The turmoil surrounding the Second Vatican Council was in no wise different from that of the First. Problems facing John Paul I as the first “post Vatican II pope” were similar, even in many cases the same as those facing Leo XIII. This makes sense, for Vatican II was construed as a continuation of Vatican I, although so many interpretations have been forced on to Vatican II that many people forget what the whole thing was about.
|Pope Pius IX|
And that was, as we saw in the previous posting in this series, with the twin definitions of papal infallibility and the primacy of reason in the First Vatican Council, to “take back” religion from the socialists, modernists, and New Agers. That is why the Catholic Church went on the “offensive” (so to speak) starting with Leo XIII and moved into the forefront of the battle with the “new things” of the modern world.
Pius IX, knowing full well he would not live forever, had done his best to prepare for what, with no fear of exaggeration, could be termed a titanic struggle. John XXIII and Paul VI, who saw the beginning of the renewed offensive by adherents of the “new things,” did the same, which may be the chief reason John Paul I and his immediate successor chose the name they did.
At stake is the very nature of existence itself. This affects not merely the Catholic Church, nor is it confined to religious society. Most, if not all, of the aberrations in Church, State, and now in the early twenty-first century the Family, have their origin in the revolt against reason in the early nineteenth century — ironically, a rebellion frequently carried out in the name of reason.
|Dr. Heinrich A. Rommen|
Whether law, finance, religion, even what constitutes marriage and family, all of it results from a shift from nature (in Thomist philosophy, God’s Nature reflected in that of each human being and discernible by reason), to supernature without a grounding in justice. Supernature, a matter of opinion so far as civil society is concerned, is necessarily based on whoever has the ability to persuade by reason (rejected by the New Christian movement), or the power to force his or her will on others.
As Heinrich Rommen observed as the inevitable end of this movement in his book on the natural law, “might makes right.” Most simply put, this was a shift from the Intellect (reason) to the Will (faith) in discerning truth, a change that, when successful, ends in the Triumph of the Will.
Thus, with the death of Pope Pius IX in February of 1878, both liberals and conservatives thought the way was cleared for them to have the kind of Catholic Church they had been prevented from having under Pius. As we might expect, the liberals wanted a less “authoritarian” and more “authoritative” Church, i.e., one that would make recommendations and suggestions, but basically let people do whatever they wanted if they felt strongly enough about it.
The conservatives wanted to return to an imaginary time when everything the Church said (or, at least, their interpretation of it) was regarded as unchanging and unchangeable, whether that meant strict Trinitarian doctrine, or the color of vestments during the celebration of the liturgy. Neither party was willing to accept the fact that while essential doctrine must be unchanging, “disciplines” — applications of doctrine — are subject to change and, in fact, must change to adapt the application of essential teachings to an ever-changing world.
|Pope Leo XIII|
During the conclave, not able to compromise or come to a decision as to which candidate would best realize the contradictory goals of both liberals and conservatives, the cardinals elected the elderly and frail Gioacchino Vincenzo Pecci, Cardinal Archbishop-Bishop of Perugia. As Cardinal Pecci was not expected to live very long (it was thought he would die even before being installed), members of both parties believed this would give them time to marshal their forces, gather allies, and be in a good position to elect a candidate more favorable to their respective agendas.
Surprising everyone (most of all himself), Pecci — who chose the name Leo XIII — frustrated the various factions who wanted to remake the Church into their own images and likenesses and went on to have the second longest pontificate in history up to that time. From his first encyclical, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio, issued two months after his election, he condemned the liberal agenda as “the Evils Affecting Modern Society,” and signaled his intention to take Christianity back from the socialists, modernists, and New Agers (we use these terms for convenience, although they are anachronistic; “modernism” and “the New Age” date from the early 1800s, but were not so called that until the latter part of the century).
In his second encyclical eight months later, Quod Apostolici Muneris, Leo XIII specified “Socialism, Communism, and Nihilism” as chief among the dangers to which he referred. Six months after that he issued an encyclical identifying the principal cause of those evils: the massive confusion between the roles of reason and faith — of nature and supernature. This was Æterni Patris.
Thereafter followed a series of encyclicals identifying specific problems and explaining the errors involved. Unfortunately, matters had degenerated to the point where the old tactic of simply pointing out what was wrong and explaining why it was wrong was no longer effective.
|Father Edward McGlynn|
This is similar to what has happened in our day, when encyclicals have fallen into a pattern of saying “more and more about less and less.” There is a very good reason for this, as will be explained later in this series — but the tactic of having longer and longer encyclicals does not appear to be effective.
This may be because encyclicals have gotten so lengthy trying to say too much that it becomes easy for anyone with an agenda to find something in them to twist and distort. At the same time, it has become much more difficult for honest readers to get the point. In the opinion of this writer, the strategy is right, but the tactic has gotten off track.
What appears to have brought this home to Leo XIII and inspired him to take a much more proactive approach, one more in keeping with his personal leadership philosophy, was the notorious “McGlynn Affair.” This scandalized orthodox Christians of all churches and right-thinking people of all faiths and philosophies in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
Very briefly (for the relevant details and documentary support for the story are in an upcoming book, as yet untitled), there was a renegade priest of the New York Archdiocese who was an avid supporter of the New Christianity. This was Father Edward McGlynn, who became extremely vocal in his support for socialism and vindictive and malicious in his attacks on the Catholic Church in general, and the hierarchy in particular, in those intervals when he wasn’t attacking the new Catholic school system.
Matters came to a head during the New York City mayoral campaign of 1886 when McGlynn was active in his support for the candidacy of the agrarian socialist Henry George. George, the author of Progress and Poverty (1879) — one of the two most influential socialist books written in America in the nineteenth century — regarded McGlynn as a “prophet” of the New Christianity, and McGlynn returned the favor.
Although McGlynn was silenced for most of the campaign by Archbishop Michael Corrigan, McGlynn and George exploded in fury once an open attack on the Church could no longer hurt George’s election chances. They blamed George’s loss to the Democrat Abram Hewitt on interference by the Catholic Church and voter fraud by the Republican Party (the Old Guard of which, to prevent a socialist from being elected, instructed Republicans to vote for Hewitt instead of Theodore Roosevelt, for which Roosevelt never forgave them), even though objective commentators have stated that neither was a factor.
Such was McGlynn’s vitriol that he was summoned to the Vatican to explain his actions. He probably would have gone after the first summons, but George interfered and persuaded McGlynn that Leo XIII was infringing on his rights as an American citizen.
Finally, in May of 1887, after McGlynn had ignored two previous orders issued by the Propaganda Fide, the pope himself commanded McGlynn to appear within forty days, or he would be excommunicated for disobedience. Although McGlynn complained that he was too ill to travel (and immediately took a trip to the western frontier to avoid being in town to receive the notice of excommunication), Archbishop Corrigan excommunicated McGlynn as ordered on July 5, 1887.
|Archbishop Michael A. Corrigan|
In the interim between the mayoral campaign and McGlynn’s excommunication, there are hints that Leo XIII was beginning to consider a change in tactics. Having seen the ease with which George, McGlynn, and other New Christian and New Age socialists persuaded people to accept their new faith, the pope evidently believed something different was needed. That something was planned is evident, for on January 22, 1887, Bernard John McQuaid, Bishop of Rochester, New York, wrote to Corrigan that “The Holy Father will probably issue a dogmatic decision on the question [of socialism].”
The problem was that Leo XIII had already done so — twice — to no apparent effect. Earlier popes had also been adamant in their condemnation of “the democratic religion,” and had also been ignored.
It took more than four years, but Leo XIII’s answer to the problem of socialism, modernism, and the New Age was, while strictly orthodox and not changing one iota of the smallest part of Catholic doctrine, genuinely revolutionary. Had the forces of unreason — socialism, modernism, and the New Age — not been so well-entrenched and had not the situation continued to evolve so rapidly (as it did following the Second Vatican Council), the pope’s response would have settled the question for good.
As it was, Leo XIII was very nearly successful, and threw adherents of the New Christian/Neo-Catholic movement into a panic. His response was the encyclical Rerum Novarum, “On the Condition of Labor,” issued May 15, 1891.#30#