The little-known Encyclical ‘Quartus Supra’…

Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of LEFEBVRIST Errors (1873)

On January 6, 1873, the magnificent Pope Pius IX published the encyclical letter Quartus Supra. It is addressed to “Our Venerable Brothers Anthony Peter IX, Patriarch of Cilicia, and the Archbishops, Bishops, Clergy and Laity, Our Beloved Children of the Armenian Rite Who are in Loving Communion with the Apostolic See.”

This beautiful magisterial text concerns the threat of an emerging schism in the Armenian church and refutes the specious argumentation brought forward by those trying to justify their disobedience while still claiming to be loyal subjects of the Pope.

What makes this papal text of particular relevance in our own day is that the false arguments of the Armenian schismatics resemble to a remarkable degree the very arguments made roughly 110 years later by the Society of St. Pius X of Abp. Marcel Levebvre (1905-1991). While the SSPX, established in 1970, has reverted to a much more conciliary attitude towards the Vatican in the last 10-20 years, the foundational arguments justifying their erroneous theological position have never been withdrawn, and they have essentially and necessarily remained the same since the definitive break with the Vatican in 1988. It is those arguments their entire self-governing edifice is built on, and it stands or falls with them.

In the foreseeable future, the SSPX will inevitably face once again the question of consecrating more bishops. On June 30, 1988, Abp. Lefebvre consecrated four bishops not only without the permission of the entity he recognized as the Holy See, but directly against the express prohibition of the man he recognized as the true Pope (“Saint” John Paul II at the time). According to Novus Ordo church law, Abp. Lefebvre and those he consecrated incurred an automatic excommunication for this act, and John Paul II declared them to be guilty of the crime of schism on that account (see “Apostolic Letter” Ecclesia Dei, nn. 3, 4, 5c).

In response, Abp. Lefebvre and his SSPX doubled down on their defiance. They naturally refused to accept the excommunications as valid and declared that

we 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.

(Source: “Open Letter to Cardinal Gantin”, July 6, 1988)

The main error of Lefebvrism is its attempt to square the theological circle: The Lefebvrists and similar recognize-and-resist trads would like to believe, worship, and act in accordance with what the entire world knew to be the Roman Catholic religion until the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. They want nothing to do with the frightful novelties, heresies, and other errors of the Second Vatican Council or the post-conciliar magisterium, which they (rightly) recognize amount to, at least in fact, a new religion.

Per traditional Catholic doctrine on the Church and the Papacy, however, it is impossible that the true Catholic hierarchy in union with the true Pope should profess, teach, or promulgate a new religion or any other kind of error that would be harmful to souls. If that were possible, the Church would not only be useless, it would be downright dangerous and, in the final analysis, no different from a heretical sect. In no wise could it credibly claim to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), as which Christ founded it.

Instead of drawing this theologically necessary conclusion, however, that therefore the putative ecclesiastical authority that gave to the world these errors, heresies, harmful disciplines, and sacrilegious sacramental rites cannot be the legitimate Roman Catholic authorities who act with the authority of Christ — which is essentially the position of Sedevacantism — the SSPX and similar groups have insisted on recognizing the apostate pseudo-hierarchs as legitimate and simply refuse to assent to their false doctrines. In so doing they have effectively established a parallel church, ideed a self-governing “authority” that considers itself the final arbiter of all disputes, and de facto presumes to pass judgment even on the (putative) Pope and Holy See. But that is a theological absurdity in no wise compatible with traditional Catholic doctrine. For an organization that purportedly exists precisely to uphold that very traditional Catholic doctrine, that is an immense irony. In a way, then, the SSPX refutes itself, so to speak.

Let us now finally turn to Pope Pius IX’s Quartus Supra, wherein he refutes and condemns in essence the error of Lefebvrism (which is a kind of Gallicanism) in response to the Armenian schism.

Here are some highlights taken from the encyclical letter. Take a look and see just how similar the condemned ideas are to those of the SSPX and recognize-and-resist traditionalism in general, and how manifestly the true Catholic position restated by the Pope is denied by them:

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 (mostly vis-à-vis John Paul II) 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.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quae in Patriarchatu [Sept. 1, 1876], nn. 23-24; in Acta Sanctae Sedis X [1877], pp. 3-37; English taken from Papal Teachings: The Church, nn. 433-434; underlining added.)

It turns out that recognizing the one to whom submission is refused as the legitimate ecclesiastical authority is not a guarantee against schism, it is in fact one of the conditions for true schism, as Fr. Ignatius Szal points out in his canonical study on the question

To constitute the delict of schism in the strict sense, the following conditions are required:

1) One must withdraw directly (expressly) or indirectly (by means of one’s actions) from obedience to the Roman Pontiff, and separate oneself from ecclesiastical communion with the rest of the faithful, even though one does not join a separate schismatical sect;

2) one’s withdrawal must be made with obstinacy and rebellion;

3) the withdrawal must be made in relation to those things by which the unity of the Church is constituted; and

4) despite this formal disobedience the schismatic must recognize the Roman Pontiff as the true pastor of the Church, and he must profess as an article of faith that obedience is due the Roman Pontiff.

(Rev. Ignatius Szal, The Communication of Catholics with Schismatics [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1948], p. 2; underlining added. Full disclosure: We earn a commission for purchases made through this link.)

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 last remaining citadel or bulwark of traditional Catholicism, bears so little resemblance to the actual traditional Catholicism of the past.

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