A Catechism of Modernism – Book Review

A Catechism of Modernism, by the Rev. J.B. Lemius, O.M.I

The Holy Ghost has convinced the world of sin irreversibly, and so if our world is no longer Christian it is inescapably anti-Christ. It has its own modern spirit, which fights bitterly to re-establish the spiritual conditions of the world before God and His grace entered into it. It has made a motto of Pilate’s response to Our Lord – ‘What is truth?’ – to stand for its belief that man, not God, is the measure of all things.

Most critically, this spirit has penetrated into religion via religious modernism, an unfamiliar concept today, but which is in fact the most powerful source of our age’s characteristic indifference to truth. It called its own council at Vatican II, and has since launched the most devastating attack on the very ‘pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Tim. 3.15), the Catholic Church. In fact, it had been exposed by Pope Saint Pius X in his magnificent Encyclical letter Pascendi Dominici Gregis, who called Modernism the ‘synthesis of all heresies,’ and dared to call its proponents ‘the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church’.

What Catholic, hearing these words, could choose to remain ignorant or indifferent as to the nature of this error? It is a general principle in war to know your enemy, and as long as we are muddleheaded about what Modernism is, we will always be in danger of making a compromise with it. The Pope wished for his message concerning Modernism to be communicated to all Catholics of whatever state in life, and so by properly receiving it we fulfil the immense duty, given to our generation, of knowing our greatest enemy to date.

To properly educate ourselves we will need A Catechism of Modernism. It is just what its title implies – a catechetical instruction on the philosophical system of the Modernists, and which is entirely based on Saint Pius X’s Pascendi. We say ‘most essential’, because, while it only reproduces the content of the Pope’s Encyclical, its format has aimed to make it more accessible for the layperson who might boggle at its philosophical subject matter. It was written by Father Lemius specifically for the Catholic laity, in order to train them to identify and reject as heretical the modernist doctrines. The classic question-and-answer format enhances the logical progression of the Pope’s writing, so that the link between a modernist principle and its egregious conclusion is made easy to understand.

It is a short 155 pages in length (easily readable within two days). Its order corresponds to that of the Encyclical, and borrows its three major divisions between a critique of Modernism, an explanation of its causes, and the remedies to be applied by the Church.

There is a Preamble on the ‘Gravity of the Modernist Errors,’ and here we admire the penetrating foresight of the Pope in seeing Modernism as destructive of all religion. Like no other heretic before him, the Modernist can, through his core doctrines of Agnosticism and vital immanence, pervert the Gospel totally - ‘laying the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root’ - and what is worse, inconspicuously. He subverts religion with a deceptive genius, so that his Catholicism appears intact, while in reality his profession of faith stands on a rationalistic and apostate philosophy that has completely voided Catholic faith. This ‘Catechism’ examines and explains this philosophy to us, and as it truly is; ‘a perfectly organised body, all the parts of which are solidly joined so that it is not possible to admit one without admitting all’.

We begin with the two foundational errors of Modernism: Agnosticism and Immanentism. ‘By Agnosticism every avenue that leads the intellect to God is barred’, denying the credibility of all external revelation, and making the Catholic virtue of faith impossible. Everything comprised in our experience is really only the product of our minds generating them, and not based on external objects; therefore, they are in doubt, and cannot be used to reason to anything beyond them (least of all to God).

Since nothing can be known about God from the objective world, Immanentism teaches that faith and religion must be entirely original to man himself. For the same reason, faith cannot be intellectual, but is rather a certain ‘sentiment’ about God, springing from the human subconscious and welling up in the heart. This sentiment itself constitutes as a ‘revelation’ about God, Who must therefore be ‘immanent’ to man or a part of his nature (which is Pantheism).

If each personal sentiment about God counts as a revelation, true revelation about God is individually possessed by all men and by extension all religions. ‘Hence springs that ridiculous proposition of the Modernists’, reads the Catechism quoting Saint Pius X, that every religion, according to the different aspect under which it is viewed, must be considered as both natural and supernatural’ (27). Here is the essence of Vatican II ecumenism.

Instead of having received the Catholic religion from God, who is outside of ourselves the ‘eternal source of light’ (as we learn from the Catechism of the Council of Trent), the Modernist has religion sourced from below i.e., from within man and his irrational subconscious. There has never been a more revolutionary heresy!

Agnosticism and Immanentism are covered in a little over four pages, and they are the main ‘take away’ for the reader in understanding Modernism as a discrete heresy. The Catechism then demonstrates their terrible effects when applied to the Catholic religion, whether in its origin, revelation, dogma, traditions, or even its Founder. It then follows Saint Pius X’s interesting analytical approach of dealing consecutively with the different ‘personalities’ taken on by the Modernist. He is at once a philosopher, believer, theologian, historian, critic, apologist, and reformer (these corresponding to the highly varied and subtle outreach of the Modernists up to that time). There is outlined the theoretical interconnection between each branch of the Modernist system as they flow from the principles of Agnosticism and Immanentism, and cooperate with each other to destroy Catholic faith.

Part I concludes with the Pope’s criticism of the Modernist system, which has concentrated ‘the sap and substance’ of every previous error. His assessment? Agnosticism will lead to atheism and Immanentism directly to Pantheism.

Against the Modernists, the Pope declares that it is impossible for sentiment, unguided by reason, to lead a person to the truth about God. It cannot be the basis for religious faith. How many times in your discussions about religion with non-Catholics have they began their sentence with ‘I feel…’, or from nominal ‘Catholics’ ‘I think that…’ (rather than ‘the Church teaches that…’). This is the attitude that has been exported to the world by religious Modernism; that religion is not solidly objective, but a matter of opinion and speculation. This spirit was conceived by Protestantism, says the Pope, will end in full blown atheism, and that Modernism is the major domino in this ‘gradual descent of the human mind to the denial of all religion’.

We are left with Parts II and III, these being an examination of the moral and intellectual causes behind the Modernist heresy, its means of propagation, and the Pope’s statement as what is to be done to suppress it. He mentions that it was a major effort of the Modernists to falsify the origin, character, and rights of the ecclesiastical magisterium; and it is disturbing (and ironic) that this has also been a major casualty of the ‘Recognise-and-Resist’ traditionalism. It is clear that our particular work today is to fully uphold the rights of the magisterium and the Pope, against the inroads made against them by both Modernism and its false traditionalist antidote.

Reading this Catechism allows us to read the Vatican II documents with new eyes, to see the fundamental errors that informed its ecumenism and religious liberty. It becomes unmistakable that the condemned ideas of the Modernists have breathed their spirit into Vatican II, and are basic to the religion of the modern antipopes. This is an essential book for Catholics to read today.

Note: I would recommend people read A Catechism of Modernism in conjunction with Father Salvany’s Liberalism is a Sin, for this reason: they together strip, not only from religious Modernism, but by extension the ‘Enlightenment’ philosophies from which it stems, their pretence of being disinterested, dogma-free science, while slandering the Catholic Church as the obstinate opponent of scientific progress. This ‘stupid calumny’ is exposed as being totally hypocritical in A Catechism of Modernism. If we can dispose of this modern propaganda, we will have a much better knowledge of the solidity of the Catholic Faith, in contrast with the false dogmatism of the modern philosophies.

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Ben Sutherland

Ben is a convert from the Novus Ordo who resides in Australia and attends Fr. Eldracher's mission

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