The controversies in Roman Catholicism that became known as the «modernist crisis» (1890-1910) have been characterized on more than one occasion as a «dialogue of the deaf.» Certainly there was need on the part of theological innovators to exercise caution in putting forth their ideas in an ecclesiastical climate that was suspicious of novelty or even actively hostile toward it. This accounts for the carefully constructed, nuanced character of many of their writings, which has made interpretation difficult. Understanding was complicated by the fundamental underlying differences that separated innovators from defenders of the traditional positions. In this study the phenomenology of reading, rereading theory, reception theory, rhetorical analysis, and literary approaches to autobiography are used to focus close readings of French modernist texts. Such approaches enhance understanding of how texts by Alfred Loisy, M.-J. Lagrange, and Albert Houtin were constructed, and how their critics received these efforts.