Sunday, June 12, 2011

Religious Responses to Modernism

I want to start developing a series of short exercises for students of history and theology. This project will partially fulfill the requirements for a degree program where I'm expected to turn in complete syllabi for college history courses. The title of this post is the theme for the exercise: "Religious Responses to Modernism."

According to The New Oxford American Dictionary, modernism is "a movement toward modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas." I understand that there are narrower definitions of the term. See, for example, the definition provided in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. But here I use the word "modernism" in that very broad sense of the definition I've quoted.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, in both Europe and America, developments like Darwinism, Modern Geology, and Higher Criticism of the Bible placed enormous pressure on Christianity and Judaism. In the modern world, tradition was no longer the judge of truth. Now, it seemed, tradition was the accused. Science and reason were the new the arbiters of truth.

Of course, nowhere did modernism cause more controversy than it did in its encounter with religion. In the following short readings, you will get a taste of some of the various religious responses to the rise and strength of modernism. As you read these, notice their similarities and differences. Take note especially of the different responses to the same basic issue.

Reform Judaism: In 1885, Kaufmann Kohler of New York called together Reform Jewish rabbis from around the United States. They met from November 16-19, with Isaac Mayer Wise presiding. The meeting was understood to be the continuation of the Philadelphia Conference of 1869, which built upon German conferences held in the 1840s. In 1885, the rabbis adopted what is known as the Pittsburg Platform.

Roman Catholicism: Pope Pius X was born in 1835 in Upper Venetia. He was elected Pope in 1903 and died in 1914. In September 1910, Pius issued the Sacrorum antistitum, The Oath Against Modernism. All religious leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were required to swear to this statement until is was rescinded in July 1967.

Conservative Protestantism: Benjamin B. Warfield was born in 1851 near Lexington, Kentucky. He was a conservative Protestant Christian who taught at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until he died in 1921. A prolific writer, Warfield served as editor of the Presbyterian Review from 1890 to 1903. Around this time, he published the essay, Christianity and Our Times.

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