Special thanks to the Microsoft Corporation for their contribution to our site.  The following information came from Microsoft Encarta. Here is a hyperlink to the Microsoft Encarta home page.

Modernism, in theology and philosophy, attempts by a group of scholars and church officials to reinterpret Christian doctrine in terms of the scientific thought of the 19th century. The collected attempts, although not a single system, were treated as such and called Modernism by Pope Pius X in 1907.

Modernism and Roman Catholicism

The Modernists of the Roman Catholic church tended to deny the objective value of traditional beliefs and to regard some dogmas of the church as symbolic rather than literally true (see Dogma). The leaders among this group included the Irish theologian George Tyrrell, the British theologian (of Austrian parentage) Baron Friedrich von Hügel, and the French theologian and Orientalist Alfred Loisy. Such works as Life of Jesus (1863; trans. 1863), by the French philologist and historian Ernest Renan, helped to lessen the authority of the teachings of the church on early Christianity.

Modernism in Europe was also a matter of political controversy. Those who supported the traditional views on church and state opposed the Modernists and their drive toward social reforms. Within the Roman Catholic church, the centralization of church government in Rome and the influence of the Curia were attacked. Church discipline over the clergy was strongly questioned. Perhaps most notable was the movement among scholars to work and publish without supervision from the church.

Censure of the movement reached a climax in 1907. On July 3, 1907, a decree, Lamentabili Sane (With truly lamentable results), was issued by the holy office with the approval of Pius X. It listed and condemned as heretical, false, rash, bold, and offensive 65 propositions, 38 of them related to biblical criticism and the remainder to Modernism. On September 8 of the same year, the pope issued an encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Of the primary obligations). Modernism, it said, is a synthesis of all heresies, "an alliance between faith and false philosophy," arising from curiosity and "pride, which rouses the spirit of disobedience and demands a compromise between authority and liberty." Pius concluded his attack on the movement on Sept 1, 1910, in a motu proprio (a message prepared on papal initiative alone), Sacrorum Antistitum (Oath Against Modernism). He gave assent to all articles of Roman Catholic belief and dissented from all the tenets in all times condemned by the church of Rome. In the same document, he required an anti-Modernist oath from all clerics in the Roman Catholic church.

Modernism and Protestantism

A corresponding movement among Protestants had also been developing. If one accepted the historical findings of biblical scholars and the so-called higher criticism, questions arose that could not be answered in terms of traditional beliefs. The philosophical emphases of the Enlightenment of the late 18th century and the contemporaneous reexamination of the sources of personal religious expression added force to such questions. Prominent among Protestant Modernists were the German theologians Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl.

These Protestants attempted to find new interpretations of religious experience and an understanding of history that could accommodate the implications of the theory of evolution and discoveries in psychology, archaeology, and ancient history. To a large extent, they denied literal inspiration of the Bible and the historicity of the Jesus Christ of the Gospels (see Biblical Scholarship). They stressed ethical and moral behavior, rather than adherence to formal creeds, as essential to Christian life. They turned the activity of church officials to social areas and away from academic issues. See also Christianity; Theology.

Modernism in the U.S.

In the 1920s in the U.S., the term Modernism took on a more restricted meaning. It began to be applied to any rejection of traditional doctrine. At the same time a movement called Fundamentalism developed among conservative members of various Protestant denominations in opposition to Modernist tendencies.

Return to Ron's Home Page