Recently, the Church has suffered blow after blow as a result of scandals involving clergy sex abuse and the abuse of power exercised by certain bishops and cardinals who sought to cover up that abuse so as to protect the abusers. Some accusations have been raised about Pope Francis stemming all the way back to his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Depending on the source, we have been told that everything from clericalism to a lavender Mafia in the Vatican are reasons for the crisis. Yet, how often do our problems have much deeper root causes?
It is important to get at the root of any problem—to diagnose it properly—before one can prescribe a cure. One of the maladies afflicting the contemporary Church also afflicted the Church in the early twentieth century and resurfaced during the Second Vatican Council. I am referring to the heresy of Modernism. According to Pope Saint Pius X’s Pascendi, Modernism is not one particular heresy but rather “the synthesis of all heresies.”
Modernists believe that “newer is better.” Modernism obfuscates Church teaching, causing confusion among the faithful. Modernists attack, oftentimes indirectly rather than directly, the Deposit of Faith because they consider Divine Revelation as passé, and worse, tend to demythologize it entirely. As far as I can tell, one of the strategies of Modernism in the past fifty plus years is to attack or at least bemoan and belittle all that came before Vatican II, so that previous councils and the teachings of pre-conciliar popes are barely mentioned any more. Tradition and Modernism are diametrically opposed because Modernists call into constant question the authority of the Magisterium, preferring to keep doctrine fluctuating and its interpretation as fluid as possible. Likewise opposed to Modernism is the “sensus fidei fidelium” (“sense of the faith of the faithful”).
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Truth be told, Modernists are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They attack the Church, often shrewdly and in subtle ways, but do so consistently as if chipping away bit by bit at a block of marble, not so that any fine sculpture might emerge, but that we should somehow marvel at the shattered pieces and be grateful all the while for their iconoclastic barbarism which disfigures our Faith in favor of “new and improved” contortions which are like twisted pieces of metal in a modern art gallery. As the Psalmist reminds us, if the attacker were a sworn enemy we could comprehend it but when the attack comes from a trusted friend it is all the more reprehensible: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 41:9). Indeed, Modernists deliberately choose to stay within the bosom of Holy Mother Church in order to fight her from within, to break down her strength and the fortitude of her faithful pastors, until they can claim victory—even if at times it turns out to be short-lived.
Modernists reject the lessons of the past because they are too focused on the present and the future with their revolutionary dreams of seeing the Church’s beliefs and practices gutted to make way for novelties that appeal to the common man (or so they think) and convince themselves that this will be the case. Rather than have the times conform to the Church, Modernists seek to have the Church conform to the times.
In many ways, the attacks on the Church launched by Modernists are much more difficult to withstand than overt persecution from without. When a militant atheist, a rabid gay activist or a die-hard Marxist attacks the Church, no one is really surprised. However, when the attacker is wearing a Roman collar or miter, it is rather disarming.
Modernists reject long-standing traditions of the Catholic Faith and seek, ironically, to impose their own heretical notions as the new traditions for the present and the future. Modernists are so blindly in love with novelty, and their passion for newness so unbridled, that they would prefer to embrace an unknown future than a known past or present. When Modernists talk of old men dreaming dreams and young people prophesying, they project an ever-evolving Church that is more comfortable in the shadows of doubt than in the light of faith and its certainties.
For the Modernists, tradition is too static. They desire a “dynamic” Church that is open to worldly trends and habits so much so that, given time, she might adopt them as her own, citing Our Lord that new wine must be poured into new wineskins.
Modernists seek to re-invent the Church in every age. The last thing they want is for the Church to be a counter-cultural symbol that might make people feel unhappy about who they are. The concept of original sin, and the evil consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, are not happy thoughts, so they are brushed aside to focus on societal problems which have, from the Modernist perspective, a primarily human and earthly solution, rather than a divine and heavenly one. In other words, Modernists dislike and even despise the supernatural element of the Gospel and the Church’s beliefs, and therefore strive to substitute them at all costs with man-made and man-centered ideologies whereby a secular humanism replaces a theandric or Christoentric humanism.
The late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, former Archbishop of Milan and leading theological liberal, once famously quipped that the Catholic Church was 200 years behind the times. By this he meant, for example, that the Church needed to allow for greater openness to homosexuality, optional priestly celibacy, the ordination of women priests, and the decentralization of the authority of the pope so that it might be more equally shared among all the bishops.
Does any of this sound familiar, especially when considering some actions of the Magisterium of Pope Francis since 2013 and the interventions of some bishops at the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family? Surely, our informed readers will not be too surprised if, in studying the Instrumentum Laboris (critiqued by Archbishop Charles Chaput in these very terms in his first presentation at this Synod) and following closely the proceedings of the present Synod, they find themselves from time to time referring to this article (or similar articles) on Modernism in order to better identify its idiosyncratic insidiousness and its many dangerous manifestations in the contemporary Church.
The prophet Jeremiah places stark choices before us: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (6:16).
(Photo credit: Sirilusmaxii / Wikicommons)