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The Roots and Historical Consequences of Modernism

Translator’s Note: Roberto de Mattei’s paper, presented today in Rome, is entitled “The roots and historical consequences of Modernism”. It provides a detailed study of the origin of the present theological confusion in the Church in the ideas embraced at the time of the so-called “Modernist crisis” of the early 20th century. The teaching of Maurice Blondel that experience is the criteria of truth spread to influential theologians such as Alfred Loisy, George Tyrrell, and Ernesto Buonaiuti, who all affirmed in various ways that truth is not immutable, rather it evolves as man evolves. These writers in turn influenced Teilhard de Chardin, Henri de Lubac, and Karl Rahner, all of whom were extremely influential on the work and teaching of the Second Vatican Council. This “Neo-Modernism” subtly tried to influence the Church without revealing its agenda of dismantling the philosophical foundation of the immutable nature of Truth and the theological foundation of the unchanging character of Divine Revelation. Through a “revolution of language,” one of the key principles of Marxism, those who seek to foment revolution in the Church have used words such as “renewal,” “aggiornamento,” and “accompaniment” to radically change the Church’s praxis, falsely setting up a separation between doctrine and praxis. The writings and statements of contemporary churchmen such as Walter Kasper, Bruno Forte, and Jorge Bergoglio are imbued with this same thinking. Bergoglio is clearly a disciple of Blondel. The only effective way to combat the present culmination of the “Modernist crisis” is to embrace the immutable Tradition of the Church.

The roots and historical consequences of Modernism

Prof. Roberto de Mattei


 Conference on the occasion of the Study Day on

“Old and new Modernism: The Roots of the Church’ s Crisis”

Rome – June 23, 2018



            The origin of the term “Modernism”

It seems that the term “Modernism” was coined by the Belgian Catholic economist Charles Périn in his volume dedicated to Le modernisme dans l’Eglise[1] to indicate, under this name, a complex of errors which were penetrating the Church through the liberal Catholicism of Lamennais. In 1883 Padre Matteo Liberatore developed this theme with a series of articles in “Civiltà Cattolica[2].

The one, however, who gave the word “Modernism” its historical significance in the sense in which we still use it was Saint Pius X, who first used the term in the decree Lamentabili[3] of 3 July 1907 and in the encyclical Pascendi[4] of 8 September 1907. With this name Pius X wanted to define the united nature of the theological, philosophical and exegetical errors which had been spreading within the Catholic Church during the decades prior to his pontificate.

When he published Pascendi, Pius X had been reigning for only four years, whereas Modernism had had a long period of incubation. In order to trace its origins one must trace a genealogy of errors which took root above all within German philosophy in the 19th century. In fact, Modernism is derived from two lines of thought stemming from Lutheranism: the rationalism of Kant and Hegel, which reduced religion to philosophy, and the irrationalism of the “philosophers of feeling,” Jacobi and Schleiermacher, who identified religion with a feeling (sentiment) of the divine.

But Modernism is more than a doctrine: it is a new psychological attitude in the face of the modern world which can be linked to Americanism, a complex of new theories proposed by Fr. Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), a Protestant convert who became the founder of the Paulist congregation, who proposed the idea of a general evolution of faith and an accommodation of the Church to the exigencies of modernity.

This change of mentality developed above all during the pontificate of Leo XIII. On the philosophical level, the thought of Leo XIII was categorically opposed to modernity. In this sense, the encyclical Aeterni Patris of 4 August 1879 was a true manifesto against the errors of modern philosophy, in which the Pope affirmed that the great way for recovering lost truth was a return to to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was no coincidence that Pius X, in an Apostolic Letter written to the Roman Accademia of St. Thomas, affirmed that one of the principal titles of glory of Leo XIII was having sought “first and foremost and with all his strength to restore the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.”[5]

On the political and pastoral level, however, Leo XIII sought to reconcile with the modern world which he fought on the philosophical level. This spirit of compromise was principally expressed in the idea of ralliement[6], or in the politics of rapprochement with the masonic and secularist Third Republic in France as endorsed by the encyclical Au milieu des sollicitudes[7] of 16 February 1892.

Modernism presented itself, purely arbitrarily, as the transposition of ralliement from the political to the theological and philsophical level. Ralliement actually encouraged numerous members of the clergy (not only in France) to extend an openness to the modern world beyond the political level to include the theological level. Leo XIII, it was said, had opened the way to a more modern and scientific teaching in which exegesis and history ought to accompany theological and philosophical research.[8] The Institut Catholique of Paris showed itself to be a “laboratory” of new tendencies. It was here that Msgr. Louis Duchesne (1843-1922) taught Church History and, under his guidance, Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) was formed as a docent of exegesis. It was Loisy who carried the “historical-critical” method of his teacher to extreme consequences. A third personality, Abbé Marcel Hébert (1851-1916), translated the ideas of Loisy and Duchesne into the philosophical realm. According to Abbé Barbier, these three priests, two of whom ended up in apostasy, exercised a decisive influence on the orientation of young clergy and young lay Catholics during the years 1880-1893.[9]  

This “Neo-Christianity” also spread rapidly outside the walls of the Institut Catholique. On 7 June 1893, the young Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), defended his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne entitled L’Action: Essai d’une critique de la vie et d’une science de la pratique.[10] In this work which was destined to be widely acclaimed, he proposed that the human spirit is led by an internal dynamism to seek God in the immanence of action. Blondel’s new “philosophy of immanence” sought to substitute “intellectualism” with the aspirations of the heart and the exigencies of life, seeking the roots of the supernatural within man’s own nature. Based on this premise of immanentism, modern thought derived the idea that man, by following his desire for the infinite, can participate in the divine infinity in his identity. What united the philosophical method of Blondel to the scientific method of the new historians and exegetes was the primacy of place given to experience as the ultimate criteria of all certainty and truth.

Leo XIII began to take account of the danger represented by these new exegetical and philosophical doctrines. After the Apostolic Letter Testem Benevolentiæ[11] against Americanism on 22 January 1889, he published on 8 September 1899 his letter to the clergy of France Depuis le jour,[12] with which he reaffirmed the urgency of returning to the philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas. But the new philosophical and exegetical tendencies were still spreading.


St. Pius X and Modernism

        The spark that would set off the Modernist controversy was the polemic initiated by the appearance in 1902 of the essay by Abbé Alfred Loisy L’Evangile et l’Eglise,[13] written in response to the interpretation of Christianity which had been given by the Protestant exegete Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) in his lectures at the University of Berlin. Loisy, applying the new “historical-critical” method to the exegetical field, denied or nullified the revealed nature of the Old and New Testament, the divinity of Christ, the institution of the Church, the hierarchy, and the sacraments. In a retrospective analysis of his work, he declared that he had wanted “an essential reform of Biblical exegesis, of all of theology, and finally of Catholicism in general.”[14]

The debate was further extended to the philosophical field by the Oratorian Lucien Laberthonnière (1862-1932), director of the “Annales de philosophie chrétienne,” in which he laid out the argument for the necessity of separating Christianity from Thomistic Aristotelianism, and also by Edouard Le Roy (1870-1954), the successor of Bergson at the College de France, for whom dogmatic truth was only an element giving orientation to praxis and which could not be demonstrated to be true in itself, but rather could only be translated into ethical action.

The two principal theologians of the movement were two priests, George Tyrrell of Ireland (1861-1909) and Ernesto Buonaiuti of Italy (1881-1946). Tyrrell converted from Calvinism to Anglicanism and then to Catholicism (1879) and then entered the Society of Jesus, identifying Revelation with “religious experience,” which is accomplished in each individual conscience, through which the lex orandi dictates the norms of the lex credendi, and not vice-versa. In fact, this Revelation-experience, “cannot come to us from outside; the teaching can be the occasion, not the cause.”[15]

Buonaiuti was professor of Church history at the Seminario dell’Apollinare and the author of Programma dei modernisti, which appeared anonymously in Rome in October 1907. This work constituted an attempt to make an organic response to Pascendi and was praised by the chief propoents of the Modernist movement like Tyrrell, who translated it into English.

Modernism finally found, according to the expression of Loisy, an important “agent of connection” in the figure of Baron Friedrich von Hügel (1852-1925). The son of an Austrian father and a Scottish mother, by means of his social prestige and his cosmopolitan status, von Hügel was “the intermediate link between German-English and Italian society, between the ideas of the philosophy of action and those of historical immanence.”[16] Paul Sabatier (1858-1928), defined von Hügel as the “lay bishop of the Modernists,”[17] but Tyrrell presented him to Abbé Henri Brémond (1865-1933) as their “lay Pope.” Our program, he wrote with sarcasm, “is a religion made perfectly acceptable and which will be received with open arms by the major part of the Anglican and Protestant confessions; and when the papacy will be completely confounded and discredited, we will march on the Vatican and we will install the Baron [von Hügel] on the Chair of Peter as the first lay Pope.”[18]

Faced with this aggressive and underground movement, Pius X reacted with the publication of a prophetic document, the encyclical Pascendi.

The nucleus of Modernism for St. Pius X did not consist only in opposition to one or another of the revealed truths, but in the radical transformation of the whole notion of “truth” itself, through the acceptance of the “principle of immanence” which is at the foundation of modern thought, as is summed up in proposition 58 condemned by the Decree Lamentabili: “The truth is no more immutable than man himself, for it evolves with him and for him.”

Immanence is a philosophical conception which assumes experience as an absolute and excludes all transcendent reality. For the modernists, it is born from a religious feeling, which by not placing itself on any rational foundation is in reality fideism. Faith is thus not an adhesion of the intelligence to a truth revealed by God, but a religious exigency which springs from the obscure foundation (the subconscience) of the human soul. The representations of the divine realities are reduced to “symbols,” whose “intellectual formula” changes according to the “interior experience” of the believer. The formulas of dogma, for the Modernists, do not contain absolute truths; they are images of the truth which ought to adapt themselves to religious feeling.

In the final analysis religious truth resolves itself in the self-conscience of the individual faced with the individual problems of faith. In this sense there is a return to the tendency of Gnosticism to embrace all truths by means of one principle, the subjectivity of the truth and the relativity of all of its formulas.[19] For St. Pius X, “in fact the immanence of the Modernists desires and admits that each phenomenon of conscience is born from man in each man. Therefore as a legitimate consequence we may deduce that God and man are the same thing: it is therefore pantheism.[20]

Pascendi may be considered to be a fundamental document of the Magisterium of the Church, and among all the acts of Pius X it remains, as Padre Cornelio Fabro wrote, “the most distinguished monument of his pontificate.”[21] In turn the historian Emile Poulat emphasizes that Pascendi is the logical outcome of the direction affirmed by Pius IX a half-century earlier in the Syllabus of Errors (1864): “Pius IX denounced errors ad extra (outside the Church) which were running through the world; Pius X, in contrast, condemned a phenomenon ad intra (inside the Church), condeming these same errors which were infiltrating the Church, where they had taken form and root.”[22]


From Modernism to Nouvelle théologie

Saint Pius understood that he was dealing not with a philosophical school but with a [political] party, and in the Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistitum[23] of 1 September 1910 with which he imposed the anti-Modernist oath, he also advanced the hypothesis that Modernism formed a true and real “secret society” within the Church.[24] A witness from “within” the movement like Albert Houtin describing the level of Modernism foresaw that the innovators would not leave the Church, not even even if they would lose their faith, but that rather they would remain within the Church as long as possible so as to propagate their ideas.[25] “Up until now,” explained Buonaiuti, “they wanted to reform Rome without Rome, or perhaps against Rome. There is a need to reform Rome with Rome; to make the reform pass through the hands of those who need to be reformed. Behold, this is the true and infallible method; but it is difficult. Hic opus, hic labor.”[26] Modernism proposed, in this perspective, to transform Catholicism from within, leaving intact, as far as possible, the external trappings of the Church.

How is it possible to imagine that such a vast and complex movement would have surrendered after being condemned? In the years following the death of Pius X, the strategy of the Modernists was to declare Modernism inexistent and to strongly condemn the anti-Modernist movement. The tendencies of the innovators in the Biblical, liturgical, theological, and ecumenical fields continued to develop within the Church in an apparently spontaneous manner without any order or direction, as had already taken place under Leo XIII. In reality Modernism was circulating, not only in books, but throughout the entire body of the Church, poisoning every aspect. This allowed the “nouvelle théologie” which was just emerging to present itself as a “living” theology and philosophy, linked to history, in opposition to the bookish abstraction of the Neo-Scholastic school.

In Belgium, at Tournai, stood the Dominican convent of Le Saulchoir, where, beginning in 1932, Pere Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895-1990) was “regent of studies.” In 1937 there appeared his wise proto-manuscript, entitled Une école de théologie, Le Saulchoir,[27] which wanted to be a “methodological” program for the formation of Dominican students. Chenu criticized anti-Modernist theology in the name of a “Christ of faith” who can be known (as the Modernists wanted) in the “Christ of history.” In the measure in which historicity is the condition of the faith and of the Church, the theologians ought to be able to read “the signs of the times,” or the manifestation of faith in history.

The “manifesto” of the French Dominican was placed on the Index by a decree of the Holy Office on 4 February 1942, and Chenu was removed from his position. But his disciples, like Pere Yves Congar (1904-1995), were more convinced than ever that their generation ought to “recover and transfer into the patrimony of the Church any element of value which could emerge from embracing Modernism.”[28]

What the school of Le Saulchoir was for the Dominicans, the university institute of Fourvière near Lyon was for the Jesuits. This school was influenced above all by the teaching of Pere Auguste Valensin (1879-1953), a disciple of Blondel and close friend of another leading personality, the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who was suspended from his teaching position in 1926 and condemned by the Holy Office in 1939. The most direct continuer of the work of Blondel and Teilhard was Pere Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), who had known Teilhard at the beginning of the 1920s, and was profoundly influenced by him.

Corresponding to the “nouvelle théologie” was the idea of a “nouvelle chrétienté” elaborated in the same years by the French philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973). His work Humanisme intégral[29] (1936) exercised an influence no less than that of Blondel’s Action, above all on the laity[30]. Despite Maritain’s declared adherence to the principles of Thomism, his philosophy of history and his sociology converged with the Neo-Modernism which was flourishing among the young religious of the Jesuit and Dominican orders.

In 1946 there appeared an important article by Pere Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964), one of the most acute theological minds of his time, on the theme La Nouvelle Théologie où va-t-elle?[31]. The Dominican theologian affirmed that the nouvelle théologie comes from Modernism and leads to complete Apostasy. “In place of the philosophy of being or ontology there is substituted the philosophy of action, which defines the Truth as a function, not of being, but of action. Thus one returns to the Modernist position: ‘The truth is not any more immutable than man, because it evolves with him, in him, and through him’ (Denz. 2058). For this reason Saint Pius X said of the Modernists: ‘They pervert the eternal notion of truth’ (Denz. 2080).”

The Nouvelle Thélogie was thus condemned by Pius XII on 12 August 1950, with the encyclical Humani Generis.[32] The Pope denounced the “poisonous fruits” produced by “novelties in almost every field of theology” and condemned, without naming them, those who made their own the language and mentality of modern philosophy and who attempted “to be able to explain dogmas with the categories of contemporary philosophy, whether of immanentism, idealism, existentialism, or whatever other system.”[33] The principal error condemned by the encyclical was relativism, according to which human knowledge never has a real and immutable value, but only a relative value.

The encyclical Humani generis did not succeed in stopping the advance of the Nouvelle Théologie, which in the final years of the pontificate of Pius XII extended itself to the field of moral theology. The primary subverters of traditional morality were the German Jesuit Josef Fuchs (1912–2005), the Italian Redemptorist Domenico Capone (1907-1998), and above all the German Redemptorist Bernard Häring (1912-1998). The Nouvelle Thèologie, daughter of Modernism, supported the principle of the evolution of dogmas. The new moralists extended this principle to the moral realm, substituting in place of the absolute and immutable natural law a new moral law which was affective, personal, and existential. The individual conscience became the sovereign norm of morality.


The anthropological shift of Vatican II 

Writing to Cardinal Ottaviani on 9 May 1961, Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini (1888-1967) expressed himself without using half-measures: “I have said it other times and I repeat it: Modernism, condemned by St. Pius X, today has become freely spread in aspects even more serious and deleterious than it was then!”[34] The same Cardinal Ruffini, together with Cardinal Ottaviani, had suggested to John XXIII, who succeeded Pius XII in 1958, to convoke an ecumenical Council, thinking that such a council would have condemned the errors of the time in a definitive manner. But John XXIII, in his allocution which opened Vatican II on 11 October 1962, explained that the Council had been launched not to condemn errors or formulate new dogmas, but rather to propose, with language adapted to new times, the perennial teaching of the Church.[35] What actually happened was that the primacy attributed to the pastoral dimension effected a revolution in language and in mentality. It was this new mode of expressing itself which, according to the Jesuit historian Father John W. O”Malley, “signaled a definitive rupture with the preceding Councils.”[36]

The Council Fathers were surrounded by “experts,” or “periti,” charged with revising and re-elaborating the schemas and, often, preparing the interventions of the Council Fathers. Many of these theologians had been suspected of heterodoxy during the pontificate of Pius XII. The first objective they achieved was that of rejecting the conciliar schemas written by the preparatory commissions. The rejection of these schemas which, according to council regulations, were supposed to form the basis for the discussion, signaled a capital turning point in the history of the Second Vatican Council.[37]

An Italian bishop, Msgr. Luigi Borromeo (1893-1975), even in the very first session of the Council, wrote in his diary, “We are in full Modernism. Not the naive, open, aggressive and combative Modernism of the time of Pius X, no. The Modernism of today is more subtle, more camouflaged, more penetrating, and more hypocritical. It does not want to stir up another tempest; it desires that the entire Church will find that it has become Modernist without noticing it. (…) Thus the Modernism of today saves all of Christianity, its dogmas and its organization, but it empties it completely and overturns it. It is no longer a religion which comes from God, but a religion which comes directly from man and indirectly from the divine which is within man.”[38]

Msgr. Borromeo intuited the “anthropological shift” of the Second Vatican Council which translated Modernism’s philosophical principle of immanence to the theological level. The major interpreter of this shift was the Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984) [39],  the theologian who exercised the greatest influence on the Second Vatican Council and on the post-conciliar period. The conservative Council Fathers had a clear awareness of the errors which snaked their way into the heart of the Church, but they overestimated their own strength and underestimated the strength of their adversaries. The Nouvelle théologie was not only a theological school, but an organized party, with a precise objective and strategy. The voice of Msgr. Antonino Romeo (1902-1979), who at the beginning of January 1960 had launched in the journal “Divinitas” a deep attack against the Biblical Institute,[40] denouncing the existence of an articulated conspiracy on the part of the neo-Modernists who were working within the Church, remained an isolated one.[41]

The epoch of the Council was also the epoch of the greatest diffusion of communism, the principal error of the twentieth century, which Vatican II ignored. It is not difficult to see in the “primacy of the pastoral,” which made great strides in those years, the theological transposition of the “primacy of praxis” enunciated by Marx in his Thesis on Feuerbach, with these words: “It is in praxis that man ought to demonstrate the truth, that is, reality and power, the coming down to earth [mondano] of his thought,”[42] and “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in diverse ways; now however they try to change it.”[43]

The liberation theology of Latin America, in its different versions, was the point of confluence between progressive theology and the Marxist thought of the twentieth century[44]. The encounter betweeen these two currents was precisely in the affirmation of the primacy of praxis, that is, in the idea that what is more important than the truth is the experience that is drawn from action. Thus a communist theorist of the 1980s, Lucio Lombardo Radice (1916-1992), wrote that the essence of liberation theology is in “a reversal of the theology-praxis relationship. Not a praxis of theology, but rather a theology taken from a praxis of faith.”[45]

In accord with this perspective, Giuseppe Alberigo, who wanted to make the school of Bologna the continuation of that of Le Saulchoir, entrusts to the field of history the task of the “ecclesiological reform” advocated by the “nouvelle théologie” and, before that, by Modernism.

In the post-conciliar period, historical praxis became a “locus theologicus.”[46] The truth-history relationship was reformulated following the thought of Cardinal Kasper, in the form of a “critical theory of Christian and ecclesial praxis.”[47]The theology which developed in the reception of Vatican II is thus characterized by its peculiar historicity,”[48] wrote Msgr. Bruno Forte, echoing the “manifesto” of Le Soulchoir. It is in this perspective that it is necessary to place key words of the conciliar epoch such as “pastoral,” “aggiornamento,” “signs of the times,” which in recent years have effected a true and proper cultural revolution by means of language.[49]


Neo-Modernism in the Church today 

How extensive is the presence of Neo-Modernism in the Church today? It is difficult to find a seminary or a Catholic university that is immune from it. The question ought to be turned around: Which seminary or Catholic university is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church? Unfortunately, it is not difficult to answer this question. Modernism pervades the Church, even if few explicitly claim it. Among those who do is Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who in an article which appeared in the newspaper Sole-24 Ore affirmed that the intuition at the foundation of modernism “was linked to the necessity of a cultural and systematic ‘aggiornamento’ of the analysis and communication of the Christian message” and that “in itself this undertaking was not only legitimate but necessary.” In Ravasi’s interpretation, Loisy, Tyrrell, and Buonaiuti were “theologians of great intellectual quality who were attacked by the anti-Modernist repression of the Church.”[50]

Furthermore, Cardinal Ravasi, affixed his preface to La vita di Antonio Fogazzaro[51], a book by Tommaso Gallarati Scotti (1878-1940) which was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books (9 December 1920), for its apologia of an author who had been repeatedly placed on the Index, the Vicenzan author Antonio Fogazzaro (1842-1911). The names of Fogazzaro and Gallarati Scotti accompany each other in the pages of Cardinal Ravasi along with other Modernists, such as Tyrrell, Loisy, Murri, Buonaiuti, all of whom were excommunicated and all of whom are remembered by Ravasi as interpreters “of the ferment that was then developing in society and culture.”[52]

Cardinal Kasper does not claim Modernism as explicitly as Ravasi does, but his philosophical and theological vision is imbued with the same errors. His teachers are Schelling and Hegel, Heidegger and Rahner. From these authors he takes up the idea of a “renewal of the theological method” in which becoming prevails over being, time over space, history over nature, Scripture over Tradition, praxis over doctrine, life over truth.

In the presentation with which Cardinal Kasper opened the the work of the Extraordinary Consistory on the family on 20 February 2014, Christianity is transformed into life without truth, or better still into life which produces the truth in the “becoming” of experience. Praxis becomes the measure of value, and since the life of many Christians today is immersed in sin to the point that they no longer consider it to be sin, the Church ought to adapt her doctrine to these lived convictions, negating the very concept of sin itself, deprived of any ontological significance. The ultimate criteria of truth becomes sociological reality.

The good rapport between Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper is well-known, but despite the fact that Padre Bergoglio spent a period of study in Germany, it is difficult to imagine that he had the intellectual tools to understand the most cryptic passages of Rahnerian-Kasperian theology. The culture of Bergoglio, more than it is indebted to his Jesuit brother Rahner, is indebted to another Jesuit brother, Father de Lubac, and through de Lubac, it is linked to Blondel, as many exegetes of Bergoglian thought assure us.

Among those who would attempt to exonerate Pope Francis from every stain of heterodoxy is Professor Massimo Borghesi; however, he contradicts himself when he assures us that Pope Francis is Blondelian, through father Gaston Fessard (1897-1978).[53] Maurice Blondel was in fact a Modernist because he created his philosophical method out of the principle of immanence, as Fathers Tonquédec[54], Réginald Garrigou Lagrange[55] and  Cornelio Fabro[56] have demonstrated in numerous writings. In 1924 the Holy Office condemned twelve propositions taken from the philosophy of Blondel, among which was the one concerning his notion of truth as “conformity of mind and life” and no longer as rational conformity of the intellect with the thing being inverstigated (adaequatio rei et intellectus).

The relationship of Blondel with Papa Bergoglio was brought to light by another one of his Argentine Jesuit brothers, Padre Juan Carlos Scannone, who in his volume François philosophe[57] dedicates many pages to the parallel between Bergoglian philosophy and “la dialectique blondélienne de l’action.”[58]

Francis and Blondel are united in their anti-intellectual conception of knowledge and in the reduction of truth to method or language. The formula, “God is not an equation”[59] expresses this conception, which Professor Gian Enrico Rusconi defines as “narrative theology.”[60] Rusconi recognizes that Pope Francis claims to change the paradigm of Catholic theology, from systematic theology to narrative theology, from argumentation to narration, in the attempt to redefine the very identity of Catholicism with new mythical or metaphorical semantic codes.

Pope Francis affirms in “Evangelii gaudium” (nn. 231-233) and in “Laudato si’” (n. 201) that “the reality is more important than the idea.” Padre Scalese has observed that the postulate “the reality is more important than the idea” has nothing to do with the ‘adaequatio intellectus ad rem.’ “Rather, it means we must accept reality as it is, without attempting to change it based on absolute principles, for example moral principles, which are only abstract ‘ideas,’ which most of the time risk becoming ideologies.”[61]

Papa Bergoglio is neither a theologian nor a philosopher, but the phrase which says that the reality counts more than the idea is a philosophical affirmation which overturns the primacy of being and contemplation which is the basis for all of Western and Christian philosophy. The contraposition between the theologian pope and the pastor pope signifies the end of dogmatic and moral theology as norms of action for the Christian person. Pastoral ministry, without theology, loses the absolute references of metaphysics and of morality and offers us instead an ethics of “day by day and case by case.” Human action is reduced to the choice of the individual conscience, based not in the objectivity of the divine and natural law, but in the “becoming” of history. But because every idea has consequences in reality, we must also resort to history to demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of these errors.

Just as it would be wrong to combat the symptoms of a revolution without addressing the ideological causes, it would also be erroneous to attempt to abstractly refute errors without considering their concrete consequences. Today we are facing a revolutionary process which ought to be evaluated at the level of thought, of action, and of deeper tendencies. This is one of the teachings which I owe to Professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira, author of a book which appeared in 1943, Em defesa de Ação Catolica,[62] which constitutes one of the first wide-ranging refutations of the modernist deviations within Catholic Action in Brazil and in the world.

The problem which we are confronting is not an abstract question, but rather it touches concretely the way in which we live our faith at an historic moment described by Benedict XVI on the eve of his renunciation of the papacy in these words: “As we know, in large areas of the world the faith is in danger of being extinguished like a flame which no longer has any fuel. We are facing a profound crisis of faith , a loss of the religious sense, which constitutes the greatest challenge for the Church of today.[63]

I believe that at the roots of the abdication of Pope Benedict there may be also the awareness of having lost this challenge as a result of the inadequacy of the “hermeneutic of continuity,” a theological approach which makes the very same error which it wants to combat. It is necessary to oppose neo-Modernism, which presents itself as a changeable and subjective interpretation of Catholic doctrine, not with a contrary hermeneutic, but rather with the fullness of Catholic doctrine, which coincides with Tradition, maintained and transmitted not only by the Magisterium but by all the faithful, “from the bishops to the last layperson,” as expressed by the celebrated formula of Saint Augustine.[64] The sensus fidei impels us to refute every hermeneutical deformation of the truth, supported by the immutable Tradition of the Church[65].

At any rate, it is not enough to limit oneself to affirming that the doctrine of the Faith is immutable, it is also necessary to add to this that the Faith is not impractical and it does not admit of exceptions on the level of praxis. It is necessary to reintegrate the disassociation which the neo-Modernists have created between doctrine and praxis, restoring to Truth and to Life the inseparable unity expressed in those words of Jesus Christ which show us the only possible Way in the darkness of the present moment (Gv 14, 6).


Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino



[1] Charles Périn, Le modernisme dans l’Eglise. D’après des lettres inédites de Lamennais, Victor Lecoffre, Paris, 1881.

[2] Matteo  Liberatore, S. J., Il naturalismo politico, introduction and editing by Giovanni Turco, Rispostes, Giffoni Valle Piana 2016.

[3] Decr. S. Officii Lamentabili, 3 July 1907 in AAS, vol. 40 (1907), p. 470-478; Denz-H, nn. 3401-3466.

[4] Pius X, Enciclica Pascendi dominici gregis, 8 September 1907 in AAS, vol. 40 (1907), p. 596-628; Denz-H, nn. 3475-3500.

[5] S. Pius X, Lett. Apost. In praecipuis laudibus, 3 January 1904, in AAS, 36 (1903-1904), p. 67.

[6] Roberto de Mattei, Il Ralliement di Leone XIII. Il fallimento di un progetto pastorale, Le Lettere, Firenze 2015.

[7] Leo XIII, Enc. Au Milieu des sollicitudes, 16 February 1892, in AAS 24 (1891-1892), pp. 519-529.

[8] Cfr. F. Laplanche, La crise de l’origine. La science catholique des Evangiles et l’histoire du XXème siècle, Albin Michel, Paris 2006; id., La Bible en France entre mythe et critique, XVI-XIX siècles, Albin Michel, Paris 1994.

[9] Emmanuel Barbier, Histoire du catholicisme libéral et social en France du Concile du Vatican à l’avènement de SS. Benoit XV (1870-1914), Cadoret, Paris 1923-1924, vol.  III, p. 199.

[10] Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), L’Action. Essai d’une critique de vie et d’une science de pratique, Alcan, Paris 1893. This work was reprinted on the occasion of its centenary by Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1993.

[11] Letter Testem benevolentiae de americanismo, 22 January 1899, in ASS, 31 (1898-99), pp. 470-479.

[12] Leone XIII, Depuis le jour, to the Archbishops, Bishops, and Clergy of France, 8 September 1899, in AAS, 32 (1899-1900), pp. 193-213.

[13] This essay, published by the editor Picard on 17 January 1903, was placed on 23 December 1903 on the Index of Forbidden Books together with four other works of Loisy, who was personally excommunicated on 7 March 1908.

[14] Alfred Loisy, Choses passées, Nourry, Paris 1913, p. 246.

[15] George Tyrrell, Through Scylla and Charydbis, London, Green and Co. 1907, pp. 305-306.

[16] Giuseppe Prezzolini, Cos’è  il modernismo, Treves, Milano 1908, p. 75.

[17] Paul Sabatier, Les modernistes, Fischbacher, Paris 1909, p. LI.

[18] Lettres de Georges Tyrrell à Henri Bremond, Aubier-Montaigne, Paris 1971, p. 280.

[19] Cornelio Fabro, Modernismo, in Enciclopedia Cattolica, vol. VIII, col 1191.

[20] S. Pius X, Pascendi, n. 228.

[21] C. Fabro, Modernismo, col. 1190.

[22] Emile Poulat, Modernistica. Horizons, Physionomies Débats, Nouvelles Editions Latines, Paris 1982, p. 25.

[23] Motu proprio Sacrorum antistitum of 1 September 1910, in AAS, 2 (1910), p. 669-672 ; Denz-H, nn. 3537-3550.

[24] Pius X, Motu proprio Sacrorum Antistitum, p. 655.

[25] A. Houtin, Histoire du Modernisme catholique, published by the author, Paris 1913., pp. 116-117.

[26] Ernesto Buonaiuti, Il modernismo cattolico Guanda, Modena 1943. p. 128.

[27] Marie-Dominique Chenu, Le Saulchoir. Una scuola di teologia, preceduto da una nota introduttiva di G. Alberigo, Marietti, Casale Monferrato 1982.

[28] Aidan Nichols, Yves Congar, San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 1991, p. 12.

[29] Cfr. Jacques Maritain, Humanisme intégral. Problèmes temporels et spirituels d’une nouvelle chrétienté, Aubier-Montaigne, Parigi 1936, now in Jacques and Raissa Maritain, Oeuvres complètes, Editions Universitaires, Fribourg 1984, vol. VI, pp. 293-642.

[30] Cfr. Jean-Hugues Soret, Philosophes de l’Action catholique: Blondel-Maritain, Cerf, Parigi 2007.

[31] Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., La nouvelle théologie où va-t-elle?, in “Angelicum”, n. 23 (1946), pp. 126-145.

[32] Pius XII, Enciclica Humani Generis del 12 agosto 1950, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. XII, pp. 493-510.

[33] Ibid., p. 499.

[34] Letter of Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini to Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani of 9 May 1961, in Francesco Michele Stabile, Il Cardinale Ruffini e il Vaticano II. Lettere di un “intransigente”, in “Cristianesimo nella Storia”, n. 11 (1990), p. 115.

[35] John XXIII, Allocution Gaudet Mater Ecclesiae of 11 October 1962, in AAS, 54 (1962), p. 792.

[36] John W. O’Malley, Che cosa è successo nel Vaticano II, Italian translation, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2010, p. 47; cfr. Enrico Maria Radaelli, Il domani-terribile o radioso? – del dogma, Milano 2013.

[37] Michael Davies, Pope John’s Council, Augustine Publishing Company, Chawleigh, Chulmleigh (Devon) 1972; Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II. Una storia mai scritta, Lindau, Torino 2011; Paolo Pasqualucci, Il Concilio parallelo. L’inizio anomalo del Vaticano II, Fede e Cultura, Verona 2014.

[38] Il Concilio Vaticano II attraverso le pagine del diario di Luigi Carlo Borromeo, vescovo di Pesaro, in “Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia”, 52 (1998), 3 December 1962.

[39] On Rahner cfr. The critical studies of C. Fabro, La svolta antropologica di Karl Rahner, Editrice del Verbo Incarnato, Segni 2011; Karl Rahner: un’analisi critica. La figura, l’opera e la recezione teologica di Karl Rahner (1904-1984), edited by P. Serafino M. Lanzetta; Giovanni Cavalcoli o.p., Karl Rahner: il Concilio tradito, Fede e Cultura, Verona 2009; Fra Tomas Tyn, OP (1950-1990), Saggio sull’etica esistenziale formale di Karl Rahner, Fede e Cultura, Verona 2011; Jaime Mercant Simó, Los fundamentos filosoficos de la teologia trascendental de Karl Rahner, Leonardo da Vinci, Roma 2017.

[40] Cfr. Antonino Romeo, L’Enciclica “Divino Afflante Spiritu” e le “opiniones novae”, in “Divinitas”, n. 4 (1960), pp. 385-456.

[41] A documented reconstruction of the polemic in Anthony Dupont e Karim Schelkens, Katholische Exegese vor dem Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil (1960-1961), in “Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie”, n. 1 (2010), pp. 1-24.

[42] Karl Marx, Tesi su Feuerbach (1845), in Feuerbach-Marx-Engels, Materialismo dialettico e materialismo storico, a cura di Cornelio Fabro, Editrice La Scuola, Brescia 1962, pp. 81-84, II Tesi, p. 82.

[43] Ivi, XI Tesi, p. 84.

[44] Cfr. Julio Loredo, Teologia della liberazione. Un salvagente di piombo per i poveri, Cantagalli, Siena 2015.

[45] Lucio Lombardo Radice, Cristianesimo e liberazione. Il caso dell’America latina in “Critica marxista” n. 5 (sett.-ott. 1981), p. 97.

[46] See, among others, Il Concilio vent’anni dopo. L’ingresso della categoria “storia”, edited by Enrico Cattaneo, Ave, Roma 1985, pp. 419-429.

[47] Walter Kasper, La funzione della teologia della Chiesa, in Avvenire della Chiesa. Il libro del Congresso di Bruxelles, Queriniana, Brescia 1970, p. 72.

[48] Bruno Forte, Le prospettive della ricerca teologica, in Il Concilio Vaticano II. Recezione e attualità alla luce del Giubileo, edited by Rino Fisichella, San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 2000. p. 424.

[49] Guido Vignelli, Una rivoluzione pastorale. Sei parole talismaniche nel dibattito sinodale sulla famiglia, with a preface by His Excellency Msgr. Athanasius Schneider, Tradizione, Famiglia, Proprietà, Roma 2016.

[50] Gianfranco Ravasi,  Sguardo moderno sul Modernismo, in Il Sole 24 Ore, 22 February 2015.

[51] Tommaso Gallarati Scotti, La vita di Antonio Fogazzaro , Morcelliana, Brescia 2011).

[52] Card. G. Ravasi, preface to T. Gallarati Scotti cited, p. 6.

[53] Massimo Borghesi, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Una biografia intellettuale, Jaca Book, 2017.

[54] Joseph de Tonquédec, Immanence. Essai critique sur la doctrine de Maurice Blondel, Beauchesne, paris 1913.

[55] R. Garrigou-Lagrange, Vérité et option selon M: Maurice Blondel, in “Acta Pontificiae Academiae Romanae S. Tomae Aquinatis, Marietti, Roma 1936, pp. 146-149.

[56] C. Fabro, Dall’essere all’esistente, Morcelliana, Brescia 1957, pp. 425-489.

[57] Juan Carlos Scannone, La philosophie blondélienne de l’action et l’action du papa Francois, in E. Falque, L. Solignac (under the direction of), François philosophe, Salvator, Paris 2017. The volume gathers the contributions of seven Catholic intelectuals at the symposium  “Philosophie du papa François” held 18 October 2016 through the initiative of the Institut Catholique of Paris. Cfr. the recension made by Don Samuele Cecotti, La praxis-philosophie bergoglienne. Sources et portée, in “Catholica” 138 (2018), pp. 13-24.

[58] François philosophe, pp. 41-65.

[59] Papa Francesco, Discourse at Santa Marta of 21 May 2016.

[60] Gian Enrico Rusconi, La teologia narrativa di papa Francesco, Laterza, Bari-Roma 2017.

[61]Giovanni Scalese, I quattro chiodi a cui Bergoglio appende il suo pensiero, in

[62] Plinio Correa de Oliveira, Em defesa de Ação Catolica, with the preface of the Nuncio Benedetto Aloisi Masella, Ave Maria, São Paulo 1943.

[63] Benedict XVI, Discorso ai partecipanti alla plenaria della Congregazione per la Dottrina della fede, January 27, 2012.

[64] S. Augustine, De Praedestinatione sanctorum, 14, 27, in PL, 44, col. 980.

[65] Cfr. R. de Mattei, Apologia della Tradizione, Lindau, Torino 2011.

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