Modernism and the Modern Church

“To be sworn to by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries.”

Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.

“…I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.”

Part I–Introduction to the Modernist Heresy: Why Modernism is Perilous
S.M. Miranda

          "A great heresy gnaws at the roots of the Catholic faith in America.  An insidious movement threatens to pull apart the Church from both the inside and outside.  This is the infamous heresy of modernism and its spawn, post-modernism.  It is a philosophy and way of life that threatens the Church’s very foundation by declaring it’s authority and divine constitution irrelevant.  Many Americans are unaware of the pervasive force of modernism and cannot identity the seven great errors of modernism that penetrate into the Church internally (by way of Christian Liberalism) and externally (by an agnostic, secular generation).  Without an ability to identify the errors of modernism, Christians are in danger of falling into this new and deadly heresy."

My question to my fellow Catholics here at CAF is do you think that this heresy of modernism is a threat to our Church today? Are these views listed above just radical approaches to modernism? Is modernism still rejected by the magisterium as it was in Pope Pius X day, or is it not of so much concern to us now? I rarely hear of this in modern writings today, and just wondered if it is still relevant? Thanks to all and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Absolutely, it is relevant. The plague of Modernism has ravaged the Church and left it sick, deathly ill. The only hope is for the Holy Father to administer the medicine of Tradition. I say the Holy Father because only His Holiness has the power to do it. We must pray for him every day as he deals with problem upon problem from laity.

1 Like


I’m looking for a ten foot pole!:stuck_out_tongue:

Dang! I have only a 9’6" pole, I guess I will sit on the sidelines.:coffeeread:

Modernism is the primary heresy of our current age. It is alive and well. This is why most catholics follow mainstream secular culture and use birth control, vote for pro-abortion candidates, and divorce at a common rate.

Think about it. The catholic church is on record as against all the evils that are common in our day. The gay agenda is another example. It is rare though to hear a homily that speaks against these movements and declares official church teaching on the subjects. Why is this?

Modernism is the answer.

The one true faith of the catholic church is the antidote.

Good information. You really make a good point in saying that the one true faith of the Catholic Church is the anitodote to modernism. This got me thinking about moral relativism. Do you think modernism and moral relativism are closely related?

“Moral relativism is the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, ‘It’s true for me, if I believe it’.”

It sounds like modernism and moral relativism are “cut from the same cloth” so to speak. What do the rest of you think?

Since there has never been a defined theological or philosophical movement called “modernism,” I find it very hard to ascribe the various problems of today (and those that existed yesteryear) to something that we cannot even put down in specific terms.

If modernism is the reason “why most catholics follow mainstream secular culture and use birth control, vote for pro-abortion candidates, and divorce at a common rate,” then what do we call those catholics who viewed these things favorably prior to September 1, 1910? Is it only because of modernism that society has the ills that it does or is it because the culture of the world has radically changed in the past 40 years?

My opinion is that it is not a major threat to the Church today, though it may remain a threat to some. In fact, I dislike seeing a thread title with both “modernism” and “modern” in it. The two words mean vastly different things. I think St Pius X did an excellent job at protecting the Church and helping to diminish the impact of modernism in society today, though its step-child, moral relativism, still gnaws at the roots of the society. But the Catholic Church? No way. Besides the obvious promise of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church, we have an excellent leader in Pope Benedict XVI. I do not know were the next great heresy will come from, but this one has been addressed and dealt with. Thank you, St. Pius X!

I am not sure what you mean by there was a defined movement called modernism.

The following identifies pretty clearly what modernism is.

To answer your OP, Modernism is still alive and well. Since after Vatican II, Ecumenism was emphasized in a special manner, many involved in these movements do have Modernist ideas just as Mortalium Animos warned about.

What you have to realize is not everyone from the Pope down to the lay person has the same theological and philosophical background. So when VII encouraged Ecumenism, many down the chain took it the wrong way and pursued the exact form of Ecumenism warned against in Mortalium Animos.

To put it simply, prior to Vatican II, the church was overtly aware of the differences between Catholics and other religions and Christians that had broken away. Post Vatican II, the church decided to put more emphasis on the similarities between Catholics and other religions and Christians that had broken away IN ORDER TO START DIALOGUE toward bringing them to the Church.

Now this Post VII decision is obviously not modernism. But as you might be guessing, it could very easily lead to modernist positions, especially among those who are way down the chain including priests and lay people organizing ‘ecumenical events’. What happened most of the time was that these similarities were emphasized to the level where inter-dialogue was abandoned. Various Christian denominations will get together with Catholics and act as if they are all the same and nothing is different. In fact, when a Pope or a Bishop condemns things when it got too far, these people would be honestly baffled and questions why the church isn’t following its own teachings on Ecumenism (which in their view means, emphasize the similarities, be friendly at all times). The dialogue part is an after thought. At this point we have modernism in full swing.

When this is pointed out, some would say that dialogue will happen with time. That is a very valid point. BUT, if you are going to emphasize the similarities all the time, it isn’t going to be too long before many start forgetting that there is actually a difference. We see proof for that in the requests by some priests who engage in ecumenical work to allow Communion to even non-Catholics to further ‘Ecumenism’.

In short, the correct way to Ecumenism is to keep the number one priority and motivation always in sight i.e. DIALOGUE TO GET THEM IN TO THE CATHOLIC FAITH OR ABANDON THEIR ERRORS. We don’t get friendly with a drug addict to simply emphasize common ground. We want to be able to get him off the addiction. But if we keep saying to the drug addict “You and I are blessed, we are both such good people” etc, it isn’t long before we start doing drugs too. And honestly, what the heck is the point of having dialogue if we are both “so good”. So to be so extreme about emphasizing similarities and not wanting to have immediate dialogue, one needs to implicitly accept certain Modernist errors implicitly/explicitly.

Sorry to bring Ecumenism in to this topic but in my view, Ecumenism is where Modernism usually enters the work of the Church today. It is alive and well today unfortunately but the tide is turning somewhat… I think :slight_smile:

Thanks so much for sharing this! Very insightful! Do you know of any good books regarding this subject?

Ecumenism is a separate issue, at least according to the link you gave. Ecumenism is not mentioned once.

I am not aware of actual texts dedicated specifically to the subject. But the following might be useful together with the link I provided earlier :slight_smile:

You will find that among those who engage in extreme form of ‘Ecumenism’, at least one of the 65 condemned propositions are held as true and will be provided as defense of the work they do. Actually, you might even hear such things in other places too like sermons and homilies.

If you haven’t read them already, these might be very useful too

Sorry I couldn’t give any specific books dedicated to the subject :frowning:

As I said, it was my analysis that lead to the conclusion that Ecumenism is one major place where Modernism has entered the Catholic Church in its work today.

If you think I am just pulling this out of thin air, you can read MORTALIUM ANIMOS. It says things better than I can and might help you see what I am saying :slight_smile:

I understand. There is only one sentence in this document that ties in modernism:

How so great a variety of opinions can make the way clear to effect the unity of the Church We know not; that unity can only arise from one teaching authority, one law of belief and one faith of Christians. But We do know that from this it is an easy step to the neglect of religion or* indifferentism* and to modernism, as they call it.

I understand where modernism may be tied into indifferentism. If we take modernism in its broadest definition, then almost heresy is related to modernism (as Pope Pius X suggests). This leaves us where Timothysis posts. The term becomes too broad to be useful, the ultimate boogeyman, gaining in rhetoric while dropping in accuracy. It would be as well to use the word “bad stuff” to encompass any heresy. In which case, there will still be “bad stuff” that will challenge the Church. I think it more helpful to consider specific heresies, like you do in indifferentism, or rationalism, scientism, moral relativism, etc. There is still new “bad stuff” to come, I fear.

I think that the distinction between other heresies and modernism is in the fact that the error of Modernism is present when someone who considers himself Catholic holds to Scientism or moral relativism etc.

So an Atheist might be a Moral Relativist. BUT, he wouldn’t technically be holding a modernist position. But for a Catholic, to be a moral relativist, he/she most likely has to be holding on to a modernist position. That is how a Catholic ends up reconciling his/her actions with what he/she holds as the faith.

Therefore I think the distinction is in the fact that Modernism only applies when we speak of Catholics who hold radical positions AND YET call themselves Catholic. So Calvinism for an example is not a Modernist error. That will be its own heresy. But for a Catholic to claim that he is also a Calvinist THOUGHT IT CONTRADICTS Catholic doctrine, that is modernism at work.

Do you see what I mean?

Precisely. Modernism has become a blanket term that can wind up meaning virtually anything. I understand true “modernism” to be a tendency to re-interpret traditional teachings of the Church based upon “modern” discoveries in the medical and scientific fields. Hence, an overt example of modernism is to suggest that Jesus didn’t multiply the fish and loaves but managed to persuade the gathered crowd to share all that they had, thereby feeding the multitudes. Or that Lazarus wasn’t actually dead but merely unconscious and Jesus roused him from this state. These are classic examples of modernism. To suggest that ecumenism is a form of modernism is not something that I think true, traditional theologians such as Pope Benedict would subscribe.

Ecumenism is not Modernism though and I don’t think any people claim it is. If you are referring to my earlier post, what I said was that the false Ecumenism practiced by many today is based on modernist positions.

I even made it clear in my last paragraph how I think Ecumenism should be from what the church teaches. If Ecumenism was a Modernist position, surely that won’t make sense right?

Which of the tenets that describe modernism do you believe apply today?

Or for that matter, how do you relate any of this to ecumenism in order to label it “modernism?”

This was truly defined modernism enumerated in the encyclical,; and yet we witness rather often that any Catholic who practices their faith in accord with Church teachings, but differs from views of radical traditionalists, they are labeled modernist. It sadly gives authentic traditionalists a bad rap and causes division where none should exist, if all are following lawful church disciplines, each in their own way.

(Not sure, but I think Thomas Casey addressed this labeling somewhere?)

There was a thread over in Liturgy and Sacraments on this basic subject, entitled, Have you read Pope Pius X’s Pascendi?

I, for one, think that modernism is a tremendous danger to the Church even now. Many of the problems that we have today can be directly attributed to this Modernism.

A response I gave in the thread cited above would be useful (at least I think it would be):

MODERNISM. A theory about the origin and nature of Christianity, first developed into a system by George Tyrrell (1861-1909), Lucien Laberthonnière (1860-1932), and Alfred Loisy (1857-1940). According to Modernism, religion is essentially a matter of experience, personal and collective. There is no objective revelation from God to the human race, on which Christianity is finally based, nor any reasonable grounds for credibility in the Christian faith, based on miracles or the testimony of history. Faith, therefore, is uniquely from within. In fact it is part of human nature, “a kind of motion of the heart,” hidden and unconscious. It is, in Modernist terms, a natural instinct belonging to the emotions, a “feeling for the divine” that cannot be expressed in words or doctrinal propositions, an attitude of spirit that all people have naturally but that some are more aware of having. Modernism was condemned by Pope St. Pius X in two formal documents, Lamentabili and Pascendi, both published in 1907. (Etym. Latin modernus, belonging to the present fashion.)

Modern Catholic Dictionary

There are to be found today, and in no small numbers, men, of whom the Apostle says that: “having itching ears, they will not endure sound doctrine: but according to their own desires they will heap up to themselves teachers, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” (II Tim. iv. 34). Infatuated and carried away by a lofty idea of the human intellect, by which God’s good gift has certainly made incredible progress in the study of nature, confident in their own judgment, and contemptuous of the authority of the Church, they have reached such a degree of rashness as not to hesitate to measure by the standard of their own mind even the hidden things of God and all that God has revealed to men. Hence arose the monstrous errors of “Modernism,” which Our Predecessor rightly declared to be “the synthesis of all heresies,” and solemnly condemned. We hereby renew that condemnation in all its fulness, Venerable Brethren, and as the plague is not yet entirely stamped out, but lurks here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully on their guard against any contagion of the evil, to which we may apply the words Job used in other circumstances: “It is a fire that devoureth even to destruction, and rooteth up all things that spring” (Job xxxi. 12). Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.” - Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum

Faithful to the task of strengthening his brethren in the faith, in confronting certain trends that were manifest in the theological context at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Pius X intervened decisively, condemning “Modernism” to protect the faithful from erroneous concepts and to foster a scientific examination of the Revelation consonant with the Tradition of the Church. - Benedict XVI, General Audience, 18 August 2010.

The idea of modernism has never been anything but utterly rejected by the Holy See. From another post in that thread:

Central to the idea of Modernism is the concept of vital immanence. Vital immanence is a concept where the quality of an action (belief, doctrine, etc.) begin and end with the life experience of the agent. That is all well and good, our life is shaped by our experiences and our perception of reality is going to be based upon our experiences.

The modernist takes this to the next step: not only do our perceptions begin and end with our life experiences, but the very nature of God and His revelation to us also change based upon that. In other words, they deny the transcendent truth of God – that the things He revealed to us as truths remain so regardless of where we are at.

In some circles, there is a belief in a Hermeneutic of Rupture (to borrow a phrase coined by or used by the Holy Father) as opposed to a Hermeneutic of Continuity. In other words, “Vatican II Changed All Of That.” The very notion that eternal truths would change with the life experiences of society utterly fits the definition of modernism.

That last paragraph is the biggest reason why I think modernism is a grave threat to the Church even today. We see so many times in the real world where Catholics are taught “Vatican II changed all of that”…sure, maybe not in so many words, but the implication is still there.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit