The Unholy Trinity of Modern Errors
Naturalism, Rationalism and Liberalism
By Robert J. Siscoe
(From the June 2013 issue of Catholic Family News )
“[T]he obstinate passion of Naturalism is the dethronement of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to drive him from the world. This will be the task of Antichrist and it is Satan’s supreme ambition. … Naturalism strives with all its might to exclude our Lord Jesus Christ, our One Master and Savior, from the minds of men as well as from the daily lives and habits of peoples, in order to set up the reign of reason or of nature. Now, wherever the breath of Naturalism has passed, the very source of Christian life is dried up. Naturalism means complete sterility in regard to salvation and eternal life”.
So wrote Cardinal Pie, the Bishop of Poitiers and great defender of the Social Kingship of Christ, against the error of Naturalism – the root error of our times – which has caused the destruction of Christendom and launched the world into the present Age of Apostasy.
In this article we will examine the errors of Naturalism and its two offspring: Rationalism and Liberalism. We will see that Rationalism is simply the application of Naturalism to human reason, while Liberalism is the application thereof to the human will. Together these errors form an unholy Trinity, within which Naturalism is the father, Rationalism is the prideful son proceeding from the father, and Liberalism is the rebellious daughter who proceeds from both the father and the son.
Naturalism consists in the negation of the supernatural order in one of two ways: either the very existence of the supernatural order is denied, or if it is admitted, it denies “the possibility, or at least the fact, of any transitory intervention of God in nature”. (1) Consequently, it denies the possibility of man’s nature being elevated to the supernatural level by the infusion of sanctifying grace, of his reason being enlightened by supernatural Faith, and his will being perfected by supernatural charity.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange said Naturalism is a development of Protestantism, and indeed the seeds of Naturalism can be seen in the Protestant view of justification, which denies that the justified soul is elevated to the supernatural level by grace. Luther denied that the justified soul has his sins forgiven through an infusion of supernatural life, and instead claimed that the sin laden soul is merely “covered over with the merits of Christ”, while remaining metaphysically unchanged. According to Luther man is not truly made just, but only declared just.
This error eventually developed to the point where all intervention of the supernatural in the natural order is rejected, including Divine Revelation. According to Naturalism:
“Having no supernatural destiny, man needs no supernatural means — neither sanctifying grace as a permanent principle to give his actions a supernatural value nor actual grace to enlighten his mind and strengthen his will. The Fall of Man, the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption, with their implications and consequences, can find no place in a Naturalistic creed”. (2)
Masonic Naturalism adds a “positive” element by maintaining that man is essentially divine, and can perfect himself without the aid of supernatural grace – a doctrine sufficiently refuted by a Saturday afternoon trip to Walmart.
The object of man’s intellect is truth. Since Naturalism denies the existence of any divinely revealed truth, Rationalism maintains that human reason alone is the source of truth, and therefore the exclusive judge of what is true and false, good and evil. Pope Leo XIII said: “The fundamental doctrine of Rationalism is the supremacy of the human reason, which, refusing due submission to the divine and eternal reason, proclaims its own independence, and constitutes itself the supreme principle and source and judge of truth”. (Libertas)
In his magnificent book, The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, Fr. Fahey describes the relationship between Naturalism and Rationalism.
“[T]he formal constitutive element of Rationalism is the principle of the absolute autonomy of reason. The proximate foundation of Rationalism is Naturalism; the remote foundation is Pantheism and Atheism. … [Naturalism] involves the negation of either the existence of the supernatural order of truth and life, or at least the possibility of getting to know that order, even by Revelation. …. Naturalism is often used to signify the same thing as Rationalism, yet, in a strict sense, it rather designates the foundation of Rationalism. Naturalism is, properly speaking, the negation of the possibility of the elevation of our nature to the supernatural order, and Rationalism is the application of that doctrine to human reason, as Liberalism is the application thereof to liberty…”. (Pg. 44)
If the existence of a transcendent First Cause is acknowledged, the intervention of God in the natural order is denied. This is the error of the Deist, for whom “God is only Creator, not Providence; He cannot, or may not, interfere with the natural course of events, or He never did so”. (3) Deism acknowledges the laws of nature, but denies prophecy, miracles, and “the possibility of a Divine revelation imposing any laws other than those which natural religion enjoins on man”.
What all forms of Rationalism have in common is a belief in the supremacy of reason, and a rejection of Divine Revelation.
What is Revelation?
Divine Revelation is a Divine action, essentially supernatural, whereby God speaks to man through means which are beyond the ordinary course of nature, for the purpose of guiding the human race to its supernatural end. Public Revelation came to man first through the prophets in the Old Testament, and lastly through Christ as man. “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son…”. (Heb 1:1-2)
The truths God has revealed include not only supernatural mysteries that exceed the power of reason to comprehend, such as the Trinity, but also natural truths that can be known by the power of unaided reason. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange explained that the revelation of natural truths was not absolutely necessary, since these truths do not exceed the power of reason to discover; but it was morally necessary “so that all the truths may be known quickly, with firm certitude, and with no admixture of error by all”. (4) He further explained that Revelation is considered supernatural substantially if the truth revealed exceeds power of created intelligence to comprehend (e.g. the Trinity); it is supernatural modally if the manner of revelation is supernatural, even though the truth revealed does not exceed the power of the human mind to discover, such as the goodness of God or the immortality of the soul. (5)
Man’s intellect was made for truth, but due to its imperfection and the
darkening resulting from the Fall, man often errs in his judgment of truth.
There are two principles of truth: human reason, which is prone to error, and
Divine Revelation which is inerrant. When man assents by Faith to revealed
truths, it “frees and guards human reason from many errors, and furnishes it
with manifold knowledge”. (First Vatican Council)
Denying Revelation itself, as does Rationalism, is not only contrary to Faith, but also incompatible with salvation, since “without faith no one has ever attained justification; nor will anyone obtain eternal life, unless he shall have persevered in faith unto the end”. (First Vatican Council)
What is Faith?
When we speak of Faith as an object, as the Faith, it refers to the teachings of Revelation; but faith is also a theological virtue and an action. The virtue of faith is necessary to make a supernatural act of faith, and the act of faith is dependent upon the object to be believed. By denying the object itself, the Faith is attacked at its foundation.
The formal object is God revealing; the material object is the truth revealed. The virtue of faith is a supernatural virtue that is infused by God into the human intellect where it habitually abides, the purpose of which is to enlighten the mind and enable the created intellect to believe the supernatural truths God has revealed – “for the intellect of the believer must be proportioned to this object [believed] by a power essentially supernatural”. (6)
The act of faith consists of an intellectual assent to the truths revealed by God, “not on account of the intrinsic truth perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, the Revealer”. (Satis Cognitum, Leo XIII) If a single truth revealed by God and sufficiently proposed by the Church is rejected, the supernatural virtue of faith is lost entirely. Just as all sanctifying grace is lost through a single mortal sin, so too is all faith lost through disbelief in a single dogma; for “he who dissents even in one point from divinely revealed truth absolutely rejects all faith, since he thereby refuses to honor God as the supreme truth and the formal motive of faith”. (Ibid.)
As we have seen, Naturalism undermines all Faith by denying Revelation itself. For this reason, Cardinal Pie said:
“Naturalism is more than a heresy; it is pure undiluted anti-Christianism. Heresy denies one or more dogmas; Naturalism denies that there are any dogmas or that there can be any. Naturalism denies the very existence of Revelation. (…) the greatest obstacle to the salvation of men, as the [First] Vatican Council points out in the first Constitution on Doctrine, what hurls more people into hell nowadays than at any other epoch, is Rationalism or Naturalism…”.
The rapid rise of Naturalism over the past three centuries has been equaled only by the loss of Faith that has followed in its wake.
Fr. Tanquerey explains that Rationalism is rooted in intellectual pride:
“The first form of pride is to regard oneself, explicitly or implicitly, as one’s own first principle. … This is … the sin of Lucifer, who, desiring to be a rule unto himself, refused to submit to God; … the sin of Rationalists, who in their pride of intellect refuse to submit their reason to Faith. This is also the sin of certain intellectuals, who, too proud to accept the traditional interpretation of dogmas, attenuate and deform them to make them conformable to their own views”. (7)
The last category described by Fr. Tanquerey fits the Modernists, who reject the perennial teaching of the Church, and instead attempt to re-interpret the articles of Faith in a new way, according to their own lights.
Modernism is a form of Rationalism, insofar as it makes human reason the sole
principle and judge of truth. Like Rationalism, it denies the existence of
public external Revelation, and instead claims that revelation springs forth
from within man – from a divine seminal principle that is part of man’s rational
Modernism blurs the distinction between the natural and supernatural by the doctrine of vital immanence, which essentially “divinizes” human reason, making it the principle and source of revelation. Modernists claim that divine revelation originates within each man, and is “revealed” to him through his consciousness, thereby “making consciousness and revelation synonymous”, as Pius X said in Pascendi. In reality, Modernism reduces “revelation” to the whims and fancies of man and, like Rationalism, undermines the foundation of Faith by denying the object of Faith, namely, public external Revelation.
In the book Liberalism is a Sin, Fr. Salvany notes that there are distinctions in degrees of both venial and mortal sin, and then explains that, with the exception of formal hatred of God, sins against Faith are the greatest of all sins.
“The gravity of sin is determined by the object at which it strikes. (…) With the exception of formal hate against God… the gravest of all sins are those against Faith. The reason is evident. Faith is the foundation of the supernatural order, and sin is sin in so far as it attacks this supernatural order at one or another point; hence that is the greatest sin which attacks this order at its very foundations. To destroy the foundation is to destroy the entire superstructure. To cut off the branch of a tree will not kill it; but to lay the ax to the trunk or the root is fatal to its life. Henceforth it bears neither blossom nor fruit. St. Augustine, cited by St. Thomas, characterizes sin against faith in these words: ‘This is the sin which comprehends all other sins’.” (8)
He then quotes St. Thomas, who said:
“The gravity of sin is determined by the interval which it places between man and God; now sin against Faith divides man from God as far as possible, since it deprives him of the true knowledge of God; it therefore follows that sin against Faith is the greatest of all sins.” (I-II Q 10, A 3)
Naturalism and Rationalism – both of which directly attack the Faith – are, therefore, the greatest sins known to man, with the exception of formal hatred of God.
Just as Rationalism is the application of Naturalism to human reason, so Liberalism is the application to the human will. Rationalism denies that man must believe what God has revealed; Liberalism denies that man must obey what God has revealed. Liberalism is to the practical order what Rationalism is to the speculative order. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange said: “From the standpoint of the intellect, Rationalism is opposed to Christian Faith. From the standpoint of the will, Liberalism is opposed to Christian Obedience”. (9)
Liberalism denies the Rights of God and the universal Kingship of Christ over individuals and nations, and seeks to be a law unto itself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the universal King of all creation, and therefore,
as Pius XI taught, “has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by
violence nor usurped, but His by essence and by nature. His Kingship is founded
upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ
is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man [both] angels and men
are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union
Christ has power over all creatures. … Christ is our King by acquired, as well
as by natural right, for he is our Redeemer … it is a dogma of Faith that Jesus
Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to
whom obedience is due”. (Quas Primas)
Since all men have a duty to acknowledge their Creator and submit to Christ the King – the “law-giver, to whom obedience is due” – man will never possess an inherent right to violate the Law of Christ. Just as no one will ever possess an inherent right to violate the Fifth Commandment by procuring an abortion, so too no one will ever possess an inherent right to violate the First Commandment by the practice of a false religion. That’s why Pius IX formally condemned the proposition that: “Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true” (Syllabus of Pius IX, #15)
Liberals ignore the Rights of God and focus exclusively on a disordered notion of the rights of man, extending them “to many things in respect of which man cannot rightly be regarded as free”. (Libertas, Leo XIII)
Man’s rights flow from his duties, and his duties correspond to the Rights of God. God has the right to enact laws to guide man in his actions. Man has the corresponding duty to acknowledge his Creator and submit to His laws, as well as a right to the means necessary to fulfill his obligations to God. Since man’s rights flow from his duties, and since his highest duty is to obey God, man will never possess an inherent right to do that which God forbids. All men are morally bound to obey the Commandments of the Decalogue and submit to the Law of Christ, and “by the Law of Christ we mean not only the natural precepts of morality and the Ancient Law… but also the rest of His doctrine and His own peculiar institution”. (Tametsi, Leo XIII)
Liberalism denies man’s obligation to submit to God’s law. They claim that since man is by nature free, he should be able to do as he pleases, as long as what he pleases does not result in physical harm to another. Pope Leo XIII exposed the fundamental error of Liberalism in the encyclical Libertas, in which he distinguished between natural liberty (free will) and moral liberty. Natural liberty is the capacity to make a moral choice; it is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. Moral liberty establishes necessary boundaries for our natural liberty in order to guide man to his proper end. Natural liberty is the ability to choose; moral liberty directs the will in what it chooses. The boundaries establishing our moral liberty consist of law, whether known by the natural light of reason, or imposed upon man by God through Divine Revelation.
Leo XIII explains that a thing acts freely when it acts according to its nature. Since man is by nature rational, he acts freely when his actions are according to right reason. A free act is not simply an act that a person freely chooses, but a freely chosen act that is in accord with its nature. On this point, St. Thomas wrote:
“Man is by nature rational. When, therefore, he acts according to reason, he acts of himself and according to his free will; and this is liberty. Whereas, when he sins, he acts in opposition to reason, is moved by another, and is the victim of foreign misapprehensions. Therefore, ‘Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin’ (John 8:34)”. (10)
The two-fold function of the will is to desire and choose, but the will itself is a blind faculty. It always desires the good, since good is the proper object of the will; but it is incapable of discerning a true good from a merely apparent good. Therefore, the will needs something to direct it in its choice. This something is the intellect (or reason), which judges what is truly good, and then enlightens the will so it can choose accordingly. On this point, Pope Leo XIII wrote:
“The will cannot proceed to act until it is enlightened by the knowledge possessed by the intellect. In other words, the good wished by the will is necessarily good in so far as it is known by the intellect; and this the more, because in all voluntary acts choice is subsequent to a judgment upon the truth of the good presented, declaring to which good preference should be given. No sensible man can doubt that judgment is an act of reason, not of the will. The end, or object, both of the rational will and of its liberty is that good only which is in conformity with reason”. (Libertas, Leo XIII)
Now due to original sin, man’s intellect is itself defective and therefore prone to error. It too needs a guide. This is the purpose of the revealed Law of God, which informs the human reason and prevents it from deviating into error. If the reason errs in its judgment, it will misdirect the will in its choice; and the blind following the blind, both will end in the pit. “If the mind assents to false opinions”, wrote Leo XIII, “and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption”. (Immortale Dei) By accepting the truths God has revealed, man’s reason is perfected and thereby safeguarded from error.
Now, since man is by nature rational, and therefore capable of receiving the revealed Law of God, man is morally bound to accept it. On this point Leo XIII wrote:
“Nothing more foolish can be uttered or conceived than the notion that, because man is free by nature, he is therefore exempt from law. Were this the case, it would follow that to become free we must be deprived of reason; whereas the truth is that we are bound to submit to law precisely because we are free by our very nature. For law is the guide of man’s actions; it turns him toward good by its rewards, and deters him from evil by its punishments”. (Libertas)
Just as the will must be subject to reason in order to choose rightly, so too the reason must be subject to God’s Laws in order to protect it from erring. True liberty does not consist in each man doing what he desires, but in each man doing what he ought; for only by doing what he ought will he arrive at the end for which he was created.
All of this is denied by the Liberals, who say to God “not Thy will, but my will be done”, and attempt to put man in the place of God. According to the Liberal Jean-Jacques Rousseau, any man who submits to a will other than his own (which includes the Divine Will) renounces his manhood. He wrote:
“Man is free by nature and nobody has the right to lay down a law for him except himself; no man can be obliged except by himself. A law cannot be imposed on any man except by himself. If any man allows a law to be imposed upon him by any extraneous will, he will renounce his manhood”. (11)
The only boundaries Liberalism places on the will of man are actions that injure another man. For them, each man has the “right” to violate God’s law, so long as in so doing he does not harm his fellow man. There is no concern for the Rights of God; only for the rights of man. This Liberal error is enshrined in Article 4 of the infamous Declaration of the Rights of Man, which reads: “Liberty is the power of doing what we will, so long as it does not injure another”. (12)
Like Lucifer, the Liberals refuse submission to God’s law, and substitute for true liberty, unbridled license. “But many there are”, wrote Leo XIII, “who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, ‘I will not serve’; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license. Such, for instance, are the men belonging to that widely spread and powerful organization, who, usurping the name of liberty, style themselves Liberals”. (Libertas)
The adherents of Liberalism apply this error both to the individual and to society as a whole – to the individual reason and the social reason – in such a way that individual morality is purely subjective, based solely on the individual reason; while civil law is equally subjective, being derived from the collective reason, or “the will of the people”. Consequently, both the individual reason and the collective social reason are considered sovereign, and therefore “liberated” from the obedience due to the Eternal Reason of God, and from the jurisdiction of the Kingship of Jesus Christ… or so they think. Like the unbelieving Jews who had Christ put to death, the Liberals cry out: “We will not have this man to reign over us”.
“Liberalism … asserts the sovereignty of the individual and the social reason, and enthrones Rationalism in the seat of Authority. … Liberalism denies the absolute jurisdiction of Jesus Christ, who is God, over individuals and over society.
“Morality requires a standard and a guide to rational action (…) In the moral order the Eternal Reason alone can be that principle or fundamental rule of action, and this Eternal Reason is God. In the moral order the created reason, with power to determine its course, must guide itself by the light of the Uncreated Reason, who is the beginning and end of all things. The law, therefore, imposed by the Eternal Reason upon the creature, must be the principle or rule of morality. … But Liberalism has proclaimed the absurd principle of the absolute sovereignty of human reason; it denies any reason beyond itself and asserts its independence (…) Liberalism is radical immorality. (Liberalism is a Sin, Ch. 3)
The “radical immorality” of such crimes as legalized abortion, gay “marriage”, and “same sex unions”, are merely effects proceeding from a cause; and the cause is Naturalism and its two offspring.
Next month we will see how this unholy Trinity of errors has overthrown ‘Altar and Throne’ and launched the world into a New Paganism, thereby preparing the way for the advent of Antichrist.
1) Catholic Encyclopedia, Naturalism
4) The Principles of Catholic Apologetics, by T.J. Walsh, pgs 144-45. The book is an English translation and re-arrangement of De Revelatione by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. Therefore, the quotations are being attributed to Garrigou-Lagrange.
5) Ibid. Pg. 105
6) Ibid. Pg. 154
7) The Spiritual Life, Pg. 394
8) Liberalism is a Sin, Ch. 4
9) The Principles of Catholic Apologetics
10) Cited in Libertas
11) The Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World, Pg. 33
12) Ibid. Pg. 53