Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How To Recognize Modernism

At this point in time in the history of the Church, modernism is a common plague that we all face as Catholics. There are many heretics in the Church trying to destroy the faith. We have so many wolves in sheep's clothing right now lurking about the Church, that many may not even recognize the modernist error for what it is anymore. Below is an excerpt from a book of lectures called 'Modernism and Modern Thought' by Father Bampton SJ published in 1913. The quoted passage picks up after Bampton describes the proper understanding of Catholic dogma, summed up as follows, "The Church must formulate her doctrine in language clear and definite and precise, And truths so formulated are what are termed Dogmas. That is Dogmatic teaching, as Catholics understand it. Here we have clear notions upon such points as Revelation, the Church, Faith, Authority, Dogma." Then he proceeds to explain the scourge of Modernism.

Now Modernism undertakes to reconcile Catholic Christianity with modern thought. Well and good. If Modernism is to do that, the Christianity just described is what it has got to reconcile with modern thought. Let us see how Modernism sets about it.

In the first place, the Modernist begins with a philosophical assumption which those who have followed the last lecture will have no difficulty in recognising. That assumption is that all we know with intellectual knowledge is not reality, but only appearances. Phenomena we know -- the Modernist says -- but as to things, those we do not know, and cannot. That, as we saw in our last lecture, is the philosophy of Kant, pure and simple. And what follows from this, as was said then, is that we cannot know with intellectual knowledge God and the supernatural. So far the Modernist agrees with Kant.{1} But he agrees with him also in saying that we have another means of reaching God and the supernatural. Kant calls that other means the Practical Reason. The Modernist prefers to call it the Religious Sentiment, or Religious Experience.{2} And the Modernist argues in this wise: "Man, he says, feels within himself instinctively the need of the Divine. That need of the Divine excites in him a corresponding sentiment, a sentiment described by one of the Modernists as 'the ceaseless palpitation of the human soul panting for the Divine' (Buisson). That sentiment is the Religious Sentiment, and is God revealing himself to the soul of the man. Thus considered, that Religious Sentiment is Revelation. Further, the Religious Sentiment unites the soul with God, it is an 'inward recognition of God, a response of spirit to spirit.'{3} Thus considered, the Religious Sentiment is Faith."

Here, then, we have Revelation and Faith, as Modernists understand them, and observe the contrast with the Catholic notions of Revelation and Faith, as just described, In the Catholic sense, Revelation is something external, something that comes to the soul from without, from the oral teaching of Christ and the Church, and Faith is acceptance of that Revelation. In the Modernist sense, Revelation is wholly internal, a psychological experience, and Faith is the soul's response to it. To the Catholic, Revelation is statement, and Faith is belief in the statement made. To the Modernist, Revelation and Faith are experience.{4} To the Catholic, the content of Revelation, which is the object of Faith, is truth addressed to the intelligence. To the Modernist, it is truth addressed to the feelings, to the emotional faculty. That brings religion perilously near to Matthew Arnold's definition of religion: "Morality touched with emotion."

Again -- the Modernist proceeds -- God thus apprehended by the religious sentiment, is indwelling, immanent in the soul, and this doctrine of God indwelling in the soul and apprehended as revealing Himself to the soul, not by means of any external teaching, but through the soul's inward experience, is the Modernist doctrine of Vital Immanence.{5} Here we recognise Kant's influence again. It is true that theories of immanence are older than Kant. In one form or another they are as old as philosophy itself, as old as the Stoics, at least. And there is a theory of immanence which is true.{6} But Kant's was a false theory of immanence, and the Vital Immanence of the Modernists is derived from that.{7}

We have seen what the Modernist understands by Revelation and Faith. They depend upon Vital Immanence, and are reducible to Religious Experience. Now it is natural that a man should wish to give some account to himself of his religious experience, that he should wish to interpret it to himself, to translate his religious experience into words. And for this purpose his reason begins to work upon his religious sentiment. So the Modernist is able to say that his religion is not a mere matter of sentiment, but of reason as well. The Modernist then brings his reason to bear upon the religious sentiment, and tries to express in language his religious experience. He admits he can do so only in language very vague and indefinite, 'in terms quite inadequate to express his inner experience, in terms in fact little better than symbols of the religious experience within him, symbols that shift and change and need to be modified as his religious experience undergoes modification. These vague and variable statements are what Modernists call Dogma. They are "tentative and provisional formulas."{8}

Contrast this Dogma of the Modernists with Dogma as understood by the Catholic. To the Catholic, Dogma is something fixed, precise, something stable and immutable; to the Modernist, Dogma is "a tentative and provisional formula." But -- the Modernist continues -- to the man who believes, it is natural to wish not only to explain his faith to himself, but also to communicate it to others. The Modernist does so by means of the dogmas just described. These dogmas are the outcome of the religious experience of his individual conscience. By communicating these dogmas, he associates his individual conscience with the consciences of others, and this association of individual consciences forms the Collective Conscience. Here we have all the materials ready for the formation of a Church. For people who share in this Collective Conscience are bound together by a spiritual bond of union. It is natural for people so united in thought to form themselves into a society, and that society is the Church, as Modernists understand it,{9} and a Church, with Church authority, for the authority of that Church is the authority of the collective over the individual conscience. That is what Modernists understand by the Church and Church authority. Contrast that with the Catholic conception of the same. The Catholic says the Church was established by Christ. The Modernist says the Church is the product of the Collective Conscience. It is true he would add that this Collective Conscience was inspired by "the spirit of Christ living and developing in the life of the faithful collectively."{10} Very well; let us put it that way. The Catholic says the Church is established by Christ directly. The Modernist says it is established by Christ indirectly at most, for it is established by the Collective Conscience inspired by Christ, or by "faith in Christ."{11} Again, the Catholic says Church authority is centred in the divinely appointed vicar of Christ, Peter and Peter's successors. The Modernist says it is centred in the Collective Conscience. Modernism does not hesitate to say "the entire Christian people is the true and immediate vicar of Christ."{12} So the Church, it seems, is not hierarchical, the Church is democratic; democratic in its origin for it is a product of the Collective Conscience, democratic in its constitution, for its authority is that of the Collective Conscience over the individual.{13}

And thus Modernism has reached its goal. It set out to reconcile Catholicity with the spirit of the age, and it has done so with a vengeance. Democracy is the spirit of the age, and the Modernist has succeeded in reconciling the Church with democracy by proving to his own satisfaction that the Church is democratic in its origin, and democratic in its constitution. Modernism set out to reconcile Catholicity with modern thought, and it has done so after a fashion by interpreting Christianity in terms of Kant. It has adopted Kant's theory of knowledge, that we can know phenomena only. It has adopted Kant's theory of religion, that we cannot apprehend God intellectually, but only by some other method, whether you call it Practical Reason or Religious Experience matters little. And by such means it has succeeded in reconciling Catholicity with modern thought, but at what a cost! At the cost of identifying Catholicity with an unsound system of philosophy; at the cost of revolutionising the very notions of things so fundamental to Christianity as Revelation, Faith, the Church, Church Authority, Dogma; at the cost of turning Christianity topsy-turvy. Modernism is "another gospel which is not another." It is the Gospel according to Kant.

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