Modernism in the Catholic Church. What is an authentic response?

Pope St. Pius X and Vatican II
Modernism in the Catholic Church. What is an authentic response?

The Papal Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis by the great Saint Pius X is a seminal document for the modern traditionalist movement. The document is a fantastic articulation of what we've seen in seminaries, universities and at the highest levels of the Church. It is prophetic.

Key characteristics on Modernism by Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis (PDG)
  • Modernists are driven by pride, curiosity and ignorance. (PDG 40 - 41)
  • Their "dogmas" are driven by a denial of external revelation and denial of the intervention of God into human history. (6)
  • Therefore, their philosophy arises from the "self" and is mired by subjectivity and relativism. (30)
  • They attribute a mystical quality to this interior "sentimentality" (vital immanence). (15)
  • They believe that since religion is an outgrowth of interior need, all religions are equal because they all grew from this interior place of need in humans and not from an exterior intervention by God. (10)
  • Therefore they believe Jesus was an exceptional man but not God. (35)
  • It therefore follows that the Catholic Church is just one more manifestation of this outgrowth and is therefore not set apart as the True Church and cannot claim Jesus as the only Saviour of mankind. (15)
  • Deformation of human history to support their belief that God doesn't work miracles and is not actively intervening in human history. (9)
  • Modernists cannot as a result of this  false doctrine claim superiority of the Catholic Church and cannot identify "falsities" in other religions.  (14)
  • Their philosophy originates from a place of agnosticism and its logical destination is atheism. (6)
  • They believe in the separation of faith from science but then in a bizarre way re-relate them to one another placing faith subordinate to science. (16)
  • Modernism presents itself as a disparate set of philosophies that are not unified but is really a coherent (and diabolical) system. It's purpose is to empty the Catholic Church of its moral and dogmatic authority, to reduce its prominence and compromise its Truth. All of its "parts are solidly joined so that it is not possible to admit one without admitting all". (39)
  • The ecclesiastical magisterium must be subordinate to individual consciences, and should therefore take democratic forms rather than an authoritative form.
  • It is a "synthesis of all heresies".(39)
  • The Modernist system means the destruction not of the Catholic religion alone but of all religion.

The document was prophetic and we see this all over the place, including in universities, seminaries, and certain parts of the Church, including in Cardinal Kasper's theology. The big question is whether Vatican II was the cause of this or whether Vatican II authoritatively responded to the realities of the 20th century and threaded the needle between the historic Church and modern life.

Soft manifestations of Modernism

We had a discussion with a Catholic who is critical of Vatican II. He said "I'm not a sedevacantist" and then went on to explain "soft modernism":

The problem of Modernism is not only its explicit statements, but the "miasma" of influence it exercised. For example, many spiritual writers will talk about man's natural desire for God and his "religious sense" without meaning to endorse Modernism but in a way that supports its subjectivist drive and the denigration of reason's engagement with revelation. In other words, there is "hard modernism" and "soft modernism," and the latter, of course, is much harder to detect and pin down.

Soft manifestations of Sedevacantism

If there is soft manifestation of the heresy of Modernism, there is also on the other end of the spectrum a soft manifestation of the heresy of Sedevacantism. Here we've taken the paragraph above on "soft Modernism" and swapped out a few words. It is amazing the similarities.

The problem of [Sedevacantism] is not only its explicit statements, but the "miasma" of influence it exercised. For example, many [traditionally minded] writers will talk about [the problems of Vatican II, the weak popes during and since] without meaning to endorse [Sedevacantism] but in a way that supports its [denial of the Magisterial documents of the council and the popes since 1958]. In other words, there is "hard [Sedevacantism] " and "soft Sedevacantism," and the latter, of course, is much harder to detect and pin down.
We have a full article on what apologist Dave Armstrong calls "reactionaries" or "Soft manifestations of Sedevacantism". Reactionaries can be characterized by intense criticism of Vatican II, the Novus Ordo Mass, and popes since the death of Pius XII in 1958. There are 4 terms that make reactionairies cringe because of a misunderstanding of Pascendi Dominici Gregis:
  1. modern
  2. interior
  3. evolution
  4. inter religious

The word "Modern"

The word "modern" creates almost a pavlovian response of revulsion in many traditionally minded Catholics. There is an important distinction between adapting the timeless Truth of the gospel to the modern world and adopting the doctrines of modernism that St. Pius X condemns in Pascendi Dominici Gregis. When Vatican II talks about the Church in the modern world, red flags go up. We need to understand that St. Pius X was not talking about adapting the presentation of the Gospel to contemporary circumstances. He was condemning changing the substance of the Gospel message to contemporary novelties. St. Pius used a printing press and modern communication to publish the Encyclical. Let's not be afraid of the word modern.

Interior life of the disciple

The interior life of a person of faith is something of great value. This is something many traditionally minded Catholics have come to fear and reject because of a misunderstanding of the encyclical. France would never have defended itself against England if Joan of Arc didn't hear interior voices. The list of saints who have had interior subjective yet authentic experiences is long. St. Augustine famously said "our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

There is a connection between God who is ever intervening in human lives, and the interior lives of those who seek them. This is entirely distinct from the Modernist heresy of agnostic sentimentality and subjectivity which leads them away from the Truth.

Every authentic interior experience which originates from the Holy Spirit is consistent with the faith and morals of the Catholic Church, even if in some cases those experiences bring greater depth and clarity to the Magisterial teachings of the Church. For example, when St. Therese de Lisieux articulated the "little way" and became a doctor of the Church.

Pseudo sedevacantists almost never talk about being prompted by the Holy Spirit because this fear. Don't be afraid of letting the Holy Spirit move in your life, just ensure you have a spiritual director and confirm that which you understand God to be saying or doing in your life and ensure its consistent with the Catholic teachings on faith and morals. We have an simple article on making a commitment to Jesus which every Catholic should do.

The word "Evolution"

The word "evolution" is mentioned 26 times in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, but in not one of those instances is it about how the world was formed. Pius X is talking about changing the substance of the Gospel message, which is what modernists try to do. But many traditionalist cringed when Pope Benedict and JPII stated that evolution is a serious proposition which needs to be studied. This had nothing to do with St. Pius X's encyclical. We have an article on creationism.

Inter religious Dialogue

This term makes many traditionally minded Catholic very uncomfortable. St. Pius X rightly rejected the heresy of Modernism when it tries to place the Catholic faith on an equal (or inferior) footing with the rest of the world's religions. He also rightly rejected the Modernists inability to be able to identify "falsity" in other religions, and its attempt to turn Jesus into just a Man, rather than Saviour, God and Redeemer.

Pius's condemnation is entirely distinct from dialogging with other religions, so that the ultimate Truth of the Gospel and Christ's message may be accepted by those who are honestly ignorant of the Truth, to foster peace and understanding in a world where nuclear war is an imminent threat, and also to work towards freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It would be gravely wrong to say there is "no truth" in other religions even though there are many "falsities".  This type of inter religious dialog has its basis in scripture where Paul goes the Greece and points to the "unknown God" among all the statues to false Gods. (Acts 17:23)

Lumen Gentium was not saying all religions are equal.

Was Vatican II an intervention by the Holy Spirit or an insidious act of Satan?

Jesus said

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

We need childlike faith in God's exterior and sovereign intervention in the Magisterium of the Church. We fear a reactionary response to St. Pius X's warnings that mitages the magistertium's authority. There are many educated yet unauthoritative traditionally minded critics who claim an understanding of the Sacred Tradition of the Church, while treading close to the very heresy they are trying to combat.

Many traditionally minded Catholics intimate that God has not intervened in history through the council but that instead, the devil instigated the council to derail the Church. They cite the encyclical by the St. Pius X, as if it is warning us about this council. We find nothing in Pascendi Dominici Gregis that prophecies Vatican II as evil, every attempt to map Pius' warnings seem to be misunderstandings of Pius X or the VII document in question. We have an article on the ambiguities in Vatican II.

Fight, pray, argue and use the blogsphere before a magisterial gathering, but then accept the outcome

It is important to fight, argue, pray, and reason during councils and gatherings where magisterial decisions will be made, and in the period leading up to them. However, when a document has been written and approved by the magisterium, it has the highest authority on this earth and is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which no human can refute or deny. If we feel it contradicts the Bible or Sacred tradition, we have misunderstood those aspects of the Bible or Sacred Tradition, or we have misunderstood the magisterial document in question. We can ask for clarification as the Dubia Cardinals did, but we have to maintain that the words written are true.

How could we choose another position without jumping out of the Ark into the ocean of this world and become like the protestants who feel their interpretation of scripture or tradition is superior?

St John Bosco's vision had the Pope at the helm, not a band of traditional Catholics

We believe in St. John Bosco's vision of The Pope leading the ship between our Lady and the Eucharist through crazy and dangerous waters (even if this pope has an heretical interior life). The vision of Bosco didn't have a band of "true traditional Catholics" who weren't with the pope at the helm of the ship.

The magisterial documents are dependable, even if popes sometimes have to issue clarifications to tighten up misunderstandings as both JPII and Benedict did. Popes instigated Vatican II, oversaw the council and consistently confirmed it for the 50 years since the council. See the article on ambiguities in Vatican II

We love theses scenes in the Hobbit about how to fight evil

Tauriel: We cleared the forest as ordered, my Lord. But more spiders keep coming up from the south. They are spawning in the ruins of Dol Guldur, if we could kill them at their source…
Thranduil: That fortress lies beyond our borders. Keep our lands clear of those foul creatures, that is your task.
Tauriel: And when we drive them off, what then? Will they not spread to other lands?
Thranduil: Other lands are not my concern. The fortunes of the world will rise and fall, but here in this kingdom, we will endure...

Legolas: It is not our fight.
Tauriel: It is our fight. It will not end here. With every victory this evil will grow. If your father has his way, we will do nothing. We will hide within our walls, live our lives away from the light and let darkness descend. Are we are not part of this world? Tell me, when did we let evil become stronger than us? 

What is the authentic response to Modernism in the Church?

Response by Church authorities

Show Pius X's strategies to fight Modernism

Pope Pius X laid out a number of mechanisms to fight Modernism in the Catholic Church (Sections 44- 57)

  • The study of scholastic philosophy
  • Careful vetting of priests bishop and cardinal candidates
  • Episcopal vigilance over publications
  • Censorship, prevent the printing of heretical books
  • Priests as editors because bishops (should) have control of priests
  • Forbid congresses
  • Diocesan watch committees

Naturally with the internet most of these strategies from 1907 would need to be modified.

How should faithful lay contemporary Catholics respond to the heresy of Modernism

  • Identify modernism and name it for what it is, but make this determination based on Pius X's Pascendi Dominici Gregis, not on traditionalist misrepresentations of the great Saint.
  • Do not misunderstand that there is a huge difference between adapting the timeless Truth of the gospel to the modern world and adopting the doctrines of modernism that St. Pius X lays out in  Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Don't be afraid of the word "modern" in Vatican II documents or in society. Keep your understanding tightly scoped.
  • Don't be afraid of ANY magisterial documents, including encyclicals, and councils such as Vatican II.
  • By all means fight, argue, pray, reason and use the blogsphere during synods or gatherings where magisterial decisions will be made. But when a document has been written and approved by the Magisterium, it has the highest authority on this earth and is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which no human can refute or deny. Accept it, you may have to clarify any ambiguities, but there are NO errors on faith or morals in magisterial documents.
  • Follow the characteristics of a faithful Catholic and get your own life and family in order.

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