Rorate Caeli

60 Years of Vatican II – ‘THE COUNCIL AND THE ECLIPSE OF GOD’ by Don Pietro Leone – CHAPTER 10: ‘The Causes of Council Teaching’ (part 2): B. THEOLOGY


Father Fahey’s analysis of Modernism serves as an all too accurate critique of the  Council’s theology.


B.      Theology


The theology of which we here treat is Modernist theology, which we understand to be the theology of the Council. In fact one of the more perceptive Council Bishops, Monsignor Borromeo, noted less than two months after the first Council session: ‘Siamo in pieno modernismo’ [1]. Professor de Mattei, an expert on the subject, explains how the term ‘Modernism’ makes its first official appearance in Pascendi as a concept intended to group together a complex of errors in all fields of Catholic doctrine: Holy Scriptures, theology, philosophy, and cult. He quotes the description of it as a ‘fluid and incandescent material… the character of which was the very indetermination of its program’ [2]. He states that: ‘The roots and motives of this movement reside in the attempt to establish a ‘dialogue’ between the Church and the process of secularization which followed the French Revolution’ [3].



Professor de Mattei’s important work describes the development

of Modernism in the Church prior to the Council itself.


In the first chapter of his important work on the Council, the Professor recounts the development of Modernism in the biblical, liturgical, philosophical, theological, and ecumenical movements prior to the Council. In our search for the theological origins of the Council’s errors we have, in our brief historical sketches and obiter in the course of the present book, indicated the errors of Modernism individually; we proceed now to indicate their formal principle, that is to say the principle of antirealist subjectivism in the theological domain: the principle of self-deifying atheism [4].


To identify their formal principle, we turn to the condemnation of Modernism by Bl. Pius IX in the Syllabus Errorum, examining the Syllabus in the light of the penetrating analysis by Father Denis Fahey [5], who understands the work as a refutation of the Modernist deification of man. We observe at the outset that the essential distinction between this pronouncement of the Magisterium and the Council is that former decries the deification of man, while the latter promotes it.


The Syllabus opens with a condemnation of pantheism (being the doctrine which identifies God with the world) and then of naturalism and rationalism. Father Fahey explains: ‘As nature becomes conscious of itself in the human reason, human reason takes the place of God and becomes the exclusive arbiter of truth and falsehood, of good and evil.’



Syllabus Errorum


The Syllabus next treats the Modernist rejection of Scholasticism, viewed as ‘a hindrance to the conquests of deified man’, and then the Modernist espousal of Ecumenism and Indifferentism. Since Modernism holds that all Christian confessions and all religions are products of man’s reason, it concludes that one is as good as another; and that Protestantism, ‘which is a form of Christianity re-modelled and brought up to date by man’s efforts, is just as pleasing in God’s sight as the Catholic Church instituted by Himself.’


‘The Syllabus then passes on to denounce the errors and attacks of deified man on the divine organization of the world’ - 

- the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ; 

- the different states...acknowledging the indirect power of the Catholic Church'; 

- ' the family... founded on the marriage contract, raised to the dignity of a sacrament...';

- ' the personality of every human being to be developed as befits a member of Our Lord's Mystical Body by Catholic education...'   


Father Fahey explains how the Encyclical ‘proscribes those errors which proclaim that the Church is a merely human organization. As there is no God but man, according to the false principles that are in question, no society can have rights independent of man, especially independent of the State which is the full expression of self-glorified man. It condemns the errors which follow from the concept of the State-God, source and origin of all right. It denounces in particular the attack on human personality in the State’s interference with Catholic education’ and in matters of morality and of the family. It concludes by condemning the Modernist doctrine that the Pope must ‘come to terms with the spirit of naturalistic deification of man and rejection of God’s inner life, which animates modern civilization and hinders true progress.’


Recalling the contents of the present book, we are struck by the fact that the Syllabus and the Council are concerned substantially with the same issues:

 - Truth, naturalism, rationalism and scholasticism;

 - The Church in Herself as the Mystical Body of Christ; 

 - The Church's relation to the non-Catholic Christians, the other Religions and the State;

 - Family and education.


-  Father Fahey’s analysis, valid equally for the Syllabus as for the Council, may be summarized as follows: if man is divine, then:

 - Scholasticism must be repudiated;

 - All religions are the same; 

 - The Church is a human institution; 

 - The State is also divine and has complete power over all societies within its bosom as to rights, marriage and education;

 - The Pope himself must subordinate himself to it.


The opposition between the Syllabus and the Council, particularly in the document Gaudium et Spes which we have so frequently quoted in this chapter, explains how the then Cardinal Ratzinger could describe Gaudium et Spes as a sort of ‘anti-Syllabus’ [6]. 


Cardinal Ratzinger described Gaudium et Spes

as “a sort of anti-syllabus’.


The main differences between the errors in the form in which they are condemned by the Syllabus and the Council reside in the following facts:

- The Council extends its reflections beyond the State to encompass the world itself and beyond marraige to encompass the consecrated life together with all the sacraments, particularly that of the Holy Eucharist; 

- The Council extends the notion of man's deification above all into the areas of marriage and the Holy Mass: divinizing man's eroticism in the former and substituting him for God in the latter [7];

-  The Council proposes errors covertly. 


St. Pius X  in Lamentabili also deals with the Sacraments.


Before moving on, we mention with all brevity the later Antimodernist encyclicals Lamentabili of St. Pius X (1907) and Humani Generis of Pope Pius XII (1950). These condemn further errors which the Council will re-propose, which particularly concern supernatural Truth and derive from man’s self-deifying naturalism: the very possibility of dogma and the concept of flux [8] on the one side, and the free interpretation of Holy Scriptures [9] on the other. Lamentabili also deals with the sacraments; Humani Generis with Truth and Philosophy [10], as well as with Scholasticism [11].



HUMANI GENERIS  of Pius XII  deals with Modernism

in Truth, Philosophy and Scholasticism.

We conclude that the immediate theological forerunner of Council teaching is Modernism.



[1] ‘We are fully immersed in Modernism’ Diario, December 3rd ,1962, RdM III. 15

[2] una materia fluida e incandescente... la stessa indeterminatezza del suo programma

[3] RdM I. 2 (a)

[4] we limit ourselves here to natural theology, although comments similar to those which we have made on the Council texts regarding supernatural theology could also be made here. 

[5] op.cit. pp. 131-4

[6] Les principes de la théologie catholique p.425-7 RdM VI.11

[7] see the conclusion to our book ‘The Destruction of the Roman Rite’

[8] the former encyclical on dogma ss.7, 21-6 and on flux ss.59, 62, & 64; the latter encyclical on dogma ss.7 & 11, and  on the evolution of dogma and flux ss.14-5 & 32

[9] the former encyclical s.3; the latter encyclical ss.8 & 22 

[10] s.7

[11] ss.17 & 31