The Modernist Theologian – Foundational Concepts

The portion of Pascendi expounding upon the Modernist theologian is by far the longest and most involved section. It can be roughly divided into two parts. The first spells out the foundational concepts on which Modernist theology is built. The second speaks on other, non-foundational topics of Modernist faith. In the interests of length, this post focuses on just the foundational concepts.

Foundational Concepts

Modernist theology is built around three concepts: theological immanence, theological symbolism, and divine permanence.


Immanence is the coming of God into the world. Every theistic religion has a theory of theological immanence. In Catholicism, God is immanent—that is, He comes into the world—through Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

In Modernism, God is immanent in man.

This false conception of immanence flows from Modernist philosophy and belief. Per Pascendi:

The philosopher has declared: The principle of faith is immanent; the believer has added: This principle is God; and the theologian draws the conclusion: God is immanent in man. Thus we have theological immanence. (§19)

Of course, immanence in the Modernist system is not quite that simple; it can mean different things, depending on the Modernist. Some say that “God working in man is more intimately present in him than man is even in himself” (§19), which is a wording that can be understood in a doctrinally orthodox way. Others say that divine action and the action of nature are the same thing, which squashes the supernatural. “Others, finally, explain it in a way which savors of pantheism, and this, in truth, is the sense which best fits in with the rest of their doctrines.” (§19)


In Modernism, theological symbolism refers back to the secondary propositions that form the basis of dogmas. Pope St. Pius X explains it just as simply he does immanence:

So, too, the philosopher regards it as certain that the representations of the object of faith are merely symbolical; the believer has likewise affirmed that the object of faith is God in himself; and the theologian proceeds to affirm that: The representations of the divine reality are symbolical. (§19)

Remember, these representations are the basis of Modernist dogmas.

Modernist theology takes a utilitarian view of symbols; these propositions are to be used by the believer as a help to their faith, and only used to the degree they are a help. These symbols are subject to change, both in terms of whatever the current magisterium defines and at the behest of the believer.

Divine Permanence

Divine permanence, according to the Modernist, is related to, but different from, immanence. This principle allows Modernists to claim divine origins for just about any notion under the sun. Pope St. Pius X does not explicitly state a definition of this principle, but rather indicates it by an example (§20).

Modernists cannot believe that the Church and the sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself. Their agnosticism precludes it, for Christ was just a man. Their immanence precludes it; God comes from within, and is not imposed externally. Their law of evolution and their history, not discussed as of yet, also preclude it.

But even in the face of this, modernists use the principle of divine permanence to claim that the Church and its sacraments were founded by Christ.

You see, according to the Modernist, all Christian consciences were virtually included in the conscience of Christ, as a plant is included in its seed. In this way, all Christians live the life of Christ. And according to faith, the life of Christ is divine; so if the Christian lives the life of Christ, the life of the Christian must be divine. And since Christians produced the Church and the sacraments, then their origin is ultimately in Christ, and they are divine.

In this way, the Modernist can justify any action of a Christian should they choose to.

*This post is part of a series on Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Click here for more posts on Pascendi and Modernism.*