A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis

A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis

A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis

A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis

Excerpt

"WOE TO YOU LAWYERS! You have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering" (Luke 11:52). Jesus aimed this reproach at the Pharisees. George Tyrrell, the Anglo-Irish Catholic "mod ernist" who was dismissed from his religious order in 1906 and excommunicated a year later, enjoyed hurling it at ecclesiastical officials, who he thought were claiming far too much authority for themselves and far too little for everyone else. Tyrrell saw, as few others did, that the fundamental issue of the crisis facing the Western religious world at the turn of the century was access to truth--truth in general and religious truth in particular. The issue was about the nature of the access, about who controlled it, and about who defined the particular perceptions of truth once access had been gained or acknowledged. In other words, the crisis was largely about perception and lack of perception, awareness and lack of awareness, questioned and unquestioned presuppositions about human knowledge and expression of truth.

With his encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis (1907) defining and condemning "modernism" in the Catholic Church, Pope Pius X left little doubt about where he stood on this issue. Any lingering doubt was dispelled by two practical implementations of the condemnation: (1) the establishment of secret vigilance committees in every diocese worldwide to delate suspected modernists to Rome and (2) the enforcement among clerics and professors of philosophy and theology of an oath against modernism (1910) as a condition for ordination, employment, and advancement. The rigorous implementation of these two measures swept the church clean of most of its independent thinkers who were trying to bridge the growing gap between the church and the post-Enlightenment world.

The outside observer might well be astonished and wonder at the ferocity of the pope's response to the modernist effort . . .

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