Thursday, May 01, 2014

Loftus, Modernism, and the Resurrection

I think it is particularly appropriate to post this in the days after the permanent suppression of Deacon Nick Donnelly's blog 'Protect the Pope'. I will have more to say on the contrast between the cases of Mgr Loftus and Deacon Donnelly in another post. 


While most Catholics are celebrating Christ's victory over death, Mgr Basil Loftus is desperately playing it down, as he has year after year at Easter time in his Catholic Times column.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that

643 Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.

But it is precisely this which Loftus wants not to acknowledge. In 2010 he distinguished 'facts' from non-factual elements in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, in order to deny that the Resurrection on the third day was a 'fact'. In 2011 he wrote:

Yes, there is mention of the empty tomb. But that doesn't historically mean that Christ rose from the dead - just that his body was not there. All that historical science can say about Christ's resurrection is that the disciples believed in it and witnessed to it. The Scripture account of the resurrection is merely an account of that witness.

Again: 'the New Testament is not a historical account of the resurrection.'

Having dealt successively with facts and historical matters, in 2012 he denied that it was an event in the physical order.

Christ's Resurrection from the dead means that a fully-fledged member of the human race, a man like us in all things but sin, has entered into the glory of God and taken on a new spiritual existence.

This year he tells us that all the things in the Gospels which support the Catechism and contradict him are merely 'artistic licence'. They weren't factual, historical, or physical. This seems almost obsessive: what's going on?

What is going on is a classic Modernist mindset at work. Modernists are motivated above all by fear of Science. The worry is that Science deals with facts. Science is on the march. Science is against Religion. Any facts, anything historical, anything physical, is the domain of Science, and any theologian foolish enough to make factual, historical claims, claims about physical things, is exposing himself to contradiction by Scientists. The way to defend the Faith from the onward march of the Men of Science is by saying that none of the things which are important to the Faith are inextricably connected with any factual, historical, or physical claims.

IMG_5952You have to remember, of course, that this way of thinking was developed in response to the scientific triumphalism of about 150 years ago, and even this depended on philosophical developments in the 18th century. It is about as 'modern' as the horse-drawn cab or gas lighting. It is not, however, so much a theory or a claim, as an instinctive cringe towards Science; as I have called it, a mind-set. This makes it all the harder to dislodge. You can say the Modernist: look, really, no scientist is going to provide evidence that the Resurrection didn't happen, at this distance of time that particular worry just doesn't come into it. But he will just just give a little nervous titter and insist that it really is so much better, yes believe me my dear fellow, not to leave any hostages to fortune by making historical claims which look so implausible. I mean, a man rising from the dead. That kind of thing has hardly ever been known to happen: as a matter of historical science, it is unlikely, therefore, to have happened on this occasion.

Yes, that really is how they argue. You can point out that there is nothing actually impossible about walking on water, we are just talking about God applying a force to counter-balance gravity at a particular time and place, and if we believe in God at all surely this is the kind of thing He can do. The Modernist will just wring his hands quietly and say that you can't appeal to that kind of intervention in Science. The Men of Science don't allow it. We can talk about Jesus walking on water, yes of course we can, it's a nice story, but what's important, surely, what is really important, is not the physical side of it but the spiritual lesson Jesus was trying to teach, or better still what the Evangelists were trying to teach when they made up the story (oops, did I really say that?).

The Resurrection is a tough one because it is particularly clear in this case, as it is in fact often the case with miracles, that the spiritual significance of the event depends upon the physical reality of it. As St Paul says, if Christ did not rise from the dead, our Faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14) But the idea that the whole of the Christian Faith depends on the historical truth of an event so prima facie unlikely as a man rising from the dead gives the Modernists the vapours. They just have to do something to give the Faith a more secure foundation - as they see it. Never mind about conjuring tricks with bones, what's really important is that Jesus' message is alive in our hearts. What does it matter, after all, what happened to Jesus' physical body? And at this point you realise that abandoning the realm of 'facts' to Science also entails a complete abandonment of incarnational theology: the theology of God becoming flesh, and indeed of human beings being physical beings and not just gibbering ghosts temporarily associated with a bit of skin and bone.

Loftus gets particularly vague at this point, clinging on to the Incarnation but saying that the rest of it is just a 'mystery'. But if the Incarnation was a historical event, and the Virgin Birth which went with it, why not the Resurrection?

Loftus wants to lift a burden from his readers: the burden of having to believe and defend unnecessary historical, factual, physical claims. Freed of that crushing burden, they can enjoy the life-giving spiritual lessons of the Gospels. The problem is that, without the factual stuff, the spiritual stuff doesn't make sense: to paraphrase St Paul, if Christ has not risen, we've been duped. The Church agrees with St Paul, and Modernism has been condemned up hill and down dale, and, on top of that, is now thoroughly old hat. Loftus continues to beat the dead horse, pathetically, and for some reason The Catholic Times continues to print it.

As I have said before, this madness must stop.


Photos: Mysteries of the Rosary from St Dominic's, Haverstock Hill (a Dominican church).


  1. Anonymous10:11 am

    "As I have said before, this madness must stop"

    Yes indeed. Maybe the time has come to starve him of the oxygen of publicity, which he appears to NEED.!

    1. He gets his publicity from the Catholic Times. It is true he likes that. But what he needs above all, is to have his say without contradiction. That is not something I am willing to give him.

    2. Anonymous10:32 am

      Yes, though I suspect that the rag of The Catholic Times has far fewer readers than your great blog! D.g.

  2. Modernism is so old hat - it is nothing but the revivification of Docetist and Gnostic heresies. Once you take the physical, historical facts out of Christianity, all you are left with is Gnosticism.

    I think part of the problem for modernists is that they are themselves very ignorant of science, its strengths, its limitations and its weaknesses. That is why they fear it and so try to hide from it. The easiest way to avoid conflict with physical reality is to pretend that our faith does not operate in the realms of physical reality in the first place.

    Having graduated from a science and technology university, I found that those believing Christians (Protestants, Orthodox as well as Catholic) who studied and worked in different fields of science usually had no problems at all with accepting the physical and historical nature of the Resurrection. A number of us gave "bishop" David Jenkins a very hard time when he came to talk to us.

    As St. Paul says, if the physical resurrection of the body is not true, then we are the saddest of men (and the whole of Christianity is bunk.)

  3. "As I have said before, this madness must stop"

    But it's not stopping. It's getting worse, much worse, as I suspect you will say when you comment on "protectthepope".

    Efpastor may well be right and this blog may be read by more than the "Catholic Times" is, but it's still only a small number.

    Dr. Shaw
    Having read some of what you have written, (excusing the complimentary comments you made on Bishop Macmahon ) and found out a little more about you, I have to believe that you know the right person to lead the battle to stop it, both in the church and in society. You and they might not know that they are that person yet but I pray and believe that you know him/her/them and that together you, with our help, can not only stop this but reverse it.
    Only once there is a leader can others follow. And only once that happens, I suggest, is this going to stop.

    I realise that this is the second time I have made this point in a week, and that the little I claim to know about you really is "a little" and what is easily available, but it really is desperate. As you know better than most.
    And I promise not to do it again. For a while at least.

  4. At the end of the day, how much difference is there, really, between Loftus and Tyrrell and Loisy?

    From what I have read by Msgr. Loftus, it's hard to see much daylight between them. But then I suspect that he's not the greatest fan of Pascendi Dominici Gregis in the first place.

  5. A really great analysis. Many thanks.

  6. Joseph,

    You put things so well.

    Christ rose from the dead, Body Blood Soul and Divinity. Thomas put his fingers in the holes of a solid hand, and Christ ate bread, masticated it and swallowed it just as the other Apostles in the room were doing. The difference being that his body had been lifeless, cold and well, just dead, not so long before.

    As Catholics we believe that. If we don’t, or can’t, then the whole thing falls apart and we might just as well jack it in, stop paying Basil his Church pension, and go down to the pub.

    Science is concerned with measuring, analysing and understanding the physical world of matter, dimension and time. Christ is not of that world. He is from the spiritual world, one which we know exists, but can in no way understand. In trying to “explain” this Basil is just being daft. In trying to deny it he is being heretical. As a scientist, (Rtd)., I could have weighed Christ, measured his height, - analysed a DNA sample, but not explained Him.

    Having said that, do you not take him too seriously? He is, as you say, old hat. There is a lovely word to describe Basil but it is in my local dialect and I would have to translate it, so I won’t bother.

    I look forward to your comments on the “Protect the Pope” situation, which I feel very strongly about.

  7. Mgr Loftus also has the opportunity of publicising his views in the pages of the Scottish Catholic Observer. On April 18th he had an article in which he wrote about his views on the Resurrection. Whether it was the same article as the one which appeared in the Catholic Times I do not know but I would imagine the content was very similar. Given the number of highly-articulate orthodox priests in the Church why supposedly Catholic newspapers give a dissenting priest so much space beats me. Do they support his views? Or perhaps they think that circulation will be increased by a bit of controversy.

    1. I'd be interested to see it - if you could send a copy or a scan to the LMS office.