Why I Am Not SSPX
I have often been asked to explain my “antipathy” towards the SSPX. My critical attitude towards the “Society” seems for many people to be somehow self-contradictory. The following constitutes my reply to such inquiries.
Those who have read my autobiographical piece Beauty (to be found at Part VIII of this website), will possibly understand that my personal conversion involved a journey from virtual total chaos to the fullness of Divine Order that is to be found only in Catholic truth and worship. In my writings, the fruits of this journey are evident mostly on the level of the intellect – the Vision of Christ really Present in the Eucharist, and the consequent triumph of the light of truth over error and ignorance. But this is only half of the story.
There is a corresponding, and equally important, journey of the heart – of the human will, and of love. The restoration of the human heart is, of course, a much more complex and laborious process than that of the intellect. And, as incarnated beings, this requires not only a “journey of the soul unto God,” but also, in the fullest sense, incorporation into the “Family” of God, His Church. The wounded child heals in the arms of his Mother.
My love of the Church led me repeatedly to a study of Vatican Council I’s Pastor Aeternus (First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ). I realized that this was the definitive teaching of the Church itself on its own Nature and Constitution, and that anything in the past, present, or future (coming from either saints or sinners) which contradicted, or detracted, from this teaching was simply error.
What so many fail to realize is that Pastor Aeternus teaches a twofold Primacy of the Pope: a primacy of Truth, as embodied in his infallible Magisterium: and a primacy of Charity, as embodied in his Primacy of Jurisdiction. And further, that submission to both of these primacies is necessary not only for incorporation in the Church, but for faith and salvation. In the words of Pastor Aeternus:
“Hence we teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a sovereignty of ordinary power over all other Churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of what¬soever rite and dignity, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor, through the preservation of unity, both of communion and of profession of the same faith, with the Roman pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and salvation.”
It is really quite extraordinary the degree to which so many traditionalists seem to possess an internal mechanism which automatically, and without serious consideration, discards this definitive teaching in regard to the divine constitution of the Church. They won’t even look at it seriously when you point it out to them – it seems to have been shuttled away and securely chained to the “don’t look at this seriously” department of the brain. They usually reply something to the effect that the Pope’s government and discipline of the Church does not involve the charism of infallibility, that he can be very seriously wrong in his judgment on such things, and that we have the right to disobey him when he is wrong. In other words, they completely miss the point.
The Primacy of the Pope in matters of discipline and government of the Church has nothing to do with Infallibility. It involves not a Primacy over our intellects, but over our wills. And just as the Primacy over the intellect binds us in regard to what we must believe in regard to Faith and Morals, so the Papal Primacy of Jurisdiction binds us in regard to our Catholic hearts – to all that is involved with what constitutes our Apostolic work in union with Christ through His Mystical Body. It binds us, in other words, to that unity of Charity which is the Church acting in this world. To defy this unity, either in principle or act, is to attack the unity of the Body of Christ. It is equivalent to an attack on the Divine Constitution of the Church as established by Christ.
There is nothing more central or essential to this Unity of Christ’s Mystical Body than the Apostolic Succession. Thus, in Ecclesia dei adflicta, we read Pope John Paul II’s analysis of the reasons for the excommunications of Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated:
"In itself this act was one of disobedience to the Roman pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience—which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy—constitutes a schismatic act. In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops last June 17, Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.."
Footnote #4 in the above passage refers us to canon 1382 which deals with automatic excommunication for performing an episcopal consecration without a Papal mandate. But footnote #3 refers to canon 751, which offers definitions of heresy, apostasy, and schism. In other words, we are here dealing with something which is not just a matter of disobedience, but an actual breaking of unity with the Mystical Body of Christ, and with Catholic Truth itself.
The action of Archbishop Lefebvre in consecrating bishops not only without a Papal mandate, but in direct defiance of a Papal mandate not to do so, therefore represents a horror story to me. It amounts to an act of spiritual rape at the very heart of the Divine Constitution of the Church. As such, it can only generate a devastating process of decay within the hearts of those who support such a movement.
And, of course, this fracturing of unity with the Mystical Body of Christ necessarily has consequences in the realm of the natural family.
We have a very large collection of SSPX families in our area. Within just a few miles of our home is the North American Novitiate and Convent for the nuns associated with the SSPX, a Chapel, and a K-12 school. Many families have moved here from around the country.
There is a unique phenomenon evident among the families that have been at this for a long time – those with grown children, and now grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. There is an extraordinary amount of disunity, and the vehement disagreement and bitterness that is generated by this disunity. Some children, in apparent total rejection of the deepest knowledge and aspirations of their parents, have totally rejected Catholicism. Some have apparently rejected “traditionalism,” and attend Novus Ordo Churches, Some have become sedevacantists. And, of course, some remain SSPX. In other words, having rejected the unity of Christ’s Church, parents have sown the seeds of endless division within their own families.
We also have a large contingent of Catholic home-schooling families in our area. They have formed a home-school group, one of the principles of their constitution being that SSPX members are not permitted as members. I don’t know of even one of these families in which this phenomenon of profound division and bitterness regarding the Faith is present. And, there are many grown children with families in this group.
This phenomenon of division and chaos within families that support the schism of Archbishop Lefebvre (and it seems to exist rather profoundly not only within families, but also between families), has led me to the experiential conclusion that there must be a deprivation of graces often associated with support of the Society. Such would also seem to follow logically from their not being in full communion with Christ’s Mystical Body. St. Thomas teaches that “the reality of the Eucharist is the unity of the mystical body….” If this “reality” is violated then it would only seem logical that the life of grace should also be vitiated.
So yes, I do subscribe to a strong antipathy towards the SSPX – hopefully not to those laity who I consider to be unfortunately wrong in their support of Archbishop Lefebvre’s schism – but to the phenomenon of the SSPX itself.
I will add that I think the involvement of individuals and families with the SSPX entails not only a deprivation of grace for themselves, but also a tremendous loss for the Church and the cause of its future restoration. I believe that there is no greater meriting of grace than that suffering which is endured in sacrificial unity and charity. This grace is lost in disunity and schism. I realize, of course, that this statement seems totally outrageous to any person who supports the SSPX. Such persons usually believe that we would not have the Traditional Mass, or even any real remains of Tradition itself, if it were not for the disobedience of Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX. I would have to state that I believe that such persons do not understand, as it relates to their own lives, the concept of grace in its proper relation to the Cross of Christ. They have no idea of the graces which may have been earned and put into play, if they had remained within the Church and suffered with Christ in His Mystical Body.
The crux of SSPX attempts at self-justification lies in opposing the concepts of obedience and Faith. Simply stated, to have been obedient to recent Papacies somehow necessarily requires loss of the Faith. In other words, in order to save the Faith, they had to disobey.
In response to this argument and allegation, I can testify that there has not been a single word or act coming from any of the post-Vatican II Popes that forced me to choose between being obedient to the Pope, on the one hand, and being true to my conscience and Faith on the other. The only thing I have been deprived of is certain gifts – the gift of always having a traditional priest, the gift of always having (especially on weekdays) the traditional Mass to attend, the gift of traditional catechetical programs in local Churches and Catholic schools, the gifts of really good Papal teachings on all sorts of things, etc. As a healthy, fallen, American lover of freedom and independence, I of course am tempted to cry out that I have a right to all these things. On further reflection, however, as a child of Christian realism and humility, I realize that I have no rights even to the gifts I now possess. And seeing a little deeper, I realize that Christ’s loving and providential care, if we are not too obtuse, should be evident in the chastisements and deprivations that we now experience.
I have said above that Papal government and discipline of the Church (the Primacy of Jurisdiction) does not in any way involve the exercise of the charism of infallibility. But the doctrine defining the nature of this Primacy, and the necessity of our being subject and obedient to the Pope’s acts of discipline and governance of the Church, is indeed an infallible teaching, the denial of which is a heresy, and entails “loss of Catholic faith and salvation.”
Pius IX was, of course, the Pope who promulgated the documents of Vatican Council I, and therefore the ultimate determiner of their meaning and intent. Two and one-half years after the promulgation of Pastor Aeternus, this was fully realized in Pius IX’s encyclical Quartus Supra. The subject of this encyclical directly involved a denial, in act, of the Papal Primacy of Jurisdiction. It concerned a schism which had arisen 3 years previously among the Armenians in Constantinople and was now threatening the Church in Armenia. These Armenians had driven the legitimate Patriarch from his See, installed a false patriarch, and sacrilegiously consecrated a bishop. Pope Pius IX writes:
“But the neo-schismatics have gone further, since ‘every schism fabricates a heresy for itself to justify its withdrawal from the Church.’ Indeed they have even accused this Apostolic See as well, as if We had exceeded the limits of Our power in commanding that certain points of discipline were to be observed in the Patriarchate of Armenia. Nor can the Eastern Churches preserve communion and unity of faith with Us without being subject to the Apostolic power in matters of discipline. Teaching of this kind is heretical, and not just since the definition of the power and nature of the papal primacy was determined by the ecumenical Vatican Council: the Catholic Church has always considered it such and abhorred it.”
The heresy which the Armenians had “fabricated” for themselves was simply the denial of the doctrine concerning the Papal Primacy of Jurisdiction – that in order to retain Catholic Faith and salvation, they must be obedient to the Papacy in matters of discipline and government of the Church, and especially in regard to episcopal consecrations.
It was therefore a matter of profound duplicity on the part of Archbishop Lefebvre to claim to be in communion with the Pope, while at the same time consecrating bishops specifically against a Papal mandate not to do so. In his encyclical Satis Cognitum (on The Unity of the Church), Pope Leo XIII teaches:
“But the episcopal order is rightly judged to be in communion with Peter, as Christ commanded, if it be subject to and obeys Peter.”
It is therefore equally duplicitous for anyone to attempt to use canon law to justify the episcopal consecrations of Archbishop Lefebvre. The SSPX and fellow-travelers have often used the argument of “necessity” to justify his actions. In other words, it was “necessary” for the Archbishop to consecrate bishops to be able to continue the work of the Society – this, in order to retain tradition. They have always used Canon 1323, N.4 of the New Code of Canon Law which states:
“The following are not subject to penalties when they have violated a law or precept:
N.4: a person who acted out of grave fear1 even if only relatively grave, or out of necessity or out of serious inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or verges on harm to souls.”
It should be abundantly clear from all that has been examined above that consecrating bishops expressly against a Papal mandate not to do so necessitates a denial of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Papal Primacy of Jurisdiction, constitutes an attack upon the Divine Constitution of the Church, and is therefore an intrinsically evil act to which no case of “necessity” could ever be applied.
There is, however, one canon which is supremely applicable to the case of Archbishop Lefebvre, and which is never brought forward by the Society or their apologists:
“Canon 1326, N.1: “A judge can punish more severely than a law or a precept has stated (the following persons):
1.2: a person who has been given some dignified position or who has abused authority or office in order to commit the offense.
1.3: an accused who although a penalty has been established against a culpable offense, foresaw what was to happen yet nonetheless did not take the precautions which any diligent person would have employed to avoid it.”
There is certainly no person who possesses a more “dignified position”, and is therefore more responsible for possessing the knowledge concerning the Divine Constitution of the Church, and the divinely constituted relationship which must exist between bishops and the Pope, than an Archbishop. Any defense of Archbishop Lefebvre which would therefore allege that he was exempt from the penalty of excommunication because of ignorance, or because he sincerely thought such a condition of necessity existed, is indeed self-defeating. Such “ignorance,” for whatever reason, would indicate incapacity to rule. Such incompetence should therefore preclude that he have any followers among the Catholic faithful.
Being essentially duplicitous and self-contradictory, the SSPX position is also bound to be self-disintegrating. Whatever be the final results of the present negotiations between Bishop Fellay and the Vatican, this situation has had the irreversible effect of exposing the bitter divisions between Bishop Fellay and the three other SSPX Bishops, and therefore also among priests and lay adherents of the Society. What is more, these divisions have also led to widespread knowledge of the extent to which Archbishop Lefebvre himself seriously considered the legitimacy of the sedevacantist position. The way of the SSPX is now laid wide open to profound dissolution.
The ultimate fruit of all this is to be found in families. This is where the depths of this tragedy will unfold. There will inevitably be more dissension and division, more children rejecting tradition or losing their faith entirely, and increased numbers moving off into sedevacantism. Schism breeds accelerating schisms. It now comes down to the choice of each mother and father whether this is the inheritance they wish to pass on to their children.