109th Anniversary: Oath Against Modernism

Yesterday, in 1910, Pope St. Pius X commanded “all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries” to swear an oath against modernism.

Image result for Oath Against Modernism
I’m getting to be more and more a Pope St. Pius X fanboy the more I read about him. Not the society that took his name – they’re something else entirely – but the man, the pope, the saint.

Ah, the good old days. Give me that old time religion. If it was good enough for Pope St. Pius X, it’s good enough for me. (1)

The Catholic Encyclopedia, published between 1907 and 1913, doesn’t have an entry on this Oath, but does have an entry on Modernism, discussed here. One of these days, when I’m flush with spare time, I need to track down the fascinating connections between the authors and editors of this encyclopedia and Catholic University and the American hierarchy. Catholic University, from its founding in 1887, seems to have some pretty pronounced Modernist tendencies, mostly lurking in the often desperate desire of American Catholics, especially Irish American Catholics, to fit in in their new country, to join, as I generally put it here, the Cool Kids Club. Problem: the intellectual life of this new country, as modeled and lead by the Ivy League schools, was most definitely Modernist, with Hegel, Darwin and Marx being then, as they are today, the darlings of our self-appointed betters.

The Oracle Wikipedia says:

The writing of the encyclopedia began on January 11, 1905, under the supervision of five editors:

Charles G. Herbermann, Professor of Latin and librarian of the College of the City of New York
– Edward A. Pace, Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Condé B. Pallen, editor
– The Rev. Thomas J. Shahan, Professor of Church History at The Catholic University
– The Rev. John J. Wynne, S.J., editor of Messenger of the Sacred Heart


Note the presence of Fr. Edward A Pace, who has been discussed in connection with the history of American education on this blog. Here he is listed as a Professor of Philosophy at CUA, but elsewhere is noted as the first psychologist on the CUA faculty. In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. In the smatterings of his writings I’ve read so far, he, as is typical of the era, refers to his field as ‘scientific’ psychology, which causes my eyes to go full gimlet: that word ‘science’ they keep using? I don’t think it means what they think it means.

Pace and his star pupil Edward Shields are two key players in trying to make Catholic parish schools more professional, scientific and modern. They thought the untrained generally foreign teaching sisters who learned their craft by, essentially, apprenticing to more experienced sisters were an embarrassment in an age where public school teachers went to teaching colleges and got certified by the state. (2) Instead of the proven method of learning to teach from people who know how, Pace & co were ashamed that these dedicated women weren’t ‘scientifically’ trained and state approved. I am reminded of the concurrent fad of preferring mass-produced goods over hand made items, because some piece of crap furniture from a factory was cool and modern, while something made by an actual craftsman was pooh-poohed as out of date. (3)

So I have my doubts about just how dedicated to defeating Modernism American Catholic scholars and leaders were, back in 1910, let alone today. That the sainted pope thought it necessary to command an oath seems to say he wasn’t too convinced, either.

In the previous light discussions of Modernism here, I quoted the Catholic Encyclopedia article, written before or at least with no regard for the pope’s oath, on modernism:

A full definition of modernism would be rather difficult. First it stands for certain tendencies, and secondly for a body of doctrine which, if it has not given birth to these tendencies (practice often precedes theory), serves at any rate as their explanation and support.

The Oath removes a bit of the haziness expressed in the Catholic Encyclopedia article. A summarized by Catholic Answers, which bullet-points the sections of the Oath, Modernism is the assertion that:

  1. God cannot be known and proved to exist by natural reason;
  2. External signs of revelation, such as miracles and prophecies, do not prove the divine origin of the Christian religion and are not suited to the intellect of the modern man;
  3. Christ did not found a Church;
  4. The essential structure of the Church can change;
  5. The Church’s dogmas continually evolve over time so that they can change from meaning one thing to meaning another;
  6. Faith is a blind religious feeling that wells up from the subconscious under the impulse of a heart and a will trained to morality, not a real assent of the intellect to divine truth learned by hearing it from an external source.

Gee, sound like anything you hear today?

I don’t know from a practical perspective whether an oath is a good or functional way of correcting a purposely muddled world, but it is sad to see the clarity it provided so utterly ignored today. That the message the Oath was trying to send has been utterly defeated (see, e.g., all large ‘Catholic’ universities) I hold to be self-evident.

Chesterton reminds us that the Church has died, been murdered and committed suicide several times over the last 2,000 years, only, like her Founder, to rise again. Here’s hoping and praying. Pope St. Pius X – pray for us!

  1. I’ve long thought that old Bible-thumper song was good, in and of itself, it just needed the right set of patriarchs and matriarchs to whose authority we should appeal for direction to the true religion: if it’s good enough for Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila, darn straight it’s good enough for me!
  2. Bella Dodd on her experiences in education school (School of Darkness, p 135): “I, myself, had given educational policy scant attention . Little that was controversial had been included in my education courses at Hunter College, and in my graduate work I had steered clear of such courses, feeling that my main emphasis must be on subject matter. I held to an old-fashioned theory that if a teacher knew her subject, and had a few courses in psychology and liked young people, she should be able to teach. I had been horrified to see teachers, who were going to teach mathematics or history or English, spend all the time of their graduate work in courses on methods of teaching.”
  3. The Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction to this fad by people somewhat immune to herd psychology..

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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