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Sep 30 George Tyrell and Modernism


Today in 1907 and a letter in the Times from the priest George Tyrell, and publisjed in London, which was against the papal encyclical Pascendi would result in his excommunication for his robust criticisms. The encyclical letter Pascendi Dominici gregis (Feeding the Lord's Flock) was subtitled "On the Doctrines of the Modernists", and had been promulgated by Pope Pius X twenty two days before Tyrell’s letter was published in the Times. Pius X had viewed the church as under siege, intellectually from rationalism and materialism, politically would result in his excommunication for his robust criticisms.


 

The encyclical letter Pascendi Dominici gregis (Feeding the Lord's Flock) was subtitled "On the Doctrines of the Modernists", and had been promulgated by Pope Pius X 22 days before Tyrell’s letter was published in the Times. Pius X had viewed the church as under siege, intellectually from rationalism and materialism, politically from liberalism and anti-clericalism. The pope condemned modernism, which was then a loose movement of Catholic biblical scholars, philosophers and theologians who believed that the church could not ignore new scientific historical research concerning the Bible. The nun and prolific writer Maude Petre would later recall, "We must remember, in fairness to those who were not always fair, that the impact of historical criticism on the traditional teaching of the Church was terrifying; that it seemed a case of saving the very essence of the Christian faith from destruction." One of the books that she published reflected on the relationship that Tyrrell had with von Harnack (June 10) , which showed that Tyrell was critical both of the Catholic neo-Scholasticism to the right and of the Liberal Protestant scholarship to the left. In an often quoted attack on Adolf von Harnack's approach to Biblical criticism, Tyrrell wrote that "the Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of 'Catholic darkness', is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well." However critical of he conservatism of the Vatican Tyrrell advocated "the right of each age to adjust the historico-philosophical expression of Christianity to contemporary certainties, and thus to put an end to this utterly needless conflict between faith and science which is a mere theological bogey. In Tyrrell's view, the pope should not act as an autocrat but a "spokesman for the mind of the Holy Spirit in the Church". Recent studies have asserted that Tyrrell's views were in large part vindicated by the Second Vatican Council


Much of the encyclical was drafted by Joseph Lemius OMI and the Capuchin Cardinal José Calassanç Vives y Tuto. It was the result of what is called the Modernist Crisis, and caused terrible strife at many Catholic universities. It affected many disciplines, but to get a sense of the academic climate we will look at the early days of psychology, and the Austrian Neurologist Sigmund Freud, who had just founded psychoanalysis as a clinical method for treating psychopathology. Freud had set up his clinical practice in Vienna 20 years before the encyclical and there was a growing hope that this new scientific discipline could solve many social probems. Also, psychoanalysts were being seen as a new type of priest, who wealthy clients would confess their sins to, so the clerical establishment felt very threatened by this. In the historical context that may be understandable, as there was a clear overlapping claims to authority. There was a ritual to the meetings of Freuds Wednesday Club, which would mark the beginnings of the worldwide psychoanalytic movement. Hans Frank, one of the regular attendees described it like this “First one of the members would present a paper. Then, black coffee and cakes were served; cigars and cigarettes were on the table and were consumed in great quantities. After a social quarter of an hour, the discussion would begin. The last and decisive word was always spoken by Freud himself. There was the atmosphere of the foundation of a religion in that room. Freud himself was its new prophet who made the heretofore prevailing methods of psychological investigation appear superficial. Freud – although Jewish – regarded God as an illusion, based on the infantile need for a powerful father figure; and therefore religion, necessary to help us restrain violent impulses earlier in the development of civilization, can now be set aside in favour of reason and science. This was one of the reasons for his split with Jung (Sep 10). The encyclical Pascendi condemned the proposition that religion is merely a sentiment based on a psychological need for the divine.


However, it wasn’t just psychology that was attacking religion. Karl Marx’s theories written 50 years before the encyclical had written theories on society which had advocated for the abolition of religion. The encyclical was a response a loose movement of Catholic biblical scholars, philosophers and theologians who believed that the church could not ignore new scientific historical research concerning the Bible. The fundamental error attributed to the modernists was that of denying the capacity of reason to know the truth, thereby reducing everything – including religion, and including Christianity – to subjective experience. Modernists rejected this interpretation, saying their focus was on historical criticism of sacred texts. George Tyrrell SJ was an Irish Catholic priest and a leading modernist theologian and scholar and a convert from Anglicanism, he had joined the Jesuit order. His attempts to adapt Catholic theology to modern culture and science made him a key figure in the modernist controversy and he would be expelled from the Jesuits a year before the encyclical was promulgated. Tyrrell accused Pascendi of equating Catholic doctrine with Scholastic theology and of having a completely naïve view of the idea of doctrinal development. He furthermore asserted that the encyclical tried to show the "modernist" that he was not a Catholic, but all it succeeded in doing was showing that he was not a Scholastic. For his public rejection of Pascendi, Tyrrell was also deprived of the sacraments, in what Peter Amigo, the Bishop of Southwark, characterized as "a minor excommunication" He would die two years later and he was given extreme unction on his deathbed in 1909, but as he refused to abjure his modernist views was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery. A priest, his friend Henri Brémond, was present at the burial and made a sign of the cross over Tyrrell's grave, which resulted in Bishop Amigo temporarily suspending Fr. Bremond a divinis. A near contemporary account places most of the blame for the disagreement between the modern Catholic philosophers and the Vatican on the then Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Merry de Val's "irreconciliable and reactionary attitude".