An Open Letter to Confused Catholics

His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre


16. Neo-modernism of the Undermining of the Faith

In the complete revision which has taken place in the Church’s vocabulary, a few words have survived, and Faith is one of them.  The trouble is that it is used with so many different meanings. There is, however, a definition of faith, and that cannot be changed. It is to this that a Catholic must refer when he no longer understands anything of the garbled and pretentious language addressed to him.

Faith is “the adherence of the intellect to the truth revealed by the Word of God.” We believe in a truth that comes from outside and which is not in some way produced by our own mind. We believe it because of the authority of God who reveals it to us, and there is no need to seek elsewhere.

No one has the right to take this faith from us and replace it by something else.  What we are now seeing is the revival of a Modernist definition of faith which was condemned eighty years ago by Pius X.  According to this, faith is an internal feeling: there is no need to seek further than man to find the explanation of religion: “It is therefore within man himself that it is to be found; and since religion is one form of life, it is found in the very life of man”--something purely subjective, an adhering of the soul to God, Who is inaccessible to our intellect. It is everyone for himself, in his own conscience.

Modernism is not a recent invention, nor was it in 1907, the year of the famous encyclical. It is the perennial spirit of the Revolution, and it seeks to shut us up within our humanness and make God an outlaw. Its false definition of faith is directed to the destruction of the authority of God and the authority of the Church.

Faith comes to us from outside, and we have an obligation to submit to it. “He who believes will be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned;” Our Lord Himself affirms it.

When I went to see the Pope in 1976, to my very great surprise, he reproached me for making my seminarists swear an oath against him. I found it hard to conceive where that idea had come from. It had evidently been whispered to him with the intention of harming me. Then it dawned on me that someone had maliciously interpreted in this way the Anti-Modemist Oath which until recently every priest had to take before his ordination, and every Church dignitary when he received his office. His Holiness Paul VI had sworn it more than once. Now here is what we find in this oath: “I hold most certainly and I profess sincerely that Faith is not a blind religious feeling which emerges from the shadows of the subsconscious under the pressure of the heart and the inclination of the morally informed will. But it is true assent of the intellect to the truth received from outside, by which we believe to be true on God’s authority all that has been said, attested and revealed by God in person, our Creator and Lord.”

This Anti-Modernist Oath is no longer required before becoming a priest or a bishop. If it were, there would be even fewer ordinations than there are. In effect, the concept of faith has been falsified and many people without any wrong intention let themselves be influenced by modernism. That is why they are ready to believe that all religions save. If each man's faith is according to his conscience--if it is conscience that produces faith--then there is no reason to believe that one faith saves any better than another, so long as the conscience is directed towards God. We read statements of this sort in a document from the French Bishops Catechetical Commission: “Truth is not something received, ready-made, but something which develops.”

The two view-points are completely different.  We are now being told that man does not receive truth but constructs it. Yet we know, and our intelligence corroborates this, that truth is not created--we do not create it.

Then how can we defend ourselves against these perverse doctrines that are ruining religion, all the more since the “purveyors of novelties” are found in the very bosom of the Church? Thank God, they were unmasked at the beginning of the century in a way that allows them to be easily recognized.  And we must not think of it as an old phenomenon of interest only to Church historians. Pascendi is a text that could have been written today; it is extraordinarily topical and depicts the “enemies within” with admirable vividness.

We see them “lacking in serious philosophy and theology and passing themselves off, all modesty forgotten, as restorers of the Church... contemptuous of all authority, chafing at every restriction.” “Their tactics are never to expound their doctrines methodically and as a whole, but in some manner to split them up and scatter them about here and there. This makes them seem hesitant and imprecise, when on the contrary, their ideas are perfectly fixed and consistent. One page of their writings could have been written by a Catholic; turn over, and you will think you are reading something by a Rationalist. Reprimanded and condemned, they go their own way, concealing a boundless effrontery under a deceitful appearance of submission. Should anyone be so mistaken to criticize any one of their novelties, however outrageous, they will fall upon him in serried ranks: the one who denies it is treated as an ignoramus, while whoever accepts and defends it is praised to the skies.  A publication appears breathing novelty at every pore: applause and cries of admiration greet it.  The more audacious a writer is in belittling antiquity and in undermining Tradition and the Church’s magisterium, the cleverer he is. Finally, should one of them incur the Church’s condemnation, the others will immediately rally round him, eulogise him publicly and venerate him almost as a martyr for the truth.”

All these features correspond so closely with what we are seeing that we could imagine them to have been written just recently. In 1980, after the condemnation of Hans Küng, a group of Christians took part in an auto-da-fè in front of  the Cologne cathedral as a form of protest against the Holy See’s decision to withdraw from the Swiss theologian his canonical mandate.  A bonfire was made, and on it they threw an effigy and writings of Küng “in order to symbolize the repression of courageous and honest thought” (Le Monde). Shortly before that, the sanctions against Père Pohier had provoked another public outcry. Three hundred Dominican friars and nuns signed another text; the abbey of Bouquen, the Chapel of Montparnasse, and other avant-garde groups leapt into the fray.  The only new thing, by comparison with Pius X’s description, is that they no longer hide under the cover of submission. They have gained confidence; they have too much support within the Church to conceal themselves any longer. Modernism is not dead; on the contrary, it progresses and flaunts itself.

To continue with Pascendi:  “After that, we need not be surprised that the modernists pursue those Catholics who fight energetically for the Church, with all their malice and harshness.  There is no limit to the insults they will heap on them. If the adversary is one redoubtable on account of his learning and intellect they will try to make him powerless by organizing around him a conspiracy of silence.” This is what is happening today to hounded and persecuted traditionalist priests, and to clerical and lay religious writers concerning whom the press, in the hands of the progressivists, never says a word. Youth movements too are shunned for the fact that they remain faithful, and their edifying activities, pilgrimages and so forth remain unknown to the public who might have been much encouraged by them.

“If they write history, they seek out with curiosity everything that seems to them to be a blot on the Church's history; and they expose it to the public with ill-dissimuIated pleasure under the pretence of telling the whole truth. Dominated as they are by their preconceptions, they destroy as far as they are able the pious traditions of the people. Certain relics that are most venerable on account of their antiquity they hold up to ridicule. Lastly, they are obsessed by the vanity of wanting to have themselves talked about which, as they well know, would not happen if they spoke as people have always spoken hitherto.”

As for their doctrine, it is based on the following few points which we have no difficulty in recognizing in current thought. “Human reason is incapable of raising itself up to God, or even of knowing, from the fact of created beings, that He exists.” As any external revelation is impossible, man will seek within himself to satisfy the need he feels for the divine, a need rooted in his subsconscious. This need arouses in the soul a particular feeling “which in some way unites man with God.”  This is what faith is for the modernists. God is thereby created within the soul, and that is Revelation.

From the sphere of religious feeling we pass to that of the intellect, which proceeds to elaborate the basic dogmas: since man is endowed with intelligence, he has a need to think out his faith. He creates formulas, which do not contain absolute truth but only images or symbols of the truth. Consequently these dogmatic formulas are subject to change, they evolve. “Thereby the way is open for substanstial changes in dogmas.”

The formulas are not simply theological speculations, they have to be living to be truly religious. Man’s feeling for religion, religious sentiment, needs to assimilate them “vitally.” “Living the faith” is a current phrase. Continuing in St. Pius X’s exposition of Modernism, we read, “These formulas, if they are to be living formulas, must always be suited to the believer and to his faith. The day they cease to be so, they will automatically lose their original content, and then there will be nothing to do but change them. Since dogmatic formulas, as the Modernists conceive them, are of such an unstable and precarious nature, one understands perfectly why they have such a slight opinion of them, even if they do not despise them openly. Religious feeling, religious life are the phrases always on their lips.” And in their sermons, lectures and catechisms, “ready-made formulas” are anathema.

The believer makes his personal experience of faith, then he communicates it verbally to others, and in that way religious experience propagates itself. Once the faith has become common or, as one says, collective, the need is felt to combine together in a society to preserve and develop the common treasure.  This is how a Church is formed.  The Church is “the fruit of the collective conscience, in other words, of the sum of individual consciences, which all derive from one original believer--who for Catholics is Jesus Christ.”

And this is how the modernists write the history of the Church: at the beginning, when the Church's authority was still believed to come from God, it was conceived as an autocratic body. “But now the mistake has been realized. For just as the Church is a vital emanation of the collective conscience, so Authority in its turn is a vital product of the Church.” Power, therefore, must change hands and come from the bottom.  As political consciousness has created popular government, the same thing must happen in the Church: “If ecclesiastical authority does not wish to provoke a crisis of conscience, it must bow to democratic forms.”

You will now understand where Cardinal Suenens and all the talkative theologians got their ideas.  The post-conciliar crisis is in complete continuity with the crisis which disturbed the end of the last century and the beginning of this one.  You will also understand why, in the catechism books that your children bring home with them, everything begins with the first communities that were formed after Pentecost, when the disciples, as a consequence of the shaking-up which the meeting with Jesus provoked in them, felt a need of the divine and lived out a “new experience” together. And you can now explain the absence of dogmas--such as the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption and the Assumption--in these books and also in sermons. The Texte de référence or teacher’s handbook for the catechism prepared by the French episcopate covers also the creating of groups which will be “mini-churches” destined to re-create tomorrow’s Church on the lines that the modernists thought they could discern at the birth of the Apostolic Church: “In the catechism group, teachers, parents and children contribute their experiences of life, their deep yearnings, religious imagery and a certain knowledge of the things of faith.  A confrontation ensues which is a condition of truth to the extent that it stirs up their deep aspirations and produces an authentic commitment to the changes that any contact with the Gospel inevitably produces. It is only after the experience of a separation, a conversion, a sort of death, that by the help of grace a confession of faith can be made.”

So it is the bishops who put into effect, in broad daylight, the modernist tactics condemned by St. Pius X! It is all in this paragraph13--read it again  carefully: religious feeling stirred up by a need, deep yearnings, truth that takes shape in the sharing of experiences, the changing of dogmas and the breach with Tradition. For the modernists the sacraments, too, originate in a need, “for as has been observed, in their system necessity or need is the great all-embracing explanation.” Religion needs a tangible body: “The sacraments (for them) are simply signs of symbols, although endowed with efficacy. They compare them to certain words which have a vogue because of their power of expressing and disseminating impressive, inspiring ideas.  As much as to say that the sacraments were only instituted to nourish faith: a proposition which the Council of Trent condemned.”

One finds this idea again, to take an example, in the writings of Besret, who was an “expert” at the Council: “It is not the sacrament which brings God's love into the world. His love is at work in every man.  The sacrament is the moment of its public manifesting in the community of the disciples... In saying this, I in no way intend to deny the efficacious aspect of the sacramental signs. Man fulfils himself by self-expression, and that is true for the sacraments as it is for the rest of his activity.”14

And the books of Holy Writ? For the Modernists, they are “the record of experiences undergone in a given religion.” God speaks through these books, but He is the God who is within us.  The books are inspired rather as one speaks of poetic inspiration; inspiration is likened to the urgent need felt by the believer to communicate his faith in writing.  The Bible is human work.

In Pierres Vivantes,l5 the children are told that Genesis is “a poem” written once upon a time by believers who “had reflected.” This compilation, imposed on all catechism children by the French episcopate, exudes Modernism on nearly every page. Let us draw up a short parallel:

ST. PIUS X:  “It is a law (for the modernists) that the dates of the documents cannot be determined otherwise than by the dates of the needs which successively made themselves felt in the Church.”

PIERRES VIVANTES: “To help these communities to live the Gospel, some of the Apostles wrote them letters, also called Epistles... but above all the Apostles related by word of mouth what Jesus had done among them and what He had said. Later on, four writers-Mark, Matthew, Luke and John--put into writing what the Apostles had said.” Dates of the Gospels: Mark about 70 A.D.? Luke about 80-90? Matthew about 880-90? John about 95-100. They recounted the events of Jesus’ life, His words and especially His death and resurrection to enlighten the faith of the believers.”

ST. PIUS X: “In the sacred scriptures (they say) there are many places where science or history enter, where obvious errors are to be found.  Yet it is not history or science that these books are treating of, but solely religion and morality.”

PIERRES VIVANTES: “The book (Genesis) is a poem, not a science manual. Science tells us that it took millions of years for life to appear.” “The Gospels do not tell the story of the life of Jesus in the same way that today’s events are reported on the radio or the television or in the newspapers.”

ST. PIUS X: “They do not hesitate to affirm that the books in question, expecially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, were gradually formed by additions made to a very short original narrative: interpolations in the form of theological or allegorical interpretations, or simply linking-passages and tackings-on.”

PIERRES VIVANTES: “What is written in most of these books had previously been related orally from father to son. One day someone wrote it down to transmit it in his turn; and often what he wrote was re-written by others for yet other people... 538, the Persian domination: reflections and traditions become books. About 400 B.C., Esdras collects together various books to make of them the Law or Pentateuch. The scrolls of the Prophets are composed. The reflections of the Sages produce various masterpieces.”

Catholics who wonder at the new language employed in the “Conciliar Church” will be helped by knowing that it is not so new: that Lammenais, Fuchs and Loisy were already using it in the last century, and that they themselves had only picked up all the errors which had been current for ages. But the religion of Christ has not changed and never will: we must not let ourselves be imposed upon.

13 Texte de référence, para. 312.

14 De commencement en commencement, p. 176.

15 See Chapter VIII.


To Chapter 15

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