The Truth About Modernism

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For Catholics, the heresy of Modernism has tentacles that have insinuated themselves in the life and thinking of the Church for over 100 years.

Some things Modernists say:

  • The truths of the Bible are not immutable because the Bible is dependent on the culture in which it was written.
  • The Bible is inerrant only in its spiritual meanings, like the Parables.
  • The great world religions are like spokes in a wheel. The hub of the wheel at the center is like God so the closer the spokes are to the source does more similar they are and the further away they are from the source the more they seem to be different.
  • Jesus is A way to Salvation — you could say he’s the privilege route, but not THE Way — since even atheists can be saved without coming to a knowledge of the savior.
  • The only reason women can’t be ordained to the priesthood is because of patriarchy.
  • It’s more important to be guided by the Holy Spirit as opposed to having some institutional Church telling you how to live.
  • God’s existence can only be known through faith, not through natural reason.
  • Like species in creation, Catholic dogmas can and do evolve over time.
  •  Adam and Eve were not two literally human beings, but literary Myths, written by primitive authors to tell the story of the beginnings of the human family.

If so, then you have some familiarity with modernism.

Modernism with a capital m was a kind of loose movement that began in the late 19th century and early 20th century mainly in Europe among Catholic theologians some of whom were priests. Some of the more famous modernist leaders were Fr. Alfred Loisy, Fr. George Tyrrell, SJ, Baron Friedrich von Hügel, and Maurice Blondel, to name a few.

All of the first generation modernists were professors and writers and their ideas began to gain traction in seminaries and the formation of priests. There was a kind of a trickle-down effect of modernism to out the world of religion textbooks, spiritual direction advice, and approaches to catechesis and evangelization. See:

Modernism is an idea virus. And our minds were made to grasp and live by the truth, not be subject to infection by a virus.

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6 thoughts on “The Truth About Modernism”

  1. What is Modernism? A catch all for anything conservatives don’t like. To be consistent about their views on modern biblical studies conservatives must be fundamentalists, otherwise they have to arbitrarily distinguish between facts and literary forms. If Adam and Eve are literally factual then the descriptions of God as possessing hands and feet and eyes and a heart must also be factual. How do you justify one and not the other? If the Bible is inerrant, to be accepted as inspired in the whole and the part (history, science, etc.),this is where you end up.

  2. The very names, the ha ‘adam from the ha ‘adamah, the vearth creature from the earth, the human from the humus, and Eve, Zoe, mother of the living, these are types of humanity as imagined in the days of the author in the 10th century BCE. What we need to understand is the message for us today. We are Adam and Eve in broken relationships between humanity and God in sin, man and man in war (Cain and Abel, Tower of Babel), humanity and nature (Labor for man and woman, the Flood story), man and woman (Adam blames the woman you gave me). We are the story; the story is us. Look to the meaning and not if it is historical. What it is, is our history.

  3. While I disagree with most of the thoughts posed by modernists, I do tend to struggle with the creation story. “Adam and Eve were not two literally human beings, but literary Myths, written by primitive authors to tell the story of the beginnings of the human family”? How do you reconcile the theory of evolution and Adam and Eve? Evolution is a theory, yes, but it has lots of scientific evidence and research to support it. Where do dinosaurs fit in? And the fossils of ocean inhabitants being found in the mountains of Appalachia (I can take a hike today and find sandstone full of trace fossils from sand-burrowing invertebrates that would have lived here long before the dinosaurs).

    God created all, but where do Adam and Eve fit with the ancient creatures that were killed off 65 million years ago? Where do Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis fit?

    1. Any ill human being is able to go to any qualified medical doctor for treatment no matter whether the patient is an Australian aborigine, an Eskimo or a member of the Swedish royal family; they can all go to the same doctor. But this doctor who is able to treat any of the above is not qualified to treat a gorilla, for example. That takes a whole different field–veterinary medicine. I can’t imagine how human populations can be so diverse and yet at the same time so basically similar that any human on earth can go to the same doctor, unless we are all indeed descended from one single original couple. In view of the above, I find preposterous the notion that we do not trace back to the same parents. How to reconcile evolution with Adam and Eve? That’s completely up to science, not the church. “Evolution is a theory, yes, but it has lots of scientific evidence and research to support it.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that it has some serious problems, namely the fact that no one has ever proved that random genetic mutation can result in a new and improved species as opposed to an individual with birth defects which render him less, not more able to survive. That’s a pretty huge objection. I’m not an expert, but from what little I’ve read about homo erectus and homo neanderthalensis, I am not absolutely clear that the above groups were distinctly human, that is, capable of abstract thought, creativity and possessing of immortal souls as opposed to being merely other species of primates. But if they indeed were humans with all the thinking and inventing capacity that we have, then they like us were descended from Adam and Eve, or the original couple if you prefer.

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