Rorate Caeli

Remembering Vehementer Nos: the French Law of Separation and Saint Pius X (1)

Exactly 100 years ago, the greatest pope of modern times, Saint Pius X, was gathering all his strength to issue the official response of the Church of Rome, the Mother and Teacher of all Churches, to the challenge posed by the government of the Third French Republic. In December 1905, with the approval of its new "Law of Separation", France had unilaterally rescinded the Concordat signed by Napoleon in 1801 which had brought peace and some stability to the Church in France.

Saint Pius chose the month of February 1906 to issue his response to the violent onslaught of the agnostic French Republic -- and to call the Bishops, priests, and faithful of France to resist the barbarous legal attack on the Body of Christ. His resistance would eventually be victorious, at least in the sense of giving the Church the minimal conditions for survival in a hostile legal system, but he would not live to see it.

The most important of all documents of Pope Pius on the matter was the Encyclical Letter Vehementer Nos. He chose a very special day to sign it: February 11, day of the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes and 48th anniversary of the first time Saint Bernadette saw the beautiful yet unknown Lady at Massabielle.

Lourdes was the symbol of that deeply Catholic France which resurrected after the Revolution. Like so many aspects of French 19th-century Catholicism which Saint Pius admired deeply, such as the lives and examples of Saint John Baptist Mary Vianney (the Cure of Ars) and Cardinal Pie, Lourdes was a beacon of hope in an increasingly secularised Western Europe.

February 11, 1906 was also a Sunday of Septuagesima (which will fall on February 12 this year). The message of Lourdes and the message of Septuagesima are the same: Original Sin, and "Penance, Penance, Penance" -- Penance leads to spiritual strength, which the faithful in France needed in 1906 and which the Church Militant needs even more today, as she struggles through one of the most critical moments of her history.


  1. This is off topic, BUT

    if you would like to offer Pope Benedict XVI a spiritual bouquet or share some prayer(s) for his well fare, I have create this blog:

  2. That is a most wonderful idea, Brother Alexis! As soon as I change the template, I'll add this link.


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