No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Modernism

Luther to Modernism is new?

Without trying to, the above article does a nice job of linking Modernist thought, which updates morality to keep pace with “the people of our time” (in contrast with the Catholic belief about morality having certain degrees of certainty) with it’s roots in Lutheranism.

Luther desired to place all his religious trust in the Scriptures.  The belief was, “Sola Scriptura”, meaning Scripture Alone, was to be the source of Church authority.  Because he didn’t want Germany and all Christendom to become a mad house with multiple versions of Christianity, the secondary authority was the State (mainly the local princes) to enforce this version of Christianity.

Sola Scriptura’s sole trust in the Bible means that Papal and even Church Council authority was undermined.  If these sources of authority couldn’t prove their points by Scripture, than they shouldn’t be listened to.  This logically proceeds to the idea that every preacher might be ignored if the right contrarian Bible verse is found.  Originally this meant teaching authority was based upon scholarly research, so Protestant preachers like John Knox switched from Religious garb to Scholarly garb:

However, another seed was planted by Luther to undermine this Scholarly Authority, and it was his distrust of reason.  He once said, “Reason is directly opposed to faith, and one ought to let it be; in believers it should be killed and buried” (Jacques Maritain’s Three Reformers).  This is in opposition to the Christian tradition of using reason to enlighten our faith.

Combining both a distrust of reason and a trust only in the Scriptures means any unschooled individual has a just as valid an interpretation of Scripture as any schooled preacher might have.  Just the other day I heard Alistair Begg on the radio telling his congregation just that: preachers are simply guys without authority but with knowledge.  His point was that preachers can be trusted to have done research but they could be very, very wrong and so there is an obligation to figure it all out on one’s own.

This leads directly to Modernism.  The people decide what is right and wrong.  Truth is held only in our hearts, and isn’t external to us.  To find truth the learned must therefore look to the hearts of the unlearned.  As the article says, “the Church needs to conform to the opinions of ‘the people of our time.'”

The logical out growth of Lutheranism’s rejection of various authorities is into Modernism.  This connection shows some parts of Modernism are the flowering of ideas at least 500 years old.


It’s old news to be Modern

There is so much material to work with in the above article that I will limit my comments to the following paragraph:

The idea of the Church as a body with essentially unchanging dogmas, promoted both by Catholic traditionalists and some anti-Catholic bigots, has long been recognized as a fiction. While the Church considers abortion a mortal sin these days, termination of a pregnancy did not receive so much as a mention in the canon law until the late 18th century, around the start of the Industrial Revolution. At about the same time, the Church held for some years that the consumption of caffeine, considered to have demonic properties, was a sin.

The heresy here might be considered new by some, but with an age of over 100 years Modernism seems to me as already grey and grizzled.  At its core, Modernism is a rejection of knowledge.  This is because knowledge is localized into the consciousness of the people.  Universal truths are only so if they are universally accorded to be true.

One consequence of such belief is that as the body of people in the Church change their ideas, the dogmas of the Church also change.  Progress in the sciences means that the Church needs to update her ideas to get with the times.  For a modernist, this means radical changes can take place in Church teaching, as she switches from paradigm to paradigm through the centuries.

This differers from the flowering of belief that the Church holds to be true.  Catholics believe that our faith was given to us to be probed by reason and to have a continual deepening of knowledge.  New illuminations of the old truths let us see deeper into that same truth, they don’t displace the old truth.

The author uses two “proofs” of changing dogma that should be addressed.

The primary “proof” of changing morality is how the Church has dealt with abortion.  The claim is that until the end of the 18th century, abortion wasn’t a big deal.  One might question then why in 314 with the Council of Ancyra the 21st cannon reads, “Concerning women who … destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion … we have ordained that they fulfil ten years [of penance]”.  Or again in 692, at the council of Council in Trullo, the 91st cannon reads, “Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.”  If abortion is the best proof of changing doctrines in the Church, then abortion is the best proof that no such change occurs.

Now in contrast to the idea of changing values around abortion is the idea of growth in values.  There was indeed a time that the Church thought that an abortion before quickening wasn’t an abortion.  Rather, this was considered contraception because the child wasn’t known to be alive yet.  As science has shown children before quickening are alive (through brain activity, heart beats, and so forth) the line between what is considered abortion and what is considered contraception has shifted all the way to the point of conception.  However, the point is moot morally, as both contraception and abortion are considered sins.  A practicing Catholic would neither contracept nor abort a pregnancy.  The old truth that one should neither contracept nor abort a pregnancy was illuminated by the light of science but not displaced by it.

Secondly, the issue of caffeine consumption was raised in our topic paragraph.  To begin, in the late 1500’s to early 1600’s when coffee came up from the Middle East no one knew what “caffeine” was.  Caffeine was first isolated in 1819 by Friedlieb Runge. Secondly, while some Catholics distrusted coffee because it was seen as the beverage of Muslims (and therefore some had local prohibitions against coffee, especially where the fear of Muslim conquerors was the strongest), the line from the first Pope to be introduced to coffee (Pope Clement VIII) was that coffee was “so delicious that it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it.”  There was never a council or papal declaration that coffee is immoral, and the Pope even seems to be actively supportive of coffee.  If this is one of the best examples to prove the Church revises her morals with the times, then it is quite safe to say the Church does not revise her morals with the times.  The Church is not Modernist.