QUAERITUR: Revive the Oath Against Modernism?

A priest reader sent the following:

I know that there is much being done to work toward restoring the Sacred Liturgy in the Latin Church… Have you heard any suggestion at all that the Oath again Modernism be reinstated as a safeguard to doctrinal integrity and against heresy?  In reading through it, it seemed to me that there are a lot of older clergy ordained in the late 1950s and very early 1960s who have been living perjury against their own solemn oath for decades.  Was, or is the idea that Vatican II threw this out, and it was no longer binding?

Good questions.

I have not heard it suggested anywhere that matters that the Oath Against Modernism be reclaimed as a sine qua non before ordination or taking a ecclesiastical office.

Could it be that too many men wouldn’t be able to swear to it?

In any event, I would be content were the Oath reinstated.

"But Father! But Father!", I can hear some of you exclaiming in frustration.  "What is this Oath?  What does it say?"

Glad you asked!  My emphases and comments.


Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.

To be sworn to by all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries.

I . . . . firmly embrace and accept each and every definition that has been set forth and declared by the unerring teaching authority of the Church, especially those principal truths which are directly opposed to the errors of this day. [Consider the context of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This could still apply today.] And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (see Rom. 1:90), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated: Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time. Thirdly, I believe with equally firm faith that the Church, the guardian and teacher of the revealed word, was personally instituted by the real and historical Christ when he lived among us, and that the Church was built upon Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and his successors for the duration of time. Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. [This would be hard for some people to understand today.  There is a difference between development of doctrine and change of doctrine.] I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely. Fifthly, I hold with certainty and sincerely confess that faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. By this assent, because of the authority of the supremely truthful God, we believe to be true that which has been revealed and attested to by a personal God, our creator and lord.

Furthermore, with due reverence, I submit and adhere with my whole heart to the condemnations, declarations, and all the prescripts contained in the encyclical Pascendi and in the decree Lamentabili, [remember the historical context.] especially those concerning what is known as the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who say that the faith held by the Church can contradict history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, are irreconcilable with a more realistic view of the origins of the Christian religion. [This would knock a few people out of their present offices.] I also condemn and reject the opinion of those who say that a well-educated Christian assumes a dual personality-that of a believer and at the same time of a historian, as if it were permissible for a historian to hold things that contradict the faith of the believer, or to establish premises which, provided there be no direct denial of dogmas, would lead to the conclusion that dogmas are either false or doubtful. Likewise, I reject that method of judging and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, departing from the tradition of the Church, the analogy of faith, and the norms of the Apostolic See, embraces the misrepresentations of the rationalists and with no prudence or restraint adopts textual criticism as the one and supreme norm. Furthermore, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a professor lecturing or writing on a historico-theological subject should first put aside any preconceived opinion about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine promise of help to preserve all revealed truth forever; and that they should then interpret the writings of each of the Fathers solely by scientific principles, excluding all sacred authority, and with the same liberty of judgment that is common in the investigation of all ordinary historical documents.

Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact-one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history-the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way.

I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God. . .

I believe that if a person took this oath, he is still bound by it even though this specific is no longer administered to people in the positions described.   I have not heard that the Church released men from this oath if they took it.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. We have some sort of oath right now, in effect:

    When I was about to be ordained a deacon, the rector had each of the candidates for diaconal ordination swear and sign an oath that sounded something like this.

    Then when I was installed as pastor, I had to sign an oath and swear it on the Gospels. I could have done it privately; I chose to do it in front of all the people.

  2. Dubya-aye See says:
  3. LCB says:

    [/b] Could it be that too many men wouldn’t be able to swear to it?

    That sounds about right.

  4. ED says:

    These guys aren’t loyal to the words of Christ what makes you think the oath will make a difference.

  5. Fabrizio says:

    The old oath needs to be brought back in some updated (and EXPANDED I am afraid). However, the oath didn’t stop modernism, of itself, althuogh it helped for sure.

    However, Pope John Paul II reintroduced something in this spirit in keeping with his “Ad Tuendam Fidem”. My wife had to take this oath to teach at a Catholic College:

    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

    As conforming to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem, this Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity supercedes the Profession and Oath of 1989.


    I, N., with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith: namely:

    I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

    I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

    Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.


    (Formula to be used by the Christian faithful mentioned in Canon 833, nn. 5-8)

    I, N., in assuming the office of _______, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church.

    With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service.

    In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.

    I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.

    With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish.

    I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

    So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

    (Variations in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the formulary, for use by those members of the Christian faithful indicated in can. 833, n. 8).

    I shall foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall insist on the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.

    With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also — with due regard for the character and purpose of my institute — faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

    NOTE: Canon 833, Nos. 5-8 obliges the following to make the profession of faith: vicars general, episcopal vicars and judicial vicars; “at the beginning of their term of office, pastors, the rector of a seminary and the professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries; those to be promoted to the diaconate”; “the rectors of an ecclesiastical or Catholic university at the beginning of the rector’s term of office”; and, “at the beginning of their term of office, teachers in any universities whatsoever who teach disciplines which deal with faith or morals”; and “superiors in clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life in accord with the norm of the constitutions.”

    Taken from:
    L’Osservatore Romano
    Weekly Edition in English
    15 July 1998, page 3

  6. Landon says:

    We should throw it in the liturgy. Maybe after the Creed, but before the Prayers of the people.

    Maybe that will make some of these priests think twice before they decided they can add and subtract from the Sacred Liturgy. :)

  7. Ed Francis says:

    Appreciating your situating of the text in history,

    this line gave me pause:

    “faith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source.”

    Not vague, but exclusive to the point of falsehood, in that Faith is not a solely intellectual affair, and can come, say, through “reading” Sacred Scripture, or through “demonstrated” Gospel, along the lines of the attribution to St. Francis of Assisi–preach the Gospel, and sometimes use words. Also, the Holy Spirit, unconstrained by oath, can operate within us, an internal Source, so to speak.

    That’s a little nit-pickish, perhaps, but it is a binding oath; one I couldn’t have sworn to without caveat.

  8. Francesco says:

    *Today’s seminary oath:* I solemnly swear to believe and profess all that the Roman Catholic Church believes and professes for as long as I feel like it.

  9. Francesco B. says:

    This great oath should never have been removed!

  10. Prodicus says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if the new +Westminster made this declaration aloud in the cathedral, and then signed it with all due ceremony, as part of his formal installation? Well, all bishops, diocesan and parish ministers, come to think of it. We’d certainly know where we stand.

  11. Prodicus says:

    PS: Either of the above would do: the original Oath or the current Profession of Faith.

  12. elliot says:

    The Oath is sworn by seminarians of the Institute of Christ the King upon receiving the order of sub-deacon…nice!

  13. Fr. Andrew says:

    The current oath of fidelity, as Fabrizo posts it, was required of all faculty at my seminary, St. John Vianney in Denver. There all new professors- lay and ordained- would recite and sign this oath in Mass after the Homily. Further, as part of the process to be accepted as candidates for the Holy Diaconate, we recited and signed this same oath in the same public manner. This might be a change in seminary life since your experience, Father Z. I think the note on Canon 833 is quite clear as well. In my diocese this is often done privately but can be done publicly as well, like Fr. Fox describes.

  14. I’d have no problem with taking the oath. I believe in the obligation to follow the Church teaching in communion with the Successor of Peter, and if there is a difference between what I hold and the Church holds, it is easier to believe the error is mine.

  15. Father Z:

    Given some of the nastiness that followed my post up above, maybe you want to remove my post? That’s up to you, of course, but I’m now sorry I contributed my comment to this. [Welcome to my world.]

  16. I’ve already signed it on my blog…I’d be thrilled if they brought it back


  17. robk says:

    I would take the oath in a heartbeat. I affirm all that is there. Reading, I thought that it should not only be instituted – it should be re-read, aloud, to all frequently. And explained – to the actual people in the pews. Wow – that would be outstanding!
    For those priests and teachers who teach this already, thank you so very, very much.

  18. TJM says:

    Father Fox, please don’t despair. I’m older than you and lived through the liturgical/doctrinal wars of the 1960s. Some folks here are just letting off
    steam. You cannot imagine the pain most traditional Catholics went through at that time. That’s why you see some fairly visceral comments. I’ve been
    guilty myself at times. Best regards, Tom

  19. Richard says:

    “I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world … and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated”

    “known with certainty by reason” – gosh, not sure I could swear that, except that if Holy Mother Church says so then it must be right. I wonder how many of us would feel comfortable with it?

  20. QC says:

    Richard, St. Paaul teaches us that very thing in the first chapter of Romans. Also, the First Vatican Council contains this canon:

    1. If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

  21. I’ve got a book recommendation for anyone intersted in the development of biblical studies throughout the modern period, from the “Enlightenment” onward:
    John Sandys-Wunsch, _What Have They Done to the Bible: A History of Modern Biblical Interpretation_ (one should use Father Z’s gateway into Amazon to order it, in order to grant him favor there!). [HERE… – Fr. Z]

    It’ll give people a solid, if somewhat summary, background in precisely the approach to the Sacred Scriptures (and thereby the Faith itself) that led to the promulgation of the oath above. It’s a fascinating read, with not a little sardonic humour thrown in by the author. It’s not technical, so one needn’t be intimidated or put off by the idea of suffering academic jargon in its pages. He provides excellent coverage (usually lacking) on pre-19th century developments.

  22. Michael J says:

    Ed Francis,

    I am not sure I understand what you are saying. Would you mind clarifying, please?

    Are you saying that the Oath mis-states the relationship between faith and reason?

  23. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Richard.

    I would feel comfortable saying that man can know God with certainty through human reason.

    From the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith” from the First Vatican Council:

    “1. The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason: ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Chapter 2, On Revelation)

    Romans 1:20: “Ever since the creation of the world, His [God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made.”

    For more information, you might want to also see Thomas Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God. According to many philosophers, these proofs are based on the absolute validity of the principle of causality.

  24. Merriweather says:

    All the SSPX priests take the Oath Against Modernism before ordination.

    I’m not sure if the other traditional still do, or if they dropped it after regularization.

    Anyone know if the Good Shepherd, SJMV, ICK, or FSSP swear the oath?

  25. MenTaLguY says:

    I just finished reading Pascendi for the first time; I’m sorry I didn’t do it before — it is not what some have made it out to be! That being said, there are a few things in it which I have difficulty seeing how can be reconciled with both earlier (e.g. the earlier encyclical Providentissimus Deus) and later teaching, in particular regarding how Sacred Scripture is to be taken on topics which do not directly concern the content of the Faith. I will need to think and pray about it some more, but I would also be interested in hearing others’ thoughts.

  26. Mark says:

    Hmm. I see it’s point, but it is relatively historically contextual in itself, isnt it? The heresies of today are descended from those, but different, and even more subtle and insidious. People like it because it is called “The Oath Against Modernism”…but I think the Tridentine Creed is in some ways more comprehensive, or the new Profession of Faith upon taking office. This oath is very long and wordy considering that it addresses what seem to be a very narrow (though very important) set of concerns, that could basically be summed up as, “I reject a naturalistic view of the Faith”. I mean, if you’re going to summarize parts with catch-alls like “And everything else in this-or-that encyclical” you might as well just issue a Constitution or Encyclical and have people simply swear to everything in it in one clause without trying to cull-out the most important parts for inclusion in the Oath itself. I dunno, the spirit of the oath I support, but aesthetically it doesnt please me. A much more impressive and forceful and comprehensive oath could be come up with.

  27. Ed Francis says:

    Michael J – No.

    But allowing for other relationships than faith and “intellect,” other modalities than “hearing,” and interrogating the concept of “exterior.”

    For instance, with apologies for not being able now to quote from the text, Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in “God and the World,” mentions that the word “word” can also be translated as “significance.” I took this to say that Christ is not to be limited to “verbal” communication or printed words. That matches my experience.

    Christ “speaks” also interiorly, in our hearts, sometimes silently, and those times are a powerful foundation for my faith. Thus, my faith is not only a “genuine assent of the intellect.” It is that, surely, but not only that. Sometimes our faith must fly in the face of “reason.”

    I took Fr. Z’s situating of the Oath to imply that St Pius X may have been speaking to a historical situation, in framing the line I had trouble with.

    That said, I may also just be having one of those mornings.

  28. Kathy says:

    Fr. Z,

    Can you provide a concise description of the difference between “change of dogma” and “development of dogma?”



  29. Clare says:

    When Pope Paul VI removed the obligation to take the oath, he did not dispense from obedience for those who took it already and he expressed that new priests, etc. were still responsible to follow it without formally taking it.
    This is what I remember; Katrina got my library and I have no access to the documents to check this.

  30. Bryan says:

    Development of dogma: the Immaculate Conception; the Holy Father stated a dogma of faith that had been long understood but not fully expressed throughout time.

    Change of dogma as evidenced by some?
    Fr. Reece, SJ (anyone grit their teeth when most Jesuits open their over-educated mouths) postulating as he sits there in their cardigan, about how it’s ok to frozen human embryos for experimentation rather than throw them out. What a scandal THAT is…and, to many, is a change in dogma about the involability of human life, and coming from a priest. OK, maybe that’s weak. :)

    Si hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.

  31. Seth Brotherton says:

    All public revelation of God was given through Christ and the apostles in written word and tradition. New revelations are not made today, they are preserved by the Church teaching. The one and complete revelation of God that ended with the death of the last apostle, is not made again interiorly in individuals today. They must assent to revelation recieved from an external source. The oath is good.

  32. ssoldie says:

    Was this oath like the Traditional Latin Mass, surpressed or was it abrogated? (removed?) just askin. I believe that every priest before Ordination should have to take it.

  33. edified says:

    Fr Fox.

    Thank you for your post and for the wonderful example of how we should respond to some of the nonsense posted.

    it edifies me..

  34. Jayna says:

    I wish historians who are Catholic had to take an oath like that. I’ve been fighting against the idea that I have to divorce my faith from my work since I started grad school. (Doesn’t help that the Vatican said in 1999 that historians are not suited to making moral judgments on historical actors.)

  35. After reading the Oath against Modernism written by His Holiness Pope Pius X, I realize why the Spirit has led me to become a member of SSPX. My joy is tempered by the belief that the Bishops who follow the Saint’s profession against modernism, will never sign onto the changes of Vatican II. And so, the fight upholding tradion will continue, uninterrupted, except by His hand. I do not like knowing that the faith I grew up with has excluded me from Christ’s flock. But, to paraphrase St. Thomas More, “I am the kings good servent, but I am Christ’s first”

  36. elliot says:


    Can’t speak for FSSP or IBP but read my post above…

  37. Matt says:

    Fellow readers, I wrote a 7 page paper in seminary summarizing the Church’s treatment of Modernism from Bl. Pius IX to St. Pius X, namely from Vatican I to Pascendi Dominici Gregis. I think it provides some good historical context for the Oath against Modernism. These Holy Fathers of the Church were quite prophetic! If you’re interested in reading it, send me an email. A couple of my favorite quotes:

    Modernists “lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree.” PDG #3

    Modernists are “possessed by a reforming mania: in all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten.” Dei Filius #8

  38. RJD says:


    Thanks for your offer (I will email you), and for the quotes… I have some reading to do in this department, and PDG is moving up in the list!

    The axe / roots quote struck me as rather similar to a metaphor employed by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent letter to the Bishops. (Sorry, I’m catching up from being about a couple weeks behind in the news.) Regarding Vatican II, he said:

    “Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.”

    When I first read it, it only seemed like a nice but fairly ordinary rhetorical device, used along the lines of the Continuity he has promulgated. But I wonder now if he intended to make a reference to PDG and its language, to point out the error of those who speak/act as if their Modernist tendencies were given a free reign by V-II, who use it to defend such behavior, etc.

    That might be going too far, reading in too much, being too hopeful… :) But what do you think? Perhaps those fluent enough in German — I’m not — and who have read the original letter might comment on that point.

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