Humble origins

Giuseppe Sarto, the future Supreme Pontiff, was born in 1835, the son of a village postman in Riese – then part of the Austrian Empire, today in Italy. He went to the seminary on a scholarship and thereafter worked in parishes. He was especially well-loved for his labours on behalf of the sick during the 1870s cholera epidemic.

He rose through the clerical ranks and became Bishop of Mantua in 1884. Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1893.

At the conclave of 1903 Sarto was elected on the fifth vote. Some historians say he refused the election and had to be persuaded by the cardinals. He took the name Pius, a tribute to (among others) Pius IX, who had denounced liberalism and modern errors.

Against modernism

This was certainly a part of Pius X’s programme: in the famous encyclical Pascendi, he identified the modernists, an inchoate group of theologians who tried to reinterpret doctrines. The Oath Against Modernism bound Catholic clergy and seminary professors to profess that the existence of God could be known by reason alone; and “that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport”. Pius took other disciplinary actions to root out modernism.

Tenderness and miracles

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