Preface

{iii} THE following essay was written for a leading Catholic Review in London, in which, however, in consequence of a difference of opinion between the Editor and the writer as to certain paragraphs of it, it is not to be published.

This will account for the rather brief and summary manner in which it deals with some questions of great magnitude and importance. Yet it is to be hoped that it will be found to be a fair and accurate statement of Cardinal Newman's position in relation to the doctrines which are concerned in the condemnations pronounced by the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

As to what Newman would have thought of the system of the Modernists as a whole there can be little room for doubt. The entire fabric of his theology rested on the truth, which is elementary, that man by his intellect can know God, and can recognise a revelation, when proposed with due credentials, as coming from Him, and, consequently, he would have dealt very summarily with the Subjectivism which the Pope now condemns.

Few will question this conclusion, but there are some who either through prejudice, or defective training {iv} in theological studies, seem to think that, while they admit that this is Newman's position, and affirm that it is their own, they are free to uphold in detail as many as they like of the doctrines of Modernism.

They overlook the evident fact that these separate doctrines are vitiated by their relations with the system to which they belong; and they do not realise that, if you shift the fundamental and central truth of a whole theological system, you alter thereby the relative positions of all its parts. If religion is merely subjective, and grows by a process of evolution, which extends to the supernatural, if such a thing is conceivable, as well as to the natural, then, necessarily, all the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, not merely as a whole, but down to the minutest details, changes its meaning, and the use of its established phraseology, in this new sense, can only lead to misconception.

If people when reading the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, would only keep this obvious principle in mind, they would save themselves from many of the egregious blunders into which some correspondents of English newspapers have recently fallen.

For instance, there has been some complaint of the Pope's condemnation of Modernism on the ground that it represents our knowledge of God as inadequate Symbolism. Surely, they say, no human thoughts about God are adequate, and all our knowledge of Him is expressed by analogies; here is a point in which the Modernists are not wrong; yet a moment's reflection would show these people, that knowledge which represents {v} objective truth, even by analogy, provided the analogy is true, and inadequately, is something essentially different from figurative expressions which lay claim to no further validity than their correspondence, not with objective fact, but with man's experiences within his own consciousness. The Pope's strictures on this head are manifestly just, and illustrate the dangers that lurk, for untrained readers, under the use, by the Modernists, of the terms that hold, by tradition, a fixed meaning in Catholic theology. This doctrine that man can know God is fundamental. Newman used to say that, once a man grasped the truth of God's existence, first by a true intellectual inference, and then as a fact, in Natural Religion, he would have thereby progressed three-fourths of the way towards the Catholic Church. And if one desires to see the same truth illustrated in its relation to the whole devotional life of the Church, he should read Lessius' book De Perfectionibus Moribusque Divinis, in which it is demonstrated how real, and how operative is that knowledge of God which the Modernists would reduce to mere Symbolism of human feeling.

So, again, the Pope, with perfect justice, alleges against Modernism that it blots out the distinction between true and false in religion, by attempting to invalidate the knowledge of objective truth which is ultimately the only criterion of such a distinction. If all religion is subjective, and the one test of its character is vitality, then it follows that all religions, no matter of what kind they have been, that have held sway over large bodies of men, have the same essential {vi} claim to be recognised as good. What their tenets may be, becomes a secondary question; that they are vital, is the primary one.

This inference which the Pope draws is evident: and he is bound to condemn the system from which it follows, unless he was prepared to admit that Christ Our Lord, did not establish any religion on earth to which He gave the special and exclusive privilege of being His agency for the sanctification of men. Surely a system which puts Mohammedanism on the same essential footing in its claim on human acceptance as Christianity, stands condemned, at any rate amongst Christians.

But instead of meeting this irrefragable argument of the Pope's by a direct answer, the English sympathisers with Modernism run to the newspapers with their complaints that the Pope denies that there is any good in any religion but his own.

Unquestionably the Pope does, and must deny that there is more than one true religion on earth. Looking at the various organisations of men, which are distinguished from one another by their specific religious doctrines and practices, he must hold that only one of them, that of which he is the head, is the body that was instituted by Christ, and carries out His mission.

But that does not prevent him from recognising that the members of these different religious bodies do often profess many of the doctrines which were committed by Christ to His Church, and not only profess these doctrines, but live up to them, and in that sense, {vii} that there is much good to be found in men of different religions. But that does not make their religion itself, taken in concreto, true, and give it a share in the privileges of the Church of Christ.

Another detail on which there has been much apparent misconception is the question of the relation of religion to human needs and necessities. On Modernist principles it is an outcome of them; its growth in human consciousness from the original, inchoate germ to the fullest development of doctrine and ritual, is an entirely subjective process, which owes its course and its results to the stimulus of human needs and requirements.

The Pope condemns this presentation of the Christian religion as absolutely false, and derogatory to Christ Our Lord as its Founder. The Christian religion, in its doctrines, its sacraments, its sacrifice, is a revelation made by God to man, and, in this respect, totally unlike any merely human institution whatsoever. This is a clear issue, yet instead of meeting it openly, we have heard complaints of the Pope as if he would affirm that religion had no relation to human needs, or as if the condemnation of this Modernist heresy implied the condemnation of the settled principles of Catholic faith.

"Christ came to save sinners" is the most compendious, as it is the most eloquent expression of the truth that Christianity was given by God to meet the needs of men: and, amongst the evidences of its supernatural origin, one of the most striking has been the realisation, in every age, of this Divine purpose. {viii}

But that is something different from the view that would put the Christian religion on a level with, say, Medicine, or any other human art, or science, which gradually grew, from small beginnings, to its present advanced condition, under the stimulus of the human needs to which it ministers.

Another grievance of which we have heard a good deal is the Pope's condemnation, as a pernicious doctrine, of the view that the laity were an element of progress in the Church. But if those who complain would try to understand what precisely it is, as determined by the context, that the Pope condemns, they would see that it is a case in which the root error of subjectivism, and the internal growth of religion from human needs, throws up another sucker.

If the Modernist conception of the progress of religion were true, then it would follow, as the Pope argues, that those who most vividly and immediately experienced these needs would of necessity be the agents for the realisation of the progress which grows out of them. These are not the Rulers of the Church, but individuals, in whom these wants, and needs, with their satisfactions, are more vitally experienced, and consequently individuals, the great majority of whom are the laity, would be the true source of all progress, in doctrine, in ritual, in devotion in the Church.

But here again we see the constitution of the Church turned upside-down. According to Catholic faith, the Pope and the Bishops hold a Divine commission to teach, that is to define, and to interpret authoritatively, {ix} the Revelation of Christ; they are placed to rule the Church: and they, and they alone, possess these prerogatives. From them, the laity receive their doctrines, and their legislation. The Pope and the Bishops teach; the laity learn: the Pope and the Bishops legislate; the laity obey. If one is a Catholic, he believes these things, and if he does, he must hold with the Pope, who simply protests against an attempt to reverse the order which Christ has established. But given the recognition of this Divine constitution of the Church, there is ample room, as Newman, in his Apologia clearly demonstrated, for the employment of the gifts and energies of individuals, nor is there any need, in order to find occupation for them, to invent the anti-Catholic theory of Modernism.

It is something of the same kind over the whole field of doctrine dealt with in the Encyclical. Between the errors of the Modernists and the true teaching of the Catholic Church there is a kind of simious resemblance which is the more objectionable for the essential differences which it covers.

But we may expect that this conlectum omnium hereseon, as the Pope well styles it, will not last long. It has no basis in reason, nor is it upheld by any persons of commanding intellectual power, and being put forward, for the first time, as the true interpretation of Catholic Faith, it comes into collision with the principle quod semper, ubique, ab omnibus creditum fuit, which, in its practical application, in a case of this kind, is as efficient in the hands of the least instructed layman, as in those of the most learned theologian. {x}

But it is precisely in its attempt to pervert the faith of the Church, by interpreting it in an entirely new sense, that this system shows its full mischief. If such a thing were allowed, the Unity of Faith, as a note of the Church, was at an end. Instead of one faith, as we have one baptism, we should have as many creeds as there were interpretations, and, with every individual exercising the right to give these interpretations as he liked, the principle of Unity would have been lost, as well as the fact. This is a state of things which the Pope cannot tolerate, and its urgency and importance will explain to non-Catholics the severe measures which the Pope has taken to preserve the deposit of faith of which he is the Divinely appointed custodian.

The above remarks, on some of the outlying issues raised by Modernism, might well have been incorporated with the following essay, but as it has been deemed desirable to publish this latter exactly as it was originally written, they have been thrown into the shape of a preface. To those who are competent to read the Encyclical, they may seem superfluous, as being simply corollaries from its central doctrines, but for ordinary English readers they may be useful in order to meet what appears to be a concerted plan of opposition to the Pope's magisterium. On the supreme issues as to our knowledge of God, and the Divinity of Our Lord, there has been an evident desire to avoid discussion, and the whole controversy in England has been made to turn on secondary questions, and these not as they have been formulated by the {xi} Pope, but in the form, and under the aspects which might be expected to win Protestant sympathy. For Protestants, this might be fair enough, but for professing Catholics, it does not argue a very high standard of sincerity.

LIMERICK, 21st Dec., 1907.

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