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St. Pius X and the Church of Nice

Saint Pope Pius X

Saint Pope Pius X

In today’s polarized Church, we like to label that which we don’t like.  We need to tell people we are the pure, and they are the impure.  A lot of Catholics do this by labeling those they disagreed with “radical traditionalists” or “radtrad”, even though more often than not these Catholics were faithful Catholics in union with the Pope and their local bishop.  Some fire back with a rather curious gem:  those they disagree with are part of the “Church of Nice.”  For a variety of reasons, I find this terminology troubling.

First and foremost, it is tough to nail down precisely what the church of nice is.  In one of his YouTube addresses, ChurchMilitantTV’s Michael Voris lists a total of twenty-one (!) characteristics of “The Church of Nice.”  When you give that many examples, all you are really saying is that “Church of nice” should be translated as “stuff I don’t like.”  When dealing with real dangers to the faithful, it is best to be clear and concise.  When speaking of the dangers of the modernist, Pope St. Pius X laid out 7 problems with their approach in the encyclical Pascendi.    There is a natural flow to his critique.

The critique of the church of nice ranges from the substantial (the RCIA director or priest teaching heresy) to the unfortunate but not heretical (confession isn’t offered enough) to the really annoying (not heretical but bland folk music trying to pass off as “worship music”) to the prideful (father doesn’t tell other Catholics how bad they are living their lives publicly during his homily), to Catholics exercising the lawful rights Holy Mother Church has given them.  (Receiving communion on the hand, which even though you can do it, you can also receive on the tongue.)  There is no unifying principle other than people really don’t like these twenty-one things.  For the Catholic who wants actual substance, they can only walk away disappointed.

That’s a shame, as some (but not all) of the things you typically hear about when it comes to the church of nice are problems.  The problem with the Church today is the same problem with the Church throughout history:  fallen human beings prefer gimmicks to the transformative power of God’s grace, and we have a tendency of doing what we think is best, rather than doing what God wants.  This message won’t drive YouTube hits, but it is the only real way to reform.

Let us take the second problem first.  You can think the discipline of allowing communion in the hand has had unintended consequences.  You can argue people should receive it on the tongue instead.  You can even argue that Rome should rescind the discipline.  Yet you can’t say that those who are doing it are part of a bad Church, since they are simply exercising their rights that the Bishop of Rome has given them.  In liturgical matters, that is the Bishop of Rome’s prerogative.  (Mediator Dei 58)

In like manner, it can be very frustrating when clerics, whether they be priests, bishops, cardinals, or even yes the Pope aren’t performing their ministries as well as they should.  We might even think we can do a better job.  Sometimes, we probably can.  Yet in areas where they have the lawful authority to command, we should indeed do as we are told, even if it is bothersome.  King Saul thought the command of the Lord was folly, and that under his vision he could make Israel great.  When he disobeyed for a noble cause, God was no less displeased.  (1 Sam 15:10-23)  Compare that with St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), who spent years under an unjust sentence in quiet obedience.  Consider St. Faustina, whose diary was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books.  In the end, her obedience was proof of her sanctity, the book was removed from the Index, and she was canonized a saint.  King David spent over a decade of his life persecuted by an evil king.  When that dynasty is ended, David kills the assassins who ended it.  (2 Samuel 5)    These saints suffered the wickedness of worldly men, sometimes of the highest authority, yet their obedience shined forth.

 These saints tell us that the way to truly reform the Church is reform of the self.  We should encourage others to go to confession, but let’s make sure we go regularly, and let’s make sure we don’t make a cheap confession.  Catechesis may be awful, but let’s make sure that we are properly catechized, and then let’s go and catechize others.  Let’s make sure we are giving people the Gospel of love and forgiveness, not judgment and bile. 

Above all else, let charity reign supreme in all we do.  When we condemn “the church of nice” we are condemning Catholics behaving badly.  Yet any honest Catholic would admit they too are behaving badly more often than not.  If we weren’t behaving badly, we wouldn’t need priests to hear confessions frequently.  This kind of charity is burdensome and will frequently appear pointless, but St. Pius X tells us it is the only way to live our lives in service to Christ:

“For the Lord is not in the earthquake” (III Kings xix., II) — it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity… This charity, “patient and kind” (1. Cor. xiii., 4.), will extend itself also to those who are hostile to us and persecute us. “We are reviled,” thus did St. Paul protest, “and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer it; we are blasphemed and we entreat” (1. Cor., iv., 12, s.)… It may be that the fruit of our labors may be slow in coming, but charity wearies not with waiting, knowing that God prepares His rewards not for the results of toil but for the good will shown in it. (E Supremi 13)

If we really want to eliminate “the church of nice”, we first need to eliminate this bitter zeal from our own souls.  As with so many things, St. Pius X showed us how.


Kevin Tierney is an Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane.  He also blogs at http://commmonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com.  You may contact him on Facebook, Google+  or follow him on Twitter @CatholicSmark.
  • Saint Benedict, too, in the 72nd chapter of his Holy Rule (below), describes the virtuous zeal that Christians ought to have. Note that this zeal is practiced among the brethren, separating them not from each other, but from sin and weakness. The goal of holy zeal is not to detract but to attract, and the source of that attraction is not our own knowledge, popularity or virtue, but Christ, Who is loved in Himself, in our superior, and in our neighbor.

    “As there is a harsh and evil zeal which separateth from God and leadeth to hell, so there is a virtuous zeal which separateth from vice and leadeth to God and life everlasting.

    Let the monks, therefore, practice this zeal with most ardent love; namely, that in honor they forerun one another (cf Rom 12:10). Let them bear their infirmities, whether of body or mind, with the utmost patience; let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinketh useful to himself, but rather to another. Let them practice fraternal charity with a chaste love.”

    Let them fear God and love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection; let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may He lead us all together to life everlasting.

    • Outstanding quote Father!

    • ColdStanding

      OK, but would you afford, as a Catholic, the same degree of submission to a minister of Reformed Protestantism, aka Calvinist? I’d hazard a guess the answer is no.

      We do not, as Catholics, submit to non-Catholic but still Christian ministers for the simple reason that they teach “innovations” even if they dress it up to a return to a purer, more primitive stage of Christianity.

      If there are hold outs in submission, it is because a pretty darn good case can be made that what is presented as the faith of the fathers looks suspiciously like innovations.

  • From St. Alphonsus when he discussed how love is not prone to anger:

    “Still, as we know, there are times when it seems absolutely necessary to answer insolence with severity. Occasions do occur when we may resort to righteous anger. But this we must remember: It may sometimes be expedient – speculatively speaking – to answer someone severely; but in practice it is very difficult to do so without some fault on our part….

    Gentleness is even more important when we correct others. Corrections made in anger often do more harm than good, especially when the person corrected is also excited. In such a case, the correction should be postponed. If we correct others when we are angry ourselves, our correction will always be mixed with harshness, and the person being corrected will, consequently, ignore our admonition.”

    Consider, he is talking about true fraternal correction, not false fraternal correction. When people stand on a virtual street corner and deride and berate others to the point that it causes people to have contempt for them, it is perverted to refer to it as fraternal correction.

    • ME

      As much as I believe Michael Voris has the love of the church as his intention, I cannot watch his videos, nor read blogs of those that follow him. I find myself becoming too angry with the approach that he takes, and I don’t ever see him offering the solutions to the problems he rants about. I see him as someone who is determined he is right and he doesn’t seem to care how the message comes across, and I find that not to be morally uplifting in any way, shape or form. I have no objections with people pointing out the problems, if they are also making suggestions, and an honest attempt at putting forth a solution.

  • lucho gatica

    can you people think that Jesus would NOT aloud people coming to him and physically touch him?? stop !

  • Wendell

    I hear the term ‘Church of Nice” as term that is mean to afflict the comfortable (… the tepid, the petulant, the self righteous, the “tolerant”…). I hear it as a rhetorical device that simply and necessarily narrows the range of respectable behaviours and attitudes to what Jesus taught and His Church teaches. A comparable expression might be ‘Church of Wide’.

    Frankly, too many Catholics view the gate to salvation as a wide gate, not the narrow gate that Jesus taught. So, those who hold to the former position are more likely to react and take offence when the message of the Gospel is proclaimed, regardless of the mode of communication, because the prevailing culture (in and outside the Church) is one that cannot stand to have its petulance and “broadmindedness” (acceptance of sinful behaviour) challenged. God’s chastisements, to the obstinate sinner, are a cause for making excuses and taking offence instead of opportunities for turning from sin and embracing the Law of Love.

    An important consideration is that we do not lose our own souls in an attempt to save others. Wrath—a deadly sin—causes two to fall: the unholy zealot and the one to whom fraternal correction is offered.

    • Except in many cases they are afflicting not the comfortable but their fellow brethren who have done nothing wrong. The only thing is they are doing things the person using the term doesn’t like. (See half the things Voris lists)

      And I guess that if our purpose is to get the errant to change their ways, how the approach he lays out actually does so. It makes a lot of people who view it feel great in their own views, but I seldom hear someone watching the Vortex saying “you know, I really was a horrible person being part of the Church of Nice, I need to realize I have to stop trying to please everyone and start taking a stand.” His ministry is to the choir, not to the lost.

      • Mark Carney

        I suggest that Voris shines a light on those things that need attention not for the benefit of the choir but rather those that might straddle a fence. Being in the choir I’ve never had a feel good moment from what he says. Rather it prompts me to action, how can I with Charity better serve the Church and aid my brothers and sisters.
        I suspect the bluntness of The Vortex is what offends much more so than the message. The gate indeed is narrow and we are truly lacking in Charity when we gloss over that point. Didn’t our Lord say he came to divide. People like Voris are only doing their job when they stir things up and attempt to get the complacent on one side of the fence or the other.

        • I guess I question if that’s really happening. I don’t see many people “on the fence” being swayed by his latest antics, especially his stunt at the March for Life.

          It’s kinda like the apologetics movement over the last 30 years. It’s done a lot of good, but I really think the benefits were oversold, especially recent benefits. The same is happening with those like Voris, and everyone has a reason to embellish the record on one side or the other.

  • Kaiser Louis-Philip V

    Okay. Saint Pius X’s words here have merit. But how do you reconcile this statement with his most infamous one: “They want them to be treated with oil, soap and caresses. But they
    should be beaten with fists. In a duel, you don’t count or measure the
    blows, you strike as you can.”

    • A difference in the audience. Modernists were outright heretics. They weren’t milquetoast squishes, they formally denied dogma. Most people you come across that are doing things they shouldn’t aren’t outright heretics. Even when wrong, it is more often than not being mistaken than a desire to strip the Church of any perennial truth, or even the notion of truth.

      Somewhere along the way, we started seeing the delusional idea that you have to be a jerk to be uncompromising on principles or truth.

      A lot of the things I talked about in the article had little to do with actual modernism. Everyone throws around the word “modernist” to mainly interpret it as “things I don’t like.’ It cheapens the danger that modernism actually was (and in some instances still is!) to the church.

  • johnnysc

    Imo the church of nice is ecumenism gone wild. We have become so ecumenical as to obscure the Truth. I am amazed at the number of Catholics who feel it is perfectly fine to go to protestant services or think there should be open Communion. I’m still not quite sure what is meant by the new evangelization but I’m beginning to wonder if it means no evangelization.