Pascendi exposes Modernist tactics

Pope St. Pius X exposes the tactics used by Modernists to spread their errors.

This article by Fr. Francois Knittel was originally published in the April 2004 issue of The Angelus magazine.

Modernist tactics according Pascendi Gregis

We wish to honor Pope St. Pius X, the first canonized pontiff that the good Lord gave us since St. Pius V, by remembering his teachings. The task is not easy, since the teachings of his 11-year pontificate are abundant: his Catechism;[1] frequent Communion[2] and at an early age;[3] Catholic Action;[4] devotion to Our Lady;[5] the responsibility of those who govern the Church;[6] the Priesthood;[7] the doctrine of St. Thomas of Aquinas[8] and that of many others.

Some of the most interesting of St. Pius X's teachings to recall are those on Modernism. The three documents vital to the subject are Lamentabili Sane (July 3, 1907), Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Sept. 8, 1907), and Sacrorum Antistitum (Sept. 1, 1910). Without any doubt, the most well-known aspect of this teaching on Modernism is the description that St. Pius X gives of the successive faces of the Modernist: the philosopher, believer, theologian, critic, apologist, and reformer. It is a long and arduous text that measures up to the challenge which confronted the Church and its magisterium.

As for us, we will emphasize what St. Pius X wrote on the tactics of the Modernists. The holy Pope was worried not only about the doctrinal aspects of this question, but also about the progress of this error in minds and hearts. How could a doctrine so complex, overwhelming, and contrary to the natural structure of human intelligence have such dissemination? How can we justify all the new measures taken by the Pope—Anti-Modernist Oath, vigilance counsels, exclusion of Modernists from the priesthood and teaching positions, prohibition to publish, control over priestly conventions—knowing that the Church always had to fight against one heresy or other in the course of its history? Why such particular treatment? From the very beginning of his encyclical on Modernism, St. Pius X said:

Still it must be confessed that the number of the enemies of the Cross of Christ has in this days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ's kingdom itself."[9]

What are these new arts full of subtlety used by the Modernists unmasked by the Pontiff?

Enemies within

Above all, they are the enemy inside the Church itself. For if we consult our catechism, we will see that those who are outside the Church are the infidels, the heretics, the schismatics, and the apostates. Some were never part of the Church (infidels), some abandoned the Church because of their sins against the Faith (heretics and apostates), or against charity (schismatics), but all, some sooner than others, separated themselves from the Church. That very same separation had the advantage of clarifying the situation and alerting the Catholic faithful against the teachings and actions of these “devouring wolves.”

Nothing of the sort happened with the Modernists whose primary characteristic is to try to stay within the Church at all cost:

That we make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church's open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuous they appear.[10]

[W]e allude... to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself,... and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church.

...And this policy they follow willingly and wittingly, both because it is part of their system that authority is to be stimulated but not dethroned, and because it is necessary for them to remain within the ranks of the Church in order that they may gradually transform the collective conscience—thus unconsciously avowing that the common conscience is not with them, and that they have no right to claim to be its interpreters."[11]

Thus it is obvious that there is a firm desire not to get out of the visible structure of the Church, so that they can, at their whim, modify it from the inside. These are the wolves mentioned by Our Lord, “in the clothing of sheep” (Mt. 7:15). Their dissimulation is not accidental, but essential to their works; without it they could not do anything.

Destroying the Catholic Faith itself

By remaining within the Church under false pretenses, the Modernists try to modify, and thus destroy, the Catholic Faith. Their attacks are not going to be against an institution or a dogma in particular, but will aim at the very virtue of faith:

Moreover they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic Truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt.[12]

Certainly this suffices to show superabundantly by how many roads Modernism leads to the annihilation of all religion. The first step in this direction was taken by Protestantism; the second is made by Modernism; the next will plunge headlong into atheism.[13]

And now, can anybody who takes a survey of the whole system be surprised that We should define it as the synthesis of all heresies? Were one to attempt the task of collecting together all the errors that have been broached against the faith and to concentrate the sap and substance of them all into one, he could no better succeed than the Modernists have done."[14]

It is true that any heresy destroys the Catholic Faith by implicitly doubting the authority of God the Revealer. For if we believe in the revealed truths (Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption, Holy Eucharist, etc.) it is not by personal taste, whim, or opinion, nor because said truths are evident. The only true motive that makes us believe without the shadow of a doubt is precisely the authority of God, who cannot lie, who cannot be in error, who cannot be ignorant. But to deny a dogma is the equivalent of denying God, who unveiled His mysteries for us, His inerrancy and infallibility. It is in that sense that willful heresy will result in the loss of the virtue of faith.

Modernism, as St. Pius X teaches, not only will result in the loss of the virtue of faith like any other heresy, but will even make the existence of said virtue impossible. In Modernism, everything is reduced to a natural dimension, everything is enclosed in the subject, everything is borne out of the desires coming from the depth of consciousness. There is no longer any room for supernatural, mysterious, external, and objective realities. The problem is no longer on this or that particular point of doctrine or morals, but it is the very possibility of the act of faith as defined by our catechism which is destroyed.

Hence “there is no part of Catholic truth which they do not strive to destroy.” Hence also the definition of Modernism as “the synthesis of all heresies.” Hence finally, the ultimate consequence of this revolutionary movement is “atheism.”

Smokescreen of confusion in Modernist doctrine

At the service of his will to effect the radical subversion of Catholic doctrine within the Church, the Modernist will use several subterfuges. First, he will mix in his speeches and writings, in a strange and dangerous fashion, Catholicism and Rationalism. What is Rationalism? Pope Pius IX defined it in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) as:

Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural forces, to secure the welfare of men and nations." (Condemned Propostion No. 3)

Upon reading this definition of Rationalism, we cannot but notice the radical opposition between Rationalism and the Catholic Faith. One of the infallible signs betraying the Modernist character of an author or some writing, is precisely that adulterous union between Catholicism and Rationalism:

For they double the part of the rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error.[15]

Hence, in their books you find some things that might well be expressed by a Catholic, but in the next page you will find other things which might have been dictated by a rationalist."[16]

This adulterous union between Catholic thought and rationalist thought is the direct result of the Modernist's will to stay within the Church in order to change the Faith from inside. To speak clearly against the Faith would immediately render them visible and mark them in everyone's eyes with the infamous seal of heresy and apostasy! That is why they never speak clearly.

Every Modernist sustains and comprises within himself many personalities which appear and disappear according to the necessities of the cause and the opportunities of the moment. It is this evidence which gave the encyclical Pascendi its particular structure. To reveal the Modernist in hiding, St. Pius X had to explain in detail all the disguises, tricks and feints used by the Modernist to avoid the judgment of the Magisterium:

It must be first noted that every Modernist sustains and comprises within himself many personalities: he is a philosopher, a believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apologist, a reformer. These roles must be clearly distinguished from one another by all who would accurately know their system and thoroughly comprehend the principles and consequences of their doctrines."[17]

Lastly, the final trait of the Modernist: he gives the impression that his doctrines lack global vision. Thus, in the eyes of an unwary Catholic, the doctrines of the Modernists will appear fluctuating, insecure, indecisive, and even contradictory. Pope Pius X did not share that view as he explained in several instances:

But since the Modernists... employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while in reality they are firm and steadfast, it will be of ad vantage... to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connection between them, and thus to pass an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil.[18]

In the writing and addresses they seem not infrequently to advocate now one doctrine now another so that one would be disposed to regard them as vague and doubtful. But there is a reason for this, and it is to be found in their ideas as to the mutual separation of science and faith.[19]

It may be... that some may think We have dwelt too long on this exposition of the doctrines of the Modernists. But it was necessary, both in order to refute their customary charge that We do not understand their ideas, and to show that their system does not consist in scattered and unconnected theories but in a perfectly organized body, all the parts of which are solidly joined so that it is not possible to admit one without admitting all."[20]

Undoubtedly, one of the benefits of Pascendi Gregis was to show the Modernist doctrine in all its scope and as a coherent system. To stick one's finger into the Modernist machinery is to lose your whole body. To be Modernist in history will lead, little by little, to become so in exegesis and philosophy as well. The adulterous union between Catholic principles and rationalist principles is a fundamental perversion very frequently condemned by the Popes.

Practice of Modernism

After showing us how the Modernists are the enemy within, who endanger the very Faith without ever giving a global overview of their system, Pope Pius X unmasked three practical points that make the Modernists actions particularly dangerous. When in spite of their deceptions, some Modernists are unmasked by the authority, called to public retractation, or even publicly condemned, they usually give the appearance of submission to the measures that affect them:

But you know how fruitless has been Our action. They bowed their head for a moment but it was soon uplifted more arrogantly than ever.[21]

And thus, here again a way must be found to save the full rights of authority on the one hand and of liberty on the other. In the meanwhile the proper course for the Catholic will be to proclaim publicly his profound respect for authority-and continue to follow his own bent.[22]

And so they go their own way, reprimands and condemnations notwithstanding, masking an incredible audacity under a mock semblance of humility. While they make a show of bowing their heads, their hands and minds are more intent than ever on carrying out their purposes."[23]

That apparent submission is perfectly coherent with the deliberate decision of the Modernists to stay in the Church. If they rebelled against authority or openly despised the truths of our Faith, they would thus unmask themselves. That apparent submission to the decisions of the authorities, even hard penalties, is a key element of Modernist tactics.

The other side of the coin in that the return of a Modernist to the totality of the Faith is always doubtful. How can one be certain of the sincerity of such a conversion when dissimulation and hypocrisy are at the root of the system? Didn't all these fashionable Modernist theologians of the last 50 years repeatedly swear the Anti-Modernist Oath: Chenu, Rahner, Congar, Küng, Drewerman and Boff, to mention a few? With that apparent submission to the authorities, Modernists frequently lead as well an externally exemplary life:

To this must be added the fact, which indeed is well calculated to deceive souls, that they lead a life of the greatest activity, of assiduous and ardent application to every branch of learning, and that they possess, as a rule, a reputation for the strictest morality."[24]

Here, too, they could not remain in the Church without apparently keeping the discipline of the Church and its way of life. The apostate or the one who seeks laicization will bring himself to the attention of the Catholic faithful.

In virtue of the necessary connection between what one thinks and what one does, it is legitimate to think that this exemplary life is nothing but external. Let us recall for instance, the weird relations maintained by Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner,[25] or Hans Urs von Balthasar,[26] and of the prince of liberation theologians, the Franciscan Leonardo Boff who recently abandoned the priesthood.[27]

Attracting public opinion

The last Modernist tactic indicated by Pope Pius X is the manipulation of public opinion. This manipulation is done in two phases:

  1. It is necessary to silence any serious opponent of Modernism. Any serious debate with said opponent will be avoided, his works opposed to Modernism will not be mentioned, and their publication will even be prevented if possible, and
  2. at the same time, every Modernist speech or book will be praised to the sky. The use and multiplication of pen names used by some Modernist authors will give the impression of a wave of opinion, when frequently, in fact, we are dealing with a few authors singing one another's praises.

...[t]he boundless effrontery of these men. Let one but open his mouth and the others applaud him in chorus, proclaiming that science has made another step forward; let an outsider but hint at a desire to inspect the new discovery with his own eyes, and they are on him in a body; deny it, and you are an ignoramus; embrace and defend it, and there is no praise too warm for you. In this way they win over any who, did they but realize what they are doing, would shrink back with horror.[28]

But of all the insults they heap on them, those of ignorance and obstinacy are the favorites. When an adversary rises up against them with an erudition and force that render him redoubtable, they try to make a conspiracy of silence around him to nullify the effects of his attacks, while in flagrant contrast with this policy towards Catholics, they load with constant praise the writers who range themselves on their side.[29]

When one of their numbers falls under the condemnation of the Church the rest of them, to the horror of good Catholics, gather round him, heap public praise upon him, venerate him almost as a martyr to truth.[30]

Under their own names and under pseudonyms they publish numbers of books, newspapers, reviews, and sometimes one and the same writer adopts a variety of pseudonyms to trap the incautious reader into believing in a whole multitude of Modernist writers."[31]

When truth is no longer the measure of the validity of an argument, then there is no other way than to look for palliatives to cover its intrinsic weakness. In an era of democracy, truth does not count for much, only the majority; neither does honesty, only power and fame. On the contrary, woe to those who do not blow with the prevalent winds of history. Woe to those who do not board the great ship of progress. They will be buried alive in a lead coffin. They will not find publishers for their books, nor a single magazine for their articles, no chair for them to teach, and the faithful will never hear their voice even though it is the voice of the Good Shepherd.

A secret society?

To conclude his analysis of Modernist tactics with practical advice, Pope Pius X called for the unmasking of Modernism. Faced with such hypocritical and deceitful error, only one thing needs to be done: bring it out to the light of day so that all can see its evil.

We must now break silence, in order to expose before the whole Church in their true colors those men who have assumed this evil disguise."[32]

It is very interesting to compare this order of the Holy Pontiff with that of his predecessor Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Humanum Genus in condemnation of Freemasonry:

We wish it to be your rule first of all to tear away the mask from Freemasonry, and to let it be seen as it really is.[33]

The comparison of these two texts—one on Modernism and the other on Freemasonry—does suggest a similarity between these two revolutionary events. The two Pontiffs seems to suggest a kinship between the Masonic sect and the Modernist sect. Perhaps some will think excessive the use of the expression “Modernist sect.” However, here too, we are only echoing the teachings of Pope St. Pius X:

We think it is obvious to every bishop that the type of men called Modernists, whose personality was described in the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, have not stopped agitating in order to disturb the peace of the Church. Nor have they ceased to recruit followers to the extent of forming an underground group. In this way they are injecting the virus of their doctrine into the veins of Christian society, publishing books and articles either unsigned or under false names. A fresh and careful reading of Our said encyclical reveals clearly that this deliberate shrewdness is to be expected from those men We described in it. They are enemies all the more formidable as they are so close. They take advantage of their ministry by offering their poisoned food and catching the unguarded by surprise. They supply a false doctrine which is the compendium of all errors."[34]

Thus, St. Pius X did speak of the Modernists as an “underground group.” Few authors have noticed and examined this detail. In an article of April 1964, Jean Madiran did made the following observations:

In the encyclical Pascendi, Pope Pius X mentioned several times and in various manners the “occult” action of Modernists. Is it a secret society in the strict sense? The encyclical Pascendi implies it though does not affirm it clearly.

Three years later, however, this formal accusation was made by Pope Pius X (Sacrorum Antistitum of Sept. 1, 1910):

[the] Modernists, whose personality was described in the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, have not stopped agitating in order to disturb the peace of the Church. Neither have they ceased to recruit followers to the extent of forming an underground group.

...We have consulted books and magazines that gave the “history” or the “results” of Modernism since World War II: we did not find any mention of this specific aspect of the question. Not only is the secret society is omitted, but the presentation of Modernism made by many authors implicitly denied it ever existed. It is denied by the fact that their presentation of Modernism is incompatible with the existence of the secret society of Modernists. They do mention writers, investigators, editors, and clergymen undoubtedly in error, but guileless souls: certainly true for many, but insufficient to explain the historical phenomenon of Modernism. It does not explain its organized preponderance, nor the concerted campaigns, nor the medley of insults and praises, nor the premeditated tactics, nor the occult activities described in the encyclical Pascendi. Neither does it explain the accusation of “underground group” of the Motu Proprio of Sept. 1, 1910 [Sacrorum Antistitum].

All the stories of the Modernist crisis, these “analyses” of Modernism, and the judgments expressed have been radically corrupted because of the systematic ignorance and dissimulation of such an important element of judgment... By hiding the existence of the secret society, the historians obviously did not shed any light on its disappearance.

Nonetheless, this is an unresolved historical question, indeed, an open question, that is, when did the secret society of Modernists cease to exist? We cannot even ask if they were “reconstituted” at a later date, for to be reconstituted it is necessary to have ceased to exist; but we do not know if and when it was dissolved. Not only is no answer given, but the question itself is not even raised.

Historians of the crisis think that the encyclical Pascendi in 1907 mortally wounded Modernism and that that was the end of it, and even too brutal and complete of an end. That was not the position of Pope Pius X who, three years later, on Sept. 1, 1910, clearly affirmed: “Nor have they ceased to recruit followers to the extent of forming an underground group.” They had not ceased. But then, when did they cease? Or did they ever cease?"[35]

The Modernist is an apostate and a traitor

In conclusion, we will let Fr. Calmel, O.P., give us a panoramic view of the question of Modernism in its theological, moral, spiritual, and tactical aspects:

The classic heretic—Arius, Nestorius, Luther—even if he had some wistful desire to remain in the Catholic Church, did everything necessary to be ousted. He fought openly against Divine Revelation, the sacred deposit of which is guarded by the Church. The heretic, or more accurately the Modernist apostate like a Loisy or Teilhard de Chardin, deliberately rejects the whole doctrine of the Church, but desires to remain in the Church and takes the necessary measures to stay in. He dissembles and feigns with the hope of changing the Church in the long run—or, as the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin wrote, to rectify the Faith from the inside. The Modernist has in common with other heretics the rejection of Catholic Revelation. But he differentiates himself from other heretics, because he hides this rejection. We must insist on this: the Modernist is an apostate and a traitor.

You may ask, “Since the position of the Modernists is fundamentally disloyal, how can he keep it all his life without destroying his internal mental balance?” Is psychological balance compatible with a perpetually maintained duplicity in the most supreme questions? We must answer that yes it is, as far as the ringleaders are concerned.

With respect to the followers, the question of the psychological imbalance within a never-failing hypocrisy is less acute. When these followers are priests—alas, only too frequently—they usually end up marrying, thus putting an end to the necessity of dissimulation. For once they are married, they will continue to be apostate, but will stop being Modernists. Things become clearer with respect to them. They no longer have to fake the virtues of a Catholic priest.

Concerning the ringleaders, prelates with important charges, if they can practice their Modernism without serious damage, it is with a doubt because they are distracted by accomplices who never get tired of singing their praises. Distracted from looking at themselves, they manage to escape the burning questions of a slowly dying moral conscience.

In any case, the blindness of the mind and the hardening of the heart will always be the end of the road, but without necessarily leading to dementia. We are certain that closing oneself in spiritual darkness does not happen at once, but it is prepared slowly by numerous acts of resistance to grace. This divine chastisement is merited by numerous sins. What is more, if any other sinner can recognize himself as such and beg divine mercy, we must admit that a sinner of that type cannot convert if not for a great miracle of grace: a very rare one."




1 Acerbo Nimis (April 15, 1905).

2 Sacra Tridentina Synodus (Dec. 20, 1905).

3 Quam Singulari (Aug. 8, 1910).

4 Il Fermo Proposito (June 11, 1905).

5 Ad Diem Ilium Laetissimum (Feb. 2, 1904).

6 Jucunda Sane (Mar. 12, 1904).

7 Haerent Animo (Aug. 4, 1908).

8 Doctoris Angelicis (June 29, 1914).

9 Pascendi Dominici Gregis, ed. Claudia Carlin (Pierian Press), p. 71.

10 Ibid., col. 2.

11 Ibid., p. 83, col. 2.

12 Ibid., p. 72, col. 1.

13 Ibid., p. 90, col. 1.

14 Ibid., p. 89, col. 1.

15 Ibid., p. 72, col. 1.

16 Ibid., p. 78, cols. 1,2.

17 Ibid., p. 72, col. 2.

18 Ibid., p. 72, col 2.

19 Ibid., p. 78,col. 1.

20 Ibid., p. 88, col. 1.

21 AW., p. 72, col. 1.

22 AW, p. 82, col. 1.

23 AW., p. 83, col. 2.

24 Ibid., p. 72, col. 1.

25 Courrier de Rome, (March 1995), p. 8.

26 Si Si No No, Italian ed., (Dec. 1992), p. 7.

27 Translator's note: He died shortly thereafter.

28 Pascendi, p. 86, col. 2.

29 Ibid., p. 9l, col. 2; p. 92, col 1.

30 Ibid., p.92, col. 1.

31 Ibid., p. 92, col. 1.

32 AW., p. 72, cols. 1, 2.

33 The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 2 (Pierian Press), p. 99, col. 2.

34 Sacrorum Antistitum (Sept. 1, 1910), The Doctrinal Writings of St. Pius X (Manilla, Philippine Islands: Sinag-tala Publishers, 1974).

35 Author's translation of a Spanish translation (for which he could not find a reference) of an article originally in French.

Translated for Angelus Press by Fr. Jaime Pazat de Lys of the Society of St. Pius X. The author, Fr. Francis Knittel, was ordained for the Society of St. Pius X in 1989 and a former District Superior of Mexico.