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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Modernism and Theology

Modernism and Theology

Father Bampton, S.J.


PERHAPS enough has been said in the foregoing lectures to illustrate Modernist methods in dealing with Catholic truth. They would explain it only by explaining it away. And now we may turn to the consideration of a charge which is one of those most commonly brought by Modernists that she has substituted theology for revelation.


It is a charge of which we may expect to hear a good deal in the future. For it is a popular cry to go to the public upon in a Protestant country like this. To represent the Church as substituting for the pure, unadulterated word of God a man-made system of dogma, as compelling a servile adherence to creeds and formulas in place of the freedom of Gospel truth, to represent her as "making theological laws and rules a substitute for the creative spirit of light and love,"{1} nay, as attempting "to subject the whole kingdom of knowledge to the control of revelation identified with dogmatic theology,"{2} all this makes a telling appeal to the gallery. And the charge was promptly taken up by many organs of public opinion in this country. To quote only one, a Saturday Reviewer spoke of "the everlasting service which Modernists have rendered to the cause of religion by distinguishing between revelation and theology: revelation, Christ made known to us, theology, man's interpretation of Him. . . . The appeal to revelation," the reviewer continues, "as against theology, is simply an appeal to be allowed to learn from Christ."{3} What is suggested, of course, is that Catholic theology is a human corruption of a divine revelation, that it means learning from man instead of learning from Christ. That is the charge we have to meet.

Now a Catholic would agree with a Modernist in saying that the Christian revelation does mean Christ made known to us, made known to us in His Person and in His teaching. But the question remains, how made known? In answering that question the Catholic and the Modernist part company. The Catholic would answer: "Made known by Christ Himself in the first instance, by Christ Himself making Himself and His teaching known to the Apostles by word of mouth, and authorising them to make both known in like manner to others." That was Christ's own plan of revelation; that was the method devised by Christ Himself. "Revelation means learning from Christ," the Modernist says. "Quite so," the Catholic replies; "revelation means learning from Christ, but in the manner Christ ordained. And the manner which Christ ordained was that men should learn from Christ through men." For this purpose Christ constituted His Apostles and their successors a teaching body. "Going therefore teach ye all nations" (Matt. xxviii.); there is their commission as teachers. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you;" there is the subject matter of their teaching distinctly defined. "And behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world;" there is a guarantee of assistance in their teaching, Christ's personal guarantee of divine assistance to them and to their successors to the end of time. Those words of Christ constitute the charter of the Church as a teaching body.


In the Catholic sense, then, Christian revelation is Christ and Christ's doctrine "made known to us" in the manner and by the channel Christ Himself ordained, that is by the Church as a teaching body.
But, teaching body though she be, the Church may not originate her own teaching. What she had to teach was strictly prescribed. "Teaching them," Christ said, "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The body of doctrine thus confided by Christ to the Church's keeping, we call "the deposit of the faith." The Church might not add to nor subtract from that. But she had to guard it. Depositum custodi -- guard the deposit -- is St Paul's injunction to Timothy (1 Tim. vi. 20). And, as time went on, ever-increasing vigilance would be needed in its guardianship. As time went on, this or that doctrine of the deposit would be called in question, the Church would have to defend it. This or that doctrine would need clearer exposition, the Church would have to expound it. This or that doctrine would have to be declared in its full significance, to be worked out in its details, in its consequences, in its conclusions, to be traced in its legitimate development, to be studied in its relation to other doctrines, in its bearing upon the whole field of truth, natural and revealed, and for these purposes men had to exercise their reason upon revelation. Revelation being what it is, God's truth made known through the medium of the mind of man, and the mind of man being what it is, such an exercise of reason upon revelation was inevitable. And so there grew up in the Church -- as it was natural there should in a teaching body -- a school of thought, of thought employed upon revelation; a school of thought which gave birth to a science, a science of Christian dogma, a science not for the discovery of new dogmas, but for the preservation of the old. That science we call theology, dogmatic theology, for it is only with that branch of theology we are concerned now; and that school of theology has been adorned by some of the greatest minds the world has ever known, minds like those of an Augustine or an Aquinas or an Anselm or a Bonaventure, who have devoted their genius and learning to the highest purpose to which the genius and learning of man can be directed -- to the study and elucidation of the teaching of Christ. In her schools of theology the Church has nothing to apologise for. They are one of the glories of the Catholic Church.
The difference, then, between revelation and theology, is clear. By revelation we mean the truth communicated by God to man; by theology we mean the orderly and systematic study of that truth. There is no confusion in the Catholic mind between revelation and theology. The two things are quite distinct.

But it might be thought there is some danger, nevertheless, of confusing the two. It might be thought there is some danger of theology encroaching upon revelation. Theology is a science, it has been said, and theologians are its professors. Professors of all sciences are proverbially prone to press their own theories, to exalt their own opinions into dogmas; and professors of theology may be no exception to the rule. And so it might be thought there is some ostensible ground for the charge that there is a tendency in the Church to substitute theology for revelation. Against any such danger Christ Himself has provided a safeguard. In instituting His Church, He did not commit the supreme teaching authority to theologians. He committed it to him, and to him alone, to whom and to whose successors He said: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not . . . do thou confirm the brethren." It is not from any professor's chair that we accept Christ's teaching, it is from the Cathedra Petri -- the chair of Peter -- and no conclusion of theologians, though it may call for respectful consideration, can command our assent, unless it come to us ratified, directly or indirectly, by that supreme authority. The See of Peter is the divinely appointed guardian of the deposit of revelation. And in the task of guarding that deposit, theology has its proper place, an important place indeed, but a place that is secondary and subordinate.

The Church does not substitute theology for revelation. How comes it, then, that Modernists say she does?
To understand that, we must bear in mind the Modernist conceptions of revelation and theology, conceptions radically different from the Catholic conceptions just explained. We said at the beginning that a Catholic would agree with the Modernist that the Christian revelation means "Christ made known to man," but would disagree with him when it came to answering the question: how made known? We have just seen how the Catholic answers that question. His answer is:" Made known by the Church, by the Church a teaching body, by the Church an external agency." The Modernist would answer: "Not so, but by an inward, personal, religious experience."{4} That Modernist theory of revelation has been discussed already in the course of these lectures. I need only remind you of it now. As a leading Modernist puts it: "Revelation is the self-manifestation of the Divine in our inward life."{5} And the same writer assures us that "faith in Christ never meant merely faith in a teacher and his doctrines, but an apprehension of his personality as revealing itself within us."{6} In the Modernist sense, then, revelation is a purely internal spiritual experiences But if this be so, revelation needs no external agency like the Church for its transmission. If revelation does not imply faith in a teacher, there is no need of a teaching body; and, if there is no teaching body, there is no room for a school of thought, the inevitable outcome of a teaching body, such as we have shown theology to be. The real gist of the Modernists' complaint is not so much that Catholic theology trespasses upon the domain of revelation; it is rather of the existence of revelation and theology in the Catholic sense at all.

In a system which declares revelation to be a matter solely of interior religious experience, if there be room for any school of theology, it will be a school not for the study and interpretation of a body of teaching -- that is precluded by Modernist theories -- it will be a school for "the taking account of individual and collective religious experiences,"{7} a school, that is, for the registering and comparing of religious experiences. But such experiences -- as Modernists admit -- are from their very nature incapable of exact expression in thought or language. Such a school, then, would be not so much a school of thought, as a school of impressions, a school of fancy, a school of sentiment, a school of what it is becoming the fashion to call mysticism, a school exposed to all the dangers of self-deception and hallucination and morbid imaginings to which so-called mysticism is liable, when deprived of the controlling influence of the teaching Church, a school which opens the door wide to all the religious extravagances and hysterical excesses of which the spirit of man is capable, when it believes itself to be directly acted upon by the Spirit of God. Such is the only possible Modernist alternative, to the sobriety and restraint and measured precision of thought and statement, which characterise the Catholic schools of theology. The difference is between a school of religious thought and a school of religious emotionalism. Of the two, which is likely to be the safer guide in the study of revelation, and which of the two is the more likely to impose upon mankind a man-made system of theology in place of a divine revelation?

It is against theories like these that St Paul is warning his favourite disciple in the passage already quoted. He treats them with scant ceremony. He calls them "vain babblings, profane novelties of words . . . which some professing have erred concerning the faith," and in opposition to such theories his advice is clear and emphatic: "Guard the deposit."

{1} "Through Scylla and Charybdis," Tyrrell, p. 239.
{2} Ibid., p. 214.
{3} Saturday Review, "Devout Scepticism," 21st December, 1912.
{4} "Autour d'un petit livre," Loisy, p. 192 seq.
{5} "Through Scylla and Charybdis," Tyrrell, p. 305.
{6} "Life of Fr. Tyrrell," ii., p. 402.
{7} "Through Scylla and Charybdis," p. 229.