Modernism: the “synthesis of all heresies” (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 8 September 1907).
The current state of the Church’s internal weakness stems, as we wrote last week, largely from the Modernist mentality very much alive and still operating. Modernism does not mean that the Catholic Church is against anything modern as such. Modernism, instead, is a heresy that at its root seeks to remove the supernatural aspects of the Catholic faith to make our religion agreeable to a secular culture that would view Catholicism as a purely natural faith, and therefore, one that is completely vanilla and no different or unique from any other belief system. Jesus Christ simply becomes one moral teacher among so many in history who taught us an ethical way to live, but He is nothing more than that to a Modernist. Modernism wanted to reconcile Catholicism with liberal Protestantism and secular atheists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since then, liberal Protestantism has essentially become nothing more than secularism. While the Modernists were largely eradicated in the early 1900s thanks to the efforts of St. Pius X (1903-14), the Modernist mentality survived primarily in the academic world. Modernist ideas were passed down the generations in universities and seminaries until the floodgates were let loose in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Academics like Charles Curran, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Kung, Rosemary Ruether, and many others touted their Modernist ideas as part of the supposed “updating” of Catholic teaching to a modern world. Their ilk would have the Catholic Church follow the same route as liberal Protestantism that teaches nothing substantial other than “we should all be nice to one another.” The whole notion of the salvation of one’s soul through Jesus Christ only is completely preposterous in the Modernist mentality.
The problem with Modernism is precisely because of what St. Pius X called it: a synthesis of all historical heresies. Fighting a Modernist mentality is like fighting on several different battlefields at once with enemies attacking from all sides simultaneously. To counter the assault, therefore, one would need a coordinated effort. Among the current crop of bishops, this is clearly not going to happen because they refuse repeatedly to admit that anything is awry in the Church today. They would prefer “to kick the can”, as it were, to the next generation of bishops while pretending that while indications from all the statistics indicate that something is not quite right—since the vast majority of Catholics do not go to Mass, do not bother to get married in the Church, are not having Catholic funerals for their loved ones, follow the immoral trends of the culture, etc.—the bishops do absolutely nothing about it in any substantive manner. Therefore, the same tired, failed policies and ideas continue unquestioned. The day is coming, however, when the situation cannot be ignored anymore, and the next generation of bishops (at least) will have to deal with the Modernist wreckage left in the Church and in people’s souls.
What, exactly, is the danger of Modernism, therefore? Modernism teaches that God did not reveal anything by divine revelation to man. Religion is only a construct of man himself in order to pass on certain values and virtues. To a Modernist, Jesus Christ is not divine; He did not know He was the Messiah. All of the miracles attributed to Christ in the Gospels and miracles throughout the Bible are the particular writer’s construct to teach a story, but they are nothing more than that. Modernists draw a definite line between what they call the “Jesus of history” (which is only a man to them) and the “Jesus of faith” which the early Christian communities invented to keep the teachings of Jesus alive because He taught about love which appealed to them. A Modernist does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ; instead, Christ’s believers created the idea that He remains alive in their hearts, their minds, and their lives whenever they put His teachings into action. Consequently, a Modernist believes that Jesus did not establish the Catholic Church, the sacraments are not necessary for salvation since they are only a human invention, and the teachings of the Church can change over time depending on the historical, cultural situation the Church finds herself in at the moment. Modernism never recognizes eternal truths. Instead, “your truth is good for you, but my truth is good for me.” Because we want to be nice people, our truths should never conflict with one another. After all, Jesus was only an ethical teacher of values and nothing more. There are no objective truths; truth is only what the Church agrees upon to function effectively at a certain point in time, but that “truth” could change as society changes.
The way the Modernist mentality operates is by introducing doubt into the mind and presenting only part of what is true in an effort to show that what the Church had been teaching as unchangeable doctrine and dogmas until Vatican II was wrong. That generation largely composed of academics who falsely implemented what they said the Council wanted was intent on creating a new Church devoid of any supernatural faith. They have succeeded. They taught their false ideology in the name of Christ and His Church in Catholic schools, seminaries, retreats, conventions, convocations, parishes, and convents. The result today speaks for itself: the supernatural life of faith is largely lost on Catholics who do not view Jesus Christ or His work of salvation through His Catholic Church important enough to come to Mass one hour each Sunday. They dare not say that Jesus is unique among every other person in history either because they do not know it or because the fear of political correctness is too high a price to pay for them. Where has the leadership among the bishops been to trumpet the truths of the faith without compromising those very truths that Jesus Christ revealed and the Apostles handed on in the Catholic Church? Apparently, they are too busy listening to the trumpets playing at fundraisers more than providing a personal defense of the faith when it might actually cost them their reputation or—heaven forbid—dollars. The bishops have forgotten that the miter (the liturgical hat) that they wear is meant to symbolize a battle helmet and not a summer bonnet like some French debutante wears sipping tea and nibbling on crumpets while completely unaware that not only have their sheep scattered, but those same sheep could largely care less about anything regarding the shepherds today.
The results of the Modernist mentality surround us today. During the last presidential campaign cycle, for instance, Madame Clinton declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” (2015 speech at the Women in the World Summit). The expectation in 1968 that the Church would change her moral teaching on artificial contraception was fueled by academics and pastors with a Modernist mentality, and when Paul VI taught that this teaching cannot change, the result was radical disobedience with no consequences faced among the clergy who simultaneously told the Catholic faithful to “follow your conscience” without giving them the moral guidance on how to form one’s conscience properly. The same Modernist mentality operates today with the issue involving divorced and remarried Catholics without an annulment regarding the reception of Holy Communion and Penance. We see various quarters in the Church, many of them bishops and cardinals, who continue to push for constant change in the teachings and practices of the Church to make her align with secular society. This not only presents false teaching to Catholics, but it also gives them false hope.
The schools and parishes are not, however, the only mainline institutions with men and women pushing a Modernist mentality and agenda. While I was attending the seminary in Washington, DC, I took classes at The Catholic University of America where many theology professors clearly presented Modernist teachings. The priest, for example, who taught sacramental theology did not believe that Jesus Christ established all seven sacraments. In one of several instances, he taught that on the night of the Resurrection in John’s Gospel, when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and gave them the authority to forgive sins, that account referred to Baptism and not to Penance (because he taught that Penance only developed with the Christian community later) [John 20: 22-23]. The fact that the Council of Trent, Vatican II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1485) all teach that Jesus did, in fact, establish the ability to forgive sins among His ministers (the Apostles) on the night of the Resurrection made no difference to this priest and professor.
Another example from the seminary illustrates how the Modernist mentality operates today. Our priest/professor, who was an internationally known teacher, writer, and speaker, for the Gospel of John did not believe that St. John was the author of the Fourth Gospel; rather, the “community” created it based on Jesus’ teachings on love (How does a “community” write anything, much less a Gospel?). This particular professor was asked by a fellow seminarian pointedly if he believed that the episode where Jesus walked on the water on the Sea of Galilee actually, historically occurred (John 6: 16-21). His response was typical: “It’s not whether I believe that Jesus walked on water or not, but what’s important is: did the community believe that He walked on the water?” With all due respect, when a person is a theology, Scripture, or Church professor at a Catholic institution, it does indeed matter whether that person has faith or is a fraud. Unfortunately, there are many other instances like these two that were common among theology professors, and this situation is not in any way limited only to The Catholic University of America.
The good news, however, is that the vast majority of seminarians rejected the Modernist nonsense that was peddled each year. The younger generation of clergy and religious often recognize what they were deprived of when they were growing up regarding the full beauty and truths of the Catholic Church in all her aspects, and they study the true models of our Catholic faith. While the numbers are not currently enough to counteract effectively the poison of the Modernist mentality still in universities, chanceries, schools, and parishes, those committed Catholics who know their faith and who want to study it and live it in conformity with Jesus Christ are solid. God, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, will not allow the Church to capsize, but in order to realize that, He calls on each of us with a steady, robust faith to keep that faith alive and active in our hope and charity as Jesus calls us to remain loyal to His way, His truth, and His life—the very things that no Modernist can take away because Jesus provides for His faithful flock abundantly!
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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