The Heresy of Modernism

This short primer outlines the basic tenets of Modernism, quoting heavily from Pope Pius X’s encyclical “On the Doctrines of the Modernists” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis).  Subsequent developments from Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Walter Kasper and others, are not covered here.

To begin, the distinction between transcendence and immanence must be understood.  The Judeo-Christian concept of God concerns transcendence: God exists outside of the created world.  God is the Creator but His Existence is entirely independent from creation, which includes both the material world and the spiritual world (of angels and the souls of men).

Immanence deals with belief systems that assert the divine is contained completely within nature.  Immanence has several forms, including pantheism wherein nature/reality is equated to god.  Understanding immanence is critical because the Modernist’s viewpoint is intrinsically based on “vital immanence.”

The reason for this is their Agnosticism, which teaches “human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena.”1  Regarding God, human reason “is incapable … of recognizing His existence, even by means of visible things.”2  Hence, they conclude that “God can never be the direct object of science… [and] must not be considered as an historical subject.”3  So “what becomes of Natural Theology, of the motives of credibility, or external revelation…?  The Modernists simply sweep them entirely aside.”4

Let us continue with the consequences from the “fixed and established principle among them that both science and history must be atheistic.”5  Religion, “like every other fact,”6 must have an explanation.  But with “natural theology… destroyed… [and] all external revelation absolutely denied,”7 the Modernist finds the answer entirely “in man” via “religious immanence”8 that originates “in a need of the divine.” 

Further, “faith… must consist in a certain interior sense, originating in a need of the divine…, which is experienced only in special and favorable circumstances”9 with the subconscious being its root.  This “need” stems from the “unknowable.”

“Science and history are confined within two boundaries, the one external, namely the visible world, the other internal, which is consciousness.”10  These two boundaries have limits where “beyond is the unknowable.  In presence of this unknowable…, the need of the divine…excites… a certain special sense,”11 which “as its own object and as its intrinsic cause [is the] the divine reality itself.”12  This “special sense” is what Modernists call faith, “which they hold to be the beginning of religion.”13

Their notion of “faith” is not supernatural because this “special sense” resides entirely within the natural world.  Similarly, Modernism’s “revelation” is also purely natural as “they affirm that there [i.e. the “special sense”] is also to be found revelation.”14  They further say this revelation “is at the same time of God and from God.”15

From this comes the “most absurd tenant of the Modernists, that every religion… must be considered as both natural and supernatural”16 and hence they “make consciousness and revelation synonymous.”17  Further, “religious consciousness” is placed on “equal footing with revelation”18 to which “all must submit, even the supreme authority of the Church.”19  Truly, this is the “most absurd tenant,”  so far anyway…

This “religious sense”20 that emerges “through the agency of vital immanence”21 explains “everything that has been or ever will be in any religion.”22  Thus Catholicism is reduced to “the process of vital immanence, and by no other way, in the consciousness of Christ, who was a man of the choicest nature.”23  In fine, Modernism reduces the divine to nature.  Pius X rightly rants at “so great a sacrilege,”24 and yet “Catholics… and priests too”25 say this openly and “boast that they are going to reform the Church by these ravings!”26

More specifically, Modernists say that God presents Himself to man within the religious sense “but in a manner so confused and indistinct that He can hardly be perceived by the believer.”27  It “is the task of the intellect”28 to analyze and transform “the vital phenomena” into “metal pictures,” which are expressed in words as “simple, popular statements.”29  From these, upon deeper reflection, “secondary propositions” are derived, and if approved by the Church, constitutes “dogma.”

These “religious formulas” “stand midway between the believer and his faith.”30  In relation to faith, they are “inadequate expression of its object”31 and usually called “symbols.”  “To the believer they are mere instruments.”32

Hence, “dogmas” do not “absolutely contain the truth”33 and these “symbols… must be adapted to the religious sense”34 resulting from “religious consciousness” and thus is subject to “an infinite variety of aspects”35 which opens the door to “evolution of dogma”36 that will “ruin and wreck all religion.”37

Dogmas must evolve and change because “religious formulas…ought to be living and to live the life of the religious sense.”38  Hence, “these formulas… should be and should remain, adapted to the faith and to him who believes.  Wherefore, if for any reason this adaption should cease to exist, they lose their first meaning and accordingly need to be changed.”39  With “dogmas” being so unstable, “it is no wonder that Modernists should regard them so lightly and in such open disrespect, and have no consideration or praise for anything but the religious sense and for the religious life.”40  [A contemporary example is the emphasis on “discernment.”]

We now pass from the Modernist as a philosopher to the Modernist as a believer who does affirm “the reality of the divine does really exist in itself.”41  The foundation of this assertion is “in the personal experience of the individual.”42  Without detailing how their idea of “experience” gravely differs “from that of Catholic teaching,”43 the consequence is that from “this doctrine of experience united with that of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true.”44

Modernists next destroy Tradition, who say it “is a communication with others of an original experience, through preaching by means of the intellectual formula.”45  Sometimes its “suggestive efficacy” gives rise to a “religious experience [that] takes root and thrives, at other times it withers at once and dies.”46  But “for the Modernists, to live is a proof of truth, since for them life and truth are one and the same thing.”47  Hence the inference “that all existing religions are equally true, for otherwise they would not survive.”48

Next on the chopping block is faith and science.  These are segregated with science (including history) exclusively concerned with phenomena, and faith dealing only with the divine, which is “unknowable” to science.  Hence, Modernists deny that anything “in the visible world … such as the human life of Christ”49 pertains to faith.  For while being “phenomena, still in as far as they lived by faith… have been by faith transfigured and disfigured… [and] removed from the world of sense and transferred into material for the divine.”50

So to the question if “Christ has wrought real miracles, and made real prophecies, whether He rose truly from the dead and ascended into Heaven,”51 the answer is twofold: science say No while faith says Yes.  Furthermore, Modernists will assert there is not a “conflict between them.”52

With this being so bizarre and duplicitous, let us listen to Pope Pius X’s repetition: “For it will be denied by the philosopher as a philosopher speaking to philosophers and considering Christ only in His historical reality; and it will be affirmed by the believer as a believer speaking to believers and considering the life of Christ as lived again by the faith and in the faith.”53  In other words, these from the French poet Charles Péguy: “Modernists are people who do not believe what they believe.”

While faith and science are separated, Modernists subject faith to science.  Every religious fact, when stripped of “the divine reality and the experience of it which the believer possesses… belongs to the sphere of phenomena and therefore falls under the control of science… especially the religious formulas.”54  Further, while “God is the object of faith alone… [this] refers only to the divine reality, not to the idea of God.  The latter also is subject to science.”55

Thus, it is “the right of philosophy and of science to form its knowledge concerning the idea of God, to direct it in its evolution and to purify it of any extraneous elements.”56  As usual, this is the exact opposite of Catholic teaching where philosophy is “not to command but to serve, not to prescribe what is to be believed, but to embrace what is to be believed.”57

The preceding only covers about a fourth of the Encyclical.  Only a smattering of the remainder will be presented next.  “The representations of the divine reality are symbolical,”58 so the believer need use “the formulas only in as far as they are helpful to him.”59  “The Church and the sacraments… are not to be regarded as having been instituted by Christ Himself”60 where the “sacraments are bare symbols.”61  The Bible is “a human work, made by men for men, albeit the theologian…  [proclaims it] divine by immanence.”62 

The Church “is the product of the collective conscience”63 whose authority is subject to the “religious conscience.”64  “The State must… be separated from the Church, and the Catholic from the citizen.”65  “Every Catholic…  has the duty to work for the common good… without troubling himself about the authority of the Church”66 where the “Church must be subject to the State”67 and “”the ecclesiastical magisterium… should… bow to the popular ideals.”68

To conclude, Modernism is “the synthesis of all heresies.”69  They “reject the doctrine of external revelation.”70  Their “doctrine of immanence… professes that every phenomena of conscience proceeds from man as man.  The rigorous conclusion from this is the identity of man with God, which means pantheism.  The distinction which Modernists make between science and faith leads to the same conclusion.”71  Finally, Pius X states: “These reasons suffice to show superabundantly by how many roads Modernism leads to atheism and to the annihilation of all religion.”72


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