It is obvious there are two main streams of theology in the Catholic Church today that can be summed up fairly accurately as "modernist" and "orthodox". It is also becoming more obvious that "never the twain shall meet".
What may be called the first wave of "modernism" gathered force at the end of the 19th century and was identified and condemned in 1907, firstly in the Decree of the Holy Office Lamentabili, and then in the Encyclical of Pope St Pius X, Pascendi.
The second wave began to break on the Church after Vatican II. Pope Paul VI found it necessary to sound a warning about "opinions that disturb the faithful, and fill their minds with confusion about matters of faith".
There is no doubt that confusion among the faithful is continuing, as clergy, lecturers, religious and teachers differ on fundamentals. For whereas the orthodox accept the teaching authority of the Church as established by Christ and that there is such a thing as objective truth, the modernist mindset asserts one's own authority and declares that truth is subjective or relative.
Recently on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), there was an interview on "The Journey Home" program with two ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, who are now Catholics. It was informative, instructive and fascinating.
As the interview proceeded, this viewer was struck, albeit ironically, by the similarity that emerged between some of the Jehovah's Witnesses' principles and those of the modernists in the Catholic Church.
First, both believe in the doctrine of progressive revelation. Modernists, because of their philosophy, question the ability of the intellect to receive knowledge from outside itself.
They argue that revelation must be made directly and interiorly to each individual. The Jehovah's Witness eagerly awaits the latest message - "new light" - from headquarters, proclaimed for example, at Jehovah's Witness Conventions, even though the latest may contradict what was held previously on a particular matter.
Second, both hold that there is no universal truth. Truth is subjective, relative. There is "past truth" and "present truth". Modernists have an obsession with change. The Church, they say, must move and change with the times. I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said something to the effect that the Church can only "rot with the times".
Third, the modernist does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. One strand of modernism holds that the resurrection means only that the teachings of Christ will live on. The Jehovah's Witness also does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but he at least goes a little further and declares that Christ has risen as a spirit.
Fourth, the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, according to former members, is just that, a hall, a meeting place, bare of any adornments. As for the modernist idea of a church, it is emphasised as a gathering place for the community, often with the bare minimum of religious art, and that is generally ugly.
The culling or complete removal of statues has been a feature in the "wreckovation" of older churches. In fact the modernist church and the Kingdom Hall have more than a little in common.
Turning to philosophy, I am indebted to Fr W.J. Hayes' book The Second Wave: Return of Modernism (1978) for its clear outline of the philosophical basis of modernism.
Fr Hayes wrote: "As the philosophy of subjectivism began to gain popular acceptance, it soon became apparent that it raised problems in the field of theology. Two basic elements of the traditional notion of revelation were called into doubt: is supernatural revelation possible, i.e., a revelation which contains mysteries which are beyond the natural power of the intellect? Can any message be revealed by God and transmitted through human words?
"This doubting brought the new philosophy into direct conflict with the Church. The rationalists engaged in direct and open attack. They denied both the possibility and the need of supernatural revelation, and, by ridicule and scorn, attempted to dismiss Christianity as a collection of myths.
"A more devious and insidious attack came from inside the Church. It was the result of efforts to adapt the faith to fit the new philosophy. Pope St Pius X identified the modernists of his day as 'the most pernicious of all adversaries of the Church' because of the fact that they performed their work of destruction 'not from outside but from within' (Pascendi, 1907)."
Popes Pius XII and Paul VI likewise drew attention to a similar kind of subversion in the Church during their pontificates. Pope John Paul II and the former Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) have been stalwart defenders of the traditional and orthodox tenets of the Catholic Faith, and consequently have been subjected to bitter opposition and attacks by clergy, religious and laity who have the modernist mindset.
The latter desire to conform the Church to the world, and endeavour to make it in "their own image and likeness". St Paul (Rom 12:2) had something very relevant to say on this matter: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
No doubt the modernist, true to form, would reply: "Paul's statement is past truth, not present truth": besides, he was "pre-Vatican II".
Pastor Remotus is a retired Catholic priest living in Queensland.