modernism, in religion, a general movement in the late 19th and 20th cent. that tried to reconcile historical Christianity with the findings of modern science and philosophy. Modernism arose mainly from the application of modern critical methods to the study of the Bible and the history of dogma and resulted in less emphasis on historic dogma and creeds and in greater stress on the humanistic aspects of religion. Importance was placed upon the immanent rather than the transcendent nature of God. The movement as a whole was profoundly influenced by the pragmatism of William James, the intuitionism of Henri Bergson, and the philosophy of action of Maurice Blondel. Modernist ideas were accepted in all or in part by many of the Protestant denominations, but there was also a reaction against them in the movement called fundamentalism. In reformed Judaism, especially among Americans, there developed a modernist movement resembling Protestant modernism. Within the Roman Catholic Church there was a movement specifically referred to as Modernism; it was condemned as the "synthesis of all heresies" by Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi (1907). Among the leaders of Catholic Modernism were A. F. Loisy in France and George Tyrrell in England. Vital to the Catholic movement were the adoption of the critical approach to the Bible, which was by that time accepted by most Protestant churches, and the rejection of the intellectualism of scholastic theology, with the corresponding subordination of doctrine to practice. Many modernists applied the pragmatic method to the sacraments, to dogma, and to prayer. They considered the sacraments to have no reality as a divinely ordained means of grace, but valuable only for their psychological effect. These tendencies led them naturally to deny the authority of the church and the traditional Christian conception of God; a decree declared the beliefs heretical, ending Roman Catholic Modernism.
See M. Rancheti, The Catholic Modernists (tr. 1969); B. M. Reardon, comp., Roman Catholic Modernism (1970); A. R. Vidler, A Variety of Catholic Modernists (1970); W. R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (1976); G. Daly, Transcendence and Immanence: A Study in Catholic Modernism and Integralism (1980).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Christianity: General