Friday, September 10, 2010

Quaeritur: What are the Techniques of Neo-Modernism and the Nouvelle Theologie?


Quaeritur: [In your previous post on the nouvelle theologie], you have named 'resourcement' as an inherently dangerous neo-modernist strategy.  Would you elucidate more such strategies we might encounter equally capable of confounding our understanding and leading us away from the Church?

Respondeo: Yes, ressourcement is a technique that is used (most often) to "raze the bastions," i.e., to destroy the positive foundations of the traditional interpretation of the faith.  But we must distinguish between positive theology and ressourcement.  

Positive Theology vs. Ressourcement Theology.  Positive theology is a perfectly legitimate method mastered by the Fathers of the Church and perfected by the Scholastics throughout the centuries which consists in studying the sources of theology, first in their own native literary context, and then collating them topically, so they may be ultimately used in support for a given thesis. (Nouvelle theologie practitioners often criticize the Scholastics because, supposedly, the Scholastics used the sources merely to formulate "proofs from authority"; but these self-professed lovers of historical theology don't bother to realize that Scholastic proofs were merely the end-result of a much more elaborate study of sources that involved intensive literary courses, the resulting commentaries, along with its sophisticated divisiones textus, consequent florilegia, etc., etc. It was a whole culture of historical and literary awareness of classical sources that modern scholars can only envy and not imitate.) St Thomas was a master in this technique, as is evident, not only from his employment of the fruits of positive theology in the Summa or his disputed questions (for example, whenever he cites Scripture, St Augustine, Aristotle, etc. in support of a thesis), but especially as it is evident from his commentaries on Scripture, Aristotle, and other thinkers, and in particular from his impressive biblical patrology, the Catena aurea. It is important for theologians especially to use this technique, for their conclusions must ultimately be based on the sources of Revelation. And the Scholastics were very aware of this. St Thomas speaks of this theological task explicitly in Summa theologiae I.1.8 ad 2.

Ressourcement, however, goes beyond a mere proof from authority; if it were, it would be nothing new.  Rather, it is a collective attempt by neo-modernist theologians--who are experts in the history of dogma and theology--to replace the traditional understanding of the faith by selectively citing (or re-interpreting) obscure sources and texts to their advantage, in such a way that discredits the traditional understanding of the faith it is  expressed by the overwhelming consensus of Fathers of the Church, of the Doctors of the Church, the approved theologians, the Councils, the Popes, catechisms, and faithful throughout the ages.  Essentially this is the old informal fallacy of special pleading, except glorified by a triumphalistic title that means essentially 'returning to the sources'.  The word is supposed to give us warm-and-fuzzy feelings, the sense of finally understanding the faith the way it was originally meant to be understood, after over a millenium of not getting it, and half a millenium of that horrible old 'Tridentine' religion. 
Other Methods.  Now, ressourcement is their chief method, but they employ other techniques as well, most of which are logical corollaries of ressourcement. These methods are applied not only to dogma, but to every area of the Church: Philosophy, Apologetics, Ecclesiology, Fundamental Theology, Morals, Scripture, Liturgy, Canon Law, Homiletics, etc. It is a new theology that is supposed to 'renew' the entire life of the Church, which is now considered to be in its 'Springtime' and in a 'new Pentecost'.  Among these corollaries are (A) the new 'historical' theology, (B) the rejection of Scholasticism, (C) the introduction of false modern philosophies, and (D) the exclusion from their thought of all scientific order.

(A) The new 'historical' theology logically follows from resourcement and its neo-modernist epistemology: if truth is the correspondence of the intellect with our modern way of life (adaequatio intellectus et vitae), rather than with reality, then theology is not the science of God's reality as it is contained in revelation; rather, is no more than a narrative of the different ways in which theological minds have corresponded to the lifestyles of the different times in which they have lived. The value of the great Fathers, Doctors, and Theologias of the Church boils down to the fact they expressed the faith to their contemporaries 'using the categories of their own times'.

(B) The abandonment of Scholasticism also logically follows from this and is simply its negative counterpart. We are to 'return to the Fathers', which really does not mean imitating the Fathers (that would be too traditional) but rather attaining a historical consciousness of patristic thought. But this historical consciousness excludes the supposedly anti-historical (and 'boring'!) mode of reasoning employed in the Scholastic method. Therefore, a good practitioner of the nouvelle theologie must 'return to the Fathers' and bypass Scholasticism altogether. Accordingly, Thomistic philosophy and theology are no longer pursued as sciences that concern God and reality taking inspiration and guidance from the thought of St Thomas, but as a historical narrative of what St Thomas said and believed.

(C) As logical consequence, the role that Thomistic philosophy traditionally played in the Church is neutralized, and in its place, new, vague, existentialist philosophies such as phenomenology and personalism are introduced in order 'justify' neo-modernism (although in really it is impossible to give epistemic justification to a self-referentially inconsistent theory--I shall explain in a later post why both modernism and neo-modernism are self-referentially inconsistent).

(D) The exclusion of scientific order from their thought follows from their existentialist philosophy and is a common denominator they have with their predecessors, the modernists. Here we can quote Pope St Pius X's Pascendi (paragraph 4): 
But since the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage, Venerable Brethren, to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connexion between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil.
There are lots of other techniques that are used by particular neo-modernists, but these are at least the most commonly used by the movement. Ultimately, however, all of these methods are only means that are subservient to the end of aggiornamento: destroying tradition and establishing a new interpretation of the Catholic faith. They will employ any other method that helps them achieve this end. Resourcement happens to be their favorite (because it is so clever, deceptive, and effective), but it not the only one.

Further Reading.  All of this is already outlined in Ven. Pope Pius XII's Humani generis, and discussed with technical precision in the two Garrigou-Lagrange previously cited:

An revealing book on the Nouvelle Theologie has been published recently, Nouvelle Thologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II.  It is written by Jurgen Mettepenningen, a liberal who celebrates the triumph of modernism through the Nouvelle Theology.  Here is the product description from

This title provides an introduction to the most influential movement in Catholic theology in the 20th century which prepared the ground for the Second Vatican Council. La nouvelle theologie - New Theology - was the name of one of the most dynamic and fascinating movements within Catholic theology in the 20th century. Although first condemned by Pope Pius XII. in 1946 and later in his encyclical Humani generis in 1950, it became influential in the preparation of the Second Vatican Council. The movement was instigated by French Dominican Yves Congar with his Dominican confreres Marie-Dominique Chenu and Louis Charlier and linked with the Dominican academy at Le Saulchouir (Tournai), but soon taken over by Jesuits of the same generation of theologians: Henri de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Henri Bouillard and Yves de Montcheuil. They laid strong emphasis on the supernatural, the further implementation of historical method within theology, the ressourcement (back to Scripture, liturgy and Fathers), and the connection between life, faith and theology. Many of them were participating as periti in the Second Vatican Council, which finally accepted the striving of the new theology. Hence, the original perception of the New Theology as novitas would become an auctoritas in the field of Catholic theology. On the basis of research of archives and literature Jurgen Mettepenningen shows in his book the different theological positions of both Dominican and Jesuit protagonists, the development of their ideas in close relationship with the theological view and the sanctions of the Roman Catholic Church, and the great importance of the generation of the discussed Dominican and Jesuit theologians and their New Theology. He proves that the protagonists of both the first and the second phase of the nouvelle theologie constituted together the generation of theologians necessary to implement the striving of the modernist era within the Church at the time of Vatican II.

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