“There is a species of person called a “modern Churchman” who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief” Evelyn Waugh.
Modernism is the name given to a movement which originated in the Roman Catholic church, but which quickly spread to the other churches including the Church of England – perhaps first coming to real notice in England in 1860 in a set of essays “Essays and Reviews” one of them by Frederick Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury. These essays were vigorously condemned by the Convocation of Canterbury and two of the essayists were sentenced to a year’s suspension by the Court of Arches. These were followed by leaders such as Inge and Gore.
Dean William Inge Bishop Charles Gore
Fr Pierre Batiffol Fr Alfred Loisy
Modernism, in a sense, resulting from the Enlightenment, believed that religion needed to be interpreted afresh to modern man and it welcomed without reserve the results of historical criticism and scientific discovery with their new outlook on the world, and recognised that the time has come when formulae and doctrinal statements require revision. Modernists could believe or not the Virgin Birth, the empty tomb, the Divinity of Christ. They often distinguished between the historical Christ and the supernatural Christ, and prefer a resurrection of the personality rather than of the body.
The term modernism is used, but today it is just liberalism. Every Archbishop of Canterbury since Randall Davidson in 1901 has to greater or lesser degree been effectively a modernist, with the degree becoming greater as the twentieth century wore on. They had their own magazine from early in the twentieth century the “Modern Churchman”.
It can quite safely be said that today there is not a single bishop in the Church of England who is not a modernist-liberal, for it would not be possible to be recommended for consecration if one were not such. In any case no ordinand is taught anything else.
Modernists maintain that ideas are conditioned by the times, thus they generally believe that most dogma or teachings of the Church came about because of specific circumstances in history. At the same time rationalism reduced the role of miracles, so that the teaching was that the existence of God could never be known and it was argued that religion was caused by, and centred upon the feelings of the believers. This argument weakens any favouring of one religion over another on the principle that if no reasonable assumption of truth can be made, then there should be no privilege given to any particular religion.
The final overall teaching of Modernism is that teachings of the Church, which are required belief can evolve over time not only in expression but in substance rather than remaining immutable. This was what made Modernism unique in the history of heresies. Using the teaching that doctrines could evolve, made it possible for the modernist to believe that both old teachings and new, though contradictory, could be correct. This permits any new belief to be introduced, and hence Modernism has been called “the synthesis of all heresies”.
Modernism has also crept into corners of the Orthodox Church, such as in Paris, and the Phanar, but hopes that it isn’t there widespread beneath the surface, making progress, are just not be realistic.
What this means is that the western churches (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman) have already to a very large extent fallen to a form of religion that is ever-changing, ever moving further away from the norms of the first 1,000 years. Those norms persisted even in the west more or less until the 1400s beginning to change with the preceding Renaissance, but they began their really radical path with the Enlightenment in the early eighteenth century.
While the Enlightenment reached its peak perhaps in the 1790s, it persisted particularly moving into the churches by the 1860s. That is where the real downfall began.
Modernism can – and always has – flourished very well beneath the external trappings of traditional worship. So seeing a seemingly traditionalist minister/priest doing a traditional service is absolutely no guarantee of his orthodoxy. Of course after the great break-out in the aftermath of the Vatican II council, the modernists felt quite free to express their views in new forms of worship, and, in keeping with their ideas of doctrinal development, liturgical development has continued apace.
From time to time, one sees resistance but it is of no avail. There is simply no place to shelter in the western churches for it is simply everywhere.
We need to thoroughly understand that in our time, we are living in a great era of heresy. One may, as Orthodox, comfort oneself with the thought that it is mostly a western thing. That however is foolish. As I said earlier modernism has been in Orthodoxy for around a century and it is even now in the Phanar. Names such as Lampert, Florensky, Bulgakov, Evdokimov straight away spring to mind together with Clement, Bobrinskoi, Schmemann, Men and Meyenforff as well as others.
Olivier Clement Fr Boris Bobrinskoi
Fr Alexander Schmemann Fr John Meyendorff
It is time to worry and to chase it into the open every chance we get. If we do not, then an heresy every bit as widespread as Arianism could gain control of the whole Church. It is probably as omnipresent today within Orthodoxy as it was in the Western churches eighty years ago.
A few years ago the Diocese of Yekatrinaberg in Russia held a public burning of every modernist “Orthodox” book they could get hold of. That got a lot of people’s attention. Perhaps it should happen more often and in more places.
There is no real difference between the modernists, whether they are Anglican, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, their beliefs and aims are much the same. The new interpretations of the Scriptures, the careless attitude to the Tradition, saying that ‘the fathers were rooted in their times, which are not relevant to our times’, talking about ‘the historical context’ of the canons and Scriptures, and a perceived “need” to adapt to the teaching and praxis of the Church to the passing times that we live in are in most cases just developing Christianity steadily away from Christ’s original Way, towards a unity with the secular fads of the present day.
Some modernist writers wrote some very valuable things and are not themselves wholly bad. Here one can only warn people that there is a serious problem and point in very general terms to where it may be found. The intricasies of the whole history of the various modernists-liberals is too complicated for a short introduction such as this. Those with access to the university system can no doubt find further papers. Modernism was not necessarily what they taught as the way they taught it. Modernism opened the entire path for the liberalism that followed, and indeed became commensurate with it. Without the modernism of Inge et al, the liberalism of Holloway probably won’t follow. Once you establish that doctrine is not fixed once for all, and open the idea that it can be developed, then you open the path that we all witnessed as it gathered pace during the last fifty years.
While Schmemann, and Meyendorff certainly said some things very well, they nonetheless had fatal flaws in places and their thinking has ultimately led to liberalism such as has now overtaken St Vladimir’s. Hopko too did some very good work, but nonetheless he too has taught some things at odds with the Orthodox truth. This is the problem – as it always is with Liberals wherever they are, their work can seem attractive, but in the long run it leads us away from the right path. It is seductive and it leads both ordinary clergy and laity alike onto a divergent path. It is not for nothing that Elders have warned us to guard our souls and take great care from whom it is we learn the Faith. Listen to the Fathers, they were not merely writers for their times, they were inspired men who opened the Scriptures for us as well.