The Modernist Theologian – Topics of Faith

Since theologians talk of faith, Pope St. Pius takes §§21-28 to delve deeper into topics related to faith.


Dogma has been discussed earlier in the encyclical. First the Modernist believer has religious impulses. These impulses prompt secondary reflections that eventually evolve into dogma. Theological speculation, while not itself Modernist dogma, can help “harmonize religion to science” and “defend religion from without” (§21).


Modernists view sacraments as the result of “inner impulses”. (You will see time and time again in Modernism that everything starts from within, from personal impulses.) Two particular impulses lead to sacraments: a need to make religion outwardly sensible, and a need to express religion. But sacraments are not efficacious; according to the Modernist, they do not transmit grace. Sacraments are to religion what catchphrases are to ideas. In Pius X’s time, Modernists did not go so far as to say that “the sacraments are instituted solely to foster the faith”, but only because it contradicts the Council of Trent. It is, however, a better expression of their belief.

Sacred Books

As mentioned earlier, Sacred Books in the Modernist system are a summary of striking experiences of the type found in every religion. But the content of these books cannot contain what Catholics know as Divine Revelation. God speaks in these books only through the immanence and divine permanence of the believer who wrote them. Any inspiration is reduced to more of a poetical muse than the guidance of the Holy Ghost. (§22)

The Nature of the Church

To the Modernist, the Church springs from two needs:

  • A personal need of the believer to share his faith with others (bonus points if the believer has had a striking immanent experience)
  • The need of collective Christians to form a society to promote the common good.

Combining these two needs, Modernism defines the Church as “the product of the collective conscience” (§23) of the individuals whose belief depends on the first believer, Christ (according to the principle of divine permanence).

From this starting point, Modernists go on to twist the nature of the authority of the Church as follows. The Christian collective comes together in doctrine and worship. Every society needs an authority to guide what binds them to the proper common end. The Catholic Church thus has disciplinary, dogmatic, and liturgical authority. But this authority does not come from God. Because the Church’s starting point is in the collective consciences of believers, its authority also comes from its believers. And this misconception of authority not only comes from the religious sense of believers, but is subject to that same religious sense. So modernism must suffer a tension between the authority of the Church and whatever religious sense a believer claims.

The Church’s Disciplinary Authority

Modernism extolls the separation of Church and State. Since the Church is geared toward spiritual ends, and the State is geared towards temporal ends, the Church must not influence the State. Each citizen must ignore his Catholicism when working for the common good politically; to bring Catholicism into it would be an abuse of the Church’s authority.

This separation of Church and State is not a two-way street. The Church cannot meddle in the affairs of State; the Church must be subject to the State in temporal affairs. External acts of religion, such as the reception or administration of the sacraments, are considered temporal affairs in the Modernist system. The State thus stakes a claim over territory held by Church authorities, who must now be subject to the State in these matters.

The Church’s Doctrinal and Dogmatic Authority

According to the Modernist, no religious society can really be such until the religious conscience of its believers are the same, and they adopt the same formula. In order to bridge any of these gaps, the Modernist turns to the Church’s magisterium. Their job with regard to doctrine and dogma is to discover the common religious conscience of believers and come up with formulas for it, as well as impose it on believers once it is determined.

So instead of proclaiming the truths given to the Church by Jesus through his Apostles, the magisterium instead must bow to the whims of the popular conscience. Individual consciences must be allowed to express themselves. Anathematizing heretics is, in this model, an abuse of authority. (§25)


In Modernism, everything is subject to change, and must be changed. And by everything, they mean everything: dogma, Church, worship, sacred books, even faith. This evolution is “practically their principle doctrine” (§26).

Pope St. Pius X hones in on their evolution of faith. Faith, so the modernists say, started out primitive. Everyone had the same sense of it, because it was undeveloped. Evolution developed it by increasing the collective conscience’s religious sense in two ways. First, extraneous elements that came from family or country were eliminated. Second, the religious sense was increased through the tension described above between the faithful and Church authorities. So, for example, the prophets brought forth in their lives something attributed to divinity, and their new religious experiences fell in harmony with the religious needs of their surrounding societies. Christ, in this model, is the biggest example of this; as a prophet, that divine something grew and grew until people started calling him God.

As faith evolves in the modernist system, so do worship and the Church. Worship must accommodate the customs of the people, and must retain the value of their current practices. The Church has to adapt to historical conditions, and live in harmony with existing forms of society.

Inner Needs and Necessities

Nearly everything in the Modernist system stems from the inner needs and impulses of believers. Even in Modernism, though, they cannot be left to run evolution all by themselves; they need to be controlled by tradition, lest the progress they spur be separated from the primitive vital principle. Tradition is thus conserved by Church authorities, and progress is thus spurred by the inner needs of the laity. The individual consciences, as outlined earlier, act on the collective conscience, and the Church authorities must dialogue and accommodate it.

In practice, Modernists see themselves as individual consciences which need to bring their new understandings from their inner necessities to the whole Church. This justifies all sorts of behavior on their part. When they are punished for this, they envision themselves as martyrs for the cause, as responding to their inner impulses is their sacred duty.

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