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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is Post-Conciliar Theology "Modernist"?

One of the most abused pieces of terminology in the internal Roman Catholic debates over Vatican II is the word "modernism".  Originally referring to the Modernist school of theology and exegesis led by Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell, it quickly became condemned by Rome as the "synthesis of all heresies", and as with so many other theological fads soon passed out of fashion in the wake of Vatican II, when it was supplanted by the turn back to the Fathers and the nouvelle theologie.  The terminological abuse lies in the denotation of this nouvelle theologie as "modernist" by those of a traditionalist persuasion, and by extension the application of the term "modernist" to all postconciliar, post-Tridentine, and post-scholastic Catholic theology and liturgics, and all the ecclesiastical condemnations pertaining thereto.

The extension of the term "Modernist" to the nouvelle theologie may seem obvious at first.  At Vatican II the Church reconciled itself with modernity, embraced modernity, and apparently embraced the anathematized proposition from the Syllabus of Errors that the Church can and must reconcile itself with modernity and progress.

The problem is that conciliar and postconciliar theology is not the successor of classical Modernism at all.  Arguably, only two true successors of classical Modernism persisted in influencing Catholic thought into the conciliar era, Teilhard de Chardin and Hans Kung, and both are, frankly, unique exceptions rather than leaders of their schools, and if we follow the line of argumentation proposed here, Kung would be only dubiously a Modernist at best.  Instead, the nouvelle theologie turned to a different inspiration - the theology of Protestant thinker Karl Barth.  Barth was a student of the leading figure of Protestant Liberalism, Adolf von Harnack, and he was a major influence on both Rahner and von Balthasar, whose students in turn became the "Concilium" and "Communio" movements in contemporary Catholic theology.

Liberalism and Modernism are often grouped together as simply the Protestant and Catholic equivalents of each other.  Such a categorization overlooks some radical differences in their philosophical underpinnings, however.  Modernism was essentially immanentistic in its philosophy, depending on the dynamic ontology of the likes of Maurice Blondel, Henri Bergson, with more remote affinities to Schopenhauer.  Protestant Liberalism bears direct descent from German Romanticism, with whom Friedrich Schleiermacher was affiliated.  Liberalism bears the inheritance of Schelling and Hegel; Modernism that of Schopenhauer.  Both owe their origin to Kant, but as any student of the history of philosophy knows, among Kant's heirs the division between the Hegelians and the partisans of Schopenhauer run deep.  To conflate the two schools is irresponsible and dishonest at best.

1 comment:

  1. Different philosophical genealogies can converge on the same ideas or attitudes.

    It's quite clear that post-Vatican-II biblical scholarship, for example, questions things like whether Moses really wrote the Pentateuch, whether John wrote his books, or whether everything in the Gospels really even happened or was sort of a "communal interpretation of the Christ experience."

    Another modernist thread (as laid out by pius x): the emphasis on "experience" as a category of truth.

    Further, the general sense one gets that these theologians no longer really believe a corpse came back to life in the sense normal people would imagine, but an emphasis on how the resurrection is "beyond history," and that the "life" spoken of may not mean literal biological reanimation, and that maybe the more important thing was the transformation of the meaning of death such that by a definitional game they can say Christ "came back to life" but according to a slippery sleight of hand with those words leading them to deny, for example, that the resurrection could have been caught on film (were a camera present ).

    All of this is modernist regardless of its genealogy. It's seeing religion as having the reality of mythological symbol, but not the reality of concrete substance the way common people understand it in their pious simplicity.

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