Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Noteworthy Roman Anniversary

Today (September 8th) is the centennial anniversary of the Papal Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis of Pope Pius X. It was the culminating moment of the Roman Catholic Church's resistance to the world of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Marxism/Socialism and pretty much everything that came with it that touched the Western Church. In his encyclical +Pius X condemned what was loosely termed modernism. It would be followed by a syllabus of errors connected to modernism and by a decree requiring all clergy and eventually anyone holding any position of trust within the church to swear an oath against modernism, which remained in force until the late 1960's.

The ripple effect of Pascendi can still be felt today. Although not as well known as many others, it remains one of the most important papal documents published in the last couple of centuries. It was the primary wall that Rome constructed in its steadfast resistance to the intrusions of the modern world on an ecclesiastical mindset that had not substantially changed since the medieval period of Western Europe. And it took an ecumenical (from the Roman POV) council to break free of that mindset. Today it is the cornerstone on which much of the resistance to Vatican II has been built.

Depending on whom one asks this period in church history (roughly 1907-1965) evokes differing responses. To many who live in the modern (post conciliar) church it is not something they want to go back to. It was a period where orthodoxy was enforced so strictly that priests were actively discouraged from discussing matters of theology. Seminary instruction placed a very heavy emphasis on scholastic theology. Each diocese had committees that were responsible for monitoring their clergy for the slightest hint of "modernist" sympathies. All published works by clergy (and a remarkable number by layman that were not even religious in nature) were subject to review by the Holy Office and strictly censored. It has been widely noted that the first half of the twentieth century did not seem to produce the usual flow of heavy duty theological works that emanated from the Latin Church (not saying there were none). Often those that did appear seemed oriented to restoring the status quo ante. And it was a period when the church seemed in some quarters to support dubious causes including anti-semitism (the Dreyfus Affair) as also various right wing politics ranging from monarchists (notably in France) to fascist dictators (Spain & Italy).*

Others however see the same period as a sort of golden age. Religious orders proliferated. There was no shortage of clergy and the missionary spirit was alive and well. In the United States catholic schools were full and parents were warned of the dire danger to their souls if they permitted their children to attend public schools. Abortion was illegal and the prohibition of divorce was not yet quietly circumvented by annulments. There were long lines for confession on Saturday nights (instead of the vigil masses for those who don't like getting up on Sunday mornings). On Sundays the reverence for Holy Communion was such that most of those who had been in line for confession the night before would still not receive and many people communed only once a year at Easter.** Women wore hats and gloves to church and men a coat and tie. In Rome the Pope was still carried around on the sedei with ostrich feathered fans and he wore the jeweled triple tiara symbolizing his absolute universal jurisdiction over the church and the world. And of course, everything was still in Latin.

It is to this world that many traditionalists desperately wish to return. For them Pascendi is like quoting scripture. Lefebvrists and others of a similar world view see modernism as the "smoke of Satan" that +Paul VI once famously opined had invaded the church. How, they ask, can Pascendi have been right and Vatican II also? Again depending on whom you ask you will get differing responses. Pope +Benedict XVI has been making a case against the hermenuetic of rupture. In this he has been joined by many thoughtful conservative Catholics who are usually strong supporters of Doctrinal Development. But both those on the right and the left have a simpler answer in which they concur on one point. Both Pascendi and Vatican II cannot be correct. They are mutually exclusive. Those on the left will tell you that Pacendi was a desperate attempt by a reactionary Pope to stick his finger in the damn as it was preparing to burst. Effectively a shout of "stop the world I want to get off!" And those on the right will tell you that Vatican II was the triumph of modernism and a heavy blow against the church. In support of which they will cite the compelling evidence of the chaos that has reigned in the Roman Church post Vatican II. Who is right?

Its a bit dangerous for an Orthodox Christian to tread here since we would of course argue that they have all missed the proverbial bus. Thus I will restrict my opinions somewhat. Broadly speaking the defenders of the hermaneutic of continuity are probably closest to an accurate position especially in matters of dogma. But it simply can not I think be argued that, especially in terms of church discipline, that which +Pius X condemned so vociferously has not in fact been at the heart of much that has gone wrong in the Western Church since 1965. Further almost all of the bizarre theological ideas and heretical nonsense that has cropped up post Vatican II can logically be tied to modernism. Indeed the very term has crept into widespread usage outside of the Roman Church. It is often heard in Orthodox circles (and with the same negative imputation assigned by +Pius X).

All in all it is an anniversary worth taking note of and a document deserving of far more attention than it has gotten.

*It is widely and falsely claimed that the Roman Church supported the Nazis. It did not. However despite condemnations of Fascism by Pius +XI the church remained closely tied to the Fascist regimes in both Spain and Italy. Similar charges could of course be laid at the door of the Orthodox Church in other times and places. For a brief examination of the Dreyfus Affair I recommend Barbara Tuchman's treatment in The Proud Tower.

** This was another issue that +Pius X addressed by encouraging more frequent communion. The results were mixed as many clung to the idea of communion being their "Easter Duty." It must also be noted that this mindset still exists in some quarters within Orthodoxy. Today of course the reverse situation now exists in the Latin Church with long lines for communion on Sundays and few for confession. More than one Catholic has expressed concern that there is a danger of becoming a church of six sacraments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


We usually do not celebrate the birthday of the saints, but rather their "birthday to heaven," that is, the anniversary of their death, considered as the beginning of their blessed life with God. Nevertheless, there are two exceptions, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, since we commemorate not only their birthday to heaven, but also their nativity, their coming to this earth.

The nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate today was well prepared by God from the very beginning of sacred history. Already in the Garden of Eden, God promises to send our first parents, Adam and Eve, a providential Woman, whose "seed will crush the head (power) of the serpent" (Gen. 3:5). In the protoevangelium, “the first Gospel” of Genesis 3:15, we see the promise of the new Adam, Christ, who will be the "seed" of the new Eve, Mary.

But Genesis chapter 28 also provides another prophecy about this new Eve. Remember the vision Jacob had of a ladder uniting heaven and earth? On Jacob’s ladder, the Angels were descending and ascending to God, and the place was called "the house of God" and the "gate of heaven."

The fathers of the Church applied Jacob's vision to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for in her this was fully realized both physically and spiritually. Through Mary, as though by a ladder, the Son of God came down from heaven to earth. Mary, by carrying the Son of God in her womb for nine months, became indeed "the house of God." And giving birth to the Son of God, Mary opened for us "the gates of heaven."

One hundred years ago today, Pope Pius X, whose feast we celebrated on this past Monday, issued an encyclical entitled: PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS. This encyclical condemned the heresy of Modernism. Why did Pope St. Pius X choose the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to issue a condemnation of Modernism?

Well if we review the 15 promises of the Rosary we will recall that the 3rd promise is: the Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, decrease sin and defeat heresy. We will, furthermore, recall the prayer: “Thou alone, Mary, hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world”?

If you read Pius X’s encyclical Pascendi, you will learn that Modernism is the sum of all heresies. It would by idyllic to imagine a time in which there would be no heresies, no individual persons who place their personal opinions over the Church’s authority and Magisterium. However, the fact that heresies exist does not at all mean that this antiphon with which the Church honors the Blessed Virgin Mary is not perfectly and literally true.

For there cannot be a time, this side of the Last Judgment, in which heresies will not exist. St. Paul stated this very explicitly in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you” (11:19). At all times the Blessed Virgin Mary destroys all heresies in the whole world in those who are truly and profoundly devoted to her.

St. Pius X very well explains the meaning of this expression in his encyclical of 1904 for the 50th anniversary of the definition of the Immaculate Conception. He there explains that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception contains in germ all Catholic doctrine and in particular the supernatural order of grace, which man in his proud rebellion refuses to accept.

Devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God is consequently the only means to preserve the submission to God and to the Church’s authority that are the protection against all heresy and every error in the Faith.

If people believe and profess that in the first moment of her conception the Virgin Mary was free from all stain, they must also admit the existence of original sin, the redemption of mankind by Christ, the Gospel, the Church, and even the law of suffering. These truths will root up and destroy any kind of rationalism and materialism that exists.

This doctrine compels us to recognize that power of the Church which demands intellectual as well as voluntary submission. Because of this intellectual submission the Christian people sing to the Mother of God: “Thou art all fair, O Mary, and there is no original stain in thee.” For this reason the Church rightly attributes the destruction of all heresies in the whole world to the venerable Virgin alone. (Ad Diem Illum, §14)

Sermon of Rev Scott Haynes
St John Cantius

100th Anniversary of PASCENDI