Modernism is not just one heresy, but a family of heresies. It can take many different forms. What unites them all is the conviction that the Church is "behind the times" and that it is up to the avant-garde, the more advanced and progressive members of the Church, to modernize the teaching of the Church.
Modernists dogmatize culture and relativize revelation. For the modernists, reason and self-determination are exalted while obedience to God's authority is cast down. The Church's traditional teaching appears as the enemy of the gospel of lust; the world says, "If it feels good, it is good; do what you think is right for you," but the Church says, "Do what is right in God's eyes; use your bodily nature to serve God and neighbor."
Modernism was opposed by Pius IX in the nineteenth century and was defined and condemned explicitly by Pius X in 1907 ("Pascendi Dominici Gregis"). He called it "the synthesis of all heresies."
The predecessor of Catholic Modernism was Protestant Liberalism in the 19th century.
- Liberal Protestantism began, in H. Richard Niebuhrâ€™s famous words, with the belief that â€œA God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.â€ Its logical culmination is found in the likes of Gary Hall, the Dean of Washingtonâ€™s National Cathedral, who just told The Washington Post that â€œI describe myself as a non-theistic Christian.â€
The Litany of the Catholic Buts
It is characteristic of the modernists to say, "I am Catholic but I disagree with the teaching of the Church." That's why I call them "Catholic Buts." Another name for them is "Protestants." Unlike classical Protestants, this group of Protestants want to stay in the Catholic Church. The most likely explanation for their becoming traitors-in-place is that they have come to understand from the history of the Protestant schisms that leaving the Church never changes the Church.
I am Catholic, but I disagree with what the Church teaches about:
- Sunday obligation
- sex outside of marriage (fornication)
- sex inside of marriage (natural family planning vs. artificial birth control)
- sterilization (tubal ligation or vasectomy)
- group sex
- monogamy, polygamy, polyamory
- in vitro fertilization
- same sex activity
- same sex marriage
- divorce and remarriage
- the ordination of women
- mandatory celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite
- the infallibility of the Church
- the infallibility of the Pope
- the divinity of Jesus
- the existence of Jesus
- fetal stem-cell research
- the Immaculate Conception of Mary
- the Virginal Conception of Jesus
- the Perpetual Virginity of Mary
- the Assumption of Mary into Heaven
- the Queenship of Mary
- the intercession of the saints
- the existence, presence, and power of the angels
- "All religions are just human inventions. It makes no difference what religion you are. God is love and He loves all of His children equally."
- "Let your children dwell in darkness. Religion is just a guessing game. Their guess is as good as yours. Let them invent their own religion. Don't stuff yours down their throats."
- In a twist on Robert Frostâ€™s old saw about vers libre poetry, a priest friend of mine once remarked, â€œBeing spiritual but not religious is like playing tennis without a net.â€
"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man" (The Dude, "The Big Lebowski").
Cee Lo changed the lyrics of "Imagine" in a performance on 31 December 2011:
Imagine thereâ€™s no countries
It isnâ€™t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And all religionâ€™s true.
The original was "And no religion too." When pressed by thousands of angry fans about this change, Cee Lo Tweeted: "Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted thatâ€™s all." In other words, Cee Lo is turning the word "true" as a meaningless sound.
I spent a frustrating hour a few days before that arguing with a young man whose conditioned response to my objections was, "That's just what you believe," as if that settled our disagreements. Like Cee Lo, he seemed to be saying that "if a proposition has been identified as a belief, then it the truth or falsity of that belief is beyond dispute. No one can challenge another person's beliefs, because they will do so on the basis of their own beliefs, which, by my definition, means 'neither true nor false.' Everything you say is only your opinion. Everything I say is only my opinion. There is no way to judge between one person's opinion and another's."
Identifying a position as a belief does not absolve us from the responsibility of deciding whether the proposed belief is true or false, good or ill. We cannot think about anything without believing in something.
Our modern culture is infected with the Cee Lo meme that we should respect all beliefs, even when they contradict each other, on the implicit assumption that "no one can know what is true or good." If (and only if) that underlying assumption were true and good, then the conclusion would follow that all beliefs should be treated as of equal worth, simply because they are beliefs held by necessarily ignorant human beings.
I find that position (belief) untenable because it is self-referentially inconsistent. Only if we know with certitude that there are no certitudes does it follow that all beliefs are equally respectable; but if we know with certitude that there are no certitudes, that knowledge testifies against the irrational generalization that "no one can know anything for certain."
People seem to be comfortable with this irrational position because it is so popular. It is not the result of careful, self-critical thought, but the abandonment of thought. From this false premise, any conclusion may be drawn, and this is the great payoff for sacrificing the intellect on the altar of self-will. Epistemic relativism licenses moral relativism.
Cee Lo and my friend are playing a game of Three Card Monte, momentarily disclosing their convictions, then covering them up again when challenged. I believe that they are themselves duped by mental conditioning and are themselves not aware of the inconsistency in their views. Their view is that "it is wrong for us to judge others' views." But that is itself a judgment of others' views. When confronted with this hypocrisy, they retreat to saying, "Well, it's just my belief, dude. You've got yours and I've got mine. My opinions are none of your business. Leave me alone." They reject all belief in knowledge, then hide the fact of that rejection by retreating into their own Fortress of Solitude, barring themselves from further discussion by chanting to themselves, "No one can judge another's beliefs, because no one knows anything with certitude." They are immune to the insight that they have just passed judgment on all human beliefs, at all times, and in all places. They doubt all other convictions but their own.
The German Roots of Relativism
- Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago, wrote his critical book, Natural Right and History, in 1953. That was mid-century and he was already standing against the currents of relativism. Already they were deeply at work. Here was a country established on the Declaration of Independenceâ€”on truths grounded in nature, objective moral truths, self-evident truthsâ€”and yet falling into the wave of relativism. Strauss spoke about the effect of German philosophy on Americaâ€”and here Iâ€™m paraphrasingâ€”that it would not be the first time that a country defeated on the battlefield imposed on the victor the yoke of its own thought (emphasis added). Here we defeated the Germans, and yet German philosophy in its worst forms was taking hold in this country.
- "Modernism" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
- "144 Theologians Confront Hierarchy."
- We Are Church
- Spiritus Christi.
- Community of St. Peter.
- American Catholic Council.
- Criticizing the current separation of ordained from laity has characterized Cookeâ€™s career for the past 30 years. Claiming that the shortage of priests will lead to a â€œliturgical starvationâ€ for an expanding U.S. Catholic population, Cookeâ€™s solution is to empower the laity and allow married priests to assume leadership once again. A member of CORPUS, an advocacy organization of former priests â€” mostly married â€” that lobbies for optional celibacy in the Catholic Church, Cooke is also a board member of Call to Action, one of the organizations spearheading the American Catholic Council. It is no coincidence that Detroit has been chosen for the site of the American Catholic Council meeting on Pentecost: For the dissidents, the first Call to Action Conference in Detroit in 1976 is kind of a Catholic Woodstock that these now-aging revolutionaries all speak of as the most hopeful time of the Church â€” a time when the â€œpromise of Vatican IIâ€ was most vivid to them. ...
- A few years ago, the activities of Call to Action were deemed to be â€œso irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faithâ€ that the Vatican publicly affirmed an Episcopal decree of excommunication for any member of the dissident organization. Claiming that Call to Action is â€œtotally incompatible with the Catholic faithâ€ and is â€œcausing great damage to the Church of Christ,â€ Cardinal Giovanni Battista confirmed that membership in Call to Action causes the member to be automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Despite this, many Catholic theologians teaching on Catholic campuses retain an active membership in Call to Action, openly participating in meetings and conferences.
"Call to Disobedience"
Roger Haight, SJ
The book Jesus Symbol of God contains statements contrary to truths of divine and catholic faith that pertain to the first paragraph of the Professio fidei, concerning
- the pre-existence of the Word,
- the divinity of Jesus,
- the Trinity,
- the salvific value of the death of Jesus,
- the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus and of the Church, and
- the resurrection of Jesus.
The negative critique included also the use of an inappropriate theological method. It was therefore deemed necessary to publish a Notification on the matter. ...
As a consequence, until such time as his positions are corrected to be in complete conformity with the doctrine of the Church, the Author may not teach Catholic theology.
In the statement, the Committee asserts that the â€œbasic problem with Quest for the Living God as a work of Catholic theology is that the book does not take the faith of the Church as its starting point. Instead, the author employs standards from outside the faith to criticize and to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God revealed in Scripture and taught by the Magisterium.â€ ...
The Committee contrasts Sister Johnson's assertion that the Church's names for God are metaphors that do not apply to the reality of God with the traditional Catholic understanding. The Church teaches, based on patristic and medieval theology, that certain names truly apply to God by analogy and are not merely metaphors.
â€œWhile Sr. Johnson is well within the Catholic theological tradition when she maintains that human language is never adequate to express the reality of God, she departs from that tradition when she makes the more radical claim that human language does not attain to the reality of God,â€ the statement says.
The Committee also criticizes her characterization of the Church's names for God as humanly-constructed metaphors that can be replaced by novel human constructions that are intended to help transform society in a positive way by promoting the socio-political status of women.
â€œWhat is lacking in the whole of this discussion is any sense of the essential centrality of divine revelation as the basis of Christian theology,â€ the statement says. â€œThe names of God found in the Scriptures are not mere human creations that can be replaced by others that we may find more suitable according to our own human judgment. The standard by which all theological assertions must be judged is that provided by divine revelation, not by unaided human understanding."