Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reflections on Modernism

The simpleton believes everything,

but the shrewd man measures his steps.

The wise man is cautious and shuns evil;

the fool is reckless and sure of himself. (Proverbs 14:15-16)


Occasionally, when I write about traditionalist dissent, I get questions about why I write about this instead of modernist dissent.  After all, isn't it a bigger threat to the Church than traditionalism?  That kind of a question demonstrates just who is being threatened by heresy.  "The Church" isn't threatened by heresy.  We already have Christ's promise on this.

The threat of heresy is to people within the Church.  Each one is a tool in the hands of Satan to deceive people.  However, a skilled workman doesn't use a hammer for everything.  He uses the right tool for the right job.  Unfortunately, the devil is a skilled workman in seeking to deceive people.  As a result, every heresy is a grave threat to people within the Church.  So is every schism and every error because "using the right tool for the right job" is how the devil seeks to deceive the individual to reject the Church and ease the individual's mind from thinking about that fact or by thinking they are right to do so.

However, even though I have been writing as of late about errors which can deceive those trying to be faithful to the Church, it doesn't mean I think Modernism is less harmful.  It can be terribly harmful. However the ones it harms are a different group of people than the people harmed by Traditionalist dissent.

The Difference between Modernist Error and Traditionalist Error

I am inclined to think that the difference is this. For those people who recognize that Christ made the Church necessary and that it is His will that we heed it, the idea that the Church has no authority is not likely to deceive him, but they may be deceived by those who claim to know the Church teachings better than they and claim there is a discrepancy.

What is commonly known as Modernism is more likely to snare those people either totally ignorant about their faith or those who dislike a certain Church teaching and would like an excuse to reject the authority of the Church either in part or totally.

With this in mind, let us take a look at the muddled waters of Modernism.

Grappling with a Definition of Modernism

One of the problems with defining Modernism, properly called, is that people often don't attack what is properly modernism but either an entirely different error or something which is not even an error at all.  So before one can say Modernism is a grave threat to the Church, one has to be aware about what Modernism actually is.

The Oath Against Modernism of St. Pius X

Actually, a good place to begin is with the oath of St. Pius X, which was required for all who were involved with teaching and spiritual direction.  The text affirms certain things all Catholics are to hold and rejects certain attitudes and theories which are contrary to the faith.  What I find significant about this Oath is that the things affirmed and the things rejected revolve around whether God reveals things to man and whether man can know these things with intellect and reason.

Here is the text of the Oath:

THE OATH AGAINST MODERNISM Pope Pius X Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.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 Anti-Modernist oath is a good oath (I would take it without qualms if asked) in rejecting attitudes which are contrary to our faith in Christ and our belief that He protects His Church from error.  The Oath requires the Catholic taking it to affirm certain truths and reject certain errors.

In the paragraphs of this oath, it requires the faithful Catholic to hold the following:

  1. God can be known from reason and from the evidence of creation.
  2. The acceptance of Divine Revelation
  3. The Church was established by Christ with the primacy of Peter.
  4. The doctrine of faith handed down to us by the Apostles continues with the same meaning and the same purpose.  Doctrines do not evolve from one thing to another.
  5. Faith is an intellectual assent, not a sentiment.

It also requires Catholics to reject certain mindsets:

  1. That we must reject the view that the Catholic faith requires us to hold contradictory positions between faith and science.
  2. Interpretations of Scripture contrary to tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See.
  3. That the teacher of the faith must put aside the belief of the supernatural origin of the faith and reject all authority of the Church in interpretation.
  4. The denial of the divine in Sacred Tradition, claiming that the teachings of the Church are merely a school of thought developed by the Apostles.

We can see from the Oath against Modernism that Modernism is a denial of the supernatural revelation and thus a denial of the fact that the Church has her authority from Christ.

What Modernism is NOT

Unfortunately, nowadays, Modernism is used by certain critics of the Church to mean, "to the left of me politically."  This is especially annoying because the Catholic teachings are beyond "left" and "right."  In fact Liberalism and Conservatism need to be judged by Church teaching and not vice versa.

To put it bluntly, if a Catholic claims that a Church doctrine is "too liberal" or "too conservative," that statement displays an error in understanding the nature and authority of Church teaching.

Even if it were true, which needs to be established as true, that all Modernists are liberal (all [A] are [B]), it does not mean that therefore all liberals are modernist (all [B] is [A]).  Therefore it would be an error to say that because Bishop So-and-So takes a position on social justice that a member of the laity thinks is motivated by liberal politics, it means this bishop is a modernist.



(Even if All [A] is a Part of [B], it does not automatically mean All [B] is a Part of [A])

Most of the throwing of "Modernist" around as an epithet involve issues which have nothing to do with actual Modernism.  American Bishops who speak out on social issues are called "Modernist."  Vatican II is sometimes accused of being "Modernist."  Such comments betray an ignorance not only of what Modernism is, but also on what the Catholic Church actually believes on the subject of social teachings.

Since Modernism is a rejection of the Divine origin and authority of the Church and a rejection that her teachings will be protected from error, a person who is to be accused to be accused of Modernism would need to display signs of rejecting the authority of the Magisterium and the denial that the Church teaches with divine authority unchanging truths. 

So, the following could be examples of Modernism:

  • To deny the Catholic belief of the soul being directly created by God on the grounds that Evolution "proved" human consciousness developed over time would be an example of a Modernist error.
  • The denial that Jesus Christ knew He was God and worked miracles on the grounds that "Science proves miracles can't happen" is also a Modernist error.
  • Because things tend to progress from simple to complex, the early Church was not hierarchical and sacramental but these things were added over time is another type of the modernist error.

However, the following would not be examples of Modernism by themselves:

  • Accepting Evolution within the parameters defined by the Church.
  • A Bishop speaking about social injustices in America.
  • A Vatican II statement saying the state does not have the authority to coerce what people must believe.

The difference is the first group shows a rejection of the Catholic teachings and authority.  The second group does not.

So ultimately, Modernism is a rejection of the beliefs and teachings of the Church, whether overtly or through subtle undermining.

Why Modernism is Dangerous and to Whom

Modernism is a dangerous error of course.  However, it is dangerous to a different group of individuals than radical traditionalism.  Radical Traditionalism is an error dangerous to people who accept the authority of the Church and are troubled by the current rebellion within her.  Modernism, on the other hand, is dangerous to people who are ignorant about their faith, to people looking to find a reason to disobey a Church teaching they don't like, and to people who excessive reliance on the Scientific Method in situations where it is not authoritative.

So the person who would want to find a reason why they could contracept, to the person who is so uninformed about the faith that they believe the educated modernist must know better than they or to the person who believes the scientific method can solve everything, Modernism can indeed form a stumbling block to the true faith.

Modernism is also dangerous to the faithful in a way.  Because there are still people out there who claim that Jesus "walked on a sandbar," people who claim that the feeding of the 5000 was nothing more than a big Potluck dinner and people who claim that the prohibition against contraception was the invention of priests, it becomes easy to suspect any Catholic who expresses the faith in a different way.

In that case, I would remind people that "a little knowledge is dangerous," and it is rash judgment to accuse the Church of being "soft on modernists" until one is sure they fully understand what Modernism is and whether the disliked person is actually guilty of Modernism.  Since it is the magisterium, not the private individual, who has the authority to make this decision, it is the Magisterium which decides whether there is an error and whether it is an error of modernism.

Defenses Against Modernism

Modernism is an error, but it is not one destined to triumph against the Church.  The person who seeks to be faithful to the Church established by Christ and obedient to those to whom He entrusted the responsibility and authority of leading it, can avoid the errors which lead to heresy or schism.  We do need to remember certain things.

First of all, we must remember that Christ protects the Church He established and protects her from teaching error.  Second, we must remember Christ gave the authority to the Pope and those Bishops in communion with Him the authority to bind and loose.

If we lose faith in these things, the devil has deceived us into disobedience.

We should also keep in mind the following points:

  1. The Church teachings are neither conservative or liberal and are not to be judged as being right or wrong depending on whether they are viewed by an individual as too liberal or conservative.
  2. Our personal interpretations of Church teachings can err and does not outweigh the Magisterial authority.
  3. The Bishop, Priest, religious or member of the laity who misuses or acts against Church teaching is not evidence of the whole being affected.
  4. Remembering that there is no dividing line on which the Church was right and then became wrong.  The Church was not wrong before Vatican II and right after,  Nor was she right before Vatican II and right after.  The same teaching is consistently taught from the Magisterium.

If we remember these things, placing our faith in Christ as protecting His Church, we will neither be deceived by Modernism nor by the fear that the "whole Church" is affected by Modernism.

So in conclusion, if we would be protected from error which would threaten our salvation we must remain within the Church, obedient to the Magisterium and recognizing that the authority and protection given her by Christ remains with her today in the Magisterium.

No comments:

Post a Comment