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Interesting position of modernism and its implication for understanding clerical celibacy

Posted by Fr Longenecker at Monday, November 23, 2009

After analyzing the modernism in the Anglican Church it was pointed out that there's plenty of modernism in the Catholic Church too. True enough, and because blog posts should be short and punchy, I left this issue for another day.

It is true that all the problems I outlined in the post on Modernism in the Anglican Church are present in the Catholic Church. In many ways the effects have been even more devastating. At least the Anglicans with their good taste have preserved beautiful liturgy, architecture and sacred music in the midst of the modernism. Many Catholics have been even more gung ho on the dumbing down of Christianity, the vulgarization of the liturgy, art and architecture that is the philosophical offspring of modernism. The moral crisis among Catholic clergy which has caused so much pain and scandal is the direct effect of mixing clerical celibacy (which modernists simply cannot understand) with modernism and the moral relativism of the sexual revolution. The resulting cocktail was disastrously poisonous. (emphasis mine)

However, there are two distinct differences in the circumstances of Anglicanism and Catholicism. The first is that, while the Catholics have fallen into the same moral morass as Anglicanism, what they are doing has not been condoned and sanctioned by the Church. Yes, there are Catholic homosexual priests, Catholic bishops and priests and people who support women's ordination, Catholic people who favor abortion, remarriage after divorce etc. etc. The Church teaching, however, is clear and uncompromising. So in the Catholic Church you find Church teaching which is firm and clear and traditional, but some Catholics dissent and have their own opinion which is liberal. (emphasis added) In the Anglican Church is is virtually the reverse: the Church teaching is either non existent, open ended or actually sanctions the modernist stance but you have individual Anglicans who choose to hold to the traditional, historic faith.

The second fact, on which the first is built is that while Catholics are besieged by modernism, we still have the magisterium of the Church which repudiates modernism and offers the guide for authentic historic Christianity in the world today. We have a Catechism which states the church's teaching clearly and positively. The Popes hold the line, defending, defining and teaching the faith in the face of modernism, and in opposition to it. The fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church defends historic Christianity and those of the faithful who go adrift do so knowingly. They are sheep who have strayed from the fold and from the Good Shepherd.

Individual Anglicans, on the other hand, are sheep without a shepherd. Without a clear authority structure they must make up their own minds, and while there is certainly some value in such independence of mind and action, it must be said that if one is going on a journey it would be possible to wander to the destination asking directions along the way, but it would be more sensible to use a map.

This brings me to the accusation that many non-Catholics make about Catholics: that we are unthinking zombie clones who are drinking the Kool-Aid and marching in lock step behind the Master. To be sure there are some Catholics who switch off their brains (as do many modernists) but this is not the expectation or the ideal. What is the proper relationship to dogma and infallible authority? It must be that the dogma, the moral code and the infallible authority are means to an end--they are not the end in themselves.

For a Catholic the dogma and the moral code which is given by the infallible authority of the Church is simply the ladder on which we climb. They are the map for the journey; the signposts on the way. They are vitally important, but it is the pilgrimage to heaven which is most important, and the final goal in this life is to get to the point where we walk on this pilgrimage so formed and guided by the dogmas and moral code that we no longer rely on them. We have learned to run on the path of God's perfection with the perfect delight of love, doing all those things which were once burdensome with the simplicity of freedom and the beauty of holiness.


  1. caitrin malone26 November, 2009

    Fr. Neuhaus spoke about thinking with the church and I found it a liberating illumination. Often Catholics don't agree with the church on many issues and certainly, we are not obliged to turn off our brains to be faithful Catholics. However we may question we must always investigate the full teaching of the church on dogma and come to peace with it. I question many issues and teachings but try to live with the questions in a faithful way.


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