Skip to comments.Introduction: Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre
Posted on 06/23/2004 1:14:16 AM PDT by ultima ratio
I must begin my introduction with an explanation of the title of this book. Many of those who read it will know little or nothing about Archbishop Lefebvre when they begin. If they are Catholics they will have gathered from the official Catholic press that he is a French bishop who refuses to use the new rite of Mass and has a seminary in Switzerland where he trains priests in defiance of the Vatican. He will have been presented to them as an anachronism, a man completely out of step with the mainstream of contemporary Catholic thought, a man who is unable to adapt, to update himself. He is portrayed as little more than an historical curiosity, of no significance in the post-conciliar Church, a man whose views do not merit consideration. The Archbishop is often subjected to serious misrepresentation; he is alleged to have totally rejected the Second Vatican Council or to be linked with extreme right-wing political movements. A sad example of this form of misrepresentation is a pamphlet published by the Catholic Truth Society of England and Wales in 1976. It is entitled Light on Archbishop Lefebvre and the author is Monsignor George Leonard, at that time Chief Information Officer of the Catholic Information Office of England and Wales. I wrote to Mgr. Leonard pointing out that he had seriously misrepresented the Archbishop and suggested that he should either substantiate or withdraw his allegations. He answered in strident and emotive terms refusing to do either. I replied to Mgr. Leonard's attack on the Archbishop in a pamphlet entitled Archbishop Lefebvre - The Truth. This evoked such interest that several reprints were necessary to cope with the demand and it gained the Archbishop much new support. In this pamphlet I explained that the only way to refute the type of attack made by Mgr. Leonard was to present the entire truth - to write an apologia. The early Christian apologists wrote their "apologies" to gain a fair hearing for Christianity and dispel popular myths and slanders. It is in this sense that the word "apologia" is used in my title, i. e. as "a reasoned explanation" and not an "apology" in the sense of contemporary usage.
The classic apologia of modern times is the Apologia Pro Vita Sua of Cardinal Newman. Newman had been seriously misrepresented by Charles Kingsley who refused to provide the unqualified public apology which was requested. Newman's reply proved to be one of the greatest autobiographies in the English language and almost certainly the greatest prose work outside the realm of fiction to appear in English during the nineteenth century - and ironically our thanks for it must be directed to an implacable opponent of Newman and Catholicism.
My own Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre may be devoid of literary merit but it is certainly not without historic interest and those who appreciate its publication must direct their thanks to Mgr. Leonard without whom it would never have been written.
Incidentally, my pamphlet replying to Mgr. Leonard proved so popular that the publisher followed it up with others and thus began the Augustine Pamphlet Series which now has sales running into tens of thousands and includes works by theologians of international repute.
Although this book certainly would not have been written had it not been for Mgr. Leonard it could not have been written had it not been for Jean Madiran, the Editor of Itinéraires. Itinéraires is certainly the most valuable Catholic review appearing in the world today. It contains documentation that would not otherwise be published together with commentaries and articles by some of France's most outstanding Catholic intellectuals; men, alas, who have no counterpart in the English-speaking world. The debt my book owes to Itinéraires is incalculable. It provides the source for most of the original documents included together with the articles by Jean Madiran and Louis Salleron which I have had translated. Some of the material in my commentaries on the documents also originates with Itinéraires. A detailed list of sources for all the material in the Apologia will be provided in Volume II.
The scope of the Apologia is limited. It deals principally with the relations between the Archbishop and the Vatican. It does not deal with the activities of the Society of Saint Pius X in any individual country. I am certainly not committed to the view that every action and every opinion of the Archbishop, still less of every priest in the Society, #4, rue Garanciere, 75006, Paris, France is necessarily wise and prudent. I mention this because the reader who is not familiar with the "Econe affair" may consider that my attitude to the Archbishop and the Society is too uncritical and therefore unobjective. My book is objective but it is not impartial. It is objective because I have presented all the relevant documents both for and against Mgr. Lefebvre, something his opponents have never done. It is partial because I believe the evidence proves him to be right and I state this. However, the reader is quite at liberty to ignore my commentary and use the documentation to reach a different conclusion. Clearly, the value of the book derives from the documentation and not the commentary.
I am convinced that the Apologia will be of enduring historical value because I am convinced that the Archbishop will occupy a major position in the history of post-conciliar Catholicism. The most evident trend in mainstream Christianity since the Second World War has been the tendency to replace the religion of God made Man with the religion of man made God. Although Christians still profess theoretical concern for the life to come their efforts are increasingly taken up with building a paradise on earth. The logical outcome of this attitude will be the discarding of the supernatural element of Christianity as irrelevant. Since the Second Vatican Council this movement has gained considerable momentum within the Catholic Church, both officially and unofficially, and, during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, appeared to be sweeping all before it. No one was more aware of this than Pope Paul VI himself who made frequent pronouncements condemning this tendency and stressing the primacy of the spiritual. But in practice, Pope Paul VI did little or nothing to halt the erosion of the traditional faith. He reprimanded Modernists but permitted them to use official Church structures to destroy the faith, yet took the most drastic steps to stamp out the Society of St. Pius X. At the time this introduction is being written, June 1979, there are signs of hope that Pope John Paul II will be prepared not simply to speak but to act in defense of the faith. This is something we should pray for daily. It hardly needs stating that the criticism of the Holy See contained in this first volume of the Apologia applies only to the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. Not one word in the book should be construed as reflecting unfavorably upon the present Holy Father. It is my hope that in the second volume I will be able to give the details of an agreement between the Pope and the Archbishop. This is also something for which we should pray.
The reason I believe that Archbishop Lefebvre will occupy a major position in the history of the post-conciliar Church is that he had the courage and foresight to take practical steps to preserve the traditional faith. Unlike many conservative Catholics he saw that it was impossible to wage an effective battle for orthodoxy within the context of the official reforms as these reforms were themselves oriented towards the cult of man. The Archbishop appreciated that the liturgical reform in particular must inevitably compromise Catholic teaching on the priesthood and the Mass, the twin pillars upon which our faith is built.1 The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers had also realized that if they could undermine the priesthood there would be no Mass and the Church would be destroyed. The Archbishop founded the Society of St. Pius X with its seminary at Econe not as an act of rebellion but to perpetuate the Catholic priesthood, and for no other purpose. Indeed, as my book will show, the Society at first enjoyed the approbation of the Holy See but the success of the seminary soon aroused the animosity of powerful Liberal forces within the Church, particularly in France. They saw it as a serious threat to their plans for replacing the traditional faith with a new ecumenical and humanistically oriented religion. This is the reason they brought such pressure to bear upon Pope Paul VI. There is no doubt that the demands for the destruction of Econe emanated principally from the French Hierarchy which, through Cardinal Villot, the Secretary of State, was ideally placed to pressurize the Pope.
A number of those who have reviewed my previous books have been kind enough to say that they are very readable. Unfortunately, the format of Apologia is not conducive to easy reading. My principal objective has been to provide a comprehensive fund of source material which will be useful to those wishing to study the controversy between the Archbishop and the Vatican. After various experiments I concluded that the most satisfactory method was to observe strict chronological order as far as possible. This meant that I could not assemble the material in a manner that was always the most effective for maintaining interest. The fact that I had to quote so many documents in full also impedes the flow of the narrative. However, if the reader bears in mind the fact that the events described in the book represent not simply a confrontation of historic dimensions but a very moving human drama, then it should never appear too dull. Mgr Lefebvre's inner conflict must have been more dramatic than his conflict with Pope Paul VI. No great novelist could have a more challenging theme than that of a man whose life had been dedicated to upholding the authority of the papacy faced with the alternative of disobeying the Pope or complying with an order to destroy an apostolate which he honestly believed was vital for the future of the Church. Let no one imagine that the decision the Archbishop took was taken lightly or was easy to make.
The reader will find frequent suggestions that he should refer to an event in its correct chronological sequence and to facilitate this a chronological index has been provided. If this page is marked it will enable the reader to refer to any event mentioned in the book without difficulty.
As the reader will appreciate, I could never have written a book of this extent without considerable help - particularly as I was working on two other books simultaneously. Some of those who gave their help unstintingly have expressed a wish to remain anonymous, including the individual to whom I am most indebted for help with the translations. I must also thank Simone Macklow-Smith and my son Adrian for assistance in this respect. I must make special mention of Norah Haines without whose help the typescript would still be nowhere near completion. I am indebted to David Gardner and Mary Buckalew whose competent proof-reading will be evident to the discerning reader. Above all I must thank Carlita Brown who set the book up single-handed and had it ready for publication within three months. She would certainly wish me to mention all the members of the Angelus Press who have contributed to the publication of the Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre.
Despite all our efforts, a book of this size is certain to contain at least a few errors and I would appreciate it if they could be brought to my attention for correction in any future printing or for mention in Volume II. I can make no promise regarding the publication of the second volume of Apologia beyond an assurance that it will appear eventually. It will almost certainly be preceded by a book on the treatment of the question of religious liberty in the documents of Vatican II. The Archbishop's stand on the question of religious liberty is less familiar to English-speaking traditionalists than his stand on the Mass but it is no less important as it involves the very nature of the Church. He refused to sign Dignitatis Humanae, the Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty, because he considered it incompatible with previous authoritative and possibly infallible papal teaching. My book will provide all the necessary documentation to evaluate this very serious charge which is also examined briefly in Appendix IV to the present work.
Finally, I would like to assure the reader that although I have written much that is critical of the Holy See and Pope Paul VI in this book this does not imply any lack of loyalty to the Church and the Pope. When a subordinate is honestly convinced that his superior is pursuing a mistaken policy he shows true loyalty by speaking out. This is what prompted St. Paul to withstand St. Peter "to his face because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). The first duty of a Catholic is to uphold the faith and save his own soul. As I show in Appendices I and II, there is ample precedent in the history of the Church to show that conflict with the Holy See has sometimes been necessary to achieve these ends. Archbishop Lefebvre has stated on many occasions that all he is doing is to uphold the faith as he received it. Those who condemn him condemn the Faith of their Fathers.
20 June 1979 St. Silverius, Pope and Martyr.
Si diligis me, Simon Petre. pasce agnos meos, Pasce oves meas. Introit.
1. Let anyone who doubts this compare the new and old rites of ordination. A detailed comparison has been made in my book The Order of Melchisedech.
Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House 2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109
From Chapter One:
During the course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Mgr. Lefebvre was one of the leaders of the International Group of Fathers (Coetus Internationalis Patrum) which sought to uphold the traditional Catholic faith. The role of Mgr. Lefebvre during the Council will not be discussed in this book as it is fully documented in his own book, A Bishop Speaks, and in my own account of Vatican II, Pope John's Council. The texts of Mgr. Lefebvre's interventions, and a good deal of supplementary information, are now available in French in his book, J'Accuse le Concile. An English translation of this book is pending. All that needs to be stated here is that Mgr. Lefebvre, in his criticisms of the reforms which have followed the Council, and of certain passages in the documents themselves, is not being wise after the event. He was one of the very few Fathers of Vatican II who, while the Council was still in progress, had both the perspicacity to recognize deficiencies in certain documents and the courage to predict the disastrous results to which these deficiencies must inevitably give rise.
By 1968 the General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Fathers had become dominated by a Liberal majority which was determined to reform the Order in a sense contrary to Catholic tradition. Mgr. Lefebvre resigned in June of that year rather than collaborate in what would be the virtual destruction of the Order as it had previously existed. He retired to Rome with a modest pension which was just sufficient to rent a small apartment in the Via Monserrato from some nuns. After a full and active life devoted to the service of the Church and the glory of God he was more than content to spend his remaining years in quietness and prayer. In the light of subsequent events, Mgr. Lefebvre's unobtrusive retirement is a fact upon which considerable stress must be laid. Some of his enemies have accused him of being proud and stubborn, a man who could not accept defeat. He is portrayed as a proponent of an untenable theological immobilism totally unrelated to the age in which we are living. Although this untenable theology was defeated, discredited even, during the Council, Mgr. Lefebvre's pride would not allow him to admit defeat. The Seminary at Ecône, it is maintained, is his means of continuing the fight which he waged so unsuccessfully during the conciliar debates.
But Mgr. Lefebvre's retirement proves how baseless, malicious even, such suggestions are. Those who have met him know that he is not a man who will fight for the sake of fighting - he has always been a realist. No one could have compelled him to resign as Superior-General of the Holy Ghost Fathers - he had been elected for a term of twelve years. But he could see quite clearly that the Liberals dominated the General Chapter; that they were determined to get their way at all costs; that resistance on his part could only lead to unedifying division. "Je les ai laissés à leur collégialité," he has remarked. "I left them to their 'collegiality'."
Here are the Archbishop's own words in an address to seminarians:
For could there be, in my last years, a consolation greater than to find myself surrounded by such faithful collaborators, faithful especially to the Church and to the ideal which we must always pursue; than to find myself surrounded by such devoted, such friendly, and such generous lay people, giving their time and their money and doing all that they can to help us? And besides them, I should recall, we must think of the tens of thousands of benefactors who are with us and who write to us - we receive their letters all the time. Now that is obviously for us and for myself an immense consolation. It is truly a family that has been created around Ecône.
And then, to have such good seminarians! I did not expect that either. I could never imagine or really believe that, in the age in which we live, in the environment in which we live, with all this degradation that the Church is undergoing, with all this disorganization, this confusion everywhere in thought, that God would still grant the grace to young men of having this desire, a profound desire, a real desire, to find an authentic priestly formation; to search for it, to leave their countries to come so far, even from Australia, even from the United States, to find such a formation; to accept a journey of twenty thousand kilometers to find a true Seminary. It is something I could never imagine. How could you expect me to imagine such a thing? I like the idea of an international Seminary and I am very happy with it, but I could never imagine that the Seminary would be what it is and that I would find young men with such good dispositions.
I believe that I can say, without flattering you and without flattering myself, that the seminary strangely resembles the French Seminary that I knew, and I believe that I can even say that it is of a quality even more pleasing to God...more spiritual, especially, and it is that which makes me very happy, because it is the character that I very much desire to give to the Seminary. It is not only an intellectual character, a speculative character - that you should be true scholars...may you be so, certainly, it is necessary - but especially that you should be saints, men filled with the grace of God, filled with the spiritual life. I believe that it is even more essential than your studies, although the studies are indispensable.
For this, then, and for all the good that you are going to do, how can you expect me not to thank God? I ask myself why God has thus heaped His graces upon me. What have I done to deserve all these graces and blessings? No doubt God wished to give me all these graces and blessings so that I could bear my cross more easily.
Because the cross is heavy, after all...heavy in the sense to which I made allusion this morning. For it is hard, after all, to hear oneself called, and to be obliged in a way to accept that people call you, disobedient.1 And because we cannot submit and abandon our faith. It is a very painful thing, when you love the Church, when you love obedience, when for your entire life you have loved to follow Her leaders and Her guides. It is painful to think that our relations are so difficult with those who ought to be leading us. And all that is certainly a heavy cross to bear. I think that God gives His blessings and graces in compensation, and to strengthen us in our work.
For all this, then, I thank God, first of all, and I thank all of you, and may God do as He pleases. If He wishes me to be at your service yet for some time, let it be so. Deo gratias! If on the other hand He wishes to give me a small reward somewhat sooner, more quickly, well, let it be Deo gratias also. As He wishes. I have worked only in His service and I desire to work to the end of my days in His service and in yours also. So thank you again and let us ask God to grant that this seminary may continue for His glory and for the good of souls.
1. Every Catholic, including priests and members of religious orders, must refuse to obey even the order of a lawful superior if complying with that order could endanger his faith.
One more installment (A FULL NINE YEARS BEFORE THE JUSTIFIED EXCOMMUNICATIONS OF LEFEBVRE AND HIS CO-CONSIRATORS) of the daily SSPX propaganda machine trying to undermine Catholicism in their schismatic rage to rehabilitate dead Marcel. Nothing to see here. Move along.
"...(A FULL NINE YEARS BEFORE THE JUSTIFIED EXCOMMUNICATIONS OF LEFEBVRE AND HIS CO-CONSIRATORS)..."
Justified? How so? I think you mean the excommunication by the Modernists of anything Catholic from their churches and teaching.
Conspiracy? Conspiring to do what? Pass on the faith of our fathers? I would argue there is a conspiracy to erase 2000 years of the Church in favor of a one-world "ecumenical" super-church which has neither creed nor dogma.
Plenty to see here. Pause and look. Ask yourself if it is Catholic to directly oppose the teachings of the perennial Church--to oppose Trent and the preconciliar popes up to and including Pius XII. Why was Rome so adamant about destroying a seminary that was devout and above reproach--which even its own visitors--sent specifically to find fault--was forced to concede was innocent of any wrongdoing? The answer is that Catholic Tradition itself was being targeted--by men who hated it--and apparently with approval of the pope. Here's the Archbishop, insightful as ever, looking at why Rome feared his small seminary:
"For the problem of Ecône is the problem of thousands and millions of Christian consciences, distressed, divided and torn for the past ten years by the agonizing dilemma: whether to obey and risk losing one's faith, or disobey and keep one's faith intact; whether to obey and join in the destruction of the Church, whether to accept the reformed Liberal Church, or to go on belonging to the Catholic Church."
You think by dismissing the claims of traditionalists like myself, they are thereby answered. They are not. Because what you are really saying is to hell with the faith, so long as we obey the Pope. You think obedience alone makes you a good Catholic, though in fact it makes you a dupe of a protestantizing revolution. Lefebvre is reminding us it has NEVER been the teaching of the Church that blind obedience is justified or that we may oppose its perennial teachings in the name of such obedience. There are times we must stand up to authority and resist its commands--when these would destroy our faith. That has always been Church teaching and it is perfectly legitimate.
You are right. Lefebvre did nothing but stand still. He did not change his faith. He did not teach falsehood. He ran a seminary producing devout priests who studied Thomas and the Fathers of the Church, who prayed the Rosary and made daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament. His seminarians were being trained to say the ancient Mass--that was the sum total of his enormous crime. For this he was calumniated, made subject to a phony tribunal and his seminary targeted for destruction. Not a shred of evidence of any wrong-doing was ever produced--not even to prove he was disobedient. He was never accorded even rudimentary courtesies. He was never given a copy of the charges lodged against him--and no specific charges were ever stated publicly. For years he was prevented from meeting with the pontiff--who routinely granted audiences with movie stars and petty diplomats--or allowed in any way to defend himself against the lies and calumnies of cardinals. His disobedience, in fact, only actualized much later in the pontificate of JPII, with the consecrations of traditional SSPX bishops--and it was totally legitimate, since it was clear the Pontiff was acting in concert with the French bishops who wished to destroy traditional Catholicism. To have done otherwise would have made him complicit in that destruction.