Ever since the beginning of Christianity, the Church has contended with many who sought to distort the truth of her teachings. Some claimed salvation could only be obtained by secret knowledge, some denied the divinity of Christ, while still others claimed men had the power to save themselves. These are but a handful of the heretical deviations that have been proclaimed through the last two millennia. However, in the last two centuries an especially pernicious idea has bubbled to the surface, which Pope Pius X named the “synthesis of all heresies”: Modernism (Pius X, par. 39).
Modernism encompasses many varied ideas, and it would be difficult to address them all. The root of the problem, however, lies in the desire to have a scientific explanation for all phenomena. This offshoot of rationalism ends in the denial of all metaphysical claims, agnosticism to moral claims, and the demythologizing of Christ as merely a good man or teacher.
( Pope St. Pius X: The Enemy From Within Destroying the Catholic Church By: Eric Gajewski )
In the 18th century, Rationalists tended to deny the Immanence of God and focused on His transcendence. They described Him as a clock maker who created the world and let it run on its own. He was not concerned for His creation. In the Modernist view, the opposite is true. God is not transcendent, but completely immanent. They conceive of a kind of pantheist God who is present in all the natural world, but not above it. He is especially present in men, in whose image god is created (Pius X, par. 39). Holy Scripture is changed from the word of God to a book written by men for men.
To go further, the mystical nature of Christianity is denied. The dogmas and sacraments of Christianity are mere symbols intended to make the believer content and happy with his life. The Christian way of life is no better than any other religion, but they are all considered paths up the one mountain to God, whatever God may be. Christianity is reduced to mere psychology and thus, we are left with no truth, many ways, and darkness overwhelming light.
In the early 20th century, St. Pius X implored the Church to return to Scholastic Philosophy. He wanted to demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith which had been handed on, against the charge of superstition that is often leveled at the Church. He especially desired that Aquinas and his thought should be studied in seminaries.
Armed with Scholastic Philosophy, St. Pius X implored the teachers of the faith, especially Bishops, to safeguard the truths that were handed on to them. All the faithful, the teachers particularly, must remain humble. They must submit themselves to what Christ has revealed to us and be careful not to elevate man beyond his abilities. The faithful need to recall that reason and faith are not at odds but work together in the truth.
After the Second Vatican Council, some desired to abuse the “Spirit” of the Council to make the Church "correspond to the taste of their contemporaries” rather than conforming themselves to Christ (Ratzinger 437). One of the responses to that abuse was the formation of a journal, Communio. This journal by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger was formed to combat those who wanted to conform the Church to the age.
As rationalism has taken root people have a stronger desire for democratic processes. A democratic government may be a reasonable option for a state, but for the Church Christ founded it is disastrous. Some desired to trade the truth of God for “democratic determination over everything that the Church is and over everything that she should do” (Ratzinger 441). The truth can never be held to a vote. Rather, the Church safeguards the deposit of faith as handed on to her by Jesus himself.
Sadly, the entire kingship of Christ was jettisoned for the “egaltarian... equality under the universal decree of everyone” (Ratzinger 442). Fundamentally, the Church is not egalitarian. We are all servants of Christ and of each other. Although we are equal in dignity, we are each called to serve differently. Far from being the same we are each called to a unique place in all of creation. God has created each of us for our own purpose which helps to communicate His glory.
Our nature is a nature of relationship. We imitate the divine relationship of the Trinity. “Being a person goes beyond its own boundaries towards a greater universal ‘something’ and even toward a greater, universal ‘someone’” (Ratzinger 444). We live in societies, from family to state to Church, and are called to be in communion with each other. Our communion is a relationship of true love in which we will the good of the other for the other’s sake. However, even more importantly, we are called to be in communion with God and His Church by which He reaches down to us. The Church points us primarily to God and then one another, not exclusively toward each other.
God’s love is the most concrete reality. He did not leave us to our own devices, we do not have a church made by men for the sake of men. Christ condescended to take the form of a slave to leave us a Church from above. His Church reaches out to us through her sacraments, the ordinary means of grace. His grace is especially present to us through the liturgy.
The beauty of the Church can be confounding to modern man who “seeks his own satisfaction... above all else” (Michel 205). The Liturgy of the Church leads us from our earthly life toward heaven. We do not seek our own satisfaction, but we do seek the Divine Life that lives in us. It moves us beyond this moment into the eternal.
The Liturgy is more than the recalling of a past event. The Lord is really, truly present in the Eucharist. The Mass is a true sacrifice in which Christ is both priest and victim. Since Protestants have rejected these truths, their services have devolved into homilies intended to stoke the passions of the listeners. However, emotions can only carry us so far. The initial rejection of the supernatural elements of the Mass lead to a “denial of the liturgy [which] naturally leads to a denial of Christ, and this to a denial of God” (Michel 206).
As time progresses, the rejection of the Church and her liturgy send us down a path which leaves us with Christianity as a way of life and a moral code. It robs Christ of His good news and replaces it with a message to be nice to one another. There is a strong correlation between the dogmas of the Church and her liturgy. One does not exist without the other. “In the liturgy the dogmas of the faith are embodied but not buried” (Michel 207). Christ comes to challenge us to be perfect as His father is perfect, not to be pleasant. We worship the Son of God come in the flesh. We follow His commandments. Not because these things are easy, but because they are true.
Neither is the Liturgy a mere ritual but an intimate encounter with Christ. We experience God’s love and it “teaches the service of man for God's sake” (Michel 211). We put on Christ in the Liturgy and then go out to proclaim His love to all people, both through words and actions. This is true humanitarianism, one by which we serve others because they have been made by God and for God.
In the modern age, men seek to replace dogma with platitude. They seek to replace the moral life with pleasantries. The Liturgy is replaced with entertainment. In His wisdom Christ has left us a Church to steer us clear of such confusion. Christ challenges us to accept a life of radical service, not to accept a religion made in our own image. As we choose to wallow in the darkness, the Church shines a light upon us so we might find our way back to her and through her, back to Our Lord.
Michel, Virgil George. “The Liturgy and Modern Thought.” Orate Fratres, vol. 13, no. 5, Mar. 1939, pp. 205–212. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lsdar&AN=ATLA0001290933&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Pius X. Pascendi Dominici Gregis. The Vatican. The Holy See, 8 September 1907. https://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis.html. Accessed 16 January 2020.
Ratzinger, Joseph. “Communio: A Program.” Communio: International Catholic Review. United States, 1992. https://www.communio-icr.com/files/ratzinger19-3.pdf. Accessed 16 January 2020.