The main documents I will be drawing from are the Catholic Catechism, "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" itself, as well as Fr. Aidan Nichols O.P.'s interpretation of Pius X in the light of Vatican II and JPII's pontificate. It is necessary to reference a dominican priest, because Thomas Aquinas is largely the litmus test for continuity with Tradition. Lastly, it will be necessary to make reference to St. Augustine as well, since both he and Thomas Aquinas make up a majority of quotations in the Catholic Catechism promulgated by JPII.
To begin then, it is essential to define exactly what 'Modernism' is, as it has become a rather popular term among traditionalists to critique Church leaders of the past fifty years. What St. Pius X means by 'Modernism' is more or less the following:
Laymen and clergy who lack the protection of sound philosophy and theology are setting themselves up as would-be reformers of the Church and her faith. Typically, they are men of erudition and strict moral probity. But they also, in his words, ‘double the parts of rationalist and Catholic, and this so craftily that they easily lead the unwary into error’. They know perfectly well at what they are aiming which is a total ‘make-over’ (in our contemporary parlance) of revelation as hitherto understood ("Modernism a Century On", Nichols)
Right off the bat, does this sound like the man who--together with Joseph Ratzinger--compiled the most thorough Catechism of the Catholic Church in light of the Nicene Creed that the Church has yet seen? Riddled throughout that Catechism, unlike the former Baltimore Catechism of happy memory, are footnotes upon footnotes of St Thomas Aquinas as well as early Church Fathers.
Granted, St. Pius X's definition of "Modernist" would seem to apply to Wojtyla's use of phenomenology and scientific method in some instances to research controverisal issues like the morality of stem cells, IVF, sexual morality and feritility, etc. But, did not Cardinal Wojtyla, and later JPII himself, have the good of the faithful and glory of God in mind when publishing works like Love and Responsibility? Did he not merely use the means of reason and philosophy to aid the faithful in the inevitable fight between the culture of death and the culture of life?
The real question is, and is sadly misunderstood by many who would too quickly dismiss Wojtyla's genius, were the methods of philosophical inquiry used by Karol Wojtyla "protected by sound philosophy and theology"? The answer is resoundingly, "Yes, they were sound and rooted in Catholic tradition".
Here is why the above answer is true: not only did Karol Wojtyla rely on St. Thomas Aquinas as a basis for objective reality and absolute moral truth, he also relied upon St. Augustine for inquiry into the 'intersubjectivity' of man--that is, the 'immanence' of the follower of Christ both conciously active in the Church and unconsciously (see my post on JPII vs. solipsism for further notes on subjectivity).
Now, 'immanence' is a potentially bad word among traditionalists, and St. Pius X has almost no tolerance for experiential believers and pentecostalism divorced from the true and reasonable parameters of conscience described by St. Augustine in his Confessions. Allow me, then, to draw a line between the two types of 'immanence' that St. Pius X describes in "Pascendi", with the help of Fr. Nichols and St. Augustine:
Pius admits that an appeal to immanence can have an acceptable sense. Semi-quoting Augustine, it can be a way of saying God works in a way even more intimately present to me than I am to myself. But Modernists mean more than this: they mean that divine action always invests itself in the activity of nature: so revelatory divine action doesn’t differ in principle from any other manner in which creative processes have divine causality behind them. The implication, thinks the pope, is pantheism
To pinpoint exactly where Fr. Nichols is drawing his information in the letter of Pius X, for those of you who may be sceptical, it is in paragraph 19, the section titled "The Modernist as Theologian". Another way of saying Fr. Nichol's summary of the nineteenth paragraph is that the Christian is allowed to recognize God as closer to him than he is to himself, but he is not allowed to insist on changes in revelation based on his own feelings, sentiments, or subconscious desires. Believe it or not, this is one of the main dangers that Pius and every Pope since his time has made clear to both be wary of and to balance with objectively acceptable absolute truths identified by St. Thomas Aquinas, namely, natural law and the doctrine of the Magisterium.
At this point, is there any inconsistency between JPII and St. Thomas Aquinas, or St. Augustine for that matter? Let us use Wojtyla's own words:
It is for this reason that the Church has given preference to the method and doctrine of the Angelic Doctor. Quite other than exclusive preference, this deals with an exemplary preference that permitted Leo XIII to declare him to be inter Scholasticos Doctores, omnium princeps et magister (Aeterni Patris, n.17). And truly such is St Thomas Aquinas, not only for the completeness, balance, depth and clarity of his style, but still more for his keen sense of fidelity to the truth which can also be called realism: fidelity to the voice of created things so as to construct the edifice of philosophy; fidelity to the voice of the Church so as to construct the edifice of theology (POPE JOHN PAUL’S ADDRESS TO THE EIGHTH INTERNATIONAL THOMISTIC CONGRESS––13 th September 1980).
And again on St Augustine, drawing largely from Leo XIII's "Aeterni Patris":
Pope Leo XIII praised his philosophical teachings in the Encyclical Aeterni Patris; later, Pius XI made a brief synthesis of his virtues and teachings in the Encyclical Ad salutem humani generis, declaring that, of those who have flourished from the beginnings of the human race down to our own days, none—or, at most, very few—could rank with Augustine, for the very great acuteness of his genius, for the richness and sublimity of his teachings, and finally for his holiness of life and defense of Catholic truth. Paul VI later affirmed: 'Indeed, over and above the shining example he gives of the qualities common to all the Fathers, it may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages.' (Apostolic Letter to the bishops, priests, religious families and faithful of the whole Catholic Church on the occasion of the 16th centenary of the conversion of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, 28 August 1986.)
Is this just lipservice from one modernist to another? Or, is this the truly prayed over material of the Slavic Pope who found in himself the continuation of these great Catholic thinkers? I strongly suggest the latter.
In conclusion, I have argued the following:
1) JPII is far from being a Modernist heretic, but is profoundly rooted in Tradition
2) St. Pius X allows for the teachings of Vatican II in his letter
3) St Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine are the objective and subjective litmus tests for true continuity with Tradition
For more info, please see JPII's "Fides et Ratio", section "The Magisterium's discernment as diakonia of the truth" in paragraphs# 54-56
And, a helpfully simple Peter Kreeft list against Modernism:
1) Is God a transcendent, supernatural, personal, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, providential, loving, just Creator? Or is God an immanent cosmic force evolving in nature and man?
2) Do miracles really happen? Or has science refuted them? A transcendent God can perform miracles; a merely immanent, naturalistic God cannot. The three great miracles essential to orthodox Christianity are the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the new birth.
3) Is there a heaven? Or is heaven just all the good on earth?
4) Does God really love me? Or is that just a helpful sentiment?
5) Does God forgive my sins through Christ? Or is sin an outdated concept? In other words, is Christ a mere human example or a Savior from sin?
6) Is Christ divine, eternal, from the beginning? Or is he only divine “as all men are divine”?
7) Did he physically rise from the dead? Or is the Resurrection only a myth, a beautiful symbol?
8) Must we be born again from above to be saved, to have God as our Father? Or is everyone saved automatically? Does everyone have God as Father simply by being born as a human being, or by being reasonably nice during life?
9) Is Scripture God’s word to us? Or is it human words about God? Does it have divine or human authority behind it? And can an ordinary Christian understand its true meaning without reading German theologians?
10 )Most important of all, can I really meet God in Christ? If I ask him to be my Lord, the Lord of my life, will he really do it? Or is this just a “religious experience”? This question is really one with the question: Did Christ really rise from the dead? That is, is he alive now? Can I say: “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!”?