Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical
called Humani generis. Was he addressing the problems we have seen
in the modern Church? (T.O.)
Answer:It is interesting how papal encyclicals somehow get labeled by the news media, and how the labels influence our perception of them. It is easy to read carelessly, and come away with only what one expects from the "label." For example, it would be hard to find an educated person over forty who doesn't immediately associate Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanæ vitæ with the Church's continued prohibition of artificial birth control -- very few took the time to read it carefully enough to realize that it was the first clearly stated Modernist attempt to redefine the primary end of marriage -- certainly, a much more important bit of news than Pope Paul's re-statement of something everyone already knew!1
Most people (including this writer) did much the same, and filed Pope Pius XII's Humani generis in their "mental filing cabinets" under the topic "evolution." While the encyclical did mention evolution in a paragraph or two, it is much more concerned with the terrible things that were beginning to happen to Catholic philosophy and theology when the Holy Father wrote back in 1950. To be clear -- if "philosophy" and "theology" sound like exotic concerns, far above normal people -- understand that Pope Pius was describing nothing other than the corruption of the way Catholics think. Uncritical acceptance of evolution was but a small part of that corruption.
The Pope addressed a number of vitally important issues (identified below by paragraph number):
Human reason is theoretically capable of knowing God and His natural moral law, but not all men bother to reason, some reason carelessly, and some purposefully reason incorrectly in order to justify beliefs and moral principles with which they feel comfortable. Thus, in practice if not in theory, divine revelation is necessary for all mankind. But even divine revelation, conveyed through God's Church can be resisted as a result of "passion or prejudice or bad faith" -- man is capable of resisting both the Church's logical presentation of the truth, and God's assistance with actual grace (2-4).
Outside the Church, this truth is being ignored in favor of a pantheistic or monistic view of the world -- a world in which everything (or nothing) is equally divine, and inexplicably working its way up to some higher stage of organization and order. Such theories are accepted by the pseudo-scientists without comprehensive proof. He doesn't mention him by name, but Pope Pius very likely has Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in mind -- a Jesuit priest who engaged in bizarre speculation about the world evolving into God (at what he called "the Omega Point") -- a paleontologist who was caught faking evidence of the "missing link" vital to supporting the theory of evolution.2 The Pope does mention Communism specifically as the system that stands to benefit from the consequent rejection of a personal God, and which can fit its dogma of dialectic materialism nicely into the concept of evolution. (5)
An new false philosophy has arrived on the scene -- one grounded in the constant change and the idea of organization without an Organizer associated with evolution. This system of error considers things only as they exist, without regard to their immutable essences. (6) The immutable essences, of course require some sort of higher Organizer, but the existentialist/phenomenologist tends to think that things and phenomena "just happen." In such a philosophy there is no "foundation of all truth and absolute law," but only the history of what took place in men's lives. (7)
When rationalists do return to Christianity, it is often to that Christianity which holds the Sacred Scripture out for personal interpretation but rejects the authority of the Church that compiled and interprets those Scriptures by divine appointment. (8) They turn to Protestantism because it is, itself, a species of rationalism.
Catholic theologians and philosophers ought to understand the tenets of existentialism and phenomenology because it is their duty to defend unchanging truth against such errors. But, the Pope laments that even "Catholic teachers ... desirous of novelty, and fearing to be considered ignorant of recent scientific findings try to withdraw themselves from the sacred Teaching Authority." (10) One can only speculate whether or not Pope Pius was aware of the growing Modernist network that was fueled more by lust than by any love of novelty or desire to be "current" in thinking.
The Pope now -- and this was in 1950 -- comes to the recognition of what may well be the undoing of Christendom or Western Civilization as we know it. He refers to it as "eirenism," but we today would call it "cultural communism" (to use Charlton Heston's term), "dialogue," or simply "political correctness." In a misguided effort to be charitable, Modernist Catholics go far beyond the proper human respect that is due to those sincerely in error, falsely holding truth to be of no value, and even portraying truth and the Authority which teaches truth and the methods of teaching truth as hindrances to the "propagation of the kingdom of Christ everywhere throughout the world...." (11) Presumably, in Pope Pius' time it had not yet become fashionable to suggest that the kingdom of Christ Itself might profitably yield to the kingdom of Happy Thoughts as we find in the following half century -- that truth matters not at all as long as we all "just get along."
Pope Pius recognizes that Modernists are trying to change the Faith while claiming that they are simply restating its truths in the modern idiom. He cautions against any restatement of terminology made to make the Faith more acceptable to non-Catholics (12), and advances the importance and value of the theological terminology worked out so carefully and lucidly over many centuries (14), and points to the absurdity of Modernism with its theology ever changing in response to its continuously changing ways of looking at reality (15). Continuous change of terminology can only lead to the notion that dogma itself can change (16), and will put all speculative theology in doubt (17), leading to contempt for the Magisterium itself.
Paragraph 20 might seem somewhat problematic, demanding intellectual assent to papal encyclicals, presuming that they will always be in accord with the ordinary teaching authority of the Church. But Pope Pius has in mind the resolution by a Pope of some "matter up to that time under dispute" -- he doesn't even consider the possibility of a Pope contradicting that which has already been determined.
Theology does not produce revelation, nor does the Magisterium. Revelation is explicited only from Scripture and Tradition, by theologians acting under the guidance of the Magisterium (21). Modernism, however, falsely challenges the divine authorship of Scripture, assigns to it a "human sense" to be examined by merely human reason, claiming that only this procedure leads to knowing the hidden divine sense (22). They posit a "symbolic" meaning of the sacred texts, open to interpretation by all the faithful (23), ignoring the sound wisdom of Leo XIII's Providentissimus, Benedicts XV's Spiritus Paraclitus, and Pope Pius' own Divino afflante Spiritu (24).
There follows a brief syllabus of the errors arising from the errors of modernist-existentialism, including: the doubt that unaided human reason can know a personal God; denial of creation, or the assertion that God had to create the world; denial of God's omniscience of man's free actions; questioning of the existence of angels, and the radical difference between matter and spirit; the assertion that intellectual beings must possess the beatific vision; the denial of original sin and sin in general; attributing a merely symbolic meaning to the Blessed Sacrament; the denial of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ or the denial of Its necessity for salvation; and the denial that the Catholic Fait is reasonable.
Human reason, the Pope reminds us, is capable of truth -- and all the more so when buttressed by the Teaching Authority of the Church (29). Pope Pius reminds us of the fundamental flaw in Modernist thinking -- the source of the disaster of the last fifty years:
The philosophy of St. Thomas, already endorsed by Pope Leo XIII, is basic to the study of Catholic philosophy and Theology (31-32). While feelings and emotions do not determine truth, authentic Catholic instruction must provide for "good dispositions of soul for perceiving and embracing moral and religious truths" (33).
Where the natural sciences touch theological issues, they can be admitted only when proven factual -- i.e. not mere hypotheses. As truth cannot contradict truth, what is clearly revealed by God cannot be contradicted by any body of human knowledge (35). Specifically, the theory of evolution remains hypothetical, but not entirely incompatible with revelation -- the individual creation of soul by God, is beyond debate -- nor is the concept admissible which holds that man descended from more than one common pair of ancestors (polygenism) (36-37).
The historical books of the Bible must not be too freely interpreted, and certainly not be reduced to myths, but must understood as history, revealed by God, and written in the "simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured" (38-39).
Catholic institutions are not generally guilty of the innovations mentioned, but "such new opinions can entice the incautious ... and are being spread openly or covertly." Bishops and Superiors general must exercise vigilance (40-41). Good teaching is binding in conscience (42). Scholars ought to strive for knowledge, must not act in haste, nor with false "eireism."
Pope Pius warned about the spread of false philosophy within the Church Itself. His encyclical is well worth reading.
1. Pope Paul VI, Humanæ vitæ, #12, 25 July 1968 http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P6HUMANA.HTM
2. Msgr Leo S. Schumacher, The Truth About Teilhard (NY: Twin Circle, 1968) p. 42-43, associates Teilhard with both the "Peking man" and "Piltdown man" frauds.