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THE Global Justice Movement Website
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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Faith OR Reason, or Faith AND Reason?

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, at the heart of the “new things” of which Pope Gregory XVI and Pope Leo XIII spoke is something called “the theory of certitude” developed by Félicité de Lamennais, and is the foundation of “Christian socialism.”


De Lamennais’s Christian socialism differed from the more usual type of the Democratic Religion, as socialism was originally called.  It did this by making the Catholic Church the sole authority on Earth, rather than the State, as did the other forms of socialism.  Ultimately, of course, this is like the difference between socialism and capitalism.

It doesn’t matter to the average citizen whether the Church has taken over State and Family, or the State has taken over Church and Family, for the Family as well as the individual are still left out of the power structure and get absorbed by the more powerful society.  Similarly, whether a private sector élite controls the economy or a State bureaucracy, the ordinary individual and the Family are utterly at the mercy of whoever controls how they may participate in economic — and thus civil — life.

Msgr. Knox: modernists reject reason.


In de Lamennais’s scheme, the pope should rule the world, which requires omnipotence, not just an infallible teaching authority in faith and morals.  In this way, in de Lamennais’s theories, infallibility became the doctrine that something is true because the pope, Church or Magisterium says so, rather than the traditional, orthodox view that the pope (or Church or Magisterium) says so because it is true.  Faith (really personal opinion) became stronger than “[m]an’s miserable intellect” (Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, 3, 578-580, 585-587.) and could contradict reason.  As Pope Saint Pius X later summed it up, by putting personal opinion above what can be proved by reason, modernism is “the synthesis of all heresies.” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 39.)

That is also why the first article in the Oath Against Modernism declares the primacy of the intellect: “[F]irst of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world, that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated.”

Dr. Heinrich A. Rommen


Any opinion could now be justified if one’s faith was strong enough.  Church teaching could be used to support socialism, capitalism, even nihilism or Satan worship.  It was only necessary to find a statement or incident (or anything else) that could be twisted to support a strongly held personal opinion, and it was ipso facto true.  By making faith instead of reason the basis of natural law, anything goes.  In that way, as Dr. Heinrich Albert Rommen, a student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., explained,

[M]orality depends on the will of God.  A thing is good not because it corresponds to the nature of God or, analogically, to the nature of man, but because God so wills.  Hence the lex naturalis could be other than it is even materially or as to content, because it has no intrinsic connection with God’s essence, which is self-conscious in His intellect.  The laws of the second table of the Decalogue were no longer unalterable.  An evolution set in which would lead to pure moral positivism, indeed to nihilism. (Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy.  Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51-52 [edited].)

The theory of certitude explains de Lamennais’s intense and ostensibly orthodox focus on the problems of religious indifferentism and Gallicanism as well as his rejection of the radical liberal version of the separation of Church and State.  After all, if only the pope can tell people what is right and wrong, anyone rejecting or ignoring the claims of the Catholic Church (indifferentism) is damned for not being a Catholic, and a virtual criminal in the civil order — an enemy of the people, and a traitor to Christ.

Charles Forbes René de Montalembert


As for Gallicanism, the French version of subordinating the Church to the civil authority, as far as de Lamennais was concerned it inverted the proper order of subordinating the State to the Church.  Separation of Church and State, which the radical liberals insisted means that religion is to be completely separate from civil and at times even domestic life, was also anathema to de Lamennais.  In common with all enthusiasts, as Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox noted in Enthusiasm (1950), the only acceptable arrangement for de Lamennais was a theocracy, with the pope as ultimate civil and religious authority. (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 3, 584-587.)

Obviously, there is a great deal of truth mixed in with these errors, making discernment of them at times very difficult.  As Charles Forbes René de Montalembert, a friend and associate of de Lamennais, noted years later after breaking with him,

To new and fair practical notions, honest in themselves, which have for the last twenty years been the daily bread of Catholic polemics, we had been foolish enough to add extreme and rash theories; and to defend both with absolute logic, which loses, even when it does not dishonour, every cause. (Montalembert, from his Life of Lacordaire, quoted by John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Note on Essay IV., The Fall of La Mennais,” Essays Critical and Historical.  London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897, 173-174.)