Letter to Friends and Benefactors
July 7, 2003
Next month includes (August 4) the 100th anniversary of the election to the Papacy of Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, i.e. St. Pius X, patron of our Priestly Society. Digging out for a colleague a past Seminary Letter on the true charity of Pius X, I see that in August of 1996 I told briefly the story of his clash with Cardinal Ferrari of Milan, but I did not draw out all the implications. The problem is central to our times. In honour of St. Pius, let me tell the story again, still more briefly, with a secular parallel from the post-war United States.
In 1910, three years after the appearance of Pope Pius X's great anti-modernist Encyclical letter "Pascendi", two loyal Italian Monsignors, The Scotton Brothers, published in their anti-modernist review an article declaring— not without foundation — that the Seminary in Cardinal Ferrari's Archdiocese of Milan was "a seed-bed of modernism", i.e. of that mother of all heresies which preserves the appearances of Catholicism but empties out the substance, in order to adapt the Catholic Church to the modern world.
The Cardinal was indignant. How could a supposedly Catholic journal so attack the honour and integrity of the Seminary Professors and their Superiors, including himself? When Pius X replied through his Cardinal De Lai, amongst other things, that there was not a little modernism in the archdiocese of Milan, the Liberals profited by the controversy to create a media uproar. In early March, both parties appealed to Rome, and Cardinal Ferrari defended the Liberal Catholic paper of Milan, "The Union", because he sensed it was being called in question.
At the end of March, Pius X wrote himself to the Cardinal, saying that the modernism provoking the Scotton brothers in the archdiocese of Milan might not be doctrinal but it was practical, i.e. good doctrine might be taught, but it was not being applied in practice, for instance when so many of the Milan clergy supported "The Union", a newspaper leaving much to be desired from a Catholic point of view. Yet less than three weeks after receiving this letter, the Cardinal vigorously defended "The Union" in front of his Milan seminarians, and said that this defense was in accordance with the Pope's will! When Pius X learned of the Cardinal's reaction, he was scandalized and deeply hurt: here was a Cardinal deceiving his future priests as to the will of the Pope, so that they would soon be spreading Liberal ideas throughout the Archdiocese in the name of the Pope! When in turn the Cardinal learned of the Pope's reaction, he replied with a flood of tears, and now I must quote the August 1996 letter in full:--
"He was broken-hearted to have offended the Pope. He was humiliated. He would be saddened to the end of his days. He begged forgiveness. He never meant to hurt the Pope. He never said a word disrespectful to the Pope, etc., etc... As for what he said to his seminarians, he never meant it to be copied down or published. All he meant to say was that "The Union" should go on improving. There had been no significant scandal in the Archdiocese. He was ready to take back anything he said, and would come to Rome if necessary. When Pius X read this letter, he replied that there had in fact been great scandal in the Milan Archdiocese because the Cardinal's defense of "The Union" had been clear, and clearly understood. So let the Cardinal correct the scandal by conveying the Pope's real thinking to all concerned, but let him not come to Rome.
"This last instruction was intended to calm the agitation, so that the controversy might die a quiet death, but the Liberals turned it into a refusal of the Pope to listen to his Cardinals! Thus when on the death of Pius X Cardinal Ferrari went down to Rome for the conclave to elect his successor, to an Italian senator remarking on the people's emotion and veneration for the deceased Pope, the Cardinal sternly replied: "Yes, but he will have to give an account to God for the way in which he would abandon his bishops in the face of accusations being made against them"! Truly, as Msgr. Begnini said, Cardinal Ferrari had understood nothing."
Now what are the implications that I did not spell out in 1996? Between Pius X and Cardinal Ferrari we have a clash between two worlds: one of Catholic reality, of man serving God; the other of Liberal dreamery, of God serving man. Pius X is concerned with the issues, the Cardinal is concerned with personal feelings. Pius X worries that the good doctrine is not put into practice in Milan; that the Cardinal's defending "The Union" would spread liberal ideas; that the Cardinal should straighten out the scandal of mistaken thinking. On the contrary the Cardinal takes the Scotton accusation as a personal attack upon his subordinates and himself; when the Pope is scandalized by his defense of "The Union", he is overcome with personal feelings ("broken-hearted", "humiliated", "saddened") and fanfares his good intentions: when the Pope does not want to see him, he feels personally betrayed ("abandoned") by his Superior.
There is a famous quotation of the arch-Romantic English poet, John Keats (1795-1821):- "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination" (Letter to Benjamin Bailey). Now when a young poet in a Revolutionary age allows his feelings and imagination to take over, that is, in a manner of speaking, his prerogative. But when an eminent Prince of the Catholic Church allows questions of doctrine to be overtaken in his mind by the conviction of the holiness of his own heart's affections, then we are in trouble! The Revolution is taking over the Church, and the Catholic Faith is being washed out. Sure enough! — the Pius X - Cardinal Ferrari clash was finally resolved in 2001 when Pope John-Paul II beatified Cardinal Ferrari! In effect, he was declaring the Cardinal's affections to be Blessed! A Catholic Saint? A saint of the world of Keats!
The secular parallel from the post-war United States is the clash which took place in Washington , D.C., in the late 1940's between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. Whittaker Chambers' book "Witness" is a classic of U.S. history, culture and literature, which should be studied in every American school, but because it refuses the modern dream, it is disappearing down the memory hole. Chambers was not a Catholic, but he had real and deep insight into the soul of modern man.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1901, and reared in a more or less unhappy middle-class home on Long Island, NY, Chambers had a serious and searching mind which led him as a university student in the 1920's to tour Europe's centers of culture in pursuit of an answer to what seemed to him a grave crisis of Western Civilization. But post-WWI Europe had no answer either, which is why in the 1930's, like many another desperate young man, he joined the Communist Party. Within the Communist underground which he served with distinction for several years, he met and befriended an equally brilliant rising D.C. bureaucrat, by name Alger Hiss. The two worked together, until Stalin's Great Purge in 1937 and 1938 opened Chambers' eyes and drove him out of the Communist Party and out of Communism. He went to ground until the Communists no longer risked killing him, and had quietly re-surfaced in the late 1940's as a journalist with "Time" in New York. Meanwhile Alger Hiss had gone on to make a brilliant wartime and post-war career in Washington, partaking for instance at the highest level in the Conference of Yalta and in the constituting of the United Nations.
Chambers and Hiss met again in August of 1948 when Chambers stepped forward out of his obscurity into blazing publicity in D.C. to give witness that Hiss, while in the US Department of State, had helped to transmit confidential government documents to the Russians. Hiss denied that he had ever even met Chambers! But Hiss was finally convicted of perjury in January of 1950, and sentenced to a five-year prison term. He died only a few years ago, still protesting his innocence, remaining no doubt still convinced of the holiness of his heart's affections! Chambers died a sad man in 1961, sure that his cause was doomed to perish.
The Chambers-Hiss clash was again a clash between two worlds, between two Americas. As Pius X represented the centuries-old true Church while Cardinal Ferrari represented in effect the looming Church of Vatican II, so the dumpy little Chambers represented all the decent little folk across the United States while Hiss, darling of the DC and NY Establishment, represented the Liberal-Communist march towards the New World Order. When Chambers quit Communism, without the Catholic Faith, he clearly saw that he was joining the losing side. His agonizing decision to testify against Hiss was a noble but desperate gesture, made in the hope of obtaining for civilization no more than a slight reprieve. In this Chambers succeeded when we think of US anti-communism in the 1950's, but, of course, anti-communism without the Catholic Faith has no long future, so by the 1960's the Liberal-Communist march to the Brave New World was more irreversible than ever.
Insights abound in Chambers' "Witness" but here are two that could come straight out of pre-Vatican II Papal Encyclicals: communism is a religious problem, and all liberals are virtual communists. That is why, regardless of the truth or facts of the case, the DC-NY Establishment of liberals rallied to a man behind Hiss, because they knew that if he was condemned, so were they, and their substitute-religion of liberalism. That is why, to this day, they will maintain that Hiss was innocent, just as Pope John-Paul II innocented Cardinal Ferrari.
Dear readers, the whole world can go the way of Alger Hiss, and nearly all the churchmen can go the way of Cardinal Ferrari, but God remains God and He is neither deceived nor mocked. We may for the moment be like crushed beneath the juggernaut-dream of Alger Hiss and Vatican II, but it will come to an end, whereas God will not come to an end. Patience. Prayer. Tradition is gently stirring again in many a Catholic breast.
Let us pray that the Precious Blood of Jesus descend in July as a laver of regeneration upon more and more souls.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Richard Williamson
P.S. Watch out for August’s Letter, my last from the Seminary. It will be a poem!