Modernism is a silent killer of souls.
The problem with modernism is that unless one has been trained in where to look for it, it is fiendishly difficult to notice. Its effects are obvious:
- religious indifferentism
- seemingly constant change in religious practice
- loss of faith
Modernism’s practices, how it produces these effects, are much more obscured. A modernist does not write articles titled “Subvert The Catholic Faith With This One Weird Worldview”. A modernist does not walk about town with “Modernist” emblazoned on his t-shirt. A modernist hides his methods.
A sainted pope exposes them.
In 1907, Pope Saint Pius X gave to the Church a great gift in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, subtitled On the Doctrines of the Modernists. This encyclical lays bare the beliefs and tactics of modernism in a systematic way. Further posts will dive more deeply into Pascendi; for now, here are a few warning signs of modernism.
Modernist Warning Signs
Now the word “tergiversation” is not a common word; I had not seen it until reading through the English translation of Pascendi. It essentially means equivocation. And equivocate is what modernists do best. In a piece of modernist writing, one passage will be full of orthodoxy; the next will seem to be heresy, but be worded in such a way that it cannot quite be pegged as such. In this way, the modernist makes the less orthodox statement incrementally more and more acceptable.
Pope St. Pius X explains their duplicity thusly:
Hence in their books you find some things which might well be expressed by a Catholic, but in the next page you find other things which might have been dictated by a rationalist. When they write history they make no mention of the divinity of Christ, but when they are in the pulpit they profess it clearly; again, when they write history they pay no heed to the Fathers and the Councils, but when they catechise the people, they cite them respectfully. (par 18.)
Love of Novelty
Modernists use tergiversation as a tactic to introduce novelty. In the modernist system, dogmas can evolve to suit various “needs” of the faithful. Pope St. Pius X did not mince words on this topic:
with that new system of theirs they are seen to be under the sway of a blind and unchecked passion for novelty, thinking not at all of finding some solid foundation of truth, but despising the holy and apostolic traditions, they embrace other vain, futile, uncertain doctrines, condemned by the Church, on which, in the height of their vanity, they think they can rest and maintain truth itself. (par. 13)
In contradiction to what modernists would say, Pope St. Agatho has told us “nothing of the things appointed ought to be diminished; nothing changed; nothing added; but they must be preserved both as regards expression and meaning.” (quoted by Pope Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos.)
Tendency to Reform
Because modernists love novelty, being dissatisfied with the Church as it is, they try to reform her in a host of areas. Philosophy, theology, history, worship, morals - no area of the Church’s life evades their attempts at reform.
One of the more obvious signs of modernism is their reform of philosophy. Modernists loathe scholasticism, and promote modern philosophies as alternatives. Pope St. Pius X went so far as to say “the passion for novelty is always united in them with hatred of scholasticism, and there is no surer sign that a man is on the way to Modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for this system”.
There is much more to be said about modernism, but hopefully this brief introduction will be of assistance. The next time someone cries for reform, eschews scholasticism, or tergiversates, look to Pascendi to see how to combat their error.