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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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1. Introduction. The term “modernism,” when used
in the context of the history of religions, refers most
precisely to the cluster of critical, philosophical, and
ecclesiological ideas advanced by a number of
European Roman Catholic intellectuals in the period


1890-1910, and especially to the systematic condem-
nation of these ideas by Pope Pius X in 1907. It also
denotes the liberal (broad) and radical movement for
reform in the Church of England which began in the
late nineteenth century and reached its peak in the
years after World War I. The term has also served very
loosely and without precise theological reference as
the opposite of fundamentalism, or the equivalent of
liberal Protestantism, especially in the United States.
Even more generally the attempts of all traditional
religions, including those of the East, to come to terms
with the secular and scientific culture of the modern
Western world have been described as modernism.

The words “modernist” and “modernism” were
originally negative and polemical in meaning. To be
a modernist was to be a heretic. For three generations
in Roman Catholicism “the taint of modernism”
effectively destroyed careers and ended serious consid-
eration of new ideas. In what follows the word
“modernism” is used to refer to the papal synthesis,
and the word “modernist” is restricted to the ideas of
men directly involved in the condemnation. It must
be understood, however, that the terms have also been
used by participants in it and by sympathetic historians
of the movement (Houtin, 1913; Petre, 1918; Vidler,
1934, 1970). And it should be clear that for many
contemporaries of the crisis, inside and outside the
Church, the ideas of all nonscholastic or more gener-
ally, non-Curial thinkers, from J. A. Mohler of
Tübingen to Cardinal Newman of Oxford and Maurice
Blondel of Aix, were suspect for several decades.

Two tasks concerned the handful of Roman Catholic
clerical and lay intellectuals who were to emerge as
the central figures of the crisis at the turn of the cen-
tury. The first was the development of a biblical criti-
cism which was both scientific by the standards of
nineteenth-century historiography and supportive of
the essentials of Catholic teaching. The second was the
creation of a new philosophical language which would
provide Catholicism with an apologetic tool suited to
men of the twentieth century. Two principles con-
trolled both efforts. The first was the conviction that
if change was to come to Roman Catholicism in either
criticism or theology it would have to come from
within: the new ideas must be introduced by men
whose loyalty and personal faith were above criticism.
The second was that the Catholic faith and culture
could be shown to be complementary to the vision of
man and society which modern thinkers had developed
since the Reformation.

In “reconciling” traditional Catholicism and the
modern world these intellectuals drew deeply on sev-
eral major currents of thought. First was the tentative
tradition of liberal Catholicism. Two attempts had
already been made to break the intellectual and politi-
cal isolation of the intensely ultramontane church.
Félicité de Lamennais and his followers during the
1830's, and then Marc-René, marquis de Montalembert,
Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, and Lord Acton
in the 1860's served as examples of Catholics generat-
ing a more vigorous approach to their religion, as well
as examples of the personal dangers such an effort
entailed. For the Italian modernists in particular the
social concerns of early liberal Catholicism were to
be influential; but both Alfred Firmin Loisy and
George Tyrrell cite in their autobiographical writings
the great impact of reading books by Lamennais,
Montalembert, and J. B. Henri Lacordaire. And more
recently there was the great figure of John Henry
Newman, whose idea of development seemed to have
been at least indirectly endorsed by his elevation to
the cardinalate by Leo XIII in 1879, and the work of
American Catholics like John Ireland and Thomas

French Catholic intellectuals interested in applying
nineteenth-century historical techniques to the Bible
could find a model in their own church: Richard Simon,
the tireless critic who had been politically, if not
intellectually bested by Bishop Bossuet. But there were
more contemporary stimulants in Germany. The long
“quest for the historical Jesus” which Albert
Schweitzer was summarizing in his 1906 study, Von
Reimarus zu Wrede
had produced new techniques for
studying the new and old testaments, as well as a
variety of scandalously “naturalistic” interpretations.
These made Christian revelation subject to Kantian,
Hegelian, and Darwinian concepts and produced sev-
eral major bêtes noires for the polemicists, notably
D. F. Strauss, and the high priest of scientism in France,
Ernest Renan. More recently attention had come to
focus on Albert Ritschl and Adolf Harnack, and exe-
getes like J. Wellhausen, J. Weiss, and H. J. Holtzmann.

By the end of the century the ferment of German
Protestant theology and criticism had produced two
images of Jesus Christ, and by implication, of the
Church, with which Catholic scholars would have to
come to terms. The first and better known was the
liberal Protestant image of Jesus as the God-
enlightened founder of an ethical and moral kingdom.
On this idea had been built an interpretation of the
Church as the embodiment of human progress. The
approach was initially very attractive to some Catholic
critics of their church's social backwardness. The sec-
ond image was quite different. Called the radical or
consistent eschatological school, it presented the Jesus
of the Gospel as a messianic figure who preached a
kingdom completely at odds with that of the world
and who died to force it into life. This second version


of the gospel brought those who adopted it to an
impasse. Though initially stimulating it offered a poor
foundation for building an apologetic for the century
of science, progress, and bourgeois order. Theolog-
ically, it demanded a demythologization—or in terms
of the day, a “symbolic” approach—not only to the
gospel but to the whole Catholic tradition: and that
undertaking called for a new language, one which also
could be found in German thought.

Thomism, of course, was the official philosophy of
the Catholic Institutes started in response to Leo XIII's
call for a revival of Catholic learning, but by the mid-
1890's the new or revitalized Catholic journals and
reviews were responding to the stream of French
translations of German philosophers, and some early
enthusiasts of the new scholasticism were agreeing with
Marcel Hébert who declared in 1881 that “Kant had
the great distinction of giving to philosophical minds
a powerful impulsion.” In 1885 the Thomist Society
in Paris heard Hébert's paper on “Thomism and
Kantianism”: in the succeeding decade the roster of
names evaluated in the more progressive publications
grew to include Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The
major channel through which German thought reached
the progressive wing of the French Catholic commu-
nity was the work of Maurice Blondel, who drew major
elements of his complex philosophy of action from
Spinoza, Fichte, and Schelling as well as from Kant
and Hegel, after finding these writers sympathetically
discussed at the École Normale by his teacher Émile
Boutroux and his friend Victor Delbos.

At the same time other currents of thought were
moving over Europe and even across the Atlantic.
Baron Friedrich von Hügel in England was reading
the neo-Kantian Rudolf Eucken and recommending his
books; Englishmen and Frenchmen were learning
neo-Hegelianism from the popular works of John
Caird; Frenchmen and then Englishmen were enthus-
ing over the mixture of Schleiermacher and evolu-
tionary thought in Auguste Sabatier's Outlines of a
Philosophy of Religion
(1892). Besides drawing on the
Germans Blondel could point to an indigenous alterna-
tive to scholasticism in the works of Ollé-Laprune, and
much earlier, Maine de Biran and Ravaisson. All these
intellectual exchanges were among those committed
to one form or another of traditional Christianity, but
they were paralleled by a remarkable renaissance of
interest in religion among secular intellectuals which
began in the mid-1890's. The philosophies of intuition
and pragmatism developed by Henri Bergson and
William James had their impact, but the “neo-
Christianity” of the 1890's was fostered more
dramatically by the novels of Paul Bourget, whose Le
(1889) dramatized for many the “bankruptcy
of science,” even as the editor of the influential Revue
des Deux Mondes,
Ferdinand Brunetière, was an-
nouncing, after a visit to the Vatican, that the time
had come for intellectuals to recognize the great power
for moral order which was embodied in Catholicism.
With republican anticlericals suddenly criticizing
Taine and Renan and finding good words to say for
the pope, the moment for a Catholic offensive into
the learned world had come.

2. Criticism and Dogma. The question of the Bible
and a new apologetic for Catholicism were most
dramatically broached in the work by the French
scholar Alfred Loisy. Loisy was a critical autodidact,
who escaped from rigid scholastic and Gallican semi-
nary teaching into the study of Bible languages, the
French liberal Catholics, Newman, and the German
critics, especially the exponents of the consistent
eschatological school like Johannes Weiss. Alfred
Loisy's critical work had radical theological implica-
tions which he was not afraid to draw out in his teach-
ing, unlike the more politic Louis Duchesne, another
pioneer in scientific historiography, under whose
sponsorship Loisy came to the newly-founded Institut
Catholique in Paris. Dismissed from his post at the
Institute in 1893, for denying the inerrancy of scrip-
ture, and indirectly censured in Leo XIII's encyclical
(Providentissimus Deus) on Bible study in the same
year, Loisy developed a general theory of cultural and
religious evolution, and presented it in the form of an
antiliberal Protestant polemic, L'Évangile et l'église
(“The Gospel and the Church,” 1902), a refutation of
the French edition of Harnack's popular Berlin lec-
tures, The Essence of Christianity (1900). Loisy claimed
that he was not a theologian but simply a Catholic
and a critic though he believed, contrary to the pro-
gressives who welcomed his work, that the Church
could not merely translate its old formulas into a mod-
ern language but needed to completely revise its
cosmology. He insisted on the necessity of this under-
taking because he saw the Church as the major pre-
modern manifestation of man's spiritual evolution, and
a guarantee as well of social order.

In his modernist works Loisy argued that Harnack
was wrong to see the fatherhood of God and the
brotherhood of man as the essential Christian gospel
obscured by the later development of Catholicism. The
original gospel, as a rigorous but Catholic criticism
revealed it, was not the source, but the product, of
the faith of the first followers of Jesus. Its message
was exclusively messianic and eschatological. Jesus,
who entered history as man, not as God, felt himself
to be the Messiah and died for his belief. But if he
announced the kingdom, it was the Church which
came. The “impulse of will” or “soul of Jesus,” origi-


nally expressed in the messianic teaching, was given
new forms. The theological formulations of Paul, who
was “compelled to explain, since he could not narrate,”
and of the fourth Gospel, and the whole rest of the
history of Christian doctrine were successive symboli-
cal representations of the original mystery, which is
itself inaccessible to the historian. “The Church can
fairly say that, in order to be at all times what Jesus
desired the society of his friends to be, it had to become
what it has become; for it has become what it had
to be, in order to save the Gospel by saving itself”
(Loisy [1912], p. 151).

The theologian and the man of faith could make
larger statements than the historian. The raw mate-
rials of historical science did not reveal transcendence
any more than did the rest of the natural world. “God
does not show himself at the end of the astronomer's
telescope. The geologist does not find him in his sam-
ples, nor the chemist at the bottom of his test tube.
God may very well exist through all the world, but
he is in no way the proper object of science” (Loisy
[1903], p. 9). These public statements paralleled a more
pantheistic personal religious stance: Loisy's histori-
cism was apparently Christian to those of his readers
who admired the emergence of a sophisticated (and
polemically antiliberal Protestant) critical mind, but
for himself, the personal incarnation of God was “a
philosophical myth,” and not simply because human
philosophy had not yet developed a more adequate
notion of personality than those of the Fathers and the
Councils. “More pantheist-positivist-humanitarian than
Christian” in 1904 ([1930-31], II, 397), Loisy still
insisted in 1936 that there was a “moral and spiritual
supernatural” reality at work in human history, and
he hoped for a new religion, “crown of the Christian
religion and of every other,” concentrated “on the
perfecting of humanity in the life of the spirit, that
is, in communion with God” (1950, p. 32).

Loisy's ideas were the focus for a complex critical
and theological debate long before the condemnation
of 1907. While his works were officially censured and
he engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of conditional
retraction with the authorities, enthusiasts for a radical
freedom in critical matters like Baron von Hügel (him-
self a Bible student, but better known for his writings
on mysticism and his correspondence with the leading
figures of the crisis) defended Loisy's work. Exegetes
who appreciated the dangers of historicism, but who
wished for more and better critical work (Pierre
Battifol of Toulouse, and Marie-Joseph Lagrange of the
École biblique), tried to separate the two. The majority
of Loisy's critics rejected the technique along with
the evolutionary and culture-relative religious philoso-
phy implicit in his use of them.

3. Philosophy and Belief. Although his writings
were never censured, the work of Maurice Blondel
stood at the center of the controversies over the pos-
sibility for a new Catholic apologetic. Blondel's thesis,
L'Action (1893) was criticized by his Sorbonne exam-
iners, partisans of Renan's scientism, for its religiosity.
His approach was long rejected by Roman theologians
as religiously insufficient: the “method of immanence”
was seen as a device for infiltrating agnosticism and
fideism into Catholic doctrine. Blondel irritated both
camps because he wished to draw the attention of all
philosophers away from abstract thought to personal
commitment and action. He argued that man's need
to know stems from the dynamism of his will as it
faces life situations. Once man has intellectually mas-
tered the world of phenomena a new act of will is
demanded. Either he must settle for the reality around
him, or assume a stance which is open to religious
experience. Blondel held that there was sufficient testi-
mony to the ultimate transcendence of human action
to make the hypothesis of a supernatural gift of life
philosophically necessary for true freedom. “I must
be involved to run the risk of losing all; I must be
compromised.... Head, heart, and hand, I must give
them willingly or they will be taken from me. If I
refuse my free dedication, I fall into servitude”
(Blondel [1893], pp. viii-ix).

The implications of what Blondel styled “the method
of immanence” for Christian faith were developed in
his “Letter on Apologetics” in 1896, in which he
argued that while philosophy could not prove the truth
of any religion, much less the superiority of one over
another, it was central to a modern apologetic which
would help the autonomous mind to recognize through
the method of immanence the reality of revelation.
Blondel insisted that Christian faith was a gift and not
something immanent in man's nature; what was imma-
nent was the ability of mind to understand its need
for transcendence. To have faith “as issuing from our-
selves” alone is not to have it at all. Blondel's eagerness
to preserve the transcendence of Christian faith—
especially the mystery of Christ's divinity in the face
of the critic's focus on the Jesus of history—led him
into a complicated correspondence assessing Loisy's
critical work.

Some of the letters formed the basis of the essay
History and Dogma (1905) in which Blondel attacked
both the historicists—i.e., Loisy, who argued that criti-
cism had made it clear that if religion was to survive
it must be as an evolving expression of man's spirit
in relation to an unknowable force without—and those
he dubbed “extrinsicists,” that is, the orthodox Roman
theologians who believed that the Christian revelation
was completely trans-historical and arbitrary, the


unchallengeable (and inexplicable) foundation of a
dogmatic fortress normative for all times and all
societies. Blondel rejected those who argued that “the
Bible is guaranteed en bloc, not by its content, but by
the external seal of the divine: Why bother to verify
the details?” (Blondel [1964], p. 229). He proposed,
in place of the excesses of Loisy and of his ultra-
orthodox critics, a new emphasis on the Church as a
living tradition. Blondel believed that his idea of “a
concept of tradition obtained with the help of a phi-
losophy of action” would lead to a Christianity “both
more concrete and more universal, more divine and
more human, than words can express” (ibid. p. 286).

The need for a new philosophical approach to reli-
gion was directly associated with the critical question
by an essay entitled “Qu'est-ce qu'un dogme?” (“What
is a Dogma?”) published in 1905 in the progressive
Catholic journal, Annales de philosophie Chrétienne by
the mathematician and layman Édouard Le Roy, who
was in fact more a student of Bergson than of Blondel.
Le Roy's article became the center of a controversy
second in intensity only to that provoked by Loisy's
The Gospel and the Church. Le Roy argued that dogma
was simply “unthinkable” for modern man “because
it is imposed by simple fiat and because it is conceived
as a function of outworn systems, reaffirming those
anthropomorphic notions which make it unacceptable
to the mind.” The moral meaning of a dogma must
be placed before its speculative meaning; the latter
only functions negatively to establish the minimal
parameters of belief. Le Roy interpreted the dogmatic
propositions on the personality of God as meaning
“practically” that man must deal with God as he would
with another human person; the resurrection of Jesus
meant that “he still mediates and lives among us, and
not at all merely as a thinker who has disappeared and
left behind a rich and living influence... he is literally
our contemporary” (Le Roy [1918], p. 70).

Blondel's closest disciple was the oratorian Lucien
Laberthonnière who developed similar ideas in a
specifically religious context in his Essai de philosophie
(1903), and in Le réalisme chrétien et
l'idéalisme grec
(1904), and who was silenced in 1914
for his polemical battle with the ultraorthodox Catholic
defenders of the Action Française. Laberthonnière
wrote that dogmas were not “simply enigmatical and
obscure formulations which God has promulgated in
the name of his omnipotence to mortify the pride of
our spirit. They have a moral and practical meaning;
they have a vital meaning more or less accessible to
us according to the degree of spirituality we possess”
(1903, p. 272). Le Roy and Laberthonnière both insisted
that their concern with action and practice was com-
pletely traditional; Le Roy cited, as did Blondel and
J. Semeria (the Barnabite priest who disseminated
Blondelian ideas in Italy), the Gospel principle: qui
facit veritatem venit ad lucem.
All those who sought
a new understanding of the dynamic character of
Christian teaching opposed the tyranny of Aristote-
lian categories, especially the dominant intellectual
tradition of neo-scholasticism.

For all of these men the Thomistic revival en-
couraged by Leo XIII in the encyclical Aeterni Patris
(1879) was no more helpful than the categories of
Gallican theology. It was especially inadequate to deal
with the problems raised by biblical criticism in
Christology. There was considerable difference of po-
sition among the philosophical modernists on the ques-
tions of Christ's nature and knowledge. In 1903
Laberthonnière wrote that Blondel, von Hügel, and he
had the same goal in their reconsideration of Catholic
teaching: “... a Christ truly real and truly human”
(Blondel [1961], p. 161). Blondel wrote that “as hu-
manity grows, Christ rises above the horizon,” but he
rejected von Hügel's argument that Christ's knowledge
of his messianic mission developed in time. In his turn,
von Hügel tended to side with Loisy in insisting that
history has to set the canons for the philosophy of
tradition and action, and he criticized Blondel's tend-
ency to attribute to Christ an entirely time-trans-
cending human consciousness.

The extrinsic, static, excessively rational character
of Catholic intellectual life was vigorously attacked by
the Irish convert Jesuit George Tyrrell, whose books
were the second source, after Loisy's work, for the
papal synthesis of modernist teaching. Tyrrell was a
combative and eloquent writer of apologetic, who had
developed a unique pastorate among English Catholic
intellectuals; his independent development was rein-
forced by his friendship with von Hügel. The influence
of Matthew Arnold and of his own personal brand of
Thomism was soon overshadowed by that of Loisy's
critical works, by the consistent eschatology of Weiss,
and by “the method of immanence” presented by
Blondel and Laberthonnière.

In his mature work, Tyrrell developed a philosophy
of religious knowledge which emphasized his belief
that revelation was a deposit of faith which was first
a law of prayer and life, and second, a law of belief.
“Devotion and religion existed before theology, in the
way that art existed before art criticism, reasoning
before logic, and speech before grammar” (1907, p.
105). Tyrrell feared (and sometimes hoped) that if the
Church really accepted the implications of develop-
ment as well as the eschatological reading of the
gospel, she would be absorbed by modern rational and
material culture just as she had once absorbed the
Hellenic world view. He searched for an interim theo-


logical formulation which would preserve the gospel
and the church Loisy had sundered. He argued that
there was a revelation: there was a transcendent reality
and it was manifest in Jesus Christ; but everything the
Catholic believed was “an analogue of metaphor”
substituting for an original experience of the divine,
given to the apostles, but now “withdrawn from view.”
The evident impasse reached by making dogma and
theology equivalent as relative conceptual devices or
analogies for transcendence—thus fixing an apparently
unbridgeable gap between the revelation of transcen-
dence in Jesus Christ and the faith of the believer—was
overcome first by Tyrrell's conviction that “the spirit
of Christ has lived and developed in the collective life
of the faithful,” and later by his belief that the “reli-
gious sense” operated immanently in men who were
open to it: the soul of every man was naturaliter
This religious sense, or “consciousness,” was
universal: it was not a moral principle, but the ability
to respond to God, and the force which linked “the
life of religion with the rest of our life,” proving that
“the latter demands the former.”

Knowledge of God through immanence was to be
seen as intimately bound up with knowledge of him
through the historical revelation of the gospel. Growth
occurred in the former, and thus preserved life in the
latter, even though it remained fixed in the apostolic
era. The correlation between the revelation of
immanence and that of history in Jesus Christ, was
made by the consensus of the “people of God” (con-
sensus fidelium
), and of “theoreticians” like the
modernists, not of the theologians of Rome. The
followers of Jesus must evolve new symbols, sacra-
ments, and institutions to express the notion of
immortality—the linking beyond time of man with the
transcendent—which was taught by Jesus when he
preached the kingdom, and which was entirely de-
pendent on the example of his life and death and
resurrection. Thus all dogmas, all theologies, were
“symbols of the transcendent.” Christians faced with
modern life needed hope, rather than faith. “Our best
God is but an idol, a temple made with hands in
which the Divine will is as little to be confined as in
our Hell-Purgatory-Heaven schematization” (Tyrrell
[1912], II, 416).

4. Condemnation of Modernism and Extension of
the Crisis.
The argument of the magisterium, later
developed by Catholic scholars, was synthetic. The
modernist was seen in the encyclical letter Pascendi
(1907) as a “type” who “sustains and includes within
himself a manifold personality; he is a philosopher, a
believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apolo-
gist, a reformer” (Sabatier [1908], pp. 236-37).
Modernist ideas were traced to the Reformation and
to the Enlightenment. According to the pope, philo-
sophical modernism taught that man could not know
God by reason and that what sense he did have of the
transcendent came through the “vital immanence” of
the divine in the human. Theological modernism held
that religion was an expression of the collective con-
sciousness of mankind which expressed itself in purely
symbolic dogmas. Historical modernism maintained
that all ideas and institutions evolved and could only
be understood relative to their epoch. Modernist
apologetic was castigated for daring to associate these
ideas with Catholic tradition. And finally the modernist
as reformer was condemned for advocating an end to
fasts and to clerical celibacy, demanding seminary
reform, the purging of popular devotionalism, com-
plete freedom of church and state as an ideal, and the
democratization of the government of the Church,
especially the Curia.

The papal condemnation of 1907 was followed by
a series of excommunications, most notably those of
Tyrrell and Loisy, the censuring of works of Le Roy
and many others, and by the institution of an anti-
modernist oath in September, 1910. The body of bitter
polemical literature already generated by the affaire
and by the writings of the Blondelians was now
enlarged through the efforts of a secret antimodernist
society, the Sodalitum pianum or Sapinière, whose
members, known as Integrists, devoted particular at-
tention to the links between modernism and Christian
democracy, as in Marc Sangnier's Sillon movement.
(Integrism in its excessive zeal was in turn censured
by Pope Benedict XV in 1914.) Some “progressive”
or “liberal” thinkers—as such they described them-
selves—rejected the notion of a “modernist” heresy as
(in Loisy's phrase) a “figment of the papal imagina-
tion.” Anticlericals competed with orthodox publicists
in exaggerating the extent of the “infection.” One
journal estimated that modernist ideas had captured
15,000 priests in France alone. Tyrrell, who defended
his version of modernism in two long letters to the
Times of London, said 20,000 would be a better figure.
Loisy said 1,500 was more accurate than 15,000.
Anonymous publications presented counter-systems
and demands; in Italy, The Program of the Modernists
and Letters of a Modernist Priest (Buonaiuti, 1907,
1908); in America, Letters of a Modernist to Pope Pius
(Sullivan, 1909). A Revue Moderniste Internationale
was only one of several short-lived journals which
sprang up to advance the cause of reform, if necessary
against the Curia, explaining ideas the Pope had
“improperly understood and wrongly condemned.”

The condemnations of 1907 had in fact brought to
a head a crisis of belief which had roots antedating
any of the condemned works and which continued long


after the crisis was over. Many priests, disillusioned
by the obstinacy of the magisterium in the face of
minimal pleas for autonomy in scholarship, or over-
whelmed by a loss of personal belief in anything but
the most broadly symbolic understanding of Christian
faith, left the Church. Others hid their true views.
Notable in their impact in the years when Loisy's
critical work was first coming to notice were Marcel
Hébert, a dynamic Parisian priest and teacher whose
dialogue, Souvenirs d'Assise (1889), stated the dilemma
of many who gave up faith reluctantly (“I am not
agnostic, because I affirm the Divine: but what is the
Divine?”), and Albert Houtin, the major contemporary
historian of the general crisis of faith and knowledge
who wrote as a Catholic long after he had abandoned
orthodoxy—as did Loisy.

Italians involved in the crisis tended to persist in
their efforts after the rationale for their work had been
destroyed. Antonio Foggazzaro had called for a revival
of mysticism and a reform of church polity in his
tremendously popular novel Il Santo (“The Saint,”
1905); in spite of censure he helped to found the
modernist review Il Rinnovamento in 1907. This jour-
nal was the organ of the group of national liberal
Italian reformers who tried to reconcile Catholicism
and modernity by discussing intellectual freedom, the
need for an accommodation with post-Kantian sub-
jectivism, the involvement of the laity in the life of
the Church, and a new approach to church-state rela-
tions. Such efforts at synthesis were paralleled by two
other thrusts in Italian modernist circles.

On the other hand, a small number of priest-scholars
took their lead from the French thinkers who were
intermediaries of the ideas of Baron von Hügel, and
sought to develop an apologetic less concerned with
Protestant and rationalist science. There were also
priests and laymen who were primarily socially and
politically motivated, and who moved beyond officially
sanctioned activities like the Opera dei congressi to-
ward Christian democracy. Of the former group the
most prominent figure was the church historian and
polemicist Ernesto Buonaiuti; of the latter, the political
leader Romolo Murri, founder of the Lega democratica
(Scoppola, 1961).

The crisis made little impact in Germany. Nine-
teenth-century German Catholic scholarship had
developed in a more realistic relationship to Protestant
and secular thought. Anti-ultramontanism was the
major dimension of reforming movements before and
after the condemnation, motivated in part by resent-
ment against Roman distrust of German thought,
reflected in the excommunication of Döllinger in 1871
and the more recent censuring of the liberal Hermann
Schell, in part by zeal to express Catholic solidarity
with the nation in the wake of Bismarck's Kulturkampf.
Periodical literature was the major German contri-
bution, in particular, the Zwanzigste (1909: Neue)

In England Maud Petre, a friend of Tyrrell and his
executor, refused to take the antimodernist oath and
predicted the eventual recognition of the validity of
much of modernist apologetics. Two other Englishmen,
both friends of Tyrrell, mediated much of Catholic
modernist thought into the separate evolution of
Anglican modernism; Alfred Lilley through his
Modernism: A Record and a Review (1908), and Alfred
Fawkes in his Studies in Modernism (1913). But the
complicated, highly institutionalized, and long-lived
movement of modernism in the Church of England
developed mainly out of two indigenous sources, nine-
teenth-century liberal theology (especially the work of
F. D. Maurice and H. F. D. Hort) as well as the new
critical currents from Germany. Just as in Roman
Catholicism, Anglican modernism was a clerical and
intellectual effort at providing an apologetic for
Christianity which would foster its appeal to the mid-
dle classes drifting away from orthodoxy. Defenders
of the established church could claim with some justice
that “we have never yet met a Modernist kitchen
maid” (Pryke [1926], p. 1). Through the Modern
Churchman's Union (1898), the periodicals Liberal
(1904-08) and Modern Churchman
(1911-56), and annual conferences the modernists had
a considerable effect on the establishment, especially
in prayer-book reform. The theology and history of
the Anglican movement and its connections with the
Catholic crisis was assessed by H. D. A. Major, one
of several critics who in the years after World War I
have extended universally the movement by defining
it as “the claim of the modern mind to determine what
is true, right, and beautiful in the light of its own
experience... whether in religion, ethics, or art”
(1927, p. 8). A comparable dilution of the term oc-
curred in America in the wake of the crisis, most
notably in the liberal-fundamentalist controversy, but
also closer to the Catholic tradition in the writings of
William L. Sullivan.

A dense web of correspondence among men involved
in the new ideas, the personal activity of Baron von
Hügel, who traveled continuously and who had con-
nections in the Vatican, and a flood of short-lived
periodicals boasting the defense (and orthodoxy) of the
components of the condemned system created the
appearance of an international modernist movement.
In fact one secret meeting of leading figures did take
place, in the Italian mountain town of Molveno in
1907, but little came of it except fuel for Integrist


5. Historiography and Conclusion. The history of
the idea of crypto-modernism in the Church since 1910
is an index to the dismal ramifications of the condem-
nation. Léonce de Grandmaison, editor of the Jesuit
periodical Études during the crisis, summarized the
liberal-progressive view of the crisis when he defined
the modernist as one who believes that there could
be a conflict between “the traditional and modern
positions” in Christian teaching, and who, faced with
that conflict, decided that it was “the traditional view
which must be adapted to the modern, by retouching,
or, if necessary, radical alteration or abandonment”
(Études, 176 [1923], 644). The progressives argued that
the modernist error did not necessitate the abandon-
ment of the vital work of bringing the truth of tradition
into contact with the truth of modernity. They wanted
development in Christian teaching, defined by Blondel
as “a continuous creation starting from a germ which
transubstantiates its nourishment,” as opposed to
evolution, which he saw as change resulting only from
“external pressures” (Marlé [1960], p. 129). They re-
jected historicism and, in Wilfrid Ward's phrase, they
called for “not less, but more, and better, theology.”
The progressive—by the standards of 1929—historian
of the crisis, Jean Rivière, said that the modernist effort
was a revolution, not a reform, which “ended in
destroying the objective fundamentals of Catholic
dogma,” but he regretfully noted that the most visible
result of the “odious and deplorable campaigns” of the
Integrists was to panic bishops and people, polarize
opinion, render the loyal suspect, and thus make “more
difficult the already hard task of those who were exert-
ing themselves to combat modernism effectively on its
true ground” (1929, col. 2041).

What should be noted in conjunction with these
three opinions is that Grandmaison was himself suspect,
that a special papal document from Pius XII was nec-
essary to remove all taint of heterodoxy from Blondel's
name as late as 1944, and that Rivière was regarded
as a crypto-modernist and officially limited in his
teaching. In fact the literature and correspondence of
the period is a vast set of criss-crossing efforts to indict
or to exculpate figures seen as heterodox by Roman
theologians, including Newman before the crisis, and
Teilhard de Chardin after it. The sad human dimension
of the crisis and the subsequent repression of intellec-
tual life in the Church were summed up in the advice
given by a veteran of those days to a church historian
in the 1950's: “If you ever treat of the modernist crisis,
do not forget to tell how much we suffered.” Recent
historians, most notably Émile Poulat, have attempted
to approach modernism and integrism sociologically
(1960, 1962, 1969), and with an eye on the tumult in
the Church in the wake of Vatican II (O'Dea, 1968).

Seen from the general perspective of intellectual
history in the modern period the modernist crisis in
Catholicism is an example of the imperfect transfer
of ideas between two cultures which, in spite of a
common heritage, were quite distinct by the opening
of the twentieth century. Protestant and scientific
thought, the secular national state and the trans-
formation of its class structures and ideologies through
industrialization and world commerce created a world
alien in almost every principle to the Catholic universe
encapsulated within it, even as the Rome of the popes
was circumscribed and sealed by the modern Italian
state. Roman Catholicism was perceived by its
defenders as a closed and perfect system of belief and
action. From time to time concessions were made to
the epiphenomena of modernity and the perennial
tradition of mysticism, but generally the magisterium
insisted that “the human intellect could know God
from his effects, that the historical proofs of Christ's
divinity were perfectly proportioned to the minds of
men of all times, that there was an objective super-
natural order adequately defined by the Church's doc-
trine” (O'Dea, p. 86). Accustomed to the use of power
by centuries of political experience, the magisterium
found it natural to use power to suppress and thus
negate the existence of an intellectual upheaval which
was evident disproof of the fundamental premiss of its
life: the unthinkableness of an alternative cosmology
and another language of theological and philosophical
discourse for any man shaped in its ways.

It was the argument of most modernists that they
had not been deeply influenced by currents of thought
outside the Church, but had simply drawn out the logic
of Catholic tradition. Thus Loisy insisted on the
originality of his own work in part because once the
statement was made that his teaching was “German
rational-Protestant theology translated into French” his
work would no longer be studied seriously, and his
usefulness for change within the system would end.
Similarly Tyrrell polemicized violently against liberal
Protestantism, not only because he felt that he had
been too attracted by liberal Protestantism in his early
writing but because he knew that once an idea could
be labeled Protestant, or worse, Kantian, it was
automatically refuted. The dilemma of the modernists
in relation to contemporary thought was intensified by
the fact that they were in revolt against the rationalism
of the post-Tridentine Catholic Church and the ration-
alism and materialism of secular thought. They also
tended to ignore their dependence on the modern
culture they sought to manipulate. Thus Loisy's work
was often naively historicist, and Tyrrell was utopian
in his scheme for a science of religion. This occurred
because, as “latecomers to the Enlightenment,” in


Gentile's phrase, they were overwhelmed by the out-
pourings of the Pandora's box of ideas which had been
closed to Catholic thinkers for so long. The confusion
of themes in modernist books puzzled the Pope: in the
encyclical the modernists were condemned both as
rationalists and as anti-intellectuals.

In their turn, many of the modernist intellectuals,
overwhelmed by the attractions of scientism and
historicism, saw the obstinacy of the magisterium as
final proof that Catholicism as a syncretistic expression
of man's moral evolution was as unacceptable in the
modern world as the eschatological “late messianic
Judaism” from which it had sprung. Institutional re-
forms unimagined by the modernists have been ac-
complished in the era of Aggiornamento. A theological
revolution has grown out of the ecumenical movement
many of them derided. Transformations in the scientific
climate have weakened the attacks of the secular
humanist. But the Catholic Church and ecumenical
Christianity are still deeply challenged by dynamics
of modern culture. The threat of the religio depopulata
which this handful of religious intellectuals feared
remains as the residues of “a religious past defined long
ago” confront “a present which has found elsewhere
than in it the living sources of its inspiration” (Poulat
[1969], p. 5).

Émile Poulat's wide-ranging study of the first stage
of the modernist crisis has been characterized as
“sociological.” Hopefully, further studies of individuals
involved in the controversy will follow his example
and attempt to locate the theological and philosophical
issues in a social and political context. The separation
of church and state, the rise of left Catholic political
thought and movements, and the utilization of the
modernist crisis for political purposes by the Catholic
right, are important issues with which the history of
modernism in France should be fully integrated. Recent
work on Italian modernism (Scoppola, 1961), explores
the larger context, but comparable work has not been
done for modernism in England. The integrist position
has been examined in the setting of social history by
Poulat in the introduction to his edition of documents,
Intégrisme et catholicisme intégral (1969). Of greater
significance for the general history of ideas is the proc-
ess whereby the currents of positivism and historicism
were brought to bear on traditional Catholic thought.
The lines of this development can best be traced
through the reconstruction of the understanding of
Protestant and secular learning held by Catholic
writers, as has been done for the influence of German
philosophical sources on the formation of Blondel's
method and thought by J. J. McNeill in The Blondelian
(1966). The comparative analysis of modern-
ist writings and the seminal works in the Protestant
and secular scientific world can be complemented by
tracing patterns of influence in reading and corre-
spondence. The model for this kind of study is the
examination, done by most students of the crisis, of
Harnack's Das Wesen des Christentums (1900) and
Loisy's L'Évangile et l'église (1902).

Finally, modernist ideas should be examined in the
context of Catholic critical movements in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, and in conjunction with the
emergence of radical Catholic theological currents in
the 1960's. Comparisons of the two recent periods
should prove particularly enlightening, since in both
cases Protestant thought and scientific advance were
major spurs to innovation. Students of the relationship
between the crisis and the development of Catholic
science in Germany should examine Edmond Vermeil,
Jean-Adam Möhler et l'école Catholique de Tubingue,


The recent works of Émile Poulat locate the modernist
crisis in a sociopolitical context. His edition of the memoir
of Albert Houtin and Felix Sartiaux, Alfred Loisy, sa vie,
son oeuvre
(Paris, 1960), contains an indispensable bio-
bibliographical index of all major figures in the controversy;
his Histoire, dogme et critique dans la crise moderniste (Paris,
1962) relates the periodical literature to the major works
of Loisy and Harnack, discusses manuscript sources, and
offers a comprehensive bibliography for the French and
English aspects of the crisis; finally, his Introduction to
Intégrisme et catholicisme intégral (Paris, 1969) assesses the
antimodernist campaign, as does his article “'Modernisme'
et 'Intégrisme'; du concept polémique à l'irénisme critique,”
Archives de Sociologie Religieuse, No. 27 (Jan.-June 1969).
Other studies are evaluated by Roger Aubert, “Recent
Literature on the Modernist Movement,” Historical Investi-
gations, Concilium,
Vol. 17 (New York, 1966). For Italian
modernism, Pietro Scoppola's Crisi modernista e rin-
novamento cattolico in Italia
(Bologna, 1961) is important.
Alec Vidler, whose The Modernist Movement in the Roman
Catholic Church
(Cambridge, 1934) was the first study sym-
pathetic to Loisy and Tyrrell to appear in English, writes
about a few major and several minor French and English
participants in A Variety of Catholic Modernists (Cambridge,
1970). The impact of modernism within the Anglican
Communion is examined in H. D. A. Major, English
(1927), W. M. Pryke, Modernism as a Working
(London, 1926), while the inter-war tendency to
globalize the conflict of tradition and modernity in religion
is clear in Victor Branford, Living Religion (London, 1924).
For American echoes, see John Ratté, Three Modernists
(New York and London, 1967). Thomas F. O'Dea's The
Catholic Crisis
(New York, 1968) is one of the many post-
conciliar liberal attempts to reassess the crisis in the light
of subsequent history; a useful collection of revisionist essays
appeared in Continuum, 3 No. 2 (1965). Jacques Maritain


takes a more traditional view in Le paysan de la Garonne
(Paris, 1967).

Central sources for study of modernist ideas are the papal
documents translated in Paul Sabatier's Modernism (New
York, 1908); the works of Alfred Loisy, most notably
L'Évangile et l'église (Paris, 1903; Eng. trans. New York,
1912), Autour d'un petit livre (Paris, 1903), Mémoires pour
serv̄ir à l'histoire religieuse de notre temps,
3 vols. (Paris,
1930-31); Maurice Blondel, L'Action (Paris, 1893), idem, The
Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma
1964), idem (with Laberthonnière), Correspondance philo-
(Paris, 1961); L. Laberthonnière, Essais de philo-
sophie religieuse
(Paris, 1903); Édouard Le Roy, Dogme et
(Paris, 1907; partial Eng. trans. New York, 1918);
René Marlé, ed., Au coeur de la crise moderniste (Paris,
1960), a collection of letters by Blondel, Loisy, von Hügel,
and others; Baron Friedrich von Hügel, Selected Letters,
(London, 1928); George Tyrrell, Through Scylla
and Charybdis
(1907), idem, Christianity at the Crossroads
(London, 1908; New York, 1966), and George Tyrrell and
Maud Petre, Autobiography and Life of George Tyrrell, 2
vols. (London, 1912).

Histories of the movement and the crisis which them-
selves form part of the explosion of ideas include Jean
Rivière's article on modernism in the Dictionnaire de
théologie catholique,
Vol. X, Part 2, cols. 2010-47, his book,
Le Modernisme dans l'église (Paris, 1929), the article on
modernism in the Dictionnaire apologétique de la foi
III, col. 592-637, and the classic pro-modernist
accounts of Albert Houtin, Histoire du modernisme
(Paris, 1913) and Maud Petre, Modernism, Its
Failures and Its Fruits
(London, 1918).


[See also Agnosticism; Church as Institution; God; Myth
in Biblical Times; Reformation.]