Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On Modernism: From Blessed Pius IX to Saint Pius X

I feel a little better about this paper, again from my Fundamental Theology class:

When we speak of the Catholic Church’s treatment of Modernism, we can look at her most important documents on the subject for an adequate definition. Indeed her earliest ones do us a great service in understanding this philosophical and theological movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. While early Modernists would have us believe that a systematic or comprehensive understanding of their philosophies and methods cannot be determined (so as to better disguise their ambitions)[1], I hope to show here through consecutive summaries that the Church in a most timely manner succeeded in doing that very thing. Therefore we will move from Vatican I of Bl. Pius IX to Lamentabili Sane[2] and Pascendi Dominici Gregis[3] of St. Pius X.

Let us begin with a monumental beginning, the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). Looking at its sessions we see references to the council’s impetus and to the seeds of what Pope Pius X almost 40 years later so clearly named “Modernism.” Pope Pius IX in the first session of the council stated among other reasons for its opening, “the uprooting of current errors”. In the third session, the council fathers in their first of only two constitutions, Dei Filius[4], determined to “profess and declare from this chair of Peter before all eyes the saving teaching of Christ, and, by the power given us by God, to reject and condemn the contrary errors."[5] In this order it clarified Church teaching on God, revelation, faith, and reason in a creedal format and saved its condemnations for a canon of anathemas. But, in its zeal for the former it indulged a bit in the latter and it is here that we find an early definition, so to speak, of Modernism. Later documents will confirm that what Vatican I had on its hands was indeed the infancy of this “most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church."[6]

In Dei Filius, we see early Modernism defined more by its actions or consequences than by a clear summary statement. Here we have a rejection of the magisterium and the divinity of the Bible and doctrines of rationalism and naturalism all of which have “plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism, and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society."[7] Modernism is further defined by the canon of anathemas, or condemned propositions, that have flourished since the Council of Trent – despite that council’s fruits (and condemnations) – to the time of Vatican I. Of particular note are the following:

- A human being… of himself can and must reach finally the possession of all truth and goodness by continual development. (can. De Rev. #3)

- Human reason is so independent that faith cannot be commanded by God. (can. De Fid. #1)

- Men and women ought to be moved to faith only by each other’s internal experience or private inspiration. (can. De Fid. #3)

- Catholics may have a just cause for calling in doubt, by suspending their assent, the faith… until they have completed a scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith. (can. De Fid. #6) – And –

- Human studies are to be treated with such a degree of liberty that their assertions may be maintained as true even when they are opposed to divine revelation. (can. De Fid. et Rat. #2)

In the fourth and last session, the fathers of the second constitution of the council, Pastor Aeternus[8], were finally faced with the following charge:

And since the gates of hell trying, if they can, to overthrow the Church, make their assault with a hatred that increases day by day against its divinely laid foundation, we judge it necessary, with the approbation of the Sacred Council, and for the protection, defense and growth of the Catholic flock, to propound the doctrine concerning the 1. institution, 2. permanence and 3. nature of the sacred and apostolic primacy, upon which the strength and coherence of the whole Church depends. (PA, intro, #6)

Pastor Aeternus made similar condemnations as Dei Filius and then, at the end, defined the primacy and infallibility of the pope, thus affirming its stand forever as the real and true authority on matters concerning faith and morals.[9]

But, despite this stand, “contrary errors which are so harmful to the Lord’s flock"[10] persisted. Thirty-seven years later, Pope Pius X expanded on Vatican I, reminding the world of what it stood for and demanding that its principles still be taken seriously. With Lamentabili Sane and Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pius X put Modernism forever in its place.

Using a similar model as the canons of Dei Filius, Lamentabili Sane laid out a list of 65 propositions or errors of the Modernists that are “condemned and proscribed.” Here we can capture a fuller definition of Modernism by again looking at its actions. While all of the propositions are egregious, here are some notable ones:

- The organic constitution of the Church is not immutable. Like human society, Christian society is subject to a perpetual evolution. (#53)

- The Church has shown that she is hostile to the progress of the natural and theological sciences. (#57)

- Truth is no more immutable than man himself, since it evolved with him, in him, and through him. (#58)

- Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted. (#64) – And –

- Modern Catholicism can be reconciled with true science only if it is transformed into a non-dogmatic Christianity; that is to say, into a broad and liberal Protestantism. (65)

Two months later, on Sept. 8, 1907 Pope Pius X released the lengthy Pascendi Dominici Gregis in which he lays out in great detail the doctrines of the Modernists:

But since the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage, Venerable Brethren, to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connexion [sic] between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil. (PDG, #4)

Here we finally find clear defining statements of Modernism and its chief principles and goals. PDG covers the Modernist as a Believer, as a Theologian, as an Historian and Critic, as an Apologist, and as a Reformer and then looks at the cause of Modernism and some Remedies. First, Modernists “lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree."[11]

In its analysis, PDG states that Modernist teaching is founded on Agnosticism – because human reason is confined within those things perceptible to the senses it is incapable of recognizing God’s existence. From Agnosticism, the next logical step is Atheism, from “ignorance as to whether God has in fact intervened in history” to “ignoring God altogether as if He really had not intervened."[12] Along with Agnosticism we have a theory of religious immanence in which the first actuation of every vital phenomenon (including religion) is due to a “certain necessity or impulsion”; but has its origin in a movement of the heart – a sentiment. “Therefore, since God is the object of religion, we must conclude that faith, which is the basis and the foundation of all religion, consists in a sentiment which originates in the need of the divine."[13] The experience of this need of the divine then “grows up into a religion.” Thus, for the Modernists, religion comes from within man rather than as a gift from God. And intellect is incorporated only as a tool for man to “transform into mental pictures the vital phenomena which arise within him, and then express them in words."[14]

Here we have two defining principles, theological immanence and theological symbolism. In the former, the Modernist qua Philosopher proposes that the principle of faith is immanent. The Modernist qua Believer adds that this principle is God. Finally the Modernist qua Theologian concludes that God is immanent in man. In theological symbolism, the Philosopher proposes that the representations of the object of faith are merely symbolical. The Believer adds that the object of faith is God in Himself. And the Theologian concludes that the representations of the divine reality are symbolical.[15]

Also important in defining Modernism is its teaching on Dogma. Here PDG explains that for them Dogma is born of impulse or necessity on the occasion that the believer is “constrained to elaborate his religious thought.” This elaboration refines “primitive formula” and is then rolled up into successive developments and constructions until it is sanctioned by the magisterium as “responding to the common consciousness."[16]

As religion and dogma come from man, so too does the Church which has its birth in a double need: “of the individual… to communicate his faith to others” and “of the mass… to form itself into a society and to guard, increase, and propagate the common good.” The Church then is the product of the “collective conscience".[17]

Another general principle of Modernism is evolution. “To the law of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death.” The evolution of dogma consists in the “perpetual striving to penetrate ever more profoundly its own mysteries.” The evolution of worship consists in “the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples.” And the evolution in the Church is “fed by the need of accommodating itself to historical conditions and of harmonizing itself with existing forms of society."[18] Evolution happens when individual consciences pressure the collective conscience which in turn pressures the authority to compromise its standards and so changes and “advances” take place.

Ultimately, Modernists are “possessed by a reforming mania: in all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten.” Philosophy, theology, history, worship, and ecclesiastical government are all reformed and “dogmas and their evolution are to be harmonized with science and history."[19] We also can conclude that “their system does not consist in scattered and unconnected theories but in a perfectly organized body, all the parts of which are solidly joined so that it is not possible to admit one without admitting all.” Finally, PDG defines Modernism, caused by curiosity, pride, and ignorance, as “the synthesis of all heresies” and the annihilation of all religion. “The first step in this direction was taken by Protestantism; the second is made by Modernism; the next will plunge headlong into atheism."[20]

Thus we have seen expressed in Dei Filius and Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council the seeds of Modernism. Lamentabili Sane expanded on the cautions of Vatican I with a list of clear condemnations which in turn gave the faithful a clearer description of this movement which should be so desperately avoided. And finally Pascendi Dominici Gregis took all the previous conclusions, expanded on them with brilliant erudition and provided us with a comprehensive, systematic study of Modernism which still serves today as a valid protection of the “integrity and genuineness of the faith"[21]

[1] Pascendi Dominici Gregis, #4 (PDG below)
[2] Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists (July 3, 1907) - LS
[3] On the Doctrines of the Modernists (Sept 8, 1907) - PDG
[4] Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Apr 24, 1870) - DF
[5] DF, intro, #10
[6] PDG, #3
[7] DF, intro, #7
[8] First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ (Jul 18, 1870) - PA
[9] “we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra… he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses… that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy” (PA, ch. 4, #9)
[10] PA, intro, #8
[11] PDG, #3
[12] PDG, #6
[13] PDG, #7
[14] PDG, #11
[15] PDG, #19
[16] PDG, #21
[17] PDG, #22
[18] PDG, #26
[19] PDG, #38
[20] PDG, #39
[21] DF, intro, #8

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