Friday, 24 May 2013

Pope Pius XII - On the "New Theologians"

This brilliant passage from Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis demonstrates very clearly the folly of "neo-modernism," or the "New Theology," which has become so rampant in these times. It also shows the folly of departing from scholastic theology, which is given a place of particular esteem in the ranks of the Catholic Church. The words of this encyclical are almost prophetic, having been written just before the time of Vatican II, when the New Theology began to infiltrate mainstream Catholicism. 


14. In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers, to bring about a return in the explanation of Catholic doctrine to the way of speaking used in Holy Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents.

15. Moreover, they assert that when Catholic doctrine has been reduced to this condition, a way will be found to satisfy modern needs, that will permit of dogma being expressed also by the concepts of modern philosophy, whether of immanentism or idealism or existentialism or any other system. Some more audacious affirm that this can and must be done, because they hold that the mysteries of faith are never expressed by truly adequate concepts but only by approximate and ever changeable notions, in which the truth is to some extent expressed, but is necessarily distorted. Wherefore they do not consider it absurd, but altogether necessary, that theology should substitute new concepts in place of the old ones in keeping with the various philosophies which in the course of time it uses as its instruments, so that it should give human expression to divine truths in various ways which are even somewhat opposed, but still equivalent, as they say. They add that the history of dogmas consists in the reporting of the various forms in which revealed truth has been clothed, forms that have succeeded one another in accordance with the different teachings and opinions that have arisen over the course of the centuries.

16. It is evident from what We have already said, that such tentatives not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism, but that they actually contain it. The contempt of doctrine commonly taught and of the terms in which it is expressed strongly favor it. Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Ecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them.

17. Hence to neglect, or to reject, or to devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected so often by the age-old work of men endowed with no common talent and holiness, working under the vigilant supervision of the holy magisterium and with the light and leadership of the Holy Ghost in order to state the truths of the faith ever more accurately, to do this so that these things may be replaced by conjectural notions and by some formless and unstable tenets of a new philosophy, tenets which, like the flowers of the field, are in existence today and die tomorrow; this is supreme imprudence and something that would make dogma itself a reed shaken by the wind. The contempt for terms and notions habitually used by scholastic theologians leads of itself to the weakening of what they call speculative theology, a discipline which these men consider devoid of true certitude because it is based on theological reasoning.

18. Unfortunately these advocates of novelty easily pass from despising scholastic theology to the neglect of and even contempt for the Teaching Authority of the Church itself, which gives such authoritative approval to scholastic theology....


  1. Humani Generis is pure gold. ☺

    It is very likely that Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., drafted it because during the New Theology debates it was basically Fr. G.-L. versus his own Dominican confreres, the Jesuits, and the two orders' superiors; viz., David versus Goliath. ☺

    See: Jürgen Mettepenningen. Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II. London; New York: T & T Clark, 2010, pp. 101-11.

    Pg. 102 says: "the members of the General Congregation, among them Henri de Lubac, were treated to an address by Pope Pius XII in Castel Gandolfo. According to de Lubac, the Pope’s address took an unexpected swipe at the dangers of the ‘nova theologia’ and it insisted on the retention of Thomism."
    I'd really like to find this speech. It's mentioned in De Lubac, Mémoire sur l’occasion de mes écrits, pp. 61–62.

    Also, have you read Greenstock, David L., T.O.P., "Thomism and the New Theology," The Thomist, 13 (1950) p. 567., from which "Don Paco" extracts this excellent quote for his Ite ad Thomam blog?

  2. Wow, I'll definitely be reading those. Thanks for the links!

  3. This is definitely going to be bookmarked :)