Living Tradition
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No. 110Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study ProgramMarch 2004


by John F. McCarthy

[The following quotations from the Encyclical Letter Pascendi Dominici gregis of Pope Pius X are taken mainly from the translation that appeared originally in the London Tablet and is reproduced in Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 3. pp. 71-98.]

1. Introduction. On September 8, 1907, Pope Saint Pius X published the encyclical letter Pascendi Dominici gregis, in which he condemned the heresy of Modernism, a heresy which he defined as "the synthesis of all heresies" (Pascendi, no. 39). From then until the Second Vatican Council there was great effort on the part of the Hierarchy to oppose and wipe out this heresy. Among other things the Oath against Modernism of September 1, 1910, was required each time that a member of the Church received a sacred order or a pastoral ministry such as bishop of a diocese, pastor of a parish, seminary professor, preacher, religious superior, official of a diocese or of the Holy See, or to receive an ecclesiastical degree. But around the time of the Second Vatican Council, the requirement to take this oath was suppressed by the Holy See, and it has never been seen again. To the best of my knowledge, no published reason or rationale for the removal of this requirement was given, but the assumption is that there was no longer a sufficient reason to keep it in use. Yet, many of the same manifestations within and without the Catholic Church that motivated Pope Pius X to write the Encyclical seem to be in some ways still present today and in many ways even more present today than they were in the early twentieth century. Was the "Modernism" observed by Pius X in 1907 just an illusion? Did it address a situation that was not really existing? Or was there a real movement that ceased afterwards to have the same relevance that it had had before? These are questions that it might behoove us to consider. We could begin by taking some of the general characteristics and specific instances of Modernism described in the Encyclical and compare them with apparently similar instances that seem to have continued to exist in the Church up to the present day, in order that we might see if there is a real difference between them and in what this difference might consist.

2. Reformers of the Church. In opening the description of Modernism and Modernists in his encyclical Pascendi, Pope Pius X remarks that there are in the Church many lay persons and priests "who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church" (Pascendi no. 2). The Pope remarks that these Modernists "lay the axe, not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibres," and that "there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt." He goes on to say that the Modernists "double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error." They "possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality" and "relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy" (Pascendi no. 3).

3. Faith Is a Feeling. As philosophers, Modernists are agnostics inasmuch as they hold that to know the existence of God is not within the capability of human reason or "the direct object of science," and that God is not to be considered a subject of history (Pascendi no. 6). Hence, they say, faith is a feeling (sensus) that arises from a felt need of the divine whose roots lie hidden in the subconscious, where also the roots of divine revelation lie (Pascendi no. 7). They make religious consciousness the law to which all must submit, even the supreme authority of the Church (Pascendi no. 8). The religious unknowable presents itself in the form of some mysterious phenomenon or some man whose character, actions, and words cannot, apparently, be reconciled with the ordinary laws of history" (Pascendi no. 9).

4. The Evolution of Dogma. From this philosophy the Modernists derive three principles which "constitute the foundation of historical criticism." For example, in the case of the Person of Jesus: a) whatever in his history is suggestive of the divine must be rejected; b) every element that raises Him above historical conditions must be removed; c) every element is also to be removed that is not in keeping with the character, circumstances, and education of Jesus, and with the place and time in which He lived (Pascendi no. 9). Modernists say that "what we call dogmas are liable to change," since religious formulas "have no other purpose than to furnish the believer with a means of giving an account of his faith to himself" (Pascendi no. 12). And thus "the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma," since these formulas, "should be living, and should live the very life of the religious sense" (Pascendi no. 13).

5. The Divine Reality. But the Modernist, in addition to being a philosopher, is also a believer. As a believer, he accepts that "the reality of the divine [realitas divini] does exist unto itself and not at all depends on the believer,."but this conviction, he maintains, is based upon individual experience, and a kind of intuition of the heart that resides in religious feeling and which "puts man in immediate contact with the reality of God [Dei realitatem]," a persuasion that exceeds any scientific conviction. On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the opinion of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics. "Thus, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true." And regrettably "there are Catholics and priests who, we would fain believe, abhor such enormities yet act as if they fully approved of them," for they heap praise and bestow such public honor on the teachers of these errors (Pascendi no. 14).

6. Life Is Truth. For the Modernist, tradition is only the passing down of an original experience having suggestive efficacy which acts to stimulate religious feeling, while "to live is a proof of truth, since for them life and truth are one and the same thing" (Pascendi no. 15). For the Modernist, science is concerned only with the reality of phenomena, and faith is concerned only with a divine reality that is entirely unknown to science. Thus, events relating to the human life of Christ come within the category of phenomena, but they have been "transfigured" by faith, and so removed from the world of sense as to become material for the divine. To the question as to whether or not Jesus wrought real miracles, science will say no and faith will say yes, "yet there will not be, on that account, any conflict between them" (Pascendi no. 16).

7. To Harmonize Faith with Science. And so we see, according to the Encyclical, that religious formulas are taken by Modernists to belong to the sphere of phenomena and, therefore, to fall under the control of science and history. They hold that "It is therefore the right of philosophy and of science to form conclusions concerning the idea of God, to direct it in its evolution, and to purify it of any extraneous elements which may become confused with it. Finally, man does not suffer a dualism to exist in him, and the believer therefore feels within him an impelling need so to harmonize faith and science that it [faith] may never oppose the general conception which science sets forth concerning the universe" (Pascendi no. 17).

8. Pluralism of Approach. In their method, according to the Encyclical, when Modernists are writing history, they make no mention of the divinity of Christ or of the Fathers of the Church, but when they are preaching in the pulpit, they profess his divinity and cite the Fathers with full respect. They maintain a distinction between "theological and pastoral exegesis" on the one hand, and "scientific and historical exegesis" on the other. They show a certain contempt for Catholic teachings, but, if they are rebuked for this, "they complain that they are being deprived of their liberty," and they "endeavor to introduce a new theology which shall follow the vagaries of their philosophers" (Pascendi no. 18).

9. God Is Immanent in Man. As a theologian, the Modernist maintains that "God is immanent in man," and that formulas of belief are only symbolic representations of this "divine reality" which are to be used or not used by the believer according as he sees them to be useful to himself. That this is a form of pantheism is a reading "which tallies best with the rest of their doctrines" (Pascendi no. 19). In addition, say the Modernists, the Church and the Sacraments are not to be regarded as having been instituted by Jesus (Pascendi no. 20). They hold that the Sacred Scriptures are simply a collection of past experiences which the believer of today lives over again in his memory, and biblical inspiration is just a stronger impulse in the sacred writer to reveal the faith that is in him (Pascendi no. 22).

10. The Laws of Evolution. The Modernist theologian advocates the separation of Church and State to the extent that every Catholic, as a citizen, "has the right and the duty to work for the common good in the way he thinks best, without troubling himself about the authority of the Church" (Pascendi no. 24). He admonishes that it is an abuse of power for the authorities of the Church "to prevent individual consciences from revealing freely and openly the impulses they feel, to hinder criticism from impelling dogmas towards their necessary evolutions" (Pascendi no. 25). For the Modernist everything in a living religion is subject to "the laws of evolution," and the progress of dogma is accomplished by overcoming "the obstacles which faith has to surmount"(Pascendi no. 26). "The conserving force in the Church is tradition," as represented by the authority of the Church, while, "the progressive force, on the contrary, which corresponds to the inner needs, lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life," whose influence on the collective conscience "brings pressure to bear on the depositaries of authority, until the latter consent to a compromise, and, the pact being made, authority sees to its maintenance" (Pascendi no. 27).

11. Modernist Historical Criticism. "Some Modernists devoted to historical studies seem to be deeply anxious not to be taken for philosophers. [ . . . ] And yet the truth is that their history and their criticism bespeaks mere philosophy, and the things that they infer are derived by logical conclusion from their philosophical principles." On the ground that there are no real interventions of God in history, they distinguish in their interpretations between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith. They see behind the objects of faith a certain process by which higher things are added in faith to the real historical figure of Jesus, and they have their own process by which they eliminate from the history of Jesus what they consider to be "not in keeping with the logic of the facts, and in character with the persons of whom they are predicated" (Pascendi no. 30). They follow the rule that "Since the cause or condition of every vital emanation whatsoever is to be found in some need, it follows that the deed must be seen to have historically followed the need which produced it" (Pascendi no. 32). According to the Encyclical, "From beginning to end, everything in (this criticism) is a priori, and a priori in a way that reeks of heresies" (Pascendi no. 33).

12. The Evolution of the Bible. According to the Encyclical, "The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming here and there that these [sacred] books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed by additions to a primitive brief narration," as effects of "a vital evolution, springing from and corresponding with the evolution of faith." They have "a philosophy derived from the negation of God and a criterion which consists of themselves" (Pascendi no. 34). According to the Encyclical, this kind of criticism is agnostic, immanentist, and evolutionist, and, hence, "anybody who embraces it and employs it makes profession thereby of the errors contained in it, and places himself in opposition to Catholic faith""(Pascendi no. 34). In order to maintain and defend their theories, "they do not hesitate to declare that the noblest homage that can be paid to the Infinite is to make it the object of contradictory propositions. [ . . . ] "But when they justify even contradiction, what is it that they will refuse to justify?" (Pascendi no. 36).

13. All Dogmas and Scholastic Philosophy Out. In the project of the Modernist as a reformer of the Church, Scholastic philosophy is to be thrown out as an obsolete system of thought, and dogmas and their evolution are to be harmonized with science and history. In catechesis, no dogmas should be included except those that have been duly updated and are within the capacity of the learners. Also, they say, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, authority in the Church is to be decentralized, and the Roman Congregations reformed" (Pascendi no. 38). In sum, the Encyclical defines the system of Modernism as being, not only a heresy, but "the synthesis of all heresies," and it observes that this system leads to the annihilation of all religion and, ultimately, to atheism (Pascendi no. 39).

14. The Rule of Pride. As regards the causes of Modernism, the Encyclical points out that "the proximate and immediate cause consists in a perversion of the mind," while the remote causes "seem to us to be reduced to two: curiosity and pride." And so, "It is pride which fills Modernists with that confidence in themselves," and "it is pride which rouses in them the spirit of disobedience and causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty" (Pascendi no. 40). On the moral level, the chief causes of Modernism are "ignorance," and "an alliance between faith and false philosophy" (Pascendi no. 41).

15. Rejection of the Fathers of the Church. In the judgment of the Encyclical, the three chief obstacles to Modernism are Scholastic philosophy, the authority of the Fathers of the Church, and the Magisterium of the Church.1 The Modernists aver "with amazing effrontery" that the Fathers of the Church, while personally worthy of veneration, "were entirely ignorant of history and criticism, for which they are only excusable on account of the time in which they lived." Against any formidable adversary, they simply "try to make a conspiracy of silence around him" (Pascendi no. 42). "They seize upon chairs in the seminaries and universities, and gradually make them chairs of pestilence" (Pascendi no. 43).

16. A Poisoned Atmosphere. But there was another sight that also saddened Pope Pius X, and this was the sight of "so many other Catholics, who, while they certainly do not go so far as the former, have yet grown into the habit, as though they had been breathing a poisoned atmosphere, of thinking and speaking and writing with a liberty that ill becomes Catholics. [ . . . ] If they treat biblical questions, it is upon Modernist principles. If they write history, it is to search out with curiosity and to publish openly, on the pretext of telling the whole truth and with a species of ill-concealed satisfaction, everything that looks to them like a stain on the history of the Church" (Pascendi no. 43).

Does the message of Pascendi Dominici gregis apply to activity in the Church today?

17. A Definition of Modernism. In beginning these reflections on the Modernist movement, I propose a distinction between Modernism in general and the kind of Modernism described and criticized in the encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis. Modernism in general is a state of mind in which the holder derives ongoing pleasure and satisfaction from the thought that he or she, as a modern person, has knowledge and understanding superior to the knowledge and understanding of the people of earlier times. This attitude is usually based on an awareness of the advances of modern times (say, from about the year 1500 A.D. onward) in the physical sciences and in technology, with particular application to the objects of religious belief. This state of mind is a form of arrogance which admits of no arguments to the contrary, because it is based on an emotional feeling and not on objective truth. The Encyclical is dealing with generic Modernism where it talks about pride as the basis of Modernist thinking (Pascendi 3, see par. 2 above), while the specific form of Modernism singled out in the Encyclical applies only to Catholics and has to do with a false theory regarding the origin of religion. The Modernist of Pascendi is wedded to a belief in the ongoing evolution of the Catholic Church and of all of her dogmas. The Modernist of Pascendi claims to know that the Jesus of history lies hidden behind the Gospel facade of the Christ of faith and was originally just a man like other men, and, as a "modern" believer, he enjoys, at least subconsciously, the thought that he knows more now than the real Jesus of history ever did in his day. The Modernist of Pascendi sees himself as a reformer of an evolving Church, as a special witness of the feeling called faith, as a harmonizer of faith with modern physical and historical science, as a critic of Scholastic philosophy and theology, and as a corrector of the theological tradition of the Fathers of the Church.

18. Not a Phantom Heresy. Modernism is not a phantom heresy that never really existed. The encyclical Pascendi and the earlier decree Lamentabili met with strong public reaction by Modernists, especially in Italy and France. The name "modernism" traces back to Jean Jacques Rousseau, who, in 1769, used the word to characterize an atheistic philosopher of his time.2 The Modernist Alfred Loisy, in his public response to the decree Lamentabili, claimed that "the avowed Modernists form a fairly definite group of thinking men united in the common desire to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral, and social needs of today."3 According to Loisy, the fundamental principle of modernism is "the possibility, the necessity, and the legitimacy of evolution in understanding the dogmas of the Church, including that of papal infallibility and authority, as well as in the manner of exercising that authority."4 According to a Modernist response to the encyclical Pascendi, published anonymously, a Modernist rejects miracles and prophecy as signs of God’s word.5 Several Modernist reviews were being published at the time, and George Tyrrell was publishing a Modernist magazine in Rome called Nova et Vetera.

19. Modernism Came from Outside the Church. I think that it is important to realize that Modernism did not begin from within the Catholic Church or among Catholics. It rather came forth consistently from the whole development of modern thought outside of the Church from the Protestantism and Rationalism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century to the Liberalism of the nineteenth century. Hermann Gunkel, the liberal Protestant founder of the form-criticism of the Old Testament in the early twentieth century, and Rudolf Bultmann, the most noted liberal Protestant founder of the form-criticism of the New Testament, of course, as Protestants did not display characteristics that could only apply to Catholic Modernists, such as doubling the roles of Rationalist and Catholic, opposing the use of Scholastic philosophy, reducing the number of external devotions, or seizing upon chairs of philosophy and theology in Catholic seminaries and universities. But, in other ways they are perfect examples of the outlook of the specific Modernism defined in Pascendi Dominici gregis. This can be seen from a quick sampling of what these celebrated Scripture scholars taught:

20. Voices of Reform Today. Regarding "reformers of the Church" (Pascendi 2, see par. 2 above), it is obvious to anyone who follows contemporary events that there were never in the Church so many self-appointed reformers speaking out against the teaching and discipline of the Church as there have been since the Second Vatican Council. Their voices have grown immensely in the last few decades. Now, how do contemporary Catholic reformers of the Church fit into this picture? It is clear that reforms within the Church that are guided by the Pope and by the Hierarchy and are reasonable and homogeneous with what has been received from the past are healthy and correct expressions of the life of the Church. So those loyal reformers do not have upon them, in this respect, any suggestion of Modernism. But there are others who, while they may even have degrees in Scholastic philosophy and theology, are not really interested in either, and they oppose the continued use of these systems in Catholic thought and formation. As a result, many of these reformers do not use the valid reasonings of Scholastic philosophy and theology to oppose the errors of various contemporary philosophies and systems of thought, and some are definitely fostering one or another opposing Rationalist system, such as Existentialism, Evolutionism, Freudianism, Behaviorism, Socialism, Modernism, even though they may not be fully aware that they are doing so. They begin by being pluralists, inasmuch as they are entertaining in their minds both the system of traditional Catholic ideas and some other contradictory system of ideas, but, to the extent that they do not actively seek to separate out the false elements and assimilate the true elements of the non-Catholic system into a valid traditional framework in their minds, they tend gradually to be won over to the contradictory system, especially if that system has the fascination and attractiveness to the undisciplined mind that often goes with error. Such reformers of the Church frequently occupy chairs of honor in Catholic institutions of learning, and they often speak out through vast channels of the media, even in publications operating under the auspices of Catholic organizations and religious institutes. They say that they are working for the benefit of people and of the Church.

21. Dissent from the Teaching of the Church. Since dissent is now in many cases plainly out in the open and in other cases more guarded, we find in our day that the advocates of radical reform within the Church may or may not look proper in their dress and behavior (Pascendi 3 see par. 2 above), but some go so far as to advocate the abolition of many time-honored beliefs and practices even to the extent of openly opposing all of the rules of sexual morality contained in the teaching of the Church.6 Above all, their focus of thought is away from the objects of faith and upon immediate circumstances, so that the objects of faith tend to become non-functional and irrelevant. There is also a certain focus of attention upon themselves in the form of pride in their own knowledge, especially in the sense that they are complacent in their ignorance and will not engage in objective debate about their conclusions, but rather they resort to propaganda and to an attitude toward their critics of "you just don’t understand." It would be incorrect to say that the many voices crying out for reform today from within the Church are attacking the deepest dogmatic aspects of Catholic faith and truth (Pascendi 3, see par. 2 above), but it is obvious that, for many of them, the "reforms" they want are far reaching. They ask that the role of the Pope be diminished; they doubt that the papacy is of divine origin; they want to blur or eliminate the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the laity; they want the status of divorced and remarried Catholics to be accepted and blessed; they claim a natural right to homosexual activity; they openly oppose the condemnation of contraception and abortion; they ask for a minimum common denominator of beliefs for all Christians or for believers of all faiths; and they sacrifice the good of the Church for what they consider to be justice and peace. In comparing these contemporary reformers of the Church with the Modernists of Pascendi, we find that the Modernists of Pascendi, so the Encyclical recounts, in maintaining a systematic distinction between "theological and pastoral exegesis" on the one hand, and "scientific and historical exegesis" on the other, avoided affirming or implying the divinity of Jesus when they were writing about history, but they freely professed his divinity when they were preaching from the pulpit. In addition, those Modernists were also endeavoring to introduce a "new theology," and, if they were brought to account for this, they complained that they were being deprived of their due freedom (Pascendi 18, see par. 8 above). Similarly, but not exactly, we are all aware of the extent to which so many Catholic teachers in Catholic institutions of learning today, while they may not be maintaining a systematic distinction between their lives as believers and their lives as modern men, and while they often look upon themselves as good and exemplary Catholics and even leaders of Catholicism, yet at the same time are fiercely proclaiming their academic freedom to dissent from various teachings of the Church and their absolute unwillingness to make a profession of faith. Their attitude of dissent is not necessarily dependent upon Modernist ideas, since it could rather be based upon other non-Catholic ideas originating from systems of thought such as Freudianism, Behaviorism, or Socialism, which they may often have picked up not from any deep philosophical meditation, but rather from the sheer impact of the popular media culture. Thus, for example, the statements dissenting from Catholic moral teaching that are listed in note 6 above seem mainly to have been derived from popular thinking rooted ultimately in Behaviorist psychology.

22.Radical Pluralism. In the Encyclical (Pascendi 3, see par. 2 above) there appears a clean opposition between Rationalist and Catholic that is not clearly understood today even by most educated Catholics. The outlook of a Catholic stems from belief in the reality of the objects of Catholic faith, while the outlook of a Rationalist stems from a prior belief in what he considers to be the insights of his own reason. There is no doubt that Rationalist systems of thought are operating in the minds of many Catholics, often without their being fully conscious of the sources of these thoughts. Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, we have often hear the claim of a right to be "pluralists" from Catholics who have not distinguished a certain legitimate pluralism from a radical pluralism imbued with the ideas of the enemies of the Church. Any Catholic subscriber to radical pluralism is to some degree doubling the roles of Rationalist and Catholic, but whether the majority of Catholic radical pluralists at this time in the Church are doing this "craftily," as did the Modernists, or just ingenuously is not always very clear. We do know that the number of radically pluralistic errors and ambiguities sown into much of contemporary Catholic theology could not be entirely accidental. These errors and ambiguities do not necessarily come from pluralistically held Modernist ideas, since they often derive from other false systems of thought, such as those mentioned in paragraph 20 above, but they do stem from the passive retention of erroneous ideas in the mind without actively seeking to refute them or to sift out the falsity that is in them. In the present writing I am seeking mainly to trace in pluralistically held ideas their possible origin in Modernism or in its sources.

23. Focus on the Material Side of Things. According to the Encyclical (Pascendi 7, 8, and 9, see par. 5 above), Modernists are agnostics who believe that man cannot know naturally the existence of God and who say that faith is just a feeling that arises instinctively from the subconscious in answer to needs felt by believers. While, in the Encyclical, Pope Pius X was making a philosophical analysis of the Modernism of his time, most of the critics and dissenters of our time are not usually inclined to examine their thoughts on a philosophical level or to have explicit philosophical reasons for what they believe. Their focus is mostly upon immediate circumstances, with the result that they can be acting on the ground of false philosophical principles of which they are not even aware. Within the Church today we don’t hear people saying that belief in God is merely a subjective phenomenon having no basis in objective reality or that the authority of the Church must subject itself to an alleged "law of consciousness," but, inasmuch as their focus is upon the contemporary behavior of people as a criterion of truth, they are reflecting the philosophy of Behaviorism, and Behaviorism is a source of the Modernist doctrine that life is truth, in the sense that how people live today should condition what truth is and what should be the teaching of the Church.

24. The Univocal Reality of God. The Encyclical points out (Pascendi 14, see par. 5 above) that Modernists may pull away from strict Rationalism only to fall into the error of those Protestants who believe in a certain intuition of faith, rising above all scientific certitude, that puts them in immediate contact with the divine reality. Now, I believe that Catholic faith does bring with it a certitude that rises above all of the certainty of physical science, but this intuition does not exist in contradiction to what the believer knows from natural reasoning. What the Encyclical is dealing with here is the "alternate world of faith" that many Protestants entertain in contrast to the world of natural physical science and common sense. The Encyclical is opposing a false notion of Christian faith, according to which the idea of the "divine reality" is not in a continuum with the idea of the reality of the sensible world, but is rather in the unreal world of a fictional genre. Catholic faith is an affirmation of the univocal reality of God and of the other objects of faith, while Modernist belief is here considered to profess an equivocal kind of religious "reality." It is our task to try to discern, in keeping with the teaching of the Encyclical, whether the historical criticism now practiced widely in the Catholic Church has failed to exclude the idea of the "alternate reality" of God and of the other objects of Christian faith presented in the Bible, reducing them to the "alternate world" of a genre of fiction.

25. Tradition As a Mere Point of Departure. The Modernist notion of faith "is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma" and to the constant adaptation of doctrine to the needs of the believers (Pascendi 13, see par. 4 above). Hence, tradition, according to the Modernist view (Pascendi 15, see par. 6 above) is seen, not as a fixed rule, but only as a point of departure for an evolving faith and an evolving Church. Not only are the idea of God and all formulas of religious doctrine said to be subject to the judgment of physical science and of history, but the Modernist believer himself so subjects them, because the believer feels within himself an impelling need to harmonize his faith with science (Pascendi 17, see par. 7 above). Thus, in the dualist view of the Modernist believer, the alternate "reality" of the object of faith is fickle and fragile and constantly under attack by the other and more stable reality of physical science and history. So the alternate world of subjectivistic Protestant faith, if it is entertained at all by the Modernist as a kind of super-reality, tends not to last very long as a serious object of his mind. Furthermore, for Modernism the idea of the evolution of dogma fits into the bigger picture of the evolution of all things, and, therefore, in the contemporary Church the idea of the evolution of dogmas may often be lurking somewhere in the minds of some Catholics who believe uncritically in biological evolution, that is, who have never seriously studied the scientific arguments against the theory of biological evolution and who, in addition, have never worked at defending their faith against the temptation to extend biological evolution to a supposed ongoing evolution of all things. But other Catholics do resist this temptation.

26. The Great Temptation. Very crucial in the Modernist system is the doctrine that the idea of God and the other objects of faith do not come ultimately from objective reality outside of man but rather arise into the imagination of men from a preconceptual religious instinct in the subconscious of believers. From this idea flows the Modernist conclusion that "God is immanent in man" (Pascendi 19, see par. 9 above). It seems to me that for the Modernist, therefore, the idea of God and all of the other objects of faith are not real but are just products of the imagination, taken, indeed, to be real by naive believers, but in need of pruning by the "informed" Modernist believer. And here we come to what I consider to be the roots of Modernism. First, there is the general root of pride in being modern men. Modernism, says the Encyclical, results from a perversion of the mind caused by "curiosity and pride"(Pascendi 41, see par. 14 above): curiosity, stemming from a lack of intellectual detachment, and pride in the thought of being superior to all of the people of earlier generations simply because one is modern. And this means that the main motivation for being a Modernist is not objective historical evidence but simply the pleasure experienced in thinking of oneself as knowing more than those who went before. The Modernist idea that God is just a figment of the believer’s religious imagination arises in the mind of the Modernist believer from having given in to the illicit pleasure presented by the Great Temptation unreasonably to deny the existence of God and thus unreasonably to deny one’s faith. A Modernist is a person who has moved from belief in the real objective existence of the one true God to disbelief in the real objective existence of the one true God. The very idea that belief in God arises spontaneously from a preconceptual instinct in the believer is itself the product of an undisciplined emotion and of a mind that has been overcome by the Great Temptation to disbelieve in God. To what extent is this Great Temptation a danger also for Catholic dissenters of today?

(To be continued)


1. Pascendi (no. 42) notes that the view rejecting the use of Scholastic philosophy is condemned by Proposition 13 of the Syllabus of Errors proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, and that the view disdaining the tradition of the Church is excluded by a decree of the Second Council of Nicea, which "condemns those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the traditions of the Church (and) to invent novelties of some kind."

2. Cf. Arthur Vermeersch, "Modernism," in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10 (1910), p. 415.

3. A. Loisy, Simples réflexions sur le décret "Lamentabili, p. 13 (quoted in Vermeersch, op. cit., p. 416).

4. Loisy, op. cit., p. 124 (quoted in Vermeersch, op. cit., p. 417).

5. Anonymous, Il Programma dei Modernisti. Risposta all’Enciclica di Pio X, "Pascendi Dominici gregis," p. 96 (referred to in Vermeersch, op. cit., p. 416).

6. See, for example, the book Human Sexuality (Paramus, NJ: Paulist Press, 1977), representing "the final report of a committee established by the Board of Directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1972." Furthermore, "Authorization for the publication of the study as a report commissioned by and submitted to the Catholic Theological Society of America was granted at an Executive Board meeting in October, 1976." Of the many shocking conclusions expressed in the report, I note by way of example of open dissent from the moral teaching of the Church the following declarations: a)That Sacred Scripture does not forbid certain forms of sexual behavior regardless of circumstances (pp. 7, 31). b) That Jesus did not call unethical any specific kind of sexual expression (p. 30). That "loving, responsible" premarital intercourse can be a morally good experience (pp. 155-158). That St. Paul would not have objected to homosexual practices, if he had known as much about homosexuality as we know today (p. 195). That the opposition of St. Thomas Aquinas to sodomy, masturbation, and bestiality was based upon the false Stoic assumption that any pursuit of sexual pleasure outside of procreation offends against nature and reason (p. 198). That true homosexual intercourse is not wrong in itself (p. 198). That the Old Testament does not forbid prostitution on grounds of morality, but only to the extent that it was associated with pagan cultic rituals or was unfair to women (p. 16). That, until the day arrives when society merely modifies its system of mores to accommodate the behavior preferred by a growing number of its members, "enlightened and well integrated individuals might well free themselves of conflict by simply reflecting on the relativity of their society’s sexual ethic and proceed discreetly with their own sexual project" (p. 56).

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