Modernism: The Roman Infection
The greatest problem in the Catholic Church today is Modernism. After infecting Rome, it has scourged the world.
Modernism is the chief error of our times. Pope Pius X rightly called it ‘synthesis of all heresies’ (Pascendi 39). Accordingly, the Popes of Rome wrote strongly against this error until the Modernist Captivity of the Roman Church in the 1960s. Because of this, and its ever-present reality in most Roman churches, it is the chief concern of traditionalist Romanists. However, it is not a uniquely Roman concern. The problems presented in Pius X’s Pascendi remain the key errors afflicting all who call themselves Christians today. For example, it is because of Modernism that the Anglican Communion has fractured beyond recognition, and those fractures (as seen in the recent Mere Anglicanism catastrophe) have fell into fractures. And much could be said of those who try to drag women into the minor orders and right into the sanctuary in Holy Orthodoxy. While guising their quest in local practices in the early centuries of the Church (which look nothing like their mission), it fundamental is found in a desire to conform theology to the sentiments of the time.
The Markers of Modernism
Modernism is the fruit the modern era's relocation of authority from God to man. As the importance of man becomes over-emphasised, the need of man to conform to God becomes clouded. Eventually, the relationship between God and man is perverted. God does not give faith to man; man creates faith for his vision of God. The best term for this defining characteristic is vital immanence.
With this re-focus of authority, religious truth cannot be found by man looking outside of himself. That would mean a recognition of the supremacy of Truth over man. Instead, it is sought
in vain outside man himself. It must, therefore, be looked for in man; and since religion is a form of life, the explanation must certainly be found in the life of man.
It is by means of man developing a need for God that he then develops his faith. Faith is merely the collection of religious sentiments, based upon one’s life experiences.
Surely we have seen this in some people we have met. A co-worker who is ‘spiritual but not religious,’ who wants to believe in something higher, so he believes it. Or someone who likes the idea of ‘peaceful’ Buddhism, so he decides that it is truth. Each man becomes a truth-maker. This faux-faith can then no longer be prescriptive but only descriptive; God is made in man’s own image. However, this is not the worst part.
The Modernist Strategy
The strategy of Modernism makes it insidious. It is not direct, and it is not even rude. It takes orthodox language, empties it of its orthodox meaning, fills it with heretical meaning, and acts like nothing happened. Modernism seeks the retain the institution but ditch its purpose for an heretical one. Therefore, to identify Modernism, it is essential to look not for what is said, per se, but what is omitted. Is language being used in an orthodox manner, or are the words being used for a novel theology?
Its final form evolves when it is joined to Darwinianism. From this comes the evolution of truth. As Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange notes, to discover truth no longer becomes an external exercise (an external, objective revelation). Instead, society reflects upon itself. Then, if a doctrine is current (if it matches the times), then it is true. He explains this re-definition of truth when he writes that truth is ‘no longer the “adequation of intellect and reality” but “the conformity of mind and [human] life”’ (Where is the New Theology Leading Us?, 2). Therefore, the Modernist theologian’s chief concern is with having an up-to-date theology that matches the social progress and conforms to modern (now post-modern) standards.
The Problem of Penitence
Modernism destroys the very foundation of religion: God’s self-revelation to man and man’s failure to perfectly accept it. If revelation is not an objective, timeless communication by God to man, that ought to be believed because it is divine, then there is no reason to rest everything else on it. The just man cannot reform himself unto the law of God. Instead, the law of God is reformed unto the law of man.
This destroys the role of penitence in the Christian life. The foundation of the Christian life is ‘repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). This was a point rightly understood even by Martin Luther who rightly explained, Christ ‘willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance’ (Thesis 1). This is likewise preached by the Catholic Church, manifest in the mode of her liturgy and proclaimed in her Great Council of Jerusalem:
But now being judged by her, and called to repentance, and guided into the way of her salutary precepts, though they may be still defiled with sins, for this only, that they have not fallen into despair, and that they cleave to the Catholic and Orthodox faith, they are, and are regarded as, members of the Catholic Church.
Repentance recognises the law of God, man’s insufficiency, the need for faith in God’s promises, and Christ’s righteousness which comes by that faith. All those diminish man and lead him to perfect service to God. In contrast, in the Modernist framework, the entire life of God should be one of repentance, as He conforms to man's religious sentiments (God forbid!).
The Roman Infection
The problem of Modernism has been the ‘orthodoxy’ of Rome for about almost a century now. Her rites were changed to accommodate the new ‘truth.’ In the modern Roman rites, the role of repentance and the reliance of man upon God is further undermined. For example, in the modern Roman ‘Liturgy of the Hours,’ the strongest declarations of God’s law and man’s need for repentance—the imprecatory psalms—are omitted. Likewise, in the Novus Ordo Missae, the unworthiness of man is de-emphasised. This is seen in the stripping of the canon and the replacement of the offertory with a meal blessing prayer.
This explains Rome's latest restriction on the Traditional Latin Mass. Simply, the lex orandi and lex credendi must fundamentally change once the times change. The conformation of doctrine to man, symbolised in Vatican Council II, makes the previous liturgies and doctrines incompatible to today’s liturgies and doctrines. And they make the mode of the Christian not fidelity to what his Fathers have passed on to him but scorn for his Fathers.
The Global Impact
Man, fundamentally, is incapable to obey the law of God on his own. In fact, left in our original state, we would be unable to do anything pleasing to God, for, as St. Paul teaches, ‘whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23) and ‘without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). As our catechisms teach,
That a Christian therefore be acceptable to God, and his Works pleasing before him, it is necessary that, First, he have Faith in God; and Secondly, that he guide his Life by that Faith.
It is only by receiving the gift of faith that man can be made right with God. However, even here, the focus is always outward. The Christian lives his life recognising his constant disobedience. He lives knowing that the law of God condemns his sin. Therefore, the Christian’s only hope is to cling by living faith to Jesus Christ who stands in between man and judgement. By this repenting faith, man live in constant trust of the divine promise that:
Blessed are they whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins were covered up. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never reckon, nor is there guile in his mouth.
Psalm 32 (31):1-2
If faith ever becomes inward-focused, then it is a situation worse than that which the Reformers and Orthodox today now face. It strikes at the heart of Gospel itself.
The Catholic Church proclaims the same faith as of old, continuing this proclamation unchanged and unchangeable. Even the state mission of the Reformation was not to do anything fundamentally new but to call Rome back to the primitive church.
However, as the error which has inebriated Rome progresses, and the world becomes infected, post-modern man becomes accustomed to Modernism and its fruits, and the ability to really go back to the sources and live in the Orthodox Catholic tradition is retarded.
For example, if one wants to develop an orthodox Book of Common Prayer, but bases it on a Modernist prayer book, how effective can the new one be? If one resurrects old heresies of female ordination under the old name of ‘deaconness’, where does that lead the Church?
The Christian man must be on guard to be in that necessary state of penitence: to conform himself, his doctrines, and his liturgical principles to the law of God. Anything less is to scorn the witness of the Scriptures, the light of the Fathers, and the care of the Church. Anything less than this is a liberal ‘Protestantism’ or ‘Orthodoxy’ or ‘Catholicism’ not worth the name.
As Christian men bring the faith in every age, and interacts with ‘old enemies’ (so to say), Modernism must be on the mind. It is the sin of the times. It is opposed to God and His Word. Therefore, it must be combatted.