INTRINSIC CAUSES OF LIBERAL CATHOLICISMStrange as may seem that anomaly called Liberal Catholicism, its reason is not far to seek. It takes its root in a false conception of the nature of the act of faith. The Liberal Catholic assumes as the formal motive of the act of faith, not the infallible authority of God revealing supernatural truth, but his own reason deigning to accept (40) as true what appears rational to him according to the appreciation and measure of his own individual judgement. He subjects God's authority to the scrutiny of his reason, and not his reason to God's authority. He accepts revelation not on account of the infallible revealer, but because of the "infallible" receiver. With him the individual judgement is the rule of faith. He believes in the independence of reason. It is true he accepts the magisterium of the Church, yet he does not accept it as the sole authorized expounder of divine truth. He reserves, as a coefficient factor in the determination of that truth, his own private judgement. The true sense of revealed doctrine is not always certain, and human reason has something to say in the matter, as for instance, the limits of the Church's infallibility may be determined by human science. Within lines thus prescribed the declarations of the Church are infallible, but these limits are not to be determined by herself. Science will do that for her. She is of course infallible, they say, but we will determine when and in what she shall speak infallibility. Such is the absurdity which the Liberal Catholic falls into by placing the formal motive of faith in human reason.
The Liberal Catholic calls himself a (41) Catholic because he firmly believes Catholicity to be the veritable revelation of the Son of God; he calls himself a Liberal Catholic because he believes that no one can impose upon him any belief which his individual judgement does not measure as perfectly rational. What is not rational he rejects. He is intellectually free to accept or reject. What appears good he assents to, but he is intellectually bound to no one. Thus unwittingly he falls an easy victim to the snare set by the Devil for the intellectually proud. He has substituted the naturalistic principle of free examination for the supernatural principle of faith. As a consequence he is really not Christian, but pagan. He has no real supernatural faith, but only a simple human conviction. In the acceptance of the principle that the individual reason is thus free to believe or not to believe, Liberal Catholics are deluded into the notion that incredulity is a virtue rather than a vice. They fail to see in it an infirmity of the understanding, a voluntary blindness of the heart, and a consequent weakness of will. On the other hand they look upon the skeptical attitude as a legitimate condition wherein intellectual freedom is preserved, the skeptic remaining master of himself to believe or deny. They have a horror of any coercive element in matters of (42) faith; any chastisement of error shocks their tender susceptibilities, and they detest any Catholic legislation in the direction of what they are pleased to call intolerance. The Syllabus of Pius IX is a nightmare to them, a most inopportune, dominating, harsh and peremptory document, calculated to offend the sensibilities of the Protestant and modern world; it need not be accepted as an infallible utterance, and if accepted, must be taken in a very modified sense. The Ultramontane interpretation is violent and extreme, and does much more harm than good by driving back the well disposed at such a show of illiberality.
Close upon this squeamishness in regard to the pronouncement of Catholic doctrine, follows an abhorrence to antagonize the convictions of others, no matter how directly opposed to revealed truth, for with Liberal Catholics the most erroneous are as sacred as the truest convictions, being equally founded upon the principle of intellectual liberty. Thus they erect into a dogma what is called the principle of toleration. The differences of belief are, after all, they complacently argue, due to differences of temperament, education, etc.; we will not exactly approve them, but we should at least condone them.
The first conception of faith being (43) naturalistic, in the development and application of that conception either to the individual or to society, the same naturalistic element evolves itself. Hence it follows that the Liberal Catholic's appreciation of the Church has no foundation in its supernatural character. The Church does not address herself to his sympathies as a supernatural society whose first and supernatural end is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It is on her social and human side that he regards her with affection. It is as the great civilizing, and humanizing power which has lifted so many people from a state of barbarism, the guardian of the ancient arts and letters, the promoter of learning that she wins his applause and approbation. She is first, not because she is first in herself by divine right, but first in virtue of the approval of his own great intellect. Under this false conception apologies have been written in our times, and with strange inconsistency the Church is often lauded as the great promoter and preserver of civilization in the past, while her regressive tendencies are deplored in the present; as if an institution, which alone by divine constitution has the perennial force of progress, could ever weaken or fail in her mission of human regeneration. Under the glamour of an advance towards the (44) mirage of a false happiness in the desert of this life, our Liberal Catholics are proclaiming the shadow while rejecting the substance. True progress, which can only be through an advance to God, can never be effected save through that agency divinely appointed to lead us to God. This the Church of Jesus Christ alone can do, for she, under His institution, is as He Himself, the way, the truth, and the life.
Forgetting the divine and supernatural character of the Church, and she is nothing if not divine and supernatural, Liberal Catholics talk and write about her as a simple human development, accepting in the blindness of their false conception the naturalistic definition of faith. They thus eviscerate the Church, making her the mere husk of what she really is.
Piety itself does not escape the action of this pernicious naturalistic principle; it converts it into pietism that is to say, into a parody of true piety, as is painfully seen in the pious practices of so many people who seek in their devotions only the sentimental emotions of which they themselves are able to be the source. They are devout over themselves, worshipping their own little sentiments and offering incense to idols graven after their own image. This is simply spiritual sensualism, and nothing else. (45) Thus we see in our day in so many souls the degeneration of Christian asceticism, which is the purification of the heart by the repression of the appetites, and the falsification of Christian mysticism, which is neither emotion, nor interior consolation, nor any other Epicurean foible of human sentiment, but union with God through a supernatural love for Him and through absolute submission to His holy will.
Therefore is it that the Catholicity of a great number of people in our times is a Liberal Catholicity, or, rather, a false Catholicity. It is really not Catholicity, but mere naturalism, a pure rationalism; it is in a word paganism disguised in Catholic forms and using Catholic language.