Words are powerful things. A word ought to mean one thing and only that thing. When used in such a way they facilitate communication and allow a reasoned discussion to take place. Words can also be used as blunt instruments whose meaning is hidden behind the force of their impact. We are all aware of words whose primary purpose is to end the discussion and label the other party as something really bad. This marks the end of the discussion and is the signal for retreat. The first person to use the epithet "Nazi!" in an argument loses - though, if socially "superior" they may win an initial fleeting superficial "victory". Such may be the case in powerful news organizations mocking the Holy Father on issues of morality.
"Modernist" has become such a word. It required the document Lamentabili from the Holy Office and the encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis from Pius X to define it. Lamentabili defines 65 separate propositions as heretical and Pascendi consisted of 30+ pages of some very heavy reading. Clearly this is no ordinary word, yet it is thrown about like a convenient lump of mud. I seriously wonder how many have even read these documents. Its meaning has degenerated to an insult to be flung at anyone whose liturgical taste is more avant-garde than traditional.
"Radical traditionalist" or "rad-trad" is a more recent derogatory phrase which has been used to describe a very ill defined segment of traditionalists. The term was coined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a rather loose category of Catholics. They don't really hate all Catholics... just the bad ones who hate Jews. The trouble is neither they nor anyone else have put much thought into this. Their definition of "radical traditionalist" is a two page essay and their listing of groups leaves me somewhat confused. Some people are not deterred in the slightest by the lack of definition because all they wanted was a way to score an emotional hit. It does not have the benefit of any real definition but it certainly rolls off the tongue. After all, when you're scrambling about for a lump of mud to throw, having a catchy epithet that even rhymes is always handy. It works too because traditionalists can be a little touchy about these things.
The essence of modernism is its immanantist, subjectivist nature. Rather than subjecting one's own thoughts to some external standard of truth a modernist uses his own experience and point of view as the standard against which the external world is to be judged. If the subjective standard is a progressive, liberal one perhaps the word "modernist" makes some sense. What if the subjective experience and point of view is of a more historical, conservative nature? The word "modernist" then becomes a bit of an anachronism. While a pope may be relied on to use it with the proper nuance, most Catholics do not have the background to do so. What are we to make of someone who has abandoned the magisterium in favor of a subjectivist point of view, yet whose outlook is not forwards but backwards?
Sedevacantists, conclavists and schismatics will continue to exist, but perhaps we ought to call a thing by its proper name. Relativism, secularism, indifferentism, subjectivism, historicism and liturgical innovation continue to be problems in the Church but it may be useful to be a little more specific in discussing these things. Both the progressive and conservative heresies are united in that they have substituted a subjective, personal vision for the living magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Our contention is that the words modernist and radical traditionalist have degenerated so much in the public mind as to be completely useless in normal conversation. They merely serve as useful conversational truncheons with which to bludgeon one's opponents. In fact we would go so far as to say that the definition of rad-trad and modernist in the minds of most is entirely subjective.
The Catholicism of the pope being neither reformable nor acceptable another Catholicism will have to come into being, a humane Catholicism, in no way conditioned by the pontifical institution or the traditional forms of Roman Catholicism. (Alfred Loisy, 1931)
These subjectivists, whether of the progressive or conservative variety, have abandoned the Catholicism of the pope in favor of their own personal vision of the way the Church ought to be. The tragedy is one of refusal to submit to anyone outside of oneself. We live in a very individualistic culture that nearly deifies the autonomy of the person. If I am god and judge how then can I bend my knee to another. Hence, the Church's Magisterium is the bone of contention for both the progressive and conservative subjectivist. While they may pay him lip service, they in fact reject the Pope, and by extension the Church, creating in their mind a false Christ.
As Pope Benedict emphasized during the Year of Faith: religion is primarily about a true encounter with a Person: Jesus Christ. Then, secondarily, it is about dogmas, morals and liturgy. Because I have met Jesus Christ, I want to know more about Him. I want to know how I should live - I want His truth, so I seek his morals. Dogma, liturgy etc, only make sense in meeting the real, living Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we are creating idols. We see this idol-worship all around us - "I love Jesus but I don't need his Church". True encounter with Jesus is obedience to His will. "When we do not profess Jesus Christ...we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic wordliness... profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward" (Pope Francis, Homily, Sistine Chapel, March 14, 2013).
"...they refuse to acknowledge all the divine prerogatives of the vicar of Christ on earth and do not submit to His supreme magisterium" (Pius IX)
Freyr and Barona