Featured Image

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the second of seven excerpts from a talk by Fr. Linus Clovis at the Catholic Truth Scotland Conference in June 2016. Part 1 is here. To read his presentation in its entirety, click here.

November 1, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Modernism is the offspring of certain tendencies prevalent in 19th century liberal Protestantism and secular philosophy. With centres in France, England, Italy and Germany, the spirit of Modernism was fed by the studies of Kant and Hegel, by liberal Protestant theologians and biblical critics, such as von Harnack, by the evolutionary theories of Darwin, and by certain liberal political movements in Europe.

The two roots of Modernism are the Protestant revolution and the Enlightenment.

  • The Protestant Revolution. At the heart of the Protestant revolution is the rejection of the Magisterium of the Church as established by Christ in favour of each individual acting as the ultimate authority, thereby interpreting and defining all matters of faith and morals for himself. 
  • The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment rejected all divine revelation and exalted man's ability, using reason alone, to determine what is true in matters of faith and morals. This eventually led to the Modernist view that truth should be determined by the individual, rather than by God or by the Church’s Magisterium.

Modernism’s two luminaries in the Catholic Church were Fr. Alfred Loisy, a French theologian and Scripture scholar, and Fr. George Tyrrell, an Irish-born Protestant who became a Catholic and Jesuit, though he was dismissed from the Jesuits in 1906. These men were eventually excommunicated for their espousal of Modernism.

Modernist ideas

Since it has no official creed, Modernism is hard to define.  However, there are some basic components by which it can be identified. Modernism holds that

  1. All religions are equal. Modernism is syncretistic. That is, for the Modernist, it does not matter whether one is Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan or snake handler; all that matters is that one is religious in some way, since all religious paths lead to God.
  2. Religion is not about dogma but about sentimentality and feelings. For the Modernist, religion is essentially about what makes you feel good.  If Christianity, or any other religion, makes you feel good and more in touch with the Divine, then it is true for you. In other words, religion does not consist of creeds or objective truth but rather of feelings.
  3. The historical Jesus is not necessarily the Jesus of the Gospels. This means, according to the Modernist, from an historical perspective the Scriptures are not necessarily reliable. For example, the Modernist would say that Jesus may not have literally risen from the dead. According to this view, the Resurrection mentioned in Scripture was essentially the way the Apostles chose to communicate the belief that Jesus continues to live in our hearts after His crucifixion.
  4. Evolution of doctrine. The Modernist holds that in previous centuries, the dogmas of the Faith, such as the dogmas of the Trinity, were true but, since dogma evolves, they may no longer be true today. For the Modernist, dogma evolves into whatever accommodates the needs of the current culture.
  5. Connotations of terminology. Modernists retain the orthodox terminology but change the meaning of the terms. Thus, words like ‘God’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Trinity’, and ‘salvation’ are all used by the Modernists.  However, what Modernists mean and understand by these terms is totally different from that which the Church understands and has traditionally taught.   For this reason, Modernists may appear to be orthodox but, by carefully sifting through their meaning of the terminology they use, their true nature is soon discovered.
  6. Secularism and other Enlightenment principles.  Secularism rests on the principle that, since the cause and focus of religion lies primarily in the feelings of believers, no scientific or reasonable assumption of its truth can be made. Thus, in any given State, all religions are equal and, on principle, no one religion should be favoured over another.  Therefore, the best course of action in politics and other civic fields is to follow whatever flows from a common understanding of the ‘good’ by various groups and religions. By implication, Church and State should be separated and the laws of the latter, for example, the prohibition of murder, should cover only the common ground of thought systems held by the various religious groups.,

Modernism’s ultimate position is that the content of Church dogmas does not remain the same for all time but rather, it evolves over time changing not only in its expression but also in its substance.  This postulate is responsible for Modernism’s uniqueness in the history of Church heresies.  By definition, a heretic is someone who believes and teaches tenets at variance to what the Church believes. This ordinarily would lead to excommunication from the Church.  Using the new idea that doctrines evolve, it is now possible for the Modernist to accept both the traditional teachings of the Church and his new, seemingly contradictory teachings as being equally correct — each group having own its time and place. This system allows for almost any type of new belief which the Modernist in question might wish to introduce and, for this reason, Modernism was labelled by Pope Pius X as “the synthesis of all heresies”.

With this understanding, Modernism is now easily recognised as a heresy that attacks the mind of the Mystical Body so that the Church leaders behave schizophrenically and the laity act as if suffering from some form of dementia.  Further, not only do both groups forget who they are but they are equally quite incapable of handing on the fullness of Faith and the Catholic identity to succeeding generations.