Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Modernism and Catholicism

Second in a Series treating Modernism and Modern Thought
Fr. Joseph Bampton, S.J.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
There is a striking passage in the life of a great scientist of our own country, Clerk Maxwell. He is known to many of you, I dare say, as a former distinguished Professor of Physics at Cambridge University, and as the great authority on electro-magnetism, and the originator of the electro-magnetic theory of light. He was a scientific man of the first rank, and at the same time a deeply religious man. In the year 1876, the then Anglican Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol - the well known Dr. Ellicott - had occasion to write to Maxwell upon the question of reconciling the teaching of science with the teaching of Genesis, and the answer given by Maxwell in substance amounted to this: People are fond of talking of the latest result of science, when what they mean is often a purely conjectural hypothesis. These hypotheses are constantly changing, and I advise you not to pin your interpretation of Genesis to a conjectural hypothesis of this kind, as the science of 1896 may not agree with the science of 1876. Maxwell's meaning was plain enough. The so-called latest result of science is often only a working theory, good for today, but liable to be rejected tomorrow in favour of one that works better. If the interpretation of Scripture is based upon a working theory of the moment, when that working theory has gone, what becomes of Scripture? Is that to go too? Scientific theories pass, but Holy Scripture remains. Let us be sure that the science we are trying to reconcile with faith is not merely some temporary scientific expedient. That is a caution Modernists would have done well to bear in mind. It might have deterred them from the attempt which we said in our last lecture is made by Modernism to reconcile Catholicism with Kant's theory of knowledge. That attempt we have now to consider.

We have seen something already of what Kant's teaching is. We may remind ourselves now of what Catholic teaching is. We shall then be in a better position to judge of this attempt to harmonise the two. In what I have to say I am not undertaking to prove the truth of the Catholic conception of Christianity; I propose to state it only, and, briefly stated, it comes to this.

It is a fact, an event of history, that God the Son took flesh of a virgin mother, and was made man, the God-Man, Whom we know as Jesus Christ. It is a fact that He first delivered His doctrine by word of mouth to His Apostles, and that they delivered it also by word of mouth to the body of believers. That is Revelation, as Catholics understand it. Revelation, then - observe we are speaking now not of private revelations, like those vouchsafed to prophets under the old law, or to saints under the new, but of public revelation - is something external. In its effect it is of course internal, enlightening the mind within. But in its origin it is from without, transmitted by oral communication from Christ, and from those commissioned to speak in Christ's name: "He that heareth you heareth me." So much as to Revelation.

In the next place, it is a fact that the believers in this Revelation were constituted by Christ Himself into a body which He called the Church. To that Church He gave a form of government which we call hierarchical, that is the sacred rule of the priesthood; a government not democratic, but hierarchical, with Peter and Peter's successors at its head, as supreme teachers of Christ's truth, and supreme rulers with the powers requisite to support their teaching. That is the Church, as Catholics understand it.

Once more, the doctrines which Christ revealed, either directly or through the Church, were in many cases truths superior to reason, beyond the power of reason to discover, and, when discovered by other means, beyond the power of reason to comprehend. It would not be difficult to show that, to believe such supernatural truths as they should be believed, with saving belief, supernatural aid is required. That supernatural aid we call the gift of Faith. Faith, then, is a supernatural gift of God for the acquisition of truth in the supernatural order, just as reason is a natural gift of God for the acquisition of truth in the natural order. That is Faith, as Catholics understand it.

Again, as these supernatural truths of Faith are proposed to me by the Church, if I am to believe at all, I must believe them on the word of God, of course, but on the word of God made known to me by the Church. For, if I want to know a truth, and cannot get to know it by the use of my own reason, and yet the truth is there, there is only one way in which it can be made known to me: somebody must tell me. And Christ has appointed the Church to tell me. But to believe because somebody tells me is to believe on authority. Hence the need of authority in matters of Faith. And that is Church Authority, as Catholics understand it.

Further, if the Church is to tell me these truths so that I may believe them, then the Church must speak plainly. For, if the Church is not clear in her statements, how am I to be clear in my belief? The Church must formulate her doctrine in language clear and definite and precise. And truths so formulated are what are termed Dogmas. That is Dogmatic teaching, as Catholics understand it.

Here we have clear notions upon such points as Revelation, the Church, Faith, Authority, Dogma. And, taken together, these constitute a summary, brief and incomplete, but correct so far as it goes, of Christianity, as Catholics understand it. This, then, is the Catholic conception of Christianity.

Now Modernism undertakes to reconcile Catholic Christianity with modern thought. Well and good. If Modernism is to do that, the Christianity just described is what it has got to reconcile with modern thought. Let us see how Modernism sets about it.

In the first place, the Modernist begins with a philosophical assumption which those who have followed the last lecture will have no difficulty in recognizing. That assumption is that all we know with intellectual knowledge is not reality, but only appearances. Phenomena we know - the Modernist says - but as to things, those we do not know, and cannot. That, as we saw in our last lecture, is the philosophy of Kant, pure and simple. And what follows from this, as was said then, is that we cannot know with intellectual knowledge God and the supernatural. So far the Modernist agrees with Kant. But he agrees with him also in saying that we have another means of reaching God and the supernatural. Kant calls that other means the Practical Reason. The Modernist prefers to call it the "Religious Sentiment", or "Religious Experience". And the Modernist argues in this wise: Man, he says, feels within himself instinctively the need of the Divine. That need of the Divine excites in him a corresponding sentiment, a sentiment described by one of the Modernists as "the ceaseless palpitation of the human soul panting for the Divine" (Buisson). That sentiment is the Religious Sentiment, and is God revealing himself to the soul of the man. Thus considered, that Religious Sentiment is Revelation. Further, the Religious Sentiment unites the soul with God, it is an "inward recognition of God, a response of spirit to spirit" (Tyrrell). Thus considered, the Religious Sentiment is Faith.

Here, then, we have Revelation and Faith, as Modernists understand them, and observe the contrast with the Catholic notions of Revelation and Faith, as just described. In the Catholic sense, Revelation is something external, something that comes to the soul from without, from the oral teaching of Christ and the Church, and Faith is acceptance of that Revelation. In the Modernist sense, Revelation is wholly internal, a psychological experience, and Faith is the soul's response to it. To the Catholic, Revelation is statement, and Faith is belief in the statement made. To the Modernist, Revelation and Faith are experience. To the Catholic, the content of Revelation, which is the object of Faith, is truth addressed to the intelligence. To the Modernist, it is truth addressed to the feelings, to the emotional faculty. That brings religion perilously near to Matthew Arnold's definition of religion: "Morality touched with emotion."

Again - the Modernist proceeds - God, thus apprehended by the religious sentiment, is indwelling, immanent in the soul, and this doctrine of God indwelling in the soul and apprehended as revealing Himself to the soul, not by means of any external teaching, but through the soul's inward experience, is the Modernist doctrine of Vital Immanence. Here we recognize Kant's influence again. It is true that theories of immanence are older than Kant. In one form or another, they are as old as philosophy itself, as old as the Stoics, at least. And there is a theory of immanence which is true. But Kant's was a false theory of immanence, and the Vital Immanence of the Modernists is derived from that.

We have seen what the Modernist understands by Revelation and Faith. They depend upon Vital Immanence, and are reducible to Religious Experience. Now, it is natural that a man should wish to give some account to himself of his religious experience, that he should wish to interpret it to himself, to translate his religious experience into words. And for this purpose his reason begins to work upon his religious sentiment. So the Modernist is able to say that his religion is not a mere matter of sentiment, but of reason as well. The Modernist then brings his reason to bear upon the religious sentiment, and tries to express in language his religious experience. He admits he can do so only in language very vague and indefinite, in terms quite inadequate to express his inner experience - in terms, in fact, little better than symbols of the religious experience within him, symbols that shift and change and need to be modified as his religious experience undergoes modification. These vague and variable statements are what Modernists call Dogma. They are "tentative and provisional formulas" (Tyrrell) Contrast this Dogma of the Modernists with Dogma as understood by the Catholic. To the Catholic, Dogma is something fixed, precise, something stable and immutable; to the Modernist, Dogma is a tentative and provisional formula.

But - the Modernist continues - to the man who believes, it is natural to wish not only to explain his faith to himself, but also to communicate it to others. The Modernist does so by means of the dogmas just described. These dogmas are the outcome of the religious experience of his individual conscience. By communicating these dogmas, he associates his individual conscience with the consciences of others, and this association of individual consciences forms the Collective Conscience. Here we have all the materials ready for the formation of a Church. For people who share in this Collective Conscience are bound together by a spiritual bond of union. It is natural for people so united in thought to form themselves into a society, and that society is the Church, as Modernists understand it, and a Church, with Church authority, for the authority of that Church is the authority of the collective over the individual conscience. That is what Modernists understand by the Church and Church authority. Contrast that with the Catholic conception of the same. The Catholic says the Church was established Christ. The Modernist says the Church is the product of the Collective Conscience. It is true he would add that this Collective Conscience was inspired by "the spirit of Christ living and developing in the life of the faithful collectively" (Tyrrell). Very well; let us put it that way. The Catholic says the Church is established by Christ directly. The Modernist says it is established by Christ indirectly at most, for it is established the Collective Conscience inspired by Christ, or by "faith in Christ" (Loisy). Again, the Catholic says Church authority is centred in the divinely appointed vicar of Christ, Peter and Peter's successors. The Modernist says it is centred in the Collective Conscience. Modernism does not hesitate to say "the entire Christian people is the true and immediate vicar of Christ" (Tyrrell). So the Church, it seems, is not hierarchical, the Church is democratic; democratic in its origin, for it is a product of the Collective Conscience, democratic in its constitution, for its authority is that of the Collective Conscience over the individual.

And thus Modernism has reached its goal. It set out to reconcile Catholicity with the spirit of the age, and it has done so with a vengeance. Democracy is the spirit of the age, and the Modernist has succeeded in reconciling the Church with democracy by proving to his own satisfaction that the Church is democratic in its origin, and democratic in its constitution. Modernism set out to reconcile Catholicity with modern thought, and it has done so after a fashion by interpreting Christianity in terms of Kant. It has adopted Kant's theory of knowledge, that we can know phenomena only. It has adopted Kant's theory of religion, that we cannot apprehend God intellectually, but only by some other method, whether you call it Practical Reason or Religious Experience matters little. And by such means it has succeeded in reconciling Catholicity with modern thought, but at what a cost! At the cost of identifying Catholicity with an unsound system of philosophy; at the cost of revolutionising the very notions of things so fundamental to Christianity as Revelation, Faith, the Church, Church Authority, Dogma; at the cost of turning Christianity topsy-turvy. Modernism is "another gospel which is not another." It is the Gospel according to Kant.

1 comment:

  1. By a Jesuit no less ! Wow. This is root analysis of the first order. Thank you Father Bampton.


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