Just how “traditional” is the SSPX?
Pope Pius IX condemns Bishop Fellay
There will no doubt be plenty more news, interviews, assertions, clarifications, retractions, and rumors before it finally comes to pass, but it seems pretty clear now that the Society of St. Pius X will indeed sign an agreement with the Modernist Vatican that will give them that coveted “full communion” status and convert them into a personal prelature that answers only to, well, the worst of them all: Chaos Frank (“Pope” Francis). It also seems pretty clear that this will happen before this year is over. Recent news suggests as much:
- Interview: SSPX Bp. Fellay’s Single Condition for Vatican “Stamp of Approval” (Full English translation now posted)
- Vatican signals Reconciliation with SSPX to happen soon
- SSPX-Vatican: “Two dates are mentioned in Rome: May 13 or July 7”
In the interview he gave to the French TV Libertés on Jan. 29, 2017, the Society’s Superior General, Bp. Bernard Fellay, spoke about how the SSPX is supposedly fighting against any risk of schism. Here are Bp. Fellay’s exact words in English translation:
…[I]s there a risk a schism, the establishment of a parallel church? We are fighting against this, and I’ve mentioned this to the Pope himself, Pope Francis, and we both agree on this. There are already some concrete dispositions in place now which we can say make schism practically impossible. In our day-to-day life, we talk with Rome and show them our submission, we recognize their authority, not only at Mass by mentioning the Pope’s name and the local bishop in the Canon, but also, well, there’s the example of the Pope granting us the faculty to hear confessions and also legal acts, this is a bit complicated but if a priest were to commit criminal acts, we have contacts in Rome granting us, asking us to judge these cases, so we really have perfectly normal relations. It’s not just confession, there’s also a lot more… Last summer it was confirmed that the Superior General is truly free to ordain the Society’s candidates to the priesthood without asking the local ordinary. This text from Rome, which isn’t shouted from the rooftops, states that the Society’s ordinations are licit, that it is free to [ordain]. These various legal and canonical acts have already been done and I think that they prevent any possibility of schism. Of course, we must always be vigilant about this…
(Bp. Bernard Fellay, Interview on TV Libertés, Jan. 29, 2017; underlining added. Translation by Novus Ordo Watch.)
Now this is just rich. To claim that the Society of St. Pius X is “fighting against” schism is absurd because they have been preaching schism — the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff despite one’s acknowledgment of him as the legitimate Vicar of Christ to whom submission is owed — for decades.
For example, we will never forget the July 6, 1988 letter to “Cardinal” Bernard Gantin by the SSPX Superior General, then Fr. Franz Schmidberger, in response to the “excommunications” of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the other five bishops involved in the illicit episcopal consecrations of June 30 of that year:
…[W]e have never wished to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church, and defines itself with the Novus Ordo Missæ, an ecumenism which leads to indifferentism and the laicization of all society. Yes, we have no part, nullam partem habemus, with the pantheon of the religions of Assisi; our own excommunication by a decree of Your Eminence or of another Roman Congregation would only be the irrefutable proof of this. We ask for nothing better than to be declared out of communion with this adulterous spirit which has been blowing in the Church for the last 25 years; we ask for nothing better than to be declared outside of this impious communion of the ungodly. We believe in the One God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and we will always remain faithful to His unique Spouse, the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church.
To be publicly associated with this sanction which is inflicted upon the six Catholic Bishops [of which Bernard Fellay was one], Defenders of the Faith in its integrity and wholeness, would be for us a mark of honor and a sign of orthodoxy before the faithful. They have indeed a strict right to know that the priests who serve them are not in communion with a counterfeit church, promoting evolution, pentecostalism and syncretism. In union with these faithful, we make ours the words of the Prophet: “Præparate corda vestra Domino et servite Illi soli: et liberabit vos de manibus inimicorum vestrorum. Convertimini ad Eum in toto corde vestro, et auferte deos alienos de medio vestri—Open your hearts to the Lord and serve Him only: and He will free you from the hands of your enemies. With all your heart return to Him, and take away from your midst any strange gods” (I Kings 7:3).
This letter was signed not only by Fr. Schmidberger but also by all of the Society’s District Superiors, who obviously represented all SSPX clergy.
Any number of questions immediately arise: Does Bp. Fellay now “wish to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church”? Do he and his Society now wish to partake of “this impious communion of the ungodly” described above? Of what significance is the fact that that “sign of orthodoxy” was taken away from them on Jan. 21, 2009? If traditional Catholics “have indeed a strict right to know that the priests who serve them are not in communion with a counterfeit church”, what does this say about Bp. Fellay and his administration that now desires to be in full communion with that “counterfeit church” and rejects a “parallel church”?
One may suppose that these questions won’t be answered any time soon (just like these). But for Bp. Fellay to act as though the SSPX never was or never desired to be in schism with the Modernist Vatican, is simply disingenuous.
At the same time, one can make the argument that even now, the SSPX still retains a position that is essentially schismatic, because Bp. Fellay is willing only to sign an agreement with Rome on his terms, specifically the idea that the Vatican must guarantee their “survival”. This is but a smoother way of saying that if the SSPX ultimately doesn’t get to do its own thing, at least in principle, then they do not care to be in communion with the “Holy See” — which is hardly a traditional Catholic attitude.
Catholics do not negotiate with the Apostolic See or dispute theologically with it, nor do they demand anything from it in terms of conditions for a reconciliation. Rather, Catholics simply submit to the Holy See and adhere firmly to it. As the profession of faith promulgated by the Fourth Council of Constantinople, quoted by the First Vatican Council, states:
…[I]n the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved untainted, and holy doctrine celebrated. Desiring, then, least of all to be separated from the faith and teaching of this [Apostolic See], We hope that We may deserve to be in the one communion which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which the solidarity of the Christian religion is whole and true.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 4; Denz. 1833)
For Pope Leo XIII, the matter was also rather clear and simple:
Union with the Roman See of Peter is … always the public criterion of a Catholic…. “You are not to be looked upon as holding the true Catholic faith if you do not teach that the faith of Rome is to be held”.
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 13)
In defense of his position and supporting his curious claim that schism would be “practically impossible” now, Bp. Fellay asserts that “we talk with Rome and show them our submission, we recognize their authority, not only at Mass by mentioning the Pope’s name and the local bishop in the Canon….” (All the other things he mentions, as quoted above, are things the Vatican has done with respect to the SSPX, i.e. things in which they are merely passive recipients of Vatican favors.)
So, the man who is considered to be the leader of the world’s traditional Catholics believes that submission to the Holy See consists of “talking” with Rome and “recognizing their authority” by agreeing that the Pope and the other ecclesiastical prelates are legitimate Catholic authorities. Apparently this is the depth of Bp. Fellay’s theological understanding of submission to the Pope, and it actually matches quite well what he expressed to Tim Sebastian in the disastrous Conflict Zone interview released on March 1 of last year. Have a look:
Beyond having the Pope’s picture in the sacristy, putting his name in the Canon of the Mass, and publicly acknowledging him as Pope, the SSPX really has no concept of respect for and submission to (the person they believe is) the Vicar of Christ.
The real traditional Catholic position on submission to the Roman Pontiff was outlined quite beautifully by Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter Quartus Supra of January 6, 1873, on the Church in Armenia. A substantial part of this papal document is so relevant and applicable to the position of the Society of St. Pius X and most other semi-traditionalists (“recognize and resisters”) that one may consider it a veritable “Memo to Bp. Fellay” from Pope Pius IX. We quote the pertinent passages at length below.
As you read the text, ask yourself if the schismatic and erroneous position Pius IX is condemning is not practically identical on many points to that taken by the SSPX with respect to the people it claims are the legitimate Catholic authorities in the Vatican:
The chief deceit used to conceal the new schism is the name of “Catholic.” The originators and adherents of the schism presumptuously lay claim to this name despite their condemnation by Our authority and judgment. It has always been the custom of heretics and schismatics to call themselves Catholics and to proclaim their many excellences in order to lead peoples and princes into error….
But to prove that they are Catholics, the neo-schismatics appeal to what they call a declaration of faith, published by them on February 6, 1870, which they insist disagrees in no regard with the Catholic faith. However it has never been possible to prove oneself a Catholic by affirming those statements of the faith which one accepts and keeping silence on those doctrines which one decides not to profess. But without exception, all doctrines which the Church proposes must be accepted, as the history of the Church at all times bears witness.
That the statement of faith which they published was deceitful and sophistical is proved also by the fact that they rejected the declaration or profession of faith which was proposed to them on Our authority in accordance with custom. … For any man to be able to prove his Catholic faith and affirm that he is truly a Catholic, he must be able to convince the Apostolic See of this. For this See is predominant and with it the faithful of the whole Church should agree. And the man who abandons the See of Peter can only be falsely confident that he is in the Church. As a result, that man is already a schismatic and a sinner who establishes a see in opposition to the unique See of the blessed Peter from which the rights of sacred communion derive for all men.
This fact was well known to the illustrious bishops of the Eastern Churches. Hence at the Council of Constantinople held in the year 536, Mennas the bishop of that city affirmed openly with the approval of the fathers, “We follow and obey the Apostolic See, as Your Charity realizes and we consider those in communion with it to be in communion with us, and we too condemn the men condemned by it.” Even more clearly and emphatically St. Maximus, abbot of Chrysopolis, and a confessor of the faith, in referring to Pyrrhus the Monothelite, declared: “If he wants neither to be nor to be called a heretic, he does not need to satisfy random individuals of his orthodoxy, for this is excessive and unreasonable. But just as all men have been scandalized at him since the chief man was scandalized, so also when that one has been satisfied, all men will doubtless be satisfied. He should hasten to satisfy the Roman See before all others. For when this See has been satisfied, all men everywhere will join in declaring him pious and orthodox. For that man wastes his words who thinks that men like me must be persuaded and beguiled when he has not yet satisfied and beseeched the blessed Pope of the holy Roman Church. From the incarnate word of God Himself as well as from the conclusions and sacred canons of all holy councils, the Apostolic See has been granted the command, authority and power of binding and loosing for all God’s holy churches in the entire world.” For this reason John, Bishop of Constantinople, solemnly declared — and the entire Eighth Ecumenical Council did so later — “that the names of those who were separated from communion with the Catholic Church, that is of those who did not agree in all matters with the Apostolic See, are not to be read out during the sacred mysteries.” This plainly meant that they did not recognize those men as true Catholics. All these traditions dictate that whoever the Roman Pontiff judges to be a schismatic for not expressly admitting and reverencing his power must stop calling himself Catholic.
Since this does not please the neo-schismatics, they follow the example of heretics of more recent times. They argue that the sentence of schism and excommunication pronounced against them by the Archbishop of Tyana, the Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, was unjust, and consequently void of strength and influence. They have claimed also that they are unable to accept the sentence because the faithful might desert to the heretics if deprived of their ministration. These novel arguments were wholly unknown and unheard of by the ancient Fathers of the Church. For “the whole Church throughout the world knows that the See of the blessed Apostle Peter has the right of loosing again what any pontiffs have bound, since this See possesses the right of judging the whole Church, and no one may judge its judgment.” The Jansenist heretics dared to teach such doctrines as that an excommunication pronounced by a lawful prelate could be ignored on a pretext of injustice. Each person should perform, as they said, his own particular duty despite an excommunication. Our predecessor of happy memory Clement XI in his constitution Unigenitus against the errors of Quesnell forbade and condemned statements of this kind. These statements were scarcely in any way different from some of John Wyclif’s which had previously been condemned by the Council of Constance and [Pope] Martin V. Through human weakness a person could be unjustly punished with censure by his prelate. But it is still necessary, as Our predecessor St. Gregory the Great warned, “for a bishop’s subordinates to fear even an unjust condemnation and not to blame the judgment of the bishop rashly in case the fault which did not exist, since the condemnation was unjust, develops out of the pride of heated reproof.” But if one should be afraid even of an unjust condemnation by one’s bishop, what must be said of those men who have been condemned for rebelling against their bishop and this Apostolic See and tearing to pieces as they are now doing by a new schism the seamless garment of Christ, which is the Church?
But the neo-schismatics say that it was not a case of doctrine but of discipline, so the name and prerogatives of Catholics cannot be denied to those who object. Our Constitution Reversurus, published on July 12, 1867, answers this objection. We do not doubt that you know well how vain and worthless this evasion is. For the Catholic Church has always regarded as schismatic those who obstinately oppose the lawful prelates of the Church and in particular, the chief shepherd of all. Schismatics avoid carrying out their orders and even deny their very rank. Since the faction from Armenia is like this, they are schismatics even if they had not yet been condemned as such by Apostolic authority. For the Church consists of the people in union with the priest, and the flock following its shepherd. Consequently the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church. Furthermore, as Our predecessor Pius VI warned in his Apostolic letter condemning the civil constitution of the clergy in France, discipline is often closely related to doctrine and has a great influence in preserving its purity. In fact, in many instances, the holy Councils have unhesitatingly cut off from the Church by their anathema those who have infringed its discipline.
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. Thus the bishops at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon clearly declared the supreme authority of the Apostolic See in their proceedings; then they humbly requested from Our predecessor St. Leo confirmation and support for their decrees, even those which concerned discipline.
Accordingly, then, unless they abandon the unchanging and unbroken tradition of the Church which is so clearly confirmed by testimonies of the Fathers, the neo-schismatics can in no way convince themselves that they are Catholics even if they declare themselves such. If We did not thoroughly know the clever and subtle deceits of heretics, it would be incomprehensible that the Ottoman regime still regards as Catholics people it knows to be cut off from the Catholic Church by Our judgment and authority. For if the Catholic religion is to continue safe and free in the Ottoman dominion as the Emperor has decreed, then the essence of this religion should also be allowed, for instance the primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff. Most men feel that the Church’s supreme head and shepherd should decide who are Catholics and who are not.
But the neo schismatics declare that they do not oppose the Catholic Church’s principles in the least. Their sole aim is to protect the rights of their churches and their nation and even the rights of their supreme Emperor; they falsely allege that We have infringed these rights. By this means, they fearlessly make us responsible for the present disorder. Exactly in this way did the Acacian schismatics act towards Our predecessor St. Gelasius. And previously the Arians falsely accused Liberius [!], also Our predecessor, to the Emperor Constantine, because Liberius refused to condemn St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, and refused to support their heresy [!]. For as the same holy Pontiff Gelasius wrote to the Emperor Anastasius on this matter, “a frequent characteristic of sick people is to reproach the doctors who recall them to health by appropriate measures rather than agree to desist from and condemn their own harmful desires.” These appear to be the main grounds on which the neo-schismatics gain their support and solicit the patronage of powerful men for their cause, most wicked as it is. Lest the faithful be led into error, We must deal with these grounds more fully than if We merely had to refute unjust accusations.
(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quartus Supra, nn. 6-10, 12-13, 15-16; underlining added.)
The parallels between the case of the Eastern schismatics Pope Pius IX was addressing and the errors put forth by the Society of St. Pius X are striking. Here we see clearly that it takes a lot more than merely recognizing someone as the legitimate Pope to obviate the danger of schism. Rather, as the same Pius IX said in another place:
What good is it to proclaim aloud the dogma of the supremacy of St. Peter and his successors? What good is it to repeat over and over declarations of faith in the Catholic Church and of obedience to the Apostolic See when actions give the lie to these fine words? Moreover, is not rebellion rendered all the more inexcusable by the fact that obedience is recognized as a duty? Again, does not the authority of the Holy See extend, as a sanction, to the measures which We have been obliged to take, or is it enough to be in communion of faith with this See without adding the submission of obedience, — a thing which cannot be maintained without damaging the Catholic Faith?
…In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.
It is a tragic testimony to the apostasy and confusion of our time that the one organization that is widely (albeit unjustly) thought to be the citadel or bulwark of traditional Catholicism, has so little resemblance to the genuine traditional Catholicism of the true Catholic Church.
For lots more evidence against the false, semi-traditionalist “resistance” position, you can listen to Bp. Sanborn’s recent conference, “Why Recognize and Resist is not Catholic”, and read our commentary here.
Image source: composite with elements from Wikimedia Commons (Fellay picture by KUW; cropped)
Licenses: public domain and CC BY-SA 4.0