from placing ourselves at the school of this master.”