The glaring absurdities of the situation seem to have never been perceived by the modernists. It never seems to have occurred to them that if the Church was not true she was not worth saving; that if she had failed at all or was in any danger of failing she could not be the true Church of God. "Why are you fearful, oh, ye of little faith?" never seems to have entered into their philosophy at all. On the one hand they seemed to think they could do a lasting service to a Church which they admitted could not be destroyed by saving it from destruction, and on the other that they could confer an inestimable favor on the law of evolution, which they admitted to be inexorable, by applying it to a class of phenomena which, it was inevitable, must be guided by it in any case. It was, indeed, something-was it not?- to point out to an infallible Church a course by which she could not fail, and at the same time so to direct an unerring law of nature that its force and efficacy could not be frustrated or itself miss its certain goal. Their zeal seems to have been a strange admixture of religious poetry and childish simplicity. In their ardent desire to be of use in the movement of things they cheerfully volunteered to determine the course of a predetermined agent and to guide the footsteps of a divinely infallible guide. To usurp the place of what they conceived to be a natural law, or to arrogate to themselves the functions of the Holy Spirit in the divine guidance of the Church is somewhat startling conduct in men who are said, before all things, to boast of their surpassing intellectuality.
Then, too, they seem to forget that it has not been the Church's custom to remodel her beliefs to suit the epoch or to adapt them to the changing follies of the times; nay, that, on the contrary, her proudest boast is that she has remained unchanged in the midst of a constantly changing world; indeed, that her immutability is bound up in and inseparable from her indestructible vitality. They seem to overlook the important fact that if you change the essence of a religion, you have no longer the same religion, but a new one, and that when you expunge from a creed all that is vital you may indeed make a new creed, but you have the old one no longer. Nor do they seem to show a very precious regard for the nature of truth when they imply that a thing may be true today and false tomorrow, and vice versa.
One thing, however, before all they never seem to have lost sight of and never seem to be able to relinquish-viz., that the Catholic Church is best adapted for life in the new order of things as she also was in the old. It only needs to be remodeled according to the modernist's ideas to enter upon a new epoch of usefulness. Their changes effected, the Church will fit perfectly into its place in the new scientific dispensation. This plasticity and adaptability to new situations, which seems to be destined to take the place of her old time immutability, the modernists evidently regard as the new view of the indestructibility of the Church.
Their attitude here would seem to throw some light on what is to many a perplexing and to some an incomprehensible feature-viz., the preposterous and absurd determination, aut fas aut nefas, to remain within the Church. Indeed, the whole movement seems to possess a naiveté entirely new in heresiarchs and points on the one hand to a childish fear of science which it does not comprehend and which it has evidently magnified into an irresistible and overwhelming power whose approach is inevitable, and on the other points to a refreshing confidence in their own ability to avert the catastrophe which must inevitably come unless they (who understand the danger and can apply the remedy) bestir themselves into intense activity. Preposterous and ridiculous as are now their self-complacent assumption of authority, it was--at first, at least- far from being a mere affectation or pretension. They were before all dreadfully in earnest. They seem to have regarded themselves as called upon to do what in them lay to save the Church. It was in the hope doubtless of saving a remnant of Israel that they started on their career of apologists, heremenutists, theologians and philosophers-a hope, alas! which has ended so lamentably.
How lamentable, even from an intellectual standpoint, is seen from the religion which the encyclical points out as theirs. The adapted Catholicity which they would give us is a mere religious scarecrow. Catholicity togged out in the garments of evolution, agnosticism and the higher criticism is a spectacle to witness. They would give us precisely what Protestantism has been giving its followers for religion ever since it surrendered its faith in
Christian truths. The skeleton of the old form is indeed there, but its carcass is fearful to behold. The organization they would retain, but robbed of all that was desirable, its outline is ghastliness itself. The edifice they would save, but its interior structure is as though a conflagration had passed through it, or as though the structure had been convulsed in the throes of a Calabrian earthquake.
It is Protestantism diluted by science into a crude rationalism. It is rampant Unitarianism substituted for Catholicity. It is agnosticism and false science as expounders of the Sacred Scriptures and the source and inspiration of Christianity. It deals with the divine personality of Christ as advanced Protestantism has already dealt with it "The full, rich, glorious Christ of Catholic Christianity has been dragged from His throne by these 'advanced' thinkers (God save the mark!) And reduced to beggary. A pale, bloodless, emaciated Syrian Ghost, He still dimly haunts the icy corridors of this twentieth century Protestantism, from which the doom of His final expulsion has been already spoken.” These words of a Protestant clergyman, depicting the awful situation in the Protestant world, aptly describes what the modernist would place on the altars of Catholicity. This is what the modernist would give to the Church, as he found himself swayed by the double emotions of fear and vanity. For no character of rebellion, no uprising against authority, no heretical opinions, at first led them onward. The greatest reproach at the outset might be, "Why are your fearful, oh, ye of little faith?” Indeed, at first they must have regarded their action as not only praiseworthy, but also necessary. However absurd, ridiculous, illogical or misguided it may have been, the movement at the outset seems to have been at least well-intentioned. Their colossal vanity seemed to point out to them a colossal duty and to impose upon them a colossal task. They saw-or thought they saw-better than the rest of men where the danger lay, and they imagined that they-not the divinely appointed pilot-were specially called, now that the Church was upon the rocks, to guide it to the port in safety, since they alone knew precisely the rocks and shoals that lay beneath the surface of the angry waters. Accordingly, they take out of the hands of the properly constituted authority the task of successful guidance. The legitimate pilot sees the danger, snatches the helm from their silly grasp just in time. The bark is saved; they are wrecked.
It is another instance where men who believed themselves wiser than the rest of the world fall into the most obvious errors and make the commonest blunders. The modern "reign of terror," as it has been appropriately styled, seems to have completely hypnotized these men- Loisy falling an easy prey to the vagaries of the higher criticism and Tyrrell the victim of the Darwinian theory. How peculiarly dangerous to weak heads is the modern effervescence of scientific and philosophic theories can be learned when we see these men so intellectually blinded by them that they even sink into that slough of all philosophy-agnosticism-and this, too, without seeming to perceive that in so doing they have reached the lowest point of intellectual degeneracy. The Catholic world stood amazed when it beheld Protestantism yielding without striking a single blow in the guerilla warfare which a barbarous science has been waging on Christianity and in which it thought to completely extinguish it ; but it never for a moment dreamt that men could be found within the bosom of the Church itself so timid in faith, so unversed in the wiles and tactics of modern sophistry, so shallowly grounded in sound philosophy as to seriously entertain for a moment the thought of accepting the impudent and ignorant strictures and arbitrary limitations which philosophical outlaws like the agnostic bandits have attempted to place upon the supernatural.
Absurd and childish as has been the entire movement in its conception, inception and development, it is safe to say that the world has not yet heard the last of modernism. While the sources of the errors remain, they are sure to poison thought it was the boast of the late Professor Huxley that the ferment in modem scientific theories was fast "whirling featherheads into all sorts of eccentric orbits.” Even so, who would ever have dreamt of the eccentricities of modernism? And who can forecast what further eccentricities in science, philosophy and religion the future may bring? Startling as are the strange vagaries of intellect as revealed in modernism, there may be more still in store for us while the aberrations in philosophy and science dominate thought And it is the Church which must meet and combat each new error.
The Catholic Church now stands alone in her conflict with modem error. She it is that, without reinforcement of any kind, must take the field and drive out the intellectual marauders from the regions of science and philosophy and restrain their pillage in the realm of religion. Once, indeed, Protestantism stood as a mighty breakwater between the Catholic Church and the waves of infidelity. The last vestige of that breakwater has, however, now disappeared, submerged completely far below low-water mark. The Catholic Church now stands foursquare to the full brunt of the storm and must meet the full fury of the waves. She is divine. She is infallible. She is indefectible. She can and will meet it, even as she has met modernism. But her children-her scientists, her philosophers, and her hermeneutists-should spare her the pain of direct encounter and the shock of dealing her deadly blows. And here comes the question, what have her soldiers been doing in the case of modernism? Evidently, they were quietly sleeping at their posts, and no one perceived the danger until the conflict was over and the death-bearing bolts had passed. The danger was unseen of all except the great sentinel on the watch-tower. The soldiers knew of the danger only when the general had come down and already scattered the forces of the enemy. Now, at least, the soldiers should gird themselves for future conflict. There remain with us still a false science, a pernicious school of hermeneutics and the grotesque philosophy of agnosticism, with all its arrogant and aggressive stupidity. Until the field is completely cleared of these noisy and mischievous elements men will not be permitted to be at peace.
It is true that the world had already begun to estimate the
noisy, blatant school of science and philosophy of the last generation at their proper value. In the perspective, men had begun to recover their mental vision and were beginning to see through the tricks of the soothsayers of speculative science. They have begun to judge according to the Baconian principle, and on taking inventory of the "fruits" they find them to be very meagre indeed. The sober minded, thoughtful portion of mankind that does not rest satisfied with the surface foam, but goes to the bottom of things, is fast coming to the conclusion that they mistook noise for knowledge. Self-laudation for learning and assertion for truth. The present generation has been settling down to the sober conviction that Huxley was a mere clever scientific fakir, Spencer a philosophical mountebank and Darwin a hypothesizing bore. As philosophers and speculatists, the school has been the shallowest of modern times. But the baleful legacy of their errors remains with us, and no one need be surprised to see a renaissance of the entire speculation. Nor would it be surprising to find the baffled modernist, thwarted in his attempt to betray religion into the hands of the agnostic and the Darwinian, attempting to revive, as far as in him lies, the agitation of hypotheses and theories which were dying a natural death.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of this series in Part V. There, the Rev. FitzSimons explains what we must do to combat the deadly heresy of modernism.
To Be Continued…