Modernism and Integralism

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:

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:

The use of the word Modernism in restricted reference (hence the capitalization of its initial letter) to a movement of a theologically “modernizing” or liberalizing character in the Roman Catholic Church at the turn of the twentieth century has already been alluded to. But it should at once be said that to describe Roman Catholic Modernism as a movement at all is somewhat misleading, as it had little cohesion, and those to whom the designation “Modernist” has usually been applied do not in any sense constitute a school. As the most famous of them, Alfred Loisy (1857–1940), expressly stated, they were only “a quite limited number of persons” who individually shared “the desire to adapt the Catholic religion to the intellectual, moral and social needs of the present time.” But the exact determination of their overall aim differed from one writer to another, according to his particular interest. Thus the only satisfactory way of studying Modernism is not to attempt to impose upon it a schematization like that of Pius X, by whose encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis it was condemned in 1907, but to examine and assess each author’s contribution to the cause as a whole. The countries where Modernist tendencies were most in evidence were France, Italy, and England. Germany, rather surprisingly, was less affected, and in the United States it had no real following at all.

The task that, in one way or another, the Modernists undertook was that of presenting the world of their day with a defense of Catholicism, in both its doctrinal and institutional aspects, which could be accepted as intellectually plausible. In other words, what Protestant liberals had done for the Reformation tradition they would attempt for the post-Tridentine, and their procedure was often no less radical. Thus Loisy, in The Gospel and the Church (1902), approached the whole problem of historical Catholicism—its dogmas, its hierarchy, its cult—along evolutionary lines as a natural growth responsive to spiritual and social needs and determined by the continuously changing cultural environment. A direct reply to Harnack’s What Is Christianity?, Loisy’s book denied that the essence of Christianity could be located at any one stage or identified with any single element within its historical life. The entire historical life of Christianity, he maintained, alone provided the data for a true—because empirically grounded—estimate of what the Christian religion is. In this context, Catholicism will be seen to be justified—so Loisy argued—by the sheer fullness and diversity of its content. Similar arguments were used by the Anglo-Irish Jesuit George Tyrrell (1861–1909), notably in his posthumous work Christianity at the Cross Roads (1910).

The peculiar difficulty facing the Modernists lay in seeking to validate a form of Christianity that appeared fatally vulnerable to historical criticism. Indeed, they felt that the main pressure upon faith came from precisely this quarter, and the familiar type of Catholic apologetic, tied as it was to biblical fundamentalism, was incapable of meeting it. Moreover, the question of dogma also raised other issues, of a philosophical order. Catholic philosophy, by official direction, meant Thomism, although more often than not Thomism conceived in a narrow, unhistorical, and scholastic form. A more dynamic religious philosophy was wanted, according to Modernists like the French Oratorian Lucien Laberthonnière (1860–1932), a disciple of Maurice Blondel (1861–1949), as well as to the Bergsonian Édouard Le Roy (1870–1954) and to Ernesto Buonaiuti (1881–1946), protagonist of the Italians and author of The Program of Modernism (1907). For a more dynamic philosophy they looked not to Kant, as Pius’s Pascendi had alleged, but rather to the voluntarist tradition of much nineteenth-century French thought and even to American pragmatism. Tyrrell and Laberthonnière both stressed the role of the will in belief and were disposed to understand doctrine in terms of an ethical symbolism. Le Roy’s account of dogma (Dogme et critique, 1907), in particular, represented it primarily as une règle de conduite pratique (“a rule for practical conduct”), without intrinsic speculative content. Thus the doctrine of the divine personality means in effect “Conduct yourself in your relations with God as you would in your relations with a human person.” The vindication of dogma, therefore, will rest on its capacity to induce the experience in which it is itself grounded.

However, the Modernist apologetic, whether historical or philosophical, won no approval at Rome, and the movement was summarily suppressed. In 1910 a specifically anti-Modernist oath was imposed on the clergy, or at least those engaged in teaching. The result of the Vatican’s action was to retard Catholic biblical scholarship, as well as practically all non-Thomist theological thinking, for many years to come.

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.

I don’t think I can now say much more that is not already in my old posting Modernity and Christianity. As a former student of Fribourg University, I wrote Reflections on Ressourcement Theology.

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.

* * *

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!).

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.

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5 Responses to Modernism and Integralism

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you, here, for the Reardon link, among other things. The last chapter of Anthony Trollope’s Clergymen of the Church of England (1866) gives a striking ‘everyday’ glimpse of some of what Reardon discusses. But I note he does not mention Baron von Hügel, who is both often discussed in an ‘Modernist’ context and disinguished from other ‘Modernists’ – and who had an Anglican impact (e.g., on Evelyn Underhill). I have not read much of him, but (to generalize) have a favourable first impression of what I have read. Reardon mentions the “reductionism” of Kant, and I think forms and degrees of reductionism often characterize all sorts of ‘-isms’ (pre- as well as post-‘Enlightenment’, and even what I have read of the peculiarities of ‘Peronism’ – which I have seen brought to bear in interpreting Pope Francis).

    Historically, Mass facing the people is one of the forms of ad orientem – where the Church (e.g., St. Peter’s Basilica) has the (principal) altar in the west, but seems to have been given an historically-uninformed twist in much Novus Ordo practice.

    • Re. your last paragraph. I have always been impressed with the work of Msgr Klaus Gamber (very close to Fr., Archbishop, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Benedict XVI) and his Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems And Background. He also wrote Zum Herrn hin, specifically about the orientation of the altar. As you speak Dutch, you might be able to read German. I have the French translation Tournés vers le Seigneur. I don’t know of any translation into English. It needs to be translated directly from German. It is a small book but of great value in this question.

      • William Tighe says:

        There is much about the orientation of the altar in this English translation of some of Msgr. Gamber’s writings:

      • Thank you. Zum Herrn hin goes into more detail, but the Gamber book in English is very good on this and other questions.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you both! I picked up a second-hand copy of Dr. Gerhardus Albertus Wellen’s published Nijmegen dissertation, Theotokos, on the iconography of the image of the Mother of God in the Early Christian era – for whatever reason published in 1961 by a famous Dutch publisher in German – dipped into it, found I could read it, and ended up reading the whole book – which persuaded me, it’s always worth my while trying a German book! So, I will go looking for Zum Herrn hin to see if I can read it easily, too (while being aware of what I can try in English, if not!).

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