Under the Ban: Modernism, Then and Now

On July 3, 1907, in a decree bearing the lachrymose Latin title Lamentabili, the Vatican’s Holy Office, predecessor of today’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, condemned 65 propositions that it had found contrary to Catholic orthodoxy. Pope Pius X followed up two months later, on September 8, with an encyclical named Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Feeding the Lord’s Flock), in which he linked the condemned propositions to a heresy called Modernism and went on to identify its philosophical and theological roots. In conclusion, the encyclical specified stern disciplinary measures for stamping out the heresy.
Considering these events from the pope’s point of view, he could hardly have done less. For according to St. Pius X, who was to be canonized in 1954, Modernism was the very “synthesis of all heresies.” Its condemnation and eradication were essential to protecting the Faith.
Still, a century later three questions about Modernism do need answering: Did it actually exist? What was it all about? What difference does it make?
Whether there really was something corresponding to what Pius X called Modernism isn’t so easy to say. After all, it was the pope himself who gave Modernism its name and provided theoretical coherence to what up till then had been a gaggle of ideas identified with a loosely linked group of Catholic intellectuals in France, Italy, and England. Modernism’s leading figure, the Scripture scholar Alfred Loisy, was not entirely wide of the mark when he complained that Pius X not only had condemned Modernism but “invent[ed] the system” he condemned.
Even so, it would be foolish to dismiss Modernism as a figment of the papal imagination. Pius X’s account, as Loisy conceded, was drawn from actual sources. These he identified as “[Maurice] Blondel and [Lucien] Laberthonniere’s philosophy of immanence . . . intimate religious experience and moral dogmatism, into which had penetrated a certain Kantian element . . . [George] Tyrrell’s mystical theology, which exhibited a certain Protestant individualism and illuminism,” and especially evolutionism, as it was reflected in Loisy’s own “evolutionary history of the Hebrew religion and Christianity, of Catholic dogma, cult and constitution.”

Regarding the threat that all this posed, it is necessary to begin with some historical background.

Descartes, Kant, and Darwin

Modernism’s remote origins are usually traced to Descartes and Kant and their theories of knowledge, especially knowledge of a religious sort. In holding that we cannot know things directly but only as they are presented to us by our minds, Descartes and Kant inserted radical subjectivism into the heart of the epistemological question, including the question of what can be known about God and spiritual realities. Shortly after Modernism’s condemnation, Rev. Arthur Vermeersch, S.J., an important Roman theologian of the day, remarked that while in Kant “dogmas and the whole positive framework of religion are necessary only for the childhood of humanity,” Modernists went further still and took faith to be “a matter of sentiment, a flinging of oneself towards the Unknowable.”{mospagebreak}
Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing through the century that followed, the epistemological revolution launched by Descartes and Kant merged with developments in archaeology, history, and biblical study to produce a radical shift in the thinking of some theologians. Among other things, the historical value of the Gospels and the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) came under attack; while in his influential book The Christian Faith, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) sought a foothold for belief in the notion that the essence of religion is piety, and piety is feeling. This is to say that to be genuinely religious it is sufficient to feel dependent on God.
In 1859, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species erupted on an already shaky religious scene, spewing the ideological equivalent of lava and ashes far and wide. T. H. Huxley, an aggressive publicist for Darwinism, was soon exulting that one of the best things about it was its “complete and irreconcilable antagonism to that vigorous and consistent enemy of the highest intellectual, moral, and social life of mankind—the Catholic Church.” But strange to say, it was Protestantism, not Catholicism, that suffered first and worst.
Attempts to salvage something from the collapse of faith reflected in literary works like Tennyson’s In Memoriam and Arnold’s Dover Beach ranged from biblical fundamentalism to liberal Protestantism. “The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith” became a favorite slogan of the liberal Protestants. The catchy expression is shorthand for a supposedly unbridgeable split between the human Jesus—a historical figure said to have been concealed from sight by the early Christian community’s practice of shrouding Him in pious fictions—and a divine being upon whom believers project their subjective religious impulses. (In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI calls this history-faith dichotomy “tragic” for Christian belief. The Gospels present “the real, ‘historical’ Jesus in the strict sense of the word,” he writes.)
Although comparatively slow to infiltrate Catholic circles, the new thinking began to appear there in the latter years of the 19th century. Men like the historian Louis Duchesne, the novelist Antonio Fogazzaro, the philosopher Blondel, and the pietistic German-British intellectual gadfly Baron Friedrich von Hügel led the way. Not all of them were full-fledged Modernists, and some, like Blondel, later were genuinely horrified at being thought at odds with the Church. Nevertheless, they exchanged ideas, encouraged one another in their work, and formed a network that over time came to have an influence beyond its numbers in seminary and clerical circles. Several Italian pastoral letters warning against Modernism by name appeared in 1905 and 1906.

Loisy, Tyrrell, and Friends

The two most visible members of the group were the Frenchman Loisy and the Irish Jesuit Tyrrell.
Alfred Loisy was born in Ambrieres, France, in 1857; studied at the diocesan seminary of Châlons-sur-Marne; and was ordained in 1879. A gifted linguist, he taught at the Institut Catholique in Paris until his criticism of traditional views led to his removal as professor of Sacred Scripture; thereafter he taught at the École Pratiques des Hautes Études. His best-known work, L’Évangile et l’Église (The Gospel and the Church), published in 1902, was a response to the historian Adolf von Harnack, whose liberal Protestant understanding of Scripture reduced Christianity to a handful of basic principles. But although he wrote to refute von Harnack, Loisy simultaneously denied that Christ meant to establish a Church or teach a body of lasting religious truth, and argued instead for “the incessant evolution of doctrine.” L’Évangile and his other works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. Loisy refused to submit to Pascendi and was excommunicated in 1908. He taught at the Collège de France from 1909 to 1930, and continued writing in defense of Modernism until his death in 1940.{mospagebreak}
Born in Dublin in 1861, George Tyrrell grew up an Evangelical Christian, studied at Trinity College, and entered the Catholic Church in 1879. He was accepted into the Jesuits the following year, ordained in 1891, and in 1896 transferred to the Jesuits’ Farm Street church in London. There he launched his career as a writer and was introduced by his great friend von Hügel to the work of men like Loisy and Blondel. Tyrrell’s increasingly radical critique of orthodox theology led to his expulsion from the Jesuits in 1906. His rejection of Pascendi was public and violently worded. Excommunicated in 1907, he received absolution before his death in 1909, but was refused Catholic burial on the grounds of not having retracted his heretical views. In the posthumously published Christianity at the Cross-Roads, Tyrrell expressed his hope that Christianity would not be the last stage of humanity’s religious quest but an intermediate stage on the way to a new universal religion.
In fairness to Loisy, Tyrrell, and the rest, it is important to bear in mind that they had an unobjectionable, even commendable, aim in mind at first. In a 1908 book, Simple Reflections (i.e., on the Holy Office decree and the papal encyclical), Loisy described himself and the rest of “the avowed modernists” as “a fairly definite group of thinking men united in the common desire to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social needs of today.” Had there been no more to it than that, Modernism might have been more deserving of praise than condemnation. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit more.
In his carefully documented and nuanced study of Modernism, Critics on Trial (Catholic University of America Press, 1994), Msgr. Marvin R. O’Connell calls an anonymous document titled Il Programma di Modernisti “perhaps the most succinct and coherent statement of the Modernist position ever attempted.” Published “virtually before the ink on Pascendi was dry” in a forceful translation by Tyrrell, it almost certainly was written by an Italian philosopher and editor named Ernesto Buonaiuti. Boldly flaunting its immanentism, it contains such declarations as: “Religious knowledge . . . is our actual experience of the divine which works in ourselves and in the whole world,” and, “Religion is . . . the spontaneous result of irrepressible needs of man’s spirit, which find satisfaction in the inward and emotional experience of the presence of God within us.”
Of Pascendi and Lamentabili, this manifesto says: “The Church and Society can never meet on the basis of those ideas which prevailed at the Council of Trent. . . . The Church cannot, and ought not to, pretend that the Summa of Aquinas answers to the exigencies of religious thought in the twentieth century.” Only evolution provides a basis for believing in “the permanence of something divine in the life of the Church.”

The Condemnations of 1907

Drawing on the works of Modernists, the 65 condemned propositions in Lamentabili include: The Church’s Magisterium “cannot determine the genuine sense” of Scripture even by dogmatic definitions (no. 4); the Gospels contain “only a slight and uncertain trace” of Christ’s teaching (no. 15); divine revelation is only “the consciousness acquired by man of his relation to God” (no. 20); Christ’s resurrection is “not properly a fact of the historical order, but a fact of the purely supernatural order, neither demonstrated nor demonstrable” (no. 36); the sacraments originate not in Christ but in “the apostles and their successors” engaged in interpreting “some idea and intention of Christ” (no. 40); the only purpose of the sacraments is to be reminders of “the ever beneficent presence of the Creator” (no. 41); “it was foreign to the mind of Christ to establish a Church” (no. 52); “truth is no more immutable than man himself” (no. 58); Catholicism “cannot be reconciled with true science, unless it be transformed into a kind of nondogmatic Christianity, that is, into a broad and liberal Protestantism” (no. 65).{mospagebreak}
Then Lamentabili states the pope’s judgment: “condemned and proscribed.”
Then–Rev. Joseph Ratzinger, in an essay published in 1966, criticized some of the formulations used by the Holy Office—for example, that found in proposition 22, which states that so-called revealed dogmas aren’t “truths fallen from heaven” but interpretations of religious facts worked out by human effort. “It is certainly very difficult to determine the meaning and binding force of such a condemnation,” the youngish German theologian, today known to the world as Benedict XVI, remarked. Indeed, he went on, some of these individual propositions, “in themselves, can have an altogether acceptable meaning.” The real significance of Lamentabili, he then declared, can be found in “its meaning as a whole, insofar as it condemns a radically evolutionistic and historicist tendency.” This remains a useful interpretive principle for reading the decree today.
Appearing two months later, Pius X’s Pascendi Dominici Gregis is remarkable in several ways. An extremely long document—nearly twice the length of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum—it is bluntly, even harshly worded, as if its author had taken personal offense at the ideas it condemns. But it is important to grasp that Pascendi really is about ideas, not personalities. The Modernists viewed Pius as an ignorant bumpkin who as pope found himself in over his head (“a peasant of simple seminary training,” von Hügel remarked condescendingly), but his encyclical is a sophisticated analysis of Modernist views.
A few highlights: Saying he aims to give a systematic account of Modernism—something the Modernists themselves deliberately failed to do—the pope situates its philosophical basis in “agnosticism.” By this, he makes it clear, he means the idea that the fundamental source of religion is “vital immanence.” In other words: “It is . . . to be sought within man himself . . . in a need for the divine.” Here, too, in “religious consciousness,” is where Modernists locate revelation. It follows from such principles, Pius says, that dogma “not only can but ought to be evolved and changed,” and that “all religions are true” to the extent they reflect the human psyche.
Moving to theology, Pius pinpoints key Modernist ideas. Christ did not establish the Church and institute sacraments directly, but only in the sense that His example inspired later Christians to do so. The Church is “the fruit of the collective conscience” of the Christian community. The idea that the Church’s authority comes from God is “obsolete.” In order to avoid “internecine war,” the Church must adopt “democratic forms” of government. In sum: “In a religion which is living nothing is without change, and so there must be change.”
From here [the Modernists] make a step to what is essentially the chief point in their doctrines, namely, evolution. Dogma, then, Church, worship, the books that we revere as sacred, even faith itself . . . must be bound by the laws of evolution. . . .
The Modernists’ reading of the gospels flows naturally from their agnosticism. . . .
Any divine intervention in human affairs must be relegated to faith, as belonging to it alone. Thus, if anything occurs consisting of a double element, divine and human, such as are Christ, the Church, the sacraments . . . there will have to be a division and separation, so that what was human may be assigned to history, and what divine to faith. Thus, the distinction common among the Modernists between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith; the Church of history and the Church of faith; the sacraments of history and the sacraments of faith.{mospagebreak}
Pascendi Dominici Gregis concludes by spelling out practical steps to take: removing Modernists from seminary faculties, new censorship norms, and the creation in every diocese of a clergy council responsible for ferreting out nascent signs of Modernism. Three years later the pope published the text of an oath against Modernism that priests were required to take; it remained on the books until Pope Paul VI did away with it in 1967.
Reaction to Pascendi and Lamentabili was mixed. Bishops generally accepted Pius X’s judgment and prepared to carry it out. Publicly at least, the strongest words of defiance were probably those of Tyrrell in the Times of London: “Neither the engineered enthusiasm of la bonne presse, nor the extorted acquiescence and unanimity of a helplessly subjugated episcopate, nor the passive submission of uncomprehending sheeplike lay multitudes will deceive [the Modernists] into thinking that this Encyclical comes from, or speaks to, the living heart of the Church—the intelligent, religious-minded, truth-loving minority.” The writer André Bremond, an ex-Jesuit like Tyrrell, called this outburst an example of his friend’s “Irish frenzy.”
Then something shameful happened—something that even conservatives today regard with abhorrence. Instigated by a Vatican official, Msgr. Umberto Benigni, a campaign began to neutralize anyone suspected of Modernist tendencies. It was carried out by a secretive group created by Monsignor Benigni called the Sodality of St. Pius V. A network of spies and informers went into action in dioceses searching out supposed Modernists and Modernist sympathizers—bishops, pastors, professors, editors—and reporting them to the authorities. Reputations were blackened, careers damaged, innocent people hurt. The intellectual pogrom continued until Pope Benedict XV finally put an end to it. But the bitter taste lingered in many mouths.
So much for Modernism and its condemnation. The question remains: A century later, what difference does it all make?

The Modernist Legacy

In attempting to answer that, we need to begin by recognizing that some ideas associated with Modernism are part of today’s orthodox Catholic consensus. Certainly this is true in the area of Scripture study, where much that looked like avant-garde thinking around the turn of the last century has come to be taken for granted. Today, for instance, hardly any knowledgeable person would argue that Moses was the immediate human author of the Pentateuch. Nor do Catholics have any difficulty accepting the idea that the Bible embraces a variety of literary forms and that the four Gospels reflect the early Christian community’s theological understanding of Christ as well as the events of His life. In Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI calls the critical-historical method an “indispensable” tool for understanding Scripture, though certainly not the only one.
Today, too, it is clear that although the condemnations of 1907 and the events that followed drove Modernism out of sight, Modernism and its offshoots survived. For one thing, the Modernists and their sympathizers kept on writing. Moreover, as Rev.—now Cardinal—Avery Dulles, S.J., pointed out in 1971 in The Survival of Dogma: “Driven underground but not solved by the condemnation of Modernism, the problem of dogmatic change surfaced again in the nouvelle theologie of the 1940s.” (As the Second Vatican Council demonstrated, Newman’s principle of doctrinal “development” offers an approach to this question whose usefulness has not been exhausted even now.)
Eventually, too, changing times and circumstances allowed Modernism and its cousins to emerge from hiding. Modernism persisted, says historian Philip Trower, “because the causes which had originally brought it into existence persisted: the increasingly secularized culture in which the bulk of Western Catholics now lived, and the complexity of many of the questions raised by ‘modern thought.'”
The case of Rev. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., is instructive. Forbidden to publish by his superiors, under pressure from the Holy See, the Jesuit paleontologist continued writing, with his works circulating in mimeographed form for years. When it was finally published after his death, The Phenomenon of Man (French edition 1955, English edition 1959) and other books enjoyed cult success among readers who relished their quasi-poetic, quasi-mystical, quasi-scientific synthesis of evolutionism and Christianity. In the 1960s and 1970s, Teilhardian evolutionism occupied an important place in the stew of ideas and sentiments that shaped the troubled reception of Vatican Council II.
And now? Major elements of today’s progressive Catholicism bear more than a small family resemblance to things condemned by Pius X in 1907. Consider Pascendi on the Modernists’ program of Church reform:
They . . . demand that history be written and taught according to their method and modern prescriptions. Dogmas and the evolution of the same . . . must be brought into harmony with science and history. As regards catechesis, they demand that only those dogmas be noted . . . which have been reformed. . . . As for worship, they say that external devotions must be reduced in number and that steps must be taken to prevent their increase. . . . They cry out that the government of the Church must be reformed in every respect. . . . Both within and without it is to be brought in harmony with the modern conscience . . . which tends entirely towards democracy. . . . The Roman congregations they likewise wish to be modified in the performance of their holy duties, but especially. . . the Holy Office. . . . Finally, there are some who. . . desire the removal of holy celibacy itself from the priesthood.
Leaving aside the pros and cons of such proposals, it’s a fact that they have been items on the progressive Catholic agenda for years.
But the Modernists of a century ago aren’t the only ones with counterparts now. The integralists who launched a witch hunt after the publication of Pascendi and Lamentabili have successors, too. These include people who believe—or at least strongly suspect—that the Church hasn’t had a real pope since 1958, when Pius XII died (sedevacantists, they’re called), who hold that Vatican II wasn’t a valid council of the Church, and who at this very moment are very likely somewhere on the Internet trying to make the case that Benedict XVI is a Modernist. Just like Loisy and Tyrrell, Benigni also has spiritual heirs.
In summing up Modernism and its legacy, however, it’s only fair to give the last word to Loisy: “The Catholicism of the pope being neither reformable nor acceptable,” the excommunicated ex-priest and Modernist luminary wrote in 1931, “another Catholicism will have to come into being, a humane Catholicism, in no way conditioned by the pontifical institution or the traditional forms of Roman Catholicism.” A century after Modernism was condemned, Loisy’s successors are still working hard to bring that about.{mospagebreak}

Russell Shaw, a crisis contributing editor, is a writer and journalist based in Washington, D.C. His most recent book, written with Rev. C. John McCloskey III, is Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith (Ignatius Press).

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.

  • R. Dennis Porch, MD

    It is too bad that our Church fails to recognize the observations of science and metaphors. The official institution is imploding because it can not understand that the observations of scientists, theologians and philosophers of each time frame are filled with inspiration from the Spirit. The official institutions of Vatican Catholicism is a mere small and fearful part of the Universal Catholic Church that takes inspiration from Jesus Christ. The implosion of Vatican Catholicism is occurring because of the fear by the leadership to open the windows of the Church to the Holy Spirit. Peace, RD

  • Andy F.

    It is apparent that Shaw’s assertion that Loisy has successors working hard to render in the Modernist ideal of Catholicism. One need not look any further than the comment made by Dr. Porch. Congratulations on affirming our hypotheses, Dr. Porch.

    By the way, what is the Universal Catholic Church? I’ve never been to one of those.

  • Austin

    Pius X and his war on “modernism” was not a conservative, as such but a reactionary. A Pope who didn’t want to hold the line, but apparently wanted to ratched things back to the 18th century, to a Pre Enlightenment mindset. This is unrealistic and may work in the short term, but will not work in the long run. In particular Witch Hunts are not a good idea. The way to fight bad ideas is with good ideas, not with repression.

    Pius XII, while a conservative, was not a reactionary. He understood that he was in the 20th century, and while not caving in to “modernism”, he understood that he should hold the line, but it was impossible to ratchet the Church back to Pre Enlightenment days. Pius XII while forbidding artificial contraception, approved rhythmn. He also appeared to be interested in studying evolution and integrating it into Church teaching with some modifications.

    Pius XII knew Pius X and was responsible for his canonization, so obviously, he respected Pius X, but was not a carbon copy.

  • Daniel Molinaro

    Although some of his theology might be questionable, the philosopher Bernard Lonergan and his little work “Insight” offer an excellent critique of Kant that should be read in more Catholic circles.

  • Jitpring

    The Second Vatican Council was soaked in Modernism. Strange that this is deemphasized, indeed basically ignored here. Read:

    -The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by Ralph M. Wiltgen (the author is not a traditionalist, but if anything, tends to toward the “progressive” side)

    -Open Letter to Confused Catholics, by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

    P.S. Msgr. Umberto Benigni’s “pogrom” wasn’t at all unfortunate. Indeed, would that we had such a purification – not “pogrom” – again.

  • Gabriel Austin

    The trouble with Modernism is that it quickly date of expiration.

    Any attempted defence of Modernistic theories which includes the bizarre theories of Fr. Teilhard de C. He was not a good scientist. He fell hook line etc. for Piltdown “Man” as also foe Peking “Man”, not because they were good science but because they fit his [rather mediocre] poetry. He became trapped in his own language.

  • Jitpring

    Also read Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, who was a peritus at VII. Devastating.

  • job

    “Major elements of today’s progressive Catholicism bear more than a small family resemblance to things condemned by Pius X in 1907.”

    Is this supposed to be a proof that modernism wasn’t “all bad” – as the general tenor of Mr. Shaw’s piece seems to suggest – or does the above quote demonstrate that Modernism remains a tenancious heresy (or whatever you want to call it, since the term “heresy” seems itself to have fallen into the modernist maw of ambiguity in this case) which Pius X didn’t succeed in eradicating.

    By the way – is the purpose of a heresy to eradicate it or counter its influence?

    For, surely, forms of the big heresies of the past – Pelagianism, Arianism and Manicheism – to name just three – ALSO remain a part of progressive Catholics’ Weltanschauung.

    Should we then be calling St. Athanasius or St. Augustine to task?

    Not clear what lesson we’re suppposed to learn from Mr. Shaw’s essay…

    I fear it is perhaps a bit too “nuanced” for me…


  • abfl

    I think this article goes a bit far on the issue of Scripture; I rather side with C. S. Lewis in doubting whether textual criticism can actually tell us much. (The essay is “Fern-seed and Elephants”, in which Lewis points out that critics consistently assign completely wrong motives to his own writing — what chance, then, can textual critics possibly have of psychoanalyzing authors of 3000 years ago?) In some cases the scholarly consensus seems to be clearly wrong — Mark as the first gospel written (against the overwhelming witness of tradition in the early centuries), for example. Similarly for the existence of the “Q” source — given the extensive arguments we have recorded about what was going to go into the Biblical canon, the lack of any reference whatsoever to such a document is strong evidence for its nonexistence. (In more general terms, the whole textual-criticism field is too strongly based on a purely literary tradition, writings drawing from writings; it does not work well in a setup where writings are basically records of oral tradition, which is probably the case of much if not most of the Bible.)

    Nor do I limit this to Scripture; in my mind modern historical scholarship in general is over-skeptical of what the ancients wrote about their own history. Or as Byron put it…
    I’ve stood upon Achilles’ tomb And heard Troy doubted; some will doubt of Rome.

    Furthermore, I think Teilhard’s influence is also overstated in this essay. His really troublesome propositions were shot down by the Vatican. (Which isn’t to say that there isn’t good stuff in the rest.)

  • Michael PS

    On the death of St Pius X, as is customary, his appartments were sealed. On his election, his successor, Pope Benedict XV, the former Archbishop of Bologna, opened a number of letters, lying on his predesessor’s desk. One of these was from Cardinal Merry del Val, the Cardinal Secretary of State, denouncing him (Benedict) as a dangerous Modernist sympathizer.

    There was a brief interview between the new pope and the cardinal, in which the latter was informed of his dismissal as Secretary of State and of his new appointment – as Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica; as such, his chief, almost his only, responsibility was to sing the capitular mass on weekdays.

    Thereafter, Mgr Benigni’s star, and that of the Sodalium Pianum, was no longer in the ascendant.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    I find your questions troubling. As is quite apparent that we live in the post modern world. In a Church that is infested with the ideas which Pius X condemned. The very notion or rather idea of Vatican II is one that is born from a modernist mind set.

    As somebody else wrote in the responses it is difficult to fathom that more Catholics do not see this. May be this is the reason why so many of us are passive when dealing with problems in the Church, it has simply become too much part of the background the smell of sulfur so familiar that you can nod distinguish it from regular air.

  • Bob G


  • Tony Esolen

    On textual criticism: I agree with Lewis. He was a man immersed in the literature of many languages over the course of three thousand years. So when people without that same experience of literature and literary forms said, “This obviously is a Hellenistic romance,” Lewis would ask, “And how many romances have you actually read?” On guesses regarding authorship, I apply the Shakespeare test. Remove the author’s name from the plays. And then lose some of the plays, to boot. Who would argue that one man wrote both The Merry Wives of Windsor — almost entirely in prose, its rare verse only workmanlike — and Macbeth? Or The Winter’s Tale and Two Gentlemen of Verona? Or As You Like It and Coriolanus?

    One could go on … Is it all so very clear that the man who wrote Sketches by Boz wrote Nicholas Nickleby? Or that the man who wrote Tom Jones wrote The Tragedy of Tragedies? If we didn’t know that Virgil wrote his eclogues, would we be sure to assign them to him? Would we be sure that the Plato who wrote the Symposium also wrote The Laws?

  • Melinda T

    It seems that Modernism for all its amorphousness can be seen as the precursor to Post Modernism, also amorphous but in the manner of a black hole that swallows everything in its path or in close proximity to it…the pervasiveness of post modern deconstructionism has left our culture without bite, riddled with mediocrity and the acceptance of the mediocre as the new horizon to strive for…and it is essentially fascistic..Yet many who consider themselves “progressive” do not see this nascent fascist log in the eye. After sixty one years on the planet I have seen in the devolution of everything from morals to politics and philosophy such a confirmation of the Gospel’s point of view as well as the Catechism of the Church – its the elephant in the room that everyone seems to want to be blind to..we are fallen indeed and desperately in need of Christ…

  • Nick

    “In 1859, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species erupted on an already shaky religious scene, spewing the ideological equivalent of lava and ashes far and wide.”

    Are you implying that evolution is against the Faith?

  • DU

    It seems we now have an “evolution theology”, hardly distinguishable from the evolution mentality of the secular culture in which we now live, that has left the majority without even a sense of purpose and meaning in their relativistic thinking.

  • Michael PS

    At its heart, Modernism (which was rather a coterie or clique, than a movement) can be summed up in the words of Mgr Ronald Knox, spoken in another context:

    Basically it is the revolt of Platonism against the Aristotelian mise en scene of traditional Christianity. The issue hangs on the question whether the Divine Fact is something given, or something to be inferred. Your Platonist, satisfied that he has formed his notion of God without the aid of syllogisms or analogies, will divorce reason from religion

    Hence, in the years following {Lamentabili and Pascendi[/], the suspicion aroused in orthodox circles by mystical theology, such as Abb

  • Linus

    My feeling is that both today’s ” Modernists ” and the ” sedevacacnists ” are pretty much on the fringes of Catholicism. But if either is more prevalent than the other it would have to be the Modernists or Progressives. Their effectiveness can be measured to the extent that today’s catholics still do not practice the sexual morality the Church teaches.

  • Seraphim

    Henri Bremond. (Not Andre.)

  • TeaPot562

    A first tenet of the Christian faith may be expressed in the message of Easter: “Jesus is risen!” To the neopagan philosophers from Descartes on, miracles do not happen; therefore miracles described in the Bible didn’t happen; therefore the report of the Resurrection of Jesus must be a misunderstanding. St Paul in 1 Cor. 15 deals with this possibility in some detail.
    The fact that we cannot replicate the miracles performed by Jesus (including his resurrection) in the laboratory does not disprove them. The witness of several centuries of early martyrs, including the Apostles, evidences their belief that Jesus has risen from the dead.
    I have never seen an electron; nor have I personally seen a quark. Yet I accept on good authority that they exist. Very few scientists, in the physical or cosmological laboratories are willing to experience martyrdom to defend their beliefs. One can measure dimensions and constants of the physical world that God created, and still accept the wording of books translated from First Century and older scrolls as to what moral truth is and how our Creator wants us to conduct ourselves.
    Modernism is a problem to the extent to which people decide that God really doesn’t care how we humans treat each other (Ten Commandments, the values expressed in the parables in Luke and Matthew; and the consequent teachings of the Church He established.) We do not want professors in our seminaries, or ordained priests, describing the Resurrection of Jesus as a “myth”. People who use that or equivalent terminologies do NOT belong in positions of authority in the Catholic Church. In the Unitarian or Scientology church, maybe; but not in the Catholic Church.

  • CPMH

    I was an existentialist when I first read through Teilhard’s works. He did not bring me back to the Church but he did make Christ plausible for the first time in young adulthood. Christ and Christianity could not just be simply ruled out after reading him.

    One principal problem with Teilhard is that eugenics is implicit in his theoretical framework. But one should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Much of the world blindly worships science which has produced some compelling results. Should the Church try to explain “God’s plan” to twenty first century humans in their terms?

  • sam

    Shaw’s mention of the people who say that VC2 was not legitimate is only half of the truth. Sure there are some who would say it was illegitimate, but one must understand what VC2 was all about. It was a “pastoral” council rather than a dogmatic one. In the words of John 23, the council would teach nothing new, formulate no new dogmas or doctrines. So, that must be understood. And in that way, one must ask what kind of authority did this non-doctrinal council possess. It is certainly didn’t propose to teach anything new. So then there is no harm in looking for the truth of the faith elsewhere, for instance, previous councils whose intentions were to teach the truth.

  • Nick


    No legitimate council of Christ’s Church can teach heresy or falsehoods, either. The Second Vatican Council was a legitimate council convened by Christ’s Vicar.

    Why would you look for “the truth of the [F]aith elsewhere, for instance, previous councils,” when the Truth is in all the councils?

  • Michael PS


    I wrote Abb

  • MWK

    ‘The implosion of Vatican Catholicism is occurring because of the fear by the leadership to open the windows of the Church to the Holy Spirit.’

    Sed contra: It is the Holy See itself which is the voice of the Holy Ghost, the echo of which is heard across time and space, originating in eternity. The Church and her bishops, that is, those who are charged with the conservation and spreading of the One True Faith, are, as Our Lord Himself says, the ones who maintain and express the promptings of the Holy Ghost in all ages: ‘But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.’ (John XIV, 26)

  • Martin W. Howser

    I read with great interest Russell Shaw’s article on Modernism. I found it to be informative and objective. One thing that seemed to come through the article was ” the Modernists” basically did not believe in objective (unchanging) truth in the spiritual and moral order. This in my mind put them at odds with the Church

  • TeaPot562

    A major bone of contention between the followers of Darwin and those called “Christian Fundamentalists” for over a century is the existence of fossils – of humans dating back three million years and older fossils of dinosaurs hundreds of millions of years old. Genesis is not a text on natural, or geophysical history. It shows a plausible history of the relationship of God to a chosen tribe of people before the time in Egypt that ended in the slavery preceding the Exodus events. One may consider the Adam and Eve story an allegory; however some reason is needed to explain why we humans find it so easy to take actions that harm each other; why we find it so easy to fall into sin. The more extreme Modernists reject the concept of Original Sin, but do not provide any substitute that holds water.
    Considering how the atheistic or materialistic view of humanity and human nature has led to such Twentieth Century events as the starvation of 12 million Ukrainians in the early 1930s and annhilation of 11 million in the Nazi death camps in the 1940s, one would hope that those still espousing a materialist view would be a bit more humble in advocating their solutions to problems.

  • Nick


    One quibble, if I may?

    “Genesis is not a text on natural, or geophysical history.”
    But, it might be.

    As a Catholic, one must be open to the possiblity that the Creation story is true, as written. Nothing is impossible for God, even creating the universe in 6 days. (Or six seconds, for that matter.) The theory of a four billion-year-old Earth is just that, a theory. It has not been proven, but, it may be possible.

    Just as the theory of Heliocentricism wasn’t proven by Coppernicus or Galileo in their days. One can speculate all he wants, just don’t claim it is a fact.

    Adam and Eve are not allegorical figures. They were our first parents. And, God created them. This is historical fact. How exactly He created them, the text is not clear. In this sense (on the how God created) Genesis is not a scientific manual.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    Because all councils stand on their own as part of the dogmatic treasury of the Church. No council supersedes another as they each teach essential and elemental parts of revealed truth.

    This is the trouble with the purely pastoral council that was VII. As there are no past models to go by. Normally pastoral reform would of taken the shape of smaller more manageable synods that tweak things over a period of time so the Church may discern what was good an what was bad. Vatican II is a complete departure from the actual aims of a traditional council which is of course to settle controversies and nail down dogma if need be.

    The idea of Vatican II was it was set to act as a sort of filter where all previous councils sighted dogma and Vatican II would put it in a more contemporary or modern concept in order to reaffirm revealed truth to the world that had emerged from the ashes of WWII.

  • Inomine

    Tan books republished an over-100 year old book entitled, “Liberalism is a Sin” written by a Spanish priest. Anyone read it? It’s like it was written for today.