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  • Defending the Faith: An Anti-Modernist Anthology transed. by William H. Marshner
  • Louis-Pierre Sardella
Defending the Faith: An Anti-Modernist Anthology. Edited and translated by William H. Marshner. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2017. Pp. xii, 340 $34.95. paperback ISBN 978-0-813-228969.

The Modernist crisis that affected the Catholic Church at the beginning of the twentieth century is now well forgotten, not only by the general public but also by the faithful. The threat, however, was one constantly feared and always invoked by the ecclesiastical authorities, at least until the Second Vatican Council, to warn and even condemn theologians suspected of deviation from orthodoxy.

At the origin of this crisis is the increased number of attempts to get the Church out of the intellectual torpor she had locked herself in, frozen, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, in an uncompromising position regarding modernity. From the 1880s onwards, through the various branches of religious sciences, researchers, French ones in particular, such as Louis Duchesne in history, Alfred Loisy in exegesis, and Édouard Leroy in philosophy and theology, suggested adapting the Church's discourse to the spiritual and intellectual needs of their contemporaries.

The views, sometimes daring, put forward by these men, who were primarily concerned with restoring the Church's lost influence, came up against the determined opposition of theologians who defended orthodoxy.

In Defending the Faith. An Anti-Modernism Anthology, William H. Marshner publishes, with an introduction by C. J. T. Talar, who sets the general context, eleven articles (five relate to Loisy's exegesis, two to George Tyrrell's religious philosophy, and four to Leroy's concept of dogma). These articles were written between 1903 and 1906 by Pierre Batiffol, rector of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse; Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P., founder of the Biblical School of Jerusalem; Eugène Portalié and Léonce de Grandmaison, Jesuits; Eugène Franon; and Joannès Wehrlé.

A first observation on the subtitle: Antimodernist Anthology: Certainly, but in that case by anticipation. This suggests that the authors anticipated with great perspicacity the condemnation that would only be carried out in 1907 by the encyclical Pascendi. Yet, unless I am mistaken, the word "Modernist" does not appear in any article. Their purpose was more limited. They warned (without linking them together, precisely what the Pope's theologians were to do, to define Modernism as "the crossroads of all heresies") against the possible drifts of Loisy's evolutionism, Tyrrell's pragmatism, Le Roy's immanentism.

Second observation: Eight articles appear in the Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique de l' Institut catholique de Toulouse, two in the Revue biblique, and one in Études. Ten articles out of the eleven gathered thus come from directed journals, the first by Batiffol, the second by Lagrange (with support from Batiffol). This is no accident. These two friends are not conservatives. They work, one as a historian, the other as an exegete, trying to find a via media between the prudence of some and the audacity of others. [End Page 819]

Their caution can be explained by two considerations. On the one hand, they believed that making public opinion aware of research that might have uncertain conclusions might unnecessarily disturb the faith of the faithful, "especially the impressionable Youth," and on the other hand, and perhaps, above all, that they feared being themselves the target of Roman censors. They thought they could protect themselves by denouncing those whose daring they criticized. Vainly, since a book by Batiffol on the Eucharist was inscribed on the Index, and he was forced as a result to resign his position as rector, and Lagrange's superiors forbade him to publish his comments on Genesis.

In essence, these articles reveal the difficulty of communication that existed at the time between historians and theologians on one side, and philosophers and theologians on the other side. The atmosphere of suspicion prevented a dialogue without controversy and without judgment of intentions from being established serenely.

On the first point, Lagrange is formal. He wrote to Batiffol about L'Évangile et l'Église: "If this historical construction holds, dogma is destroyed. […] Despite Mr. Loisy's...


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