RORATE CÆLI: 60 Years of Vatican II – ‘THE COUNCIL AND THE ECLIPSE OF GOD’ by Don Pietro Leone

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Father Fahey’s analysis of Modernism serves as an all too accurate critique of the  Council’s theology.

RORATE CÆLI: 60 Years of Vatican II – ‘THE COUNCIL AND THE ECLIPSE OF GOD’ by Don Pietro Leone – CHAPTER 10: ‘The Causes of Council Teaching’ (part 2): B. THEOLOGY


In this chapter we shall consider:

          I      The Sources of Antirealist Subjectivism;

         II      The Principal Agents involved in the Council:

         III    The Features of the Texts influential for Promoting the Council’s Program.

I     The Sources of Antirealist Subjectivism   

Since we have situated the evil of Council teaching in the false principle of ‘antirealist subjectivism’, our search for the causes of Council teaching will begin with a search for the source of this principle, namely in the following fields:

           A.   Metaphysics;
           B.   Theology;
           C.   Religion;
           D.   Psychology.

A.   Metaphysics

We here present:

      Introduction: Philosophy and Faith;
1. Modern Philosophy;
2. Marks of Modern Philosophy on the Council.

Introduction: Philosophy and Faith

Now the principle of theological knowledge, as we have said above, is reason illuminated by the Faith. Obviously different philosophical schools will adopt different principles of reason to attain such an end, amongst which we will sometimes find the marks of intellectual and moral weakness. Pope Leo XIII explicitly condemns initiatives to dilute Catholic doctrine on the pretext that [1]: ‘… the Church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigour, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods… to pass over certain heads of doctrines, as if of lesser moment, or so to soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held. On that point the Vatican Council says: ‘The doctrine of Faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a theory of philosophy, which is to be elaborated by the human understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ… that sense of the sacred dogmas… is not to be departed from under the specious pretext of a more profound reasoning’.’

Saint Pius X: ‘…St. Thomas Aquinas cannot be set aside, especially in metaphysical questions without grave detriment.’ 

In opposition to such schools of thought stands that vigorous and immortal school which perfectly conforms to the Faith and to the perennial philosophy of the Church. That school is Aristotelian-Scholasticism, particularly as represented by the Angelic Doctor, the Doctor of the Schools, who is St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Pius X declares in Pascendi [2]: ‘We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of sacred science… And let it be clearly understood also above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us… Let professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside especially in metaphysical questions without grave detriment. On this philosophical foundation the theological edifice is to be solidly raised.’

Pope St. Pius X is here setting up a defence against Modernism, that sum total of all heresies, which he has already described in the same encyclical in the following terms [3]: ‘If we pass from the moral to the intellectual causes of Modernism, the first which presents itself, and the chief one, is ignorance. Yes, these very Modernists who pose as Doctors of the Church, who puff out their cheeks when they speak of modern philosophy, and show such contempt for scholasticism, have embraced the one with all its false glamour because their ignorance of the other has left them without the means of being able to recognise confusion of thought, and to refute sophistry. Their whole system, with all its errors, has been born of the alliance between Faith and false philosophy.’

These words were to prove true both of the Council periti (experts) and of the Bishops. Monsignor Lefebvre writes: ‘… a large number of the bishops, especially those who were chosen as members of the commissions, were men… who knew nothing of Thomist philosophy, men who, as a result, did not even know what a definition was. For them there is no such thing as an essence: nothing must be defined. One may discuss, one may describe, but under no circumstances must one define. Definitions are no longer needed’ [4].

We have seen in the course of this book how Modernist errors condemned in PascendiHumani Generis, the Syllabus and by the various modern Popes, were to enter into Council teaching, to form what St. Pius X prophetically describes as an ‘alliance between Faith and false philosophy’, the false anti-scholastic philosophy. We shall now examine the root of this false philosophy, and where its marks may be found in the Council.

1.     Modern Philosophy

Magni passus sed extra viam [5]
We understand Modern Philosophy to consist of two essential components:

            a)    Idealism;
            b)   Nominalism.

a)   Idealism

In the Introduction we traced back the Council’s skepticism to Idealism: that philosophy which holds that the object of knowledge is not objective reality, but rather the ideas (i.e. the mental content) of the knowing subject. We referred to Descartes’ philosophical starting-point: the principle of ‘Universal Doubt’, according to which, in his view, we cannot be certain about the existence of the external world, of objective reality, but only about ourselves and about the fact of our thinking (that is to say when we are thinking). His skepticism in fact encompasses not only ontological truth (the existence of objective reality), but also logical truth (the correspondence of an idea to reality), because, having once rejected everything about which we cannot be certain, we are left with no objective criterion for Truth. Later Modern Philosophers, in virtue of their Idealism, will continue to doubt the existence of the external world: Berkeley will declare that it does not exist, Kant that we cannot know it, Spinoza that it is identical to God. For them too, and for the same reasons, logical truth also becomes a problem. 

Once objective reality is cast into doubt, its principles (or ‘determinations’) will also be cast into doubt: there will be no possible justification for the principles or determinations of objective reality, for the way in which it is ordered. Descartes leaves the question of the ordering of reality unresolved; Kant places its principle in the mind of the subject himself; other philosophers place it directly in the mind of God. Hume, by contrast will deny the order of the external world, attacking the principle of substance, the principle of the human subject, and the principle of causality. We see how skepticism about the existence of objective reality leads to skepticism about all the common-sense principles which determine it. 

b)     Nominalism

Delving deeper in our search for the root of Modern Philosophy, we discover that that Idealism which is the proximate cause of the skepticism of Modern Philosophy and of the Council’s philosophy, derives in its turn from another theory, ‘Nominalism’. This latter theory holds that the object of man’s knowledge is particulars, that is to say individual things without the natures or essences that one generally supposes them to possess. The Nominalist would say, for example, that if I see a man in front of me, I have no reason for assuming that he has such a thing as a ‘nature’, that is a human nature: he is just an individual man like any other.

The effect of Nominalism is to deny the possibility of the knowledge of things altogether, because to know a thing is nothing else than to grasp its essence: the knowledge of things, in other words, is the knowledge of their natures, of their essences by means of the relation of correspondence between the thing and the mind. But if I cannot possess any real knowledge of the world outside me, then all that I am left with is my ideas of things: I can know only my ideas, which is Idealism.

The root, then, of Idealist Modern Philosophy with its skepticism concerning the external world and our knowledge of it, is Nominalism with its skepticism concerning natures / essences. In contrast to Modern Philosophy stand the Philosophy of Being and the Faith, which respectively teach and entail that:

– reality exists objectively outside us;
– reality is the object of our knowledge; that is to say
– by the relation of correspondence [6]; and
– by means of our apprehension of the natures / essences of things.

2.      Marks of Modern Philosophy on the Council

The two essential component parts of Modern Philosophy, namely Idealism and Nominalism, constitute the Council’s own philosophy, so that we can conclude that Modern Philosophy and the Council Philosophy are one and the same. We proceed to present the marks on the Council of:

   a) Idealism
   b) Nominalism 

        a)     Idealism

The Council, as we have witnessed in every page of this book, has adopted the skepticism of Modern Philosophy: a skepticism about Truth, about the correspondence of things with the mind [7], and about dogma. We shall look at the two gravest effects of this skepticism in the form of:

i)    Atheism; and
ii)   The self-deification of man.

i)     Atheism

We have seen that subjectivist Idealism denies that we can know the things outside us. Amongst the things (or beings) outside us there is, of course, most notably, God. Idealism therefore denies that we can know God: that we can know that God exists. In other words, Idealism entails negative atheism, agnosticism. As we said in the Introduction, this attitude is, however, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to positive atheism, to the denial of God: on the practical level it is one and the same thing. For if we cannot know that God exists, we have no incentive for acting as though He did exist.

We observe in passing that the Nominalist – Idealist current of Modern Philosophy is its most influential current, but there is another one, which has as its protagonists thinkers such as Karl Marx, and which is Materialism. This theory directly denies the existence of God, and is known as ‘positive atheism’. Modern philosophy is then, in its main currents, entirely atheist [8]: in the negative sense in the Nominalist – Idealist current, and in the positive sense in the Materialist current.

ii)    The Self-Deification of Man

The consequence of atheism, negative or positive, consists in its deification of man. Because if God does not exist, or if, at least, we cannot know that He exists, then man becomes the highest principle of all things in His place.

Emmanuel Kant:  ‘…wrests the ‘Categories’, or the ultimate principles of Being, from the mind of God and places them in the mind of man…’

One modern philosopher who elaborated his version of Idealism to its ultimate consequences, was Emanuel Kant. On the metaphysical level he wrests the ‘Categories’, or the ultimate principles of Being, from the mind of God and places them in the mind of man, by means of which he implies that man himself creates reality; on the moral level he ascribes to man an ‘autonomous reason’ and an ‘autonomous will’ [9]. Another modern philosopher whose self-deifying theories, both in the area of personal, but also and particularly in that of political, ethics, exercised an important influence on the Council [10] was Rousseau.

The Council, through its experts, imbued, as many of them were, with the Idealism of Modern Philosophy, followed suit. We have seen the Council’s atheism in its denial of the possibility of the knowledge of Truth; we have seen its consequent deification of man. In fact if we look carefully at the Council documents as a whole, we may observe an internal dynamic which moves towards the deification of man: first God’s existence is doubted and then the points of contact between Him and the world are gradually effaced:

– Faith by which man can know God and be saved;
– The Church which teaches the Faith and through whom God is present in the world;    and
– The Sacraments through which God acts in the world;
– The Consecrated Life by which man can love God perfectly [11].

The supernatural dimension is thus gradually expunged, and man’s life and operations are consequently reduced to an exclusively natural level. With Original Sin denied, and human nature  proclaimed unqualifiedly as good, man becomes transformed into some sort of Rousseauist noble savage [12], and then, in the ‘twinkling of an eye’, into God Himself.

b)     Nominalism

This skepticism of Idealism, as we have just stated, derives ultimately from the poisonous root of Nominalism, the theory which denies natures, or essences, of which we have given examples in the previous chapter. Altogether we may identify four nominalist doctrines in the Council.

The first feature is, then, the denial of natures / essences;

The second feature is the absence of definitions, as Monsignor Lefebvre complained in the passage that we quoted in section 1. The Council may claim that it renounces definitions because it does not intend to be dogmatic, or particularly because it does not want to use them in order to condemn, but its metaphysical motivation can be nothing else than Nominalism: if there are no natures or essences to things, then there can be no definitions either. How can we define something if it has no nature?  

The third Nominalist doctrine in the Council is what we have called the ‘false principle of degree’. As we noted above, Nominalism holds that one can only know particulars and that there is no such thing as a universal, a nature or an essence. This entails that the Faith is simply an amalgamation of disparate doctrines, which in its turn allows the Council to state:

– that the Church does not possess the fullness of the Truth in this world;
– that other confessions and religions can share to a greater or lesser degree in this Truth as well as in the Church’s means of sanctification;
– that the other confessions and religions can, to the extent of their share in Truth and in the means of sanctification, be in communion with the Church.

The fourth nominalist doctrine in the Council is the denial that one may know God in this life (at least by means of the reason [13]), which, as we noted above, is tantamount to agnosticism or negative atheism.

[1] Testem Benevolentiae, 1899. Amongst contemporary philosophical schools that, in our opinion, bear the marks of the softness to which the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Leo refers we indicate ‘Personalism’ and the personalist‘Theology of the Body’ in particular. We refer to our recent interview with Brother André-Marie on Rorate Caeli
[2] s. 45-6
[3] s. 41
[4] Un Evêque parle, p. 161, MD pjc, p.36
[5] ‘Great strides but off the track’. This phrase of St. Augustine is quoted by Father Garrigou-Lagrange OP in his book ‘Everlasting Life and the Depths of the Soul’ in regard to the modern philosophers, whom he does not hesitate to term ‘intellectual monsters’
[6] adaequatio res et intellectus, as we have stated above
[7] we recall the Introduction (B. I b) where the Council makes a radical distinction between things and their expression, referring back to the distinction made by Pope John XXIII in his opening speech between the doctrines of Faith and their ‘clothing’, rivestimento – an image evoking skepticism about the expression of Truth.
[8] apart of course from lone figures such as Blaise Pascal
[9] we have seen similar views adopted by the Council in chapter 8
[10] cf. chapter 4. IV on the discussion of the Right to Error
[11] we make our theological analysis of the Council on these lines in Section B below
[12] in the vision of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, as it were, in the tropical jungle of the Douanier Rousseau
[13] a doctrine of Occam


Father Fahey’s analysis of Modernism serves as an all too accurate critique of the  Council’s theology.

B.      Theology

The theology of which we here treat is Modernist theology, which we understand to be the theology of the Council. In fact one of the more perceptive Council Bishops, Monsignor Borromeo, noted less than two months after the first Council session: ‘Siamo in pieno modernismo’ [1]. Professor de Mattei, an expert on the subject, explains how the term ‘Modernism’ makes its first official appearance in Pascendi as a concept intended to group together a complex of errors in all fields of Catholic doctrine: Holy Scriptures, theology, philosophy, and cult. He quotes the description of it as a ‘fluid and incandescent material… the character of which was the very indetermination of its program’ [2]. He states that: ‘The roots and motives of this movement reside in the attempt to establish a ‘dialogue’ between the Church and the process of secularization which followed the French Revolution’ [3].

Professor de Mattei’s important work describes the development of Modernism in the Church prior to the Council itself.

In the first chapter of his important work on the Council, the Professor recounts the development of Modernism in the biblical, liturgical, philosophical, theological, and ecumenical movements prior to the Council. In our search for the theological origins of the Council’s errors we have, in our brief historical sketches and obiter in the course of the present book, indicated the errors of Modernism individually; we proceed now to indicate their formal principle, that is to say the principle of antirealist subjectivism in the theological domain: the principle of self-deifying atheism [4].

To identify their formal principle, we turn to the condemnation of Modernism by Bl. Pius IX in the Syllabus Errorum, examining the Syllabus in the light of the penetrating analysis by Father Denis Fahey [5], who understands the work as a refutation of the Modernist deification of man. We observe at the outset that the essential distinction between this pronouncement of the Magisterium and the Council is that former decries the deification of man, while the latter promotes it.

The Syllabus opens with a condemnation of pantheism (being the doctrine which identifies God with the world) and then of naturalism and rationalism. Father Fahey explains: ‘As nature becomes conscious of itself in the human reason, human reason takes the place of God and becomes the exclusive arbiter of truth and falsehood, of good and evil.’

Syllabus Errorum

The Syllabus next treats the Modernist rejection of Scholasticism, viewed as ‘a hindrance to the conquests of deified man’, and then the Modernist espousal of Ecumenism and Indifferentism. Since Modernism holds that all Christian confessions and all religions are products of man’s reason, it concludes that one is as good as another; and that Protestantism, ‘which is a form of Christianity re-modelled and brought up to date by man’s efforts, is just as pleasing in God’s sight as the Catholic Church instituted by Himself.’

‘The Syllabus then passes on to denounce the errors and attacks of deified man on the divine organization of the world’ – 

– the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ; 
– the different states…acknowledging the indirect power of the Catholic Church’; 
– ‘ the family… founded on the marriage contract, raised to the dignity of a sacrament…’;
– ‘ the personality of every human being to be developed as befits a member of Our Lord’s Mystical Body by Catholic education…’   

Father Fahey explains how the Encyclical ‘proscribes those errors which proclaim that the Church is a merely human organization. As there is no God but man, according to the false principles that are in question, no society can have rights independent of man, especially independent of the State which is the full expression of self-glorified man. It condemns the errors which follow from the concept of the State-God, source and origin of all right. It denounces in particular the attack on human personality in the State’s interference with Catholic education’ and in matters of morality and of the family. It concludes by condemning the Modernist doctrine that the Pope must ‘come to terms with the spirit of naturalistic deification of man and rejection of God’s inner life, which animates modern civilization and hinders true progress.’

Recalling the contents of the present book, we are struck by the fact that the Syllabus and the Council are concerned substantially with the same issues:

 – Truth, naturalism, rationalism and scholasticism;
 – The Church in Herself as the Mystical Body of Christ; 
 – The Church’s relation to the non-Catholic Christians, the other Religions and the State;
 – Family and education.

Father Fahey’s analysis, valid equally for the Syllabus as for the Council, may be summarized as follows: if man is divine, then:

 – Scholasticism must be repudiated;
 – All religions are the same; 
 – The Church is a human institution; 
 – The State is also divine and has complete power over all societies within its bosom as to rights, marriage and education;
 – The Pope himself must subordinate himself to it.

The opposition between the Syllabus and the Council, particularly in the document Gaudium et Spes which we have so frequently quoted in this chapter, explains how the then Cardinal Ratzinger could describe Gaudium et Spes as a sort of ‘anti-Syllabus’ [6]. 

Cardinal Ratzinger described Gaudium et Spes as “a sort of anti-syllabus’.

The main differences between the errors in the form in which they are condemned by the Syllabus and the Council reside in the following facts:

– The Council extends its reflections beyond the State to encompass the world itself and beyond marriage to encompass the consecrated life together with all the sacraments, particularly that of the Holy Eucharist; 

– The Council extends the notion of man’s deification above all into the areas of marriage and the Holy Mass: divinizing man’s eroticism in the former and substituting him for God in the latter [7];
–  The Council proposes errors covertly. 

St. Pius X  in Lamentabili also deals with the Sacraments.

Before moving on, we mention with all brevity the later Antimodernist encyclicals Lamentabili of St. Pius X (1907) and Humani Generis of Pope Pius XII (1950). These condemn further errors which the Council will re-propose, which particularly concern supernatural Truth and derive from man’s self-deifying naturalism: the very possibility of dogma and the concept of flux [8] on the one side, and the free interpretation of Holy Scriptures [9] on the other. Lamentabili also deals with the sacraments; Humani Generis with Truth and Philosophy [10], as well as with Scholasticism [11].

HUMANI GENERIS  of Pius XII  deals with Modernism in Truth, Philosophy and Scholasticism.

We conclude that the immediate theological forerunner of Council teaching is Modernism.


[1] ‘We are fully immersed in Modernism’ Diario, December 3rd ,1962, RdM III. 15

[2] una materia fluida e incandescente… la stessa indeterminatezza del suo programma

[3] RdM I. 2 (a)

[4] we limit ourselves here to natural theology, although comments similar to those which we have made on the Council texts regarding supernatural theology could also be made here. 

[5] op.cit. pp. 131-4

[6] Les principes de la théologie catholique p.425-7 RdM VI.11

[7] see the conclusion to our book ‘The Destruction of the Roman Rite’

[8] the former encyclical on dogma ss.7, 21-6 and on flux ss.59, 62, & 64; the latter encyclical on dogma ss.7 & 11, and  on the evolution of dogma and flux ss.14-5 & 32

[9] the former encyclical s.3; the latter encyclical ss.8 & 22 

[10] s.7

[11] ss.17 & 31

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