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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Deconstructing Modernism: Defending Pascendi in 1908

Written by  Rev. Simon FitzSimons
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Herbert Spencer Herbert Spencer

Part III:
The Modernist Quest to “Save” the Church
(Read Part I here & Part II here)

“To the modernist there was but one remedy—the old faith must be remodeled. Catholicity must be reconstructed on a new basis… Indeed, adaptationists would seem to be the proper term to apply to them in this view of their work; for all their efforts would seem to lie in the direction of an adaptation of the Church's organism, its machinery, its discipline, its supernatural influences and effects to modern conditions as they regard them. They would apply its supernatural powers naturally. They would retain all the light and heat of the sun with all its marvelous effects, while discarding the sun itself.”

- Rev. Simon FitzSimons -

But there was more even than the work of exemplifying the workings of a great natural principle in this skillful manipulation. There was the task of saving the Church. For the first time in her history - in the opinion of the modernist - the indestructible Church stood in actual danger of total destruction, and the modernist alone seemed to comprehend the danger. These men, wiser than their generation, with a keenness of perception greater than that of their fellow-men, realized the awful peril of the situation. They beheld - or seemed to behold - science (modem science), with all its inventions, discoveries, incontrovertible facts and marvels of every kind, to say nothing whatever of its numberless hypotheses and theories, rushing with irresistible force against the Catholic Church.


They beheld leagued with science the now powerful forces of agnosticism and the higher criticism. They had seen how all other forms of Christianity had gone down before the fearful coalition. They took all the vaporings of science for granted. All its empty boasts were for them established facts. They imagined they saw the whole mountain mass of modem science threatening, bearing down upon the Church, carrying with it inevitable, overwhelming destruction. They alone seemed to perceive the danger. They foresaw the inevitable doom of Catholicity unless something was done. They resolved at once to do what they could to save Catholicity, and they flung themselves unhesitatingly into the breach to rescue the Church from the disastrous fate which had already overtaken all other religions. They beheld the storm threatening, gathering wrath and fury as it came, and they resolved to do what in them lay to avert the impending destruction.

It must, however, have been an anxious moment as they stood for the instant aghast with horror. Were all the glories of the Christian Church to be obliterated in a 'twinkling? Was that wondrous power in Christianity that had leavened and fashioned human society and moulded and kneaded the masses of humanity into Christian civilization and refinement to go for nought at last? Must that marvelous organization of the ages - the Church itself - the pride, the admiration, the wonder, the glory of the Christian world­ must it, too, pass? Had all its so-called truths no meaning after all? Was even Christ Himself to be a failure - to pass the way of other men? So marvelous an entity, so glorious an organization as the Church-could it not be saved? Such a splendid personality as that of Christ - must that, too, go?         

Surely in the world’s history we meet with but too few personalities such as that of the Nazarene - could not so lofty an ideal be preserved to humanity? If not for the Godlike, at least for the manlike. Surely such potent factors in the history and development of human society as had been Christ and His Church should not be surrendered without a supreme effort. They had loomed up so in the history of all human phenomena and had towered so loftily above all other human organizations and personalities, their influence had so dominated all history since their appearance in the world, nay, before - were it not a thousand pities to permit them to be lost to the world in the universal wreck and ruin of things religious? Could not their power, influence, character be rescued from the universal disaster of all things?

So unequaled a prestige, so benign an influence - surely they must be preserved to the world at any cost. And then, too, why instead of warfare should the Church not sue for peace? Even if religion were to make sacrifice and admit a compromise? To be sure she must not sacrifice everything. And then why the Church should be ever and always regarded as the sworn enemy of science? How glorious if we could only join hands in all the vagaries of modern folly! What even if they are vagaries? See the tremendous advantage that would accrue to the Church from a slight concession­ and then, too, disaster otherwise awaited her. Could not a compromise be made by the Church with the higher criticism, the agnostic philosophy and the leading (but unproven, it is true) hypothesis of modern science? Surely it was madness not to make for peace. Could there not be discovered a via media where all should meet in harmony and friendship and ploughshares and pruning hooks should supersede the sword and the spear? Surely such an enterprise were worthy of all their powers.

Accordingly they cast about for the means of salvation for both Christ and His Church. One thought seems to have predominated in all their search after the means. In the coming change which was inevitable, could not the Church be so revolutionized that it could fall naturally into its place among scientific institutions and thus put an end to the conflict forever? Could it not be made to fit in with the new theories of the universe, the new modes of thought, the new and advancing sciences? Could it not be made to exemplify in its own existence the truth of the survival of the fittest, and at the same time retain all its former power for good amongst mankind? It was, indeed, a bold thought - a desperate resolve. But what if once made and carried to successful completion, the Church should by such an arrangement be successfully placed beyond all reach of harm for all future time, and its entire lustrous history, its dogmas, it authority, its institutions, its sacraments, its faith, its supernaturalism, nay, its very Founder - all be placed henceforth and forever beyond all reach of danger?

Here, indeed, was a task worthy of the powers of such men as they - a work destined to ensure the gratitude of all future time. At all events, one thing was certain - unless some exertion was made, and that quickly, the Catholic Church must pass with all else. Its glory, its grandeur, its splendid prestige, its marvelous history, its golden beliefs, its sublime ideals, its unexampled morality, its magnificent promises all must pass the way of all things that stood in the path of the mighty tidal wave of modem science, philosophy and hermeneutics which was sweeping in its course of destruction to all conservatism of ancient beliefs. As they alone perceived the danger, so they alone could be depended upon to avert it. And with a zeal that was praiseworthy and deserving of a better cause, they set to work to stem the awful advancing tide of destruction and death.

To the modernist there was but one remedy - the old faith must be remodeled. Catholicity must be reconstructed on a new basis. The exigencies of the case demand that the work be done in the fuller light of science, and, what is more, that faith itself must be put upon a scientific basis.  And they were not wholly without precedent here. It was but a short time since morals were precisely in the same danger that now confronted faith. At least so thought the late Herbert Spencer. They had been unfastened from their moorings of religion by another such tidal wave of science.

Was morality therefore to be lost to the world? "Few things more disastrous" to mankind could occur than the destruction of morals, total and absolute. Heaven knows what might have happened to morality had not the late Herbert Spencer been prescient enough to foresee the danger and inventive enough to prepare the remedy. Few things in the world's history are more imposing in their colossal dimensions than the task which Spencer undertook - viz., to lift the entire edifice of morality from its tottering religious foundations and place them securely on new scientific foundations prepared by himself with extraordinary labor and exertion. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the world has ever fully appreciated or realized the gigantic labors that Spencer spontaneously undertook in its behalf. That extraordinary enterprise is now paralleled by the work of the modernists.

Danger threatened the ancient edifice of Christianity. The old Catholic Church, founded on a rock though she was, found that the rock itself was swaying beneath her. The only remedy, as the modernist perceived it, was to lift the entire edifice of faith and Catholic belief from the old foundations, now so insecure, and place it on the new sure foundations of science specially constructed for it by men providentially sent for the purpose. With the noble example of Spencer before their eyes, the task was easy. Indeed, not only in the particular work of shifting morality from the foundations of religion to those of science, they could copy him and did copy him.

In the execution of the work they found that they were merely effecting an extension of his labors, and were, as has been seen, applying to religion the principles of development which he had traced out in so many other departments of phenomena. It might have been a mere overweening vanity. It might have been a colossal egotism. It might have been a still more colossal ignorance. But one thing seems certain­ viz., that the modernists at the outset were sincere in their endeavors and were wrapped up in a sort of a poetic-religious enthusiasm in their self-appointed task of saving Catholicity. But certainly there was a striking parallel between their Quixotic endeavor and the absurd labors of Herbert Spencer in building his scientific ethical foundations.

The gigantic undertaking of shifting the magnificent edifice of Christianity from the unsafe and outworn foundations of Jewish history to the surer concrete of modern science too closely resembles the Herculean labors of Spencer both in its conception and in its ridiculous, absurd and impossible feat, not to have been inspired by and to some extent modeled on it. They saw - or thought they saw - better than the rest of men where the danger lay, and they were satisfied that only they were competent to discover and apply a remedy.

That this is the true state of the case there can be little doubt. Only the other day the English leader of the movement publicly upbraided Pius X with his blindness and stupidity in not yet realizing the true condition of affairs or in failing to see where lay the danger and where the remedy.

Their real intent and object seems to have been to preserve Catholic Christianity to the world. They perceive its necessity for society, for the individual. Their stupendous labors, with all the included blunders and follies, seem to be a more or less ingenious attempt to retain and preserve the Catholic Church for mankind. Indeed, adaptationists would seem to be the proper term to apply to them in this view of their work; for all their efforts would seem to lie in the direction of an adaptation of the Church's organism, its machinery, its discipline, its supernatural influences and effects to modern conditions as they regard them. They would apply its supernatural powers naturally. They would retain all the light and heat of the sun with all its marvelous effects, while discarding the sun itself.

It is, it is true, like an attempt to produce all the results of sunlight by means of moonlight. It is folly, of course, folly of the supreme kind, but having seen it attempted in other departments of phenomena in accordance with the supposed processes of evolution, the modernist would apply the same methods and processes to revelation and religion. These must be revised in the light of our twentieth century knowledge, rearranged and made to fit into their places in our modern development. One thing is certain, however, they must not abandon Catholicity. Catholicity is far too valuable to be lost to the world. Moreover, no other religion can take its place or fulfill its mission. No other is so adapted to the needs and wants of humanity. All that is necessary is that it should be adjusted to its new scientific environment.

That their intentions have been the very best- if the veriest absurdities- seem to be certain. It was in no rebellious spirit that they set about their self-imposed task. They were going to use the mighty engines of science for the use of the Church and enlist all modern science in the Church's behalf. Here are the words of one of their most ardent admirers on this point: "Notwithstanding the fears of their co-religionists, the progressives are convinced of the necessity of employing for the Church's use these (new) sciences.''

The hopes of their admirers - to say nothing of themselves - seem to have been even rose-colored. "Whether," we read, "their views will ultimately prevail or not cannot be prophesied, but it is hardly going beyond our present data to say that they are daily gaining recruits, and that the time seems to be drawing near when they or theirs shall have some share in the official direction of the Church." We were further told that “accordingly, these Catholics, entirely single-minded and high-souled, have set themselves the noble though risky task of capturing the enemy's arsenals for the defense and protection of the Church.’’

Noble words! For a still more noble work! Eheu! If these "high-souled and single-minded" Catholics had only not permitted the enemy to capture them so completely and utterly. But every one who reads the glowing eulogy above and happens to bethink him of the strange denouement will doubtless be forcibly reminded of the Scotch soldier who called to his captain from the thicket with the important news that he had captured a prisoner, and on being told by his superior officer to bring the "prisoner" forward,   was forced to the ignominious confession : "Aye! aye! mon, but he will nae let me.” This seems to be the nature of the capture of the enemy's arsenals accomplished by the modernists.

Stay tuned for Part IV, where the Rev. FitzSimons exposes the fallacies behind the Modernist quest and explains why it is doomed to failure.
Last modified on Thursday, September 18, 2014