How to Fight a Heresy
We’ve been asked to give a personal testimonial in honor of the great Pope of Pascendi, canonized by His Holiness Pius XII, another victim of calumny. We gladly do so, for since our youth his image has been engraved in our memory.
As the son of a university professor and brought up in a milieu far removed from what might be called integralism, we nonetheless had an opportunity during the philosophy year of our secondary studies (made in a classical lyceum with a professor who had nothing but sarcasm for Scholasticism) to discover Thomism thanks to some of the admirable traditional priests there, men of doctrine and character whose memory makes the spectacle daily inflicted upon us of the eunuchs of neo-modernism even more painful. It is to them, as well as to St. Pius X himself, that we are mindful of rendering a small part of what is due them.
Two ideas stand out as we examine St. Pius X at grips with modernism: first, that he was manifestly the Man of God, the one who was called by Providence to the capital role of flooring the new hydra; then, that, when all is said and done, he was understood by the most honest and most intelligent non-Catholics (as for the rest, it can’t be helped!).
Nowadays it is well known that, despite Leo XIII’s magnificent expounding of sound doctrine, the end of his pontificate was marked by the rise of false ideas in the Church in Germany, France, England, and Italy. One has only to read the Memoirs of Loisy1 to see how much philosophy, theology, history, exegesis, ecclesiastical discipline, and politico-social thought were permeated by the errors in vogue. But, thanks to what Loisy euphemistically calls “the mighty power of opinion and truth,” designating thereby influential pressure groups (St. Pius X will later speak of a “clandestinum foedus”) with branches everywhere, in seminaries, in Catholic universities, in the episcopacy, and even in certain circles within the Curia, it had been nearly impossible to get any effective measures out of the Roman Magisterium. And this notwithstanding the efforts of a few good men like Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris, “little followed by the French episcopacy,” a recent panegyrist of Loisy tells us.
In 1903, Joseph Sarto becomes Pope under the name Pius X. In December, Loisy is placed on the Index. On the whole, none of Rome’s intentions leaked out. The modernist evil had already taken hold, but the broad public saw nothing, according to its custom, especially as certain bad shepherds repeatedly assured it that the whole idea of a doctrinal crisis only emanated from the poor brains of a few inquisitorial fanatics... That is why the denunciation of modernism by the holy Pope astonished a lot of people and left a great many incredulous.
On April 15, 1907, in a widely discussed consistorial Allocution, the Pope declared that it is not the anti-Christian Caesars who are the most to be feared, but rather those who, within the Church, profess subjectivism and the radical evolution of dogma; “a return to the pure Gospel” by wiping the slate clean of the teaching of the councils and of traditional theology; who speak incessantly of “adapting to our age” in speaking, writing, and “preaching a charity without faith”2; who reduce the Bible to the level of profane works, adopting only scientific and rational methods of exegesis. That we have the broad outline of Pascendi here cannot escape notice.
We shall not elaborate on the Decree Lamentabili and the Encyclical Pascendi, assuming that they are sufficiently well known by the reader. Should that not be the case, we urge them to study them closely since they are still relevant.3 We shall simply recall that the last part of the Encyclical traces a detailed plan for an anti-modernist counter-offensive and an implacable battle against this “synthesis of all heresies.” A motu proprio of 18 November 1907 stipulates that “if anyone should be so bold as to defend any of the propositions, opinions, and doctrines reproved in one or the other of these documents, he will incur ipso facto the penalty of excommunication.”
Paired with energetic disciplinary measures against the refractory, these texts routed the modernists by their own admission. God knows, though, if they had thought they had nearly felt victory within their reach. “The year 1907,” writes the ultra-rationalist François Picavet, “was decisive in the history of modernism. Never had its partisans had more confidence in their ultimate success.” But God had decided differently, and they were thwarted, and the movement took nearly fifty years to recover. Which proves that it was not invulnerable, a lesson to be learned. As Msgr. Baudrillart wrote then, “The wayward who were looking in earnest for the truth will submit without delay and without reserve. The others have nothing more to do than leave the Church; it’s painful, but it was high time that the equivocation stopped and that no one could any longer claim to be Catholic while upholding Protestant and rationalist theses” (La Croix, July 23, 1907). Pius X himself, in the above-mentioned consistorial Allocution of December 1907, pronounced these weighty words: “Surely, we could only bemoan it if these men [modernist priests] on leaving the bosom of the Church went over to her declared enemies. But we have still more to lament: their blindness is such that they think themselves still to be sons of the Church and boast of it, even though they have denied in fact, if not perhaps in word, the profession of faith sworn at their baptism.”
There were undoubtedly not only recriminations, but also outcries and rather base insults against the Holy Pontiff. However, it should be underscored that many non-believers admirably grasped the stakes in the matter and the justness of Rome’s attitude from the simple viewpoint of logical coherence and moral uprightness, even abstracting from faith in the supernatural.
Loisy himself, so hostile to Lamentabili and Pascendi, was notably to write: “It shouldn’t be forgotten that Pius X has merely drawn the conclusions that logically are deduced from the official teaching of the Church, and that, if these principles are true, those who grant them may not even criticize the opportuneness of the pontifical act....The Encyclical was commanded by the circumstances, and Leo XIII would not have done noticeably otherwise....The Pontiff told the truth when he said he could not keep silent without betraying the deposit of traditional doctrine. Things having reached their present point, his silence would have been an enormous concession, recognition of the fundamental principle of modernism.”4
The rationalist historian Guignebert, so hateful toward the Magisterium, was forced to write: “The Encyclical Pascendi constitutes...a truly strong refutation of Catholic modernism....One regrets saying so, and yet one must, for it is the truth: from the Catholic point of view, Lamentabili and the Encyclical are right....The Roman Church cannot follow [the modernists] without committing suicide.”5 And these are the opinions of decided enemies of Catholic orthodoxy. Among others, the assessment is nuanced by genuine sympathy, as we shall see.
It was thus that the famous neo-Hegelian philosopher Benedetto Croce, in the Giornale d’Italia of October 15, 1907, wrote some very edifying things, especially coming from him: namely, that modernist pretensions of translating Catholic dogma indifferently into other metaphysical lexicons was the first and most serious sophism of the modernists,6 for, he added, metaphysical thought is not a language...it is logic, it is concept. “Whence it results that dogma transposed in another metaphysical form is no longer the same dogma, just as one concept transformed into another is no longer the same.”7 Of course the modernists are free, he continued ironically, to fashion Christian dogmas to their liking, then added, “I also make use of this freedom!” but on condition that they realize that they are then outside the Church or even outside any firm religious belief worthy of the name. To finish, he reproached the modernists with being imbued with a “vague religious sentiment” which was entirely repugnant to all positive religion...
The same reaction is met with from the very dynamic Georges Sorel, a “mix” (in the Aristotelian sense) of Bergson and Marxism, the theoretician of revolutionary syndicalism and of the myth of the general strike. His historian, F. Rossignol, explains how Sorel admired Pius X and sums up his thought thus: “Catholicism legitimately condemned modernism, which, under the pretext of harmonizing religion with science and the modern spirit, pretended to impose on it theories which at the very moment they would have been accepted, would have already been out-dated, and consequently would amount to nothing more than introducing within it, without the least benefit, the most complete and the most dangerous instability.”8
Unbelievers like François Picavet, specialist of the History of Scholasticism, the American philosopher George Santayana, and many others, reacted no differently, and we could compile a substantial volume of like testimonies. A university philosophy professor wrote at the time: “If I soon return completely to the ineffable center of the spiritual world, it will have been because of the Encyclical on modernism....The most perfect and the most evidently divine of certitudes is now both in my mind and in my heart.”
The thing that people consistently fail to recognize is that there are two very different sorts of non-Catholics. If some like the vague, the relative, the ambiguous, change, others are sensitive above all else to doctrinal rigor, to precise boundaries, to fidelity, and to a certain intransigence. For our part we know quite a few of them. These are the ones put off and scandalized by doctrinal deviations and capitulation complexes. In their alarmed withdrawal, they find themselves in the company of authentic Catholics, but if they too are profoundly scandalized by the success of neo-modernism, they no longer know what to think (“How can I belong to a religion when its representatives can no longer even say what we are supposed to believe?” a philosophy student told us. We offer his observation to the masters of winning the modern world, but we think that they will have some heavy accounts to render “in die judicii”...).
Thus, it is deplorable conduct always to be blaming the Roman Authority when it condemns an error, out of the romantic and juvenile prejudice according to which those in charge are wrong in principle. It is mendacious extortion to assert: Unless the traditional structures of Catholicism are dismantled, people will be kept away from the faith. May St. Pius X be our protector and our intercessor at a time when the New Arianism seems to be winning!...
1 [The Reverend Alfred] Loisy (1857-1940), whom Houtin knew quite well, “no longer believed in the supernatural, nor in God, nor a future life” by 1887! This did not prevent the head of a diocesan seminary from saying that “his only mistake was to have come along fifty years too soon.”
2 The attention of today’s readers is emphatically directed to this remarkable formulation: theological charity presupposes faith. It must not be confused with humanitarian philanthropy, a sentimental outpouring over a particular abstraction. Later on, the great Pope, speaking about the people involved in the Sillon, will call it “the blind goodness of their heart”; this goodness, of course, being entirely at the service of the Church’s enemies, with nary a trace to spare for traditional Catholics...
3 See also our article “Face au modernisme” published in this year’s September-October issue in honor of Father Garrigou-Lagrange.
4 Simple Reflexions , p. 288. [Passage translated from Jugnet’s French.]
5 “Modernisme et tradition catholique en France,” Coll. de La Grande Revue (1908), pp. 163, 179, 183.
6 Il primo e sommo sofisma dei Modernisti.
7 What a splendid justification, not only for Pascendi, but also, in advance, for the Encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII! Read attentively pages 7-11 (Edition de la Bonne Presse).
8 F. Rossignol, Pour connaître Georges Sorel (Bordas, 1948), p. 94.