Protestant theologian R. C. Sproul, in his series Contemporary Theology, comments on Rome's view of the connection between the Reformation and modern heresies:

In the latter part of the 19th century, growing out of Vatican I, in the Roman Catholic Church the charge was made that all modern heresies (humanism, pragmatism, existentialism were listed and cited specifically) have their roots in the Protestant Reformation. That was the Roman Catholic Church's judgment at the end of the 19th century about the chaos in Christendom. ("Background to Contemporary Theology," 5:30)

This certainly sounds like something that Roman Catholicism (and many impartial observers) would accept. However, I looked in two documents of Vatican I (Dei Filius and Pastor aeternus) and didn't see anything like this. So:

Did an official outlet of the Roman Catholic Church actually make such a statement in the late 19th century? Were heresies like humanism and existentialism specifically mentioned as being the result of the Reformation? Or are such statements only found in the writings of Catholic theologians and not the church itself?

  • Pascendi Dominici Gregis - Pope St. Pius X The document is vast, but indicates how the spark that Luther started grew into a modernistic movement of secular humanism and Rationalism. If I have time, i'll post a full answer. I imagine someone will beat me to it.
    – Marc
    Feb 14, 2017 at 17:04
  • 2
    This is not the first time I've heard this said. It's an interesting theory. I've heard someone put it as "You can draw a straight line through the Reformation, to the Enlightenment to modern secularism and Atheism". As a Catholic, I subscribe to this view, however I must admit I haven't studied the issue in any great depth. Feb 14, 2017 at 22:05
  • @TheIronKnuckle See the quote in my answer. The "someone" you're referring to is likely Pope St. Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi.
    – Geremia
    Feb 19, 2017 at 22:44
  • @Marc In section §14, "The Modernist as Believer: Individual Experience and Religious Certitude," of Pascendi, Pope St. Pius X says: "For the Modernist believer…it is an established and certain fact that the divine reality does really exist in itself and quite independently of the person who believes in it. If you ask on what foundation this assertion of the Believer rests, they [the Modernists] answer: In the experience of the individual. On this head the Modernists differ from the Rationalists only to fall into the opinion of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics."
    – Geremia
    Feb 19, 2017 at 22:46
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    @Mr.Bultitude Sproul suggests that the quote is a bit more specific than that given here. So ideally I'd like to see some evidence that Sproul is wrong, or that there's another quote out there. Mar 23, 2017 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


Pope St. Pius X mentions Protestantism in §13, §25, and §§38-39 of Pascendi Dominici gregis,* his 1907 encyclical condemning Modernism, "the synthesis of all heresies" (§39). For example, at the end of §39, "Modernism and All the Heresies," he writes:

…by how many roads Modernism leads to the annihilation of all religion. The first step in this direction was taken by Protestantism; the second is made by Modernism; the next will plunge headlong into atheism.

The idea of "steps" from modernism to atheism is illustrated, albeit in a Fundamentalist Protestant context, in "The Descent of the Modernists" by E. J. Pace, Christian Cartoons, 1922:

The Descent of the Modernists

*Here is some audio of Fr. Thwaites, SJ, reading Pascendi: part 1, part 2, part 3


Geremia did a good job of bringing to light the words of Pope Pius X, and I'm not sure you're gonna see much more out of the Pope's official capacity since then in the name of ecumenism, plus we're really on the same side against modernism.

But Hillaire Belloc was never afraid to needle Protestants for opening up the gates of Hell. He wrote, in the early 20th century concerning what he called "The Modern Attack" and the Popes call Modernism that:

Ultimately, of course, it is the fruit of the original break-up of Christendom at the Reformation. It began in the denial of a central authority, it has ended by telling man that he is sufficient to himself, and it has set up everywhere great idols to be worshipped as gods.

Belloc - The Great Heresies

and in Orthodoxy his friend G.K. Chesterton wrote about the delight the moderns take in skinning cats being a direct offshoot of denying fundamental Catholic dogmas like Original Sin. He wrote that while Protestant preachers might deny the sin of skinning a cat while enlightenment thinkers would take it a step further and deny the cat. But both have the same root in the denial of dogmas and the authority to define those dogmas.

  • Looks like you should probably get yourself a new hero - anyone who describes the Reformation as the original break-up of Christendom is an absolute nong - does he think Christendom did not exist in the preceding eleven centuries or that there were no break-ups in that period? Mar 24, 2017 at 15:37
  • @bruised reed, yeah, he wrote the book on it
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 24, 2017 at 18:14
  • So, does he conflate Eastern Orthodoxy with Catholicism or does he just ignore it completely? Mar 24, 2017 at 19:55
  • @bruised Eastern Orthodoxy is not a heresy, it's a schism. But, I'll give you half a point because he doesn't cover it very well. I don't think he, or his readers at the time, had a whole lot of experience with it.
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 24, 2017 at 21:03
  • > I may be asked by way of postscript to this prelude why I have not included any mention of the schisms. The schisms are as much attacks upon the life of the Catholic Church as are the heresies; the greatest schism of all, the Greek or Orthodox, which has produced the Greek or Orthodox communion, is manifestly a disruption of our strength.
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 24, 2017 at 21:12

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