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The Oath Against Modernism - Pope St. Pius X

Pope St. Pius X (SSPX)


Pope St. Pius X

Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.

Related Article: Council of Trent - Professio fidei Tridentinae

To be sworn to by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries.

I firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day.

And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated:

Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.

Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time.

Fourthly, I sincerely hold 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. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.

Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord.

Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality—that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm.

Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.

Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact—one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history—the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.

I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God. . .

The following text and research is taken from Joseph Clifford Fenton's "Sacrorum Antistitum and the Background of the Oath Against Modernism" at Catholic Culture.

September 1 of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the last, and in some ways the most important, of the three main anti-Modernist pronouncements issued by the Holy See during the brilliant reign of St. Pius X. This document was the Motu proprio Sacrorum antistitum. The other two basic anti-Modernist documents are, of course, the Holy Office decree Lamentabili sane exitu, dated July 3, 1907, and the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, issued September 8 of that same year.

The Sacrorum antistitum is best known because it contains the text of the famous anti-Modernist oath and the rules prescribing when and by whom this oath is to be taken. Because of the tremendous intrinsic importance of the oath itself and by reason of its function in the doctrinal life of the Catholic Church, the papal document containing this oath definitely deserves serious study by the present generation of theologians. The Sacrorum antistitum brings out the basic objectives, which the saintly Pius X hoped to attain through the taking of the oath. These objectives, which are also the ends St. Pius X worked to achieve through the writing of the Motu proprio itself, are expressed very clearly in the introduction and in the conclusion to this document.

Since the entire text of the Sacrorum antistitum is not very generally available here and now, it will be helpful to see a translation of its most important parts, including the introduction and conclusion. The following is a translation of the introduction to this Motu proprio.

The Introduction

We believe that no bishop is ignorant of the fact that the wily Modernists have not abandoned their plans for disturbing the peace of the Church since they were unmasked by the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis. For they have not ceased to seek out new recruits and to gather them into a secret alliance. Nor have they ceased, along with their new associates, to inject the poison of their own teachings into the veins of the Christian body-politic by turning out anonymous or pseudonymous books and articles. If, after a re-reading of the above-mentioned encyclical Pascendi, this audacity, which has caused Us so much grief, be considered very carefully, it will become quite apparent that these men are just as the encyclical describes them: enemies who are all the more to be feared by reason of their very nearness to us. They are men who pervert their ministry in such a way as to bait their hooks with poisoned meat in order to catch the unwary. They carry with them a form of doctrine in which the summary of all errors is contained.

While this plague is spreading abroad over that very part of the Lord's field from which the best fruits might be expected, it is the duty of all Bishops to exert themselves in defence of the Catholic faith and most diligently to see to it that the integrity of the divine deposit suffers no loss. Likewise it is most definitely Our duty to obey the commands of Christ the Saviour, who gave to Peter, to whose position of authority We, though unworthy, have succeeded, the order: "Confirm thy brethren." Thus, so that the souls of the good may be strengthened in the present struggle, We have considered it opportune to repeat the following statements and commands of the encyclical Pascendi. 1

The last words of this introduction to the Sacrorum antistitum show that the first section of the body of this Motu proprio is a long citation from the disciplinary part of the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis. To this citation is attached an appendix, having to do with legislation concerning seminaries. The second part of the body of the text of the Sacrorum antistitum contains the text of the anti-Modernist oath, together with the rules prescribing when and by whom his oath is to be taken, and the other directives, which accompanied the command to take the oath. The third section is merely a statement in Latin of a text on preaching, originally issued in Italian, on the orders of Pope Leo XIII, by the Congregation of Bishops and of Regulars, on July 31, 1894.

The introduction to the Sacrorum antistitum contains some badly needed lessons for the priests of our own time. Incidentally it contains some reminders of truths in the theological and in the historical orders, which are far too seldom insisted upon today. It will, in my judgment, be definitely helpful to take cognizance of some of these truths at this time.

(1) Basically the Sacrorum antistitum and the anti-Modernist oath it contains were intended by St. Pius X as works he was required to perform in order to carry out his own divinely imposed responsibility to confirm the faith of his fellow members of the Catholic Church and to strengthen the efforts of the Bishops to see to it that their flocks received the divinely revealed message in all its integrity and purity.

For the sake of both fidelity to revealed teaching and of historical veracity, it is absolutely imperative that our contemporary Catholic scholars take cognizance of the truth of St. Pius X's claim about his intention. Actually the responsibility, which St. Pius X had assumed when he accepted the burden of the papacy, demanded that he take the most effective means at his disposal to protect the faith of Catholics. Quite obviously the greatest danger to the faith of the members of the true Church of Jesus Christ exists when some members of this Church actually teach or even show sympathy for doctrine contradictory to or incompatible with the body of Catholic dogma without receiving any reproof from those whom God has commissioned and obligated to protect the purity and the integrity of the Catholic faith. St. Pius X was acutely conscious of the fact that many influential Catholics were teaching or encouraging erroneous doctrines opposed to the divinely revealed Catholic message long after those erroneous doctrines had been pointed out and condemned by the highest teaching authority within the Church. And the saintly Pope was brilliant enough to realize that, unless he took some sort of drastic action, a great number of Catholics might be persuaded to imagine that de facto the Church at least tacitly tolerated the doctrinal deviations of the Modernists and their sympathizers. Thus he directed the severe commands of the Sacrorum antistitum towards the protection of the Catholic faith that was his most important responsibility as the Vicar of Christ on earth.

It was and it still is the contention of the Modernists, together with their sympathizers and their dupes, that St. Pius X in some way or another went beyond the bounds imposed by prudence and charity in the war he waged against the heresy of Modernism. As a matter of fact, even after the regular investigations involved in the process of his beatification had been completed, the Sacred Congregation of Rites considered it best to commission its historical section to conduct a special investigation into the validity of this particular contention. This strict investigation, which made use of all available testimony and of the very abundant documentary material pertinent to the question, brought out very clearly the fact that St. Pius X, in issuing the Sacrorum antistitum and in taking the other steps against the Modernists and their supporters during the latter days of his pontificate, had been doing only what the demands of his high office demanded of him. 2

One of the most striking indications of this is to be found in a well-known statement attributed to Pope Benedict XV. The Disquisitio of the Historical Section of the Sacred Congregation of Rites reprints this statement in a part of the testimony offered by Msgr. Hoenning-O'Carroll in the course of the inquiry into the virtues of Pius X held in Venice.

Particularly his [Pius X's] political dealings with France and the steps he took against Modernism were attacked as imprudent and exaggerated . . . When Father Mauro Serafini was having an audience with Pope Benedict XV, the Pope said to him: "Now that I am sitting on this Chair, I see very well how right Pius X was. While I was the Sostituto in the Secretariate of State, and even while I was Archbishop of Bologna, I did not always share the thought of Pius X, but now I have to realize how right he was." 3

Monsignor Hoenning-O'Carroll testified that he learned of this statement of Pope Benedict XV from Monsignor Pescini. Despite the fact that this particular witness knew the story only through hearsay, the statement itself seems very well attested. It seems to reflect the mind of Pope Benedict XV.

In any event there is ample and compelling evidence that the Sacrorum antistitum and the other anti-Modernistic documents issued by St. Pius X were actually called for and really required by reason of the danger to the Catholic faith which had been caused by the activity of the Modernists, their sympathizers, and their dupes, within the true Church of Jesus Christ.

(2) At the time the Sacrorum antistitum was being written, the integrity of the Catholic faith itself was being seriously threatened. Within the Catholic Church itself a definite and formidable effort was being made to persuade members of the true Church to reject as antiquated and outdated certain teachings, which were actually presented by the Church's magisterium as belonging to the deposit of divine public revelation. This effort was being made by the Modernists, most of whom were members of the Catholic Church. The teachings, which these men had attempted to impose upon the Church had been specifically and authoritatively condemned by the Holy See three years before the Sacrorum antistitum was issued.

Thus it is immensely important to realize that the teachings against which the Sacrorum antistitum was directed were being put forward by an obdurate group of men whose heresies had been indicated, denounced, and condemned three years before this Motu proprio was written. This, incidentally, is quite at variance with the unhistorical statements of some contemporary sympathizers with Modernism and the Modernists. Writers of this sort have tried to delude their fellow Catholics into imagining that, upon the appearance of the Lamentabili sane exitu and the Pascendi dominici gregis, most of the men who had been teaching and defending the doctrines condemned in these two documents quickly and humbly submitted to the teaching authority of the Holy See. The text of the Sacrorum antistitum, and also, be it noted, the text of the Ad beatissimi, the inaugural encyclical of Pope Benedict XV, show that no such reaction took place. 4 The well defined group which had been proposing and favoring the propositions condemned in the Lamentabili and in the Pascendi insolently continued to work for acceptance of their errors within the Church even after St. Pius X had denounced and condemned them.

(3) In the Sacrorum antistitum St. Pius X speaks out very clearly of the existence of a secret alliance or a foedus clandestinum among the Modernists of his day. For one reason or another, this truth, observed and stated by St. Pius X, and clearly evident to any person who takes the trouble to study the history of the Modernist movement, has always been singularly distasteful to sympathizers with Modernism and with the Modernists. It seems to have been precisely in order to cause confusion on this particular point that the men who have been partial to the Modernists have gone to such extreme lengths to delude people into imagining that the opposition to Loisy, Von Hugel, and their ilk within the Catholic Church was fundamentally the work of a secret alliance of sinister and reactionary Catholics. It would certainly appear that the ridiculous and mendacious propaganda directed against the Sodalitium Pianum and against Monsignor Umberto Benigni, even over the course of the past few years, 5 can best be explained as an attempt to cover up the fact that there was a foedus clandestinum connected with and inherent in the Modernist movement.

(4) The introduction to the Sacrorum antistitum takes cognizance of the fact that most of the genuinely dangerous supporters of the Modernist movement, the men against whose efforts the Sacrorum antistitum and its commands were particularly directed, were priests active within the Catholic Church itself. St. Pius X took cognizance of the fact that such priests were actually perverting their own ministry. They were guilty of using their priestly power and their priestly position to counter, rather than to advance, the work of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Basically the work of the priesthood is directed towards the glory of God, which is to be achieved and obtained in the salvation of souls. This objective is to be obtained only by those who pass from this life living the life of sanctifying grace. And the life of sanctifying grace cannot exist apart from the truth faith, until such time as the faith itself is replaced by the Beatific Vision. Thus the priestly ministry in the true Church of Jesus Christ necessarily seeks to induce men to accept God's supernatural teaching with the certain assent of divine faith and works to increase the perfection and the intensity of the faith in those who already possess this virtue. Hence any effort on the part of a Catholic priest to influence people to reject or to pass over a truth revealed by God and proposed as such by the Church's magisterium definitely constitutes a perversion of the sacerdotal ministry.

(5) St. Pius X describes the Modernists as men "who are all the more to be feared by reason of their very nearness to us." It would be difficult indeed to appreciate the position of the Church in the twentieth century without realizing the objectivity and the shrewdness of this observation.

A man is to be feared by the Church, or by the members of the Church, in the measure that this man intends and is genuinely able to harm the Church, or to counteract and negate the salvific mission of Our Lord's Mystical Body in this world. And this happens especially when non-members of the Church are influenced not to accept its divine message and not to seek entrance into this society, and when members of the Church are pressured to reject Our Lord, or His love, or His divine teaching. It is most important to remember that the only real and serious damage to the cause of Christ is done when effective efforts are made to nullify and to counteract the work the Church does as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

With its insistence that the Modernists and their sympathizers were "enemies who are all the more to be feared by reason of their very nearness to us," the introduction to the Sacrorum antistitum takes cognizance of the fact that, during our own times at least, non-members of the Church have, generally speaking, not been able to damage the Church to any very considerable extent. Quite obviously, despite their manifest and intense ill will, people like those who used to be associated with the old Menace and the Ku Klux Klan, and those who are now associated with groups like P. . . U, are not particularly formidable adversaries of Our Lord, His Church, or His message. They have certainly helped to stir up and further to envenom antipathy towards the Catholic Church on the part of ignorant non-Catholics who were previously ill disposed towards the Church. But it would hardly seem likely that any Catholic has ever been turned against Christ or against the Church's divinely revealed message as a result of anything that has ever been said or written by these rabble-rousers. And it seems highly unlikely that any individual has been excluded from the Beatific Vision by reason of anything he has said or done by reason of their influence.

On the other hand, no one has ever been as well placed to harm the true Church and to counteract its essential work as a Catholic priest in good standing. If such a man, by his preaching, his teaching, or his writing, actually sets forth the kind of teaching condemned in the Lamentabili sane exitu and in the Pascendi dominici gregis, or if he works to discredit the loyal defenders of Catholic dogma without receiving any repudiation or reproof from those to whom the apostolic deposit of divine revelation has been entrusted, the Catholic people are in grave danger of being deceived.

The Modernists and their most influential sympathizers were, in great part, drawn from the ranks of the Catholic clergy. Thus they were, in the words of the introduction to the Sacrorum antistitum, the "enemies who are all the more to be feared by reason of their very nearness to us." These Catholics who taught or favored Modernism were the men whose influence within the true Church of Jesus Christ St. Pius X sought to counter by the teaching and the directives contained in the Sacrorum antistitum.

(6) Finally, in the introduction to this famous Motu proprio, St. Pius X makes it very clear indeed that the Bishops of the Catholic Church were bound in conscience by the obligations of their office to act energetically against this teaching that contradicted the divinely revealed truth proposed as such by the true Church. The "defence of the Catholic faith" and strenuous efforts "to see to it that the integrity of the divine deposit suffers no loss" are definitely not works of supererogation. These are the duties prescribed by Our Lord Himself for the leaders of the Church, which He has purchased by His blood.

The Conclusion To The Sacrorum Antistitum