Modernism — Catholic Civil War Part 3

This is the final post in the “Catholic Civil War” series, in which I talk about a destructive tug of war between Catholicism,  and some factions of Catholics—Political Catholics, Traditionalists, and, today, Modernists.

If you’d like to read or revisit my thoughts on this “Civil War” in the Church, or about the first two factions I wrote about, follow the link. It would be good to have that foundation before reading this post.  I will here discuss Modernism itself, and to conclude I will talk about how Modernism compares to, and contrasts with Traditionalism, and in some ways Political Catholicism.  I will also talk a bit about Vatican II, the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II”, and the harmful effects that Modernism and other factions have on the Church.

Modernist Heresy

Pope Pius X labeled modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies”.  Brilliantly stated!  But what is “modernism” in practical terms? How can it be understood and identified? To put it simply, Modernists do not observe the authority of Sacred Tradition—the deposit of faith, direction, norms, guides, and teachings by Jesus and the Apostles, which the Church is wholly bound to, throughout time. The position that Sacred Tradition has no binding authority is heretical by itself, but also results in subsequent heresies because modernism views Catholicism as being changeable, formable, often relative.  Hence, the “synthesis of all heresies”.

Modernists generally reject, in some way or other, various authoritative teachings and doctrines of the Church, in whole or in part.  The Church’s doctrines on life, teaching on sexuality and marriage, the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the doctrine of Our Blessed Mother’s perpetual virginity and/or her immaculate conception, and so on.  One, several, or more of these core teachings are negotiable, expendable, or changeable for Modernists.

Modernism is quite a shape shifter.  Where two, or two million faithful Catholics are substantially identical in their beliefs, no two Modernist are exactly alike in theirs.  And so you can find Modernists out there who are faithful to some of the more Traditional, and fundamental core doctrines of the faith (the real presence, or the dignity of life in the womb for example), while rejecting others. Regardless of what beliefs they hold or reject, the personal theological stock of Modernists is often fickle, and sometimes fantastic.

Modernism and the Mass

It isn’t just a loose approach to doctrine that defines Modernism  Perhaps more commonly idenfitiable, Modernist Catholics tend to lack a respect for the order and substance of the Liturgy (the mass), since the mass, for them, is detached from the authority of Tradition.  This leads to masses that range from absurd or farcical, to illicit and sacrilegious.

Vatican II permitted some flexibility in the liturgy in order to slightly tailor the mass, when necessary, to be more in tune to local cultures of a parish/people or to serve a particular and unique need or purpose. But that flexibility cannot be understood at license.  The flexibility permitted in the liturgy does not provide for alterations of the mass that reduce it to a novelty for entertainment, undermine Sacred Tradition, or obscure the presence of Christ.

Liturgical dance, the changing of prayers, the rephrasing of opening and closing blessings, novelties intended to make the mass “entertaining” or fun are all not permitted.  Changing the mass into performance art is a no-no. Breaking from the rubrics and the guidelines of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is not allowed. But these are some of the things favored by Modernist Catholics.  Liturgical flexibility does not permit anyone to do with the mass whatever they may please. The flexibility permitted exists within the boundaries of Sacred Tradition, not beyond them.  The mass cannot be turned into a carnival. It must remain reverent, sacred, with Jesus as the center of attention. Modernists tend to want to put the people, themselves, or the celebrant at the center of attention, and they alter and progressively disfigure the mass in order to achieve that end; always leveraging the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” to justify desacralizing the mass.  It can’t be over-stressed that Vatican II permits very little flexibility in the mass, and permits absolutely no license to recreate the mass.

Modernism and [the spirit of] Vatican II

Inigo-Montoya-on-Vatican-II2Modernists often point to Vatican II to justify and validate their errors.  They misquote and misapply various documents of the Council, under the umbrella of “The spirit of Vatican II”, a term that exists nowhere in any of the Council’s documents. What is this “spirit” of the Council? It’s an attempt to arbitrarily interpret the documents and glean the actual intent of the Council from that arbitrary interpretation. Even if the “intent” they glean has no connection to what the Council actually states in the document.  Rather than following what the Council said, Modernists (and other modernsized Catholics) interpret and apply what they determine the Council meant or intended to achieve.

I’ll give you an example. Paragraph III of Sacrosanctum Concilium, (the Vatican Council’s document on the Liturgy) covers “The Reform of the Sacred Liturgy”.  In subsection 21 of that paragraph it states that some elements of the Liturgy are “subject to change”.  But it also says that the Liturgy is “made up of immutable elements divinely instituted”. In other words, some parts of the liturgy cannot be changed, while other parts “can and should” change with time, if those parts are no longer in harmony with, or suited to “the inner nature of the Liturgy”.  That’s what the Council said. The “spirit of Vatican II” interprets that as “There, ya see, the mass can, and should change if it’s no longer in step with the times. So let’s change this, and let’s change that, and let’s make it more entertaining, and….” you get the idea.  Well that’s not what the Council said, it’s merely what people claim that the Council actually meant.  That’s the Spirit of Vatican II. It’s as fictitious as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and twice as frightful as the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.

Comparisons to, Contrasts with Traditionalism

Risks and Dangers

To be clear, Traditionalism and Political Catholicism are technically not heresies. They are ordered toward error, which makes them just as dangerous as an actual heresy.  Unlike Traditionalism or political Catholicism, Modernism is a bona fide, clearly defined heresy.  But unlike Modernism, which has a clear border that makes it easy to identify and avoid (because it is a bona fide heresy), Traditionalism and political Catholicism are easy errors to fall into.  Though not actual heresies, and because they’re not actual heresies, they can lure many souls, and seduce many people into their errant dispositions and ideas, because they aren’t so easy to identify as Modernism is.

No one would drink from a bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label. You’ll know it’s poison, and you’ll avoid it. That’s Modernism. Apart from being a defined heresy, it’s so obviously un-Catholic that it’s easy for most reasoned Catholics to avoid.  But what about a bottle with the same color label on the front, but lacking the skull and crossbones? You may drink from that if you’re thirsty enough.  It’s not so clear that it’s poison, it’s not identified as poison, and it seems to satisfy a need, so you drink.  That’s Traditionalism and Political Catholicism.  They aren’t labeled as poisons, but they are.  And because they don’t have a skull and crossbones on the label, many Catholics drink. And consequently their Catholicity slowly dies. They embody something that resembles Catholicism, but actually is not. Just as a lifeless body lacks the soul that once animated it, gave it life, enabled its purpose and being, a dead Catholicity may have resemblance to the true Faith, but it lacks the authentic being, expression, and dynamism of the true Faith.  Traditionalists and Political Catholics are ordered toward heresy, immediately or eventually, whereas Modernism isn’t an ordering toward heresy, but is itself a heresy.

Effects on the Church, theology and culture

Modernism has been trying to pull the Church to the far left (politically and theologically), and far, far away from Sacred Tradition for about 100 years, but most noticeably during latter portion of the 20th century.  It is responsible for a lot of the confusion, disorientation, and the identity disorder we find throughout the Church today.  The warm and fluffy Jesus, the God who doesn’t judge, the Church that, it would seem, didn’t really exist until Vatican II, the belief that women should be ordained, that weekly mass isn’t important, that confession isn’t necessary—all of this, and more are all the result of Modernism.  In response to this identity disorder traditionalism is now going to the other extreme, trying to pull the Church to the far right, theologically and culturally

Traditionalism is responsible for the Jesus who judges seemingly beyond any capacity for mercy, the belief that the Church cannot grow or develop, that the Church rightly is bound to Tradition, but must wrongly be bound by her customs. Traditionalism fosters an understanding of doctrine that is authoritarian in its character, and an ideological understanding of the Catholic faith.  Political Catholicism is responsible for the error of placing the authority of oneself over the authority of the Church, which carries Christ’s own authority; it is responsible for turning Catholics into political pundits who offer commentary on Church teaching, but resist being converted by it—whether that person is Joe Biden, or Joe Shmo Average Catholic.

Modernism is dying, but the damage it has done over the past 50 years will be with us for a long time.  Many Catholics who are not at all “modernist” have had their personal understanding of Catholicism shaped in some way by modernist errors.  Catholics who are faithful, reverent and orthodox in every other way, but believe that God doesn’t judge anyone to hell have had their faith shaped by modernism—at least in that regard, if not in others as well.  Wherever Catholicism or Catholicity attempts to blend with the modern world, that’s the result of Modernism, even if the person is not Modernist themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for Catholics and Catholicism to exist, in its fullness, in the modern world. That was the point of Vatican II.  But when Catholicism blends—that is, when it is largely indistinguishable from the modern secular world—it is no longer Catholicism. The more it blends, the less Catholic it is.  It instead becomes a secular spiritualism that does not answer to the true God, but to the god of public opinion, perception, and sentimentality.

Traditionalists and modernists are opposite sides of the same problematic coin—a lack of authentic Catholicity, rooted in rebellion rather than in the character of God. They all have good intentions, but their good intentions become misdirected.

Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!



4 thoughts on “Modernism — Catholic Civil War Part 3

  1. I agree that modernism and political Catholics are wrong minded, but as a traditionalist I resist your characterisation of us as a mere reaction to the excesses of Novus Ordo Rome. Traditional Catholisim is the faith of all time. If the dogmas of the Church are immutable, then we must continue to affirm the Traditional Catholic faith and not some watered down, pseudo-Protestant Mass. But the mass aside, there is more to this new “Religion of Man” that was started by Vatican II and the 1960s counter culture. This new sect has systematically destoyed and dismantled the faith under the so called “spirit of Vatican II”, but I see no continuity of doctine in V2, just ambiguously constructed documents–like that old adage, “the skin of truth stuffed with a lie.”


    • There is no such thing as “traditional Catholicism”. It’s either Catholicism—which is traditional by its nature—or it is not. There is no such thing as a “Canine dog” or “wet water” and there is no such thing as “traditional Catholicism”. The modifier/clarifier of “traditional” tacked onto “Catholicism” creates a Catholic sub-culture.
      The Mass is not “pseudo-Protestant”, and as evidence of that I’d ask you to find a single Protestant attending a Catholic mass. Protestants remain offended by the Catholic mass precisely because the mass is so purely Catholic. The mass of today is the same mass as that of the Church Fathers. That there are some material differences is meaningless. There are no substantial difference. The mass is fundamentally the same. And the Latin mass is materially different from the mass of the Apostolic fathers but it’s fundamentally/substantially the same mass.
      If you see no continuity between sacred tradition and Vatican II, you’re doing something wrong. Vatican II did not change, replace, modify or introduce doctrine AT ALL. It applies doctrine and long-standing Theology (not all Church theology is actually doctrine) to the modern world, and to the modern environment the Church was finding herself in.
      I agree that it can be ambiguous at times. Partly on purpose, and partly out of misunderstanding. Either way, I don’t like the ambiguity any more than you do. But at the same time some things that people call “ambiguous” are actually very clear, strong statements; people just fail to appreciate them as they are. Example: To say that the Church established by Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church” is a stronger and more precise way of saying “The Catholic Church is the one true Church”. The latter statement is perhaps more blunt, but it’s also hyper-simplistic. The former is much more precise which is why it’s a much stronger statement.
      Traditionalism is a reaction to modernism, and also a reaction to a perception of modernism where modernism doesn’t exist. If the Church fathers were to reappear today, they’d recognize the Novus Ordo more immediately than they’d recognize the Latin mass. Spend a few months studying the early Church, early liturgy (where the sacred tradition actually comes from), and doctrinal theology, then reexamine your arguments.
      The Latin mass is wonderful. But from a TRADITIONAL liturgical perspective, it’s immature. The Novus Ordo is the perfection of the liturgy, if we’re using SACRED TRADITION as the standard. If we’re using the Latin Mass as the standard, then the Novus Ordo seems hollow. I get it. But the Latin mass is not the standard. Sacred tradition is. From the perspective of that standard, the Latin mass is—and I really hate to say this—over-labored and confused. It’s almost a composite of liturgies in some ways. It’s still a valid mass, because it’s built on the foundation of sacred tradition. But the same can be said of the Novus Ordo. So the question is, which mass is more faithful to the sacred traditions that compose its substance? That’s the Novus Ordo. Not the Latin mass. If you prefer the Latin mass, then by all means go to the Latin mass, and God bless you for it. But if you’re going to the Latin mass because you think it’s “more Catholic”….wake up call, my friend, it’s actually less Catholic than the Novus Ordo….if we’re using Sacred Tradition as the standard.


      • You sound like a conservative Catholic who is trying to justify his position of staying in the illicit Novus Ordo Mass, but I would refer you to read the Papal bull of Pope St. Pius V for the promulgation of the reformed and codified Missale Romanum on July 14, 1570. In Quo Primum, Saint Pope Pius V proulgates the following: “Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us. This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world, to all patriarchs, cathedral churches, collegiate and parish churches, be they secular or religious, both of men and of women—even of military orders—and of churches or chapels without a specific congregation in which conventual Masses are sung aloud in choir or read privately in accord with the rites and customs of the Roman Church. This Missal is to be used by all churches, even by those which in their authorization are made exempt, whether by Apostolic indult, custom, or privilege, or even if by oath or official confirmation of the Holy See, or have their rights and faculties guaranteed to them by any other manner whatsoever.

        This new rite alone is to be used unless approval of the practice of saying Mass differently was given at the very time of the institution and confirmation of the church by Apostolic See at least 200 years ago, or unless there has prevailed a custom of a similar kind which has been continuously followed for a period of not less than 200 years, in which most cases We in no wise rescind their above-mentioned prerogative or custom. However, if this Missal, which we have seen fit to publish, be more agreeable to these latter, We grant them permission to celebrate Mass according to its rite, provided they have the consent of their bishop or prelate or of their whole Chapter, everything else to the contrary notwithstanding.

        All other of the churches referred to above, however, are hereby denied the use of other missals, which are to be discontinued entirely and absolutely; whereas, by this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.”(Quo Primum, Papal Bull, St. Pope Pius V)

        Like I previously stated, the problem goes deeper than the latin Mass. We must look at the Modernist Philosophy that has infected the whole Councilor Church. Read Pope Pius X “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” On the Doctrine of Modernists. (


      • Thanks for the follow up. Regarding the statement “You sound like a conservative Catholic who is trying to justify his position of staying in the illicit Novus Ordo Mass”: I am a Catholic who is faithful to the Church throughout time, established by Our Blessed Lord, guided unfailingly and unwaiveringly by the Holy Spirit. Accordingly I believe that the Church would not promulgate an illicit liturgy, and that if there’s something promulgated by the Church which I don’t understand, then the problem is me—my limitations, my ignorance—not the Church. For that reason I don’t call the Novus Ordo an illicit mass.

        In response to your reference to St. Pius V and the Missale Romanum of 1570, which reads, in part:
        “Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us.”

        I offer that this was because there was no unified liturgy until the Latin mass. There were novelties in some liturgies which were not necessarily irreverent or sacriligous, but which nevertheless did not come from sacred tradition. So the pope was doing some housecleaning. But most importantly there were wide variations in the Ordo Missae, Proprium Sanctorum and Proprium de Tempore from one liturgy to the other. So to address that, the Holy Father was unifying the liturgy, binding it to the Roman Missal of 1570.

        The form of the liturgy promulgated in 1570 does not have the authority of Sacred Tradition and therefor the form is not binding throughout time. What the liturgy IS (i.e. what composes the liturgy) is based on sacred tradition, and THAT is binding throughout time, which was exactly what Pius V was pressing. I think the correct way to frame this is that the form of the liturgy can be revised (within reason) but the substance of the liturgy is binding. Vatican II did not replace the substance of the liturgy by revising the form. And, contrary to the claims of many of his contemporaries in distant Christian lands, Pius V didn’t abrogate the substance or order of the Liturgy of the early Church by unifying its form.

        It should be mentioned that the promulgation of the Roman missal in the 16th century comes from the same authority as that which was exercisead by the Holy Father in the 20th century (Vatican II). The pope, in union with the whole magisterium, either has this authority, or he does not. If he did not have it in in 1965 then Pius V didn’t have it in 1570 either.

        You will not get an argument from me about the problem of modernism and modernist philosophy throughout the Church. However Vatican II was a work of the Holy Spirit. Even if every council father was a modernist (and they were not), as Catholics we believe the Holy Spirit operates above the limitations of man. While the human element of the Church can certainly get in the way of the Holy Spirit from time to time, a Council is very serious business. The Holy Spirit would not abandon the work of a major council. If the Holy Spirit was not guiding the Second Vatican Council, then we open up a dangerous can of worms. We’d have to wonder if the Holy Spirit lost interest only at Vatican II, or if He lost interest after Vatican I, or perhaps at Constantinople, or even Nicea. The Holy Spirit is absolute. If He was present at Nicea, he was present at Vatican II. God bless you.


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