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On the Oath Against Modernism

By Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

Feast of Pope St. Pius X
September 3, 1995

Dearly beloved in Christ,

Today we celebrate the feast of Pope St. Pius X, whose motto was “To restore all things in Christ,” and it is particularly from his papal teachings that we find the doctrinal principles which justify our theological position to maintain the traditional Catholic Faith and to reject the false innovations of the Conciliar Church of the Second Vatican Council.

At the beginning of this Twentieth Century, this saintly pontiff warned the flock of Christ of certain modern errors in philosophy and theology which threatened to undermine the Catholic Faith and which he subsequently labeled as the heresy of Modernism. So concerned was the Pope in this matter that he issued a special decree Lamentabili (1907) and a special encyclical Pascendi (1907), in which he clearly and systematically exposed and refuted these doctrinal errors. Nevertheless, since efforts were made to continue to promote the Modernist cause, Pope St. Pius X in his paternal solicitude drew up and published on September 1, 1910, the Oath Against Modernism. This he imposed on all seminarians before their ordination to the major orders, all professors of philosophy and theology in seminaries and universities, and all confessors, pastors, preachers and religious superiors.

From the time of its publication, this Oath was taken faithfully by all the clergy until the coming of the Second Vatican Council, when it was abrogated. From the time of its abrogation, the modernist clergy, who had previously remained hidden, boldly came forth with the most absurd theories and errors in regard to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the doctrines of our Catholic Faith. How applicable have the words of St. Paul to Timothy become during the past thirty years in which Modernism has become so rampant:

“Preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching. For there will come a time when they will not endure the sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will heap up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts, and they will turn away their hearing from the truth and turn aside rather to fables” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

In order to better appreciate the prophetic warnings of Pope St. Pius X against Modernism and to more completely comprehend its devastating effects on the Church, let us review this Oath Against Modernism.

First of all, let us understand that Modernism manifests itself under various forms. Some Modernists are agnostics and deny the ability of our human reason to know God, His existence and essence. Some deny the external proofs of divine revelation — miracles and prophecies. Many Modernists hold to dogmatic relativism — the continual progressive evolution of dogmas and doctrines from one sense to an entirely different sense. Many Modernists have a completely erroneous concept of faith which can be identified by the term vital immanence — a blind sentiment of religion which originates in the subconcious.

These various forms of Modernism attack our Catholic Faith in a multitude of ways. And so, the first part of Pope St. Pius X’s Oath Against Modernism is a strong affirmation of the basic Catholic truths opposed to this heresy:
   1) the demonstrability of God’s existence by human reason;
   2) the value and suitability of miracles and prophecies as criteria of divine revelation;
   3) the historical institution of the Church by Christ
   4) the immutable character of Catholic doctrine;
   5) the reasonableness and supernatural character of faith.

The Oath Against Modernism first addresses the Catholic truths opposed to modern agnosticism:

“I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom 1:20), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, His existence can also be demonstrated.

“Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.”

How can some Modernists deny our ability to know the existence of God when the harmony and order of the world around us demand an intelligent, Infinite Being for its cause? How can some Modernists deny the miracles and prophecies of the Old and New Testaments — witnessed by so many people who lived and died for the truth of that which they witnessed? From these two aspects of the Oath, we can understand the mentality of the Modernist mind which departs from objective truth and concrete evidence to chase after purely subjective theories and speculation.

This so accurately identifies with St. Paul’s words quoted above:

“...they will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will heap up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts... and turn aside rather to fables” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

The next area to consider in the Oath deals with the very foundation of the Church by Christ and the unchangeableness of the doctrines taught by Christ to His Apostles and faithfully handed down by them to their successors:

“Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when He lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time.

“Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one the Church held previously.”

To Modernists, the doctrines of the Church have evolved from age to age, just as they say the Church evolved. This evolution, they claim, will continue to the end of time. According to the Modernists’ thinking, the truths taught by Christ and faithfully explained from century to century by the Catholic Church, must now be brought up with the times. How often have we not heard Modernist priests instruct their people to forget their old ways of thinking and get with the times!

How contrary is this to the words of Christ to His Apostles:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you” (John 14:26).

“And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of Truth Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him” (John 14:16).

“Go, therefore, teach all nations... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

“Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16)

How can the divine truths, taught by Christ and carefully preserved in the Catholic Church by the divine assistance of the Holy Ghost, ever cease to be true with the passage of time or the change of circumstances? Christ’s command to His Apostles “to teach all nations all things” and His promise to be with His Church “all days even to the consummation of the world,” guarantee in every age the preservation of these divine truths.

Of all the aspects of the Oath, this fourth point is the most important for us to consider. For when we compare the infallible teachings of Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors and in Quanta Cura, to the decrees of Vatican II, we find an absolutely irreconcilable difference. Pope Pius IX explicitly condemned religious indifferentism and religious liberty; Vatican II clearly taught the contrary. And how did the Modernists explain this contradiction at Vatican Council II? They did not because they could not! Instead, they side-stepped the issue by procrastination. Fr. Courtney Murray, S.J., the author of the Vatican II decree Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Liberty, realized the contradictions between the teachings of Pope Pius IX and this Vatican II decree, and he said that the reconciliation between the two would have to be left for the work of future theologians.

The fifth aspect of the Oath Against Modernism deals with faith. It is from the false modernist concept of faith — vital immanence — that Modernists claim the followers of the false religions of the world such as Animism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., have “faith.”

The Oath Against Modernism clearly identifies this error and thus presents the Catholic concept of faith:

“Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our Creator and Lord.”

Once again, we see how Modernists depart from objective truth to enter into the realm of subjective speculation. When faith is reduced to mere human “sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious,” then everyone is considered to have “faith.” The Animist, the Voodooist, Hindu, and Buddhist, according to the Modernist, have “faith” — “the sentiment of religion.” This is no doubt the false principle which led John Paul II to invite 150 religions of the world to Assisi to pray to their gods for world peace. And as it has been said so many times before, the false ecumenism of Assisi was an absolute departure from the First Commandment of God:

“I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.”

Lastly, the Oath Against Modernism deals with several other Modernist errors, of which, we should particularly focus on the false interpretation of Sacred Scripture:

“Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the Tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misinterpretations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm.”

Today we can frequently find Modernist priests and theologians who openly deny the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, Original Sin, the Flood, and so many other historical events in the Bible. In this matter, we find that the Modernists in reality do not believe in the divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture. As Pope St. Pius X described in his encyclical Pascendi:

“The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming commonly that these books (Sacred Scripture) and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed by additions to a primitive brief narration.”

From this false theory on Sacred Scripture, they then attempt to write a history of this “vital evolution” in the Sacred Books which is, once again, not based on any objective evidence, but on their own false speculation:

“Indeed this history they (the Modernists) do actually write, and with such an easy security that one might believe them to have with their own eyes seen the writers at work through the ages amplifying the Sacred Books.”

In the late 1970’s, two students from a Jesuit university once visited our seminary and expounded upon their “history” of Adam and Eve. They said that if one reads “in between the lines” of the Book of Genesis, he will find that Adam and Eve were not really individual persons but two different tribes. They then vividly described how the “Adam tribe” was led into destruction by the “Eve tribe.” When they were asked to prove such a wild interpretation, they said it is quite obvious if one reads “in between the lines” in the Book of Genesis. This is, by no means, an isolated example. Recently, a Modernist priest and Scripture professor lectured on the Epistles of St. Paul and came up with the theory that it was impossible for him to believe that an all-merciful God would send anyone to hell for all eternity, even though his theory contradicted the words of Christ Himself. Examples of such folly are too numerous to elaborate.

Having considered briefly some of the more important errors of Modernism, is it any wonder to us that Pope St. Pius X was so adamant in exposing and refuting this heresy? Modernism has led to the apostasy of our times. Let us ever look to Christ, to His teachings, and to His Church in order to remain on the path of salvation; may we also live the motto of Pope St. Pius X: “To restore all things in Christ.”

In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

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