The Process that has led us to the New Modernists


Yesterday the Lutherans and the Ambiguous Jesuits, today the Ciellini and the Rossomalpeli

This is the way you have distorted the Catholic Faith

The reaction in this journal of Monsignor Luigi Negri, of Don Francesco Vetorino, and of Professor Massimo Borghesi, to my article on the “Meltdown of the Church”(Il Foglio, November 12, 2013), makes it necessary for me to turn to a question that is at the heart of the contemporary Catholic debate: the question regarding the definition of faith, without doubt the foundation of the Christian life.

The fact from which one begins, and on which I hope even my companions in dialogue agree, is the collapse of faith, which has come about in the last fifty years in the Church. When he was inaugurating the Year of Faith on the 27th of January, 2012, Benedict XVI expressed himself in these terms:

As we know, in vast areas of the earth the Faith runs the risk of being extinguished like a flame that no longer finds nourishment. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that makes up the greatest challenge for the Church today. The renewal of the Faith must therefore be the priority in the commitment of the whole Church in our days.

But the Year of Faith has ended—it is necessary to say this—without glimpsing in any way a strong response from the ecclesiastical authorities in the face of this crisis in progress. The encyclical Lumen Fidei itself ignores in an astonishing way this dramatic problem. But what is the Faith? The response to this question does not admit of ambiguity after the definition given by the First Vatican Council and restated in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church: Faith is the adherence of reason, moved by Grace, to the truths revealed by God, through the authority of God himself who reveals them to us. The revealed truths are called this because they are contained, in an explicit or implicit way, in divine revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle. Sacred Scripture and the Tradition gather these truths that form the objective and immutable Faith of the Church. In each case such truths surpass our reason and are called mysteries. The two central mysteries of Christianity are the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word. They are above our reason but they do not oppose it.

We believe these truths, because they have been revealed by God. But the existence of God before being a truth of faith, is a philosophical truth that can be shown by reason. In this way as well, the existence of and the immortality of the soul can be demonstrated. The Faith has to do not only with theology but also philosophy, as Antonio Livi shows (this can be seen, for example, in his Rationality of the Faith in Revelation, Leonardo, Rome 2005). The unknowability of the nature of God is not to be confused with the certainty of His existence arrived at through reason. Only after having ascertained that God exists can we believe in Him and his revelation. Relating to this matter, St. Augustine says that we must “Credere Deum, Deo, in Deum”, that is, we must believe in God as the object of our faith; we must believe in God as the motive of our faith, and we must believe in God as our final end.

Luther first overturned the traditional concept of faith. Man, wholly corrupted by original sin, is, for him, incapable of knowing the truth and loving the good. Faith does not lie in the reason and in the will, made putrid by sin, but in “fiducial faith”, which is born from a feeling of deep desperation and has its proper object the mercy of God, instead of the truths revealed by Him. Appealing to this pietistic and individualistic vision of faith, Luther and his followers make religious experience the only criterion of the Christian life. In the evangelical-Protestant tradition as a whole, religion is seen as a salvific “encounter” with God, in which subjective faith absorbs and dissolves objective faith. In the Esquisse d’une philosophie de la religion (1897) written by Auguste Sabatier (1836-1901) this writer follows through to the end the Protestant reduction of faith to feeling. The act of faith is understood as an encounter with the dark and mysterious power on which the soul depends and on which depends its destiny. All that is dogma and theological reflection is nothing other than the symbolic transcription of a collective religious experience in continual evolution.

In the same years in which the work of Sabatier appeared, Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) published Action (1893), the first expression of that philosophy of action, that, with liberal Protestantism, laid the immediate background of Modernism. According to Blondel, action, and not thought, draws out the truth of Being. The traditional maxim according to which “agire sequitur esse” is stood on its head: action precedes Being, and man finds truth and faith itself in action. Action is the synthesis of thinking and acting, the bond between the thinker and Being. Blondel wants to substitute for the traditional apologetics that proposes the rational demonstration of the truth of Christianity, a new apologetic based on the principle of immanence. The method of immanence claims to find the truth of religion and the mysteries of faith starting from the consciousness of man, from his needs, his aspirations, from all that springs from his experience of life.

Analogous theses were expressed by the theologian of Modernism, George Tyrell (1861-1909), who after his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism entered the Society of Jesus, but soon challenged the teaching of that Order. For Tyrell as well religion is a union of the heart with God that does without the truth of dogmas. The God of Tyrell, like that of Blondel, is immanent in the consciousness that recognizes Him in the religious experience itself. It is not truth that determines experience but experience makes up the supreme criterion of truth. The “trait d’union” between Blondel and Tyrell was Henri Brémond (1865-1930), also a Jesuit. The correspondence between Brémond and Tyrell is instructive on this subject (Lettres de George Tyrell à Henri Brémond, Aubier, Paris 1971). Prone to neurasthenia, Brémond confided in Tyrell that he wanted to leave the Jesuits to live, like Tyrell, with a lover. His ideal, he wrote, would be that of a “clerical life without dogma”.

Tyrell responded to his confrère to be prudent and to leave the Jesuits without causing a ruckus. When Tyrell was dying a few years later, after he was excommunicated by St. Pius X, Brémond was at his bedside, and, following Tyrell’s counsel, lived after that in the world as a simple, crypto-Modernist priest and embarked on a literary career that would bring him to the French Academy. His powerful Literary History of Religious Feeling in France (1915-1933, 11 volumes), even in its title takes on again the theses of his friends Blondel and Tyrell: faith reduced to poetic intuition, experience of a mystical life that thwarts every dogmatic truth.

Among those who continued along this line of vital immanence was Father Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), belonging, like Brémond and Tyrell, to the Society of Jesus, but unlike them remained in the Jesuits for the rest of his life. De Lubac, like Blondel, places in the consciousness of man the possibility of encountering God by one’s own efforts, destroying the fundamental distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Cardinal Siri, in Gethsemane. Reflections on the Contemporary Theological Movement (Fraternità della Santissima Vergine, Roma 1980), fully refuted these theological errors. Pius XII, with his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), condemned the theses of de Lubac and the other exponents of the progressive nouvelle théologie. But after his death, it was these very same theologians who were the protagonists of the Second Vatican Council and gave the Council its basic orientation. De Lubac was created a Cardinal by John Paul II and is today often cited by Pope Francis, even if few have read his writings, which are cryptic and prolix.

In the post-Conciliar years, de Lubac belonged to the “moderate” wing of the new progressive theology. But his moderation was more in tone than in content. It is enough to compare his personal diary of Vatican II to that of the Dominican Yves Congar to become aware of the difference between his measured language and the violent and often coarse language of Congar. That did not stop de Lubac from being an enthusiastic admirer and popularizer of the works of his confrère Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of the extreme figures of heterodoxy of the twentieth century, towards whom Blondel himself showed reserve.

De Lubac belonged to that category of men that detest the consequences of ideas themselves. He criticized the post-Conciliar decomposition, but he would not admit that the roots of what happened lay exactly in the errors of the nouvelle théologie. In 1972, there were among the supporters of the journal “Communio”, and Don Luigi Giussani, who in the same years launched Communion and Liberation, recognized de Lubac as their teacher. The disciples of Don Giussani protest when I attribute to them an ambiguous notion of faith, and “Rosso Malpelo (Gianni Gennari) accuses me in “Avvenire” of telling lies, but the truth is consigned to history.

I invite everyone to read the book written by Don Guissani, The Event of Life, that is, a History. A Journey of fifteen years begun and lived, with an introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger (Il Sabato, Milano 1993). The book gathers together the interviews and public conversations that the founder of CL had given between 1976 and 1992. The book contains no explicit negation of the truths of the Faith and wants to show moreover the affection of Don Guissani for the Church. But at the end of five hundred pages one remains with a feeling of intellectual emptiness. For the reader there remains only this message: there is no need for apologetics nor for the rational study of the Faith in depth.

What counts is “living” . But what is living”? It deals, explains Don Giussani, with “making faith an event” (p. 339). Communion and Liberation is born from an “intuition of Christianity as event of life and therefore as of history.” (p. 349). “The method consists in this: that intuition becomes experience….Experience is the place in which one sees whether what is intuited has value for life”P. 351). Faith is encountering Christ, to recognize his presence in history and in one’s own life. But who is Christ? The CL answer is disheartening: he is the one you encounter. The fundamental problem is that CL has never gone and will be unable to go beyond the tautology of the encounter, exactly because of its demand to reduce Christianity to pure experience and exigency of the spirit.

Christianity, certainly, is also experience, but the experience is by its very self incommunicable; while what one is able to communicate are the principles that precede the religious experience and on which experience depends. No one doubts the existence of religious experience that, under certain aspects, is the highest form of the Christian life. The experience is, in fact, an immediate and direct awareness of reality. But the religious experience not only does not negate the rational credibility of faith, but also presupposes it. In the perspective of CL, to provide a demonstration of the existence of God and to the truth of the Church falls to apologetics and to life.

The religious experience, however, has value only if it is subject to reason, to revelation and to the magisterium. Today the true idea of faith has been lost, because it has been reduced to the feeling of the heart, forgetting that it is an act of reason that has truth as its object. The intellect is the only spiritual faculty that can make the truths given by revelation one’s own. For the Modernists of today, like the Protestants at one time, faith belongs to the sphere of irrationality and feeling. The object of faith, the truths believed, becomes secondary. The Graeco-Christian realism is rejected as a whole, denying value to the Logos, to the first principles of reason and to the primacy of metaphysics. What counts is the individual experience of the believer, that which he lives in his emotional responses. The intimate experience of the subject becomes the unique experience of the Christian life and the religious consciousness the essence of the life of Grace.

This “experience of faith” shuns dogmatic affirmations, in the conviction that what is absolute divides and only what changes and adapts can unite men between themselves and to God. In this religion of humanity characteristic of our times the clear affirmation of truth is an act of intolerance towards one’s neighbor, and compromise between faith and the world becomes the model of what is defined as the “encounter” with God. Faith, however, is not irenic. It grows with study, with discussion, even with polemic. When one discusses things with passion, this means that one believes, and the heat of the polemic is sometimes the measure of the love towards what one believes in. But within the clergy themselves, who believes today, and in what do they believe?

So that the religious experience be true and not an illusion, a criterion of truth is needed. The fundamental problem is how to determine the authenticity of experience. Religious experience can be only the experience of the true God and of the true religion. It is not a generic feeling of dependence on the Absolute. Is a Buddhist immersed in Nirvana a religious experience? De Lubac thinks so and perhaps some disciples of Don Giussani as well.

Every error has its consequences. The poor liturgical sensibility of CL is not by chance. The maxim of the Church according to which lex orandi expresses lex credendi presupposes the existence of an integral and coherent doctrine of which the liturgy is the visible expression. But if doctrine is absorbed by the act of living, the liturgy can only be condemned to extinction.

Love for the traditional liturgy presupposes necessarily a love for the truths of the Tradition. The much maligned “traditionalism” is nothing other than a love for the truth of the Church it all of its expressions, from liturgical to political and social. The so-called “traditionalists”, who are only Catholics without compromise, appeal to the unchangeable teaching of the Church. They do not idolize power, but they believe in the social Kingship of Christ, that is, in his right to reign over every man and the whole of society. The “religious experience” they follow is that of those who witness to their Christian vision of society with their blood, like the martyrs of Vendée in France and the Cristeros in Mexico.

 This has nothing to do with the amoral politics of which CL for years has given approval. It would be in vain to try to find a connecting thread among the illustrious guests at the annual CL meeting in Rimini from its origins to today: persons of the right and of the left, conservatives and progressives, all alternate with each other in a dosi-do dance of power, which, if it lacks intellectual and political continuity, is not lacking in intimate coherence in its radical pragmatism. The long-standing idyll of CL with Giulio Andreotti gives one pause. The man who went to Mass every morning did not hesitate to sign in 1978 the abortion bill in Italy. Faith decoupled from rational principles and from “nonnegotiable values” makes one well disposed to anything that comes along. In this way today Roberto Formigioni opens the way to giving custody of children to gay couples. This is not incoherent with the “philosophy of praxis” by which he is inspired.

Professor Massimo Borghesi believes that in the 1970s, it was “the pedagogy of experience of CL and not traditionalism that would save the Church.” I believe instead that CL simply tapped into the sane part of the Catholic world made “orphans” in the dark years after the Council without being able to give the youth of that time the theological and philosophical instruments that they needed, beginning with an honest idea of faith. Many of them, today no longer young, were and are of the best quality and it is to them above all that I address when I affirm that Communion and Liberation has not been a bulwark against the crisis of faith of our times, but has contributed to the weakening of the Faith and to its present state of crisis without denying, naturally, the good intentions of anyone and with the greatest respect for those taking part in this conversation, beginning with Monsignor Luigi Negri, to whom I return respect and friendship.