The church and modernity

By Augustinus

There is a fierce and healthy debate going on in the world church concerning the church’s relationship to “modernity”. Modernity in its current incarnation is known as liberaism. Over at the liberal Catholic Herald, Adrian Vermeule, a highly respected Harvard Law Professor who holds a Chair in constitutional law, argues that liberalism in any form is toxic for the church. See http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2018/01/05/as-secular-liberalism-attacks-the-church-catholics-cant-afford-to-be-nostalgic/

Vermuele also very nicely summarizes some of the positions in the American portion fo the debate. Rusty Reno over at First Things journal argues that liberalism per se is not the problem. It is “creedal liberalism”–i.e. that form of liberalism that arrogantly assumes its own inherent goodness and progressivity etc Similarly the Catholic columnist and blogger over at the New York Times Ross Douthat argues that liberalism per se is not the problem. In fact Douthat looks back to the first half of the 20th century up to the 1950s as an example of how the Church can flourish in a liberal democracy and positively influence the moral tenor of the culture.  Like Douthat and Reno before him the Iranian Catholic blogger over at Commentary Sohrab Ahmari, points to he Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II years as proof that liberalism and catholicism can co-exist and even work together to defeat totalitarianisms.

Vermuele will have none of this. He points to clear historical trends that liberalism and modernity slowly but inexorably eats away at the Faith by undermining those parts of the Church most eager to appear “modern”, “liberal” and “progressive”.  The greatest intellects, the most forward thinking sectors of the church; those churchmen who are using the latest sientific methods etc…all of these individuals begin to advocate an “updating” of doctrine” and practice. They sincerely believe that the updating will attract all those lost souls who hate and despise the church for its ‘antiquated” and “backward”, and “superstitious” doctrines and practices. All of the apparently enlightened and right thinking churchmen want the ‘updating” and that is why, Vermuele  argues, all of the protestant denominations are closing down and apostatizing. They follow their enlightened leaders down a trajectory that their forebears began in the 19th century…they discard antiquated social doctrines, then creedal doctrines that appear to conflict with non-progressive social doctrines and then the Trinity is discarded and finally unitarianism and atheism is the  end result.

But Vermuele does not see much hope in “traditionalist” catholics either as they too are bitten by the very ideology they denounce the most: Modernism. They see the solution to the modernist crisis in the church as a going back to some mythical time when the Church was not in crisis. But Vermuele rightly points out that there is no going back and the church was never not in crisis.

I do not know what Vermuele’s preferred solution is but his firm rejection of all existing proposed solutions seems unassailable.

 

One thought on “The church and modernity

  1. Steve Shields

    From the article, I felt his emphasis on 1 Peter called us to recall that we are pilgrims and strangers in this world. Although I probably missed as much as I understood, it appeared to be a call to abandon political solutions altogether and live the Gospel. Although nostalgia is not surprising, it is futile in the current political landscape. Perhaps this is a different form of the Benedict option?

    Reply

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