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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Modern Age

Written by: Christopher Bellitto

Some of these scholars were lumped together as Modernists, an ill-fitting term. Their historical-critical methodology has been labeled as a tendency, not an organized school, but the Vatican lumped them all together and twice condemned modernism as skeptical, disruptive, destructive, and disrespectful rationalism. Pope Pius IX issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, which railed against many of the isms mentioned earlier, but Pope Leo XIII was open to some innovations in scholarship. He allowed scholars into the Vatican's Secret Archives and stated that the Church had nothing to fear from historians, but he also declared that it was not possible for the Bible to contain an error. Pope Pius X, like his namesake, issued another list of condemnations and errors in 1907.

Many of these same methodologies eventually triumphed at Vatican II (1962-1965). Scholars before, during, and after Vatican II championed a ressourcement, a French word denoting a return to the Church's ancient sources, and a parallel modernization under the Italian word aggiornamento. Current debate wonders if Vatican II was a complete break with the past or is in continuity with the past. The answer is: both. Vatican II, especially in the liturgical renewal that it received and spurred on, asked the Church to recover the best of its past, but to adapt it to current practices.

There were important paradigm shifts at Vatican II.  First, the document Gaudium et spes countered a tendency to spurn the world (contemptus mundi) and reminded the Church of her heritage in engaging the world to act as leaven, applying especially to laypeople who were well-placed to spread the faith in their families, places of work, schools, and social settings.  Second, the council recognized the Church's serious faults in relating to Jews, especially, but also to other non-Christian faiths, and set about correcting those relationships.  Third, council fathers worked closely with other Christians--there were, in fact, official Protestant observers at the Council--to begin to repair the sundered relationship and to see where mutual work could be built on what the churches share as opposed to where they disagree.  

Study Questions:
     1.    How has modernity devalued religion’s role in society? Where did people begin to place their allegiance?
     2.    How did Pope Pius IX deal with the conflicts between modernity and religion?
     3.    Has the Catholic Church changed since its inception? Explain.
     4.    What three important shifts came with Vatican II?


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