Academic journal article
By Talar, C. J. T.
Theological Studies , Vol. 71, No. 3
"The atmosphere created by Modernism is far from being completely dissipated." (1)
IT MAY WELL HAVE BEEN THE CASE, given the defects of human nature and the effects of original sin, that ecclesiastics on more than one occasion violated the second commandment when they considered the effects of Roman Catholic Modernism. The reference to the motu proprio Sacrorum antistitum in my subtitle, however, indicates that a different kind of swearing is of interest here. As its centerpiece, the motu proprio promulgated an Oath against Modernism, prefaced by the republication, textually, of the final, disciplinary section of the antimodernist encyclical, Pascendi dominici gregis. Following the oath was an instruction originally addressed in 1894 to the bishops of Italy and to the superiors of religious congregations regarding the rules and duties of Christian preaching, now applied to the universal Church.
At the time of its promulgation, some Catholics questioned the necessity of such measures, especially an oath. Did the peril presented by Modernism really continue to exist in the Church and, if so, at a level serious enough to warrant action that could stifle certain necessary freedoms? Did Modernists and Modernist propaganda still exist, or was the Vatican trying to exterminate a phantom? (2) To take the measure of these issues a retrospective look at the period 1907-1910 will be necessary.
Like Pascendi, the oath forms part of the dynamics of defining Modernism itself. A contested part of that definition, then and since, has been the relation of doctrinal Modernism to social and political movements prominent at the time. Judgments have differed, beginning with those who were directly involved with the movement. Albert Houtin's Histoire du modernisme catholique (1913) begins with a chapter on an intellectual ralliement that emerged in France during the last quarter of the 19th century and follows it with a second on the various papal initiatives that issued in a social and political ralliement, with the reactions it called forth. Yet the connections between the two appear largely extrinsic: the reformers of the temporal order more or less approved certain theories of the doctrinal reformers that came under papal censure. (3) For Houtin, those working for the amelioration of social conditions reflect more sentiment than science-or, where the latter was acquired, not the sort that would pose critical questions to the tradition in the manner of a Louis Duchesne or an Alfred Loisy. In his Le Modernisme dans l'Eglise (1929), Jean Riviere accepts the parameters set out in Pascendi, and thus marginalizes social Modernism. (4)
Alec Vidler's The Modernist Movement in the Roman Church (1934) continued this line of Modernist historiography, retaining the emphasis on doctrine and viewing social Modernism as separable from it, thus excluding it from study. (5) More recently, Marvin O'Connell's Critics on Trial (1994) presents a more complex picture. It tracks an intellectual crisis within Catholicism, linked to political events in France and swiftly resolved by measures set forth in the antimodernist encyclical. However, if Pascendi were effective to the degree O'Connell suggests, then why the anti-modernist oath in 1910 and its survival for half a century thereafter? And why the sanctions subsequent to Pascendi leveled against some of those involved in movements for reform?
In L'Audace et le soupcon (1997) Pierre Colin adopts a broader perspective that is helpful in illuminating these issues. In its myriad forms-philosophical, political, economic, and social--liberalism met opposition throughout the 19th century, resulting in a sort of antimodernism avant la lettre. The assimilation of Modernism to liberalism enabled the adversaries of political liberalism to reduce the positions advocated by the Christian Democrats to the Modernism stigmatized by Pius X. Colin goes beyond this extrinsic connection to identify factors internal to both intellectual and political-social reformist currents that establish a closer relationship between the two. …