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. ('Modernism and Modern Thought' by Father Bampton SJ)
If it is not clear by now, let me clarify for you. The Church in our time has been overrun by modernists. This includes a large number of priests, bishops, theologians and yes laypeople. Due to poor formation, even many well-meaning priests, bishops and theologians frequently fall into modernist errors. Most Catholics at this time in the Church are unaware of anything the Church taught or said before 1962. When is the last time you have seen a theologian refer to the Canons of Trent? Have you heard any modern theologians refer to the encyclicals of Pius X like 'Pascendi'? The only theological works cited by modern popes, bishops, priests and theologians are those written after the 1960s, specifically the documents of Vatican II. You would think the Church didn't exist before the Second Vatican Council. As we know much of the theology that has been passed on to us since this time has been ramshackle at best and downright heretical at its worst.
All of the popes for the better part of 100 years, until the reign of Pope John XXIII who incorrectly prophesized a sunny and warm horizon for the Church, warned us about the noxious errors of modernism. No one listened! In this day and age we need to avoid modernists at all costs, and refute their errors when we are given the opportunity. Modernism is easy to spot if you know what to look for. There are many, but let me give you my top 4 indicators of what to look for to spot a modernist. If you have others feel free to comment in the combox.
1. Aggiornamento /Updating- They think the Church needs to constantly update her teachings to adapt to the modern culture. They do not believe that old theological definitions are immutable, and thus they always need to be updated. If you hear someone speak in such terms, you can bet your bottom dollar you are reading or listening to modernist. Pope Pius X warned us about this. The Jesuit priest Fr. Bampton writing in 1913 sums this up well, “To the Catholic, Dogma is something fixed, precise, something stable and immutable; to the Modernist, Dogma is "a tentative and provisional formula.” When you hear someone saying that dogmatic definitions are to be avoided, that they are inadequate and must be replaced by an “encounter”, look out. Theological definitions are how we come to understand God and are able to have a relationship with Him, they are not obstructions. This is how God communicates to us on an intellectual level, so that we can exercise our freewill to love Him as He has revealed Himself to us. This idea that we need to constantly update theology and liturgy is the first indicator that you should look for.
2. Development of Doctrine- They proclaim a perverted idea of “The development of doctrine.” Anyone using this term should be scrutinized closely, because most have no clue as to what it really means. Yes, there can be a legitimate development of doctrine. One that comes to mind is the deeper understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist over time, leading to the defining of Transubstantiation at Trent. So we came to understand more fully how the person of Christ is present in the Eucharist. Notice the substantial teaching of the Church never changed, it just brought us to a deeper understanding of the immutable reality of Jesus Christ being truly present. A false notion of the development of doctrine would be Francis’ recent attempt to hornswoggle us with his new teaching on capital punishment. More specifically his new theological position that the death penalty is an assault on human dignity. This is obviously something that is opposed to 2000 years of Catholic teaching. Most Catholics however have no idea, since the bishops over the past 40 years have done nothing but attack the death penalty largely based on the deceptive scheme known as “The seamless garment.” If you have read the CDF letter that accompanied Francis’ Catechism change, you can clearly see through the modernist smokescreen of a supposed legitimate development of doctrine. A change is not a development, a development is understanding an immutable truth more fully. Something cannot be against human dignity today, while it was a perfectly moral and just action the day before. Is it possible for Johnny to add his two apples to Mary’s two and have five apples today, when yesterday we had four when Johnny and Mary each brought two apples? I think not. This is my second indicator of a modernist, they proclaim that a change is really just a development.
3. Biblical Chicanery- A majority of them think that Jesus’ words and miracles are only stories based on approximations of early Christian communities. They often dismiss miracles with naturalistic explanations. For example, they will propose that Jesus did not really multiply the loaves and fish, it was only community sharing, and that was the real miracle. They will say that Jesus didn’t really say there was a narrow gate and there are few that enter. They propose that it was something made up later, and if He did say something like this, it was only a threat discourse. He said it just to scare everyone into paying attention to Him. He would never advocate eternal damnation. In other words, many of them read the Bible in a naturalistic, secular manner, rather than in the constant Tradition of the Church. Some do so in a more nuanced manner, others in a very open manner. For example, if you hear someone tell you that Adam and Eve are not literal figures, that they are only mythological figures in Scripture to depict a theological lesson, then you are dealing with a modernist. A true Catholic would say that Adam and Eve were real people to which original sin came into the world, through real concrete sinful act. So my third indicator is looking for people who play fast and loose with the Sacred Scriptures.
4. Resistance to Thomism- Modernists do one of two things with St. Thomas Aquinas. They either despise him, or they try and hijack him. Modernists do not like true Thomistic theology. It is because it is based on reality and immutable truths. So they defer to modernist theologians of our time that are rooted in false philosophical principles such as those of Kant and Heidegger for example. Watch out for those who mock Thomism. If they say Thomism is dry and outdated and closed in on itself you should see a this as a red flag. On the other hand, if they are smart enough to realize that bashing St. Thomas is a dead giveaway to their modernist tendencies, they will try and hijack him. They will cherry pick something out of the Summa and twist it to mean something that St. Thomas would never have imagined. Amoris Laetitia comes to mind in which some theologians foolishly claimed it was completely "Thomistic". This incorrect use of Thomas is usually accompanied by some proclamation of a "development of doctrine". Look for the two of them served up on a theological cold plate side by side.
There are several other indicators that I could list, but I think these are the top four that are easy to spot. The key is to listen closely to what they say, and what they avoid saying.
In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences. It goes without saying that if anything is met with among the scholastic doctors which may be regarded as an excess of subtlety, or which is altogether destitute of probability, We have no desire whatever to propose it for the imitation of present generations (Leo XIII. Enc. Aeterni Patris). And let it be clearly understood above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and We, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of Our Predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, We do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the Superiors of religious institutions. Further let Professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment. (St. Pius X, Pascendi)