JMC : Old Truths, Not Modernist Errors / by Norbert Jones, CRL

Old Truths, Not Modernist Errors

I. Modernism is Based upon Agnostic and Pantheist Philosophy, with a Spurious Catholic Label

ONE of the most important Encyclicals that, perhaps, for centuries has ever been given to the whole Catholic world by the Vicar of Jesus Christ is the one condemnatory of the errors of Modernism by the Holy Father Pope Pius X. This Encyclical, by its clear grasp of the subtle errors hitherto concealed from the unwary by Modernist writers, has quite spoilt their cleverly devised plot to destroy Catholicism -- nay, all Christian doctrines retained by non-Catholics -- by simply undermining them. One is not surprised at their discomfiture and chagrin, so evidenced by letters to the Times and other newspapers generally known for their partisan hostility to everything Roman. Their plot to destroy Catholicism is so ruthlessly exposed in the Encyclical. 'Hinc illae lachrymae!'{1}

The Papal Encyclical 'Pascendi,' of September 8, 1907, is a most timely warning of the existence of this dangerous heresy, destructive of all real and solid religion. It is a public exposure of its false tenets from their very first principles, and it is an authoritative condemnation of them by the visible head of Catholic Christendom -- a condemnation that, for all practical purposes, is final for all Catholics, so that none can bold Modernist doctrines and remain within the Catholic Church.

What, it may be asked, is Modernism? and what does the Holy Father condemn in that system? The Pope and the Catholic Church do not condemn modern truth, but Modernist error; not scientific research conducted in a truly scientific spirit in quest of truth, along the right lines, but false and so-called science, misnamed as Modernism, for its errors are not modern, but rather antiquated, most unoriginal. It is the old German false philosophy of Kant, taught a century and a half ago, borrowed and decked out in a Modernist dress, so therefore not modern at all. Modernism is not science any more than darkness is light or falsehood truth.

Science, despite what Modernist apologists may say to the contrary, is the greatest friend and ally of the Catholic Church. Not only have her gifted sons excelled in every branch of its wide field, and their labours been rewarded with her blessings, as true history bears witness, but the Church has repeatedly, in her great OEcumenical Councils of Trent and the Vatican, proclaimed against the obscurantist gainsayers the two God-given energies of man, freedom of will against Lutheran 'slave-will,' and the power of human reason to investigate not only natural truth, but the supernatural truth in its fundamental basis -- namely, the existence and power and wisdom of God against the errors of 'traditionalism' and 'blind faiths' (Rom. i.). She has by her supreme authority exalted the true rights of the human intellect, and opened up to it every path of knowledge, every field of exploration.

Modernism, as we will prove later, seeks to drag down human reason, exalted by the Church, and 'modernize' it into a sort of glorified sense. We will describe more clearly what is Modernism. It is a modern theory of explaining and defending the vital truths of faith and revelation on a basis of agnostic and almost pantheistic philosophy borrowed from ancient times, and thereby undermining the very foundations of Christianity. To properly understand the system we must, as the Holy Father's Encyclical says, grasp its false and unphilosophical basis. This will show at once to every unbiased mind how the whole system of Modernism that is based upon it is rotten to the core; how, instead of being scientific in any sense ancient or modern, it is more worthy of the name of 'Know-nothingism' -- a term well known among American Catholics as descriptive of a certain section of ultra-Protestantism. Of course, the Modernist claims the dignity of being a philosopher. He has his pet system of Kantian philosophy to build upon, which he wants people to think is original and modern, but it is neither.

On this Philosophy he founds his faith; by it he interprets all truth; it is the groundwork on which he explains all history, sacred or profane it is his guide in criticizing the Holy Scriptures the life and person of Christ, the Catholic Church and her doctrinal sacramenta, and disciplinary systems. Whatever he finds in Christianity at variance with his favourite system of Kantian Philosophy must be swept away as a corruption and disfigurement of Modernist 'truth,' so called.

Modernist Philosophy teaches that beyond the external objects of sense that surround us human reason has no Power nor right to pronounce upon truth. All that goes beyond them is called the unknown and unknowable. God is the Supreme Unknown and Unknowable God cannot be known by man, not even by means of the visible world He has created. All the Christian evidences relied upon in the past to prepare and dispose men's minds towards belief in Divine revelation are to be set aside as obsolete and out of date. Modernist agnostic science practically conducts God with honour to its frontiers, thanking Him for His provisional services in past times, which now it no longer requires within the realm of natural science.

Modernism would quite agree with the agnostic who wrote, saying: 'We can no more know anything about God by visible things than a squirrel can travel back to his native woods by merely revolving inside a cage.'

But, one may justly ask Modernists why, then, do you nevertheless believe in revelation, or profess so to do? Whence do you derive your faith? Faith comes from within man, he will answer not from without. And so does revelation. This the Modernist explains by his theory called 'vital immanence,' or sentiment, or the Divine element in man. Man has within his soul an impulse and tendency towards religious belief of some kind or other. When man follows up this impulse it begets faith, and this faith is the same thing as revelation. Like every other form of life existing in the world, so 'vital immanence' being a form of intellectual life, living and active, must undergo evolution and change, it must grow and develop; it cannot by its very nature, as being life, remain stationary Therefore, as faith and revelation change in man, so faith and revelation outside of man must also be liable to change. In other words, there must be a new and more up-to-date method of explaining and justifying man's belief in its dogmas.

Truth will and must grow and develop intrinsically. It is included in Nature's inexorable laws of evolution. But errors also will grow to obscure or disfigure it, and so it is with Christian truth and Catholic doctrine. Outside of man, however, are God and the miraculous and the mysterious elements of religion. What has Modernism to say about these? They may be true, but certainly they are not historically or scientifically true. They are quite the reverse. They must no longer be considered by scientific minds to have ever taken place. We really know nothing about them. They have come to us, not from outside, but from inside ourselves, individually and collectively considered. They are the results of the 'vital immanence' of men in times past and present.

In answer to this false philosophy of Modernism we set forth the contrary truth, from our Holy Father's lucid Encyclical, as standing out in bolder relief than ever by contrast.

1. Modernism, viewed from its unphilosophical foundations, is neither modern nor is it Catholic but the opposite of both. How can it be called modern when it is more like an ostrich decked out in peacock's feathers, and making gullible folk take it for a peacock? Kant's Philosophy is rather ancient, nearly two centuries old, and he borrowed his system from Celsus and Porphyry, long ages ago refuted by the learned philosophers of the Catholic Church. To take Immanuel Kant's system and hide it under new Modernist verbiage, may pass as original and clever to shallow minds, but to any tyro in philosophy it is neither original nor in any way a brilliant achievement. All that glitters is not gold. It is trading under a very spurious label. The label is excellent; none could be better than Catholicism. Modernism, however, has no more right to it than has Mohammedanism or Judaism to the term Christian. It resembles a piece of German silver bearing a spurious hall-mark, or, better still, it is like a certain number of Nonconformist clerics writing D.D. after their names until found out to have no right to the title, having obtained it at 'Bates' University.'

2. Whatever Modernists may say in depreciation of Scholastic philosophy, one thing is clear to those who know anything about it: if the miserable philosophy of Modernism be accepted, human reason is restricted to purely sensible phenomena, and declared essentially impotent to go beyond the things of sense. Scholastic philosophy, however, considers reason in the exalted place she occupies as superior to the senses, and able by her own light to prove the existence of God from created things; it can show also the spiritual nature of the soul and its existence after the death of the body. Though not professing to prove mysteries of faith by reason, it can by the principles of its philosophy, of their own nature immutably true, prove that mysteries are not contrary to reason. Scholastic philosophy, though in one sense medieval, is in another sense new, for it can meet successfully error, both ancient and modern. It holds the field to-day, and is likely so to do in the future. To change it for the miserable system called Modernist philosophy would be tantamount to throwing away all certitude in the sphere of reason and lapsing into the regions of agnosticisn and intellectual suicide. Modernists may sneer at Scholastic philosophy, but anyone that has studied it to any extent at all and contrasted it with Kant's vague system and his nebulous phrases borrowed by Modernism, will see that the sneer applies more truly to Modernist so-called 'modern thought.' The object of Scholastic Philosophy is intelligible enough 'The science of things through their ultimate causes, so far as such science is attainable by the LIGHT OF NATURE' (St. Thomas Aquinas).

3. We deny that God is unknown by the light of human reason. He is known by means of the visible things He has made. We set against Modernism the trenchant words of St. Paul to the Gentiles, which apply to their Modernist followers, in the paths of agnosticism. 'What is known of God is manifested in them. For the invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power also and His Divinity, so that they are inexcusable. Because when they knew God they did not glorify Him as God . . . but became vain in their thoughts . . . Professing themselves wise (Philosophers), they became fools' (Rom. i. 20, 21, 22).

4. God can never be excluded from the domain of science, so the Modernist dogma that science is atheistic is inadmissible. We can no more leave God out of the sciences than we can shut out the light of the sun from our earth. Every branch of science, directly or indirectly, manifests in its own way the Divine Mind that is its ultimate end. As the whole of Nature, so the science of Nature is like a stream flowing from God, the Ocean of all truth and of all knowledge. Science, then, is not atheistic, it cannot be successfully studied without final reference to God's place in it. 'Vain is the mind of man in which is not found the knowledge of God' (Wisdom).

5. As to the Modernist theory of the Divine in man, or, as they prefer to call it, 'vital immanence,' it is one of those very subtle half-truths which in reality are the greatest falsehoods. The 'immanence' of St. Paul is one thing, the Modernist 'vital immanence' is quite another. It is not only that God is in us, but we are also in God.{2} God is present everywhere by His essence, presence and power, which is the same as saying -- (1) There is no place where He is not; (2) He is not inactive, but is always Preserving creation, 'upholding all things' (Colossians); besides, (3) He is continually creating anew. But He is absolutely distinct from all creatures whatsoever They are not a part of God in any way, for this would be pantheism. Then, again, it is quite true there is the mystic life of Christ living in the souls of men; there is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in holy souls. But God and Christ and the Holy Spirit are essentially Divine in themselves, and infinitely distinct from the souls of Christian believers. What is Divine in man is only so in a purely created and participated sense, not in an absolute sense. It is a presence by means of grace, which is a created supernatural gift bestowed on the possessor, either making him holy or helping so to do, according as it takes the form of sanctifying or actual grace. This is not God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit; it is quite distinct from the Divine Being.

Faith comes from without, being a supernatural gift bestowed on man. Without this no man by any interior impulse or 'vital immanence' (!) could believe than he could see at all, any more without the organs of vision, or reason without an intellectual faculty. Revelation is absolutely distinct from faith, as the objects seen by man are distinct from the eyes that see them. Revelation is both the whole ensemble of Divine mysteries and supernatural realities existing in the supernatural works; and the Mind of God, unfolding or revealing or unveiling them to the mind of man, to believe in by means of the supernatural gift of faith. So much for the false theory of Modernism as a so-called philosophy. We may be assured that the Catholic Church will triumph over this newest and most subtle of heresies -- Modernism. Already the triumph is within measurable distance, for as the result of the Papal Encyclical, it is quite clear that Modernists as such have no longer any place in the Catholic Church. No longer can they teach their deadly errors from within. As long as they uphold Modernism they can neither be Catholics nor lawfully receive Catholic privileges. The voice of Blessed Peter, speaking through his successor Pope Pius X., has torn off the mask of Catholic under which Modernism has disguised itself so long and so badly.

{1} 'Hence those tears.'

{2} Thou, O Lord, art in us' (Jeremias xiv.); 'In Him we live and move and have our being' (Acts xvii. 28).

<< ======= >>