Why The SSPX and Archbishop Lefebvre Are Important to the Church
Matthew James Bellisario 2012
We have to see whether or not the SSPX issue will be resolved positively. According to recent news articles, this will be decided in the very near future. I believe that having the SSPX recognized as being in full communion with the Holy Father is extremely important, for more than the obvious reasons. This article may be a bit controversial, but I am going to give my thoughts on the matter. Again, this is my personal opinion, so feel free to weigh in on the matter in the comments section. Lets keep it civil please!
The SSPX as whole is often been misrepresented by many folks who have done little to no research regarding their history. Most of the news columnists or average Novus Ordo Catholics go off of cheap headlines or brief comments, while never actually investigating for themselves who Archbishop Lefebvre was, or why he lived the life that he did. The brilliant theologian, recognized by Pope Pius XII as being one of the most faithful, has been the object of slander and false accusations. I am not here to justify his ordinations, that is for canon lawyers and ultimately God to decide whether or not he was sinful in that action. I will not debate that topic here, for it really does not pertain to my thoughts here in this article. If you are one who is going to judge the entire life and theology of Archbishop Lefebvre off one event, then what I say may not be of any relevance to you. I believe there are some facts that need to be understood regarding the great archbishop and the society that he founded to comprehend why this issue is so important to the Holy Father today.
Fact number one: Archbishop Lefebvre or the SSPX was never formally accused of any doctrinal heresy. We can document the clear fact that the faith being taught before the Second Vatican Council is exactly the same faith the Archbishop taught after it. He was at the Council and was one of the theologians who weighed in on the schemas presented at the Council. It is also a fact that the Mass he continued to celebrate was never outlawed or abrogated by the Church, at least on paper. As we know, although there was no formal declaration outlawing its use, aside from the Society and a handful of others, it was at least in practice close to extinction. Ultimately we have him to thank for keeping the Latin Mass alive in its practice today. My point here is that those who argue that Lefebvre was somehow in doctrinal error are sadly mistaken, and in doing so they slander his good name.
Fact number two: Vatican II and its documents have still not been clarified by the Church in many respects. The documents of Vatican II are in my opinion, and the opinion of many reputable orthodox theologians, the most ambiguous documents ever produced by the Church. In my opinion, the ambiguity and their “this but that” approach to explaining the faith have been, according to history thus far, a complete failure. Even our present Holy Father has a hard time trying to present this “hermeneutic of continuity” to the Church. Just the very fact that we need a "hermeneutic of continuity" scheme to be presented by the Holy Father should reveal to us that this is the case. The recent SSPX dialog has proven that many of the novel ideas and teachings taken by many mainline Catholics today have still not been formally settled. One of these problematic areas for example is the popular teaching regarding ecumenism floating around in the Church today. Since the Second Vatican Council most clergy in the Church have failed to teach clearly what the Church taught before the Council, which is that there is no way that the Church knows for anyone to be saved outside the visible Church. Sure, we can recognize that God can make exceptions regarding someone’s culpability, their ignorance, etc. But Christ Himself never revealed to the Church any other possible means of salvation other than through Him and the visible Church he built upon Saint Peter. As a result of this fact, those in the Church before the Council had always evangelized according to this understanding. Not so today, the invincible ignorance clause is now the rule. You may have heard of the term, 'Ecumenism of the Return'? That means that the Church's ecumenism was always deems to be for the return of those outside the visible Church to return to it. This is not what is largely being taught today. In fact, Cardinal Kasper who virtually ran the ecumenism branch of the Vatican regularly opposed this idea. "Today we no longer understand ecumenism in the sense of a return, by which the others would ‘be converted’ and return to being ‘catholics.’ This was expressly abandoned by Vatican II.” Was this clearly abandoned by Vatican II? I don't think it was, but this idea is being proclaimed by the highest positions in the Church with little to no opposition. The SSPX has consistently spoken up about this error, as well as many others, and rightfully so. My point here is, that Vatican II and its documents and how they will play out in the life of the Church is still not a settled issue, and the SSPX has been, and will hopefully continue to drive discussions regarding these matters, so these problems can be resolved. It appears to me that few in the Church today have the courage to present these problems in any formal capacity.
Fact three: the SSPX seminaries are one of the few that teach according to the methods established by every Pope of the modern age prior to John XXIII. It is a documented fact that under Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, almost every command given by Popes Pius IX through Pius XII regarding the heresy of modernism were for all intents and purposes eradicated from the life of the Church. Everyone admits this fact including the then Father Ratzinger who has written about his experience at the Council. He admits that those at the Council sought to largely ignore the warnings and commands of these prior Popes as being extreme or “one sided.” For example here are a couple of quotes taken from Ratzinger’s account of the Council. "We shall have occasion later to show in more detail how the anti-modernistic neurosis which had again and again crippled the Church since the turn of the century here seemed to be approaching a cure" "Thus the Church was freed from the "hierarchical narrowness" of the previous hundred years" and "...the Church decisively and uncompromisingly detached itself from the growing error of the "modern mind....it undoubtedly went about this with excessively one sided zeal." These are serious charges made against a line of over 100 years of formal papal declarations commanding the Church not to accept modern philosophical principles into theological circles. Along with this command this papal line commanded that the seminaries teach according to Thomistic principles in order to avoid a modernist catastrophe in the Church. I have written about this in a prior article. The point I am making here is that the strict guidelines for seminaries given by all of these popes were abandoned, and I might add, all of the the prophesies given by these popes all came true after these principles were abandoned. Now, to my knowledge, only the SSPX and FSSP have seminaries that follow all of those strict teaching protocols implemented by those papal documents. Since this is the case, the SSPX seminaries will be a most welcome tool to reform other seminaries.
Fact four rides on the back of the prior. The SSPX never accepted the noxious “new theology” that was allowed to permeate the Church after the Council. It is a fact that the theologians who largely rebelled against the first constructed schemas for the Council, were theologians who had been put under formal interdict by prior Popes. For example, the convoluted theology of Yves Congar along with many other modernists, was explicitly condemned by Pope Pius XII. Congar and the theologian “prison inmates” like him became the “guards” at Vatican II. Overnight we had theologians who’s ideas had been formally condemned by the Church, being the overseers of the new schemas of the Council. Many probably do not know that almost all of the schemas for the Council were completed, or at least had been outlined before the Council ever started. Those schemas, which were written in the same vain as those of the prior popes, were all completely trashed in favor letting these new theologians rewrite them all. In the end you had a smorgasbord character to all most of the VII documents, because these modernists would write up the document and then the orthodox bishops would fight to keep in some of the old theological wording as well. That is one of the reasons for the “this and that” leitmotif of the documents. Archbishop Lefebvre wanted nothing to do with all of this ambiguity, and continued to follow the entire line of Popes who told him not to accept the ideas proposed by these new theologians. Do any Catholics ever think to investigate why the ‘Oath Against Modernism’ was done away with? This modernist heresy was so serious that Pope Pius X made all clergy swear by their souls that they would never accept the principles of modernism, ever! The entire Church hierarchy swore formally to the opposition against modernism to the peril of their souls! That is pretty serious in my opinion. In practice, much of the "new theology" bouncing around at the Second Vatican Council was formally condemned prior to it. This is not hard to prove. Congar even admits that the theology he was condemned for was the same theology that he brought to the Council documents. After Pope Pius XII went to his happy reward, the prison cells were opened up and the inmates almost took over the town! They at least had free reign to do as they pleased at the Council, up to a point, in which I believe the Holy Spirit intervened to keep their heresies from being dogmatically proclaimed. That is why the debate is still going on within the Church over the Council. My main point here is, the theology being taught by the SSPX, is what was taught prior to the Council, not the confusion and ambiguity that came after it.
I will conclude by saying that if the SSPX can have a more formal influence on the Church and her theological practice, we will see the problems that followed the Second Vatican Council resolved much quicker than with them being considered to be on the outside fringes of the Church. Theologically the Society has never been charged with formal heresy. Sure they have been asked to accept all of the “teachings” of the Church and the Second Vatican Council, but what does that mean exactly? Are these new teachings that they must now accept? If so, what did Vatican II change? It has been said that Vatican II changed nothing doctrinally to what came before it, if that is the case then there should be no issue with the Holy See recognizing the orthodoxy of the SSPX, for Lefebrve never taught anything contrary to the dogmatic teachings of the Church prior to the Council. If the SSPX is now in error then we should all be informed as to what that error is, exactly. That means we need clear condemnations of a false belief that the SSPX holds to, that is not orthodox. I maintain that Vatican II and her documents have yet to be formally dealt with in the manner that they need to dealt with. There are many questions that must be answered, and if the SSPX can bring these issues to the forefront in a more concrete manner, we will all as faithful Catholics be better off for it. For those who have not read into the life of Archbishop Lefebvre, you should do so if you are interested in this whole discussion. Again, these are my thoughts on this matter at this point in time. Feel free to weigh in, in the comments section. If you are interested in reading about this issue I have listed some books below that will be worth reading. There is more to all of this than the surface level rhetoric floating around in the mainstream Catholic press. If the SSPX were just some insignificant, radical, traditionalist fringe group, as so many mainstream Catholics have been labeling them, the Holy Father would not be taking their theological opinions so seriously.
Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography
A Bishop Speaks
I Accuse the Council
Michael Davies Revolution Set
Rhine Flows Into the Tiber
Theological Highlights of Vatican II