A Catechism of Modernism: Preamble

A Catechism of ModernismA Catechism of Modernism


Gravity of the Modernist Errors


Q. What is the first duty assigned to the Sovereign Pontiff by Our Lord Jesus Christ?

A. His Holiness, Pius X, answers for us: The office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock, has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely, to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called.


Q. Was not this vigilance necessary in every age?

A. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things” (Acts xx. 30), “vain talkers and seducers” (Tit. i. 10), “erring and driving into error” (2 Tim. Iii. 13).


Q. Are these misguided men more numerous today? What is their aim?

A. It must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, men who are striving, by arts entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.


Q. Why may the Sovereign Pontiff remain silent no longer?

A. We may no longer be silent, he says, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty, and lest the kindness that, in the hope of wiser counsels, We have hitherto shown them, should be attributed to forgetfulness of Our office.


Q. What are the “parties of error” to be found? Are they open enemies?

A. That We make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous the less conspicuously they appear.


Q. Holy Father, are these hidden enemies, who cause anxiety to your paternal heart, to be found among Catholics? Are they found in the ranks of the priesthood?

A. Yes. Many belong to the Catholic laity; nay, and this is far more lamentable, many belong to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church.


Q. Do these lay Catholics and priests, who pose as reformers of the Church, dare to attack Christ’s work? Do they even attack the very Person of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

A. Forming more boldly into the line of attack, they assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the Person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man.


Q. Are those men surprised when Your Holiness numbers them among the enemies of the Holy Church?

A. Though they express astonishment themselves, no one can justly be surprised that We number such men among the enemies of the Church, if, leaving out of consideration the internal disposition of soul, of which God alone is the judge, he is acquainted with their tenets, their manner of speech, their conduct. Nor indeed will he err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church.


Q. Why, Holy Father, do you call them the bitterest enemies of the Church?

A. For this reason: As We have said, they put their designs for her ruin into operating not from without but from within; hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her.


Q. Are there still further grounds for calling these men the Church’s bitterest enemies?

A. Yes. They lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers.


Q. Do they “withold their hands when they have struck at the root” of life?

A. Having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt.


Q. How do they pursue their purpose? What tactics do they employ?

A. None is more skillful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious arts; for they double the parts of rationalists and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error.


Q. Should not Catholic laymen and priests fear and recoil from the consequences of these doctrines?

A. The consequences should make them hesitate; but, since audacity is their characteristic, there is no conclusion of any kind from which they shrink or which they do not thrust forward with pertinacity and assurance.


Q. Why are they particularly dangerous and calculated to “deceive souls?”

A. They are indeed well calculated to deceive souls, because they lead a life of the greatest activity, of assiduous and ardent application to every branch of learning, and because they possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality.


Q. Holy Father, do you hope to cure these misguided ones?

A. This almost destroys all hope of cure: their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.


Q. Holy Father, have you no hope of recalling these misguided individuals to a better sense?

A. Once indeed We had hopes of recalling them to a better sense, and to this end We first of all showed them kindness as Our children, when We treated them with severity, and at least We have had recourse, though with great reluctance, to public reproof. But you know how fruitless has been Our action. They bowed their head for a moment, but it was soon uplifted more arrogantly than ever.


Q. Since all hope of reclaiming these enemies is lost, why, Holy Father, do you raise your voice in warning?

A. If it were a matter which concerned them alone, We might perhaps have overlooked it: but the security of the Catholic name is at stake. Wherefore, to maintain it longer, would be a crime.


Q. It is now time to speak?

A. We must now break silence, in order to expose before the whole Church in their true colors those men who have assumed this bad disguise.


Q. By what name may we call these new enemies of Jesus Christ and of His Holy Church?

A. They are commonly and rightly called “Modernists.”


Q. Give the end and division of the Encyclical?

A. Since the Modernists employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connection between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting evil.


– Lucas G. Westman


3 thoughts on “A Catechism of Modernism: Preamble

  1. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw a vast movement in Catholic philosophy to oppose something variously termed, “Modernism”; “nominalism”; “materialism”; “idealism, etc.; by adopting a purified or traditional understanding of Thomistic philosophy, largely identified with Catholic philosophy. Christian Wolfe and Joseph Kleutgen are important figures in the development of this line of thought. There is a good intellectual history in print on the influence of Kleutgen and his disciples in the nineteenth century Church and in Catholic philosophy. I cannot just now place my hand upon it.

    The movement failed to understand the large extent to which Thomism had already been transformed into a rationalist philosophy; and thus had been infected with the very malady it sought to reform. The diagnosis for the Modernist disease was wrong; the cure, consisting in large part of the philosophy of the manuals, was deductive, rationalist and very far from anything the medievals would recognize. Heidegger and Gilson, each in their own way, were rebelling against this movement and attempting to restore the lost balance in Catholic philosophy. (I understand that Heidegger may not have understood his own development in this manner, but he was a brilliant scholar, and his rebellion against the philosophical tendencies of his Jesuit training in very important for Catholic philosophers.

    As I understand modern Catholic philosophy, the twentieth century correction to nineteenth century rationalist metaphysics, is modern Neo-Platonism and phenomenology. I think that “mainstream” Catholic philosophy never regained its balance. The Catholic philosopher Laurence Paul Hemming, in his book “Post-Modernity’s Transcending: Devaluing God”, explains this general thesis, though I do not put words in Hemming’s mouth. He does diagnose the great extent to which Catholic philosopher’s response to Modernity fails to understand the very real issues involved in the Modernist critique of this philosophy.

    Much in the manuals is beautiful and valuable. The work of Garrigou-Lagrange especially deserves mention. But the works of this era will not in themselves restore the Lost Balance of Catholic Philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

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