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Victor R. Claveau
Modernism seeks to undermine the authority of sacred Scripture by denying any divine Revelation or inspiration. Modernists see Scripture as made up of forgeries and myths. They claim that prophecies and predictions were made up after the fact, and that miracles did not happen. "Scholars" who claim to be Christians, indeed theologians, present these errors to the faithful as new great new discoveries. They spread their poisons through books, pamphlets, newspapers, speeches, and general conversation; and they pervert minds, especially those of the young, to hold the sacred Scriptures in contempt.
In 1907 Pope Pius X issued the encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis - On the Errors of the Modernists. Modernism, the Pope said, is the synthesis of all heresies, and its doctrines are introduced, by devious methods, into many fields. According to the principles of the Modernists, Pope Pius wrote, the sacred books may be rightly described as a summary of experiences; and inspiration, as it applies to Scripture, “is in nowise distinguished from that impulse which stimulates the believer to reveal the faith that is in him…. It is something like that which happens in poetical inspiration.” The Modernist critic analyzes and rearranges the sacred books in accordance with his own criteria. The pope continued:
“The result of this dismembering of the records, and this partition of them throughout the centuries, is naturally that the Scriptures can no longer be attributed to the authors whose names they bear. The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming generally that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed from a primitive brief narration, by additions, by interpolations of theological or allegorical interpretations, or parts introduced only for the purpose of joining different passages together. This means, to put it briefly and clearly, that in the sacred books we must admit a vital evolution of faith. The traces of this evolution, they tell us, are so visible in the books that one might almost write a history of it. Indeed, this history they actually do write, and with such an easy assurance that one might believe them to have seen with their own eyes the writers at work through the ages amplifying the sacred books…. To hear them descant [discuss discerningly] of their works on the sacred works on the sacred books, in which they have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would imagine that before them nobody even turned over the pages of Scripture. The truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, far superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the sacred books in every way, and so far from finding in them anything blameworthy have thanked God more and more heartily the more deeply they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. Unfortunately, these great Doctors did not enjoy the same aids to study that are possessed by the Modernists for they did not have for their rule and guide a philosophy borrowed from a negation of God, and a criteria which consists of themselves.”
The ideas of the Modernists, the pope noted, have found much acceptance among Catholics, principally because of two things:
“First, the close alliance which the historians and critics of this school have formed among themselves independent of all differences of nationality or religion; second, their boundless effrontery by which, if one of them makes an utterance, the others applaud him in chorus, proclaiming that science has made another step forward, while if an outsider should desire to inspect the new discovery for himself, they form a coalition against him. He who denies it is decried as one who is ignorant, while he who embraces and defends it has all their praise.”
In recent years Modernism has reared its ugly head in the form of the “Jesus Seminar.” Founded in 1985 by Protestant theologian Robert Funk, the Jesus Seminar believes that the authentic voice of Christ has been lost in the Gospels and obscured in the memory of the early Church. The seminar members' search for the “real Jesus” has led them to conclude that only 18% of his reported sayings and 16% of his deeds are probable or definite. They claim the rest are unlikely or false.
Although the Jesus Seminar does not include many Catholic scholars of importance, its participants' skepticism about the historical reliability of the Gospels has to some degree become part of much of Catholic scholarship and serves to undermine Church authority and doctrine.
Today's society is in danger of reinventing Jesus to suit our own ideologies. A new myth of Christian origins is developing, which leaves people free to construct their own postmodern spirituality. That spirituality has Jesus instructing his followers to “do your own thing.” This philosophy of self has become a virulent cancer in our society resulting in serious disregard for the worth and integrity of human existence.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting extensively from Vatican II, teaches that the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels are one:
“We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels, it states in § 126.
“1. The life and teaching of Jesus. The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, 'whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up' [Dei Verbum XE, § 19, cf. Acts of the Apostles 1:1-2].
“2. The oral tradition. 'For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed' [Dei Verbum, § 19].
“3. The written Gospels. 'The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus'” [Dei Verbum , § 19].
We must always be on guard in order to defend the Church and ourselves against those who seek to undermine faith in the Gospels or the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
 Pascendi Domenici Gregis, § 34, in the book, All things in Christ, Encyclicals and selected Documents of St. Pius X. (Westminster, MD., Newman, John Henry Cardinal" Press, 1954), 86-132.
 Pascendi Domenici Gregis, § 34.
© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau
Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.
"Undoubtedly, were anyone to attempt the task of collecting
together all the errors that have been broached against the faith
and to concentrate into one the sap and substance of them all, he
could not succeed in doing so better that the Modernists have done.
Nay, they have gone farther than this, for... their system means the
destruction not of the Catholic religion alone, but of all religion."
-Pope St. Pius X: Pascendi Domenici Gregis, (Sept. 8, 1907)