Modernism: A Plague Assaulting Tradition

By: Tony Capobianco

The Plague by    Arnold Böcklin   . 1898. This artwork is in the public domain. {{PD}}

The Plague by Arnold Böcklin. 1898. This artwork is in the public domain. {{PD}}

In a previous Virgo Potens article, the consequences of abandoning Tradition were discussed. This article looks at the monstrosity that led many in the human element of the Church to abandon Tradition. Each of the following questions have one answer. What caused so many clerics and laity to abandon Tradition? What was the primary cause of the revolutionary changes within the Church over the past century? What has caused the phenomenon of personal interpretation of Scripture to become more common than using traditional Scripture commentaries? How is it that reason and the intellect have frequently become subjugated to the emotions? What has seduced many to abandon numerous traditional pius practices in favor of novelties which are often inferior? Why are so many Catholics confused about what they ought to believe? What caused the errant idea that Dogma can evolve in such a way that it contradicts the clear sense in which the Church has always and everywhere understood it? How is it that it has become common to label faithful Catholics as being rigid? What is it that has caused some churchmen to advocate for what appears to be pantheism? What has prevented Shepherds from teaching that the Catholic Church is the Ark of Salvation, outside of which there is no salvation? What is the cause of the ongoing great apostasy? What is the name of the plague of heresies rampaging through the City of God?

The insidious heresy of Modernism is the answer to all of the above questions. Modernism is a spiritual, philosophical, and intellectual pestilence which has infected and continues to infect and corrupt the good, the true, and the beautiful. Much like any effective virus, Modernism seeks to evade the defense of the body’s immune system by hiding in plain sight. This hiding in plain sight is accomplished by deceiving the body and through such deception, the body’s immune system is unable to differentiate between the virus and what are truly healthy components of the body. Due to the inability of the natural defenses to recognize the deadly alien invader, the virus replicates itself and spreads throughout the body as it corrupts and ultimately destroys what was once a healthy body. If we relate this analogy to the Mystical Body of Christ while applying the language of St. Robert Bellarmine, we might say that catholics infected with Modernism are like bad humours or ulcers within the body. After having infected the host body, the virus seeks to spread from one host, to another, to another, until there is nothing and no one left to contaminate. In this analogy, Modernism is no mere virus, it is a devastating plague which resembles the bubonic plague or the Black Death.

The Black Death pandemic between 1347-1351 is estimated to have killed 1/3 of Europe’s population. The plague of Modernism, the most terrible heresy of all time, relentlessly and diabolically assaults the Traditional Catholic Faith as it scourges and seeks to crucify the Mystical Body of Christ. This plague can potentially corrupt everything. This plague corrupts the good into bad, the beautiful into the hideous, the truth into lies, and life into death. In short Modernism is as Pope St. Pius X said, “the synthesis of all heresies”. If an individual heresy is likened to a deadly virus then Modernism ought to be likened to the synthesis of every historically deadly disease. That is to say, the plague of Modernism could be likened to the synthesis of the Black Death, Ebola, Smallpox, AIDS, and the Super Flu outbreak of 1918. Modernism is a plague from the pit of Hell. To fight this plague, we must first identify it, study it, find the remedy, administer the remedy, and then send Modernism back to the pit of Hell from which it came.

Is comparing Modernism to one of the most terrifying plagues in history a bit hyperbolic? Could this heresy really cause so much destruction? Could Modernism really have the capacity to corrupt nearly every Catholic Truth? It would seem that arguably the greatest Pope of the past 200 years wouldn’t consider the language of this article to be hyperbolic. Pope St. Pius X wrote a Papal Encyclical called Pascendi Dominici Gregis in which he delivers a devastating condemnation of Modernism as he brings the darkness of the Modernist errors into the light. Pascendi Dominici Gregis is quite possibly the the most important and simultaneously the most ignored papal encyclical of the past 150-200 years. Rather than attempting to analyze what Modernism is and what its dangers are myself, the following lengthy excerpts from Pascendi Dominici Gregis by Pope St. Pius X will be presented as a crash course on Modernism. The following excerpts from Pascendi Dominici Gregis will be presented in a questions and answers format.

Why was Pascendi Dominici Gregis written?

1. One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and the gainsaying of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body, for owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking ‘men speaking perverse things,’ [1] ‘vain talkers and seducers,’[2] ‘erring and driving into error.’[3] It must, however, be confessed that these latter days have witnessed a notable increase in the number of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, who, by arts entirely new and full of deceit, are striving to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, as far as in them lies, utterly to subvert the very Kingdom of Christ. Wherefore We may no longer keep silence, lest We should seem to fail in Our most sacred duty, and lest the kindness that, in the hope of wiser counsels, We have hitherto shown them, should be set down to lack of diligence in the discharge of Our office.

2. That We should act without delay in this matter is made imperative especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; but, what is to be most dreaded and deplored, in her very bosom, and are the more mischievous the less they keep in the open. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, and, what is much more sad, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, animated by a false zeal for the Church, lacking the solid safeguards of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, put themselves forward as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the Person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious audacity, they degrade to the condition of a simple and ordinary man.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

In what way is this Modernist attack from within the Church more dangerous than attacks from without?

Hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain from the very fact that their knowledge of her is more intimate. Moreover, they lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And once having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to diffuse poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth which they leave untouched, none that they do not strive to corrupt. Further, none is more skillful, none more astute than they, in the employment of a thousand noxious devices;
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

What is the heresy of Modernism?

And now with Our eyes fixed upon the whole system, no one will be surprised that We should define it to be the synthesis of all heresies. Undoubtedly, were anyone to attempt the task of collecting together all the errors that have been broached against the faith and to concentrate into one the sap and substance of them all, he could not succeed in doing so better than the Modernists have done. Nay, they have gone farther than this, for, as We have already intimated, their system means the destruction not of the Catholic religion alone, but of all religion.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

In Modernism, is there to be anything stable, anything immutable in the Church? Do the Modernists have forerunners to their doctrines? Are the methods and doctrines of Modernism made for edification or destruction?

28. It is thus, Venerable Brethren, that for the Modernists, whether as authors or propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor, indeed, are they without forerunners in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our predecessor Pius IX wrote: ‘These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts.’ [14] On the subject of revelation and dogma in particular, the doctrine of the Modernists offers nothing new. We find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX, where it is enunciated in these terms: ‘Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason’;[15] and condemned still more solemnly in the Vatican Council: ‘The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence also that sense of the sacred dogmas is to be perpetually retained which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth.’ [16] Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, barred by this pronouncement; on the contrary, it is supported and maintained. For the same Council continues: ‘Let intelligence and science and wisdom, therefore, increase and progress abundantly and vigorously in individuals, and in the mass, in the believer and in the whole Church, throughout the ages and the centuries—but only in its own kind, that is, according to the same dogma, the same sense, the same acceptation.’

Such, Venerable Brethren, is a summary description of the apologetic method of the Modernists, in perfect harmony with their doctrines—methods and doctrines replete with errors, made not for edification but for destruction, not for the making of Catholics but for the seduction of those who are Catholics into heresy; and tending to the utter subversion of all religion.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

Modernists present themselves as reformers, what are their aims? What do they wish to change in the Church? Do Modernists desire the suppression of celibacy of the clergy?

38. It remains for Us now to say a few words about the Modernist as reformer. From all that has preceded, it is abundantly clear how great and how eager is the passion of such men for innovation. In all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten. They wish philosophy to be reformed, especially in the ecclesiastical seminaries. They wish the scholastic philosophy to be relegated to the history of philosophy and to be classed among absolute systems, and the young men to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live. They desire the reform of theology: rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma. As for history, it must be written and taught only according to their methods and modern principles. Dogmas and their evolution, they affirm, are to be harmonized with science and history. In the Catechism no dogmas are to be inserted except those that have been reformed and are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, they say, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, and steps must be taken to prevent their further increase, though, indeed, some of the admirers of symbolism are disposed to be more indulgent on this head. They cry out that ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic departments. They insist that both outwardly and inwardly it must be brought into harmony with the modern conscience which now wholly tends towards democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy and even to the laity and authority which is too much concentrated should be decentralized. The Roman Congregations and especially the index and the Holy Office, must be likewise modified. The ecclesiastical authority must alter its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political organizations it must adapt itself to them in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, and are to be more encouraged in practice. They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty, and that in their ideas and action they should admit the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, gladly listening to the teaching of their Protestant masters, would desire the suppression of the celibacy of the clergy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed by them and according to their principles?
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

Modernists listen to the teaching of their Protestant masters. To where does Modernism lead?

These reasons suffice to show superabundantly by how many roads Modernism leads to atheism and to the annihilation of all religion. The error of Protestantism made the first step on this path; that of Modernism makes the second; atheism makes the next.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

What is the doctrine of Immanence as believed by the Modernists? Where does the Modernist doctrine of Immanence lead?

Now the doctrine of immanence in the Modernist acceptation holds and professes that every phenomenon of conscience proceeds from man as man. The rigorous conclusion from this is the identity of man with God, which means pantheism.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

In what ways are curiosity and pride the moral causes of Modernism? What is the intellectual cause of Modernism?

40. To penetrate still deeper into the meaning of Modernism and to find a suitable remedy for so deep a sore, it behooves Us, Venerable Brethren, to investigate the causes which have engendered it and which foster its growth. That the proximate and immediate cause consists in an error of the mind cannot be open to doubt. We recognize that the remote causes may be reduced to two: curiosity and pride. Curiosity by itself, if not prudently regulated, suffices to account for all errors. Such is the opinion of Our predecessor, Gregory XVI, who wrote: ‘A lamentable spectacle is that presented by the aberrations of human reason when it yields to the spirit of novelty, when against the warning of the Apostle it seeks to know beyond what it is meant to know, and when relying too much on itself it thinks it can find the truth outside the Catholic Church wherein truth is found without the slightest shadow of error.’

But it is pride which exercises an incomparably greater sway over the soul to blind it and lead it into error, and pride sits in Modernism as in its own house, finding sustenance everywhere in its doctrines and lurking in its every aspect. It is pride which fills Modernists with that self-assurance by which they consider themselves and pose as the rule for all. It is pride which puffs them up with that vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and makes them say, elated and inflated with presumption, ‘We are not as the rest of men,’ and which, lest they should seem as other men, leads them to embrace and to devise novelties even of the most absurd kind. It is pride which rouses in them the spirit of disobedience and causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty. It is owing to their pride that they seek to be the reformers of others while they forget to reform themselves, and that they are found to be utterly wanting in respect for authority, even for the supreme authority. Truly there is no road which leads so directly and so quickly to Modernism as pride.

41. If we pass on from the moral to the intellectual causes of Modernism, the first and the chief which presents itself is ignorance. Yes, these very Modernists who seek to be esteemed as Doctors of the Church, who speak so loftily of modern philosophy and show such contempt for scholasticism, have embraced the one with all its false glamour, precisely because their ignorance of the other has left them without the means of being able to recognize confusion of thought and to refute sophistry. Their whole system, containing as it does errors so many and so great, has been born of the union between faith and false philosophy.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

How do Modernists make new recruits? After having infiltrated professorships in seminaries and universities what impact do Modernists have on these positions?

43. And here we have already some of the artifices employed by Modernists to exploit their wares. What efforts do they not make to win new recruits! They seize upon professorships in the seminaries and universities, and gradually make of them chairs of pestilence.
— (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis)

The Holy Father, Pope St. Pius X, identifies and rebukes the entire errant system of Modernism with holy precision. He sees in Modernism serious and sinister errors which lead to the destruction of the Catholic Faith and indeed all religion. The Catholic Church, of course, will remain intact until Judgement Day but this doesn’t mean that heresies will not seduce a significant number of the human element of the Church. Objectively speaking, Modernism leads to apostasy and atheism. It is for this reason that Modernism, which is the synthesis of all heresies, is more terrifying than the worst pandemics in history. The Black Death only caused physical death whereas Modernism causes the loss of Faith and eternal damnation. The terrible Black Plague or Bubonic Plague held deadly influence over the body but it held no such influence over the soul and eternal life. On the other hand, the plague of Modernism can influence spiritual realities and lead to what is known as the second death. As sorrowful as physical death is to the Lord God Who is The Author of Life, it is the damnation of souls which is more sorrowful. Modernism has the potential to separate a great number of souls from Christ and His Church.

Pope St. Pius X explained that pride was a chief cause of Modernism. The deadly sin of pride finds an abode in Modernism. Pride was the sin which caused Lucifer to rebel against God and to be cast down from heaven. Pride is the deadly vice by which Modernists emulate their spiritual father, the Devil. Modernists puff themselves up with pride as they arrogantly scoff at Tradition. It is pride which causes the Modernist to have contempt for the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and scholasticism. It is pride which tempts the Modernist to believe that they have a better understanding of Sacred Scripture than all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It is pride which causes the Modernists to embrace Immanentism. It is the Modernist doctrine of Immanence which reeks of Gnosticism. Authentic and holy Catholic mystics have described their mystical visions as if they were looking into a mirror and the mirror was God and the visions were in God. Contrarily, the Modernist while contemplating some idea in his mind, would seem to gaze into the mirror and see not God but himself as he insanely makes a god of himself. The Modernist becomes intoxicated by what he perceives as his own brilliance and enlightenment. Drunk with self love and pride, the Modernist desires and seeks to reinterpret the past, destroy Tradition, and create a new church made in his image and likeness. It would seem as though within the disordered mind of the Modernist there is a hall of mirrors, as if in a maze of mirrors in a funhouse, in which the Modernist has become willingly trapped as he has fallen in love with the many reflections of himself in the maze of mirrors.

Tradition has been maliciously assaulted by the Modernists as they have attempted to destroy the Church from within. Sorrowfully, despite the dire warnings of Pope St. Pius X, much of the Modernist agenda has come to its rotten fruition and currently more of the Modernist agenda is being openly promoted at the highest levels of the Church. Modernists believe in the evolution of dogma and doctrine in such a way that dogma and doctrine become mere signs of religion that are adaptable to the particular situation that the Church finds itself at a particular time. As such the Modernist will label those who believe and defend the immutable Truth of the authentic and traditional Catholic Faith as being rigid. For a Catholic the Truth and the principle of judgement are found in an external source or that is to say that the Truth is found in Divine Revelation contained in the Sacred Deposit of Faith. However, the Modernist holds that truth is imminent or within oneself as the Modernist makes the principle of judgement interior to man. Modernism turns man inward only to find man. Modernism sets up within man an altar to himself as man becomes the object of worship. Thus it is apparent that the champions of Modernism are Satan and pride.

Hopefully this article on Modernism will inspire those who have not yet read Pascendi Dominici Gregis by Pope St. Pius X, to do so. The current crisis in the Church cannot be properly understood without first understanding the heresy of Modernism. The remedy of this plague of Modernism will be the topic of an upcoming article. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Our Lady is the Destroyer of Heresies and She Crushes the head of the ancient serpent.

Pope St. Pius X, pray for us.

Virgin Most Powerful, pray for us.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.