Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There's a Name for the Things That Upset You

O'Sullivan's Law says, "Any institution not explicitly conservative will become liberal with the passage of time." Today, this would seem to be as true and unalienable as the laws of physics.

St. Pope Pius X
Before John O'Sullivan, there was St. Pope Pius X. He noticed a similar trend operating in the Church. He named it Modernism. He issued the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis in 1907. In it he described Modernism as a heresy, indeed "the synthesis of all heresies." The same year he had already published the decree Lamentabili Sane. It listed 65 propositions that are probably commonplace among faculty at Catholic colleges. Yet every one was condemned as a Modernist error. To fight Modernism, in 1910 the holy pope required all clergy, religious superiors and professors at Catholic institutions to swear the Oath Against Modernism.

Modernism is slippery, and St. Pope Pius X said as much. He noted that one infected with Modernism may say something perfectly Catholic one day, and Modernist the next. In general, Modernism is characterized by (1) a rejection of Church authority in the name of "freedom of conscience," or "academic freedom; (2) a mania for anything new, and a distaste for the old, and the stable; and (3) a determination to see all people reconciled, not just other Christians, but non-Christians and even atheists. 

In general, the wish is to keep up with the times, which is another way of saying conform to the world. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, from the New Advent website.)

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that St. Pope Pius X saw with perfect clarity conditions in the Church today. The Oath Against Modernism was gotten rid of by Pope Paul VI after Vatican II. To even speak of Modernism today is to be labeled a crackpot. Why, it was just fear of the new age, an attempt to hang on to the past, to hold back progress.

Not since Arianism has a heresy so completely dominated the institutions of the Church. What St. Pope Pius X foresaw rolled over the Church like a tsunami in just 50 years. Modernism animates the shell of the Church. When you are confused and grieved by things Church leaders say, it may be Modernism. When you are puzzled or upset by some novelty, it's probably Modernism. When you feel insecure because you don't know if you can count on the Church to teach the same things, or worship in the same way, that's definitely Modernism.

The fact that there is so much private grief in the Church shows that not everyone is infected. If you're not, thank God, assume a frozen smile and don't talk about the books you read, the blogs you visit, or the things that make you mad. Do not reject authority for the sake of rejecting it, like the Modernists, but do not accept things that seem odd from anyone without testing it against what the Church has taught before. Modernists can't erase the past, they can only reject it. That is our strength. Blend in, participate, mitigate the damage. You are precious. You are the salt of the salt of the earth.


  1. I'm beginning to wonder if I was born 100 years too late.

    1. You weren't. That feeling is just a sign that you are probably a Catholic.

  2. I think God is pleased that we were born when we were. It has been our lot to demonstrate that they could smash our altar rails and reduce Church teaching to incoherence, and we would quietly pick up what pieces we could and maintain a Catholic identity. They would not capture the post-V2 generation entire. We didn't go into schism, but we didn't fall for their errors. We settle for less, but we know we're settling. We didn't do anything heroic. They have no idea how many of us there are. No matter what, there will always be a Catholic memory. Not very ambitious, but being exactly where God wants you is not bad.


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