Pope Pius X With Magnificent Papal Crown and Robes of State
( Originally Published 1907 )
The Pope, according to Catholic teaching, rules the Church at every moment ; he is the supreme legislator and teacher. At certain times he is called upon to settle the terms of a doctrine over which there may have been centuries of discussion. At other times he presides at the grave councils of the whole Church, or at splendid ceremonies which represent the entire Church. For these grave moments there is a symbolic and traditional costume, handed down from the past, so dim in its tradition that it is not easy to say just when it came into existence. Our last sight of Pius X is in this traditional and symbolic costume. He is standing on his throne clothed with the tiara and the cope, superb in their material and fashion and rich in their significance. The tiara is in reality three crowns, one above the other, said to symbolize his temporal kingdom, his religious kingdom and his universal authority. Writers differ on the point. At present the Pope has no temporal power except in the Vatican region, where he is regarded as a king, able to receive and to send forth ambassadors, and to deal with other countries as a monarch. The tiara remains as a witness of the power he wielded in earlier days. The cope is a purely religious vestment, worn by every priest at certain functions of the sanctuary. The embroidery on this one is beyond price for it has been worn by one Pope after another down the centuries. The stole is of the same fashion and value. The lace on the inner robe is of wonderful beauty. You can see that these robes are too long for the stature of the present Pope. In a function the white robes are drawn up under the cincture about the waist and the attendants hold back the flowing embroideries of the cope. The tiara is carried on a cushion by a page and is put on at various points of the ceremony, only to be taken off almost immediately. The Supreme Pontiff is standing now in his splendid robes to bless the people over whom he has been called to rule, and we take our leave of him in that blessing.
How strangely the world of the present is united with the ashen world of the past! After this visit to the Vatican, with this sight of Pius X on his throne of the Fisherman, it seems only last year that Peter of Galilee ruled here; it seems only fitting that his successor should still be with us; it seems only proper and true that the present Pope should be of the same peasant blood as the first of the line. Men come and go but the institution re-mains, and its first characteristics are also its most prominent and enduring. The Pope of to-day rules a fairly peaceful flock in a rather peaceful world, simply and powerfully; the Pope of the Middle Ages. ruled with pomp and splendor and a kind of terror, surrounded by an etiquette which awed the fierce spirits of that time; the Pope of the Imperial Age lived in the catacombs a short period and died in the amphitheatre.
And this thought brings up the personality of one without whose providential concurrence one might say that this tremendous scene might never have been. Constantine the Great, under God, made it all possible. Honor to his memory ! East of the Tiber in the region of the Capitoline Hill, amid the ruins of Trojan's Forum, are the broken columns of a basilica, in which Constantine announced the abolition of polytheism and the elevation of the Christian religion in its place. He was the ruler of the Empire by his victory over Maxentius, a former Emperor ; he assembled in the basilica the members of the Roman Senate, a mere shadow of the great Senate of the past, and made his announcement.
"The senators listened to the words of the Emperor in sullen silence, for the patricians were attached to the old order of things and feared that any change would be to their disadvantage; but the people, a mighty throng, who had crowded into the basilica when the Emperor began speaking, listened with rapt faces; and when he concluded with the statement that the religion of the Crucified should henceforth and forever be that of the Roman Empire, the multitude burst into tumultuous shouts of joy, which continued for two hours, according to the ancient chronicle. But when the people caught sight of the bitter and contemptuous faces of the patricians, their joy turned to frenzied rage, and a terrible outburst of passion and revolution was only averted by Constantine, who beckoned the people to silence and then spoke as follows : `To be a Christian one must desire to be one. To refuse admission to such a one, seeking it, would be a grave offense. To impose it upon anyone would also be blameworthy. This is the rule of truth. Those who do not imitate us shall not lose our good graces, while those who be-come Christians with us shall be our friends. The people fell silent, stirred by the wisdom of these words. And thus on that day the noble Constantine showed the wisdom of a sage and the tolerance of a saint. In the same breath he proclaimed Christianity as the religion of the State, and the right of every man to worship God according to his conscience."
The world has gone through many changes of opinion since that great day, but the dictum of Constantine remains. Only the truth lives on in spite of change. Let us close our pilgrimage with the thought of the truly great Emperor. Like most great men he has not had justice done him. In the Christian world his statue should lead all the rest, for without him there would have been a longer struggle before the Christian idea could have taken its place on the altar and routed the stone gods of paganism. He built the first basilica here on the Vatican Hill over the bones of St. Peter; he fashioned the first laws of toleration, and the first Christian laws ; his code fixed in the common law the principles of progress, where before were only the principles of expediency; he established Christian morality; and, not the least by any means, he made the Eternal City truly eternal by leaving it to the everlasting Pope. As Tennyson sang:
"Thus God fulfils Himself in many ways."