Term used by those who affect a preference for what is modern, and a disregard for what is ancient and medieval, usually because they know little of the history or institutions of the past; an attempt at a radical transformation of thought in regard to God, man, the world, life nere and hereafter; the assumption that everything modern is more perfect than what preceded, that opposition to every new theory or speculation is opposition to what is good in modern progress.
In religion, according to Pope Pius X, it is a complexion of every heresy; according to its principal French exponent, Loisy, a setting aside of every Catholic doctrine.
The movement is not new.
It began with the Reformation, of which it is the logical outcome.
In the middle of the 19th century, under Pope Pius IX, it asserted itself in political liberalism, the attempt to divorce society and government from religion; under Pope Leo XIII it became a social movement; under Pope Pius X it became an aggression against true religion.
Its exponents never agreed.
It required the genius of Pope Pius X and his collaborators to take their vague assertions and give them system.
Modernists were clamoring for emancipation from ecclesiastical authority, for the emancipation of science, of the state, of conscience, without particularizing wherein authority was tyrannical, wherein science, state, or conscience were enthralled.
They abhorred the thought of fixed truth, dognla in the real sense, or knowledge derived from revelation.
They claimed that the soul had its yearnings for something higher than it could perceive in nature; that these yearnings consciously understood, reveal the intimate presence of God; that this presence constitutes revelation; that experience of relations with God disposes the soul to act properly with Him; that leaders arise who interpret all this and become founders of religion.
Christian faith then is this sentimental yearning for God as father, man, as brother.
Its formulae are good for a time but they are only of transient use and must give way to others as times change.
The Christ of faith is not the Christ of history; He founded the Church and the Sacraments not personally and directly but only through the movement He started as if by a process of evolution; the Sacraments are only formulae which touch the soul and carry it away; the Scriptures are only a collection of religious experiences of great value.
The movement was strong in Italy, and it affected many in Germany, France, and England.
It had little influence in the United States, although its French and English promoters did all in their power to propagate it, especially among seminarians.
Numerous pontifical documents were issued against it, enumerated in the under Modernism.
The Encyclical "Pascendi Gregis" crushed it once for all, and this Encyclical is an instance of the sovereign pontiff voicing a sentiment that was universal among bishops, clergy, and laity, the Church teaching thus expressing the views and wishes of the Church taught.
New Catholic Dictionary