At the root of Modernism is the denial of absolutes, thus subjectivizing reality and truth and consequently sentimentalizing religion on a personal level—errors that Pope Francis has also been endorsing.
Imagine you are a builder on a construction site and the foreman comes up to you.
“These are the plans for the second floor. Three bedrooms. Two baths. A good layout, I think.”
“Yes, it looks nice,” you say. “But where is the stairwell?”
“Yes, the stairwell! To go down to the first floor.”
“The first floor? There is no first floor.”
“What!? No first floor! That’s impossible!”
“No, of course there’s no first floor. There’s no such thing as first floors.”
A cold sweat breaks out on your forehead, and you look around desperately for some reassurance. Suddenly, you hear the Twilight Zone’s theme song in the background, and you breathe a sigh of relief. Everything is ok. You are just in another dimension. A dimension where there are second floors without first floors.
Unfortunately, this unreal dimension corresponds to our unreal modern world, where all absolutes are rejected (first floor), despite the fact that nothing relative can stand without them (second floor). It is impossible for the mind, so it is said, to come to any certainty regarding absolutes, i.e., the fixed and unchanging, the universal standard, the source of all.
The only thing that we can know for sure is what comes under our senses, and whose official interpreter is science. Since we do not have any sense experience of absolute good, absolute truth, or absolute being, their existence must remain in a state of perpetual doubt. If the day comes that they manifest themselves and we can put them in a pie chart, a Gallup poll, or under a stethoscope, only then we can be sure of their existence.
It is with such language that the entire objective order, which rests on absolutes, is swept aside and modern man is “empowered” to subjectivize reality. We might describe the process this way:
- Denial of the mind’s ability to know absolute truths;
- The mind arrives at certain lesser truths through sense data;
- finally, man’s mind (and imagination) has to create “truths” about realities that sense data cannot provide.
Such is the philosophy and corresponding lifestyle of our modern world. But what happens when a Catholic also becomes such an agnostic or unbeliever with respect to absolutes? What happens when doubt in man’s ability to know first truths is cross-pollinated with religion? The answer is one word: Modernism. This is stated clearly by St. Pius X in Pascendi:
The Modernists place the foundation of their religious philosophy in that doctrine which is commonly called agnosticism. Perforce, then, human reason is entirely restricted to phenomena, namely, things that appear, and that appearance by which they appear; it has neither the right nor the power to transgress the limits of the same. Therefore, it cannot raise itself to God nor recognize His existence, even through things that are seen." (Denzinger 2072) [emphasis added in this and succeeding quotes]
Certain Catholics, bedazzled by the triumphs of science and befuddled by false philosophies, embraced the idea that we can only get certainty from direct sense evidence. Doing this, they shut off reason from reaching God, when reason alone can provide us with an objective God. And only the objective God is the God of absolute truth, the Catholic God, i.e., the God to Whom only the true Catholic Faith leads. This is the real God; there is no other.
Sense data, of itself, provides no direct information about God, since God is immaterial. Only the immaterial power of man’s intellect, through a process of metaphysical abstraction, can yield certain, objective knowledge of what transcends the material order. Thus, chaining reason to phenomena pushes the one objective God away from reason’s reach. And without such an objective God, a man who “wants religion” must create his own subjective god. With Modernists, we no longer have the one creating God manifesting His order to the universe of men, but each individual man manifesting belief in the god of his creation. This is the long term result of the religious agnosticism which was condemned 100 years ago.
Did it disappear after its condemnation? Or did it mutate and, like a new strain of malaria, re-appear in a more insidious and deadly form? To answer this, we must turn to a Pope and an atheist, and see to what degree they mutually adhere to the three step subjectivization of reality given above.
Absence of absolutes
As so often in our inverted world, it seems that the atheist Dr. Ernesto Scalfari—for whom we must pray—has a clearer understanding of his secular faith than many have of their belief in God. He knows that, once the absolute order is destroyed, God disappears, and man can quickly take His place. And so, when addressing an open letter to the Head of the Catholic Church, Scalfari goes right to the heart of the matter: Is there such a thing as absolute truth?
How harmonious it would have sounded to Catholic ears worldwide if Scalfari had been given a rational proof for God’s existence! It could have been done very briefly:
Dear Doctor, we know from our uniform experience that everything around us is finite and limited. But what is finite and relative cannot be explained without the infinite and absolute. It is impossible that there be caused causes without an Uncaused One, received being without Unreceived Being, participated goodness without Absolute Goodness. Therefore, we must admit these absolutes—to which everyone gives the name ‘God’—so as not to fall into irrationality."
Instead, Pope Francis responded as follows:
To begin with, I would not speak about ‘absolute’ truths, even for believers, in the sense that absolute is that which is disconnected and bereft of all relationship. Truth, according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship. As such each one of us receives the truth and expresses it from within, that is to say, according to one’s own circumstances, culture and situation in life, etc. This does not mean that truth is variable and subjective, quite the contrary. But it does signify that it comes to us always and only as a way and a life."
Truth is a relationship... St. Thomas Aquinas agrees when he defines it as a conformity of the mind to reality in I, q. 16, a.1. Is this the conformity of which Pope Francis speaks? No, because for him, truth is not something of the mind, but something of the whole person. It is not a question of thought, but one of living. Truth is love that is received by a man, not a correct judgment of a mind that conforms to objective reality. A table will help clarify these different notions of truth.
|Truth||Pope Francis||St. Thomas|
|Its nature||The love of God||A judgment|
|Its Subject||The whole person||The mind|
|Obtained by:||A reception of love||A conformity of the mind with reality|
The next paragraph of the Pope’s letter confirms the left column:
The greatness of the human person resides in the ability to reflect on God, that is to say, to be able to live in a conscious and responsible relationship with him. But this relationship is between two realities. God—this is my thought and this is my experience, but how many, yesterday and today, share it!—is not an idea even if a lofty one, the fruit of human thought."
For Pope Francis, reflecting/thinking is living, and not an operation distinct from that of life itself. Truth only exists at the level of the person or subject, not at the level of the mind. We must consider carefully the consequences of this change of perspective. Recall that St. Pius X said that, for Modernist agnosticism, “human reason... cannot raise itself to God”, and that this is the foundation of their subjectivist religious philosophy. Pope Francis, above, is denying to human thought the ability to form an idea of God. But the mind is the eyes of the soul, the intellect or that which “reads into” things.
Through our senses, we come into contact with things; through our intellect, we understand them. The mind is meant to live a life of its own rather than being limited to the experiences of life. For the Pope, human reason does not form an idea of God and then live according to that idea, but rather lives in contact with God and then reflects on that life. Truth is a love that is experienced, then reflected upon and expressed. In short, humans are only able to think about God in terms of their subjective contact with Him. Let us try to understand, by means of an analogy, the difference between the Thomistic, objective notion of truth and the Pope’s subjectivist one.
The Forest Thomistica vs. The Forest Moderna
Bob, a blind man, is out for a walk in the woods. He is trying hard to stay on the trail, when suddenly a moving body brushes up against his leg. What is it? A raccoon? A porcupine? A snake? Bob’s mind reflects on all of the possibilities. He cries out, “What was that?” His friend Bill is just catching up with him and says, “Don’t worry; it was just a squirrel.”
In this short example, the blind man, not being able to see, was not able to identify the animal and so had to reflect upon its nature without being to reach any certainty on the question. The man with the power of sight, however, identified it and then made the correct judgment on the proper relationship to be maintained with respect to it, in this case staying instead of running.
The normal order for a relationship with God is to know Him, then love Him, then serve Him. The mind, by a process of reasoning, shows us with certainty that God exists and to a certain degree Who He is. Once this is seen or understood, and a mental relationship is established, the heart or will follows by loving God, and the whole person by serving Him.
What happens when we close the eyes of the mind to transcendental realities, shackling reason to sense data alone? Then, we are all groping around in the forest bumping into things first, and then reflecting upon them. Bob thinks that he has a brush with God and describes his experience to a now blind Bill. Bill has a different experience and forms a different idea of God. Bob and Bill dialogue and share their faith experiences with one another. They are encouraged by the fact that many, both yesterday and today, have also had such experiences. Each one has their own relationship with God, which is truth, and they each express it in their own way. They warn each other not to turn their truth into an ideology or system of absolutes, because no one knows for sure who God is. God is always a surprise! “You never know when and where you will find him”. The one dogma that all agree upon is that “God is in everyone’s life,” whoever He is, or whoever we have made Him.
Not wanting to stop there, Bob and Bill each form their own religious bodies, wherein they worship the God of their experience in the way that seems best to them, one with much entertainment and a false sense of active participation. They foster religious freedom and separation of Church and State, since religion is a mere matter of opinion. They profess that they are unable to judge homosexuals, and that there is no need to convince anyone of a certain belief about God. Pretty soon, the forest becomes... a picture of the 21st century.
The Anti-Modernist Oath begins with these words:
I profess that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be certainly known and thus can also be demonstrated by the natural light of reason “by the things that are made” [Rom. 1:20], that is, by the visible works of creation, as the cause by the effects” (Dz 2145).
Once this rational ability is denied, the entire objective order collapses, and God must move from the first floor of the absolute to the second floor of the relative, and be a creation of man instead of man’s creator. Mind is restricted to phenomena → Mind cannot reach God → Mind creates its personal “god.”
It seems that Dr. Scalfari recognizes this, and he chooses to reject any objective transcendent order. Modernist Catholics, for the past 150 years, under pressure from the world, have done the same. And while the concrete activity of atheists and Modernists is radically different, this is precisely because they share the same thinking, i.e., that it is for man to decide for himself the absolute order upon which all truth is founded. Any and every lifestyle can be justified with such principles, wherein a self-imposed intellectual blindness frees life from absolutes only to chain it to an empty selfishness. Those who do not have the love of God’s truth shut themselves off from experiencing the truth of God’s love.
Cardinal Pell recently described Bishop Fellay’s opinion that Pope Francis is a Modernist as “absolute rubbish.” But if this article is correct, the Pope labors under the agnosticism that is at the very root of Modernist thought and the crisis in the world. How reassuring it would be for Catholics worldwide if those who denied themselves to be Modernists would dust off a copy of the Anti-Modernist oath, kneel down before the one, true Catholic God, present on our altars, and pronounce its hallowed words. Let us pray with all the more intensity for the Pope and our Holy Mother, the Church, that the ever-living and ever-mutating Modernist heresy may be finally overcome.
1 Man’s natural knowledge of God must be supplemented by external revelation of supernatural truths in order for him to attain salvation. But the natural knowledge provides “preambles” to the faith or a necessary disposition.
2 Words of Pope Francis in the interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., “A Big Heart Open to God.”
3 See “Cardinal Pell defends Pope against SSPX, foresees continued push for Curial reform” of 10-28-2013 published at CatholicCulture.org.