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Modernists and the Modern Environmental Crisis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2024


‘The crisis of the present,’ says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ‘is the long deferred resumption of the crisis of modernism.’

If by the resumption of modernism Ratzinger means the method Catholic modernists used in addressing the religious crisis of their time we may fervently hope modernism does resume. For the method of the modernists is useful to us as we face an unprecedented environmental crisis.

Let us make no mistake. We are not engaged in academic theological gamesmanship. We are facing, although career churchmen are hesitant to admit it, a crisis which Jürgen Moltmann well describes as ‘a crisis so comprehensive and irreversible that it cannot unjustly be described as apocalyptic. It is not a temporary crisis. As far as we can judge, it is the beginning of a life and death struggle for creation on this earth.’

In 1918, when Tyrrell had been dead for nine years and Loisy had faded from the Church, Von Hügel expressed in a letter to Miss Maude Petrie, Tyrrell’s literary executor, his awareness that the method of modernism was permanently useful and even necessary, ‘to interpret it (the faith) according to what appears the best and the most abiding elements in the philosophy and the scholarship and science of the later and latest times.’

A cogent case could be made that Pope John XXIII was himself to some extent influenced by the method of the modernists. Even some of his expressions were akin to theirs. He spoke of ‘opening the windows’ of the Church to the modern world.

Research Article
Copyright © 1988 Provincial Council of the English Province of the Order of Preachers

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