To recap, Eminent American theologian Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton wrote an enlightening article in the American Ecclesiastical Review (1958) titled “The Components of Liberal Catholicism”. Despite its appearance before the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. Fenton appropriately presented, as in prophetic fashion, the coming attack on the Church from within. Msgr. Fenton summarizes liberal Catholicism into six main categories which together pose the greatest threat to the Church in our modern times:
- Religious Indifferentism
- False concepts of human freedom
- Advocacy of the separation of Church and state
- The evolution of at least some dogmatic teachings of the Church.
To start our discussion, I wish to excerpt from Professor Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. In this text, which I reviewed in a separate blog post, MacIntyre specifically addresses the false concepts of human freedom. At the very core of MacIntyre's book is the notion that the Enlightenment project of justifying the existence of morality outside of a teleological context (whether that be for the end of justice, for the end of observing God's revealed Law, etc) has failed.
MacIntryre places emphasis in his text on the false notions of human freedom which are similarly condemned by Msgr. Fenton. MacIntyre write:
[T]hose rights which are alleged to belong to human beings as such and which are cited as a reason for holding that people ought not to be interfered with in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. . . . the rights which are spoken of in the eighteenth century as natural rights or as the rights of man. . . . there are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns.
The best reason for asserting so bluntly that there are no such rights is indeed of precisely the same type as the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no witches and the best reason which we possess for asserting that there are no unicorns: every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed (69).In short, he does not believe any such rights exist for the mere fact that we are "humans" and he attacks that any such rights can truly be "self evident".
But, even if this were true, how is this an issue of grave importance to Catholics? Does it not seem to be only a philosophical or a political debate?
On the contrary, these issues are of paramount importance to Catholics.
"These principles emanate from the spirit of French revolution and its complete revolt against God, Church and the Catholic social order through which man replaced God as the sole arbiter of what is good and true. Vennari does a good job explaining the underlying ideology of the French revolution, namely naturalism, with its denial of revelation, supernatural life and its victorious attempt to drive Our Lord Jesus Christ from the life of the society" (Catholic Family News)In fact, many of the six components of liberal Catholicism have their roots in the Enlightenment. Let's revisit religious indifferentism to see their connection with Enlightenment principles.
The heretic Martin Luther remarked, “No one must be constrained. Liberty is the very essence of faith.” Such a statement, which has rooted itself in Western Democracies in our Post-Enlightenment society, is nothing other than a grave evil. His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI's words in Mirari Vos serve as a guide for our times and a warning to turn away from liberty of conscience:
Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion… ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate’…Some would say that the cause of discord in the Church originated at the 2nd Vatican Council. While I do feel that the Council was one of the most debilitating assaults to the traditional faith, our world has been suffering from a pernicious cancer induced during the Enlightenment. The philosophers of the enlightened led to the French Revolution and the essential collapse of Catholicism in what was once regarded the most Catholic nation in the world. Since that time we have seen mankind exalted and the faith and piety of many vanish. And as the Faith was toppled in France and outlawed, they replaced Catholicism with a humanism that praised human freedom and these so called "rights". There was no longer speak or original sin, salvation, redemption, reparation, Faith, etc. Now there is only "rights" and "privileges".
This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. "But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error," as Augustine was wont to say. When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin. Then truly "the bottomless pit" is open from which John saw smoke ascending which obscured the sun, and out of which locusts flew forth to devastate the earth. Thence comes transformation of minds, corruption of youths, contempt of sacred things and holy laws -- in other words, a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other. Experience shows, even from earliest times, that cities renowned for wealth, dominion, and glory perished as a result of this single evil, namely immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty.
Our Blessed Lady’s appearance in Fatima (1917) illustrates the revolution in the hearts of mankind long before the Council. And, recall Our Lady’s similar appearance in La Salette (1846). Our world has been rebelling against authority, against traditional manners of dress and practices of sexuality, etc, etc for generations. And it was this modernism that was so forcefully condemned by His Holiness Pope St. Pius X. Unfortunately, modernism – the true cause of our problems – has been misunderstood. We are certainly – and should not be – opposed to advances in technologies and ways of life that improve our living. However, modernism the heresy is the movement in Roman Catholic thought that sought to interpret the teachings of the Church in the light of philosophic and scientific conceptions prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Unfortunately, modernism entered the ranks of some prominent members of the clergy in the 1950s and 1960s leading to the collapse of interior piety and reverence as well as the exterior visibility of our internal faith (e.g. genuflections, public processions, etc). It was precisely this school of thought of modernism that individuals present at the Council sought to fight – people like Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Unfortunately, the members of the clergy who consented to the enlightenment philosophies have worked exceedingly hard to tarnish the name and reputation of His Grace Marcel Lefebvre and any Catholics who wish to attend the Mass of the Saints. Have you noticed that of all priests canonized as of this point, none of them said the Novus Ordo Mass...
Q. 47, Article 2 of the Summa, inequalities (yes - inequalities) are things from God.
When Origen wished to refute those who said that the distinction of things arose from the contrary principles of good and evil, he said that in the beginning all things were created equal by God. For he asserted that God first created only the rational creatures and all equal; and that inequality arose in them from free-will, some being turned to God more and some less, and others turned more and others less away from God. And so those rational creatures which were turned to God by free-will, were promoted to the order of angels according to the diversity of merits. And those who were turned away from God were bound down to bodies according to the diversity of their sin; and he said this was the cause of the creation and diversity of bodies. But according to this opinion, it would follow that the universality of bodily creatures would not be the effect of the goodness of God as communicated to creatures, but it would be for the sake of the punishment of sin, which is contrary to what is said: "God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good" (Genesis 1:31). And, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei ii, 3): "What can be more foolish than to say that the divine Architect provided this one sun for the one world, not to be an ornament to its beauty, nor for the benefit of corporeal things, but that it happened through the sin of one soul; so that, if a hundred souls had sinned, there would be a hundred suns in the world?"All things, aside from sin, come from God - equalities and inequalities, rain and shine (cf. Matthew 5:45 ), light and darkness. Should we ascribe to the modern notion that all peoples possess the same rights, duties, privileges, and entitlements, then we place ourselves in opposition to Almighty God and His Holy Church.
Therefore it must be said that as the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality. This may be explained as follows. A twofold distinction is found in things; one is a formal distinction as regards things differing specifically; the other is a material distinction as regards things differing numerically only. And as the matter is on account of the form, material distinction exists for the sake of the formal distinction. Hence we see that in incorruptible things there is only one individual of each species, forasmuch as the species is sufficiently preserved in the one; whereas in things generated and corruptible there are many individuals of one species for the preservation of the species. Whence it appears that formal distinction is of greater consequence than material. Now, formal distinction always requires inequality, because as the Philosopher says (Metaph. viii, 10), the forms of things are like numbers in which species vary by addition or subtraction of unity. Hence in natural things species seem to be arranged in degrees; as the mixed things are more perfect than the elements, and plants than minerals, and animals than plants, and men than other animals; and in each of these one species is more perfect than others. Therefore, as the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, so it is the cause of inequality. For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.