The year was 1899. The Pope was Leo XIII. The subject matter was a particular manifestation of the heresy of modernism, which Leo referred to as Americanism. The message may be more valid today than it was then. You can research this particular heresy further and find the letter that was written by the Pope here.

Now I am not a Catholic, as I suspect many of you reading are not, but there is a lot of insightful stuff here that applies as well today as it did a hundred years ago. I am going to highlight a few spots with the hopes that you all will read the letter in full and perhaps even look into the circumstances that caused it to be written.

The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words, beloved son, to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind. The Vatican Council says concerning this point: “For the doctrine of faith which God has revealed has not been proposed, like a philosophical invention to be perfected by human ingenuity, but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared. Hence that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our Holy Mother, the Church, has once declared, nor is that meaning ever to be departed from under the pretense or pretext of a deeper comprehension of them.” —Constitutio de Fide Catholica, Chapter iv.

In this day and age, who has not heard such a suggestion, or perhaps even made it? Surely we can ignore the teachings on {insert subject here} or perhaps loosen the prohibition of {insert an action here}, maybe even simply not talk about {insert subject here}. We need members after all. More people. More converts. Never mind that they are converting to something not quite what the church has declared as truth. People won’t come if they know the whole truth it seems. How little faith we have in the truth if that is indeed what we think. If Christ is indeed The Truth, when we, through our hubris, change it, then we change Christ. The question begs be asked what are we converting people to if we change the truth. What salvation are we offering if we twist and alter the Author of said salvation?

Let it be far from anyone’s mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ.

Isn’t this what we are seeing in America? Aren’t we seeing a decline in membership that correlates to us getting further and further from the faith once and for all delivered? Aren’t we seeing more of the faithful leaving than we see the heathen come home? O that we would have headed the warning of a Pope a hundred years ago.

These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church’s teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty.

Isn’t this where we are? Don’t we poor contempt on anything possible? Don’t believe me? Talk politics with Christians and see me proved correct. Don’t we put our personal thoughts and opinions above the teachings of the church? Son’t believe me? Look to any of the large denominations and one can easily see the controversy and discord that arises from not submitting to the authority of the church. Haven’t we in so many ways become unmindful of both our conscience and our duty?

But if there be those who prefer to form one body without the obligation of the vows let them pursue such a course. It is not new in the Church, nor in any wise censurable. Let them be careful, however, not to set forth such a state above that of religious orders. But rather, since mankind are more disposed at the present time to indulge themselves in pleasures, let those be held in greater esteem “who having left all things have followed Christ.”

Indeed this is not new. Throughout her history, people have left the church to form sects based not upon the church and her teachings, but upon human desire. Not upon vows made to Christ, or the faith once delivered, but upon human understanding. Let them go, so be it. But, as we have seen here in America with several denominations, it is not about letting people go, but rather about defending the church because such people insist on staying. Those who choose to indulge in the pleasures of this world no longer leave the church, but seek to convince her to indulge in those same pleasures. They have put themselves above the religious orders.

There is a lot more to this letter and condemnation of Americanism. Take the time to read it. Read in the light of your own faith tradition and see if it rings true. I leave you with a final phrase from the letter that I think sits at the heart of our problems in the church here.

But if this is to be so understood that the doctrines which have been adverted to above are not only indicated, but exalted, there can be no manner of doubt that our venerable brethren, the bishops of America, would be the first to repudiate and condemn it as being most injurious to themselves and to their country. For it would give rise to the suspicion that there are among you some who conceive and would have the Church in America to be different from what it is in the rest of the world.

That suspicion seems all to valid a century later. Let those who have ears hear.