If the importance of a document is to be measured by the volume of comment which it evokes, there have been few utterances of recent times of such world-wide interest as the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. It is true that there has been discord in the tones of comment. The commentaries are not always in agreement with the encyclical or with one another. In press and magazine praise and censure jostle each other. There have been loud-ringing notes of condemnation.
As usual, the empty vessels have been loudest in their denunciation and shrillest in their deafening clangor. The shallow school of thought, who, unfortunately, in this country constitutes almost the entire thought, has been sweeping in its pronouncements against the "reactionary," as it calls it, attitude of the Papacy.
Even counter encyclicals have been brought into play in the blind onslaughts on a document which, in all probability, nine-tenths of the critics had never taken the pains to read, and of those who read, one-half has failed to understand. It is quite safe to say that outside the Church many pious and well meaning people devoutly believe that the encyclical is nothing more or less than a Papal fulmination against all modern material progress. They see in the condemnation of "modernism,” if one can judge from their commentaries, a violent assault of Pius X on all modern methods without distinction; against steam and electricity, against telegraph and telephone, against aeroplane and autocar, in a word, against all the useful and wonderful inventions of modem applied science and against all the material blessings which modern progress and modern invention have bestowed upon the world. Indeed, it is doubtful whether either the writers or the readers of the vulgar abuse heaped upon the document have yet discovered, or will ever discover, that the Papal encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis is a defense of Christian truths which should be as dear to the writers of these diatribes, if they are sincere in their Christian beliefs, as they are to the Pope himself.
In point of fact, the encyclical has been bitterly assailed in this country by two classes of Protestants. The traditional enemies of the Church, blinded by their old-time insane bigotry and prejudice and misled by the term "modernism,” have, without stopping for further inquiry, rushed madly to the usual vulgar denunciation of the Church, forthwith proclaiming her for the millionth time the inveterate and irreclaimable foe of all progress and science. These constitute one class. There is, however, a consoling feature even here. It is that the volume of attack is, in this instance, less than on former occasions. This fact alone shows that the thinking and intelligent portion of the Protestant world has grasped the true meaning of the encyclical; and evidence is not wanting that by many among them Pius X. is regarded as the God-given defender of Christianity and all its vital truths against the assaults of modern error.
The other portion of the Protestant world which has been bitter in its denunciations of the encyclical is that which has already surrendered itself completely to the witching charms of the modernistic philosophy. Modern scientific infidelity has eaten into Protestantism, even to the very core. The Christian element in many Protestant pulpits is but the shadow of a shade. The historian Lecky it was who long since called Protestantism the halfway house between Catholicity and infidelity. The average Protestant mind has today left the halfway house far in the rear, and while yet retaining the name of Protestant, is fast nearing the infidel goal. Men scoffed at Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s hero, Robert Ellsmere, the callow milksop, who at the mere maneuvering of the so called learned squire completely capitulated to the "squire” before a single gun was fired. With David Crockett's coon he cried out: "Don’t fire, Dave. I’ll come down." It is now evident, however, that Mrs. Ward had accurately felt the pulse of Protestantism and that Ellsmere was but a type. We now have Ellsmeres by the thousand. The Protestant pulpit has surrendered without a single blow. The walls of the Protestant Jericho have tumbled at a mere shout from the scientific ranks. Instead of the saving truths of Christianity, many Protestant pulpits now emit a rank infidelity and even a pantheism which Spinoza need not have disdained.
In this country this class is unusually industrious. Its members are forever proclaiming their intellectual emancipation and their superiority to the rest of mankind. They imagine they are abreast of the scientific thought of the age. The fact is, they have mistaken noise for knowledge, braggadocio for truth and bravado for science, and they have become alarmed, even panic-stricken, to such an extent that they have rushed headlong at breakneck speed into the ranks of the unbelievers. They claim that the world has outgrown Christianity. They seek to establish religion on a new basis while still maintaining the outward form and organization. Needless to say, this class is loud in its denunciation of the encyclical. They had looked for a new religion which would be a sort of eclectic association of religion, science and socialism. Their new form of religion would be a sort of potpourri of modern science, advanced Protestantism and emancipated Catholicism, where the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man would be the chief corner-stone, where each man would be his own moral law and where the chief architectonic features would be a Saviourless Christianity, a Godless Christ and an unknowable God. As these had been looking forward to a union with the modernistic element in the Catholic Church, the encyclical has dashed their hopes to pieces. It has recalled the ranks of Catholicism from a slight confusion to perfect order. It has been far-reaching as the bugle note to the stragglers in the army. The alignment in the Church is now as rigid as ever. The scientific knight-errants of Catholic thought are recalled to their senses. The alliance loses its most important feature-the hoped-for contingent from the Catholic ranks. Disappointment succeeds to hope. Naturally there is denunciation of the encyclical as the enemy of science, the foe of progress and the stronghold of ignorance and superstition.
Catholics have, of course, received the encyclical with joy and gratitude-nay, even with pride. It is at once a luminous exposition and a masterly refutation, and as such they welcome it. The authoritative voice has spoken, and they marvel only at the clearness and firmness of the note in such a surrounded babel of error and confusion. They are in admiration of the synthetic power which has crystallized so many volatile views and reduced the chaos of erroneous and desultory opinion to system and order. Indeed, the very reduction of the scattered errors to a unified system has of itself dealt a deathblow to the heresy; for it appears that the leaders of the movement have courted confusion and purposely and systematically avoided all arrangement and system, in order the more easily to escape observation and thus evade condemnation. For this reason, as well as for the profound and masterful refutation of the errors, the encyclical has been pronounced-and rightly so-one of the most remarkable documents, perhaps the most remarkable document, that has ever been issued from the seat of infallible authority. Scholars are in admiration of the sureness and accuracy of its observation, the breadth and solidity of its knowledge, the depth of its philosophy and, wherever it pauses to reason, the forcefulness of its intellectuality. These things of themselves would constitute an extraordinary document, and the 'Catholic world would on these grounds alone receive it with pride and pleasure. But behind all this they recognize the words of the Vicar of Christ safeguarding the deposit of faith and keeping intact from all dross of error and corruption the purity of doctrine handed down by the Apostles. Hence there has been everywhere throughout the country a spontaneous uprising of leaders of Catholic thought to profess adherence to the Holy See and to thank it for this latest proof of its divine mission in its timely intervention to save the faith of Christ to the world. The Catholic press, too-what we have of it, and heaven knows that is meagre enough-has been a unit in its expression of reverent submission. And nowhere throughout the land has it been possible to detect a note of reluctance or sullenness in the submission. Indeed, the spontaneous expression of filial acceptance of the encyclical leaves little room for doubt that modernism had been far from obtaining anything like a firm foothold in the Church in the United States.
And yet there is, nevertheless, a feeling of relief that the voice of infallible authority has spoken. There is even a conviction that it has not spoken one moment too soon. There is little doubt that the foolish notions-for in this country it seems absurd to call them doctrines or even errors, so vague and shadowy have they been were creeping in apace. The cockle had been over sown somehow among the wheat "when men were asleep." It had not yet, however, taken very deep root. The presence of the new mode of thought was manifested occasionally by a strange form of expression in the pulpit, by a novel or startling phrase in a magazine, by an affectation of modernity in everything, even in religion. These things, however, were regarded as a mere weakness in the author-a concession to modern tendencies outside the Church-love of novelty or perhaps of singularity born of a harmless vanity. And, indeed, even from this our Catholic literature in the United States had been remarkably free.
The same could not be said, however, not only of all our Catholic literature, but even of all our English Catholic literature. The unpleasant conviction was at last beginning to force itself upon the mind that there was after all something behind the unique phrase ology, which first seemed to be merely an imitation of the advanced Protestant pulpit thought. One of the earliest instances of the new affectation appeared some years ago in an admirable work of meditations adapted from an earlier age by a distinguished prelate now gone to his reward. The modem weakness and seeking after strange gods was shown in the very preface of the work, which is otherwise incomparable in its matter, method and spirit. The reader was gravely informed that the author had in more than one instance broken away from the medievalism of the original; that certain points in a particular meditation had been "derived from Max Nordau's Degeneratio ;" that "certain ideas in the same treatise, and perhaps elsewhere, had been suggested by Mr. Benjamin Kidd's Special Evolution," and there was even the boast that "one has been taken, almost verbally, from Herbert Spencer." These things were all very well in their way, but their significance appeared on reference to the passages themselves, of which let one example suffice. For instance, in the meditation on prayer, after the author has told in most admirable terms that "this is one of the highest employments of the intelligence and the will of man," he immediately adds: "It (prayer) is specially distinctive of rational creatures; for although it prevails among the lowest races of men, there is no rudimentary form from which it can have been developed (italics ours), in even the highest race of animals ; and it is most effective in keeping man from reverting in life and morals to the animal type." Other instances might be added from this work, which, aside from these slight disfigurements, is one of the most enjoyable works that bas come from the Catholic press in a quarter of a century.
Occasionally, too, old-fashioned people were startled to find a staid magazine which for years, perhaps, had been a very Gibraltar of conservatism opening its pages to the ventilation of "modern" ideas. In them we were all severely lectured on the sin of conservatism. "Non-concessionism" was the unpardonable crime. "Progressive Catholicism" must have a clear field. And we were even gravely warned that "intolerant non-concessionism may prove responsible for crises in matters of faith."
Then, too, we had a Catholic novel dealing frankly with the subject, about which, perhaps, the less said the better. It is, however, worthy of observation that while it gratuitously ascribed a strange morality to the Roman Curia as a line of policy, and commended it highly for the attributed worldly wisdom in this respect, that in some quarters the work was hailed as a new gospel, that enthusiastic admirers should read their own ardent views into the opinions of the world at large, and that we should be gushingly informed that this work "of such profound and actual interest" had "been welcomed on all hands as a Catholic masterpiece."
Deeper, however, than gush and high-wrought optimism of this nature the evil does not seem to have descended. The voice of authority was, therefore, all that was needed to cause the scales of delusion to fall from our eyes. Roma locutua est; and a cackle that was threatening to become noisy and slightly overbearing is hushed.
Stay tuned for Part II, where Rev. FitzSimons brilliantly takes apart the logical absurdity that is modernism.
To Be Continued…