Amid all the positive excitement within Roman Catholic circles about the renewal of the church, a surprising element of fear is also showing its head, fear lest renewal also bring forth a revival of modernism. The fear of a new modernism is present not only in the very conservative groups but also among the so-called progressives. These progressives, though they take their stand right in the middle of the present renewal movement, are eager to warn against excesses and dangerous tendencies.

The old modernism of the turn of the century is now coming in for review again. At that time, Rome very sharply exercised itself against modernism. Pius X issued an encyclical in 1907 (Pascendi dominici gregis) that denounced modernism as the most dangerous enemy the church had. The roots of this modernism lay, said Pius, in human pride, in lust for novelty, and (N.B.) in ignorance of scholasticism. Modernism was badly infected with agnosticism, atheism, and immanentism. It implicitly or explicitly rejected the infallible teaching authority of the church and undermined the unchangeability of dogma.

When Pius’s encyclical failed to achieve the desired results, he saw to it that opposition to modernism was expressed even more sharply. All who had places of leadership (especially those who taught) had to subject themselves unconditionally to the authority and teaching of the church. With this, the unrest created by modernism seemed to be stilled. Catholicism and modernism were declared to be unreconcilable. The church did not reject science, but it did draw a sharp line of church authority that it forbade science to cross.

As we look back on the conflict centering around modernism in the Catholic Church (see the extensive study by Emile ...

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