Category Archives: Church History

The Hands of the King

(Originally published on June 25, 2009)

The comical reaction I got from a television anchor may never leave my memory. When I told her that the people who lived under King Saint Louis IX of France were freer than we are now in America, she looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. If you are a Monarchist, or a “monsymp,” you have probably gotten similar reactions when a banal conversation about current events terminates in a statement challenging the fundamental and flawed presuppositions of modernity. Continue reading

About Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S.J.

This weekend, I’m giving a talk on Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S.J. Father De Smet was part of a notable chain of three great American missionaries: Father Charles Nerinckx, the Belgian secular priest and pioneer missionary of Kentucky, recruited De Smet into the Jesuit American mission; and De Smet, in turn, recruited Chicago’s Jesuit Apostle, the Dutch-born Father Arnold Damen. (In February of last year, Brother Maximilian and I had the privilege of reverencing the graves of Fathers Damen and De Smet.)

Readers who would like to know more are encouraged to read The Apostle of the Rocky Mountains: Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and Fr. De Smet, a short excerpt from the book, The Life of Father De Smet, by Fr. E. Laveille, S.J.

Father Feeney, Mary Daly, and Boston College

Writing for The New American, Jack Kenny has compared and contrasted the Boston-College career of recently deceased pagan-lesbian-radical-feminist* “theologian,” Mary Daly and the phenomenon of my own dear founders, who were treated harshly by that same institution in the 1940s. Unlike Daly, the four professors (including Dr. Fakhri Maluf) were neither witches, nor sexual deviants, nor dissenters from the Church’s magisterium, nor advocates of the non-extant “right” of a woman to butcher her unborn offspring. No, they simply defended a defined doctrine, one the Church has bound us to, which teaches that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Continue reading

The Centenary of Pascendi, the Battle of Vienna

An Important Centenary. This past Saturday marked a very important centenary. On September 8, 1907, the Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, Pope St. Pius X published his wonderful encyclical condemning Modernism: Pascendi Dominici Gregis. The vigilant pope’s definitive condemnation of heresy was a fitting birthday present for the most holy Mother of God.

The enemies of the Church certainly remember the encyclical, even if her own children generally don’t. Continue reading

The Church of History

Of all the “churches” calling themselves “Christian,” can any one of them irrefutably claim to be the Church founded by Jesus Christ? Does any conform to the clear, precise terms by which this Church of Christ is described in Holy Scripture: “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim.3:15); or the “One Body” of which St. Paul repeatedly speaks (Rom.12:4-5; 1 Cor.10:17; 1 Cor.12:12-20; etc.); or the “Kingdom of Heaven” of the synoptic Gospels, and the “Kingdom of God” of Saint John’s? Continue reading

American Wonderworker: The Life and Miracles of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos

Note: This article was originally published in December of 1998. Father Seelos was beatified Sunday, April 9, 2000. Deo Gratias! For books about the Blessed, go here.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, Pray for us!

* * *

October in New Orleans. The Crescent City is getting its first annual breath of relief from the seemingly endless summer. Though the calendar says fall has started, September is still really summer in this city on the Mississippi. It’s 1867, and the relief is more welcome this year than most, for the Gulf-coast summer has brought something besides sunny, sweltering days and steamy, sticky nights. Continue reading

America’s Jesuit Apostle: Father Arnold Damen

Having an aversion to serialized articles on the Internet, I have opted not to call this “Father Arnold Damen, Chicago’s Jesuit Apostle: Part II.” A clunky name, that. This is, nonetheless, a second article on Father Damen, but a “free-standing” one. Whereas Chicago’s Jesuit Apostle focused on our subject’s Windy-City work, here, we will consider Father Damen the missionary and, for your edification and/or amusement, Father Damen the ghost; for, according to some, the departed Dutch Jesuit still has an affinity for his old haunts in Chicago. Continue reading

Father Arnold Damen, Chicago’s Jesuit Apostle

Enjoying a varied reputation as pioneering parish priest, educational trail-blazer, inspiring mission preacher, formidable religious controversialist, and, oh yes, a ghost that haunts historical buildings on Chicago’s Near West Side, Father Arnold Damen, S.J., is an important figure in American Catholic history. The Society of Jesus, to which the Dutch-born priest belonged, can boast an almost four-hundred-year history on our continent, a history consistent with the Jesuits’ Marine-like reputation as the first ones at the scene of a battle. They were builders, founders, religious frontiersmen – or, if you will, special forces sent in to take out the demonic first line of resistance in enemy territory. Continue reading

Boniface VIII and the Heresy of Statism

A Review of The Church at the Turning Points of History, by Godfrey Kurth.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: IHS Press (September 1, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 1932528091
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932528091

History is the laboratory of wisdom, says my mentor. But for all the truth of that statement, historians are not men untainted by their share of folly. Continue reading

The Edict of Nantes, Wars of Religion, and Damnable Nationalism

The Edict of Nantes was a pragmatic, political solution to the civil strife that existed in a sixteenth-century France ravaged by wars of religion. Though the edict itself was not trusted, appreciated, or liked by most Frenchmen at the time, its implementation (and enforcement by Henri of Navarre) succeeded in securing a measure of domestic tranquility to this nation seeking to establish itself in modern, international, secular statecraft. Continue reading

A Great Catholic Historian: Godfrey Kurth C. S. G.

I have finished reading the wonderful volume of Godfrey Kurth, The Church at the Turning Points of History, now happily brought back into print by my friends at IHS Press. This accomplished author is not so well known as he should be. For that reason, I’m posting the biographical information on him furnished in the older (1929) edition of the book I have at hand. (Note to the hurried reader: At the bottom of this piece, I have put hyperlinks to Kurth’s articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia, where “Godefroid” was the form of his first name the editors used.) Continue reading

Vatican II and Phenomenology

Catholic Family News has just published an informative article in the form of a book review. The review, by Paul Zarowny, Ph.D., delves into the phenomenological method of the Council Fathers, as studied by the Passionist priest, Father John F Kobler (Vatican II, Theophany and the Phenomenon of Man: The Council’s Pastoral Servant Leader Theology for the Third Millennium).

Doctor Zarowny is no lightweight. Continue reading

The Council of Trent: Overview of its Importance and Difficulties

The importance of the Council of Trent lies in its being two things at the same time: 1) the heart and soul of the Catholic Reformation (the authentic reform of the Church); and 2) the definitive moment of the Counter Reformation (the reaction against the Protestant Revolt): “By almost universal agreement, the counter-attack of the Church to the movement that is known as the Protestant Reformation begins seriously with the Council of Trent.” Continue reading

Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Christ’s Two Wills

St. Maximus, the monastic mystic and eminent controversialist of orthodoxy against the Monothelites, earned his title “the Confessor” because he died in exile for his heroic confession. In his defense of the orthodox faith against an heretical emperor and supine ecclesiastics, he continued the work of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Sophronius (whom he considered his master), and did much to lay the foundations of the Third Council of Constantinople. Continue reading

Father Leonard Feeney

The contents of this posting are taken exclusively from a page located here: .Of especial value to this page is the series of links that appears at the bottom of this posting.

Leonard Feeney was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on February 15, 1897. On the eve of Our Lady’s Nativity, September 7, 1914, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Saint Andrew in upstate New York. Continue reading

The Council of Nicæa was Catholic

The headline of this posting may strike readers as comical. It is, of course, a fact. It seems so obvious as to be like asserting that the New England Patriots are a football team. However, there are Protestant polemicists who attempt to detract from Nicæa’s Romishness by the use of various ahistorical machinations.

I was going through some old stuff on the hard drive the other day and happily came upon a little collection of arguments for the fact that the First Ecumenical Council was indeed Papist. (Some of the arguments are direct; others are more roundabout.) I publish it here in the interests of Church History and Apologetics, especially the latter. Most, but not all of this was drawn from Right Rev. Charles Joseph Hefele’s (D.D.) A History of the Christian Councils from the Original Documents to the Close of the Council of Nicæa, A.D. 325. This is the first of a multi-volume scholarly series by the German historian, long out of print (the books, not the historian). Those looking for references would have to track down the book in a library. Continue reading

Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon and his “Noble and Frank Intolerance”

Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon first caught my attention when I came upon the following paragraph from an address he gave to his religious congregation.

“We love Christ with the same kind of love as the early Christians because He still faces the same kind of enemies that he faced then. We love Him with the love that made the Apostles say ‘if anyone does not love Jesus Christ, let him be cursed.’ This may not be very tolerant, but you know that those who love much tolerate little. Properly speaking, true love is revealed in the power of a noble and frank intolerance. In these days with no energy left for either love or hate, men do not see that their tolerance is just another form of weakness. We are intolerant because we draw our strength from our love of Jesus Christ.”

Not a milquetoast, that French preacher! I was hooked. Continue reading

How the Popes and Other Catholic Leaders in the 19th Century Responded to Modernity

The eighteenth-century Enlightenment mounted a severe offensive against the Church, one which combined various malignant cultural and intellectual trends that had gradually come into ascendancy since the Renaissance. “For the most part, the Church did not respond to this attack very well.”[1] However, the nineteenth century saw a change in this, “an immense religious revival, especially in France, after 1815,” which was “conservative in most respects,” as well as “strong in its commitment to evangelize society.”[2]

In order to explain this Catholic response, it is helpful to give a brief litany those malignant trends which define “modernity” as we are using the term; for modernity is not simply the state or condition of living in modern times, it is a sum total of ideas, systems, and movements. The following are some of its constituent parts:

A Rejection of Scholasticism, either in the name of returning to the wisdom of the ancients or pressing forward to new philosophies such as Cartesiansim, Kantianism, Positivism, etc.

Cultural Relativism, which came out of the age of exploration, making western men see the value of other cultures while questioning the relative value of their own. It affected religion and philosophy as well as well as purely cultural matters, thus becoming a greater force for subjectivism and skepticism.

Deism, the notion prominent among such men as Robespierre, Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson, that God is a distant “prime mover” (the “Great Architect” of the Masons) and not a personal God whose Providence governs human affairs.

Democracy, which enshrines a radical equality of all men, governments whose authority comes from the people (and not from God), and the consequent determination of public standards of truth and morals by the opinion of the majority, not by transcendent, objective standards. Religious Liberty, understood as the state’s neutrality in the realm of religion (in such wise as to rule out the confessional state) is implicit in this.

Historical Consciousness, the sense of our living in history or an acute awareness of change as a constant. Hegel, “the first great philosopher of history,”[3] held that all reality (including truth) is in constant development.

Historicism, the theory in which general laws of historical development are the determinant of events. According to this, all things are subject to progressive evolutionary processes. It has spawned such diverse progeny as Darwinism (biological evolution), Communism (dialectical materialism), and Hegelianism (dialectical idealism).

Kantianism, a philosophy which rejects man’s ability to know and reduces all sense impressions to mere “phenomena,” whereas the neumena or ding an zich, (“the thing in itself,” or reality as it is) are ever elusive of our intellectual grasp.

Liberalism, in the eighteenth-century meaning of that word: “certain tendencies in the intellectual, religious, political, and economical life, which implied a partial or total emancipation of man from the supernatural, moral, and Divine order.”[4]

Modernism (not the specific heresy condemned by St. Pius X, but a more generic reality), “the belief that the outlook of modern man is superior to that of medieval and ancient man; and more specifically, the belief that all religion, including Christianity and the idea of God, arises from a preconceptual, subrational religious instinct dominant in primitive man, whose promptings are unacceptable to modern scientific man.”[5]

Naturalism, “the view that the only reality that exists is nature, so that divine grace [and the entire supernatural order] is either denied or ignored.”[6]

Pluralism, the belief that the coexistence of a multitude of diverse and contradictory religious, philosophical, and moral systems is a good thing. This leads to indifferentism, the heresy that all religions are salvific, not only Catholicism.

Scientism, empiricism, or positivism: those errors which embrace the scientific method and empirical proofs as the only sure norm for epistemological certitude.

Skepticism and nominalism, which philosophies express a pessimism about man’s aptitude to know with any certainty.

Rationalism, the error that human reason is the sole reliable source and determinant of truth. There are variations of this (e.g., the “modified rationalism” condemned Pio Nono’s Syllabus) which admit supernatural truths, but only inasmuch as they are “reasonable,” i.e., in conformity to what can be scientifically verified.

Subjectivism, which was born out of Cartesian solipsism and which eventually made the individual intellect the final determinant of truth and the individual conscience the ultimate measure of morality.

These trends found themselves largely condemned (or strongly censured) by a series of pontifical acts from Gregory XVI (1831-1846), Blessed Pius IX (1846-1878), and Leo XIII (1878-1903). It is chiefly these papal interventions, mostly concentrated in Blessed Pio Nono’s long reign, which justify the statement that “the Catholic Reformation had its greatest effects in the nineteenth century.”[7]

Pope Gregory XVI condemned the indifferentism of Félicité de Lamennais in the encyclical Mirari Vos (August 15, 1832) and again in Singulari Nos (June 25, 1834). He also received the submission of a French priest named Louis Eugene Bautain, who had held various errors regarding faith and reason (rationalism). Included in that penitent’s profession of faith were the notions that reason can prove the existence of God, that the miracles of Our Lord are still viable proofs for the Gospel, and that human reason can and should lead us to faith, even though original sin has weakened our mental clarity.

Blessed Pius IX returned to the theme of faith and reason several times in his pontificate, reissuing the condemnations of rationalism while asserting the capacity of the intellect to know truth (against Kantianism and skepticism). The encyclical Qui Pluribus (November 9, 1846), the Syllabus of Modern Errors (December 8, 1864), and Vatican I’s Dei Filius (April 24, 1870) were among the vehicles for this. Pio Nono also condemned rationalism and indifferentism in Singulari Quadem (Dec. 9, 1854) and Quanto Conficiamur (August 10, 1863). In the encyclical, Quanta Cura (December 8, 1864), he condemned Naturalism, Communism, and its close ally, Socialism.

The 1864 Syllabus of Modern Errors, excerpted from thirty-two allocutions, encyclicals, and letters of Blessed Pius, condemned a whole panoply of modernity’s false ideas. As the name would suggest, it is something of a locus classicus for studying the authoritative and authentic nineteenth-century Catholic response to modernity. Some excerpts from this are, therefore, in order:

On rationalism: “All action of God upon men and the world must be denied”[8] (No. 2). “[R]eason is the chief norm by which man can and should come to a knowledge of all truths of whatever kind” (No. 4). On “modified rationalism” (and scientism): “The decrees of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Congregations hinder the free progress of science” (No. 12). On indifferentism: “In the worship of any religion whatever, men can find the way to eternal salvation, and can attain eternal salvation” (No. 16). On religious liberty: “The Church is to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church” (No. 55). On liberalism: “The Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile and adapt himself to progress, liberalism, and the modern civilization” (No. 80).

Pope Leo XIII condemned socialism (Quod Apostolici of December 28, 1878) and further advanced the Church’s social teaching against religious liberty, (immoderate) democracy, and liberalism in Immortale Dei (November 1, 1855) Libertas Praestantissimum (June 20, 1888), and many other works. The beginnings of Biblical Modernism (based on historicism, rationalism, and positivism) were censured in his Providentissimus Deus (November 1893). He denounced a host of errors in mystical theology (which exalted exterior activity over interior contemplation) as “Americanism” in Testem Benevolentiae (January 22, 1899). What most interests us about Americanism is its foundational notion, namely, that the Faith in America could somehow be different than it was elsewhere. This idea was a concentrate of many of the trends we catalogued above, since America was viewed as a very progressive, democratic nation with religious liberty (i.e., liberalism), pluralism, and cultural relativism integrated into its very fabric. The prolific Pope Leo also encouraged a revival of scholastic philosophy in his encyclical Aeterni Patris (August 4, 1879).

While, on the whole, the Popes strongly combated the currents which define modernity, there were Catholic thinkers who were for a more accommodating approach, and not all of these were themselves liberal. Cardinal Newman, who “struggled to take into account whatever was valid in modernity and to reconcile it with [his] faith,”[9] was an “inopportunist” at Vatican I, averring that the definition of papal infallibility was untimely as it could unduly alienate those on the verge of conversion in his native England. (He did gladly submit once it was defined.) Many Catholic intellectuals, including bishops, were of this mind. Others were simply opposed to the dogma on theological grounds.

Thankfully, what won the day was the militant ultramontane theology and philosophy of men like Louis Veuillot, Edouard Cardinal Pie, Dom Prosper Guéranger, Venerable Emmanuel d’Alzon, Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, and Juan Donoso Cortes. It is because of these men and others like them, writing extensively on Christian social principles, that “The nineteenth century saw the beginnings of ‘social Catholicism,’ in which Catholics were encouraged to mount a struggle to bring society into conformity with Christian principles at every level.”[10] Their work did much to lay the foundations of the counter-revolutionary actions of the popes.

The fact that all on this list were French (except the Spaniard, Cortes) agrees with Dr. Hitchcock’s statement that the nineteenth-century Catholic revival was “especially in France.” Recalling that the movement was a spiritual one primarily, we could augment the catalogue with names such as St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. John Vianney, St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. Catherine Labouré, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Peter Mary Chanel, St. Theophane Venard, and St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus.


Gruber, H., “Liberalism” in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Online Edition by K. Knight, 2003. Online, available from: [accessed 15 June 2006].

Hardon, Rev. John A., S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1980.

Harrison, Rev. Brian, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., “Lesson 6: The Philosophical Origins of Historical-Criticism,” in The Roman Theological Forum Study Program (February 1999). Online, Available from: [accessed 15 June 2006].

[1] Notes from Lecture IV “The Church and Modernity (II),”

[2] Ibid.

[3] DVD of Lecture Three: “Two Modernists.”

[4] H. Gruber. “Liberalism” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1907; Online Edition, 2003 by K. Knight). Online, available at: [accessed 15 June 2006].

[5] Rev. Brian Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., “Lesson 6: The Philosophical Origins of Historical-Criticism,” (February, 1999). Online; available from:

[6] Hardon, Rev. John A., S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (New York, Doubleday, 1980) p. 370.

[7] Notes from Lecture IV “The Church and Modernity (II),”

[8] All Syllabus citations are from Denz. 1700-1780. (Obviously, these propositions were condemned.)

[9] Notes from Lecture IV “The Church and Modernity (II),”

[10] Ibid.

The Relationship of Americanism to Modernism

It would be a gross oversimplification to put an equal sign between the words “Americanism” and “Modernism,” as if the former were merely the American embodiment of the latter. However, while we must avoid this facile identification of the two, so too must we appreciate the points of agreement between them. Not only were there Americanists who can rightly be called Modernists in the strict sense; but, more importantly, the progressivist nature of both movements gives them much of a common foundation, one steeped in some of the less desirable intellectual trends of modernity. It is no mere coincidence, then, that men like William Sullivan and John Slattery, figures on the Americanist scene, found themselves unable to accept the condemnation of Modernism and preferred to leave Holy Mother Church rather than submit their intellects to the teachings of Lamentabile Sane and Pascendi.

Since neither Modernism nor Americanism is a coherent dogmatic system[1] (much less a sect), their common foundation will be found, not in any organizational structures, but in the intellectual currents which influenced each. I shall focus on those currents and how they are embodied in each heresy.[2] Next, I will highlight some points of contrast between Americanism and Modernism. Finally, a few noteworthy American Modernists will be treated briefly.

At the most foundational level, both of these heresies are manifestations of theological progressivism. In Testem Benevolentiae, Pope Leo XIII impugned the Americanist approach to dogma: “certain topics of doctrine are passed over as of lesser importance, or are so softened that they do not retain the same sense as the Church has always held.”[3] For his part, St. Pius X bemoaned the Modernist contention that “the formulas which we call dogma must be subject to these vicissitudes [of varying human conditions], and are, therefore, liable to change. Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma.” He branded this “an immense structure of sophisms which ruin and wreck all religion.”[4] The resemblance is patent: The Modernist “vicissitudes” St. Pius mentions as subjecting dogma to change could easily be the American condition to which the Americanists wanted to accommodate doctrine in a “sense [other than that which] the Church has always held.”

In condemning the Americanist approach to evangelism, Leo XIII notes that, “the way and the plan which Catholics have thus far employed to bring back those who disagree with them are proclaimed to be abandoned and to be replaced by another for the future.” Now, in his book Catholicism and Modernity, Dr. Hitchcock argues that, whereas conservatives tend to make appeals to the past, liberals (and all progressivists in general) inevitably make the future their point of reference, even to the point of becoming more doctrinaire, rigid, and totalitarian than the most reactionary traditionalist in the pursuit of a more highly evolved society (or Church). The appeal to the future that Pope Leo saw in Americanism was also present in Modernism, for St. Pius X censured the Modernist contention that the Church “obstinately clings to immutable doctrines which cannot be reconciled with modern progress.” Thus both of the errors under discussion are impregnated with the same historicist, evolutionist, and futurist tendency.

The very central notion of Americanism was an accommodation of the faith to the American situation: “For it raises a suspicion that there are those among you who envision and desire a Church in America other than that which is in all the rest of the world.”[5] To the Americanists, in this fusion of Americana and Catholicism, it was the Church who was the winner, since according to Archbishop Ireland and Bishop Keane, America – with its democratic, enlightened, separation of Church and state – was superior to Europe. The very contention that the “New World” had a better system than the “Old World,” and that this system is something the Church must accommodate itself to, shows the Americanist to be biased in favor of novelty and a false idea of development.

In short, to Pope Leo, the Americanists were “insufficiently respectful of aspects of Catholicism which they dismissed as outmoded.”[6] Such an insufficiency also dominates Modernism.

Besides the general theme of progressivism, there were specific embodiments of it which the Americanists and Modernists had in common. Darwinian evolutionary theory, which fostered doubt concerning certain central Catholic beliefs, was enthusiastically embraced by partisans of each error. Perhaps more important was the so-called “Higher Criticism,” which emanated from liberal Protestantism. Votaries of both movements under consideration were given to this novelty as well.

Perhaps a direct connection over the Atlantic could be seen in the person of the French Modernist Lucien Laberthonnière, who “may have been influenced directly by American pragmatism.”[7] Certainly his notion of reducing the doctrines of the faith to a concrete set of moral norms, thus diminishing the supernatural, bore an affinity to the thoughts of the Americanists Sullivan and Slattery, as well as what Testem Benevolentiae condemned as an exultation of the natural over the supernatural virtues.

Though there are important points of comparison, the contrasts between Americanism and Modernism are great. In its conception of progress, the American error was very particular: it was American nationalism extending itself into the theological sphere. Therefore, the issues were more “American” than Modernism, which was continental in flavor. In this vein, I could instance Loisy’s distaste for Archbishop Ireland, who, when the two met, only wanted to discuss the separation of Church and state and did not seem to understand the “deeper” issues Loisy himself made his concern. Continental Europeans certainly did not care to make the Church more American.

Americanism was also less radical. This is one reason people debate on whether it should properly be called a “heresy.” Here we can draw something of a parallel between the French Revolution and the American War for Independence. Whereas the former was a conscious casting off of Christian social principles which had previously defined France, the American war was, at its best, an attempt on the part of colonists to preserve the rights of Englishmen. A visceral hatred for the old order of things was far more present in the war of 1789 than that of 1776. Going from a political parallel to an intrinsic difference between Americanism and Modernism, we note that St. Pius X’s condemnation pinpointed very deep-seated ideas within the Modernist agenda – ideas which radically contradicted the very notion of revealed religion, epistemological certitude in faith (a result of Kantianism), and a philosophy of history which employed the Hegelian dialectic.[8] The Americanists were not so deeply and fundamentally anti-Christian in their philosophy. If Pope Leo was concerned that, in American progressivism, “the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma,” Pope Pius was able to show the radical evolutionism essential to Modernism.

A cynic may opine that Americanism’s less pernicious nature is an example of American superficiality at work, for its errors, while less deep-seated, very much agree with the tendency towards “practicality” and the gospel of efficiency which is part of our national fabric. Heirs to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of philosophical pragmatism, Americans tend to be more superficial, given to doing instead of thinking, action rather than contemplation.

This leads us to another contrast. As foundationally undermining of Catholicism as the tenets of Modernism were, there was not an attempt on the part of the Modernists to elevate the active over the contemplative, as in Americanismus. “The heresy of good works” which Dom Chautard rightly rebukes in his book, The Soul of the Apostolate, could certainly not be found in men like Baron von Hugel, who sought not so much to resolve the contradictions between Catholic tradition and his own modernist ideas, but to transcend them by emphasizing sanctity. For him, mysticism somehow agreed both with the Modernist conceptions of a developing “religious sense” implicit in all men and the traditions of Catholicism.[9] St. Catherine of Genoa, whose biography von Hugel wrote, would certainly not be considered the patron saint of the Americanists! She was not “practical,” or active enough. Her old school piety, with its emphasis on the so-called “passive” virtues, ran counter to the American emphasis on the external, the active, and the “practical.” Indeed, in Testem Benevolentiae, Pope Leo XIII treats this exultation of the natural virtues over the supernatural, and the active over the contemplative, at great length.

Two men who can be called real modernists, William Sullivan and John Slattery, have already been mentioned. Sullivan was a Paulist, therefore a member of the congregation founded by Isaac Hecker, arguably the father of all Americanists.[10] While Hecker sought to establish a congregation more American than the German-dominated Redemptorists he joined shortly after his conversion, Sullivan went considerably beyond his founder. Disturbed by the conclusions of liberal biblical criticism, he had doubts about his faith. He left the Church in 1908, that is, shortly after the condemnation of the modernists. He was awkward in his new role as a Unitarian minister and, while, as a priest, he would have reduced Catholicism to a vague set of moral norms, as a Unitarian, he sought to improve his lately-embraced American sect by introducing Catholicity into it by way of retreats, mystical prayer, etc.

In 1909, four more sons of Father Hecker would follow Sullivan’s path outside the Church, consciously leaving because of the condemnation of Modernism.

Father John R. Slattery was the American Superior of the Mill Hill Fathers (an English congregation), who, like Hecker, founded a more American community: the Josephites, whose work was (and still largely is) among Negroes in the South. Having been scandalized by racism among devout Catholics, Slattery came under the influence of higher biblical criticism and evolution. Like Sullivan, Slattery left the Church.

The incident of the Sulpician Fathers who taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary[11] in New York deserves mention, too. These priests published the New York Review, a modernist journal which broadcast current European ideas to an American readership. Francis Gigot, the biblical scholar whose interest was Jesus’ self-knowledge, was one of these professors. Having been rebuked by the Superior General of the Sulpicians, they left the community and continued to teach at the seminary as diocesan priests. John Cardinal Farley, the Archbishop of New York, incardinated them into his Archdiocese.

Another genuine modernist among the American clergy was Henry Poels, who was forced to resign from Catholic University for rejecting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.


Hitchcock, James. Catholicism and Modernity: Confrontation or Capitulation. Seabury Press, 1979.

Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore. Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology. Translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951.

St. Pius X. Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock Online, available at: [accessed July 21, 2006], 8 September, 1907.

St. Pius X. Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists, Online, available at: [accessed July 21, 2006], 3 July, 1907.

[1] The former is a hodgepodge of various heresies steeped in Kantianism and Historicism, while the latter is a set of erroneous tendencies intended to make Catholicism more “American.”

[2] Yes, many contend that Americanism is not a “heresy.” While the point it at least debatable (I hold that it is a heresy), I am using the word in a fairly wide sense here so as to avoid cumbersome circumlocutions.

[3] Denz. 1967, emphasis mine.

[4] St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock (Online, available at: [accessed July 21, 2006]) 8 September, 1907. No. 12.

[5] Denz. 1975.

[6] Notes from Lecture IX “Americanism,” (emphasis mine).

[7] DVD of Lecture Five, “American Modernist [sic.].”

[8] Vide No. 27 of Pascendi: “evolution is described as a resultant from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation.” ( ) This is a perfect example of Hegelianism.

[9] The work of Henri Bremond, who wrote a multi-volume work on the history of French Spirituality, and focused on sanctity, bore an affinity to von Hugel’s in this regard.

[10] It was Father Walter Elliot’s biography of Hecker, in French translation, that caught the attention of the Holy See in the matter of Americanism.

[11] Dunwoodie.

What did St. Pius X mean when he called Modernism “the synthesis of all heresies”?

This phrase – “the synthesis of all heresies” – shows up toward the end of the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, placed in the context of a rhetorical question.[1] After an apology for taking so long to explore the entire scope of the Modernist doctrines, even disclosing “certain uncouth terms in use among the Modernists,”[2] the saintly author asked this question: “And now, can anybody who takes a survey of the whole system be surprised that We should define it as the synthesis of all heresies?”[3] It is as if to say, in frustrated indignation: “I’m sorry I had to demand your attention for so long in these unseemly affairs, horrible as they are to behold. Can we not say that this is the synthesis of all heresies?”

If we look earlier in the encyclical, we find some statements which give us an insight into why the amalgam known as Modernism goes by this particular papal pejorative. In the third paragraph, the Holy Father says that the Modernists “lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers.” There is, then, something fundamental to the heresy. It is not a question of the Modernists literally professing every single historical heresy, something mentally impossible, since many of them are mutually exclusive; it is, rather, a question of Modernism being radical – in the literal sense of going to the radix (root) – in its denial of the faith. This is so because “[the Modernists’] whole system has been born of the alliance between faith and false philosophy,”[4] a philosophy that fundamentally denies knowledge, the supernatural order, the stability of truth, the principle of non-contradiction, and the metaphysics of common sense. It lobotomizes the soul, as it were, between “knowing” on the one hand and “believing” on the other. The manifold results of this evil union between faith and an unworthy handmaid are the fruits of a tree which is corrupt at its very roots.

The preceding suffices to answer the question. What remains is to flesh out this answer with some details, which is to give an overview of the system as summarized by the pope.

The Holy Father lucidly resumed the Modernist doctrine in three essential points: 1) philosophical agnosticism (Kantianism), 2) vital immanence (or immanentism – from Kant and, especially, Schleiermacher), and 3) radical evolutionism.

By the first of these three errors, philosophical agnosticism, which is described by the pope as Modernism’s “negative” aspect, the partisans of error deny sound epistemology. They opt to follow Kant, who produced a philosophy that rejects man’s ability to know and reduces all sense impressions to mere “phenomena,” whereas the “neumena” or ding an zich, (“the thing in itself,” or reality as it is) are ever elusive of our intellectual grasp. Once this sort of philosophy is introduced into Catholic theology – fides quaerens intellectum – the faith cannot find understanding because the very criteria for so doing are rejected. Kantianism is fundamentally contraceptive of theology, as it is of all sound thought. Dogma, which is a divine revelation from God to the intellect of man, is, in the end, rendered meaningless, since the mind cannot really know anything external to itself. Thus, the pope laments the fact that “Natural Theology,…the motives of credibility, [and]… external revelation”[5] are all rendered impotent in the Modernist system. If man cannot know truth, it is the end of all revelation and, consequently, of all religion: “By [Agnosticism] every avenue that leads to God is barred.”[6]

This “negative” aspect of Modernism is itself sufficient to make Modernism the “synthesis” St. Pius described. The further planks of the Modernist platform serve to bolster this conclusion.

The second plank, “vital immanence” or immanentism, is, like philosophical agnosticism, a product of the Kantian system. It provides the “positive” element of the Modernist platform, filling the void left by agnosticism. Immanentism is “a philosophico-religious system which, in its most rigid form, reduces all reality to the subject, which is said to be the source, the beginning, and the end of all its creative activity.”[7] It is the final development of the Cartesian “turn to the subject.”

After the doubts introduced by agnosticism, the man who calls himself a Christian believer is bound to ask certain questions, such as: If the external criteria for faith are all useless, can man really come to believe? Yes, says the Modernist, because of what is implicit (or immanent[8]) in human nature itself. This is not the scholastic “dispositive receptive potential” or “natural desire for God”; neither is it the Augustinian “capax Dei,” by which man is ordered to the Beatific Vision, but a “religious sentiment” native to each one of us that places “in human nature a true and rigorous necessity with regard to the supernatural order.”[9] Thus, man is not only ordered to a final end that is supernatural, but he has that end contained in his very nature. The philosophical foundation for this is found, as we said, in Kant, but Kant’s thought as further developed by his disciple Friedrich Schleiermacher, the “Father of Modern [Liberal] Protestantism.” Schleiermacher made Kant’s “immanence” a “religious sentiment,”[10] which becomes, for the Modernists, a “religious experience.”[11]

The religious sentiment intrinsic to man makes him reach out to the “Unknown” (God), who is also “unknowable” by virtue of Modernist agnosticism. Thus God, the subject of faith cannot be the subject of science (knowledge). St. Pius X expresses his disgust that this immanence denies any a posteriori knowledge of God and makes all knowledge a priori: “From beginning to end everything in it is a priori, and a priori in a way that reeks of heresy.”[12] This, in part, explains the Modernist distain for the scholastic method, which rejects such aprioristic thinking, but which holds that God can be known by nature.

It should be noted that the apriorism of the “religious sentiment” is a logical unfolding of the Protestant divorce of faith and science. It also marks the point of divergence between the Modernists and their allies, the rationalists: “On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the opinion of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics.”[13]

The religious sentiment stimulates in man a need for expressing his faith in symbols, a very important concept in the modern study of comparative religions and pragmatism spawned by the same noxious 19th-century movements that produced Modernism. It is this need for symbols that produces an external cult, and even a creed. Thus are blasphemously explained the origin of the sacraments of the Catholic Church, its creed, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the cult of the Blessed Virgin and the saints, etc.

Worst of all, immanence denies the transcendence of God (his being external to and “outside of” man, or the God “out there”). Says St. Pius, “The philosopher has declared: The principle of faith is immanent; the believer has added: This principle is God; and the theologian draws the conclusion: God is immanent in man. Thus we have theological immanence.”[14] These principles ultimately lead to pantheism, as the Holy Father affirms, and therefore deny the very nature of God.

The third plank in the Modernist platform is the radical evolutionism of Hegel, “the first great philosopher of history.”[15] Where Kant made all things static, Hegel introduced a dynamic element into his metaphysics (like Heraclitus). For Hegel, all things evolve in the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. History, truth, thought, indeed all reality is explained by this principle. In the history of thought, the Hegelian dialectic gives rise to “Historical Consciousness,” an acute awareness of change as a constant, describing all reality as in continual development. It further produces “Historicism,” the theory in which general laws of historical development are the determinant of events. In this theory, all things are subject to progressive evolutionary processes.

Hegel’s evolutionary dialectic is adapted to Modernism in this wise. By vital immanence the mind of the believer asserts certain things to be true. Then, upon reflection, he states what he holds in “secondary formulae,” which we call dogmas. These become subject to a continued process of evolution. When the early Christians collectively asserted their faith, the Church, a democratic product of the “collective consciousness,” was born. Over time, the Church assumed to itself certain governing offices whose occupants asserted a divine authority to teach (the Magisterium). The Magisterium becomes the conservative element of the dialectic, a principle of stasis. It is the Hegelian thesis. Dialectically opposed to this is the progress of the laity, who assert, by their ever-developing “collective conscious,”[16] ideas which go beyond the static contents of the deposit of faith. This is the antithesis. The resulting change produced by the tension of these two elements is the Hegelian synthesis. “Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma. An immense collection of sophisms this, that ruins and destroys all religion.”[17] This is how the Modernist views the history of dogma. To the Modernist, this process, to which he will contribute, must ever continue.

This three-fold doctrine is so complete in its denials of faith and reason that there is literally no area of dogma which has not been poisoned by its wicked root. Everything has been subjected to transformation by the unholy trinity:

Revelation – Vital immanence is revelation to the Modernist. All dogma is a reflection on what was immanent in each believer as it contributed to the “collective consciousness” of the Church, which herself evolved from a primitive community of believers.

Holy Scripture – A symbol arising from man’s need to externalize his religious sentiment, not the inspired and inerrant word of God.

Grace – Something implicit in nature, not a supernatural elevation from outside man to unite him to a transcendent God.

Dogma – An ever-evolving product of the collective conscious in which the individual articles of the faith bear no direct conformity to objective reality.

The Sacraments – Mere symbols which do not effect grace and which were not given to us by the “historical Christ.”

The Church – a product of the collective conscious and something that must be reformed by the Modernists themselves, something also utterly unnecessary, since the Modernists are radical Indifferentists.[18] It is also, in its present state, an enemy of progress.

Christology – An essentially impossible study, since the “Christ of history” is not the same as the “Christ of faith.”

The Trinity An impossible reality, given Modernism’s prevalent pantheism: “[W]ill not the very name of God or of divine personality be also a symbol …?”[19]

It is no wonder, then, that the Holy Father declared Modernism the synthesis of all heresies, going on to say: “Were one to attempt the task of collecting together all the erros that have been broached against the faith and to concentrate the sap and substance of them all into one, he could not better succeed than the Modernists have done.”[20]


Davies, Michael. Partisans of Error. Long Prarie, MN: The Neumann Press, 1983.

Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore. Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology. Translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951.

St. Pius X. Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock Online, available at: [accessed August 24, 2006], 8 September, 1907.

St. Pius X. Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists, Online, available at: [accessed July 21, 2006], 3 July, 1907.

[1] The Latin was unavailable to me, but in the other translations I checked (Spanish and Italian), as well as in other English translations, this is not a question but a declarative statement.

[2] St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock (Online, available at: [accessed August 24, 2006]) 8 September, 1907. No. 39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., No. 41. (All numerical references from here on are to this encyclical.)

[5] No. 6.

[6] No. 39.

[7] Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951) p. 133.

[8] From in manere, literally “dwelling in.”

[9] No. 37.

[10] This Schleiermacherian nomenclature, employed by Loisy, was explicitly censured by St. Pius in his encyclical. Cf. Nos. 8, 10, 12, and 13.

[11] No. 39.

[12] No. 33.

[13] No. 14.

[14] No. 19.

[15] DVD of Lecture Three: “Two Modernists.”

[16] No. 23.

[17] No. 13.

[18] Cf. No. 14.

[19] No. 39.

[20] Ibid.