Pius X – Hegelian dialectic

The Pontifical Biblical
Commission Under Pius X

by Robert Sungenis, M.A.

Pius X, without much argument, was one of the most faithful and dedicated pontiffs the world has ever known. For his faithfulness, God allowed him to see where the trends of his own day were headed — into the era of modernism, liberal theology and pseudo-intellectualism, of which evolution was one of the leading movements. Pius X was concerned about evolution on two fronts. First, he made frequent condemnation of the “evolution” of Catholic doctrine and practice that modernists were seeking to force onto the Catholic populace. Due to the influences from the social dialectic of Hegel and the biological theory of evolution espoused by Lyell and Darwin, many liberal Catholic theologians insisted that the Church must also “evolve”. In the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pius X stated the problem quite succinctly:

“To conclude this whole question of faith and its various branches, we have still to consider, Venerable Brethren, what the Modernists have to say about the development of the one and the other. First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact be changed. In this way they pass to what is practically their principal doctrine, namely, evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject under penalty of death — dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself. The enunciation of this principle will not be a matter of surprise to anyone who bears in mind what the Modernists have had to say about each of these subjects. Having laid down this law of evolution, the Modernists themselves teach us how it operates. And first, with regard to faith — The primitive form of faith, they tell us, was rudimentary and common to all men alike, for it had its origin in human nature and human life. Vital evolution brought with it progress, not by the accretion of new and purely adventitious forms from without, but by an increasing perfusion of the religious sense into the conscience … Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of adapting itself to historical conditions and of harmonizing itself with existing forms of society …”

Obviously, Pius X knew that evolutionary theory was less the result of real facts and more the result of the Hegelian dialectic that had pervaded Europe in the 1800s and into the 1900s. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (d. 1831) proposed that life could be understood by seeing everything as a result of a thesis meeting an antithesis, which resulted in a synthesis. As one thing evolves, it meets up with an opposite thing that evolves, and when the two clash, an amalgamation of the two is produced. The synthesis itself then becomes another thesis, which is challenged by another antithesis, and so on and so on. This formula was applied to culture, religion, science, economics, politics, and everything else under the sun. Everyone was bowing to the Hegelian dialectic and the Tübingen school of modern Protestant theology from which Hegel came. Not only liberal Catholic theologians were giving their obeisance, but even atheists like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler used Hegel’s dialectical materialism to advance their own agendas. It was an insidious problem throughout the whole world, and it caused Pius X much grief. He writes:

“Hence, by those who study more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as a resultant from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force exists in the Church and is found in tradition; tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs, lies in the individual consciences and works in them — specially in such of them as are in more close and intimate contact with life … Now it is by a species of covenant and compromise between these two forces of conservation and progress, that is to say between authority and individual consciences that changes and advances take place.”

Pius concludes this section with these stinging words against Hegel and the Catholic modernists:

“From beginning to end everything in it is a priori, and an a-priorism that reeks of heresy. These men are certainly to be pitied, of whom the Apostle might well say: ‘They became vain in their thoughts … professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.’ (Romans 1:21-22)”

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