In these ideological conflicts, the “other” is often grouped together into a homogenous block in order to condemn it more easily. One thing I have noticed about many traditionalists (I listened to a sermon by Bishop Donald Sanborn today in which he took on Pope Francis and Traditiones Custodes) is the use of the word Modernism as coined by the condemnation by Pope Pius X. When Modernists and Modernism are actually studied, one will find little more than a euphemism to describe an opposition to strict Scholasticism. There was a stream of so-called Liberalism that sought to demythologise the Scriptures and deny the possibility of miracles, as one would find in the works of Rudolph Bultmann (who was a Protestant) and Alfred Loisy among others. In fact, Modernism sought to come up with an apologia against Protestant Liberalism that would secularise and discredit Christianity as a spiritual religion.
Here are some old articles I have written about the subject:
- Romanticism and Modernism,
- An Adjusted View of Modernism,
- Anglo-Catholicism, Modernism and Aggiornamento.
If Modernism is simply not wanting to restrict theology to scholastic calculation, then I am a Modernist. However, the word seems to have little meaning, because we all live in “modern times” and have always done so throughout history.
Here is a fine article about Modernism: Christian Modernism by Bernard M. G. Reardon who also wrote Religion in the Age of Romanticism, Cambridge 1985. I quote an important section of this article:
Bishop Sanborn also kept a straight face as he affirmed that Luther invented Mass facing the people. This would not explain why Lutheran churches have eastward-facing altars, and any altars facing the people would have come from 1970’s Roman Catholic influence. Getting one’s facts right does help for being credible.
When I was ordained a deacon at Gricigliano, I was asked to pronounce the Anti-Modernist Oath of Pius X. I did so sincerely, because I believed that Modernism was identical to the kind of theological liberalism in the nineteenth century that sought to secularise the Church and abolish the supernatural. Since then, I have discovered many things, among which was the intellectual sloppiness and ideology of Pius X and Cardinal Mery del Val (the author of Apostolicae Curae of 1896 – oh yes!).
One of my memories of Dr Ray Winch was his sympathy for what he termed as “true Modernism”, the attempt to defend the intellectual credibility of Catholicism by expanding the philosophical and historical basis of our studies. On this basis, he left the Roman Catholic Church and became Orthodox.
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I touch upon the subject of l’Intégrisme or what Pope Francis calls the rigidity of the traditionalists. Oversimplifying, I would perceive it to be a very deeply rooted ideology in reaction to the French Revolution in an attempt to replace existing political systems in Europe and other parts of the world by the Church having authority over leaders of countries. This ideology would finally be called by the euphemism Social Kingship of Christ mentioned in Quas Primas (1925) of Pius XI. To be fair to Pius XI, he was more than concerned with the rise of Fascism and Nazism and sought to deflect people’s misplaced loyalty to their political leaders by embracing Christ as their King. However, words are all too often understood as euphemisms, in some cases meaning the opposite of what they say.
The tightening occurred when Pius IX had to flee Rome for Gaëta in 1848 because of the increasing hatred of the Church in a revolutionary movement to some extent influenced by that of France and various masonic groups like the Alta Venti dei carbonari. Towards the 1860’s, the paranoia and conspiracy theories became palpable and the “converted” (liberalism to intransigence) Pius IX led to the infallibilist movement largely led by the Jesuits. I have the book by August B. Hasler, How the Pope became infallible, 1979, and found that extremely fascinating.
After a relatively “cool” pontificate of Leo XIII (1878-1903), Pius X (Guiseppe Sarto) resumed the tightening programme against theologians who were not strict Thomists, because they would be perceived to be a part of the “conspiracy”. The condemnation of Anglican Orders, though under Leo XIII, was a part of this ever-tightening atmosphere.
Here are some old articles, especially about the Sodalitium Pianum of Msgr Benigni (not Bugnini!).
- Sodalitium Pianum.
- The mask comes away….
- La Bête Noire.
- A Few Links to the “Intégrisme” Theme.
- An Excellent Explanation of French “Intégrisme”
This “tight” Catholicism movement faded from the death of Pius X in 1914 and the two world wars. Pius XI, the Pope of between the wars, turned his attention to the survival of the Church in the face of Fascism. Pius XII was a diplomat and did his best to keep the Church out of the same trouble as the Jewish communities of Europe. Integralism (far-right politics under the control of the Church) was waning long before the election of John XXIII who had been in trouble as a young priest with accusations of Modernism.
Unfortunately many traditionalists have tried to continue and revive this inquisitorial movement. Bishop Sanborn, somewhere between sedevacantism and sedeprivationism, distinguished three main groups of traditionalists: the ones recognised by Rome, the Society of St Pius X and the sedevacantists. All hung on this bishop’s notion of Modernism with which pre-Vatican II Catholicism, as he termed it, had no basis of dialogue or compromise. Unfortunately, this version of traditionalism promotes a message that has no credibility with thinking people. We are back to the real theme of Modernism that was faced by Pius X as a great conspiracy bent on destroying the Church, when the reality was quite the opposite.
Personally, I have been alienated from traditionalist Roman Catholicism, even though I was in one of the more moderate communities of the Ecclesia Dei scene. I have spoken with clergy and lay people of all tendencies. This is not the way to ensure a future for Catholicism.
In a way, Pope Francis is not wrong, but his response to “rigid” traditionalists has no credibility. Attacking from the point of view of the liturgical rite is exactly the wrong response. The problem is one of political ideology and an excessively narrow methodology in terms of theological study. Also, Pope Francis, and probably the quasi-totality of his Jesuit order, are working from a perspective against which the Modernists sought to defend the Church, her orthodoxy and her spiritual life. Not all traditionalists are “rigid”, and this aggression against the situation of the old liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church seeks to punish all for the excesses of a minority, albeit a powerful clerical minority.
I have followed the history from the Enlightenment to the Revolution, the tendencies of French Romanticism to seek a hypertrophy of the Pope’s spiritual and temporal power. From then we have the excesses of Rome from about the 1860’s to the 1900’s, a period of masonic-inspired aggressive anti-clericalism in France and Italy, the attempts to defend intransigent Catholicism, the Ressourcement movement from the 1950’s perceived as the “fruits of Modernism” (where there was no connection between the two). Finally there was Vatican II, the excesses of the late 1960’s to the death of Paul VI and the three main traditionalist reactions. It is tragic that Benedict XVI abdicated, because he was bringing so much hope for a new current of Catholicism that was neither of the Left nor the Right, but spiritual and mystical.
Finally I returned to Anglicanism, but in its Continuing form. I am no longer trapped in these contradictions of incoherence. I serve the Catholic Church in a very limited way as a priest, contributing as much as I can to Catholic education and study.