Private Study Where Pope Pius X Reads and Writes
( Originally Published 1907 )
The windows of this study look south over St. Peter's square, but in the position which we now occupy we are looking east towards the city. The privilege of entering this room is not often accorded to any but the highest dignitaries and certain members of the household. In old times the etiquette which hedged in the Pope was a barrier that even a monarch had to respect. This ceremonial had all the absoluteness of the Orient. A king of Spain died from getting overheated sitting beside a fire, because the officer whose duty is was to help the king to rise and to remove the chair could not be found, and no one dared to interfere, nor would the king permit it, until the proper official was found. The king of Spain thus lost his life, and the delinquent official probably lost his head. Pius X has dropped as much as the etiquette of his court as possible, but this study is his own, and its privacy has to be respected.
It is a very beautiful apartment. Handsome frescoes adorn the ceiling and the upper part of the walls; costly paintings hang here and there; the white chandelier is a miracle of art and beauty; and on the long desk are the gifts of princes and peoples. At the near end we see a miniature gondola of great price which was presented to Pius X on his accession to the Throne of the Fisherman by the people of Venice. They were loth to lose their faithful pastor, but were willing too to accept the great honor of giving a Pope to the Church.
In this room the Pope receives regularly the official members of his household. They are, besides Cardinal Merry del Val and Mon-signore Bisleti, the Prefect of the Holy Apostolic Palaces who controls everything connected with the Vatican and adjoining buildings; the Papal Commissioner of Charities ; the Publishing Secretary, who has charge of the Vatican press; a chief steward and a chief of the Vatican police. Some of these officials are Cardinals. Then there are several secretaries, the Pope's preacher, and also his confessor, the last two being Capucin monks from time immemorial. They come in turn to perform their respective offices. Cardinal Merry del Val pays a visit every morning with a bundle of state documents, over which they consult for hours, as some represent very grave questions. Here too comes another important officer, the Prefect of the Propaganda, whose office it is to safeguard the interests of the Church in what are called missionary countries. He is a very great official. Through his department pass all the nominations for bishoprics in the English-speaking nations, and a tremendous mass of business has to be done by his department. At the same time unofficial people also come to this quiet room. The, sisters of the Pope, who lived with him in the episcopal residence at Venice, but are forbidden by the laws of the Vatican to do so here, come often to the study. They live opposite the palace and can see his rooms daily, for they have been his devoted attendants since the days of his earliest priesthood. The high honor which came to him in his elevation to a throne has never seemed equal to their loss of personal service and loving intimacy; and their only consolation now is their frequent visits to the Pontiff. It was thought that the Pope would ennoble the two old ladies after his coronation, as was the ancient custom ; but Pius X is much more than a peasant or an aristocrat. He is also a man of sound sense and good taste, fine judgment and simple piety. He would not disturb the simplicity of life peculiar to these devoted women by titles to which they were not accustomed, and thereby induce consequences which might be irritating. It is enough that they are the sisters of the Pope. So the two old ladies remain in the peaceful seclusion of their apartment and rarely appear at court functions.
In this august study the executive work of a great institution is carried on as efficiently as if the ancient pomp surrounded every action of the Pontiff. The organization of the Catholic Church bears a remarkable likeness to the American Republic. Its government consists of administrative units called dioceses, each governed by a bishop, and corresponding to the States of the Republic. The bishop is an independent official, responsible only to the Pope and the general law of the Church for the administration of his diocese. There are seven or eight hundred bishops scattered over the earth, and they are bound by virtue of their office to visit the Pope at least once in ten years to make personal report of their labors and achievement, and to become acquainted with the reigning Pontiff. At least one hundred of these bishops visit Rome yearly on an average, and have frequent audiences with the Pope, in which they discuss all matters pertaining to their dioceses. Thus the Pope is fairly well acquainted with the salient facts in the passing history of the Church every-where. The great questions of doctrine are presented to him long before they reach the general public and become questions of the time. Just at this moment, for example, the movement known as the Higher Criticism, which has revolutionized the ancient opinion of the Bible, is being discussed in this study with deep concern. The movement formerly confined itself to scholars of no particular religious belief, but now it is engaging the attention and interest of Catholic theologians and other scholars, and their conclusions are being carefully examined as preliminary to the decision that this Pope or another will one day have to render.
For centuries the scholars of the Catholic Church discussed the question : whether the Blessed Virgin Mary had always been exempt from sin. The discussion went on until the conclusion was pretty general that she was spotless from the moment of her conception. At that moment, on December 8 of the year 1855, Pope Pius IX, in the presence of several hundred bishops, declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to be the true teaching of the Church. The discussion ended at once, according to the old dictum: Rome has spoken—the cause is finished. In the same way the doctrine of the Pope's Infallibility was discussed to maturity, and then closed by the declaration of the Vatican Council in 187o, that in matters of faith and morals, speaking as the Head of the Church, the Pope's decisions are infallible and stand forever. The decision made a tremendous noise at the time of its promulgation, creating no end of discussion, but passed into history without further ado, and is accepted today amicably.
For our next position find on the map the figure 24. It is in a loggia on the south side of the Court of San Damaso, where we shall see the Pope blessing pilgrims.