Most people understand vaguely that Christianity in the 21st century is in a different world than it was a hundred years ago. In this series of articles, I hope to highlight the story of how and why we find ourselves in a different world. These are meant to be short reflections about what I believe are key moments when we learned something new and important about the Gospel. Today, we’re looking at Modernism and the Catholic Church. I believe that the lessons learned are the tools we need to move forward in this odd time of being church.
Make it new!Ezra Pound (1934)
We are living in a very singular moment of history. It is a moment of crisis, in the literal sense of that word. In every branch of our spiritual and material civilization we seem to have arrived at a critical turning-point. This spirit shows itself not only in the actual state of public affairs but also in the general attitude towards fundamental values in personal and social life.Max Planck (1932)
Over the next two reflections, I want to talk about the reaction of the churches in the West to the phenomenon of Modernism. In this reflection, I will talk about the Catholic response, and the next one will be the Protestant response.
It is hard to overstate how important this moment in church history was. All of the big themes that we are talking about in the church today either come out of this era, or they come from responses to it. During this time, churches divided into groupings that are close to what we now call conservative and liberal. This is where the tendencies and trajectories of the next century begin. To understand ourselves in the 21st century, it is important to understand Modernism.