Robert Hickson told me about a friend of his, a Greek, who appeared to be gloomy one day. Robert noted this in an effort to show sympathy, and his friend replied that yes, this is true; he had been demoralized “ever since the Battle of Manzikert.”
The Battle of Manzikert, when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines, occurred in 1071. It marked the beginning of the end of Byzantine dominance in Anatolia, and is remembered as the first great strategic disaster on the way to the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453. That’s a long time for one man to be demoralized. It stands as a testimony to this Greek’s patriotism, historical erudition, and sense of humor that he would attribute a moment of melancholy to his people’s disaster dating back almost a millennium.
The quip also stands in stark relief to the thimble-deep historical memory of contemporary man, dazed as he is by his technology and barely able to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle which itself distracts him from the enduring things. What is often lost in this is a genuine sense of cause and effect.
I propose a thought experiment. Finish this sentence: “The troubles in the Church began with ______________.”
Was it Vatican II, Paul VI, Karl Rahner, Edmund Schillebeeckx, Charles Darwin, Emmanuel Kant, Galileo, René Descartes, the Renaissance Popes…Judas?
The true answer is bound to be more complex than any one of these, and should include a meditation on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30).
We at Saint Benedict Center hold that Indifferentism is the Heresy of the Day, and that eradicating it would go a long way to solving the Church’s current ills. But even then, there are pre-existent causes and effects that must be considered. What follows is a little catalogue of “Evil -ISMS and other Boogeymen of Modern Thought.” Being able to define and recognize these will help you in our little thought experiment.
A Rejection of Scholasticism, either in the name of returning to the wisdom of the ancients or pressing forward to new philosophies such as Cartesiansism, Kantianism, Positivism, etc.
Cultural Relativism, which came out of the age of exploration, making western men see the value of other cultures while questioning the relative value of their own. It affected religion and philosophy as well as purely cultural matters, thus becoming a greater force for subjectivism and skepticism.
Deism, the notion prominent among such men as Robespierre, Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson, that God is a distant “prime mover” (the “Great Architect” of the Masons) and not a personal God whose Providence governs human affairs.
Democracy, which enshrines a radical equality of all men, governments whose authority comes from the people (and not from God), and the consequent determination of public standards of truth and morals by the opinion of the majority, not by transcendent, objective standards. Religious Liberty, understood as the state’s neutrality in the realm of religion (in such wise as to rule out the confessional state) is implicit in this.
Historical Consciousness, the sense of our living in history or an acute awareness of change as a constant. Hegel, the so-called “first great philosopher of history,” held that all reality (including truth) is in constant development.
Historicism, the theory in which general laws of historical development are the determinant of events. According to this, all things are subject to progressive evolutionary processes. It has spawned such diverse progeny as Darwinism (biological evolution), Communism (dialectical materialism), and Hegelianism (dialectical idealism).
Kantianism, a philosophy which rejects man’s ability to know and reduces all sense impressions to mere “phenomena,” whereas the neumena or ding an zich, (“the thing in itself,” or reality as it is) are ever elusive of our intellectual grasp.
Liberalism, in the eighteenth-century meaning of that word, namely, “certain tendencies in the intellectual, religious, political, and economical life, which implied a partial or total emancipation of man from the supernatural, moral, and Divine order.” (H. Gruber. “Liberalism” in The Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Modernism (not the specific heresy condemned by St. Pius X, but a more generic reality), “the belief that the outlook of modern man is superior to that of medieval and ancient man; and more specifically, the belief that all religion, including Christianity and the idea of God, arises from a preconceptual, subrational religious instinct dominant in primitive man, whose promptings are unacceptable to modern scientific man.” (Rev. Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D., “The Philosophical Origins of Historical-Criticism.”)
Naturalism, “the view that the only reality that exists is nature, so that divine grace [and the entire supernatural order] is either denied or ignored.” (Hardon, Rev. John A., S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary [New York, Doubleday, 1980] p. 370.)
Pluralism, the belief that the coexistence of a multitude of diverse and contradictory religious, philosophical, and moral systems is a good thing. This leads to indifferentism, the heresy that all religions are salvific, not just Catholicism.
Scientism, empiricism, or positivism: those errors which embrace the scientific method and empirical proofs as the only sure norm for epistemological certitude.
Skepticism: pessimism about man’s aptitude to know with any certainty.
Rationalism, the error that human reason is the sole reliable source and determinant of truth. There are variations of this (e.g., the “modified rationalism” condemned Pio Nono’s Syllabus) which admit supernatural truths, but only inasmuch as they are “reasonable,” i.e., in conformity to what can be scientifically verified.
Subjectivism, which was born out of Cartesian solipsism and which eventually made the individual intellect the final determinant of truth and the individual conscience the ultimate measure of morality.
This catalogue is not exhaustive. I hope to follow it up in a subsequent piece showing how the Church responded to these problems when they reared their ugly heads.