Siri on the Problem of Capitulating to the Spirit of the World

Joseph Cardinal Siri, in his important work GETHSEMANE: REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGICAL MOVEMENT, identifies three major factors in the then-current, and unfortunately errant, “theological movement” of the times.

“These three characteristic orientations: Arian, Pelagian, and Modernist, are combined more or less consciously with more or less subtlety and sometimes also guile, in a speculative amalgam, without precise outlines and without basic references, which serves as a basis for a rush towards integral humanization of all religion” (p. 51).

What does he mean? First of all, the current movement denies Original Sin as an inherited fault, as the inheritance of the loss of sanctifying graces. The infant, so it is said, is innocent and immaculate. Not just civilly before the human tribunal, but also theologically before the divine tribunal. Thus, we have the utter annihilation of Christianity, for Christianity is precisely the solution to Original Sin and its devastating consequences. The term Augustine coined — original sin — goes back as the perennial faith of the Church, anticipated in Israel.

Second, Arianism. This is the denial of Jesus. It is like saying that the Father is the only God, and Jesus is our shepherd-priest. In holding such, we deny the Holy Trinity. Thus, we gut Christianity again.

Third, Modernism. This is the notion that revelation is not an Objective Content communicated by God to us through human means. Instead, so it is alleged, revelation is an inner sense that is “subconscious” or “non-determinately conscious”. It is like saying that revelation is a permanent “existential” of our intellectual dynamism, whereby we are always confronted with the communication of God to us and always respond and interpret that communication interiorly into the ‘categories’ of our own sensibility. In this way, the Church does not constitute the medium of revelation to us, but rather is as it were a kind of social index exteriorly manifesting what would be the ideal categorical interpretation of revelation, if we were savvy and lucky enough to grasp it thus. But whether we do articulate manners to ourselves in this way is not ultimately definitive for us; rather, what is crucial is whether or not we affirm ourselves as transcendental creatures touched by this “existential.”

Siri rejects this humanization of religion. For in the end it all comes to be about “man.” He closes the opening reflections with a citation of Oscar Cullmann, a Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council, who had this concern after the council:

“Since [the council] certain Catholic milieus … borrow the very norms of Christian thought and action, not from the Gospel, but from the modern world.”