A Problem with Truth
As a Catholic who often ends up debating social issues, I’ve often thought, in frustration, that some people have a problem with the truth. Now, that’s a pretty prideful thing to think when it’s born out of frustration. This person isn’t listening to me, so they must just not like the truth!
But there is a real issue here. It’s not just me; anyone who has ever tried to debate with someone about a moral issue recently has likely experienced it. It’s clear that at a deep level, whether they realize it or not, a lot of people actually don’t care about truth at all. And I don’t think that’s because they’re stubborn, stupid, or intellectually lazy. Rather, it’s the influence of the philosophy of post-modernism.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
– Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio (1998)
In its most basic form, modernism is a rejection of the use of faith as a means to know truth, and therefore the elevation of reason as the only way of knowing truth. This philosophy was very common in the early 20th century, and many parts of it still remain common. For example, over-emphasis on science and neglect of philosophy and theology, and the assertion that science is opposed to religious belief.
This philosophy is and was a colossal failure, both in effect and in substance. Shearing off the wing of faith from the human spirit, modernism leaves us tumbling from the heights of truth to crash in the dirt below.
Modernists believed that the use of reason alone would lead ultimately to a greater understanding of truth, and to a better, more just future for humanity. But in fact, it lead to the opposite: the rejection of previously known truths to be replaced with nothing but confusion, and the most violent, brutal and unjust century humanity has ever seen.
Modernism could never be a long-term success, nor lead to progress toward truth, because it rejects faith. As John Paul II pointed out, faith and reason are complimentary, and to a large extent, dependent on each other. Without reason, faith can become blind. It can become gullible and prone to error, and it doesn’t allow us to properly understand the significance of revelation. But without faith, reason has no basis, no axioms to proceed from. Reason becomes worthless and ultimately leads to arbitrary answers. And it is largely the frustration with this inevitable failure that leads into post-modernism, which is where so many people find themselves today.
Post-modernism is modernism taken to its inevitable conclusion. Reason alone cannot find any truth, and modernism relies on reason alone. What, then, is a modernist to conclude, but that truth cannot be known at all? This is post-modernism, at its core: the abandonment of all hope of coming to know truth.
The poor one-winged bird that is the modernist human spirit, deprived of faith, incapable of flight, quite naturally decides to rid itself of its remaining wing: reason. After all, it is no more than dead weight without its counterpart.
Tragically, instead of realizing the mistake of modernist philosophies, our culture has doubled-down on its error, and spirals further from sanity every day.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
All hope is not lost for our culture. As Catholics, we always have hope, because our God is not only capable of anything, he has already done everything for us.
The fact is, post-modernism and the lifestyles that result from it do not lead to God, and they do not lead to happiness. They lead to despair and depression, and thus, the human spirit will begin to long for what it was made for. As St. Philip the Apostle famously asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
This is where it becomes important for us to evangelise through our lives, as well as our words. Because, even when argument fails to convince the skeptic, the hope of a life lived for God is an undeniable light in the darkness. And just as a physical light becomes more obvious the darker the surroundings, our lives will diverge further from those of our neighbours, as the culture moves further from God.
This is painful, and sometimes even deadly for us, but we can take comfort in the fact that it also makes us a clearer sign pointing to Christ.
Team Orthodoxy had its annual team retreat, and this year we decided to livestream it, live-tweet it, and record the talks from the retreat for all of you to watch. We’re still working out the kinks in figuring out how God wants to lead us in this ministry, but in the meantime, we’d like to share some of the fruits so far with you.
So here’s our three retreat talks. Please keep in mind that the talks are directed toward the team, but we do welcome any questions you have and we are open for discussion.
Pope St. Pius X, the pope from 1903 – 1914, is one of two modern popes that I like to call the “I told you so” popes. Along with Pope Paul VI, Pius was well known for his strong and prophetic warnings against the nascent evils of his time; evils which have in both cases now come to fruition and begun to reap their bitter harvest among human society.
Paul VI accurately predicted the social and spiritual consequences of the advent of birth control in Humanae Vitae, and any serious Catholic is certainly aware of these consequences. But Pius X warned of an even greater threat to the faith, one that encompasses many others, including the sexual revolution. His warning was about Modernism.
What is Modernism?
Now this is probably the point where a large amount of readers are confused. Perhaps some are even thinking, ‘Aha! I knew the Church hated science and progress!’ or something along those lines. The problem is that the word modernism has many meanings, and the pope only intended to use one of those meanings.
The heresy of Modernism is not simply modern thinking in general, the pursuit of scientific knowledge, nor the modernist art movement. The heresy of Modernism is a movement dedicated to adapting Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social fashions of the present time. Essentially, it is a movement which aims to conform the Church to the world.
Modernism grows from two main attitudes. First is the arrogant conviction of the superiority of present things over the things of the past. Chesterton described such an attitude in his usual, straightforward way, as “people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” This inward assumption can be very subtle, but if you look, you will see it constantly in modern thinking. Think of opponents of the Church who attack the Bible, simply by pointing out that it is 2000 years old. The modernist attitude is now so pervasive that most people don’t even consider the question of why being old is a bad thing.
The second attitude is one of rebellion against moral authority, over the individual, the corporation, and the government. This boils down to a form of relativism, where any suggestion of immutable truth is seen as a form of oppression. Rather than admit anything is right, the modernist prefers to gloss over any disagreements and aim for a superficial ‘tolerance.’ The best recent example of this attitude is the infamous Melinda Gates, who excused her anti-Catholic work with the tired adage, “we’re not going to agree about everything, but that’s okay.”
The Character and Example of St. Pius X
St. Pius X was the stark opposite of all that.
The good pope was the kind of man that the modern world hates and fears, the kind of man the modern church has in such short supply, to its great detriment. He was a man who consistently, bravely, and zealously stood up for the truth.
Where our society, and the society of Pius’ time, demand that a person should avoid any mention of truth, or at least walk on eggshells around it to avoid hurting feelings, this saint was not in the least bit afraid to condemn error and present the unchanging gospel. Instead, he firmly exercised his authority as pope. In his own words, “We champion the authority of God. His authority and Commandments should be recognized, deferred to, and respected.” He responded to dissenters and critics of his time in clear and learned writing and preaching.
Instaurare Omnia in Christo
To “restore all things in Christ,” this was the papal motto, and personal mission of St. Pius X. To this end he introduced numerous changes in the discipline of the Church, in order to bring more souls deeper into relationship with Christ.
First and foremost, he placed a great emphasis on the importance of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Confession. He reversed commonly held wisdom of the time by encouraging Catholics to seek both of these sacraments far more often, and strongly promoted daily communion. For this reason he was often called the Pope of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Pius X also worked to improve the common prayer of the Church by revising the breviary. He strongly believed in the liturgy of the hours as well as the Mass as the ordinary means of seeking holiness. He even said that the “primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit is participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public, official prayer of the church.”
In terms of doctrine, Pius worked hard to promote orthodox belief and combat heresy. He ordered the writing of a universal Code of Canon Law, which was eventually finished by his successor. He wrote a popular Catechism, which was used around the world, although it was not promulgated as universal. He combated heresy by his syllabus of errors, Lamentabili Sane Exitu, and his encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, which clearly and concisely condemned and refuted numerous modernist errors.
The Heart of a Christian
Like many great preachers, St. Pius X was considered by his contemporaries and his opponents to be far too outspoken, to be dismissive, brusque, and even cold. But these critics were as wrong about the man as they were about his doctrines. St. Pius X’s strong teaching came from a loving heart conformed to Christ, who is both truth itself, and love itself.
We know that Pius X was very fond of the poor, especially children. He often personally taught catechism to the homeless street children of Venice, and gathered children during papal audiences, sometimes not even to teach but to talk to the children about whatever interested them.
Pius also flatly refused to give any promotions to his family, which had often been a point of corruption or distraction for other popes, who used their position for material benefit rather than to serve the Church.
St. Pius X was very quickly named a saint after his death in 1914, and is patron saint of pilgrims, first communicants, and, of course, Team Orthodoxy!
Pray for this great saint’s intercession whenever you go on a journey, he has really come through for members of Team Orthodoxy in the past.