About Christian Progressivism
By Father Julio Meinvielle
Translated from the Spanish by Roberto Hope
Milestones in Christian Progressivism
We have seen how the idea of a continuous progress accompanies the entire unfolding of modern civilization since the Renaissance to our time, constitutes the false foundation on which Christian progressivism stands.
In modern civilization, there is no progress in that which is essential, in that which is fundamentally human. Certain progress in some aspects may have occurred, especially in the technological one. But technology is outside of man. Man's properly human and moral aspect, which constitutes itself by his closeness to God, does not progress by virtue of a progress in technology. Man can progress and actually achieves an immense progress in the erection of a powerful production apparatus, and at the same time he can become worse, with which such production apparatus becomes his ruin and destruction.
Modern civilization in man's properly human aspect has been moving backwards since four centuries ago. It has been regressing by the progressive degradation to which man subjects himself. Properly modern society becomes ever more materialistic. After having rejected God, it has rejected the properly human values end even man's animal values, to turn man into a simple nut in the great Materialist and collectivist machinery.
The French Revolution marks the decisive point in this civilization as regards its materialistic aspect. With the French Revolution man definitely rejects the authentic spiritual values deposited in the Church, supernatural society, and assumes a decisively materialistic behavior.
An anguishing question for the Catholic is posed here. What does the Catholic do in this society which rejects God, Christ, the Church, and which proclaims materialistic liberty as the supreme value of man? It is either one of two, either the Christian assumes a frankly hostile attitude towards such a society and so stays at its margin and becomes exposed to his inability of making the Christian Message felt in such society, or he yields to such society and pacts with it; but then he exposes himself to alter the purity and integrity of the Christian Message. This was the anguishing situation which presented itself to Christians after the French Revolution. And it was Lammenais the first Catholic who in the stated alternative opted to pact with the new civilization, with liberalism which had taken up everything, and so Lammenais resolved to shape Catholic liberalism.
Lammanais is the key character of modern Catholicism. Born in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, he was formed with the ideas and the mentality or Rousseau and of the liberal philosophers. He then converted to Catholicism to profess first a suspect ultramontanism and then a liberalism which he developed in the L'Avenir daily during the period from 1830 to 1831.
There is a logic in the Lamennaisian conception which is presided by the idea of historical progress. History progresses and therefore modern times represent a progress over olden times. Lammenais justifies the idea the historical progress with that of Divine Providence leading history towards ends only God knows. In a very important article of July 28, 1831, Lammanais expounds these concepts. To Lammennais, progress in history takes place not by a greater attainment of moral virtue, or closeness to God through goodness and virtue, but by the acquisition of greater degrees of liberty, which is what makes peoples grow towards their age of majority.
Lammenais, in consequence, justifies modern liberalism as an attainment of progress in humanity. Before Lammenais, no other civilization or other authentic progress in man but in the recognition of the supernatural supremacy of the Church. Civilization had never proposed liberty, but rather goodness and truth, as the proper end of citizens. Within Truth, liberty represents a certain good, but never can liberty be adopted as an independent end which would surpass the rights of Truth. But in the French Revolution the Church ceases to be recognized by the public power as the only true religion and is relegated to just one of many cults which citizens may practice. This situation could be accepted as a fact, but never as a right. Lammenais was the first Catholic who dared accept it as a right. Because for him modern liberties were rights of man which should be considered as achievements of the progress in history.
Lamennais was the first one to profess Christian progressivism, which was not known by that name at the time but by that of Catholic liberalism. By representing nineteenth century liberalism as a progress with respect to the previous society which called itself Christian and which professed the recognition of the Church as a supernatural society, so Catholic liberalism imported a true progress. As is known, Lamennais was condemned by Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos. Since then, the entire nineteenth century witnessed a tremendous strife between liberals and non-liberals within the bosom of the Church. On the side of the liberals were figures such as Lacordaire, Montalembert, Dupanloup. On the side of the anti-liberals stood out the great figure of Cardinal Pie and of publicist Louis Veuillot. Pius XI strongly condemned catholic liberalism in a series of documents the fundamental propositions of which were later picked up in the famous Syllabus. But the strife did not calm down. On the contrary, it was re-born in Leo XIII's pontificate with the emerging of democratist clerics such as Naudet, Lemire and Dabry.
In his famous encyclicals, Leo XIII worked out a complex program of how Christian civilization, the Catholic city, should be within the modern style of life..Such program criticized catholic liberalism harshly. But Leo XIII's thought was systematically adulterated by the liberals extant within the Church. At that time a strongly liberal, democratist, and socialist movement surged inside the Church. It was the Le Sillon movement. But the firm action of Saint Pius X condemning the modernism which was then spreading in the Catholic domain, and condemning the democratism of Le Sillon put an end to the intentions of the Christian progressivists within the Church.
All Christian progressivism disappeared from the scene during the years 1910 to 1930. The Pascendi and the Le Sillon condemnatory letter were able to clean up these scourges from the realm of the Church.
Maritain will be the one who begins Christian progressivism again. That is, the post-1930 Maritain, because the previous Maritain distinguished himself in the combat against all sorts of liberalism and progressivism. In his first epoch he writes Antimoderne, Trois Reformateurs, Théonas, Primauté du Espirituel, in which he rejects the idea of progress and expounds the authentic doctrine of the Church on the plane of the Christian civilization. But in 1930 he begins a series of books end especially Humanisme Intégral in which, under the guise of a philosophy of culture, a liberal problematic would emerge which would coincide point by point with the errors of Lammennais'.
Maritain, who had rejected the idea of progress in his Antimoderne, now defends an ambiguous concept, namely that of the ambivalent progress of history, to later already in the Second World War, after year 1940, take up the defense of the idea of progress. This idea of progress will cling strongly in Maritain as it had clung in Lammenais. In two books written during the Second World War he is to make these ideas explicit. In Christianisme et Democratie and in Droits de l'Homme et la Loi Naturelle he is to defend the notion of progress, noting that on this point he would coincide with Teilhard de Chardin. There he says textually “I have had the pleasure of finding explained from the scientific point of view of their author, similar conceptions in a conference delivered in Pekin by the celebrated paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who there says «ancient though prehistory may make it seem to our eyes, humanity is still very young and shows that the evolution of humanity ought to be faced as the continuation of integrate life, where progress signifies the ascension of conscience and where the ascension of conscience is linked to a superior degree of organization. If progress is to continue, it will not be by itself alone. Evolution by the mechanism of its synthesis is ever more charged with liberty».
Maritain, as a consequence, will base the progress of man not on goodness, not on greater virtue, not on greater closeness to God, to Christ, to the Church, but on man's greater liberty. He will coincide point by point with Lamennais. He will consider Medieval Christianity odious, and with that, the authentic concept of Christian civilization, so as to defend a society founded on liberty as its primary and dominant idea. This is how Lamennais' Catholic liberalism declined finally into socialism; so also in Maritain, his liberalism of the new Christendom would follow a declining path towards a socialist society, where the aspirations of the historical function of the proletariat were to be satisfied.