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Against the Spirit of Modernism

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Less than sixty days into his papacy, Pope Benedict XV released his first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, on November 1, 1914. As the opening salvos of the First World War had just been fired, Pope Benedict made an appeal for peace with this, his first encyclical to the Church.

While much of the document understandably focuses on civil governments and warring nations, Benedict also directs his attention to the discord and conflict raging within the Church. In “Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum” the Holy Father, at the very outset of his papacy, immediately condemns the “monstrous errors of Modernism”, just as his three predecessors had done. Though written over one hundred years ago, his prophetic words still speak to the Church today.

Pope Benedict XV Against the Spirit of Modernism

“Besides, the Church demands from those who have devoted themselves to furthering her interests, something very different from the dwelling upon profitless questions; she demands that they should devote the whole of their energy to preserve the faith intact and unsullied by any breath of error, and follow most closely him whom Christ has appointed to be the guardian and interpreter of the truth. There are to be found today, and in no small numbers, men, of whom the Apostle says that: “having itching ears, they will not endure sound doctrine: but according to their own desires they will heap up to themselves teachers, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables” (II Tim. iv. 34). Infatuated and carried away by a lofty idea of the human intellect, by which God’s good gift has certainly made incredible progress in the study of nature, confident in their own judgment, and contemptuous of the authority of the Church, they have reached such a degree of rashness as not to hesitate to measure by the standard of their own mind even the hidden things of God and all that God has revealed to men. Hence arose the monstrous errors of “Modernism,” which Our Predecessor rightly declared to be “the synthesis of all heresies,” and solemnly condemned…”

Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.”

Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (November 1, 1914) | BENEDICT XV. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Web.

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