Doctor Don Felix Sarda y Salvany was a popular priest in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century who was considered exemplary for the firmness of his principles and the clarity of his apostolate –centred upon charity and the written word.
Sarda used his considerable skill at writing to spread a correct Catholic worldview in the face of the advancing storm of modernity. Unphased, Sarda stood defiantly upon the rock of the Church, espousing sound and traditional Catholic dogma regardless of shifting public opinion –an attitude sorely missing in today’s clergy.
The majority of Sarda’s views and principles were published in La Revista Popular, a weekly Catholic journal of which he was the editor. Through this publication, Sarda would, with an uncompromising dogmatism, strike down anti-Catholic ideas and doctrines such as Liberalism and Freemasonry as well as many other taboo subjects.
Arguably, Sarda is most famous for his polemics against Liberalism, particularly his book Liberalism is a Sin. Published in 1884, his work caused considerable commotion almost immediately, as the work was reviled by Liberals, of the Clergy and the Lay alike. A Bishop of the Liberal persuasion immediately sought a rebuttal to this work, outsourcing the job to another Spanish priest who dutifully complied. Both books were then sent to Rome to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum the ‘List of Prohibited Books’ with the wish that Sarda’s work be banned.
However, after carefully considering both works, the Secretary of the Council, Fr Jerome Secheri, O.P., issued a statement in a letter dated January 10th, 1887. In his letter, Fr Secheri, not only sided with Sarda, but moreover, found errors in the rebuttal and objected to the ad hominem attacks present within. Quoting from the letter “In the first not only is nothing found contrary to sound doctrine, but its author, D. Felix Sarda merits great praise for his exposition and defence of sound doctrine therein set forth with solidity, order and lucidity, and without personal offence to anyone. The same judgement, however, cannot be passed on the other work, for in matter it needs correction. Moreover, his injurious manner of speaking cannot be approved, for he inveighs rather against the person of D. Sarda, than against the latter’s supposed errors.” Furthermore, the Council ruled that the rebuttal should be taken out of print, whereas the work of Sarda y Salvany should remain unreprimanded.
This seemingly implies that the Church at the time of Sarda considered Liberalism to be a sin, or at the very least, that Sarda’s line of argumentation was sufficiently rooted in proper Catholic thought so as not to be chastised. Due to Catholic teaching and dogma functioning from a basic principle of historical continuity, i.e., that all teachings and dogmas are historically consistent and without error or contradiction, one could safely assume that Liberalism is still a sin.
This conclusion can be arrived at from the decision of the Council, articulated by the Secretary stating that Sarda’s work contained no errors and was an exposition and defence of sound doctrine.
Therefore, regardless of what a particular priest may or may not say in his homilies or sermons, these ideas have been endorsed by the Church as sound doctrine and a correct way of viewing the world. Having not read the rebuttal I cannot comment on the counter-arguments, but seeing as Fr Secheri concluded that it needed correction, one can safely assume that the constituent arguments were not within the purview of a Catholic worldview. This suggests that, before Vatican II, the Catholic Church was ‘anti-Liberal’ in its philosophical predispositions.
Moving into the text proper, Sarda compares Liberalism to a spiritual virus which can only be combatted by a spiritual health which has powers of resistance equal to the emergencies of the attack, and that these powers of resistance are proportional to spiritual health.
Specifically, in regard to Liberalism, Sarda argues that it is akin to a Trojan horse, as Liberalism masquerades as different shapes, and to judge it on its outward appearance alone will more often deceive than enlighten us. Sarda here is merely amplifying the warning of Saint Paul who wrote “And no wonder: for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light.” (DRB 2. Cor 11:14). Sarda argues instead that to understand the threat of Liberalism we must first understand its source and origin, and from there it can be judged by its fruits.
Sarda pins the origins of Liberalism with Protestantism saying that “Protestantism naturally begets toleration of error. Rejecting the principle of authority in religion, it has neither criterion nor definition of faith. On the principle that every individual or sect may interpret the deposit of Revelation according to the dictates of private judgement, it gives birth to endless differences and contradictions.”
Consequentially, Protestantism runs into the contradiction that every creed is as good as any other, and that, in order to compensate for this inconsistency, it must shelter itself under the ‘liberty of conscience’; an idea denounced as error by Pope Gregory XVI in his Papal Encyclical Mirari Vos (On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism) written in 1832. Pope Gregory XVI warns that liberalism “gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. … When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin”.
From this central tenant arises a serious problem as Protestantism can be seen as a scale with wildly differing beliefs on either end, yet somehow, both extremes are still considered orthodox, along with every other grade on the scale. Moreover, Christ himself teaches us that “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” (Matthew 12:30), therefore, heresy and infidelity are not only irreconcilable with Catholic Truth, but also share this denial as a common element. From this, Sarda argues that “Protestantism, with its sliding scale of creeds, is simply an inclined plane into the abyss of positive unbelief. It is always virtual infidelity, its final outcome open infidelity”.
Sarda makes this leap—that Protestantism naturally leads to infidelity—by considering the basic premise of Protestantism –that any creed is just as good as any other, if it was arrived at through the unrestricted exercise of the individual ‘reason’. Accepting this principle, then, Protestantism cannot argue against infidelity, as infidelity relies on the same plea but rejects all of Revelation under ‘rational liberty’. Protestantism handed over this premise, leaving itself powerless to argue against the same premise, and so “taking the field with the fatal weapon of Rationalism, Infidelity has stormed and taken the very citadel of Protestantism helpless against the foe of its own making.” These words are truly prophetic when one considers they were written in the late 19th century yet describe the contemporary state of the Protestant heresy. Outside of America –a country which exists as the living refutation of the Cartesian axiom, and which entertains a whole host of nonsensical ideas—is there any country with a considerable amount of Protestant youth?
Having established that Protestantism naturally leads to infidelity, Sarda then outlines four basic principles of Liberalism which see their origin in Protestant error:
- The absolute sovereignty of the individual in his entire independence of God and God’s authority.
- The absolute sovereignty of society in its entire independence of everything which does not proceed from itself.
- Absolute civil sovereignty in the implied right of the people to make their own laws in entire independence and utter disregard of any other criterion than the popular will expressed at the polls and in parliamentary majorities.
- Absolute freedom of thought in politics, morals, or in religion. The unrestrained liberty of the press.
“Such are the radical principles of Liberalism. In the assumption of absolute sovereignty of the individual, that is, his entire independence of God, we find the common source of all others.” Hence we see, that, from that one single error in Protestant theology, the fruits of an idea so pernicious that the Christian West has scarcely recovered, as of yet. These principles stem from the idea of ‘Rationalism’, that is, the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of human reason such that it becomes the measure and sum of Truth, with no need for Divine Revelation.
This idea of ‘Absolute Rationalism’ was condemned by Pope Pius IX in 1864 in the Syllabus of Errors maintaining that “Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural force, to secure the welfare of men and of nations” is an error in thinking.
Rationalism, by its rejection of everything divine, naturally leads to secularisation, which denies religion any active role in public or private concerns, in a sense this is an enforcement of social atheism. By its insistence upon a separation of God from not only the state, but also from society in the form of ‘secularism’, Liberalism rejects the absolute jurisdiction of God over the individual and over society. Again, this type of thinking has been condemned as erroneous by the Church as Pope Pius X in his Papal Encyclical of 1907 Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrine of the Modernists) denounces the idea that the state should be separated from the Church and that Catholics should disregard the authority of the Church when it comes to politics.
On the first count, Pius X claims that “Formerly, it was possible to subordinate the temporal [state] to the spiritual [church] … the Church was then regarded as having been instituted immediately by God as the author of the supernatural order.” However, now due to Liberalism and Rationalism, this doctrine is rejected and so “The state must, therefore be separated from the Church, and the Catholic from the citizen.” Then addressing the second count, he summarises the Liberal Modernist position as “Every Catholic, from the fact that he is also a citizen, has the right and the duty to work for the common good in the way he thinks best, without troubling himself about the authority of the Church”. This idea is unambiguously denounced by Pius X who teaches that “the principles from which these doctrines spring have been solemnly condemned by Our predecessor, Pius VI, in his Apostolic Constitution Auctorem Fidei.” Here we see a direct and unequivocal condemnation of the liberal premise of secularism through Papal Infallibility and historical continuity with both Popes reaffirming the other.
This banishing of Catholicism from the public sphere in its intellectual and practical forms in the West have been disastrous. Pius IX is explicit in his condemnation of secularism, a foundational tenant of Liberalism stating that “by our Apostolic authority, we reprobate, proscribe, and condemn the opinion that human society be conducted and governed without regard being had to religion any more than if it did not exist; or, at least, without any distinction being made between the true religion and false ones.”
For men are creatures of action who naturally act out their thoughts and beliefs, therefore, these pernicious ideas do not simply remain in the speculative order, but rather are inevitably acted upon. As Sarda points out “The speculation of today becomes the deed of tomorrow”; allowing anti-Catholic ideas to fester not only in the minds of Infidels, but of Catholics also, can only have disastrous consequences, as indeed we have seen the degeneration of Western society and culture in accordance with the adoption of Liberalism and the acceptance of its premises.
How exactly is Liberalism a sin? According to Sarda, “Liberalism, whether in the doctrinal or practical order, is a sin. In the doctrinal order, it is heresy, and consequently a mortal sin against faith. In the practical order, it is a sin against the commandments of God, and of the Church”. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). This does not merely mean that other religions with other deities are not to be practiced, but also demands that nothing be worshipped above God. In Liberalism, we see the deification of ‘human reason’, and indeed the individual –a direct violation of Catholic moral teaching—and therefore, from the outset, Liberalism is a sin. Similarly, some of the fruits of Rationalism and Liberalism naturally lead to idolatry, as the object of worship is transferred from God onto a false idol, be it money, reason, or the individual himself.
An interesting corollary from this is the idea of ‘hate speech’. ‘Hate speech’ can be viewed as a move to reappropriate blasphemy laws for the secular and liberal age. Where once the centre of society was God, who had all the necessary legal protections afforded to His deity, the centre of modernity –formed by Liberalism—is instead the ‘individual’ who must be protected in a likewise fashion.
Therefore, the absolute individualism resulting from the initial Protestant error, and further pushed by Liberalism, is the pretext and the justification for ‘hate speech’ laws. We are met here with a bitter irony, the ‘classical liberal’, who abhors the notion that speech could be criminalised, is betrayed by his own ideology. Namely, the deification of the individual with the associated transferral of blasphemy from God onto the individual. Since Protestantism opened the door for a Rationalist critique and examination of Divine Revelation, which was then rationalised into oblivion by later liberal thinkers, the new progressive and liberal orthodoxy has replaced Revelation as our culture’s meta-narrative.
With this understood, so called ‘hate speech’ can be viewed as a totalising force akin to religious dogma, which seeks to establish the limits of expression, and therefore the public perception of reality. In the past, the anathematisation of heresy was established to defend Revealed truths, contrarily, ‘hate speech’ was invented as a means of protecting the deified individual from engineered offences.
In its declaration of its own fundamental dogma –the absolute independence of the individual from God—Liberalism denies every Catholic dogma in general. What’s more, by Liberalism’s denial and repudiation of all dogmas in general, it denies every doctrine in particular, from the Incarnation to the Infallibility of the Pope. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility implies an obedient acceptance of Catholic dogma on the part of the individual, and by extension on all of society. Liberalism denies this obedience, and in its place, asserts the sovereignty of the individual reason, or in the words of Sarda Liberalism “enthrones Rationalism in the seat of Authority”.
According to Sarda, by this act of defiance against God and his authority, Liberalism demands that individuals behave akin to Lucifer in ‘Paradise Lost’ under the same maxim of “I will not serve”. Liberalism represents the radical and universal denial of all Divine and Revealed Truth, a necessary precondition of heresy which itself is a mortal sin involving the preserving of the appearance of Catholicity yet contradicting its essence. I am sure most Catholics today can recall the use of ‘tactical Christianity’ against them, particularly under the guise of the supposed Catholic virtue of ‘tolerance’. The weaponization of this false virtue has had the pernicious effect of damaging the spiritual health of young Catholics, which in turn has led them to hold to a whole host of heretical beliefs.
Not all sins are considered equal within Catholic theology, as can be seen by the bifurcation of sin into venial and mortal sin, additionally, within these categories, not all sins are equal, some are more sinful than others. In large part, the degree of sin can be measured by the object of its attack, sins which directly attack God are much graver than those sins which attack man. Sins which attack against faith are the gravest of all sins as faith is the foundation of the supernatural order. And so, Liberalism, by its attempt to attack the very foundations of the supernatural order attempts to destroy the entire structure.
When sins against the faith express themselves through a direct attack upon dogmas voiced by Divine Revelation they become manifest heresy, a mortal sin. Liberalism not only commits heresy but also idolatry (another mortal sin) as it elevates the human reason and the individual above God and is therefore complemented with pride (the gravest of the seven deadly sins) as it considers itself equal at best and superior at worst with God. This is the same lie told to Adam and Eve in the garden, they were told that their disobedience to God and His Word would make them similar to Him. But rather, they had already been created in His image and likeness.
The same deception is present within Liberalism as we are made to believe that man can deny God and rebel against His Holy Law without consequence, such is the myth of Liberalism. This lie, first in Genesis, now repeated in our own time, first led to the fall of Man, now leads to the destruction of our societies and indeed the Church. Liberalism has taken the body of the Church hostage, intoxicated her on the fumes of false freedoms, and defiled her on a desecrated altar to Lucifer. Catholicism through the looking glass retains only the mere appearance of those prior characteristics that enshrined and deified her very being.
Sarda argues that heresy constitutes “the greatest of all sins with the exception of the formal hate against God, of which only the demons in Hell and the damned are capable”. Sarda’s thought no doubt places him on the far end of anti-liberal thinkers as he considers Liberalism to be one of the greatest evils which need be combatted at all costs. Sarda goes so far as to say that Liberalism “which is heresy, is one of the gravest sins known in the code of the Christian law. Liberalism is, therefore, a greater sin than blasphemy, theft, adultery, homicide, or any other violation of the law of God.”
There are some pretty strong condemnations throughout by Sarda, yet he is not alone in this regard. Sarda summarises a brief history of liberal agitation and Papal response highlighting that since its inception, Liberalism has been condemned strongly by the Church; “Upon its appearance in France at the time of the Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man –which contains all the follies of Liberalism—was condemned by Pius VI. Upon the occasion of the appearance of the first errors of De Lamenais, Gregory XVI … explicitly condemned Liberalism, as it was then understood, taught, and practiced”.
Sarda praises Pope Pius IX as the “Scourge of Liberalism” and claims that “Liberal errors under all its forms, shapes, and shades has been unmasked by this Pope.” Pius IX, in Sarda’s estimation has “clearly shown to Christian peoples what this baneful heresy is, and the Syllabus of Errors has put on the final seal of condemnation”. Interestingly, at the start of his pontificate, Pius IX was loved by ‘Liberal Catholics’, as they considered him one of their own, however, throughout his reign as Pontiff he became increasingly critical of Liberalism. Pius IX called Liberalism by many labels including “perfidious enemy”, “the present real calamity”, “a compact between injustice and iniquity”, “more fatal and dangerous than a declared enemy”, “a hidden poison”, and “a pernicious pest”.
The purpose behind including all of these quotes is to clearly demonstrate that Liberalism can find no refuge within an authentic, erudite, and traditional Catholic worldview. Many of the Papal Encyclicals quoted above, and many not mentioned but which touch on similar themes, are already known among many Catholics today, especially those of a more traditional standing. And the views of many of the Popes (usually named Pius) are also known regarding the errors of modernity, however, the work of Don Felix Sarda y Salvany is not. This is a real tragedy which unfortunately is not likely to be rectified any time soon due to how little of his work has been translated into English. Hopefully in the coming years we will see this trend reversed as the Church realises it must take a few steps back in order to go forward once again, where thinkers like Sarda will be of vital importance.
It is of paramount importance that the Catholic world reassert itself in the political sphere and reaffirm Papal teaching on the matter. The Catholic Church ought to take to heart the words of Christ who foretold us “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19). The current desire by some in the Church to become more of this world and more popular in this world is an attitude condemned by Leo XIII as part of the Americanism heresy teaching against the idea that “in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions.” We see this clearly today through the very existence of someone such as Fr James Martin who, under previous Pontiffs would not only have been censured, but likely excommunicated also, as opposed to the lax nature with which he is currently handled.
The Catholic Church has been losing members –especially young people—since the Second Vatican Council, such that now, the Church does not occupy a position of strength within our cultures, but rather one of weakness. This is further compounded by the continuing down the path of modernism, ecumenism, and liberalisation, rather than returning to its former glory. The Church today seems more interested in Earthly popularity than in Heavenly approval, and in its desperate attempt to become popular becomes even less popular than before. I believe all of this can be pinned on its softening approach to Liberalism and modernism.
The necessity in pointing out Papal teaching on this matter is not only for the salvation of souls, but also, an attempt to reorientate Catholics towards the transcendent once again, so that they may place God at the centre of everything –where he belongs—rather than picking and choosing which areas of our lives he may have dominion. Regarding the salvation of souls, Catholics can only be considered guilty of formal heresy if they are aware that what they believe is heresy and continue to adhere to those heretical beliefs. This is a grave sin and involves the ipso facto excommunication of the guilty party as they are considered to have separated their soul from the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, these teachings are not so well known among the faithful. If the Church and her Priests were to more frequently espouse traditional Catholic doctrine and dogma and advise the faithful on what are the correct Catholic opinions and attitudes to hold in the modern world –regardless of public opinion—we may see more victories in future.