Michael Davies on Modernism

“I wonder how many readers are aware of the full extent of the threat to the faith posed by Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies,” as St Pius X described it. Modernism is not simply a danger to Catholicism; it undermines the very basis of any form of religion that claims belief in a supernatural world. The starting point of Modernism involves the question as to whether God is transcendent or only immanent. As Catholics, we believe that God is transcendent. This means that he exists independently of the universe; if the material universe ceased to exist, God would still be there. He is the creator of the universe, he existed before time began. He not only created everything that exists, spiritual and material, visible and invisible; he keeps it in existence.

Davies and Cdl. Ratzinger (Bxvi)

“if Modernism presents a perverted concept of God, its concept of the Church must be equally far from the truth. If we are to grasp the error of Modernism, we must be clear about the nature of the Church, and so before digging deeper into the subject of Modernism, I will present you with the briefest possible resume of the nature of the Church.

In contrast to belief in a transcendent God, we have pantheism or immanentism, a belief which identifies God with the universe, with material creation; he is some kind of motivating force that informs the material universe, but which has no existence independently of that universe. Obviously, as Catholics, we believe that God is immanent as well as transcendent, he is everywhere, he does inform the universe, to use the technical term, but he is not identified with the universe.

The problem can be simplified, oversimplified perhaps, by distinguishing between a God out there and a God in here; a funny interior feeling, as Monsignor Ronald Knox used to put it.

G.K. Chesterton was very unimpressed by those whose God consisted of no more than an interior feeling [or intuition only], and was not disposed to be polite to those who worship the God within; here is what he wrote in Orthodoxy:

“Of all horrible religions, the most horrible is the worship of ‘the god within. Any one who knows any one from the “Higher Thought Centre” knows how it works: That “Jones shall worship ‘the god within him’ turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.

Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.”

Today, the controversy as to whether God is transcendent or immanent is generally simplified with these two phrases: a God out there or a God in here [within]. The inevitable logic of Modernism is that there is no God out there, only a God in here. That is, that God is not transcendent but merely immanent. St Pius X disagreed and so he excommunicated the Modernists.

In her most profound reality, the Catholic Church is Christ himself; we can thus understand the axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church because there is no salvation outside of Christ. The Catholic Church is a perpetuation of the Incarnation throughout the nations and the centuries.

The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, He is the Head, the Holy Ghost, the soul, and we are the members; and the mission of Christ’s mystical body is identical to that which our Lord undertook while living amongst us with a physical body received from Our Lady.”

Pope Leo XIII explained in his encyclical Annum ingressi sumus: “In the Catholic Church Christianity is incarnate. It identifies itself with that perfect, spiritual, and, in its own order, sovereign society, which is the mystical body of Jesus Christ and which has for its visible head the Roman Pontiff, successor of the Prince of the Apostles. It is the continuation of the mission of the Saviour, the daughter and the heiress of His redemption. It has preached the Gospel, and has defended it at the price of its blood, and strong in the Divine assistance, and of that immortality which have been promised it, it makes no terms with error, but remains faithful to the commands which it has received to carry the doctrine of Jesus Christ to the uttermost limits of the world and to the end of time and to protect it in its inviolable integrity.” —on Modernism (emphasis supplied)

While politics is a necessary and inevitable part of our lives, its ambitions should not be confused with the Kingdom.

New Oxford Review. 2009; Pope & Rabbi Square Off Over the Teachings of Jesus.