ND   JMC : Modernism and Modern Thought / by J.M. Bampton, S.J.

Lecture III

Modernism and Jesus Christ

IN our last lecture we compared the Catholic presentment of Christianity with its Modernist presentment. We compared Christianity -- as we Catholics know it -- in some of its main features, one by one, with corresponding features in the Modernist system: the Catholic notion of revelation with the Modernist notion of revelation; Catholic faith with Modernist faith; the Catholic conceptions of the Church, of Church Authority, of Dogma, with Modernist conceptions of the same. And, putting the two side by side, was ever a more irreducible set of equations? And this was the upshot of the Modernists' attempt to reconcile Christianity with modern thought. Their mistake, as was pointed out, was this. While professing to bring Christianity into harmony with modern thought, what they were really doing was to try to harmonise Christianity with that particular phase of modern thought represented by Kant and his school of philosophy. They started with a philosophical assumption of Kant, an arbitrary assumption, and upon that proceeded to build up their system of Christianity, with the result that might have been foreseen. The result was something that was hardly recognisable as Christianity at all, something they frankly admitted to be not so much a reformation of Christianity as a transformation,{1} not a reform but a revolution,{2} something, in fact, which it was better to call at once a New Theology; which was what its most candid supporters did not hesitate to call it.

It will occur to us at once to ask what was the necessity for this new restatement of the old creed? Why this upsetting of old beliefs, and this shifting of old landmarks, to the disturbance of men's peace in believing? The answer of the Modernists will be -- the advance of modern thought has rendered it necessary. Modern thought shows that Christianity cannot be maintained or defended on the old lines. We must remodel it to suit the mentality of the age. We must bring our Christianity up to date. For take Christianity, the Modernist proceeds, as explained in the good old-fashioned way in the last lecture. It was said to have originated in a revelation conveyed by word of mouth to mankind by the God-Man. That is the basis of the whole Christian system then expounded. Upon that basis you found your notions of revelation, faith, the Church, Church authority, dogma, as then stated. If that basis can be shown to be unsound, the whole Christian system, as you conceive it, comes to the ground. But it is unsound. A theory like this was all very well in mediaeval times, in the Dark Ages. But we know better now. Sounder methods of historical and scientific criticism prevail nowadays. The progress of modern thought has taught us that we have no intellectual knowledge of anything but phenomena, that our knowledge does not transcend the facts of experience. But the God-Man is not a fact of experience. Such a Being, then, is incapable of being known by us intellectually. Neither is a supernatural revelation, ascribed to such a Being, a fact of experience. Therefore such a revelation cannot be matter of intellectual knowledge. You do not know -- the Modernist would say -- from the nature of the case you cannot know intellectually anything about a God-Man, or a supernatural revelation imparted by Him. What, then, becomes of a Christianity founded upon the hypothesis that you can? Your basis is unsound. Reduce the facts as we know them to their proper proportions, and the facts are these. It is true there existed a Jesus of Nazareth, a man, a prophet, if you like to call Him so, "mighty in word and work." We do not for a moment deny His existence, nor His exceptional holiness of life and purity of doctrine, nor His extraordinary natural powers. These things belong to the realm of phenomena; they are facts of experience, and therefore ascertainable by human knowledge. The facts of experience go to make up history. This Jesus of Nazareth is, then, an historical figure. The Jesus of history I know. But, when you claim supernatural powers for Him, when you speak of Him as possessing supernatural knowledge, as imparting a supernatural revelation, when you talk to me of a Being Who wrought miracles, that is, departures from the laws of nature, of which laws alone I have experience, you are speaking to me of things that transcend my experience, of things outside the realm of phenomena. To be true to my Kantian principles, I must say I have no intellectual knowledge of such things. I simply don't know. But if you ask me how people have come to invest Him with this supernatural character of a God-Man, and claim to know Him thus, I have an explanation ready, and my explanation is this. Let it be remembered, in the first place, that the Jesus of history alone is the object of our knowledge properly so-called. But besides knowledge I have, as already indicated, another faculty, the religious sentiment, which, in so far as it unites me with God, I call faith. Now Jesus of Nazareth may be the object not only of my intellectual knowledge, but also of my faith. As the object of my intellectual knowledge, He is a mere man, a wondrous man indeed, but still a man in the natural order, for knowledge can take cognisance of nothing else. Regarded thus, I call Him the Jesus of history. But, as the object of my faith, He assumes a different character. Faith recognises the Divine in Him, that divine immanence, already mentioned as existing in all believers, but existing in Him in an exceptional degree. Faith gradually expands that divine element in Him, magnifies it, amplifies it, till it transfigures Him completely. Gradually legends gather round about Him, divine powers are attributed to Him, until at last He is crowned with the aureola of divinity, deified.{3} Is He therefore God? Not to knowledge. Knowledge, remember, takes no cognisance of the supernatural, of the divine. But to faith, in a sense, He is God. He is God not in fact, but in the belief of Christians. Christ the God-Man is a creation of faith. But, thus considered, He is to be carefully distinguished from the Jesus of history.{4}

Thus far the Modernist. And so we have the historical Jesus, a fact; and the Christ of faith -- what are we to call Him? A fact? Yes, in a sense. Not an historical fact, not a fact of experience, but a fact of human consciousness. But what sort of a fact is that? A fact of human consciousness means something that some human consciousness feels or experiences or thinks to be true. If the God-Man Christ is only a fact of human consciousness, He is a Being Whom some men have thought to be God.{5} But that does not make Him God. Facts of human consciousness may be theories, may be ideas. And so the God-Man Christ may be an idea. The Modernists do not hesitate to call Him so: "the Incorporation of an Idea."{6} A fact of human consciousness may be a legend, a myth, and so the God-Man Christ may be a legend, a myth, to be treated with as much respect as other legends, other myths; as an Homeric myth, or a legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And thus you have the Jesus of history, a fact, and the Christ of faith, a creation of the religious sentiment. The Modernists have done what St John foretold men should do: "they have dissolved Jesus" (1 John iv. 3).

But, if this theory be true, what becomes of the Christian system of revelation? We said in our last lecture that the Christian revelation was external, delivered by Jesus Christ, the God-Man, teaching His doctrine by word of mouth to mankind. But Christ, the God-Man; as Modernists conceive Him, is not a Being outside us delivering a revelation from without. He is immanent in the Christian community, revealing Himself progressively to its faith. The Christ of faith does not speak by word of mouth. The Christ of faith reveals Himself to the religious sentiment within. But it is certain that the immanent Christ, Christ within, never revealed in this manner the Church, its constitution, its authority, dogma, the whole Christian scheme of revelation, as Catholics understand it. No, of course not, the Modernist rejoins. "Faith in Christ never meant merely faith in a teacher and his doctrine, but an apprehension of His personality as revealing itself within us."{7} But faith in Christ as a teacher, and in His doctrines, is the very basis of Catholic Christianity. On the Modernist showing, this basis is unsound. And, therefore, according to Modernists, the structure raised upon that basis is unsound. The Catholic conception of Christianity comes to the ground, together with the Catholic conception of Christ.{8} "The Catholic conception of Christ as God," the Modernists tell us, "conveys no more meaning to the mind than the proposition, Christ is x."{9}

We asked at the beginning, why must the faith of the multitude be disturbed by these new doctrines? And we were told that this was necessary for the purpose of harmonising Christianity with the "latest results of criticism."{10} For Modernism, we are told -- and this is its official description -- "is the effort to find a new theological synthesis consistent with the data of historico-critical research."{11} Here in passing let me enter a protest against the glib use of such terms as scientific and unscientific, historical and unhistorical, critical and uncritical, and the rest. Nowadays, if you want to damn an opponent's case beyond all hope of redemption, you have only to label it unscientific or unhistorical or uncritical. It is not necessary to have any clear idea of what these terms mean. They are useful to make an opponent look foolish and ignorant. And so we are told that Catholic Christianity is unscientific and unhistorical and uncritical, because it does not agree with the "latest results of criticism," and the "data of historico-critical research." And here we have got the "latest results of criticism," and the "data of historico-critical research." And what do they amount to? To this: that you cannot know anything but phenomena and the facts of experience. But that is what Kant taught nearly a hundred years ago, and something very like what the Sophists of ancient Greece taught two thousand years before him. Why not say at once that Modernism is the effort to find a new theological synthesis consistent with the philosophy of Kant? So it seems Catholic Christianity is unscientific and unhistorical and uncritical because it does not agree with Kant's theory of knowledge. Now we know where we stand. But was it worth while to disturb men's faith for the sake of telling us something that most people who knew anything about the subject knew already? "Ye senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" St Paul asked the Galatians (Gal. iii. 1). If that question were put to the Modernists, "Who hath bewitched you?" the answer would have to be, "Immanuel Kant."

The mention of the Sophists of ancient Greece reminds me of two of the old Greek philosophers, Stilpo of Megara, and Crates of Thebes. Crates, meeting Stilpo one day in the street, asked him whether he believed that the gods really cared for man's worship. "Hush!" said Stilpo; "don't ask such questions in public, but in private." The Modernists might learn from that pagan philosopher a lesson of reticence and of consideration for the faith of others. If they wish to bemuse their own minds with sceptical speculation on the most sacred subjects, let them keep it to themselves, and to the privacy of their own studies. Let them leave the minds of others content in their belief.

It was said in our opening lecture that the chief thing to be feared in Modernism is its spirit. In this lecture we have seen what the spirit of Modernism is with reference to the character of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God the Son made man. St John has condemned in advance that spirit in words which might have been expressly intended for the Modernists. Modernism, it has been shown, distinguishes between Jesus and Christ; the Jesus of history, and the Christ of faith. "Every spirit," St John has said, "that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God" (1 John iv. 3). And again: "Who is a liar save him who denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 John ii. 22). The spirit of Modernism, St John would tell us, is a lying spirit. It is not of God.

{1} "Life of Fr. Tyrrell," ii., p. 360.

{2} Ibid., ii., p. 404

{3} " L'Evangile et L'Eglise," Loisy, p. 139. "Through Scylla and Charybdis," Tyrrell, p. 290.

{4} "Simples Réflexions," Loisy, p. 158.

{5} See Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J., "The Modernist" C.T.S., p. 30.

{6} Life of Fr. Tyrrell," ii., p. 397.

{7} "Life of Fr. Tyrrell," ii., p. 403.

{8} "The Divine institution of the Church is based on the Divinity of Christ, but the Divinity of Christ is not a fact of history, but a conception of faith." "Autour d'un petit livre," Loisy, p. 162.

{9} Supplement to Hibbert Journal 1909. "The Point Issue," by Fr. Tyrrell.

{10} "Life of Fr. Tyrrell," ii., p. 403.

{11} Ibid., ii., p. 336.

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