Season 6, Popes Against the Modern Errors, Episode 12: Notre Charge Apostolique (Part 1)
“…The nagging emptiness of college life soon dawned on us, with nothing to inspire us or to change our lives, nothing but the inanities of a correct, highly regimented life cloistered inside the cold pigeonholes of a conventional good education. From that perspective, it was easy to persuade ourselves of the irremediable folly of human life but with our youthful passion we knew we could not just leave it at that…” - Marc Sangnier, founder of Le Sillon.
“…it is Christian civilisation; it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants …” Pope Saint Pius X, Notre Charge Apostolique.
That which is not constituted explicitly in accordance with, and for, the glory of God and his Catholic Religion must necessarily expect the same outcome as the initially well-intentioned French social movement known as Le Sillon.
For the reader who still believes in the morally neutral status of modern college humanities departments, this episode of Popes Against the Modern Errors contains the story of how in 1894, a group of affluent liberal students in Paris managed to, within the span of one decade, become infected with the mind virus of socialism and ultimately get their quasi-Catholic fraternal organisation condemned by a Pope.
In the first episode on Notre Charge Apostolique (Our Apostolic Mandate), His Lordship Bishop Donald Sanborn and Matthew Gaskin examine Pope Saint Pius X’s encyclical of 1910, which addresses the latest outcropping of the ideas of the French Revolution, in respect of the social and political expression of Modernism known as Christian Democracy.
The target of the Pope’s admonition is the organisation known as Le Sillon (“The Furrow” or “The Path”), a French lay-led political-religious movement which, despite its promising start, quickly veered off course in attempting to weave together a Modernist revolutionary programme with the immutable Catholic Faith.
To provide some context to the agitations of Le Sillon, in the decades leading up to the publication of Notre Charge Apostolique, there was a large shift in the conditions of the working classes and a rise of a concentrated and powerful industrialist elite. Pope Leo XIII went even so far as to address this newfound apparent “class tension” in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Conditions of Labour). Evidently, the Sillonists chose a perverse and one-sided interpretation of this encyclical to justify their programme of seeding socialist ideas among workers. As we shall see, an astute Pope Saint Pius X saw through this pretence with his condemnation of the multitudinous intellectual errors disseminated by these campus liberals.
The circumstances around the publication of Notre Charge Apostolique demonstrate how a properly functioning Magisterium responds to attacks upon the Catholic order. It also casts into relief the disciplinary and doctrinal void which is allowed to persist by the post-Vatican II hierarchy in our current era.
Notre Charge Apostolique begins with a statement declaring the grave responsibility the Church has to preserve the purity of the Catholic Faith and discipline. Throughout its correspondence with the Church, the leaders of Le Sillon attempted to proffer the falsehood that its role was outside the remit of the Catholic Church and that its concerns pertained merely to temporal matters. In response to this, Pope Saint Pius X accurately summarised the goals of Le Sillon as follows:
“…to regenerate the working class by first elevating the conscience of Man; they have a social doctrine, and they have religious and philosophical principles for the reconstruction of society upon new foundations; they have a particular conception of human dignity, freedom, justice and brotherhood…”
These apparently laudable ideals had already been condemned on multiple occasions by previous popes.
As with most Modernist propaganda, Le Sillon employs “dynamic language … concealing vague notions…ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words.” The ideas themselves are inspired by 18th-century liberal philosophy and modern collectivist political thought. As an aside, His Lordship Bishop Donald Sanborn also describes in this show how Notre Charge Apostolique is the specific Magisterial document which refutes the central tenet of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes.
In a quote directly applicable to today’s public commentators on the Faith, Pope Saint Pius X accuses the hierarchy of Le Sillon (if they would allow themselves to be labelled as such) of being: “poorly trained in historical knowledge and philosophy and theology.” Without a rigorous intellectual grounding which can only be found in a real Catholic seminary, even a highly intelligent layperson is ill-equipped to teach others as to what the proper Catholic response should be when faced with modern social issues.
The Sillonists suffer from what Pope Saint Pius X describes as the vice of “an ill-conceived love for the weak.” Collectivists are very quick to jettison principles such as (other peoples’) right to private property when they look upon the divide between rich and poor. Mobs working in concert to expropriate individuals does not somehow become morally legitimate when carried out by the state.
The Pope-Saint goes on to remind everyone that we are all bound by his predecessor’s teaching on what constitutes a rightly ordered society. In brief: Sovereignty does not reside in the people, despite what some famous American documents may claim; A Christian democracy must preserve the diversity of classes and not attempt any form of “levelling down”; Attempts at encouraging human “progress” must be in accordance with the natural law; There is to be no nudging of humankind towards a “Future City” built on foundations that are different to that of the Christian City.
It is a remarkable contrast to observe how the political and philosophical errors of today, which most consider to be self-evidently true were not always considered as such. Widespread beliefs contradicted in this encyclical include the dignity of Man independent of God and His Catholic Church; The political, economic and intellectual emancipation of the masses from the tyranny of various types of “oppression” as well as erroneous modern definitions of authority, liberty and obedience. Indeed, it required a concerted effort to propagandise the faithful of Catholic Europe into accepting this gross inversion of morality at the time.
More than a century has elapsed since the condemnation of Le Sillon. In that time, more virulent Catholic-political movements such as Liberation Theology have proliferated, with increasingly fewer and weaker official censures. The post-Vatican II hierarchy will no longer get exercised about such pedestrian affronts to its authority as the Le Sillon episode. As evidence for the complete success of the Modernist inversion, successive antipopes will go so far as to publicly teach Sillonist inspired doctrine (Laudato Si, 2015) and to even endorse organisations which advocate for the socio-political goals of the enemies of the Catholic Church.
Divine Providence has ensured, through Notre Charge Apostolique that all men of goodwill should forever know how to discern this specific set of errors, even when the masses and their opinion leaders loudly claim otherwise.
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