Modernism in a Nutshell, Based on Pope Saint Pius X's Anti-Modernist Encyclical, Pascendi

Modernism in a Nutshell. Religion must change with the times by John Vennari, from the August 2003 Catholic Family News

Modernism, according to Pascendi, starts with the false notion that we can only believe what we can see: what is visible to the senses. If we can't see, feel, taste, touch or smell it, then we cannot know it is there. Thus, the existence of God, the soul and the supernatural cannot be known. These things are not visible to the senses, so we can know nothing about them, nor even if they exist. This "I- don't- know-ism" is called "Agnosticism".

As a result of this Agnosticism, a God "out there" can never be a direct object of study. Nor can any credence be placed in the concepts of "miracles," "supernatural" or "revelation," since these things, according to the Modernist, cannot be known. Thus, the old religion of a God "out there" is to be treated as of no value.

But the modernist can see that religion exists. He sees men the world over leading moral lives in compliance with their religious creed. He sees the houses of worship, hears the religious hymns, smells the incense. This must be explained somehow. Since he has already determined that religion does not come from a God "out there" -- because this is unknowable -- he concludes that all religion comes from inside of man. Man has a religious sentiment, a need for religion, and constructs a God and religion to fulfill this inner need. All things divine actually come from within man and have their source from within man. This "divine- within-man" is called "Vital Immanence". This religious sentiment is often connected with an outstanding historic figure, for example, Jesus Christ. For the modernist, Christ is a historic figure to whom we can attribute nothing supernatural. But the believer, by "faith" subjectively transfigures Christ into a God-Man. Thus, the historic Christ is transfigured by "faith," but also disfigured by "faith," since the "Christ of faith" is a distortion of the "Christ of history," who, the Modernists claim, is not divine. Nor did He work miracles. The "divine elements" attributed to Jesus Christ were only what the believers -- or consensus of believers -- of the time attributed to Him to satisfy their inner need. For the believer, this is his "experience" of God.

Thus, all of Scripture must be re-studied "historically" if we want to separate the true "facts" of history from the "fables" that the scriptural writers imposed in the text to satisfy their "faith". Scripture still has a place in the Modernist system, since it serves to stimulate the believer to reveal to himself the "faith" that is inside himself. By logical extension, the modernist will hold all religions as equally valid, since every religion springs from the "Vital Immanence" within man. Every religion is a believer's legitimate "experience of God". A "church" is simply a group of people who adhere to the same religious feelings. So, all religions are good, providing that they satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. There is no "one true Church". No, all religions are divine, because they come from the source of all things divine, which is the religious sentiment of man. The modernist, by necessity, must be ecumenical.

What then are dogmas? "Dogmas" are simply the expression of the convictions that come from the inner needs of religious people at a given moment of history. And if the times change, and if the inner religious needs of the people change, then "dogma" must change accordingly. There is no immutable religious truth.

What then is the duty of the religious leader? According to modernism, a true religious leader is not someone who pronounces unchangeable dogmas from a God "out there". Rather, here's how it works. At a given moment of history, religious men will have a general sentiment of what is good or bad, true or false, moral or immoral, religious or irreligious. The duty of the religious leader is to tap into the general consensus of what men are feeling about religion and articulate it into a dogma. Years later, when the religious consensus changes, then the religious leaders must tap into the new general sentiment and adjust dogma accordingly. In the modernist system, there is no such thing as unchangeable religious truth.

In fact, change is a necessary element for the Modernist. Since change is a sign of life, and religion comes from the life of man, then religion, if is to be alive, must change if it is to be a successful expression of the evolving religious sense. This is called the "Evolution of Dogma". But this Evolution of Dogma must not proceed too fast. Thus, in religion there must be a progressive force that forges ahead with the latest ideas, since religion must keep changing or die. But there also must be a conserving force, an authority which keeps the general religious teachings from going too far beyond its "primitive vital principle" and thus cutting the religion completely from its roots.

This is why, to give a contemporary example, a warning from a progressivist such as Cardinal Ratzinger does not trouble an extreme-modernist like Hans Küng. Both are serving the opposing sides of the dialectic that Modernism accepts. Küng is the ultra-progressive force, and Ratzinger is merely the conserving force at this stage of the evolutionary process. In time, the views of Küng might be acceptable to Vatican officials, but not yet, since Ratzinger's present duty is one of conservation: to keep the continuous aggiornamento from moving too fast [1]

"Tradition" for the modernist, is nothing more than the former expressions of the collective feelings of a religious group throughout the ages. But the modernist will insist on a "living tradition" that casts aside old dogmas and practices if they are not considered relevant to modern man. Likewise, "sacraments," for the modernist, are merely the outward sense- expression of the inner religious conviction.

It is easy to see why modernists are so dangerous. They use Catholic words such as "Church," "Christ," "Tradition," "Eucharist," "Revelation," "Scripture," but redefine these terms in accord with their modernist system. A modernist may sound Catholic, since he employs Catholic terminology. But this is a deceptive stratagem, since he does not tell his readers or hearers that he has invested Catholic terms with new meaning. This is why Pius X called modernists "cunning", "wily," "mischievous," "audacious," and other names to describe clever criminals. This is also why Pius X said, "Thus in their books one finds some things which might well be approved by a Catholic, but on turning over the page one is confronted by other things which might well have been dictated by a rationalist. [2]

Ambiguity and imprecision of language are likewise modernist stratagems, since the modernist "needs room" in slippery religious jargon to work in his novel tenets. This explains why Modernists despise the scholasticism of Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose precise language, employed by the Church for centuries, leaves them no wiggle room. Pius X rightly said, "there is no surer sign that a man is tending to Modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for the scholastic method. [3] (Not surprising, Cardinal Ratzinger in his memoirs openly boasts of his boredom with Scholasticism, calling it static and "too-ready made”) [4]

The three pillars of Modernism, then, are Agnosticism, Vital Immanence and Evolution of Dogma. The rest of the modernist system flows logically from these tenets. It is a cohesive system. The most tangible aspect of modernism, visible to the average man, is that religion must change for the sake of changing times.

Thus, the modernist is all afire for updating, novelty and endless change. Continuous aggiornamento is his battle cry. The Latin Tridentine Mass cannot be considered alive for it has not changed for centuries. For the Mass to be living, it must be redesigned and modernized. The Rosary has been fifteen decades for eight centuries. How could anyone find it interesting? Thus for the Rosary to be "alive" it must be updated, so let's add 5 more decades. Perhaps in a few years we'll add five more. After all, change is a sign of life!

Gregorian Chant was used in churches for 1500 years. How boring, how monotonous. No one will come to church if you sing those old hymns. It all must be replaced with pop music in the sanctuary, complete with strumming guitars and throbbing rhythms: the music of "modern man". Old baroque church interiors must be gutted and replaced by the theory-driven, shapeless art and architecture of modern man. What could be better than a church that looks like a combination of a Masonic temple and an insecticide refinery? If dogma is to be "living" it must be subjected to the "new insights" of modern theologians. "Outdated" Catholic Tradition must be replaced by "Living Tradition".

Thus, the ideal modern Catholic religion, one that shows that it is alive, must have a New Theology, New Mass, New Code of Canon Law, New Catechism, and New Evangelization. And every one of these "new" items will contain aspects that in some way or another, contradict the traditional ("static") Catholic teaching and practice. [5] This new religion must also peacefully co-exist with other religions. It must have a new policy of "dialogue and proclamation". We proclaim our own Catholic religion because we think it's the niftiest, and perhaps others who hear us, who also think it's nifty, will become Catholic too. But for those who do not wish to become Catholic, that's fine. We simply dialogue with them, rather than try to convert them, since all religions are good because all religions spring from the inner religious sentiment of man. Nothing is more offensive to the modernist religion than to declare Catholicism to be the "one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation".

And now that we Catholics finally understand all this, after two-thousand years of thinking we are the only true religion, then let's have a pan-religious prayer- meeting at Assisi, let's have a Lutheran-Catholic Accord, let's get "smoked" in a Native American sweet- grass ritual, let's have Jewish-Catholic dialogue, let's kiss the Koran. And since the syllabi of Pope Pius IX and Pius X are time-bound documents that might have been "anchors" for a previous age but are no longer relevant to modern religious sentiment, let's have a Vatican II that is a "counter-syllabus"[6] to usher in this new modernist, ecumenical orientation, the result of which will be a new springtime!

This is the insanity that Pope Pius X combated, the insanity in which we now live. Holy Saint Pius X, pray for us.


  1. Under Pius XII, Ratzinger's, Congar's and Rahner's views were considered progressive and heretical. Now, they are falsely considered as "mainstream, conservative Catholicism".
  2. Pascendi, No. 18, from Popes Against Modernism Errors, p. 196.
  3. Pascendi, No. 42, from Ibid.
  4. Si Si No No, English translation, March, 1999.
  5. For example, the Vatican's 1993 Balamand Declaration says that the notion that the Schismatic Orthodox must return to the Catholic Church for salvation is an "outdated ecclesiology", thus defying the thrice-defined dogma (ex- cathedra) that "outside the Church there is no salvation".
  6. Both Cardinal Ratzinger and Yves Congar called Vatican II a "counter-syllabus" against Blessed Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors. They used the term approvingly, in that they believe modern historic conditions now called for a "counter-syllabus". Thus, they believe the false notion that what was "true" for the 19th Century is not "true" for the 20th Century.

Reprinted from the August 2003 edition of CFN
Posted May 2, 2011
Catholic Family News
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