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24 HAEVAED THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 1 

ARTHUR C. McGIFFERT 
Union Theological Seminary 

In the instrument providing for the endowment of the series 
of lectures which bears his name Judge Dudley directed that the 
third lecture should be for "The Detecting and Convicting and 
Exposing the Idolatry of the Romish Church, their Tyranny, 
Usurpations, Damnable Heresies, Fatal Errors, Abominable 
Superstitions, and other Crying Wickednesses in their high 
places; and finally that the Church of Rome is that mystical 
Babylon, that man of sin, that apostate Church, spoken of in the 
New Testament." 

It is upon this topic that I am to speak this evening. The 
times have changed since the lectureship was founded in 1750. 
Many of the animosities of the fathers are no longer felt by us, 
and particularly in religious matters union has taken the place 
of division, sympathy of hostility, cooperation of rivalry. We 
are interested in other things. Our sense of proportion has 
changed. We are farther away from the days of persecution, and 
less nervous about many movements and institutions that our 
fathers dreaded unspeakably. The spirit of toleration has taken 
hold upon us all, and Protestants can think and speak kindly of 
men of other faiths, and can cooperate gladly and heartily with 
them as opportunity offers for the promotion of good ends dear 
to them all. 

With this spirit I am myself in cordial sympathy, and it is as 
an historian, not as a polemic, that I shall treat the subject as- 
signed me. I wish to consider as dispassionately as possible 
the great system that still remains essentially unchanged, in 
spite of all the vicissitudes that have overtaken the affairs of 
men since Judge Dudley made his will a hundred and fifty 
years ago. 

1 The Dudleian Lecture, delivered at Harvard University, May 13, 1909. 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 25 

The present situation in the Roman Catholic church caused 
by the open conflict between conservative and liberal tendencies 
within its communion is most interesting and instructive. Not 
since the sixteenth century has there been so splendid an oppor- 
tunity and so pressing an invitation to study the nature of 
Catholicism as exhibited in its greatest exponent the Roman 
Catholic church. 

The so-called modernist movement is a very complicated 
phenomenon, appearing in different forms in Germany, France, 
Italy, England, and America. 2 It is not the fruit of any single 
principle, nor the expression of any single philosophy. The en- 
deavor to embrace it within the compass of a single formula is 
foredoomed to failure. One may describe with accuracy the 
positions of some particular modernists, and others may claim 
with perfect right that the description does not fit them. The 
situation is the same in the Protestant world. No formula can 
possibly be invented that will cover all the Protestant liberals 
of the day, or even any large number of them. Some are moved 
by one interest, some by another. Some repudiate this feature 
of the old system, others that. In their constructive work some 
follow one line of thought, others another, while many do not 
attempt to construct at all, but content themselves wholly with 
criticism, Biblical and historical. It is as difficult to describe 
Roman Catholic modernism as it is to describe Protestant lib- 
eralism. The two are the outgrowth of the same general situation, 
and both reveal the effort, in varying degrees and more or less 
consciously, to adjust their religious ideas and their theological 
thinking to the modern world in which they live. Some are his- 
torically, others philosophically or theologically or socially or 
politically, interested. All are more, or less out of sympathy with 

2 Books and articles dealing with the movement are very numerous and are 
continually appearing. Among them the brief work by Holl, Modernismus, 1908, 
in the Religionsgeschichtliche Volksbucher, and the longer work by Kiibel, Ge- 
schichte der Katholischen Modernismus, 1909, are perhaps the best general ac- 
counts. Lilley's Modernism: a Record and Review,1908, is also useful, especially 
for its bibliography; and some of the writings of the Abbe Houtin are particularly 
important for the growth of the movement in France (L'Americanisme, 1904; 
La question biblique chez les catholiques de France au XIXe siecle 1902; La 
question biblique au XXe siecle, 1906; La crise du clerge, 1907). For Italy 
the Lettere di un prete modernista (Rome, 1908) is instructive. 



26 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

traditional modes of thought and traditional ways of looking at 
things, and the common interest that binds them all together, 
if there be any such, and justifies us in speaking of a common 
movement, is the desire to bring about a better adjustment be- 
tween Christianity and the modern world. Roman Catholic 
modernism cannot possibly be understood unless it be brought 
into intimate connection with similar tendencies within Protest- 
antism. The modernists may protest, and with perfect right, 
against being identified with Protestant liberals. But, funda- 
mental as are the differences that separate them, Catholic mod- 
ernists as well as Protestant liberals are children of the modern 
age, and both feel in their own peculiar way the influence of 
modern tendencies. The new scientific spirit, the new historical 
sense and the new methods of historical criticism, the new psy- 
chological interest, the new emphasis on evolution, the new es- 
timate of nature and the supernatural, in general the new way of 
looking at the universe, all this has made itself felt within Cath- 
olic as well as Protestant circles, and the result has been similar 
in both. The effects have naturally been present more widely 
and for a longer time within Protestantism than within Cathol- 
icism. It was easier for the new spirit to penetrate the former 
than the latter. Not only was the one divided and unorganized, 
while the other was a compact and centralized whole, but the 
one was, at least in theory, a child of the modern age and open to 
its influences, while the other was in theory irrevocably bound to 
an ancient past. 

But what has long been happening in Protestantism has now 
begun to happen in Catholicism. The new spirit has not only 
penetrated the church but it has come to conscious and vigorous 
expression, and the result is controversy and condemnation in 
the one case as in the other. To regard the Roman Catholic 
modernists as mere followers or imitators of liberal Protestants 
would be grossly unjust. Influence of one kind and another 
there may have been, but the modernists are Catholics, not 
Protestants, and they have read the message of the modern age 
in the r own way. Its spirit has spoken as directly to them as 
to any Protestant, and by training and temperament they have 
been fitted to learn from it lessons that no genuine Protestant 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 27 

could have understood. They have been accused of crypto- 
protestantism or of being only Protestants in disguise. The 
Roman Catholic authorities have denounced them as wolves in 
sheep's clothing, and Protestants have wondered why they do not 
come out of the old church and throw in their fortunes with one 
or another Protestant sect. But this means a complete mis- 
understanding of their attitude, even more complete than has 
been widely manifested in connection with various Protestant 
liberals who have happened to be members of conservative de- 
nominations. Both by orthodox and radicals they, too, have 
been denounced because they did not withdraw and go where 
they belonged. But they believed they belonged where they 
were, and even more emphatically it may be said that the Roman 
Catholic modernists believe themselves to belong in the bosom 
of Mother Church. They count themselves still loyal, faithful, 
and devout Catholics. Their reading of Christianity in the light 
of the modern spirit has not, they think, made them Protest- 
ants. On the contrary it has made them more truly Catholic 
than ever; and why then should they go out? Are they not 
called rather to minister the new light and the new life to the 
church to which with heart and soul they belong? Only as we 
appreciate and sympathize with their attitude in this matter 
can we understand them and do them justice at other points. 
We must distinguish Catholic modernists and Protestant 
liberals from those, of whom there are many, who have been 
driven by the influence of modern thought to break altogether 
with Christianity, or at any rate with the Christian church; 
who have recognized the lack of harmony between the old and 
the new, but, instead of trying to readjust or reconstruct, have 
simply given the thing up and turned to other interests, believ- 
ing readjustment and reconstruction impossible or not worth 
while. The religious views of some of these men may be not 
unlike those of modernists and liberals, but their attitude 
toward Christianity and the church is very different, and the 
two classes must not be confounded. The modernists are within 
the church, not without it, and they apparently propose to 
remain within it, believing that Catholic Christianity is essen- 
tially in harmony with modern thought and has a message for 



28 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

the modern world. Had their attitude been other than this, 
had they recognized a necessary incompatibility between their own 
views and Catholic Christianity and withdrawn from the Catho- 
lic church, no controversy would have resulted. It is because 
they have remained within, and have thereby challenged the 
traditional view of the nature of Christianity and of the church, 
that the conflict has come. 

What, then, is the controversy about? What are the posi- 
tions of the modernists at which the Roman Catholic authori- 
ties have chiefly taken offence? In the famous papal encyclical 
Pascendi Dominici Gregis of September, 1907, there is an elab- 
orate description of the modernist views against which the 
encyclical is aimed. It has been denounced by leading mod- 
ernists as utterly unjust. In the very nature of the case any 
summary of such a complex movement must be unsatisfactory, 
particularly to the representatives of the movement itself. And 
yet an impartial observer can hardly fail to recognize that the 
encyclical contains on the whole an admirable diagnosis of the sit- 
uation. The account, to be sure, is too schematic. Too much 
emphasis is laid on philosophy and too little on historical criti- 
cism. The theological opinions of perhaps no single modernist 
are accurately reflected in the document, and certainly much 
less than justice is done to the personal motives of those con- 
demned. But a number of tendencies which have made them- 
selves felt in one and another way and in greater or less degree 
in the thinking of many modernists are here depicted, in spite 
of some exaggeration and of a natural lack of sympathy, with 
adequate correctness on the whole. 

Many replies to the encyclical have been written by modern- 
ists. Among them Abbe Loisy's Simples reflexions, the anonymous 
Lendemains d'encyclique, and, most important of all, because of 
the clear and systematic presentation of the matters in which the 
modernists themselves are chiefly interested, the Programme of 
Modernism, which appeared anonymously in Italian and has been 
translated into English and widely circulated. 

The modernist movement, as has been said, is a very compli- 
cated thing and comprehends a great variety of interests and 
opinions. At the same time there are certain positions, inti- 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 29 

mately related to each other and representing a common spirit, 
which appear and reappear in modernist writings. Among them 
are such as the following, to which I can only refer in passing. 

First of all, Biblical and historical criticism. Undoubtedly 
this had much to do with the inception of the movement, al- 
though its influence is perhaps somewhat exaggerated by Loisy 
and the authors of the Programme of Modernism and of Len- 
demains d'ency clique. In the field of literary and historical 
criticism some of the modernists are as radical as any of our 
leading Protestant scholars. 3 The Bible is taken to be a record 
of religious experience, and its value thought to lie not in its 
infallibility and dogmatic authority but in the fact that it 
induces religious faith and life in us. 4 

The old idea of fixity and permanence in the religious and 
theological realm has been displaced by the idea of growth and 
development. Where the traditionalists have a closed system, 
the modernists are commonly standing for change and progress. 5 
In general it may be said that the modern dynamic conception 
of the universe has taken the place of the static conception. 

God is widely thought of as immanent in man and the world, 
and the old contrast between the natural and the supernatural 
tends to disappear altogether.' Accordingly, the external and 
mechanical idea of revelation is abandoned, and religious truth 
is conceived not as something given from without but discov- 
ered through human experience. 7 

3 Compare for instance the numerous writings of the Abbe Loisy and some 
of the historical works of the Abbe Duchesne; also the brief summary in the 
Programme of Modernism, pp. 23 f. 

* Loisy, Simples reflexions, pp. 47 f., Quelques lettres, pp. 145 f.; Programme 
of Modernism, pp. 59 f. 

6 Loisy, The Gospel and the Church (English translation of L'evangile et 
l'eglise), pp. 166 f., 214 f.; LeRoy, Dogme et critique, pp. 275 f., 355 f. It is 
worthy of remark that the philosophy of Henri Bergson has had large influence 
over the thinking of some of the French modernists, notably LeRoy. 

•Loisy, Quelques lettres, pp. 45 f., 149 f.; Laberthonniere, Essais de phi- 
losophic religieuse and Le realisme chretien et l'idealisme grec, pp. 106 f. 

7 Loisy, Autour d'un petit livre, pp. 195 f., Simples reflexions, pp. 61, 159; 
LeRoy, Dogme et critique, pp. 63 f.; Laberthonniere, Le realisme chretien, 
pp. 104 f.; Programme of Modernism, pp. 92 f. 



30 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

Dogmas are considered true only in so far as they express 
facts of vital religious experience, and their value is made to 
depend upon their practical bearing on the moral and religious 
life. 8 

Some have felt the influence of Kantian epistemology, and 
recognize that by ordinary rational processes we cannot pene- 
trate to the reality back of phenomena. 9 A more or less thor- 
oughgoing relativism is thus not uncommon. 10 The organ of 
religious knowledge is sometimes said to be faith, 11 sometimes 
the moral will, 12 in close agreement with Kant himself, with 
Fichte, Ritschl, and pragmatists in general. 

Most of the modernists emphasize the social element in relig- 
ion, laying stress upon solidarity over against individualism. 
In this connection much is made of the Kingdom of God. 13 

Finally, all are opposed to absolutism in religion and conse- 
quently to Roman Catholic ultramontanism. 14 

In all of these matters we recognize a striking similarity to 
tendencies widely felt in Protestant churches as well, and it 
is quite evident that the modernists are children of their age 
as truly as any of our Protestant liberals. It is certainly not 
to be wondered at that they have been denounced by their 
Roman Catholic brethren and condemned by the ecclesiastical 
authorities. Even in Protestant churches similar positions 
have caused similar trouble, and the situation must necessarily 
be more acute in the Roman Catholic church. Some of the 
positions are of a sort to undermine the whole Catholic system, 

8 Loisy, Autour d'un petit livre, p. 200; LeRoy, 1. c. pp. 25 f.; Laberthon- 
niere, Essais de philosophic religieuse, pp. 272 f. 

•Loisy, 1. c. p. 10; Programme of Modernism, p. 110; Lendemains d'ency- 
clique, p. 49. 

w LeRoy, 1. c. p. 355. 

11 Programme of Modernism, pp. 110 f.; Tyrrell, External Religion, pp. 148 f. 

a LeRoy, 1. c. pp. 133 f. 

13 Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, pp. 59, 209 f., Simples reflexions, p. 
124; Tyrrell, Medievalism, p. 74; Williams: Newman, Pascal, Loisy, and the 
Catholic Church, pp. 233 f. 

14 Loisy, Quelques lettres, pp. 140 f.; Programme of Modernism; Lende- 
mains d'encyclique; and the numerous passages quoted below from Tyrrell's 
writings. 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 31 

and hostility to them is by no means necessarily a sign of ultra- 
montanism and reaction. 

The controversy has brought to light a fundamental differ- 
ence touching the theory of the church and its authority, and 
it is this which particularly concerns us, for it is in connection 
with it that the genius of Catholicism most clearly reveals it- 
self. This difference constitutes the heart of the whole matter, 
and it is because it has emerged in the course of the contro- 
versy that the conflict has more than a merely temporary sig- 
nificance. The question is not primarily whether this or that 
historical and theological opinion is in accord with the teaching 
of the church and may be tolerated within it, but what is the 
nature, the extent, the seat of ecclesiastical authority. This 
is a much more important and far-reaching matter. 

The issue appears perhaps most clearly and sharply in the 
writings of the Englishman George Tyrrell, one of the best 
known of the modernists and until recently a member of the 
Society of Jesus. 15 

The first point of difference between him and the Roman 
Catholic rulers is the authority of the papacy. He takes sharp 
issue in his book entitled Medievalism, published in 1908, with 
what he calls "the new-fangled dictatorial conception of the 
papacy" (p. 38). That conception he sums up in the following 
words: "The Pope is the Church. To him alone Christ has 
committed the apostolic mission, the deposit of revelation, 
the plenitude of doctrinal authority and of spiritual power 
and jurisdiction. Him alone he has commissioned to teach 
and sanctify, not the world, but the bishops, the clergy, the 
faithful: 'Feed my sheep; feed my lambs.' If the episcopal 
or clerical sheep have any doctrinal or spiritual power over the 
lambs it is as mere delegates of the Pope, as streams deriving 
from that single fountain of all supernatural life and teaching. 
The shepherd is no part of his flock. He stands outside and 
above it as a being of another and higher species. They are ab- 
solutely passive and receptive under his guidance. They have 
no mind or will of their own singly or collectively" (p. 58). 

15 Since this lecture was delivered, Father Tyrrell has died, to the great sorrow 
of a large circle of friends and admirers, Protestant as well as Catholic. 



32 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

The ultramontane conception, accurately described in these 
words, Tyrrell denounces as uncatholic and heretical, because 
individualistic and opposed to the collectivity of true Catholi- 
cism. And over against it he sets the theory of the authority 
of the episcopate. "The promises made to Peter were made 
to every Apostle and bishop as such; and in the early centuries 
every bishop regarded himself as successor of Peter and heir 
of those promises. Formerly a bishop was the highest eccle- 
siastical official in his own diocese. He was answerable to no 
other official, but only to the universal Church of which he was 
the organ or officer. But now that your new theology has con- 
centrated the universal Church into the person of the Pope, 
we have a sort of double episcopate in each diocese — the bishop 
of Borne and the local bishop, the latter being merely the dele- 
gate or Vicar-General of the former. Of this system there is 
not a trace in the first six centuries of Church History, from 
which we learn that the Pope is neither over the bishops as their 
master, nor under them as their delegate, but alongside of them 
as first in the rank of his brethren" (p. 61). 

This historical statement is perfectly correct, and in oppos- 
ing the theory of episcopal authority to the papal absolutiim 
of the ultramontanists Tyrrell is true to the prevailing concep- 
tion of the early Catholic church, and has with him a large 
and highly respectable body of theologians in all the centuries 
since. The division of opinion is an old one. The theory of 
papal absolutism was developed during the Middle Ages under 
influences which cannot be recounted here, but it never received 
universal recognition, and at Trent the opposition to it was so 
strong that the council adjourned without promulgating any 
dogma whatever upon the church, although the Protestants' 
theory of the church was their chief heresy in the eyes of the 
Catholics. The Society of Jesus stood consistently for papal 
absolutism, and scored its great triumph at the Vatican Council 
of 1870, when the dogma of papal infallibility, taught already 
by Thomas Aquinas and long widely believed among the faith- 
ful, was finally promulgated. 

The Vatican decree runs in part as follows: "We teach and 
define that it is a dogma divinely revealed, that the Boman 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 33 

pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge 
of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue 
of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regard- 
ing faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the 
divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter is possessed 
of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that 
his church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding 
faith and morals; and that therefore such definitions of the 
Roman pontiff are of themselves irreformable and not because 
of the consent of the Church." 

This is very explicit and thoroughgoing, and yet like most 
conciliar decisions it admits, or at any rate has received, a 
double interpretation. Tyrrell says: "The Council tells us that 
the infallibility of the Pope is not other than that which belongs 
to the whole Church. This may mean either that the Church 
is said to be infallible only because she possesses an infallible 
Pope ... or it may mean that the Pope — like the Council — 
speaks ex cathedra and infallibly only when and so far as he truly 
represents and utters the general mind of the Church" (p. 86). 

The former was undoubtedly the meaning of those who framed 
the decree and of the majority of the council in adopting it. 
But the latter, which has been the interpretation of many that 
have accepted the dogma, brings it more into line with the 
ancient conciliar theory which conceived the collective episco- 
pate assembled in oecumenical council to be an infallible mouth- 
piece of divine truth. This was not repudiated but rather 
confirmed by the Vatican decree, which was itself a conciliar 
decree. And in view of the explicit declaration of the council, 
that "the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of 
Peter in order that by his revelation they might make known 
new doctrine," it cannot fairly be denied that the second inter- 
pretation is legitimate, even though it does not agree with the 
intention of the framers of the decree. It has not, indeed, 
hitherto been the interpretation of the Roman authorities under 
Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X. On the contrary, the ten- 
dency has been all in the opposite, or ultramontane, direction, — 
to magnify more and more the authority of the Pope at the 
expense of the bishops. But it is entirely conceivable that the 



34 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

other interpretation may ultimately prevail within the Roman 
Catholic church without leading to a repudiation or revision 
of the Vatican dogma. Any Pope may so interpret his own 
infallibility if he pleases. And even now, one who stands for 
this interpretation rather than for the ultramontane cannot 
fairly be accused of disloyalty and heresy, even though he suffer 
excommunication. 

But this is not the only point at issue. If it were, the situa- 
tion would be simple, and the modernists might well hope for 
ultimate victory. As a matter of fact the difference is far more 
fundamental. Tyrrell, for instance, goes further, and inter- 
prets the authority of the bishops as resting upon the authority 
of the people as a whole, the collective children of God. Thus 
he says: "What we really bow to is a Divine Tradition of which 
the entire Church, and not merely the episcopate, is the organ 
and depositary" (p. 54). "Tradition is the faith that lives 
in the whole Church and is handed down from generation to 
generation, of which the entire body, and not a mere handful 
of officials, is the depositary and organ of transmission. Of 
this rule and law the Holy Spirit diffused in the hearts of all 
the faithful is the author; the episcopate merely the servant, 
the witness, the interpreter" (pp. 55 f.) 16 . 

Is this a correct reading of the Catholic principle of author- 
ity? To answer the question we have to go as far back as the 
second century. Over against the heretics of that period Ire- 
naeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, commonly known as Old 
Catholic Fathers, set up a theory of external authority upon 
which the historic Catholic church was built. In primitive days 
dependence upon the Holy Spirit, present in the hearts of all 
believers, was commonly supposed to be adequate protection 
against false teaching and evil living, but the spread of gnos- 
ticism and kindred errors had convinced at any rate the the- 
ologians mentioned that something more definite and decisive 
was needed if the church were not to be completely overwhelmed 
and the simple faith of the gospel forever lost. In this emer- 
gency they appealed to the teaching of the apostles as perma- 

16 Cf. Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, pp. 175 f.; and Williams, 1. c. pp. 
224 {., 290, 294, 304 f. 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 35 

nently normative, and insisted that all would-be Christian 
truth must be tested by it. But where was the teaching of the 
apostles to be found? In answer to this question recourse was 
had to apostolic writings, which now came to be recognized as 
constituting an authoritative Biblical canon, and to apostolic 
rules of faith, in which it was claimed that the essential features 
of the teaching of the apostles were summarized for the use of 
the church. But neither of these standards proved adequate 
to the emergency. The apostolic writings were susceptible 
of diverse interpretations, and for the current rules of faith 
there was no sufficient guarantee of apostolic authorship. In 
this situation Irenaeus took his stand upon the doctrine of the 
authority of the bishops as successors of the apostles. They 
were in possession of a divine charisma, received from the apos- 
tles, which enabled them to transmit and interpret apostolic 
truth. To them recourse was to be had in all cases of dispute. 
They and they alone were in a position to determine beyond 
question the mind and will of the apostles. The very essence 
of this theory of episcopal authority was that it erected a stand- 
ard external to the Christian populace in general. To cut off 
the appeal either to the individual or the common Christian 
consciousness was what Irenaeus was concerned to do. It was 
not the divergence of individual gnostics from the universal 
sentiment of the church that made the trouble, but the diver- 
gence of multitudes and the formation of sects, in some cases 
approximately as large as the Catholic churches themselves. 
It was not common consent that Irenaeus appealed to, the 
appeal would have been futile and ineffective, but episcopal 
authority. Because the bishops were in this matter independent 
of their flocks and in direct connection with the apostles, they 
could declare in a final and authoritative manner, and if nec- 
essary against all other Christians, the will and truth of God. 

Side by side with this theory of episcopal authority was grow- 
ing the notion of the church as an institution offering to men 
through the sacraments the divine grace needed to transform 
their fallen and corrupt natures and make them heirs of eternal 
life. Apostolic succession, involving the transmission to the 
bishops of the grace necessary to enable them to mediate apos- 



36 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

tolic truth, had been emphasized in the conflict with the heretics. 
It came now to be believed that the power of communicating 
the grace necessary for salvation had also been intrusted to 
them. According to Cyprian, who states the theory most 
clearly, the divine grace without which no one can be saved 
is in the hands of the bishops alone, and only they themselves 
or those whom they have empowered thereto can mediate this 
grace to others. Inasmuch as the church is the saving insti- 
tution which supplies this needed grace to fallen and lost human- 
ity, the bishops are themselves the church. The church is not 
the multitude of Christian people, or of followers of Jesus Christ; 
it is an organization providing them with salvation. The power 
which enables the bishop to mediate saving grace to men comes 
not from the people whose ruler he is, but from the apostles 
whose successor he is. And similarly the power to utter and 
interpret apostolic truth comes not from the people but from 
the apostles. This independence of the clergy over against the 
laity is of the very essence of the historic Catholic conception 
of the church. The steps by which it attained to universal 
recognition cannot be traced here. The process indeed is not 
wholly clear, but the fact is abundantly evident. The only 
guarantee of the possession by the church of saving grace and 
of apostolic truth has been recognized throughout all the cen- 
turies from the third to the twentieth to lie in the connection 
of its episcopate with the apostolate. To make this connection 
depend in any way upon the will of the laity, to make the laity 
in any way the medium or instrument by which grace is conveyed 
either for the one or the other purpose, is to overturn Catholi- 
cism completely, Greek as well as Roman. It is just at this 
point that Luther took sharp issue with the Catholic church 
of his day. The right of private judgment was but an incident, 
and to make that the whole of Protestantism is to misunder- 
stand the situation. Back of and beneath that was the denial 
that the mediation of saving grace is confined to the clergy, 
and by consequence that they alone know the mind and will 
of God. The Reformers were condemned as heretics not because 
they repudiated this or that doctrine of the Catholic system, 
but because they struck at the very root of Catholicism in as- 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 37 

serting the universal priesthood of believers and the direct 
access of every Christian to the fountain of divine grace and 
truth. The fundamental thing in Protestantism is not anti- 
collectivism but anti-sacerdotalism. To put oneself on the side 
of the laity against the hierarchy, to make the latter depend 
upon the former, to base the claim of the bishops to be the 
depositary of either saving grace or divine truth upon their rela- 
tion to the people instead of upon their relation to the apostles 
is essential Protestantism. 

Much, then, as we might wish that Tyrrell's interpretation 
of episcopal infallibility would find general acceptance within 
the Roman Catholic church, we cannot fail to see that it would 
mean the abandonment of an underlying principle of Catholi- 
cism which has controlled the Catholic church for more than 
sixteen centuries, and the adoption of a fundamental plank of 
Protestantism. This it is difficult to believe can happen. 

But Tyrrell goes still further in the matter of authority, and 
claims that even the agreement of all Christian people, includ- 
ing popes and bishops, is not a guarantee of infallibility. In a 
private letter, the appearance of portions of which in an Italian 
journal led to his expulsion from the Society of Jesus, and which 
has since been published with an introduction and notes in a 
volume entitled A Much-Abused Letter, Tyrrell says: "It seems 
to me that a man might have great faith in the Church, in the 
people of God, in the unformulated ideas, sentiments, and ten- 
dencies at work in the great body of the faithful, and consti- 
tuting the Christian and Catholic 'spirit'; and yet regard the 
Church's consciously formulated ideas and intentions about 
herself as more or less untrue to her deepest nature; that he 
might refuse to believe her own account of herself as against 
his instinctive conviction of her true character; that he might 
say to her: 'Nescitis cujus spiritus estis' — 'You know not 
your own essential spirit"' (pp. 56 f.). And in the volume on 
Medievalism already quoted he says, "I ask myself whether a 
consensus in purely theological matters could ever possibly be 
more than that of a mere handful of experts; whether the gen- 
eral acquiescence of the crowd can have the slightest confirmatory 
value, any more than that of a class of schoolboys can be said 



38 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

to confirm the teachings of their master" (pp. 81 f.). In other 
words, in the last analysis the religious experience of those 
truly Christian, and of those alone, is the only competent and 
adequate authority. "A general consensus of the faithful," 
he says, "can only obtain in regard to those matters where all 
may be experts; matters within the potential experience of each; 
matters which interest and affect their daily spiritual life — 
the life of Faith in virtue of which they are called 'the faith- 
ful.'" "If Faith were theology its problems could never be set- 
tled by general consensus. But because it is not theology, but 
the Gospel, because its object is that life of which Christ is the 
Divine Revelation, and not the analysis of that life, every be- 
liever may, as an expert, speak of his own personal response 
to the Gospel. Each is a judge of faith; and the agreement 
of all is an infallible judgment, eliminating private errors and 
idiosyncrasies" (p. 82). 

Perhaps not all Protestants, but certainly many of them, 
would have no quarrel with such a statement as this. Its agree- 
ment indeed with the position of the great reformer Luther is 
very striking. In his Exposition of John 17 (Erlangen edi- 
tion, vol. 50, p. 304) Luther says: "It is true that the Christian 
church cannot err. But listen, dear friend, and take notice 
what the true Christian church is. They, indeed, say that the 
Pope is the head of the church. Nevertheless they cannot 
deny that the Pope has erred dreadfully. But if the head 
has erred, the body easily follows. . . . But do you on the con- 
trary say, 'Whoever cleaves to Christ cannot err; whoever does 
not must err even if he be more than a Pope.'" And what he 
means by not erring is made abundantly evident where he dis- 
tinguishes, as he does over and over again, between theology 
and the fundamental truths of Christian experience. Where 
there are true Christians, there is a common and infallible knowl- 
edge of the forgiving love of God in Christ. This is in essence 
exactly the position of Tyrrell, though his interpretation of 
the central content of Christian truth may be different. Tyr- 
rell's agreement with Luther is still more apparent in such pas- 
sages as the following from his Much-Abused Letter: "After 
all, the visible Church (unlike the invisible) is but a means, a 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 39 

way, a creature, to be used where it helps, to be left where it 
hinders. It is not the Kingdom of Heaven, but only its herald 
and servant" (p. 86). "Faith is not a sharing in the common 
creed of the visible Church, but in the common vision of the 
invisible Church which is, in a measure, that of God Himself" 
(P- 81).^ 

This is true and beautiful, but it is at bottom Protestantism, 
not Catholicism, and in repudiating it the Catholic authorities 
are acting not in accordance with an uncompromising ultra- 
montanism but with the underlying principles of Catholicism 
as it has existed from the second century to the present day. 
It is true that the modernists do not stand alone among Catholics 
in their emphasis upon Christian experience as the ultimate source 
and standard of Christian truth. They have upon their side a 
long line of pious souls, commonly known as mystics, who have 
looked within rather than without for revelations of the divine. 
And the theory has always existed, even outside of mystical 
circles, that the truth taught by the church is harmonious with 
the individual experience of all true Christians, so that it can be 
assimilated and given a vital place in their religious life. The 
Catholic principle of authority therefore must not be interpreted 
too externally and mechanically, and if the Roman hierarchy 
and the Roman church at large shall be led to realize this more 
clearly than they do it will be a great victory for the modernists 
and a great gain for Catholicism everywhere. But it must be 
recognized that in the last analysis the authority not of individual 
believers or of the totality of believers but of the official ecclesi- 
astical institution is on genuine Catholic principles supreme. 
If this has not always clearly appeared, it is because the personal 
experience of Catholic Christians has commonly fallen naturally 
into line with the Catholic tradition in which they were trained, 
and expressed itself easily in accepted religious formulae. When 
a divergence of any importance has appeared, the church has 
always, consistently with its age-long principle of authority, 
insisted upon conformity. Cardinal Mercier's words in his 
Lenten Pastoral of 1908 reproduce that principle roughly and 
mechanically, to be sure, but, on the whole, with substantial 
accuracy. "The Christian," he says, "is one who trusts the 



40 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

teaching of the Church and accepts sincerely the doctrines she 
proposes for his belief. He who repudiates or questions her 
authority, and by consequence rejects one or more of the truths 
she compels him to believe, cuts himself off from the ecclesiasti- 
cal community." "Catholicism says that the Christian Faith 
is communicated to the faithful by an official organ of trans- 
mission — the Catholic episcopate — and that it is based on the 
acceptance of the authority of that organ." "The Church, 
as a supernatural society, is essentially a positive and external 
institution, and must be accepted by its members as organized 
by her Divine Founder. It belongs to Christ Himself to dic- 
tate His will to us." "The bishops continue the apostles' 
mission. The faithful must hear them, believe their teaching, 
and obey them under pain of eternal damnation." 17 This is 
not ultramontanism, it is Catholicism, Greek and Roman. For 
the essence of Catholicism, as it has existed ever since the sec- 
ond century, in a true sense as it has existed ever since the 
Apostle Paul, is the conception of a salvation given from with- 
out. Man is radically bad and utterly helpless, and only as 
supernatural grace is bestowed upon him from above can he 
escape destruction and win eternal life. The idea of the Church 
as a saving institution external to its members and independent 
of them, and the idea of this external institution as authori- 
tative in the religious sphere, were inevitable consequences. 
The modernists have repudiated this ancient, even apostolic, 
conception of salvation and have denominated it mediaeval- 
ism, though the Middle Ages inherited it from a much older past. 
It is therefore not to be wondered at that the principle of author- 
ity wh'ch was built upon it should also go by the board. The 
truth is that not the mediaeval church alone but the ancient 
church from Paul down stood under the dominance of a philoso- 
phy upon which modern men have generally turned their backs. 
Historic Protestantism is in this respect in much the same situa- 
tion as historic Catholicism. In Protestantism, too, the old 
realistic views of philosophy and the old external and mechan- 
ical idea of revelation and of d'vine activity in general have 
commonly been in control. But there is this great difference 

17 Quoted by Tyrrell, Medievalism, pp. 4, 7, 14, 15. 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 41 

that at the very beginning Protestantism denied the traditional 
theory of the church as an institution external to and above 
its members, upon which they must depend for saving grace 
and truth. This was not all that should in consistency have 
been repudiated, and the old that was left remained to trouble 
Protestantism and to keep it bound to the past long after the 
new age had dawned. But the partial break, incomplete and 
in many respects ineffective as it was, has made other breaks 
easy, and modern Protestantism, unlike as it is to the older 
Protestantism, is yet not fundamentally untrue to it, while an 
equally modern Catholicism breaks with the Catholicism of 
all the past just at its most characteristic point. 

Why, then, do the modernists remain Catholic? Why do they 
not withdraw from the Roman church and enter some Prot- 
estant communion? The Catholic authorities are continually 
accusing them of being Protestants at heart. Thus Cardinal 
Mercier traces the whole movement to Protestant influence, 
and declares that "in itself the idea, which first inspired many 
generous champions of Catholic apologetics and caused them 
to fall into Modernism, is at root identical with that Protestant 
individualism which is substituted for the Catholic conception 
of a teaching authority officially established by Jesus Christ, 
and commissioned to tell us what, under pain of eternal dam- 
nation, we are compelled to believe" (ibid., p. 11). 

Against the accusation of being an individualist Tyrrell 
strongly and justly protests in his reply to the Cardinal, and 
it is because he interprets Protestantism as the Cardinal does, 
as thoroughgoing individualism, that he finds it impossible to 
be a Protestant. He remains a Catholic because Catholicism 
means to him collectivity over against individualism, unity over 
against separatism, the social principle in religion over against 
the atomistic. 18 Upon this he lays the greatest stress also in 
his Much-Abused Letter, coming back to it over and over again. 
Thus he says: "Communion with the visible Church, with those, 
namely, who profess to be Christ-like, is a great desideratum, 
is a condition of more fruitful communion with the invisible. 

18 See also Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, p. 209; and Williams: Newman, 
Pascal, Loisy, and the Catholic Church, pp. 296 f. 



42 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

For, besides the more obvious reasons which will occur to every- 
one, there is a depth, height, width, and fulness added to our 
inward life by our conscious and sympathetic association with 
a great world-wide cause or work such as that of Catholicism; 
something analogous to the spiritual expansion produced in 
us by an intelligent, self-sacrificing, and active participation in 
the life of our state or country. If God's cause on earth should 
be championed by each individual, it is certainly rational that, 
like other causes, it should be championed by a society; not 
merely by knights errant, but by an organized army. In the 
Catholic Church, God's cause on earth, the cause of Christianity, 
of Religion in its highest development, finds its visible embodi- 
ment and instrument" (p. 63). 

This is doubtless the secret of many a modernist's remaining 
in the Roman Catholic communion, though he finds himself 
so completely out of sympathy with some of its principles and 
practices. But is this necessarily a distinguishing feature of 
Catholicism as contrasted with Protestantism? Is the latter 
inevitably individualistic, and is the kind of unity Tyrrell speaks 
of, unity of effort for the promotion of the cause of Christ, im- 
possible to it? The modernists' criticisms of existing Protestant 
individualism are well taken. The history of Protestantism 
abundantly justifies their estimate of it, and, the situation being 
what it is, it is not strange that they should find it utterly un- 
congenial. But is the situation permanently necessary? It is 
to be noticed that the modernists are not seeking an external 
authority upon which they may throw themselves, and so find 
release from religious doubt and uncertainty. To those who 
feel this need Roman Catholicism offers what no other system 
can. This is the need which has driven many a troubled spirit 
into it from St. Augustine to John Henry Newman. But for 
fellowship in Christian life and work an institution like the 
Roman Catholic church is not indispensable. Its hierarchical 
principles and its external infallibility, which are of its very 
essence, are at best indifferent to such fellowship, at worst a 
hindrance and a bar, as the present situation abundantly shows. 

What the modernists desire, and the desire is a noble one, 
is world-wide unity of purpose and of effort for the promotion 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 43 

of the Kingdom of God on earth. As Tyrrell says, the mission 
of the church "is to impress upon every man the duty of liv- 
ing, not for himself, but for the common good, for the Kingdom 
of God, according to the opportunities of his station; to kindle 
in each that fire of self-devotion which Christ came to kindle 
upon earth; to stimulate faith, hope, and enthusiasm in the 
cause of an Ideal before whose immensity and remoteness the 
unaided spirit grows weary and discouraged. For without such 
faith and hope who could struggle for the reign of truth and 
justice upon earth?" (Medievalism, p. 74.) 

This kind of unity, unity of purpose and of effort in a common 
cause, has laid hold also upon the imagination of many Protes- 
tants. The plans for organic church-unity which were so vig- 
orously prosecuted in various quarters a few years ago, bear testi- 
mony to it perhaps only in part; but the many practical efforts at 
cooperation which we are to-day witnessing on every side are 
abundant proof of it. The extreme individualism and competi- 
tion of an earlier day are giving way in religious work as in every 
other kind of work. It does not necessarily indicate a growing 
agreement in theological opinion, but it indicates the recognition 
that another kind of oneness is far more important, a oneness of 
purpose and of effort in labor for the good of humanity. Such 
oneness many Protestants believe is entirely possible on Prot- 
estant principles. Collectivism of this kind, they claim, is as 
truly Protestant as individualism. If without an infallible 
doctrinal authority which shall compel all Christians to a com- 
mon faith it is impossible to unite them in effort for a common 
purpose, then such Protestants are wrong. But if, on the other 
hand, it is true that without the pressure of any such external 
authority men can be united in devotion to a common cause, 
and that such devotion will itself create all needed unity of 
faith, then Protestantism has its permanent justification and its 
lasting task. Whatever the modernists' actual attitude toward 
Protestantism may be, it is this latter alternative for which they 
stand. They, too, like many modern Protestants, believe that 
all needed unity of purpose and of effort may be attained with- 
out the pressure of an external authority and without such the- 
ological agreement as an external authority alone can dictate. 



44 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

Another reason why modernists cling to Catholicism and 
find Protestantism so little to their liking is because they inter- 
pret Protestantism as teaching the absolute and permanent 
authority of the Scriptures, and so as preventing all real free- 
dom and development in religious thought. 19 They stand, over 
against this narrow and external interpretation of religious 
authority, for the rights of the religious experience of Christians 
of all ages. It is because Protestantism is too conservative 
and too authoritarian that they find themselves out of sym- 
pathy with it; Catholicism they believe is essentially progres- 
sive and modern in this matter. Their attitude is very instruc- 
tive. It is identical with the attitude of many modern Prot- 
estants, of whom the great theologian Schleiermacher was the 
most eminent and influential. Indeed, the identity of interest 
and of emphasis at this point, as at many other points, between 
Schleiermacher and the Roman Catholic modernists is very 
striking. It is simply another indication of the oneness of spirit 
which largely controls modern men of all communions. 

Still another aspect of Protestantism that makes it uncongenial 
to the modernists is its unhistorical character. It is divided 
from the larger part of the Christian world not only locally but 
temporally. In the Catholic church the Christian feels him- 
self one not merely with a great company of his own day and 
generation but also with the saints of all the past. 20 Here, too, 
the modernists, like Catholics in general, exaggerate the isola- 
tion of Protestantism. Particularly with the revival of the 
historical spirit and interest in our own times there has grown 
up within Protestant circles a sense of solidarity with the 
Christianity of the ancient and middle ages such as our fore- 
fathers knew nothing of. And yet the difference is real, and the 
historic continuity of Catholicism, to which Catholics point as 
of the very essence of the system, is justly regarded as a pos- 
session of great value. 

And, moreover, it must be admitted, and this is another fact 
of tremendous value which Catholics are justified in empha- 
sizing, that hitherto Catholicism has conceived its task much 
more clearly and given itself to its accomplishment much more 

19 Loisy, Autour d'un petit livre, pp. 205 f. 20 Williams, 1. c. p. 297. 



MODERNISM AND CATHOLICISM 45 

consistently and unitedly than Protestantism. In the Middle 
Ages the Catholic church actually set before itself as an ideal 
the Kingdom of God on earth, and labored manfully for its 
realization. Its interpretation of the ideal may be criticised. A 
Kingdom such as it conceived, the dominance of the whole of 
life by the Roman Catholic church, may seem far from desir- 
able; but at least it was a clear and consistent ideal. Protes- 
tantism, on the other hand, has never had any such single ideal, 
and it is chiefly because of this that its history has been one of 
controversy, division, and disunion. It is not to be wondered 
at that the modernists should see in the Roman Catholic church 
a power for the promotion of the Kingdom of God on earth 
incomparably superior to any or all of the Protestant sects. 
The genius of Catholicism is union and cooperation, a common 
purpose and common labor for its accomplishment. This has 
been its great strength in the past and continues to be its great 
strength in the present. This is above all the reason why it 
binds even the most radical of modernists so closely to itself. 

But it is equally the genius of Catholicism to hinge eternal 
salvation upon dependence on an external institution and 
submission to its authority. The modernists would separate 
the one from the other. They would interpret Catholicism as 
unity but not as authority. If the word Catholic be taken by 
itself, of course their interpretation is justified. But from the 
second century down to the present it has had both meanings, 
and the Roman Catholic church is built even more definitely 
and explicitly upon the second than upon the first. It may 
at times have ceased to be a union of all Christians and have 
gathered into one communion but a pitiful minority. But it 
remained always, however small in numbers, the one divine 
institution endowed with saving grace and infallible truth, de- 
pendence upon which and submission to which were necessary 
to salvation. 

It is an ideal Catholicism of which the modernists are dream- 
ing — a Catholicism which antedates not only the Middle Ages 
but the age of the Fathers as well, and carries us back even be- 
yond the Apostle Paul to Jesus himself, just where so many 
modern Protestants are seeking their Christianity. Whether 



46 HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 

one shall call it Catholicism or simply Christianity is perhaps 
of minor importance. In any case it is neither the Catholicism 
nor the Protestantism of the past. It is something essentially 
modern. There are those, both Catholic modernists and Prot- 
estant liberals, who believe that it is the Christianity of Christ, 
and there, if they are indeed right in that belief, lies the great 
promise for the future — the promise of a wider unity and a more 
general cooperation than have yet been known, and so of the 
speedier and better accomplishment of the common task.