The Roots and Historical Consequences of Modernism (continued)

The Roots and Historical Consequences of Modernism (continued)

Roberto De Mattei – June 23, 2018

The anthropological shift of Vatican II 

Writing to Cardinal Ottaviani on 9 May 1961, Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini (1888-1967) expressed himself without using half-measures: “I have said it other times and I repeat it: Modernism, condemned by St. Pius X, today has become freely spread in aspects even more serious and deleterious than it was then!”[34] The same Cardinal Ruffini, together with Cardinal Ottaviani, had suggested to John XXIII, who succeeded Pius XII in 1958, to convoke an ecumenical Council, thinking that such a council would have condemned the errors of the time in a definitive manner. But John XXIII, in his allocution which opened Vatican II on 11 October 1962, explained that the Council had been launched not to condemn errors or formulate new dogmas, but rather to propose, with language adapted to new times, the perennial teaching of the Church.[35] What actually happened was that the primacy attributed to the pastoral dimension effected a revolution in language and in mentality. It was this new mode of expressing itself which, according to the Jesuit historian Father John W. O”Malley, “signaled a definitive rupture with the preceding Councils.”[36]

The Council Fathers were surrounded by “experts,” or “periti,” charged with revising and re-elaborating the schemas and, often, preparing the interventions of the Council Fathers. Many of these theologians had been suspected of heterodoxy during the pontificate of Pius XII. The first objective they achieved was that of rejecting the conciliar schemas written by the preparatory commissions. The rejection of these schemas which, according to council regulations, were supposed to form the basis for the discussion, signaled a capital turning point in the history of the Second Vatican Council.[37]

An Italian bishop, Msgr. Luigi Borromeo (1893-1975), even in the very first session of the Council, wrote in his diary, “We are in full Modernism. Not the naive, open, aggressive and combative Modernism of the time of Pius X, no. The Modernism of today is more subtle, more camouflaged, more penetrating, and more hypocritical. It does not want to stir up another tempest; it desires that the entire Church will find that it has become Modernist without noticing it. (…) Thus the Modernism of today saves all of Christianity, its dogmas and its organization, but it empties it completely and overturns it. It is no longer a religion which comes from God, but a religion which comes directly from man and indirectly from the divine which is within man.”[38]

Msgr. Borromeo intuited the “anthropological shift” of the Second Vatican Council which translated Modernism’s philosophical principle of immanence to the theological level. The major interpreter of this shift was the Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984) [39],  the theologian who exercised the greatest influence on the Second Vatican Council and on the post-conciliar period. The conservative Council Fathers had a clear awareness of the errors which snaked their way into the heart of the Church, but they overestimated their own strength and underestimated the strength of their adversaries. The Nouvelle théologie was not only a theological school, but an organized party, with a precise objective and strategy. The voice of Msgr. Antonino Romeo (1902-1979), who at the beginning of January 1960 had launched in the journal “Divinitas” a deep attack against the Biblical Institute,[40]denouncing the existence of an articulated conspiracy on the part of the neo-Modernists who were working within the Church, remained an isolated one.[41]

The epoch of the Council was also the epoch of the greatest diffusion of communism, the principal error of the twentieth century, which Vatican II ignored. It is not difficult to see in the “primacy of the pastoral,” which made great strides in those years, the theological transposition of the “primacy of praxis” enunciated by Marx in his Thesis on Feuerbach, with these words: “It is in praxis that man ought to demonstrate the truth, that is, reality and power, the coming down to earth [mondano] of his thought,”[42] and “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in diverse ways; now however they try to change it.”[43]

The liberation theology of Latin America, in its different versions, was the point of confluence between progressive theology and the Marxist thought of the twentieth century[44]. The encounter betweeen these two currents was precisely in the affirmation of the primacy of praxis, that is, in the idea that what is more important than the truth is the experience that is drawn from action. Thus a communist theorist of the 1980s, Lucio Lombardo Radice (1916-1992)wrote that the essence of liberation theology is in “a reversal of the theology-praxis relationship. Not a praxis of theology, but rather a theology taken from a praxis of faith.”[45]

In accord with this perspective, Giuseppe Alberigo, who wanted to make the school of Bologna the continuation of that of Le Saulchoir, entrusts to the field of history the task of the “ecclesiological reform” advocated by the “nouvelle théologie” and, before that, by Modernism.

In the post-conciliar period, historical praxis became a “locus theologicus.”[46] The truth-history relationship was reformulated following the thought of Cardinal Kasper, in the form of a “critical theory of Christian and ecclesial praxis.”[47] “The theology which developed in the reception of Vatican II is thus characterized by its peculiar historicity,”[48] wrote Msgr. Bruno Forte, echoing the “manifesto” of Le Soulchoir. It is in this perspective that it is necessary to place key words of the conciliar epoch such as “pastoral,” “aggiornamento,” “signs of the times,” which in recent years have effected a true and proper cultural revolution by means of language.[49]








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