This phrase – “the synthesis of all heresies” – shows up toward the end of the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, placed in the context of a rhetorical question.[1] After an apology for taking so long to explore the entire scope of the Modernist doctrines, even disclosing “certain uncouth terms in use among the Modernists,”[2] the saintly author asked this question: “And now, can anybody who takes a survey of the whole system be surprised that We should define it as the synthesis of all heresies?”[3] It is as if to say, in frustrated indignation: “I’m sorry I had to demand your attention for so long in these unseemly affairs, horrible as they are to behold. Can we not say that this is the synthesis of all heresies?”

If we look earlier in the encyclical, we find some statements which give us an insight into why the amalgam known as Modernism goes by this particular papal pejorative. In the third paragraph, the Holy Father says that the Modernists “lay the ax not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers.” There is, then, something fundamental to the heresy. It is not a question of the Modernists literally professing every single historical heresy, something mentally impossible, since many of them are mutually exclusive; it is, rather, a question of Modernism being radical – in the literal sense of going to the radix (root) – in its denial of the faith. This is so because “[the Modernists’] whole system has been born of the alliance between faith and false philosophy,”[4] a philosophy that fundamentally denies knowledge, the supernatural order, the stability of truth, the principle of non-contradiction, and the metaphysics of common sense. It lobotomizes the soul, as it were, between “knowing” on the one hand and “believing” on the other. The manifold results of this evil union between faith and an unworthy handmaid are the fruits of a tree which is corrupt at its very roots.

The preceding suffices to answer the question. What remains is to flesh out this answer with some details, which is to give an overview of the system as summarized by the pope.

The Holy Father lucidly resumed the Modernist doctrine in three essential points: 1) philosophical agnosticism (Kantianism), 2) vital immanence (or immanentism – from Kant and, especially, Schleiermacher), and 3) radical evolutionism.

By the first of these three errors, philosophical agnosticism, which is described by the pope as Modernism’s “negative” aspect, the partisans of error deny sound epistemology. They opt to follow Kant, who produced a philosophy that rejects man’s ability to know and reduces all sense impressions to mere “phenomena,” whereas the “neumena” or ding an zich, (“the thing in itself,” or reality as it is) are ever elusive of our intellectual grasp. Once this sort of philosophy is introduced into Catholic theology – fides quaerens intellectum – the faith cannot find understanding because the very criteria for so doing are rejected. Kantianism is fundamentally contraceptive of theology, as it is of all sound thought. Dogma, which is a divine revelation from God to the intellect of man, is, in the end, rendered meaningless, since the mind cannot really know anything external to itself. Thus, the pope laments the fact that “Natural Theology,…the motives of credibility, [and]… external revelation”[5] are all rendered impotent in the Modernist system. If man cannot know truth, it is the end of all revelation and, consequently, of all religion: “By [Agnosticism] every avenue that leads to God is barred.”[6]

This “negative” aspect of Modernism is itself sufficient to make Modernism the “synthesis” St. Pius described. The further planks of the Modernist platform serve to bolster this conclusion.

The second plank, “vital immanence” or immanentism, is, like philosophical agnosticism, a product of the Kantian system. It provides the “positive” element of the Modernist platform, filling the void left by agnosticism. Immanentism is “a philosophico-religious system which, in its most rigid form, reduces all reality to the subject, which is said to be the source, the beginning, and the end of all its creative activity.”[7] It is the final development of the Cartesian “turn to the subject.”

After the doubts introduced by agnosticism, the man who calls himself a Christian believer is bound to ask certain questions, such as: If the external criteria for faith are all useless, can man really come to believe? Yes, says the Modernist, because of what is implicit (or immanent[8]) in human nature itself. This is not the scholastic “dispositive receptive potential” or “natural desire for God”; neither is it the Augustinian “capax Dei,” by which man is ordered to the Beatific Vision, but a “religious sentiment” native to each one of us that places “in human nature a true and rigorous necessity with regard to the supernatural order.”[9] Thus, man is not only ordered to a final end that is supernatural, but he has that end contained in his very nature. The philosophical foundation for this is found, as we said, in Kant, but Kant’s thought as further developed by his disciple Friedrich Schleiermacher, the “Father of Modern [Liberal] Protestantism.” Schleiermacher made Kant’s “immanence” a “religious sentiment,”[10] which becomes, for the Modernists, a “religious experience.”[11]

The religious sentiment intrinsic to man makes him reach out to the “Unknown” (God), who is also “unknowable” by virtue of Modernist agnosticism. Thus God, the subject of faith cannot be the subject of science (knowledge). St. Pius X expresses his disgust that this immanence denies any a posteriori knowledge of God and makes all knowledge a priori: “From beginning to end everything in it is a priori, and a priori in a way that reeks of heresy.”[12] This, in part, explains the Modernist distain for the scholastic method, which rejects such aprioristic thinking, but which holds that God can be known by nature.

It should be noted that the apriorism of the “religious sentiment” is a logical unfolding of the Protestant divorce of faith and science. It also marks the point of divergence between the Modernists and their allies, the rationalists: “On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the opinion of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics.”[13]

The religious sentiment stimulates in man a need for expressing his faith in symbols, a very important concept in the modern study of comparative religions and pragmatism spawned by the same noxious 19th-century movements that produced Modernism. It is this need for symbols that produces an external cult, and even a creed. Thus are blasphemously explained the origin of the sacraments of the Catholic Church, its creed, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the cult of the Blessed Virgin and the saints, etc.

Worst of all, immanence denies the transcendence of God (his being external to and “outside of” man, or the God “out there”). Says St. Pius, “The philosopher has declared: The principle of faith is immanent; the believer has added: This principle is God; and the theologian draws the conclusion: God is immanent in man. Thus we have theological immanence.”[14] These principles ultimately lead to pantheism, as the Holy Father affirms, and therefore deny the very nature of God.

The third plank in the Modernist platform is the radical evolutionism of Hegel, “the first great philosopher of history.”[15] Where Kant made all things static, Hegel introduced a dynamic element into his metaphysics (like Heraclitus). For Hegel, all things evolve in the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. History, truth, thought, indeed all reality is explained by this principle. In the history of thought, the Hegelian dialectic gives rise to “Historical Consciousness,” an acute awareness of change as a constant, describing all reality as in continual development. It further produces “Historicism,” the theory in which general laws of historical development are the determinant of events. In this theory, all things are subject to progressive evolutionary processes.

Hegel’s evolutionary dialectic is adapted to Modernism in this wise. By vital immanence the mind of the believer asserts certain things to be true. Then, upon reflection, he states what he holds in “secondary formulae,” which we call dogmas. These become subject to a continued process of evolution. When the early Christians collectively asserted their faith, the Church, a democratic product of the “collective consciousness,” was born. Over time, the Church assumed to itself certain governing offices whose occupants asserted a divine authority to teach (the Magisterium). The Magisterium becomes the conservative element of the dialectic, a principle of stasis. It is the Hegelian thesis. Dialectically opposed to this is the progress of the laity, who assert, by their ever-developing “collective conscious,”[16] ideas which go beyond the static contents of the deposit of faith. This is the antithesis. The resulting change produced by the tension of these two elements is the Hegelian synthesis. “Thus the way is open to the intrinsic evolution of dogma. An immense collection of sophisms this, that ruins and destroys all religion.”[17] This is how the Modernist views the history of dogma. To the Modernist, this process, to which he will contribute, must ever continue.

This three-fold doctrine is so complete in its denials of faith and reason that there is literally no area of dogma which has not been poisoned by its wicked root. Everything has been subjected to transformation by the unholy trinity:

Revelation – Vital immanence is revelation to the Modernist. All dogma is a reflection on what was immanent in each believer as it contributed to the “collective consciousness” of the Church, which herself evolved from a primitive community of believers.

Holy Scripture – A symbol arising from man’s need to externalize his religious sentiment, not the inspired and inerrant word of God.

Grace – Something implicit in nature, not a supernatural elevation from outside man to unite him to a transcendent God.

Dogma – An ever-evolving product of the collective conscious in which the individual articles of the faith bear no direct conformity to objective reality.

The Sacraments – Mere symbols which do not effect grace and which were not given to us by the “historical Christ.”

The Church – a product of the collective conscious and something that must be reformed by the Modernists themselves, something also utterly unnecessary, since the Modernists are radical Indifferentists.[18] It is also, in its present state, an enemy of progress.

Christology – An essentially impossible study, since the “Christ of history” is not the same as the “Christ of faith.”

The Trinity An impossible reality, given Modernism’s prevalent pantheism: “[W]ill not the very name of God or of divine personality be also a symbol …?”[19]

It is no wonder, then, that the Holy Father declared Modernism the synthesis of all heresies, going on to say: “Were one to attempt the task of collecting together all the erros that have been broached against the faith and to concentrate the sap and substance of them all into one, he could not better succeed than the Modernists have done.”[20]


Davies, Michael. Partisans of Error. Long Prarie, MN: The Neumann Press, 1983.

Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore. Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology. Translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951.

St. Pius X. Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock Online, available at: [accessed August 24, 2006], 8 September, 1907.

St. Pius X. Syllabus Condemning the Errors of the Modernists, Online, available at: [accessed July 21, 2006], 3 July, 1907.

[1] The Latin was unavailable to me, but in the other translations I checked (Spanish and Italian), as well as in other English translations, this is not a question but a declarative statement.

[2] St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis = Feeding the Lord’s Flock (Online, available at: [accessed August 24, 2006]) 8 September, 1907. No. 39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., No. 41. (All numerical references from here on are to this encyclical.)

[5] No. 6.

[6] No. 39.

[7] Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951) p. 133.

[8] From in manere, literally “dwelling in.”

[9] No. 37.

[10] This Schleiermacherian nomenclature, employed by Loisy, was explicitly censured by St. Pius in his encyclical. Cf. Nos. 8, 10, 12, and 13.

[11] No. 39.

[12] No. 33.

[13] No. 14.

[14] No. 19.

[15] DVD of Lecture Three: “Two Modernists.”

[16] No. 23.

[17] No. 13.

[18] Cf. No. 14.

[19] No. 39.

[20] Ibid.