Is Modernism Dead?

Anymore words don’t mean much in the English language. “Modernism” is a word that I think had sharp meaning a century ago, but it seems like it’s just a vague reference these days. It’s diluted partially by other uses of modernism in the world, such as the art movement of the same name. When we talk of it in the Church, however, we refer to the errors identified by St. Pope Pius X.

As defined by Fr. Hardon,

MODERNISM. A theory about the origin and nature of Christianity, first developed into a system by George Tyrrell (1861-1909), Lucien Laberthonnière (1860-1932), and Alfred Loisy (1857-1940). According to Modernism, religion is essentially a matter of experience, personal and collective. There is no objective revelation from God to the human race, on which Christianity is finally based, nor any reasonable grounds for credibility in the Christian faith, based on miracles or the testimony of history. Faith, therefore, is uniquely from within. In fact it is part of human nature, “a kind of motion of the heart,” hidden and unconscious. It is, in Modernist terms, a natural instinct belonging to the emotions, a “feeling for the divine” that cannot be expressed in words or doctrinal propositions, an attitude of spirit that all people have naturally but that some are more aware of having. Modernism was condemned by Pope St. Pius X in two formal documents, Lamentabili and Pascendi, both published in 1907. (Etym. Latin modernus, belonging to the present fashion.)

Hardon, John A. Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980. Eternal Life Publications).

There is a lot to unpack there. However, let’s look at the parts:

  1. religion is merely an experience
  2. there is no objective revelation from God
  3. faith is “a kind of motion of the heart”

Modernists deny that the miracles in the Gospels (or anywhere else in scriptures) are real. It’s just a nice shade of stories to them, free to be interpreted in your own experience. They believe the testimony of the persons in the Gospels was just made up by well meaning people.

As far as the sacraments go, those are just symbols and common experience. Nothing miraculous to a modernist. Says Fr. Hardon, “Every condemned modernist error had its roots in a reinterpretation of Sacred Scripture.”

Pius X responded to modernism by promoting frequent Communion and devotion to the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

The miracles at Fatima would later give us two ideas: that the Blessed Sacrament is the body, blood, soul, and divinity or Jesus (the apparitions of the angel made this clear); and, pray the rosary daily. These two concepts: devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Mother – specifically in adoration and in saying one’s rosary daily are concepts shared in other mystics’ reports. Dom Bosco, for instance, saw the pillars to which the pope anchored the barque of Peter to be the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Mother. Akita gives a similar conclusion, but adds that Communion in the hand is an abuse of the Blessed Sacrament.

But how is modernism expressed today? Is it found in felt banners? Small group parish workshops that make people feel good? Lay participation in the Mass (such as extraordinary ministers and readers)? bad hippy music at church?

Modernism had to have a practical effect on the way its believers pray and act, right? To them, since it’s just experience (as opposed to Worshipping the God Who revealed Himself to us) and “movement of the heart,” then liturgy is just community, right?

And if it is only about community and fostering good feelings, then it’s important to welcome and participate to show that you are making a difference?

Lex orandi lex credendi and all that. If what we believe drives how we pray, then what does Mass look like for a modernist? Does a modernist need confession?

Contrast that with how a person who believes God is His own Divine Self (not a mere feeling) and rushes in to be with us, especially in the Blessed Sacrament and in the Sacramental life of the Church. What does that Mass look like?

How do they talk? What kinds of things does a modernist talk about? what is their vocabulary?

Tell me, is modernism dead today? Leave a comment below.

This article, Is Modernism Dead? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.

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