Pius X arrested Modernism until it could be put on the right track in Vatican II. Modernism is the summation of all heresy since it evaporates reality into an immanentist subjectivism and reduces all religion to a “vital immanence,” “a movement of the heart… a sense.” John Paul II commented: “In our own century too the Magisterium has revisited the theme on a number of occasions, warning against the lure of rationalism. Here the pronouncements of Pope Saint Pius X are pertinent, stressing as they did that at the basis of Modernism were philosophical claims which were phenomenist, agnostic and immanentist.”
Pascendi Dominici Gregis unmasked this atheism that, from its negative side, reduced the capacity of human reason to only sensible phenomena thus marginalizing the reality of God, the soul, and the absolute; and, from the positive side, positing God, the soul and the absolute as “originating in a need for the divine…beneath consciousness… in the subconsciouosness, where also it root lies hidden and undetected.” The noxious danger of Modernism is the substitution of the ontological reality of the person by a psychological subjectivism, and therefore, relativism.
This action of St. Pius X, prescient and courageous, gave the Church time – some 50 years - to distinguish what was absolutely correct in Modernism as a working of the Spirit, from what was catastrophically destructive. The experience and suffering imposed by two world wars and the persecution of two ideological behemoths in Nazism and Marxism intervened and initiated a period of intense suffering for love by some. Such suffering intensifies intellectual acuity. Concretely, it gave time to develop theologian-philosophers such as Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger as well as ascetical phenomena such as Opus Dei’s experiential incarnation of the universal call to sanctity in the world in the person of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. Opus Dei was purified like silver under the Marxism of Spain the 1930s. The subjectivism which Modernism was espousing morphed into the subjectivity of the ontological “I” as believer which became the defining center of the Second Vatican Council. As Cardinal Karol Wojtyla wrote in his “Sources of Renewal:” The “enrichment of faith” that was sought in the Council was not “to answer questions like ‘What should men believe,?’ ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’”
Joseph Ratzinger was suspected of Modernism by Michael Schmaus who rejected the doctrinal part of his “habilitation” thesis. He recalls: “Michael Schmaus, who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, saw in these theses not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.” What were “these theses?”
End of story is what actually took place during the Council. In response to a question by Peter Seewald in “Salt of the Earth,” then-Cardinal Ratzinger remarked: “The Council Fathers did not come together with the intention simply of adopting ready-made texts and, so to speak, rubber –stamping them but , in accord with their office, of struggling to find the word that had to be said in that hour. There was the idea that we had to take the task in hand ourselves, not in order to turn the faith upside down, but, on the contrary, to serve it properly. In this sense, [Cardinal] Frings’ introductory speech (which had points in common with that of Cardinal Lienart of Lille) actually put into words the common awareness already present among the Fathers.”
So what did you write in this speech?
“The very first one was not written by me, nor was it a speech in the strict sense. The situation was that proposals had already been worked out in Rome for the composition of the Curia, the commissions. And the expectation was that there would be an immediate vote on the basis of those proposed lists. Now, many of the Fathers didn’t want that. Then both Cardinal Lienart and Cardinal Frings rose to their feet and said that we cannot simply vote at this time, that we have to get in contact with one another in order to find out who is suitable for what, that the elections have to be postponed. That was the first drumbeat at the beginning of the Council….
“The second thing… was that, concretely, when the text on revelation was to be proposed for discussion, Cardinal Frings – and there, admittedly, I did play a part – explained that the text as it was then worded was not an adequate starting point. It was, he said, necessary to start from the ground up, to rework the document within the council itself. That really sounded the alarm. It was what really first led to the saying that we will rework the texts ourselves.
“In the third speech, which has become famous, the subject was the necessity of reforming the methods of the Holy Office and the need for a transparent procedure there. Those are the speeches that stuck in the mind of the public….
“There was a very strong desire among the Council Fathers really to venture something new and to leave behind the habitual scholastic framework, also to risk a new freedom. That went from South America to Australia….
“I cannot recall the individual sentences you cited, but it is correct that I was of the opinion that scholastic theology, in the form it had come to have, was no longer an instrument for bringing faith into the contemporary discussion. It had to get out of its armor; it also had to face the situation of the present in a new language, in a new openness. So a greater freedom also had to arise in the Church…. On the whole it was an awareness that could be noticed all across the Church, an awareness that was connected with the feeling of emergence in the postwar period – and with the hope that now, at last, a new hour of Christianity was also possible.”
Conclusion: Perhaps the purified Modernism (that is the subject-person as ontological relation), that is Vatican II, is what we find in Gaudium et spes #24, which says:
“Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, when praying to the Father ‘that they may all be one… even as we are one’ (Jn. 17, 21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love. It follows, the, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”
This is the Magisterium’s Christological anthropology awaiting the new metaphysic that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been giving it for the past 28 years as “the new evangelization.”