A clarification about my statements concerning SSPX bishops

Whenever I post something about the SSPX, and I mention that the priests and bishops of that Fraternity are suspended, I get loads of email protesting that they aren’t.

They are.  Sorry.

That said, I sincerely hope and pray that they will be reconciled with Pope Benedict and the Church of Rome sooner than later.  Please, O Lord, sooner rather than later!

Just because the excommunications of the SSPX bishops were lifted, that doesn’t mean that those bishops are not still suspended.  They are.  The lifting of the excommunications means that they are now free to go to confession.  That is about it… so far.

However, I made a comment in one post that sounded as if I didn’t think that the SSPX bishops were “Catholic” bishops.   Lots of email, some of it nasty, most of it tedious, very little well-considered, came to the inbox.

But it did get me thinking.

The SSPX bishops are out their doing there own thing, and in that sense they are independent. However, they are still Catholic bishops.  I apologize if, through a slip or poorly written phrase, I inferred that they were not Catholic.

They were consecrated – most say “ordained” today – with the Catholic rite for bishops, by a validly consecrated Catholic bishop.  They incurred an excommunication when they were  consecrated, but they were validly consecrated as Catholic bishops.  They are Catholic bishops who ar not in union with the See of Peter in a manifest way, however.  They are oddities in that they do not have sees, dioceses, even titular, much less residential.  In that sense they are independent.  But they are Catholic.

But wait!  There’s more!

I have thought about this for a bit since the objecting email has come my way.  I have also been thinking about lot about what has happened with the whole concept of “bishop” since the Second Vatican Council.  This is sparked in part by discussions surrounding an Instruction on Summorum Pontificum.

You see, I think Summorum Pontificum was a great gift for all priests, even those who want nothing to do with the older form of Mass or traditional worship (or doctrine, for that matter.  Summorum Pontificum was quite simply the first thing a Pope did in a long time in a concrete way to  build up the person of the priest in the Latin Church!  Thus, I have been thinking about priests and bishops these days.  Even liberal priests who are way out there, should defend Summorum Pontificum with tooth and bone and vigor.

I also consulted a couple good canonists about the status of the SSPX bishops. I didn’t want to put a foot wrong.

What I came away with is this.

Again, the SSPX bishops are Catholic bishops.   Sorry if I suggested otherwise.

However, before the Second Vatican Council, there was a canonical and theological school of thought that saw bishops more or less as priests with additional jurisdiction. The seven-stepped Holy Orders included four minor orders and three major orders.  Episcopal consecration was not canonically considered a sacrament in itself.

Since Vatican II and Christus Dominus, there has been a huge shift in the theology of the sacrament of Holy Orders.  The episcopate is now firmly considered a sacramental stage, not just the addition of jurisdiction.  It is even referred to mostly as “ordination” rather than “consecration”.  The episcopacy seems to stand its own, apart from priesthood, even though bishops and priests are both liturgically sacerdotes (they consecrate the Eucharist, they forgive sins, etc.).  If I am not mistaken, once upon a time bishops had to get faculties from the Holy See every five years in order to function as bishops.  No longer.  That reflects a huge theological change underlying the canonical change.

“But Father! But Father!”, you might be saying.  “What has any of that to do with the SSPX bishops?  Why can’t you just get to the point?!”

The SSPX bishops are, perhaps you can argue, more post-Vatican II bishops than they are pre-Vatican II bishops.  They are acting in a way that would have been unthinkable before the Council.

The SSPX bishops are working not as priests with jurisdiction given though a canonical mandate from the Holy Father. They are acting as bishops in their own right, standing apart, doing bishop things without a mission entrusted to them.  They are, moreover, anomalous in the sense that they don’t at the moment have dioceses, even titular.

This is very radical indeed.  The Church hasn’t seen this before.  Bishops – free standing – without dioceses – but who are still Catholic bishops?  It’s all very avant-garde.  The implications are hard to take in.

A bishop without a diocese is like a bride without a groom.  It doesn’t make theological or canonical sense, in any traditional way of thinking about bishops and how they fit into Christ’s plan for the Church.  This requires a radical new theological vision.  A new ecclesiological perspective.  Something more progressive than what the Council Fathers foresaw.

Are the SSPX in fact a fruit of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about bishops – not in the sense of being against the Council, but actually being more radical than the Council?

Are they changing our theology about bishops?  Pushing ecclesiology onto a whole new playing field?  Taking notions about bishops farther than the Council Fathers even wanted to go?

The SSPX bishops may in a way be rather like Fr. Kung.

Fr. Kung thought the Council was not nearly radical enough in changing the out-dated structures and hierarchy and the Church’s ossified theology.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Someone might get the idea that you’re having fun pimping the SSPX crowd….

  2. Supertradmum says:

    I am one person who is extremely grateful for your post here today. I have long understood that these SSPX bishops were without dioceses, and therefore,in a weird way, free-floating bishops. That they were ordained as bishops makes them more responsible for their stand away from the Church. Also, as I have tried to point out to my dear SSPX friends, who have no intention of coming over to the local TLMs, the sacraments of Confession, Marriage, etc. are suspect, as those SSPX bishops have not canonical right to give such jurisdiction to the priests who are supposedly absolving, marrying couples, etc. That the bishops of the SSPX are actually more radical than many in the Church seems logical and obvious.

    Obedience is always the bottom line for holiness.

  3. Random Friar says:

    If you look at the old Catholic Enclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11279a.htm) you see the bishops subsumed into the priests. There also seemed to be some leeway on the major/minor distinction for subdeacons.

  4. priests wife says:

    maybe someone could clarify for me: what do these bishops need to do to be in full communion? Would they go to the Society of St Peter- or could they be a ‘rite within a rite’ sort of like the Anglican-use?

  5. albizzi says:

    Maybe the Pope would be well inspired in creating an ordinariate for them like he did for the Anglicans.

  6. Oleksander says:

    bishop IS the local church (“particular church”) or at least the center of the local church – if you read the church fathers it is obvious… presbyters (priests) are nothing more than the personal extension of the bishop (in the byzantine church the bishop’s signature is on the main cloth which the consecration is done on, called the antimins, to remind the parish priest of this)… the 2nd Vatican council rightfully reminded the Church of this… even if it was not explicitly prev2 written in some canon law it was regardless absolutely Sacred Tradition

    with the SSPX bishops having no dioceses or titular dioceses given to them by the Holy Father and refusing to enter unity with the See of Peter.. well.. I can’t see how they can be capitial “C” Catholic… I am sure there are ecumenical oriented protestants who pray for the pope and insist they are part of the Universal Church, if they had Holy Orders, would they be Catholic?

  7. Bornacatholic says:

    It is ironic that during Vatican Two, Abp Lefevbre argued in favor of the Traditional axiom – No Jurisdiction, no Ministry – and he signed every single one of the Conciliar Texts whereas other Bishops refused to sign one or more of the texts and departed the Council in union with the Pope and The Church.

    This is a wild, vexatious, captious, and fun, time to be a Christian Catholic

  8. Oneros says:

    “Episcopal consecration was not canonically considered a sacrament in itself.”

    Canonically, maybe true. Bishops were essentially reduced to vicars or managers under the Pope rather than being true local Ordinaries in communion WITH him in the more robust and traditional sense.

    Theologically, it was pretty clear for centuries that episcopal consecration was the third grade of Holy Orders (just given the fact that only bishops can validly ordain, even). Catholic Encyclopedia in 1917, while mentioning the older Scholastic opinion that the episcopate was not a separate Sacrament (but that even the minor orders were), indicates that the majority of theologians even then held to the “three grades” vision, which has been declared definitively by Vatican II, I think.

    “The episcopacy seems to stand its own, apart from priesthood, even though bishops and priests are both liturgically sacerdotes (they consecrate the Eucharist, they forgive sins, etc.)”

    I’d rephrase this, “The episcopacy seems to stand its own, apart from presbyterate, even though bishops and presbyters are both liturgically priests”

    “If you look at the old Catholic Encyclopedia you see the bishops subsumed into the priests. There also seemed to be some leeway on the major/minor distinction for subdeacons.”

    I think there are two things going on here. In once sense, as I pointed out above, Catholic Encyclopedia, even in 1917, actually DOES seem to favor the “three grades” doctrine.

    However, when it comes to the minor and major LITURGICAL orders, then we’re talking about something very differently. The minor and major orders liturgically (and canonically) have to do with a role in liturgy rather than with the question of what is a Sacrament. Those seven orders, in that context, refer to roles in liturgy, not grades of the Sacrament; like a presbyter acting as a liturgical deacon, subdeacon, or acolyte, etc.

    In the liturgy, the bishop IS the priest when he celebrates. Just as a presbyter (as a “personal extension” of a bishop, as I think someone aptly described) is. There is no separate role for Bishop in liturgy (weird accretions for various prelatial courts aside). When a bishop celebrates, he IS the priest, liturgically speaking.

    Likewise, whether the subdiaconate is major or minor has nothing to do with whether it is a Sacrament or a sacramental. “Major Orders” does not mean those which are Sacraments, but those (according to the most traditional system in the West) who were allowed to touch consecrated vessels (and, canonically speaking, bound to celibacy and recitation of the Office). There is no “leeway” on this question, it was simply the canonical reality that in the West subdeacons were liturgically and canonically classed as Major, and in the East as Minor. But the “Major/Minor” line was not drawn at the level of sacrament, as it’s a question of a liturgical hierarchy, in this case, not grades of the Sacrament.

  9. Bornacatholic says:


    40. And when We later addressed to you the letter Ad Sinarum gentem, We again referred to this teaching in these words: “The power of jurisdiction which is conferred directly by divine right on the Supreme Pontiff comes to bishops by that same right, but only through the successor of Peter, to whom not only the faithful but also all bishops are bound to be constantly subject and to adhere both by the reverence of obedience and by the bond of unity.”[14]

    41. Acts requiring the power of Holy Orders which are performed by ecclesiastics of this kind, though they are valid as long as the consecration conferred on them was valid, are yet gravely illicit, that is, criminal and sacrilegious.

    Council of Trent

    On the Sacrament of Order

    Canon VI.—If any one saith, that, in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers; let him be anathema.

    Canon VII.—If any one saith, that bishops are not superior to priests; or, that they have not the power of confirming and ordaining; or, that the power which they possess is common to them and to priests; or, that orders, conferred by them, without the consent, or vocation of the people, or of the secular power, are invalid; or, that those who have neither been rightly ordained, nor sent, by ecclesiastical and canonical power, but come from elsewhere, are lawful ministers of the word and of the sacraments; let him be anathema.

    I think it fair to observe that the success of this no-longer-a-schism is due to the Epoch of Laxity introduced by Pope John 23 in his opening speech of The Council; At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.

    If the SSPX, about which many, many, many kind things can be said, had done what they did during an Epoch of Tradition and Discipline, then they’d have permanently and forthrightly been given the heave-ho long ago and they would have been made to publicly recant of their actions prior to being reconciled. As things now stand, it appears the Magisterium is doing all of the back-tracking while the SSPX stands fast.

    BTW, I could roll-out scores of quotes from Tradition totally annihilating the putative preservation of Tradition by those who thwarted Tradition to preserve Tradition.

    Instead, I will enjoy the unfolding irony and continue to pray for reconciliation

  10. JARay says:

    I too think that the Pope should set up an Ordinariate for the SSPX just as he has done for the Anglicans.
    One matter which has not been answered completely to my satisfaction is that of confession. None of the priests of the SSPX have the permission of the local Ordinary to hear confession within the diocese of that Ordinary. We all know that they do hear the confessions of the faithful of the SSPX. Are those valid confessions? I have seen both “Yes” and “No” given in answer to my question. Those who say “Yes” point out that the Vatican itself has implied the validity because in the matter of reserved sins, SSPX priests have been given permission to absolve.

  11. Fr. Z., what a mischieviously logical line of argument. Beautiful! It reminded me of Fr. John McGuckian’s excellent book ‘St. Gregory of Nazianzen: an Intellectual Biography’. There he makes the point that in the early Church the bishop was bound very forcibly to his diocese – the bishop as ‘high priest’ was wedded like Christ the Groom to the Church, His Body. Gregory took fierce abuse precisely because he left his diocese to go to Constantinople.
    A friar told me that before Vatican II if a bishop were travelling, and had just left his diocese, and was asked by one of his priests or lay people to hear their confession he had to go back into his diocese! (I don’t know how true that is)
    Again, if you look at a map of the dioceses of Ireland you might notice that ALL of them have access to the sea so the bishop, it is said, could leave Ireland without crossing out of his see into that of another Irish bishop (perhaps they were afraid of episcopal punch-ups?). Good post, most enlightening and informative as always.

  12. Fr. Basil says:

    In the Byzantine tradition (both Orthodox and Catholic) the word CHEIROTONIA is used for imparting the diaconate, diaconissate, presbyterate, and episcopate. In all cases, the opening prayer is identical: “The Divine Grace, which heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking ordains the most devout NAME to be a ______.”

    In all cases, the word CHEIROTONIA is translated as “Ordination” in English.

    The word for conveying the minor orders of Reader and Sub-diaconate, as well as elevations (archdeacon, archpriest, et al) and other blesdsings is CHEIROTHESIA.

    Also, Reader may be imparted outside of the Divine Liturgy. The Subdiaconate technically is to, but is always conferred immediately before it. The others always take place DURING the Divine Liturgy.

  13. LouiseA says:

    It is true that the SSPX bishops are “acting in a way that would have been unthinkable before the Council.” The Council caused this situation, this crisis. We can name thousands of strange things that have happened in the Church that were simply unthinkable before the Council. (So much for VII being a “hermeneutic of continuity!”)

    Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated bishops in order to be preserve the priesthood, not to be independent, avant-garde, or so he and they could “do their own thing”. He did not do this out of a spirit of rebellion, but out of love for the priesthood and the Tridentine Mass and the Faith, and it was a difficult painful decision to disobey the Pope. But he understood that the entire reason the Catholic Church exists is to help people to save their souls. Can anyone argue that Operation Survival (the 1988 episcopal consecrations) was not done with that sole intention? The Archbishop was clear about his intention. Canon law allows for this primary intention to excuse violations of particular laws.

    While the letter of the law says that the SSPX priests are suspended, don’t forget that God looks at the spirit of the law and one’s intentions. All the SSPX has done, and all that they currently do, is done out of love of souls. They want to save souls by saving the priesthood and the Mass and the Faith. Who will condemn any man who gives his life for such a cause? I am pretty sure God will not. God came on earth to save souls… this must always come first.

    In a time of crisis, the letter of the law can not always be followed. Think about what happens when there is a huge crisis like the earthquake in New Zealand. I read yesterday of how the rescuers had to use a hacksaw to cut off a man’s leg to free him from the rubble, but this saved his life. I am sure the medical workers there on site did not follow a by-the-book procedure for this surgery or have a perfectly sanitary situation there. They simply did what was necessary to save the man.

    Emergency bishops were not needed before Vatican II, except in war and persecution areas. But when the “unthinkable” happened to our Church after Vatican II, “unthinkable” solutions had to be taken by those brave and clear-thinking enough to put salvation of souls ahead of their own reputation in the Church.

    Thank you, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, for knowing what the real purpose of a Bishop was.

  14. JonM says:

    @ BornaCatholic et. al.,

    Okay, but if we are to be absolutists with text from the Council of Trent, then virtually the entire Church is anathema due to the forbidding of the Tridentine Mass, which Pope St. Pius V declared nominal in perpetuity.

    In all fairness, please present the argument that SSPX clergy themselves use. On their website, they clearly state that the reasoning for the consecrations was rooted in a Canon Law provision that protects in emergencies.

    I find it a compelling argument, particularly when the collapse in the faith in pure numerical terms has been more severe than after the Thirty Years War (when the cause for the collapse was depopulation itself.) Many who contribute here will disagree with the argument put forth by SSPX. Resolving this matter here is not going to happen, though I have to note that Vatican officials have indicated that SSPX marriages are valid, which would imply that the other Sacraments dispensed are valid.

    It is a confusing situation and best summed up by the term ‘diabolical disorientation.’ We are to be orderly and obedient: God did not create a democracy of creation in which anytime we have a disagreement with the sovereign we can dissent. Therefore, our normal orientation is to worship within the lawful structure established by the Church. Only when this itself becomes impossible can one go outside the law so to speak.

    Of course the grayness here is determining when it becomes impossible. My answer is that when one’s salvation is threatened, that is when the line is crossed.

    A critical point to this discussion is that SSPX clergy are not excommunicated. Whatever canonical limbo they are in, they are not a schismatic sect (though if they were, I wonder why they would not be ‘in Communion’ as Pope Paul VI considered the Eastern Orthodox schismatic Churches.)

    Please, let’s just be honest: SSPX does not have jurisdiction under Church law, but they don’t claim it. They are not however excommunicated (so all who say ‘they are not in Communion with Rome’, please vent your politics in a different manner.)

  15. Supertradmum says:

    I find it interesting that those who claim to be the most conservative, or the most traditional, advocate disobedience. The simple fact is that Archbishop Lefebvre was told not to ordain the bishops and he did it anyway. When we think we are more Catholic than the Pope, we are on the road to both schism, and eventually, heresy. Even if one is absolutely right about a matter, one must bow to Rome, under these circumstances. We are not safe from the deceiving winds of our own hubris, if we stand outside the walls of Rome

    In addition, for those above who suggest an Ordinariate, I claim, knowing several different parishes of SSPX folks, that they would not agree to come in. This is because most of the people in the pew do not honestly believe that the NO is valid at all, and that Vatican II is invalid, in any degree of definition. One cannot be a Catholic in true communion with the Church unless one accepts both the validity of the NO (as much as we may not like it) and the validity of Vatican II, even at the pastoral level.

    A what if–What if Archbishop Lefebvre had not caused the schism and did not ordain the bishops? Perhaps, perhaps we would have had a freeing of the EF much earlier and a renewal from within, which could have led to an order of SSPX priests in full communion with the Church.

    Sadly, I see many of my SSPX friends who have hardened their position and refuse to cross the street to the local FSSP parish, both literally and metaphorically, because they believe they are the true church and not the rest of us….

  16. JonM says:

    Well said LouiseA.

    I forgot one point: I find thoroughly ironic the chicness of Neo-Conservative Catholics in claiming Eastern Orthodox Sacraments are ‘valid but illicit.’ Perhaps this is so (despite the practice of divorce, belief that hell and heaven are not distinct locations, etc.)

    Last I checked, Eastern Orthodox Bishops and Priests have no jurisdiction.

    How then, pray tell, would SSPX sacraments possibly not be valid?

  17. Johnny Domer says:

    Another interesting, somewhat related (sorry if this is rabbit-hole-y) point that I’ve wondered–how do these bishops offer Mass? In the EF, there are big differences between how a bishop offers solemn Mass in an area where he has jurisdiction (bishop in his diocese, archbishop in metropolitan area, Cardinal anywhere in the world except in Rome outside his titular church, etc.) and where he does not have jurisdiction. In the former case, he offers the Pontifical Mass at the Throne, and in the latter case he offers the Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool. I’ve seen pictures of the SSPX bishops offering Pontifical Mass at the throne, and it really struck me as odd. None of them have jurisdiction…anywhere. Perhaps they act like Bishop Fellay has some form of jurisdiction since he’s the Superior General of the order, so he has jurisdiction whenever he offers Mass in an SSPX chapel; and maybe the other bishops get jurisdiction as heads of seminaries or something (I know one of the bishops is in charge of their Argentinian seminary). Does anyone know what their regular practice is?

  18. Johnny Domer says:

    Although, let me clarify–they don’t have real, actual jurisdiction (the kind that only the Church/Pope can give you). It’s just a sort of pretend jurisdiction that they’re making up. This whole idea of non-real jurisdiction that the SSPX folks live under was a big reason the Transalpine Redemptorists reconciled with Rome. They realized that without jurisdiction, the vow of obedience is pretty meaningless.

  19. cpaulitz says:

    I would say Their Excellencies are acting in a way never seen before the Council because Rome is acting in a way it’s never acted before the Council.

  20. @JonM: What do you mean by the Eastern Orthodox “belief that hell and heaven are not distinct locations”? They certainly believe that they are very different states. And I am not sure we can really use spatial terminology here, except analogically — space and time are features of this world. After the Second Coming things will presumably be different; but can we definitely say that in the current order heaven and hell are ‘locations’ at all?

  21. Oleksander says:

    I forgot one point: I find thoroughly ironic the chicness of Neo-Conservative Catholics in claiming Eastern Orthodox Sacraments are ‘valid but illicit.’ Perhaps this is so (despite the practice of divorce, belief that hell and heaven are not distinct locations, etc.)

    Last I checked, Eastern Orthodox Bishops and Priests have no jurisdiction.”

    If I recall right, Pope Leo XIII or one of those 19th century popes actually did give them jurisdiction, only for the benefit of the Eastern Orthodox faithful, regardless since Eastern Orthodox faithful have for centuries only had access to Eastern Orthodox priests, the sacraments given – confession and marriage that is – had grace I would say if I had to look at it from a Latin “legalistic” standpoint

    nonetheless like salvation there is no grace outside of the Church, the grace conferred by non-Catholics with valid orders dose not come from in and of the Eastern Orthodox itself (or whoever else like baptism by protestants), but directly and mysteriously from the Catholic Church

    A “Polish National Catholic” priest celebrates Mass, his consecration dosent originate from the “Polish National Catholic Chruch” but, like I said, rather directly – through mysterious means – from the Catholic Church. thats why there are various levels of being in communion with the (Catholic) Church, simplest and most distant being by virtue of valid baptism like protestants to the Eastern Orthodox who are so close to being Catholic the only thing they lack is communion with Peter. One cannot get a Methodist baptism – only a (big “C” Catholic full union with Peter) Catholic baptism (which would just happen to be done by a Methodist, the grace that enables the validity of the sacrament comes directly from the Catholic Church)

  22. Prof. Basto says:

    Regarding pre-Vatican II theology on Bishops, Father, I think it is innacurate to suggest that in pre-Vatican II times Episcopal Consecration was not seen as a Sacrament, as a part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Sure, there were seven “Orders”, four “minor” and three “major”, the major orders being the subdiaconate, the diaconate and the priesthood.

    But it was clear that the major order of the subdiaconate was not a Sacramental Order, as the minor orders were also not, and that the major orders of deacon and priest, were Sacramental Orders, together with the Episcopacy. Although the Episcopate was not counted as one of the “canonical” Orders, but as an addition to the priesthood, that made one the high-priest (with the term consecration used rather than ordination), it was clear that it was also an “order” and was also a part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    The old rite even refers at one point to the “pontifical Order” in the formula of the anointing of the new Bishop’s head: “Ungatur, et consecratur caput tuum coelesti benedictione, in ordine Pontificali”. So you see that the formula alludes to aninting and consacration into the “pontifical order”.

    So, when you say above “The episcopate is now firmly considered a sacramental stage, not just the addition of jurisdiction”, it should be perhaps noted that the Church has always considered the Episcopate sacramental in character (hence the very notion, that is central to the Catholic Faith, of Apostolic Succession). What was different in the past is that less emphasis was placed on the Episcopate as an “order”, and more emphasis was placed on it being the fullness of the priesthood, and ergo a continuation of the priesthood.

    A definitive, although 20th century, proof that the pre-Vatican II theology already considered Episcopal Consecration a Sacrament is the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII Sacramentum Ordinis, defining for the avoidance of doubt what parts of the prayers of diaconal ordination, priestly ordination and episcopal consecration were the “sacramental formuale” essential for validity of the SACRAMENT.

    In this Apostolic Constitution, Pius XII already alludes to the Episcopal Consecration as “Episcopal Ordination or Consecration”, revealling that the Consecration in question is, in essence, an act of Ordination.

    In “Sacramentum Ordinis”, Ven. Pope Pius XII defines:

    “Wherefore, after invoking the divine light, We of Our Apostolic Authority and from certain knowledge declare, and as far as may be necessary decree and provide: that the matter, and the only matter, of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy is the imposition of hands; and that the form, and the only form, is the words which determine the application of this matter, which univocally signify the sacramental effects – namely the power of Order and the grace of the Holy Spirit – and which are accepted and used by the Church in that sense. It follows as a consequence that We should declare, and in order to remove all controversy and to preclude doubts of conscience, We do by Our Apostolic Authority declare, and if there was ever a lawful disposition to the contrary We now decree that at least in the future the traditio instrumentorum is not necessary for the validity of the Sacred Orders of the Diaconate, the Priesthood, and the Episcopacy.
    Finally in the Episcopal Ordination or Consecration, the matter is the imposition of hands which is done by the Bishop consecrator. The form consists of the words of the “Preface,” of which the following are essential and therefore required for validity: ‘Comple in Sacerdote tuo ministerii tui summam, et ornamentis totius glorificationis instructum coelestis unguenti rore santifica’.”

    So you see that the Episcopacy was already treated in pre-Vatican II times as an Order in the sense of one of the degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, together with the Diaconate and the Priesthood.

    Now it is also true, and that has not been changed by Vatican II either, that Bishops, even though validly consecrated (ordained), only have jurisdiction insofar as they are in communion with the Pope. That is, they are part of the “essential constitution of the Church”, but, although consecrated, they only have jurisdiction if they are in union with Peter.

    That doctrine is clearly stated in Leo XIII encyclical on the Church “Satis Cognitum”, and is still today valid of course, and as such is reflected in the Code of Canon Law: when the 1983 Code defines the College of Bishops, it states:

    “Can336. The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members are bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college and in which the apostolic body continues, together with its head and never without this head, is also the subject of supreme and full power offer the universal Church.”

    Thus, not only sacramental consecration is necessary for membership in the College of Bishops, but also “hierarchical communion” with the head (the Pope) and the members of the College. If a bishop, although sacramentally ordained, lacks hierarchical communion, he cannot discharge any jurisdiction, and cannot licitly perform any of the duties of the Episcopacy:

    Can 375 §2. Through episcopal consecration itself, bishops receive with the function of sanctifying also the functions of teaching and governing; by their nature, however, these can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college.

    Thus, the doctrine of Satis Cognitum that “Bishops separated from Peter and His Successors, lose all Jurisdiction” of course still holds true. Vatican II did not change that.

    In the wake of the doctrinal document (Lumen Gentium), that placed a greater emphasys on the role of Bishops as successors of the Apostles (the Council of Trent already had stated that they were successors of the Apostles), what the disciplinary decree Christus Dominus did was to give more canonical powers to the Bishops, transferring to them powers that had been previously reserved by the See of Rome (that of course, as the supreme authority, is free to regulate the measure of jurisdiction reserved and the measure of powers granted to the Bishops), or that Bishops could previously only discharge by special permission. So, Christus Dominus “decentralized” decisionmaking (creating many practical problems). But the doctrine on the Sacramental character of the Episcopate was already well established by then, since pre-Vatican II days.

  23. JonM says:

    One major school of thought in Eastern Orthodoxy is that heaven and hell are ‘in the presence’ of God. This conflicts with revealed truth and centuries of teaching from Church leaders (hell is a separation from God.)

    If Pope Leo XIII or another Pope did grant jurisdiction after the final schism, then certainly I admit I was wrong. But the point to my bringing it up was to illustrate the inconsistent approach that some in the Catholic Church harbor towards SSPX.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    Prof. Basto,

    Many thanks.

  25. catholicmidwest says:

    They are acting in a way inconceivable before the council, but much we know was inconceivable before the council. That was 50 years ago, and it might as well have been a thousand, for all the things that have happened in the church since then, and outside the church since then. Geography doesn’t count for near as much now as it did then.

  26. muckemdanno says:

    Supertradmum, your paradigm of “obedience uber alles” seems more in line with the philosophy of Nazism or Fascism than Catholicism. Any law or command which violates a higher law must not be obeyed. Please see St Thomas regarding obedience on this one or St Peter himself – “We must obey God rather than men.”

    Priests, bishops, and popes have done bad things in the past, and are capable of ordering their subordinates to do bad things. If you obey evil orders given you by your superior, then you are guilty, not innocent. Goring and the other Nazis tried the “I was just following orders” defense at Nuremberg, and it didn’t fly, and anyone with a sense of morality knows that it shouldn’t fly.

    The highest law of the Church is the salvation of souls. It is the reason that the Church exists. It is the reason that the offices of pope and bishop exist. All laws of the Church and all commands of superiors in the Church have to tend toward this supreme law. If any command or law violates this supreme law, then it is void and therefore, there is no obligation to obey such a command or law.

    And, to think that the so-called “extraordinary form” (sic) would have been freed if SSPX had not disobeyed Rome for the 40 prior years is just plain nuts. The Tridentine mass would have died without SSPX or other “disobedient” priests, as all priests were told for 40 years that it was forbidden for them to use it. The only priests who continued the use of it were the “disobedient” ones.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    I am no “supertrad.” I’m not a liberal wacko either, but something in between. However, what you say about the Tridentine is strangely true. Odd how this all is turning out, isn’t it?

    BTW, what you say about obedience is also true. Half the reason the church got into the mess it did over child abuse was that people towed the line instead of did the right thing when they discovered evil. In case after case, someone knew: the bishop or the other priest living in the rectory or the classmate or the diocesan bureaucrat or the religious brother, and they refused to divulge the truth out of false loyalty or a misplaced sense of secrecy. Priests and bishops should be respected but should not be obeyed if they ask you to do evil. And they are no different than anyone else if you catch them in crime. Call the cops in that case. The sooner the better. A priest gone bad is a very, very, very dangerous man.

  28. Bornacatholic says:

    . Can anyone argue that Operation Survival (the 1988 episcopal consecrations) was not done with that sole intention? The Archbishop was clear about his intention. Canon law allows for this primary intention to excuse violations of particular laws.

    Sorry. This is an argument that does not hold water and Canon Law provides no such warrant for Mons Lefevbre to have acted as he did.

    The Pope is the interpreter of Canon Law, not an individual Bishop.

    Can. 16 §1. The legislator authentically interprets laws as does the one to whom the same legislator has entrusted the power of authentically interpreting.

    §2. An authentic interpretation put forth in the form of law has the same force as the law itself and must be promulgated. If it only declares the words of the law which are certain in themselves, it is retroactive; if it restricts or extends the law, or if it explains a doubtful law, it is not retroactive.

    §3. An interpretation in the form of a judicial sentence or of an administrative act in a particular matter, however, does not have the force of law and only binds the persons for whom and affects the matters for which it was given.

    The Pope (read Ecclesia Dei) said there was no emergency excusing unauthorised Episcopal Ordination and he had the authority to take such a decision about that matter; Msgr. Lefevbre did not.

    From Ecclesia Dei _

    With great affliction the Church has learned of the unlawful episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June last by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre,…The particular circumstances, both objective and subjective in which Archbishop Lefebvre acted, provide everyone with an occasion for profound reflection and for a renewed pledge of fidelity to Christ and to his Church.

    Pope St. Pius X (I had my wife take a photo of me in front of his statuary in the Basilica of St Peter because he is one of my few heroes) said the following:

    Pope St. Pius X: Allocution of May 10, 1909

    “Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by the cunning statements of those who persistently claim to wish to be with the Church, to love the Church, to fight so that people do not leave Her…But judge them by their works. If they despise the shepherds of the Church and even the Pope, if they attempt all means of evading their authority in order to elude their directives and judgments…, then about which Church do these men mean to speak? Certainly not about that established on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone

    What all of this boiled down to its essence was, it seems to me, a sad and mad case of soi disant Traditionalists acting like protestants so as to, they claim, preserve Tradition; and if that does not perfectly capture the essence of prior excuses by protestants to evade Papal authority then I do not know what does.

    All of that have been written, maybe, in time, after a century of reflection and after these passions have subsided, and after a time of mature Magisterial reflection, it will be conceded that in the midst of this fog of Irony, The Magisterium was able to identify the spark of a felix culpa into which the Holy Ghost breathed life to revivify a healthy sense of Catholic Triumphalism which the Church in this time so badly needed.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    Nevertheless it is probably true, Bornacatholic, that the Tridentine would have passed out of practice entirely had it not been for the SSPX. I firmly believe that Ecclesia Dei would not have been called into existence because its timing was too suspect to be a coincidence. And consequently the case that there had been no “hermeneutic of rupture” would have been exceeding difficult for Pope Benedict XVI to make, there being only evidence that there had indeed been a hermeneutic of rupture, and one that would have been nearly impossible to breach.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    Mind you, it’s very difficult for a priest whose sensibilities and practice are all novus ordo to learn the Latin Mass properly, especially if he is surrounded solely by novus ordo colleagues which most priests are.

    Think of it. If the Tridentine had not been said by the ultratraditionalists, who would have remembered what it was supposed to sound like? And who would have remembered how to celebrate it? Very, very, very few people.

  31. Bornacatholic says:

    Supertradmum, your paradigm of “obedience uber alles” seems more in line with the philosophy of Nazism or Fascism than Catholicism

    I guess St. Catherine of Sienna was a Nazi rather than a Dr of The Church. Here she is on Obedience:


    Look, The Holy Ghost protects the Church established by Jesus and it teaches it all truth and the Catholic Church can not fail and if anyone thinks that Mons Lefevbre saved it via disobedience to the Divinely-Constituted authority then how can it be said that Jesus did not fail in His promises vis a vis His Church?

    [16] Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

    Can it convincingly be argued that Mons Lefevbre was right to disobey Peter’s Successor who bound Lefevbre from conferring episcopal consecrations; and which, axiomatically, also meant that Heaven bound Mons Lefevbre from conferring episcopal consecrations.

    Written otherwise, if Mons Lefevbre can claim exemption from obedience than what prevents this, that, or the other Bishop from doing the exact same thing?

    St. Thomas Aquinas: “We must abide rather by the Pope’s judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well versed he may be in the divine Scriptures.” (Quodlibetum IX,Q.8, Quaest. Quodlibetales)

    Pope Pius XII Consistory Allocution of 2 June 1944, “The mandate Confided to Peter”,

    Mother Church, Catholic, Roman, which has remained faithful to the constitution received from her divine Founder, which still stands firm today on the solidity of the rock on which His will erected her, possesses in the primacy of Peter and of his legitimate successors, the assurance, guaranteed by the divine promises, of keeping and transmitting inviolate and in all its integrity through the centuries and millennia to the very end of time the entire sum of truth and grace contained in the redemptive mission of Christ.

    Vatican 1:

    “Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.”

    I can roll-out these Magisterial Citations from Tradition; All. Day. Long. I have scores of them and I spent years researching and collecting them in arguing against the no-longer-a-Schism. But I don’t really want to post them all.

    So, could those who have succored the no-longer-a-schism since its inception try and show a bit of humility and concede that they may have been wrong and that the man who created the schism Mons Lefevbre might also have been wrong?

    It’d be much better for all of us to admit – Magisterium and SSPX, both – that mistakes were made, reconcile, and put this behind us and leave it to some Saint in the next century to cast these sad and mad times in the proper light after mature and holy reflection.

  32. catholicmidwest says:

    It is true that the Catholic church cannot fail, but what does “fail” mean EXACTLY? Does it mean no mistakes can be made? Does it mean nothing foolish can happen? Does it mean no schisms can occur? Does it mean no popes can be corrupt in the absolute sense? What exactly does that mean?

    I will submit to you that history has shown that schisms can indeed occur. And then there’s the behavior of Alexander VI who was personally probably the worst pope the church ever had. He didn’t change the deposit of faith, but he did just about everything else he could manage. The Church can come into hard times. It’s happened. Stupid mistakes can be made, the shallow and tepid initial response to the Reformation being a prime example, but only one of many.

    Don’t use the word “fail” in a superficial way. It cheapens the promise of Scripture.

  33. catholicmidwest says:

    God always comes through. The Old Testament is a witness to that. Abraham & Sarah. Daniel & the Lions Den. Joseph in Egypt. Crossing the Red Sea. But He usually shows up only at the last minute and the resolution hangs by a thread of God’s choosing which often is a quixotic or unexpected thread. Don’t discount what it looks like happened in the 2oth century with respect to the liturgy. God knows the truth of what happened, but we will only figure it out in hindsight and we may never figure out exactly why it happened.

  34. Random Friar says:

    @ Oneros: Ah, thank you very much for that in-depth explanation!

  35. JonM says:

    Again, to quote pre-Vatican II statements from Church figures to admonish SSPX is no different than a fundamentalist Protestant wildly quoting random verses of Scripture.

    The essence, thrust, raison d’etre, etc. of the statements quoted was part and parcel to beat back the rebellion against the Church, her Tradition, Catholic order, and a sensus Catholicus. This includes, in a big way, the Liturgy, which modern Church officials have almost uniformly suppressed.

    I simply cannot take seriously any argument against the invocation of canon 1323, §4 that pivots on declarations from Sts. Pius V and Pius X. When we view what these popes were combating in light of the many apparitions of the Virgin Mary, it seems manifestly clear that SSPX was not the terrible calamity awaiting us.

    I see little distinction between our current predicament and that of the early Church when Arianism swept across it and did in fact find defense from the Papacy (though never in the solemn sense.) It is thanks to the true obedience of a small section of the faithful that Arianism (at least for a while) was extinguished.

    Just for a disclosure – I’ve never been to an SSPX event or Mass.

  36. Ezra says:

    nonetheless like salvation there is no grace outside of the Church

    Not quite accurate, stated in this fashion. Indeed, among the errors of Paschasius Quesnel in Clement XI’s Unigenitus (1713) was the claim that, “Outside of the Church, no grace is granted.”

  37. Neal says:

    Don’t be ridiculous.

  38. Supertradmum says:

    Many years ago, when I was in a wasteland of NO Masses being tweaked by liberal priests, I attended a SSPX Mass with my family. It was Christmas Midnight Mass. I did not know that the priest who was to celebrate was Bishop Williamson.

    The Mass was reverent, the choir sublime and the homily an invective against the Pope and the Church. I never heard so much hatred and spleen from the pulpit, in such an inappropriate setting, with many, many children in the congregation. The rambling, hateful and deceitful homily showed me that we did not belong in the SSPX and I took it as an indication to pray more about the move to a place where there was a TLM. This was about ten years ago. Here was sublime celebration of the Birth of Our Lord ruined by one man’s sinful arrogance.

    After Mass, a few of those in the parish came up to us, as we were visitors, and half-apologized for the words. They were embarrassed.

    The fruits of the SSPX separation were seen in those who agreed with the horrible words. I then saw that many people in that parish agreed with the bishop and did not see anything out of place with a stark example of a sinful and prideful priest who thought he was holier than all of Rome.

    When we saw this, we realized that the Holy Spirit was not in this place. When one separates one’s self from Rome, as either a conservative or a liberal, one is open to serious errors in judgment and character. We did not go back, and I decided that suffering through the NO, until we moved, was at least an obedience to the Church and a more humble position than hatred. Obedience to Rome protects us from many sins and keeps us humble. To do otherwise, is to play footsie with the one who is the arch-example of disobedience.

    Athanasius was imprisoned and exiled. He never left the Church. He is a saint. I hate to think of where Arius is. Sometimes obedience seems foolish, but the call to holiness is not pride, for sure. If I have to suffer with liberal and even heretical priests in the Church, I would rather do that then align myself with proud and arrogant priests who honestly believe they are holy just by their devotion to the TLM. It takes more than devotion to the TLM to be a saint. And, when such devotion separates one from the flock, that is dangerous.

    What is even more tragic is that my SSPX friends will never agree to come back as they honestly now have an entire culture of separation.

    I do not believe that the TLM would have completely disappeared. We do not know what would have happened if Archbishop Lefebvre would have stayed in the Church and waited and prayed and suffered until this could freedom would have happened. I think we would be having a conversation on his beatification.

  39. jbas says:

    I wonder what episcopal name SPPX priests insert into the canon? Do they recognize any authority of the proper territorial bishop?

  40. LouiseA says:

    They insert the name of the bishop in whose diocese they are offering Mass.

  41. muckemdanno says:


    I will not try to argue logic with you, since there is no logical disagreement between us.

    We disagree on a principle, so there is no point in discussing the particulars of the Lefebvre case. If you believe that the Pope (or any particular superior) is incapable of issuing an unjust command, then you are correct. There can be no cause for not obeying his command. If you believe (as I do) that the Pope (or any other superior) is capable of issuing an unjust command, then I am correct. You must obey the law of God if the law of anyone who is inferior to God contradicts it. The link you provided from St Catherine does nothing to support your position. In the beginning of her treatise on obedience, she states quite clearly that the virtue of obedience stems only from obedience to the supreme law of God – the love of God and neighbor.

    Vatican Council I defined the doctrine of papal infallibility, and stated clearly that it applies to matters of doctrinal teaching only. The pope is not infallible in laws that he issues or commands that he gives or in his personal behavior, etc. etc. Since you believe that the pope is infallible in the laws and commands that he issues, and I don’t, it is clear that this discussion can’t continue.

  42. Athelstan says:

    “They are acting in a way that would have been unthinkable before the Council.”

    Speaking as devil’s advocate, the SSPX would say (and I believe have said) that the situation they find themselves in was also unthinkable before the Council, and therefore that unthinkable measures became necessary.

  43. Supertradmum says:

    muckemdanno et al,

    Even if the decree was unjust, Lefebvre should have obeyed it anyway. That he was an Archbishop, his call to obedience would have been heroic, and therefore, extremely meritorious for him, his priest, his followers, and the entire Church. The power of what is unseen is greater than the power of what is seen.

  44. muckemdanno says:

    …and of course, as stated by someone above, canon law (1323) itself provides for exceptions to obedience to particular laws and precepts (again, the particulars of whether any of these exceptions apply to the Lefebvre case are irrelevant.)

    The principle which I accept (and St Thomas taught clearly, and canon law makes explicit), and some of you do not, is that obedience to any authority inferior to God himself is sometimes unnecessary and might even be mandatory in some cases.

  45. I find this issue very interesting. All the combox chatter seems to be missing the important point. The Tradition of the Church clearly sees that there is an intimate (dare we say necessary) relationship between the Bishop and the physical location (the place) in which he is a Bishop.

    The Eastern understanding of this may help shed light on the issue because in the West we haven’t looked at this aspect of the Sacrament of Holy Orders very closely. Even the priest in the East is Ordianed with a notion of a physical location in mind. They speak about the Altar to which the priest is united. The way this has been explained to me is that “all things being equal” a priest would serve at the Altar on which he was ordianed and none other. The analogy holds with a Bishop who is ordained for a physical place and “all things being equal” would never serve another place.

    Even in the West the notion of Auxillary Bishops or Emeriti Bishops is an odd thing. In order to allow for this we have had to make a distinction between a Bishop being “the Bishop of a place” and a Bishop having “Ordinary jurisdiction of a place.” Usually these things coincide but not always.

    But, the question remains: How can a man be a Bishop if he is not the Bishop of a place?

    I know that this is “exploratory theology” in many ways and we could cut on many sides of this issue. However, it seems to be important enough to investigate.

  46. muckemdanno says:


    The obedience that all of us are called to is that of obedience to Our Lord. If the leaders of the Church issue a command which violates the commands of Our Lord, it is heroic to obey the command of Our Lord. Here is a concise summary of our two positions, in the event that our superior gives each of us a command that violates the law of God:

    Supertradmum – “It is heroic to obey man rather than God”
    Muckemdanno – “We must obey God rather than man”

  47. Supertradmum says:


    If one obeys the Church, one is obeying God.

  48. catholicmidwest says:

    Your reply is about as specific as mud, supertradmom.

  49. Supertradmum says:

    Brother Gabriel Thomas,

    Thank you for your interesting comment. Even in the sad days of the Protestant Revolt in England, the bishops who were ordained (consecrated) were given places under the hands of the Moslems as places. These bishops” in infidel regions” (in partibus infidelium) were given places, and some bishops were titular, with these additional titles in partibus infelium. In recent times, this tradition has, I think, been dropped. But your comment reminded me of this fact.

  50. Supertradmum says:

    Brother Gabriel Thomas,

    sorry about the typo. in partibus infidelium-not whatever I wrote the second time.

  51. Supertradmum says:


    That is how we differ from the Protestants, who think they have a right to interpret things either in Scripture or outside Tradition from sola fide, sola Scriptura, both of which you know is wrong. Obedience in these things protects us from error and going off into sin. That is what I meant, and it is merely a repeat of what many saints have said, who are my mentors. I did not make up the statement, but believe it is the way to humility and holiness.

  52. Supertradmum says:

    catholicmidwest, muckemdanno

    sorry about the is instead of are-here is a nice list of quotations from saints on obedience.


  53. catholicmidwest says:


    So let me put it this way: What specifically, in detail, does it mean to “obey the Church,” put in those kinds of general terms? Obey specifically what principle? And what person specifically?
    And I don’t want pious platitudes. I’ve heard more than enough of that, which is as useless as believing in a moon made of green cheese.

    Personally my answer is, particularly after 2002, that while it’s true that the strong presumption exists that the Church is worthy of obedience, to shut your eyes and blindly obey is wrong, when there is reason to believe that you are being ordered to do something immoral. However, the possibility of this has happened often enough in the Church’s long history that it cannot be ignored. Indeed, there is nearly always sufficient evidence that such things happen at the highest levels of the church as well as intermittently all the way down. Believe but watch yourself. Being Catholic isn’t just pushing a set of happy buttons (even if your happy is being an ascetic about this, because it is for some people). It probably never has been.

  54. catholicmidwest says:


    There is such a thing as false humility and it is very common among Catholics. There is also such a thing as blind obedience, which can have a lot of root causes-both good and bad, and it is more common among Catholics than you might think. And it does less for people spiritually than you might also believe, particularly if it masks ignorance and evil-doing, which it turns out isn’t all that uncommon.

  55. holeksa says:

    Hello, young Catholic here….enjoy the blog (voted today) top ten in my IMHO.
    Doing some DD on this topic….found myself sitting back and learning a few things about the Faith.

    I do like to comment on the usual suspects, that high jack the threads on this blog.
    I attend FSSPX regularly, I am NOT part of FSSPX, as I am a lay person and that would be impossible.
    I have ;) some friends (family co-workers ect…) that attend FSSP, Novus Order, baptist, luthern ect. ect….
    BISHOP “sinful arrogance” + PRIEST “sinful and prideful” = Supertradmum
    Proof ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ * ^^^^^proof^^^^^^^^^^^^=????????? evidence

    [Once more… in English, please?]

  56. Bornacatholic says:

    If you believe that the Pope (or any particular superior) is incapable of issuing an unjust command, then you are correct. There can be no cause for not obeying his command. If you believe (as I do) that the Pope (or any other superior) is capable of issuing an unjust command, then I am correct.

    That is a very acceptable summary of the reasoning for the protestant principle of Private Judgment.

    It is you, or Lefevbre, or Fellay, or the Diamon Brothers, or Fr Cutie in Miami who judges that the Pope has issued an unjust command and he not only can be disobeyed, it is the will of God that he be disobeyed.

    Well, that certainly is a position; a protestant one

  57. asophist says:

    Thanks, Fr Z, for posting your insights about the SSPX bishops. Of course, you always open Pandora’s box when you write about these men, but, then, it has been really hard to keep that darn box closed for the past 40 years, thanks to the Spirit of Vatican II, deconstructionist philosophy, and the general moral deterioration of Western societies. I pray for a common understanding between Rome and the SSPX that will facilitate their liceity ASAP – if not sooner!

  58. catholicmidwest says:

    The pope is incapable of uttering an erroneous change to the doctrine of the church under the conditions of infallibility. However, I’m not sure that he couldn’t order something unjust under other conditions, and I’m pretty sure that he can be mistaken about what he wants for dinner or whether he thinks the paper is in yet.

  59. catholicmidwest says:

    In fact, I think that the historical record confirms that unjust things have been ordered by popes in the past. The case of Rodrigo Borgia and his uncle come to mind.

    Neither of them managed to change the deposit of the faith, however. Quite miraculously, I think.

  60. Supertradmum says:


    I can assure you that I spent many years in gross disobedience to Holy Mother Church, in things spiritual, thinking I was holier than Thou. The point is that an Archbishop has much more responsibility to the Church than any of us lowly individuals. The great list of saints posted above are not speaking from ivory towers, but from the hothouse of community life and prophetic stances against the status quo of the day. St. Catherine wrote to the Pope, as you know, and encouraged him to leave France. She was a feisty lady.

    The question is not answered by platitudes, but by the balance of action. Obedience is not passive, and can start a chain of spiritually powerful events which one cannot imagine. To get stuck in doing something, rather than waiting, is hard for all of us. And for the Archbishop, with whom I sympathize in his attempts to stem the tide, the waiting was too long. Still, he should have refrained from ordaining. It sometimes takes more courage to wait, than to act.

  61. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s just interesting how all this business with the liturgy is turning out after 50 years of turmoil. It’ll be even more interesting after we see the new translations, no? Not to mention the document we’re probably about to get.

  62. Bornacatholic says:

    St Irenaeus Against Heresies

    He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it — men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism.

    Saint Cyprianus Whosoever is separated from the Church is united to an adulteress. He has cut himself off from the promises of the Church, and he who leaves the Church of Christ cannot arrive at the rewards of Christ….He who observes not this unity observes not the law of God, holds not the faith of the Father and the Son, clings not to life and salvation”

    Saint Augustine There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism….there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church”
    Pope Pius IX: Quanta Cura

    1) “We cannot pass over in silence the audacity of those who, not enduring sound doctrine, contend that ‘without sin and without any sacrifice of the Catholic profession assent and obedience may be refused to those judgments and decrees of the Apostolic See, whose object is declared to concern the Church’s general good and her rights and discipline, so only it does not touch the dogmata of faith and morals.’ But no one can be found not clearly and distinctly to see and understand how grievously this is opposed to the Catholic dogma of the full power given from God by Christ our Lord Himself to the Roman Pontiff of feeding, ruling and guiding the Universal Church.”

    Council of Constance… in our times, however, that old and jealous foe has stirred up new conflicts so that the approved ones of this age may be made manifest. Their leader and prince was that pseudo-christian John Wyclif. He stubbornly asserted and taught many articles against the christian religion and the catholic faith while he was alive. We have decided that forty-five of the articles should be set out on this page as follows.

    8. . If a pope is foreknown as damned and is evil, and is therefore a limb of the devil, he does not have authority over the faithful given to him by anyone, except perhaps by the emperor.

    (So, even IF the Vatican Two Popes were in league with the devil you would STILL have to obey them).

    I could roll-out many more quotes from Tradition completely condemning schism and still some will say that Mos Lefevbre was right in what he did.

    The subtext of the defense of the post-Vatican Two schism was that it was willed by God.

  63. kgurries says:

    This post seems closely related to the question of full vs. partital communion in relation to the SSPX. Of course, it’s controversial — but I discuss it a little here:


    Take a close look at what Cardinal Journet has to say. There are some interesting parallels…

  64. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you, Bornacatholic,

    God never wills schism, although He can make good come out of evil. Martyrs are such an example. And, some martyrdom is quiet, almost silent, waiting for the greater good. I have always wondered, academically and spiritually, if the SSPX movement was a great-grand child of the French Revolution, in an odd twist, wherein authority is scorned for a supposed greater good, which is the vision of a small group of people, albeit with some real grievances, but against the existing order of the society. Michael Davies thought something similar in his book on Lefebvre. French politics seemed to have influenced both the strong monarchical tendencies as well as the disobedience, resulting in odd contradictions in the Archbishop. Remember, that the road away from Rome was not sudden, but a progression of events, which included other disciplinary measures from Rome. Also, remember that it was agreed upon that Lefebvre could ordain one bishop, not four. He could have done that and worked within the Church.

  65. catholicmidwest says:

    I think that there may be lot about what happened in the Vatican II era that God did not will, including the SSPX thing, and a bunch of other things too. But I think God uses whatever there is to do what He does, and I’m not sure I’m willing to rule out the SSPX thing as a tool in God’s hands.

  66. jflare says:

    Just a thought:
    If the members of SSPX at the time had been more rigorously loyal to the Pope, couldn’t they have aided John Paul II–or his predecessors–in healing the wounds of the Novus Ordo? I don’t think it any coincidence that FSSP came about after SSPX leadership openly defied our late Pope. I think it more likely that John Paul sought to both “bring them back into the fold” AND to use their influence to check the excesses that the more liberal factions of the Church sought.

    Had SSPX remained more obedient, I’m thinking we might’ve avoided the need for two separate forms. Our clergy would’ve set things straight by now.

  67. Bornacatholic says:

    Supertradmum. INterestiong. I never read Mr. Davies book on Mons Lefevbre but what you write makes sense.

    For those who have succored the schism since its inception can you deny that the conception of a putative good schism is not only an ontological impossibility in Tradition but it is a modern innovation far worse than the imposition of The Pauline Rite.

    In the Catholic Church schism has always, always, in every place and in every time, been thought an indefensible evil. Woe betide that Traditionalists who calls evil good.

  68. muckemdanno says:

    “Even if the popes were in league with the devil you would have to obey them.”
    …This is truly stunning.

    So I think 3 positions have been expressed in this thread…
    1) The pope can’t issue command or laws in violation of God’s law…the Holy Spirit prevents this on account of infallibility of the Pope.
    2) The pope can issue commands in violation of God’s laws, since he is not infallible in everything, but we have to obey the Pope instead of God.
    3) The pope can issue commands in violation of God’s laws, since he is not infallible in everything, and we must obey God rather than the Pope.

  69. tecumseh says:

    Bornacatholic says….

    Woe to traditionalists who call evil good…..

    You ain’t seen nothing yet, wait till the new translation of the Missal comes around. Will you be preaching to the 400 priests in Ireland who are up in arms..?? I’m sure you’ll find some quote from some Saint that will sort it all out.

    Tell you what Born, bring your book of Saints quotes over to England and go round the doors re evangelising the 75% of catholics who no longer bother to go to mass.

    There will be plenty of English priests who will be burning the New Translation of the Missal, may be a quote from St Lawrence will be apposite

    See if there are some quotes from Saints on how to merge Liturgical Dance in a very real and meaningful way into the parish “Liturgy”….they have Liturgical Dance on a Thursday night in our parish hall…..but so far this Liturgical Dance has only ever happened when there is no actual Liturgy taking place…..maybe St Vitus will have a homily on dancing that will strengthen the resolve of the dancers…..may be the Holy Ghost will descend in some form recognisable to dancers, enabling them to escape the confines of the hall……and leap with a flourish straight into the sanctuary.

    Archbishop Lefebvre has shown the fanciest foot work since Gene Kelly, I hope to God that there is some agreement to be found between the Vatican and the Society……

    But, if all fails, as Fr Z has pointed out, the Bishops are STILL Catholic Bishops, the priests are still Catholic priests, and the masses are still Catholic Masses.

    And we certainly wont be burning our Missals……How ever you twist the words of good St Lawrence.

  70. kgurries says:

    muckemdanno, the Papal Magisterium can make imprudent decisions on rare occasions — but never defect by proposing to the faithful heresies or that which is contrary to faith or morals, per se.

  71. muckemdanno says:

    And Supertradmum, please read the very first quotation in the link you posted yourself (from St Bernard). It supports my contention that obedience does not extend to things which are contrary to God’s laws!


    “The obedience which we render to a superior is paid to God, Who says, ‘He that hears you hears Me;’ so that whatever he who holds the place of God commands, supposing it is not evidently contrary to God’s law, is to be received by us as if it came from God Himself”

    I think this should end the discussion on the principles involved here!

  72. kgurries says:

    muckemdanno, the Magisterium is not just any authority — it is an authority that rests on Peter’s unfailing (i.e., indefectible) Faith. So, we need to distinguish here. Certainly the Papal Magisterium can make imprudent decisions on rare occasions — but never defect by proposing to the faithful heresies or that which is contrary to faith or morals, per se.

  73. kgurries says:

    “Nothing that was decreed in this Council, or in the reforms that We enacted in order to put the Council into effect, is opposed to what the two-thousand-year-old Tradition of the Church considers as fundamental and immutable. We are the guarantor of this, not in virtue of Our personal qualities but in virtue of the charge which the Lord has conferred upon Us as legitimate Successor of Peter, and in virtue of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as well as to Peter: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail’ (Lk 22:32).”
    Pope Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11, 1976

  74. Supertradmum says:


    I do not think that the Pope asking the Archbishop to only ordain one bishop was against God’s Law. However, if an Archbishop does not obey his Pope, that is against God’s Law. One cannot state that the preservation of the TLM through the act of disobedience is in any way a good. The Archbishop put his own soul in danger instead of abandoning himself to the Will of God as expressed through his superior. As laity, we do not have the same relationship with the hierarchy, as the members of hierarchy has in the Church.

    St. Bernard of Clairvaux would never have been disobedient to his superiors, even if they were wrong. The moral curve here is not the same as asking someone to commit a mortal sin. To state that the Pope asked the Archbishop to do something immoral is incorrect. The Pope could have made a mistake, but maybe not. The call of obedience would have been the same.

  75. catholicmidwest says:

    Interesting quote, especially in light of the fact that many people believed AND WERE TOLD VEHEMENTLY quite differently. Which way is it?

  76. kgurries says:

    catholicmidwest, who was told differently? Certainly there were no new solemnly defined dogmas. But that does not mean that all other magisterial teaching is suspect or potentially heretical! What was taught is still magisterial (authoritative) — and necessarily conforms to the Faith and Tradition. Reformable docrine does not mean “potentially heretical” doctrine. Doctrine is reformable insofar as it contains contingent (prudential) aspects. Errors within the prudential order can never add up to heresies in the order of Faith and morals, per se.

  77. catholicmidwest says:

    “Even if the popes were in league with the devil you would have to obey them.”
    …This is truly stunning.
    So I think 3 positions have been expressed in this thread…
    1) The pope can’t issue command or laws in violation of God’s law…the Holy Spirit prevents this on account of infallibility of the Pope.

    The pope’s infallibility has conditions and limits. He can intentionally declare something infallibly but everything he says isn’t infallible of course, such as when he remarks that it might rain tomorrow and it doesn’t.

    2) The pope can issue commands in violation of God’s laws, since he is not infallible in everything, but we have to obey the Pope instead of God.

    Popes in the past have decreed things that were unjust and unwise on occasion. There is a long, well-documented history known to most converts, because it’s something we have to come to term with to convert. If the pope were to ask you to do something immoral, then you’d be acting immorally to do it. Not to mention if a priest or bishop asks you to do something immoral, which happens a heck of a lot more often.

    3) The pope can issue commands in violation of God’s laws, since he is not infallible in everything, and we must obey God rather than the Pope.

    Ah, and here’s the problem with bad popes, what do you do? The church is supposed to be the body of Christ on earth, but when you have an indecisive pope like Paul VI who keeps contradicting himself, or a downright evil one like Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), how do you know what to do? You don’t. The best thing you can do is just stay the hell out of his way.

  78. catholicmidwest says:


    Everybody was told things were different after V2. That is what the whole hermeneutic of rupture, that Benedict XVI talks about, was about. Where have you been for 50 years? People were persecuted for this! Hell, I’ve been persecuted for this.

    Vatican II cannot contradict what was taught in the previous 21 councils, simply because the same exact thing that makes Vatican II valid is the thing that makes all the other ones valid too. Discount the other 21 councils, you discount Vatican II by the very same rule.

  79. kgurries says:

    catholicmidwest, so why put so much stock into what rupture theologians have to say? Ignore them and listen to what the Popes actually say. Yes, there is continuity with Tradition and all of the other ecumenical councils that came before. We can take Pope Paul VI at his word when he affirms that there is nothing in Vatican II that is contrary to Tradition:

    “Nothing that was decreed in this Council, or in the reforms that We enacted in order to put the Council into effect, is opposed to what the two-thousand-year-old Tradition of the Church considers as fundamental and immutable. We are the guarantor of this, not in virtue of Our personal qualities but in virtue of the charge which the Lord has conferred upon Us as legitimate Successor of Peter, and in virtue of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as well as to Peter: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail’ (Lk 22:32).”
    Pope Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11, 1976

  80. catholicmidwest says:


    Because I’m swamped with them. Everyone’s swamped with them. They determine about 80% of what I’ve seen of the Church on the ground for the entire 25 years I’ve been Catholic.

    And hey, kgurries, when you say you’re going to take Pope Paul VI at his word… be sure to choose the right proof-text for your purposes. He said contradictory things constantly and everything in between. He twisted helplessly in the wind for years and the church suffered, and suffered and suffered. You may not be as old as I am, but I remember that.

  81. catholicmidwest says:

    And per your quote from PPVI to Lefebvre:

    It’s part “there is no change,” which he later contradicted over and over and over, and part “I outrank you” said very forthrightly and directly, which of course, apart from the fact he did, is just exactly what you would expect him to say. It was a threat. It would be interesting to know what Lefebvre said in private after receiving this.

  82. kgurries says:

    catholicmidwest, instead of resisting the Popes doesn’t it seem more productive to help them restore order? If there is a crisis of authority then doesn’t it make sense to be the first to give due obedience to the Pope?

    If Paul VI “constantly” contradicted what he affirmed to ABL (continuity with Tradition) then it should not be too difficult for you to dig it up…

  83. kgurries says:

    “It’s part “there is no change,” which he later contradicted over and over and over…”

    Remember, the Pope said continuity in Tradition and all that is fundamental and immutable. That does not rule out every change in mere accidentals, discipline, etc.

  84. muckemdanno says:


    Now that you finally have accepted that obedience does not extend to obeying commands against God’s law, you want to argue the details of the Lefebvre case. If you wish to do that, you can’t fairly start in 1988, with the consecrations and decree of excommunication. You have to start about 20 years earlier, or you will only have part of the story.

    Or, you can simply accept that the Pope today says that the 1988 decree of excommunication has no legal force, and stop pretending that you are more Catholic than they are.

  85. Bornacatholic says:

    The discussion with those who have succored the no-longer-a-schism since its inception hardly ever bears fruit. I still have a TON more of Magisterial Citations I could post (but, admittedly, none as stunning as the condemnation of Wyclif’s heretical ideology and how that condemnation implicitly implicates the SSPX) but those are routinely gainsaid while the subject is changed.

    Jesus established His Church with a series of promises that has always been believed in by those who identify themselves as Traditionalists (and Dogmatic Councils). And Traditionalists have always taught and believed that schism was a grave evil.

    But now, there are not a few soi disant Traditionalists who claim that a schism is the very answer to what ails the Catholic Church. Well, is the acceptance of schism a part of Tradition or isn’t it?

    Of course it is not. It never has been part of Tradition and it never can be part of Tradition.One may as well run around with a Tattoo reading, “Schism is Tradition;” one may as well have erected the sign, “Schism is Tradition” over the entry ways of the SSPX Chapels – at least that would have been honest instead of quoting Aquinas and Bellarmine out of context (and I have a rather LONG post I could put-up about how it is those quotes have been taken out of context).

    In plain language this was the unstated position of those who have always succored the no-longer-a-schism;

    The Church did fail
    and Lefevbre saved it.
    While Saints abhorred Schism
    Lefevbre braved it

    God chose a schism to save the Church He failed to, um,,hold on, wait a second…didn’t He promise..

    No matter the whole Kingdom divided against itself can not stand can be finessed and explained away too. I mean just because Jesus established His Church is no reason not to believe he didn’t fail and so He blessed a schism that opposed His Church because well,…um, hey, Look over there!!!!!

    As for Schism itself? Well, there is the little problem of y’all having introduced a MAJOR HERESY into Tradition – that a schism is acceptable under certain circumstances; and once schism is seen as acceptable….

    Good luck explaining all of that to Jesus when you stand before Him trying to tell Him that He failed as Head of His Church and that Lefevbre’s schism is what saved it

  86. Supertradmum says:


    I do know the history and I know that the Archbishop was disciplined on things before the final break. God’s Law was broken by him, and the higher law is always obedience.

  87. Evangeliman says:

    It would seem that, in the case of the Archbishop, the question is whether or not he was asked to do something against Divine Law.
    If so, let the precept be stated.
    If not, then the highest law in the situation was Peter.

    Unless the Novus Ordo is invalid, then even the abrogation of the 1962 Missal (I realize that this did not happen) would not be against Divine Law, and obedience to Peter is mandated.

  88. catholicmidwest says:

    But the Tridentine was never abrogated, Evangeliman, so you are speaking contrary to fact. That really is the point.

  89. Evangeliman says:


    But it is not the point. The question is whether or not the use of a specific rite or the specific form of the rite falls under Divine Law.

    If it does, then you would be correct to saying that the Archbishop’s disobedience to the Holy See was permitted. It would be mandated by Divine Law.

    If it does not, then the disobedience, while most understandable, was against both the Holy See, and through it, Divine Law.

    So the question remains. Was a stricture on the use of the TLM against Divine Law? And, if so, which precept did it break?

    Either Archbishop Lefebvre broke Divine Law in defying the Papacy, or the Holy See did so by restricting the use of the TLM. Objectively speaking, there is no other option.

  90. Bornacatholic says:

    Many soi disant Traditionalists appeal to Obeying God rather than man as a way to justify schism. But that makes no sense.

    In the Bible, God has spoken that Schism is a grave evil.
    In Tradition, God has spoken that Schism is a grave evil.
    In the Church, God has spoken that Schism is a grave evil.

    Are we to believe that suddenly, after 2000 years, God has started to contradict Himself? (Only the God of Islam does that).

  91. Centristian says:

    “They incurred an excommunication when they were consecrated, but they were validly consecrated as Catholic bishops. They are Catholic bishops who ar not in union with the See of Peter in a manifest way, however. They are oddities in that they do not have sees, dioceses, even titular, much less residential. In that sense they are independent. But they are Catholic.”

    But are they “bishops” as we understand bishops. It’s more than just the sacramental ability to ordain a man to the priesthood. I suppose that the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X enjoy the fullness of the priesthood: they can ordain priests. And so for that they are, sacramentally speaking, bishops (although I’m sure that some clever theologian could posit an argument as to why they are not using the concerns Father Z expressed in his post; I’ll say for the sake of argument, however, that they are validly-ordained bishops).

    But does it follow from that alone that they are also “Bishops”. What I mean to say is, are they, in fact, entitled to be styled, for example, “Bishop Bernard Fellay” with a capital “B”? Because they have the sacramental ability to do what bishops sacramentally may do, does it follow that they should also enjoy the attributes of the OFFICE of a Catholic bishop?

    I think it does not. I think that the four men illegally ordained to the episcopacy by Archbishop Lefebvre have no right to any title or appellation, including merely “bishop”, and that their presumption upon such attributes of the office of bishop are schismatic in flavor. The bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre have the ability to (illicitly) ordain a man to the priesthood. That is, however, a sacramental power that was usurped for them by a man who acted in utter defiance of the Vicar of Christ (four times over) and they cannot be said, therefore, to “officially” represent the Catholic Church. Indeed they do not.

    I would have to say then, that these men certainly have no right to use the ecclesiastical styles “Monsignor (Monseigneur)” or “Most Reverend”; the social/diplomatic styles “Excellency” or “Lordship” (depending upon where you live); or the post-nominal letters “D.D.” (the last of which, actually, they do not presume upon). It is logical to me, then, to imagine that these men have no right, either, to the use of pontificals or of episcopal cassocks, rochets, mozettas, cappa magnae, pectoral crosses, &c, all of which are symbolic of the OFFICE of bishop, an OFFICE that I do not believe they actually hold.

    Because both their priestly and episcopal sacramental powers have been usurped and therefore do not imply any authority or jurisdiction, or any ability to officially represent the Church in any way (there men haven’t even got faculties), I would imagine that even the title “bishop” should not be used by these four men. It seems to me that since they do not hold the office of a bishop, they cannot correctly use the word when styling themselves, at least not with a capital “B”.

    It would seem to me that the only style, in fact, that any priest or bishop ordained illegally by Archbishop Lefebvre or his four illegal bishops are entitled to is “Mister”, a style universally enjoyed by all males (unless they are legitimately entitled to other styles that replace “mister” such as “doctor”, “captain”, and so on). I would say that, at the very most, one of the four men given the fullness of the priesthood by Archbishop Lefebvre might style himself “Mr. Bernard Fellay, bishop”. I think in that I am being liberal, however, and I would actually drop “bishop”, altogether.

    The same follows for a priest ordained illegally by the “bishops” associated with the SSPX. To styles such as “Reverend” or “Father” they are not entitled. They would, as I see things, properly style themselves “Mr. John Smith, priest”.

    As it happens, however, not only do the four men ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre style themselves and dress in the manner of official Catholic bishops, but they also pontificate in the manner of jurisdictional ordinary bishops (from the throne, not the faldstool). It would seem, therefore, that they imagine that they actually have jurisdiction, and that such jurisdiction can actually come from a “society of common life”, which the SSPX describes itself as being.

  92. Bornacatholic says:

    Dear Centristian. I have argued your points many times in the past but they simply are not heard by those who succor the no-longer-a-schism. But, your explanation is much tighter than mine ever was. Kudos.

    What is worse is the hubris of the SSPX presuming to teach The Pope.

    Many see the SSPX as life-savers rescuing those who have willingly walked the Plank off The Barque of Peter while others think of them as Pirates seeking the surrender of the Barque’s Pilot- The Pope .

    Apart from His Divinely-Constituted Church, they will eventually drown in a sea of Pride and Enmity, and like night follows day, heresies will arise. It is ineluctable.

    Schism manifests a lack of Charity and Obedience.


    Of course, I pray there is a reconciliation but the prospects do not look good for a deal because Rome is, apparently, trying to discuss the Doctrinal deficiencies of The SSPX while The SSPX is in the talks with the apparent motivation being to restore to Rome and The Holy See its presumptive absence of Tradition.

  93. Bornacatholic says:

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a 07/13/1988 speech to The Bishops of Chile:

    In recent months we have put a lot of work into the case of Lefebvre with the sincere intention of creating for his movement a space within the Church that would be sufficient for it to live. The Holy See has been criticized for this. It is said that it has not defended the Second Vatican Council with sufficient energy; that, while it has treated progressive movements with great severity, it has displayed an exaggerated sympathy with the Traditionalist rebellion. The development of events is enough to disprove these assertions. The mythical harshness of the Vatican in the face of the deviations of the progressives is shown to be mere empty words. Up until now, in fact, only warnings have been published; in no case have there been strict canonical penalties in the strict sense. And the fact that when the chips were down Lefebvre denounced an agreement that had already been signed, shows that the Holy See, while it made truly generous concessions, did not grant him that complete license which he desired. Lefebvre has seen that, in the fundamental part of the agreement, he was being held to accept Vatican II and the affirmations of the postconciliar Magisterium, according to the proper authority of each document.

    There is a glaring contradiction in the fact that it is just the people who have let no occasion slip to allow the world to know of their disobedience to the Pope, and to the magisterial declarations of the last 20 years, who think they have the right to judge that this attitude is too mild and who wish that an absolute obedience to Vatican II had been insisted upon. In a similar way they would claim that the Vatican has conceded a right to dissent to Lefebvre which has been obstinately denied to the promoters of a progressive tendency. In reality, the only point which is affirmed in the agreement, following Lumen Gentium 25, is the plain fact that not all documents of the council have the same authority. For the rest, it was explicitly laid down in the text that was signed that public polemics must be avoided, and that an attitude is required of positive respect for official decisions and declarations.

    It was conceded, in addition, that the Fraternity of St. Pius X would be able to present to the Holy See – which reserves to itself the sole right of decision – their particular difficulties in regard to interpretations of juridical and liturgical reforms. All of this shows plainly that in this difficult dialog Rome has united generosity, in all that was negotiable, with firmness in essentials. The explanation which Msgr. Lefebvre has given, for the retraction of his agreement, is revealing. He declared that he has finally understood that the agreement he signed aimed only at integrating his foundation into the “Conciliar Church.” The Catholic Church in union with the Pope is, according to him, the “Conciliar Church” which has broken with its own past. It seems indeed that he is no longer able to see that we are dealing with the Catholic Church in the totality of its Tradition, and that Vatican II belongs to that.

    Without any doubt, the problem that Lefebvre has posed has not been concluded by the rupture of June 30. It would be too simple to take refuge in a sort of triumphalism, and to think that this difficulty has ceased to exist from the moment in which the movement led by Lefebvre has separated itself by a clean break with the Church. A Christian never can, or should, take pleasure in a rupture. Even though it is absolutely certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See, it is a duty for us to examine ourselves, as to what errors we have made, and which ones we are making even now. The criteria with which we judge the past in the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism must be used – as is logical – to judge the present as well.

    One of the basic discoveries of the theology of ecumenism is that schisms can take place only when certain truths and certain values of the Christian faith are no longer lived and loved within the Church. The truth which is marginalized becomes autonomous, remains detached from the whole of the ecclesiastical structure, and a new movement then forms itself around it. We must reflect on this fact: that a large number of Catholics, far beyond the narrow circle of the Fraternity of Lefebvre, see this man as a guide, in some sense, or at least as a useful ally. It will not do to attribute everything to political motives, to nostalgia, or to cultural factors of minor importance. These causes are not capable of explaining the attraction which is felt even by the young, and especially by the young, who come from many quite different nations, and who are surrounded by completely distinct political and cultural realities. Indeed they show what is from any point of view a restricted and one-sided outlook; but there is no doubt whatever that a phenomenon of this sort would be inconceivable unless there were good elements at work here, which in general do not find sufficient opportunity to live within the Church of today.

    For all these reasons, we ought to see this matter primarily as the occasion for an examination of conscience. We should allow ourselves to ask fundamental questions, about the defects in the pastoral life of the Church, which are exposed by these events. Thus we will be able to offer a place within the Church to those who are seeking and demanding it, and succeed in destroying all reason for schism. We can make such schism pointless by renewing the interior realities of the Church. There are three points, I think, that it is important to think about.

    While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the Traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the council there were many priests who deliberately raised “desacralization” to the level of a program, on the plea that the New Testament abolished the cult of the Temple: the veil of the Temple which was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross is, according to certain people, the sign of the end of the sacred. The death of Jesus, outside the City walls, that is to say, in the public world, is now the true religion. Religion, if it has any being at all, must have it in the nonsacredness of daily life, in love that is lived. Inspired by such reasoning, they put aside the sacred vestments; they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things.

    There is no doubt that, with these theories and practices, they have entirely disregarded the true connection between the Old and the New Testaments: It is forgotten that this world is not the Kingdom of God, and that the “Holy One of God” (John 6:69) continues to exist in contradiction to this world; that we have need of purification before we draw near to Him; that the profane, even after the death and the Resurrection of Jesus, has not succeeded in becoming “the holy.” The Risen One has appeared, but to those whose heart has been opened to Him, to the Holy; He did not manifest Himself to everyone. It is in this way a new space has been opened for the religion to which all of us would now submit; this religion which consists in drawing near to the community of the Risen One, at whose feet the women prostrated themselves and adored Him. I do not want to develop this point any further now; I confine myself to coming straight to this conclusion: We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director.

    Aside from the liturgical questions, the central points of conflict at present are Lefebvre’s attack on the decree which deals with religious liberty, and on the so-called spirit of Assisi. Here is where Lefebvre fixes the boundaries between his position and that of the Catholic Church today.

    I need hardly say in so many words that what he is saying on these points is unacceptable. Here we do not wish to consider his errors, rather we want to ask ourselves where there is lack of clarity in ourselves. For Lefebvre what is at stake is the warfare against ideological liberalism, against the relativization of truth. Obviously we are not in agreement with him that – understood according to the Pope’s intentions – the text of the council or the prayer of Assisi were relativizing.

    It is a necessary task to defend the Second Vatican Council against Msgr. Lefebvre, as valid, and as binding upon the Church. Certainly there is a mentality of narrow views that isolate Vatican II and which has provoked this opposition. There are many accounts of it which give the impression that, from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and that what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II.

    The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

    This idea is made stronger by things that are now happening. That which previously was considered most holy – the form in which the liturgy was handed down – suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the faith – for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. – nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation. I myself, when I was a professor, have seen how the very same bishop who, before the council, had fired a teacher who was really irreproachable, for a certain crudeness of speech, was not prepared, after the council, to dismiss a professor who openly denied certain fundamental truths of the faith.

    All this leads a great number of people to ask themselves if the Church of today is really the same as that of yesterday, or if they have changed it for something else without telling people. The one way in which Vatican II can be made plausible is to present it as it is; one part of the unbroken, the unique Tradition of the Church and of her faith.

    In the spiritual movements of the postconciliar era, there is not the slightest doubt that frequently there has been an obliviousness, or even a suppression, of the issue of truth: Here perhaps we confront the crucial problem for theology and for pastoral work today.

    The “truth” is thought to be a claim that is too exalted, a “triumphalism” that cannot be permitted any longer. You see this attitude plainly in the crisis that troubles the missionary ideal and missionary practice. If we do not point to the truth in announcing our faith, and if this truth is no longer essential for the salvation of Man, then the missions lose their meaning. In effect the conclusion has been drawn, and it has been drawn today, that in the future we need only seek that Christians should be good Christians, Muslims good Muslims, Hindus good Hindus, and so forth. If it comes to that, how are we to know when one is a “good” Christian, or a “good” Muslim?

    The idea that all religions are – if you talk seriously – only symbols of what ultimately is incomprehensible is rapidly gaining ground in theology, and has already penetrated into liturgical practice. When things get to this point, faith is left behind, because faith really consists in the fact that I am committing myself to the truth so far as it is known. So in this matter also there is every motive to return to the right path.

    If once again we succeed in pointing out and living the fullness of the Catholic religion with regard to these points, we may hope that the schism of Lefebvre will not be of long duration.

    +++++++++++++++++++++ end quote +++++++++++++++++++++++

    It simply is risible for those who have succored the schism since its inception to continue to claim, as many still do, that there never was a schism. The Holy See has bent over backwards and sideways to seek an accommodation with those who routinely denigrate and attack it but The SSPX never seems willing to , um, make a leap of Faith.

    If not now, when? If not with this pacific and patient Pope, then with what future unknown Pope?

  94. Bornacatholic says:

    When certain self-proclaimed Traditionalists are circumspect in delineating when they will and when they will not obey the Pope whom they accuse of not obeying God they are, unknowingly, making themselves the judge of the Pope and I do not see how, in essence, they are different from the infamous Heresiarch.

    Luther at the Diet of Worms “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

    Refusing to Obey The Pope is the essence of protestantism which makes it a bit difficult to see how acting like a protestant preserves Catholic Tradition.

  95. Centristian says:

    “Refusing to Obey The Pope is the essence of protestantism which makes it a bit difficult to see how acting like a protestant preserves Catholic Tradition.”

    Well said. If “Catholic Tradition” is defined only by high and rubrically-faithful liturgy coupled with “smells and bells” and antique vesture, then high church Anglicans are “Traditional Catholics”, too. The SSPX have usurped for themselves the authority to decide for the whole Church that there exists a state of emergency within the Church, and thence they claim a prerogative to hold and to exercise the offices of bishops and priests, abbots, and so on. They furthermore claim a “supplied jurisdiction” that enables them, from their perspective, to act at all times without reference to the established authorities of the Church, including local ordinaries, and including even the Roman Pontiff.

    That outlook and attitude, as you rightly assert, is wholly Protestant. It is, in fact, very traditionally Protestant, therefore I would describe the leaders of the SSPX, not as “Traditional Catholics,” but as “Traditional Protestants”, the fact that they look and even publicly worship like “Traditional Catholics” notwithstanding. As I say, so do high church Anglican priests and bishops.

    But this post brings up a really interesting question: what sort of bishops are the four men consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre? Yes, they have the fullness of the priesthood and have the ability to ordain priests. But is a man with the fullness of the priesthood, when that fullness is imparted to him illegally, a true bishop just because of that simple fact? Must he not also have some semblance of the office of bishop? Without the office, is he actually what we would call a “bishop”?

    The sacramental fullness of the priesthood and the episcopal office go hand-in-hand, it seems to me; only together do they form what we understand to be a “bishop”. So to divorce the two creates a monster that I don’t know can be defined according to the ordinary terms, the circumstances being so completely extraordinary.

    It’s a very, very interesting question.

  96. Brooklyn says:

    Supertradmum, for whatever it’s worth, I think your posts are brilliant. I too am “super traditional”, I love the TLM. But I also know that the evil one will use whatever he can to separate us from our Saviour, and he will use holy tools as well as profane if that’s what it takes. The SSPX deciding to do what they did is akin to what Uzzah did when he put out his hand to steady the ark when King David was moving it to Jerusalem. God had warned everyone not to touch the ark. But Uzzah thought he knew better. He decided that God needed his help, and he directly disobeyed. He paid for that disobedience with his life.

    Abp Lefevbre and the other bishops thought they saw the ark falling, and decided to take matters into their own hands. They forgot that this Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and that he promised the gates of hell will never prevail against it. This is not a human institution. Jesus Christ set up the Seat of St. Peter. To go against the Seat of Peter is to go directly against Christ. If there is something that needs to be righted, he will be the one to do it. It is not up to us.

    But getting back to Fr. Z’s post, it only makes sense that these Bishops are Catholic Bishops. They were ordained down through the apostolic line. They can’t somehow become unCatholic Bishops, any more than those who fall away from the Church become unCatholic. They become, sadly, fallen away , apostate Catholic Bishops.

  97. Bornacatholic says:

    Centristian. I like the point you are getting at. I have a lengthy file, “Polemics,” in which I have stored many of my old arguments, including one in particular quite similar, if not identical, to the one you are now advancing. I’ll see if I can find it when I have the time.

    For the time being, it seems clear to me that Mons Lefevbre and his successor have extremely diluted beliefs, or ideas so ineffably nuanced as to have faded into merely numinous and/or pious inclinations about certain particulars taught at Dogmatic Councils:; such as:

    Vatican I

    Chapter 2. On the permanence of the primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman pontiffs

    That which our lord Jesus Christ, the prince of shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, established in the blessed apostle Peter, for the continual salvation and permanent benefit of the church, must of necessity remain for ever, by Christ’s authority, in the church which, founded as it is upon a rock, will stand firm until the end of time [45] . For no one can be in doubt, indeed it was known in every age that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our lord Jesus Christ, the saviour and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the holy Roman see, which he founded and consecrated with his blood [46] .

    Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received

    Now, clearly, that Infallible Teaching can not be said to be part of The Doctrine of The SSPX. For if it were firmly held Doctrine, then they never would have gone into schism. They would have remained in the Unity of Worship, Doctrine, and Authority (the sine qua non of Catholicism) while fighting for particular points of Doctrine and the right to use the Traditional Rite of Mass.

    Holy Mother Church has, in the past, simply allowed rather widely held and divergent views of Theology – think of the war about Grace and Free Will twixt The Thomists and The Molinists. A cease fire was called by The Holy See and the adherents of each of those antagonistic theologies remained inside of the Catholic Church.

    The SSPX, it seems to me, can have their Traditional Eucharist and eat it too if they have the humility to accept reconciliation and go about their business quietly and reverently.

  98. Supertradmum says:


    A thank you, but I grieve for my many excellent friends in the SSPX who will not come over. I have dear friends who live in a city where the FSSP opened a parish, and my friends will not “come over”. We need many prayers for these good people who are following the Catholic Bishops who are doing their own thing.

  99. Brooklyn says:

    Supretradmum – I totally agree with you. I understand where they are coming from, and like you, I grieve for them as well. But as one who was away from the Church for 38 years, I know that the mercy of God is always there and always calling out. This is where prayers and reparations really come in. We are our brother’s keeper.

  100. Bornacatholic says:

    But this post brings up a really interesting question: what sort of bishops are the four men consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre? Yes, they have the fullness of the priesthood and have the ability to ordain priests. But is a man with the fullness of the priesthood, when that fullness is imparted to him illegally, a true bishop just because of that simple fact? Must he not also have some semblance of the office of bishop? Without the office, is he actually what we would call a “bishop”

    Dear Centristian. Interesting line of thought here. I bolded the part that struck a spark.

    The SSPX and its adherents have referred to a type of loyalty to Rome – eternal Rome – as a way to try and finesse the reality that are strikingly disobedient to Rome, i.e., the Pope. But now, since the election of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, they feel more of an attraction to Rome due to the person of he who holds The Papacy .

    That is, their loyalty is to a particular person, not to the office of The Papacy, and not to all of Peter’s Successors unless the Successor of Peter agrees with the SSPX on certain particulars.

    IOW, THEY are the ultimate authority of whom they will or will not accept as a Pope and strike a deal of reconciliation with. [I guess The Holy Father ought be flattered the SSPX considers him an acceptable Pope :)]

    And any deal struck with those who think that way will be very tenuous and dependent upon the person who is the next Pope; that is, if they don’t like the next Pope the deal would likely dissolve.

    Well, anyone can see how far from Tradition is that idea. After Benedict, will they return again to trashing The Holy See?

    The soi disant Traditionalists who have succored this no-longer-a- Schism since its inception have piled novelties upon disingenuous propositions and rested these modern inventions upon the particular personages of their founder and whomever occupies the Papacy. Theirs is a very radical, deracinated, and liberal, Traditionalism, that is quite clearly severed from the past in a few indispensable and consequential aspects of Ecclesiology.

    But, because they have such a propensity to projection (in the psychiatric sense) they never see the weakness of their ideas because they are so busy accusing the Holy See of engaging in actions they themselves have specialised in.

    Still, I want them reconciled. They can be a real force for good if they are courageous and bold enough to become humble and obedient. It takes real men to do such a thing.

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