Our very own heresy

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.




You Might Also Like

12 Replies to “Our very own heresy”

  1. Well we all see different things … When this was written women could not preach or have authority in many denominations … in the Catholic church they still can’t … Civil rights for people of color was not yet realized here in this country … And the secular world pretty much matched the church world in terms of how women were treated generally. I like … trust … and follow many church traditions. But I do so with the knoweldge that there are times in history when the church re-assesses its traditions. The first time was very relevant to most of us as we are Gentiles …. The early Jewish Church had to decide whether the law of Moses still applied for new converts. They decided that much of it didn’t … (See Acts 10 … Acts 11 and Acts 15 along with the entire letter to the Gentiles). Paul actually called adherence to the old Mosaic tradition a different gospel … and/or heresy. Skipping quite a few of these moments we come to the Reformation … also important to those of us who are Protestant. The reality is that the church universally and individually always faces challenges of what is absolute … orthodox … crucial to the faith and what is secondary.

    Subjects like this are typically too big to fully cover. You might find my denominations sub comitee on interpretation of scripture interesting. I forget if I shared it with you before … It documents the challenge to bible interpretation around the time your post specifies and the (IMHO or ITHO) over reaction to it that led to literal innerancy. http://whdl.org/sites/default/files/Report%20of%20the%20Scripture%20Study%20Committee.pdf

    1. Just curious…


      “This belief is what is usually known as the ‘infallibility’ of Scripture, that it ‘inerrantly reveals the will of God in all things necessary to salvation’ as distinct from absolute ‘inerrancy’ in every factual detail.”

      I have seen a Church of Nazarene College appear to be non-inerrant in presentations, yet noticed their doctrine seems to support inerrancy. This seems to explain the dichotomy. However, is the quote just the committe’s opinion, or the Church of the Nazarene’s official position? Or, as it seems in most/some (i.e. UMC comes to mind) churches, both factions exist under the same denomination?

      1. And, sorry, the document is a little long to read now. May get to it later. Just noticed the quote. So maybe the answer is buried in the rest of the document. I’m curious, because I have an in-law who was in the church. Although I’m not so sure they even know.

    2. If you were to say that you support women pastors (I do by the way), because of cultural shifts, then I would tell you that while I agree with your position, your reasoning is way off. If rather you support women pastors because you can recognize any number of reasons that can be defended with scripture, then I would tell you that I am right there with you. This has little to do with differences in interpretive styles. If that is what you saw, I am sorry and encourage you to take another look at it.

    1. Dave if you would like to discuss a different letter of Pope Leo and how it may or may not relate to us today, feel free. Write it up. If you need a place to put it out, let me know and I will do so here.
      If you would like to actually discuss the topic great, have at.
      If you would like to introduce a different, and unrelated document to try and discredit, then really, feel free to stop. I don’t care for herring in general, and like red herring even less.

      1. First: ouch.
        Second: I read the letter you posted as being very much in the same stream as the letter I posted. As such, that’s not changing the subject but rather considering in its totality. For example, where the pope wrote: “After having destroyed in their [Protestant] respective homeland, by opposite and discordant systems, the venerable and ancient [Roman Catholic] beliefs that were part of the sacred deposit of revelation….”. Rather than reading just that fragment from the letter I posted, or just the passages you quote from the first, I recommend your readers consider both letters in full. Peace.

        1. After reading Dave’s comments and insistence on trying to discredit using an unrelated letter, I have to agree with Joel. Leo was onto something…
          You read it in the same vein…and that is the problem. I made it rather clear that I was not Catholic, nor was I endorsing Catholicism. I challenged specifically to look at it in the light of your own tradition and see if you do not see the same things, etc. You apparently seemed to miss that entirely. Sorry Dave, still no herring for me. Read the letter for what it was. Read the second one if you like. Don’t confuse what is written in the second to have any application to what I wrote about and suggested in the first. I guess if you can not refute something, discrediting it is the next best thing.

      1. I think the context of the 2nd letter should be considered.

        “Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, in which he laments and condemns the preaching and proselytism of Protestants in the city of Rome, Italy.”

        To put it in modern vernacular, the Pope didn’t like his “home-boys” in Rome being converted. Almost, like, some Jewish people being upset at the Mormon’s baptism of the dead (Jews).

        Nobody likes their “family jewels” stolen by another (religion).

        Although, both letters complain about a common theme – lamenting an individual’s free will, as if it is actually someone’s fault, instead of someone’s nature.

        1. Concerning the second letter – I was rather shocked at the bottom of the website “latest posts” ( Pope Francis splitting the church), so I looked at the “About Us” on the site. Very interesting.

          “Novus Ordo Watch is a lay-led internet apostolate whose primary goal is to educate the public about the institution we refer to as the “Novus Ordo Sect” (or “Vatican II Sect”), a Neo-Modernist sect which falsely claims to be the Roman Catholic Church and has illegitimately occupied the official Catholic structures in the Vatican and throughout the world since its founding by Cardinal Angelo Roncalli after the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.”

          Holy Somoly! Is this the Catholic version of the Methodist problems? Progressives on one side, WCA on the other. Maybe not as militant yet on the Methodist side. But may be getting there. But, because the Catholics have a Pope, the right wing in the Catholic Church can only ever be viewed as fringe. Whereas for the Methodists, with no Pope, the factions can be viewed not as fringe, but as equals in a cat fight.

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.