Pascendi Dominici Gregis by St. Pope Pius X

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On September 8, 1907, Pope Pius X issued his encyclical letter Pascendi Dominici Gregis, On the Doctrine of the Modernists. The Modernists in question were a group of mostly European Catholic intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, as they saw it, had the mission of bringing Christianity “up to date” and into conformity with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. To them, the march of modern progress, most plainly seen in the ever expanding discoveries of the natural sciences, forced a reinterpretation or redefinition of every major tenet of Christian doctrine, from the creation account to the inspiration of Scripture, from the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection, from ecclesiology to eschatology. Nothing, including the liturgy, was to be left unmodernized, or, in a term that would become fashionable later on, “updated” (according to the Italian term aggiornamento).

The attempt to fashion a modernized Christianity – more “spiritual” and “authentic,” less “mythical,” miraculous, and supernatural – meant sooner or later rejecting the very idea of an inerrant deposit of faith contained in Scripture and Tradition and of a Magisterium that understands and teaches this deposit without error and also without contradicting itself over the ages. As a consequence, many of the Modernists came to reject the great historic Creeds, drifted away from the Faith, and turned into hardened skeptics.

Although the Modernists never formed a definite school with a definite system (there was much variation in opinion from individual to individual, country to country, discipline to discipline), nevertheless, their ideas tended to emerge from similar currents of modern thought – particularly the strong influence of German philosophy, above all Kant and Hegel – and to issue in similar proposals for “reinterpretation,” revision, and reform. As a result, it was possible and desirable for St. Pius X to publish a survey of the overall system to which these ideas would of necessity give rise, and then to demonstrate how it is utterly irreconcileable with confessional Christianity, or even with sound philosophy. The originality and power of the encyclical consists, in part, in its limning out of a fully consistent Modernism that probably did not exist in any individual’s mind, but which was the complete package if one took the time to assemble all the pieces.

-Review by Peter Kwasniewski, PhD

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