…Pascendi Dominici Gregis occurs on September 8, 2007. With yesterday being the feast of St. Pius X in the traditional calendar (and, really, for St. Pius X, isn’t that the calendar that matters? ;-)), I figured it was time to write a post in homage to this important encyclical. This great yet now largely forgotten encyclical not only shows forth the sanctity of St. Pius (after all, canvassing, compiling, analyzing, and correcting the doctrines of the modernists would give me a headache after three seconds), but also serves as a papal “I told you so” to modern day Catholics.
This encyclical identified the most serious threat to the Church in our times: modernism. Modernism is described by St. Pius as “the synthesis of all heresies”, in that it is the culmination and logical conclusion of them all. What the Protestant revolution began in the spiritual realm, and the French revolution brought home to the temporal realm, is now an institutionalized and internalized way of thinking, praying and believing in the lives of nearly all of us. Even the most traditional of Catholics today has been harmed by modernist ideas in some way. We have been raised in it– cooked in it, if you will– and shaking it off requires a supreme and constant effort.
It is on our televisions, in our classrooms, assumed as unassailable reality by our friends and relations and, sadly, even by many of our Churchmen. Even when we decry modernism we find that we so often live our lives as though it were true.
What is it, in a nutshell? That is a tough question, and St. Pius deserves great praise for supplying an answer. It is a many-headed beast that evades categorization, but St. Pius identified several salient points:
As a philosopher, the modernist is agnostic, depending upon observable phenomena for the tenets of his philosophy. Revelation is only that which manifests itself as an internal “inspiration”; dogmas and authoritative teachers have no place. Hence, because theology is always a matter of immanence, dogmas do and should change and evolve.
As a believer, the modernist is sure of his faith by a feeling of inner certitude; the Divine speaks in his soul, and this word is alone authoritative. It transcends and supersedes intellectual truths or proofs, and if another cannot see the modernist’s truth, it is only because he does not place himself in the proper interior disposition to experience the same inner phenomena.
In science and history, the modernist sees these areas as completely separate from faith, both in the sense of different subject matters and also in terms of the criteria used to judge what is true in them. Whenever there is an apparent overlap, the modernist turns first to observable phenomena– this combined with his philosophical agnosticism, produces the effect that science is always superior to religion. As St. Pius said, Faith is always subject to science, according to the modernist.
History and science cannot be viewed in light of Catholic dogmas– Catholic dogmas, insofar as the modernist holds to any of them, must be viewed and limited in the light of history and science. For example, because no one has been observed to rise from the dead, and yet because the modernist “believes” in the Resurrection it must be true, he attempts explanations like “the Apostles experienced the ‘risen’ Christ within them” or “Christ is risen in the Church” or such rot.
With regard to the truth, existence and life of the Church in the view of the modernists, St. Pius writes:
First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact be changed. In this way they pass to what is practically their principal doctrine, namely, evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject under penalty of death — dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself. The enunciation of this principle will not be a matter of surprise to anyone who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it operates. And first, with regard to faith. The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing perfusion of the religious sense into the conscience. The progress was of two kinds: negative, by the elimination of all extraneous elements, such, for example, as those derived from the family or nationality; and positive, by that intellectual and moral refining of man, by means of which the idea of the divine became fuller and clearer, while the religious sense became more acute. For the progress of faith the same causes are to be assigned as those which are adduced above to explain its origin. But to them must be added those extraordinary men whom we call prophets — of whom Christ was the greatest — both because in their lives and their words there was something mysterious which faith attributed to the divinity, and because it fell to their lot to have new and original experiences fully in harmony with the religious needs of their time. The progress of dogma is due chiefly to the fact that obstacles to the faith have to be surmounted, enemies have to be vanquished, and objections have to be refuted. Add to this a perpetual striving to penetrate ever more profoundly into those things which are contained in the mysteries of faith. Thus, putting aside other examples, it is found to have happened in the case of Christ: in Him that divine something which faith recognized in Him was slowly and gradually expanded in such a way that He was at last held to be God. The chief stimulus of the evolution of worship consists in the need of accommodation to the manners and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of adapting itself to historical conditions and of harmonizing itself with existing forms of society. Such is their view with regard to each.
The ultimate evil of the modernist is that instead of breaking openly from the Church like the protestants, they remain inside the Church, like a veritable fifth column, seeking ever to “reform” the Church they disobey. Their disobedience is to them always heroic resistance to tyranny; it is often secret, and sometimes open. They believe they have a duty to be instigators of change. This duty, of course, is born of pride, curiosity and obstinacy.
In our time, have we not seen the damage done to Holy Mother Church in the areas of doctrine, catechesis, liturgy, her role in the world, and her efficacy of mission?
Pascendi is a Godsend to the Church. St. Pius X made it a point of his pontificate to charge his bishops and clergy to be vigilant against it– to look for it in the seminaries, among the theologians, in the pulpits. Through his vigilance, the modernist scourge was held at bay for more than fifty years.
St. Pius required all clergy to swear an oath against modernism. This oath was obligatory until 1967 (what an utterly to-be-expected date). I encourage any reader who has not read this oath to do so.
This Sunday, the New York Times posted an editorial marking the 100th Anniversary of Pascendi. It called the encyclical a short term success but a long term disaster. Yet even this bastion of modernism knows more about the Catholic faith and the current state of affairs than most self-identified Catholics:
“Major documents solemnly approved by the Second Vatican Council– on the nature of the Church, on Scripture and on worship– cannot be squared with aspects of Pascendi, nor can many statements by Pope John Paul II, or the most recent book on Jesus by Pope Benedict XVI.”
(Note that the above quote does not stand for the proposition that any definitive teaching of the Church is contrary to Pascendi— on the contrary, this is not possible. This post does not seek to exhaustively compass the pastoral vs. dogmatic issue when it relates to the Council, for example, nor to dissect the private opinions or prudential statements of the Popes).
The Times goes on to say that Pascendi has its defenders. Some argue it was necessary to hold off modernism at that time to protect the loss of vitality that struck the protestant sects. Others, the Times says, “go further”. These people see the Church as still very much threatened by modernism and would like to see Pascendi resurrected and the oath against modernism enforced. Then there are those who believe that Pascendi was a disaster for the Church, a reactionary tantrum instead of true rapprochement with modern man.
Read Pascendi for yourself, survey the state of the Church, and decide for yourself into which group you belong.
Thanks be to Almighty God for His Blessed Servant Pius X.
Sancte Pie, ora pro nobis!