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Antipope Paul VI

Allocution to the Consistory of May 24, 1976

Giovanni Battista Montini as “Pope Paul VI”
(image credit: Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo)

Venerable Brothers,

Since the day on which, now more than three years ago, by the fixing of the number of Cardinal Electors, we filled the gaps created in your Sacred College, this latter has suffered the sad loss of our Brethren whom we all remember with affectionate sorrow, and on the other hand, some of its members have reached the established age at which they can no longer take part in the election of the Roman Pontiff. We have therefore called you together today in order to create new Cardinals, and at the same time in order to promulgate episcopal nominations, to ask you to pronounce your final vote concerning the canonization causes of three Beati, and finally to receive the postulations of the pallia.

These are traditional and well-known aspects of every Consistory yet they are not for this reason any less significant, in their ecclesial meaning and in their historical echoes, so as every time to fill with singular interest the celebration of this event of the Roman Church. Yes the Consistory is a particularly important and solemn moment. We see that you are aware of this through your participation and your presence: and for this above all we thank you.

I. To dwell upon the circumstance that today most draws the attention of the Catholic community. Indeed of the whole of public opinion—the creation of new Cardinals—we desire to emphasize that, by it, we have wished not to delay any longer in making provisions for the exigencies of the Sacred College, the more so since the publication of the Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, in which we underlined the particular and supreme tasks of its members, called to the election of the Pope. And in filling the gaps, as we said, we have followed the criteria that we have most at heart: the representative nature and international character of the Sacred College. The College wishes to and must present to the world the faithful image of the Holy Catholic Church gathered together from the four winds into the one fold of Christ (cf. Jn 10: 16), open to all peoples and to all cultures, in order to assimilate their genuine values and make them serve the good cause of the Gospel, which is the glory of God and the uplifting of man. Thus—besides the due recognition of very faithful servants of the Apostolic See in the Papal Representations and in the Roman Curia—we have thought first of all and above all of the residential Sees, turning our gaze particularly to the young communities with a bright and promising future, together with and on the same level as those with an illustrious past and age-old history, rich in good works and sanctity. It is like an overall gaze that embraces the whole horizon of the world, where the Church lives, loves, hopes, suffers and snuggles; not one, from the extreme points of the horizon or even from the farthest lands, is absent. If the representative nature of the Eastern Churches seems today reduced, this does not mean any lessening of our esteem and consideration for those regions, which have been the cradle of the Church which still preserve with jealous care her very precious treasures of piety, of liturgy and of doctrine and which find in their Pastors, the Patriarchs who are most dear to us, together with their collaborators in the respective holy patriarchal synod, encouragement, light, and the power of cohesion. Indeed, we are pleased to take this occasion to bear witness to them of our more than affectionate benevolence, assuring them of our remembrance, of our veneration and of our prayers.

II. The Consistory, as we said, is a particularly serious and solemn moment for the Church’s life, which takes place in time. And we cannot let pass this occasion, which brings us into contact with you, without in your presence dealing with aspects and questions that are very close to our heart and that we consider of great importance, nor without sharing with you the feelings of our inmost being. They are feelings of gratitude and joy, on the one hand, but also of anxiety and sorrow on the other.

1) The first feeling springs from that innate optimism—based upon the indefectible promises of Christ (cf. Mt 28:20; Jn 16:33) and upon the noting of phenomena ever new and consoling—which habitually fills our heart; it is the vitality and youth of the Church, of which we have so many signs. We have had the proof of it in the recent Holy Year, which still radiates its influence on our spirit. The essence of the Christian life is in the spiritual life, in that supernatural life which is a gift of God, and we have the greatest comfort in seeing it developing in so many countries, in the testimony of faith, in the liturgy, in prayer rediscovered and enjoyed once more, in the joy preserved in the clarity of a spiritual outlook and in purity of heart.

We also see developing ever more and more love of the brethren, which is inseparable from love of God, which inspires the growing commitment of so many of our sons and daughters, and their profound solidarity with the poor, with those on the margins of society, with the defenceless.

We see the lines traced out by the recent Council directing and sustaining the continual effort of adherence to Christ’s Gospel, in an effort for Christian authenticity, in the exercise of the theological virtues.

We see with deep admiration the flowering of missionary undertakings and, above all, we have undoubted signs that, after a brief halt, also the most delicate and serious sector as is that of priestly and religious vocations, is having an undoubted revival in various countries.

We see in all the continents many young people responding generously and concretely to the instructions of the Gospel, and showing an effort of absolute consistency between the heights of the Christian ideal and the duty of translating it into practice.

Yes, venerable Brothers, the Holy Spirit is truly at work in all spheres, even in those that seemed most desolate.

2) But there are also reasons for sorrow which we certainly do not wish either to conceal or to minimize. They spring from the prominence of a polarity which is often irreducible in some of its excesses and which manifests in various areas a superficial immaturity, or a headstrong obstinacy—in essence a bitter deafness to calls to that healthy balance which reconciles tensions, stemming from the great lessons of the Council, now more than ten years ago.

a) On the one hand there are those who, under the pretext of a greater fidelity to the Church and the Magisterium, systematically refuse the teaching of the Council itself, its application and the reforms that stem from it, its gradual application by the Apostolic See and the Episcopal Conferences, under our authority, willed by Christ. Discredit is cast upon the authority of the Church in the name of a Tradition, to which respect is professed only materially and verbally. The faithful are drawn away from the bonds of obedience to the See of Peter and to their rightful Bishops; today’s authority is rejected in the name of yesterday’s. And the fact is all the more serious in that the opposition of which we are speaking is not only encouraged by some priests, but is led by a Prelate, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who nevertheless still has our respect.

It is so painful to take note of this; but how can we not see in such an attitude—whatever may be these people’s intentions—the placing of themselves outside obedience and communion with the Successor of Peter and therefore outside the Church?

For this, unfortunately, is the logical consequence, when, that is, it is held as preferable to disobey with the pretext of preserving one’s faith intact, and of working in one’s way for the preservation of the Catholic Church, while at the same time refusing to give her effective obedience. And this is said openly! It is even affirmed that the Second Vatican Council is not binding; that the faith would also be in danger because of the reforms and post-conciliar directives, that one has the duty to disobey in order to preserve certain traditions. What traditions? Is it for this group, not the Pope, not the College of Bishops, not the Ecumenical Council, to decide which among the innumerable traditions must be considered as the norm of faith? As you see, Venerable Brothers, such an attitude sets itself up as a judge of that divine will which placed Peter and his lawful Successors at the head of the Church to confirm the brethren in the faith, and to feed the universal flock (cf. Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15 ff.), and which established him as the guarantor and custodian of the deposit of faith.

And this is all the more serious, in particular, when division is introduced precisely where congregavit nos in unum Christi amor [the love of Christ has gathered us into one], in the Liturgy and the Eucharistic Sacrifice, by the refusing of obedience to the norms laid down in the liturgical sphere. It is in the name of Tradition that we ask all our sons and daughters, all the Catholic communities, to celebrate with dignity and fervor the renewed liturgy. The adoption of the new Ordo Missae [order of the Mass] is certainly not left to the free choice of priests or faithful. The instruction of 14 June 1971 has provided for, with the authorization of the Ordinary, the celebration of the Mass in the old form only by aged and infirm priests, who offer the divine Sacrifice sine popolo [without people attending]. The new Ordo was promulgated to take the place of the old, after mature deliberation, following upon the requests of the Second Vatican Council. In no different way did our holy Predecessor Pius V make obligatory the Missal reformed under his authority, following the Council of Tent.

With the same supreme authority that comes from Christ Jesus, we call for the same obedience to all the other liturgical, disciplinary and pastoral reforms which have matured in these years in the implementation of the Council decrees. Any initiative which tries to obstruct them cannot claim the prerogative of rendering a service to the Church; in fact it causes the Church serious damage.

Various times, directly and through our collaborators and other friendly persons, we have called the attention of Archbishop Lefebvre to the seriousness of his behaviour, the irregularity of his principal present initiatives, the inconsistency and often falsity of the doctrinal positions on which he bases this behaviour and these initiatives, and the damage that accrues to the entire Church because of them.

It is with profound sadness but with paternal hope that we once more turn to this confrère of ours, to his collaborators and to those who have let themselves be carried away by them. Oh, certainly, we believe that many of these faithful—at least in the beginning—were in good faith: we also understand their sentimental attachment to habitual forms of worship or of discipline that for a long time had been for them a spiritual support and in which they had found spiritual sustenance. But we are confident that they will reflect with serenity, without closed minds, and they will admit that they can find today the support and sustenance that they are seeking in the renewed forms that the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and we ourself have decreed as being necessary for the good of the Church, her progress in the modern world, and her unity. We therefore exhort yet once again all these brethren and sons and daughters of ours; we beseech them to become aware of the profound wounds that they otherwise cause to the Church, and we invite them again to reflect on Christ’s serious warnings about the unity of the Church (cf. Jn 17:21 ff) and on the obedience that is due to the lawful Pastor placed by him over the universal flock, as a sign of the obedience due to the Father and to the Son (cf. Lk 10:16). We await them with an open heart, with arms ready to embrace them; may they know how to rediscover in humility and edification, to the joy of the whole People of God, the way of unity and of love!

b) On the other hand, in a different direction as far as the ideological position is concerned, but equally a cause of deep sorrow, there are those who, mistakenly believing that they are continuing along the lines of the Council, have put themselves in a position of preconceived and sometimes irreducible criticism of the Church and her institutions.

Therefore, with equal firmness we must say that we do not accept the attitude of

— those who believe themselves authorized to create then own liturgy, sometimes limiting the Sacrifice of the Mass or the sacraments to the celebration of their own lives or of their own struggle, or even to the symbol of their own fraternity; or who illegitimately practice intercommunion;

— those who minimize the doctrinal teaching in catechetics or distort it according to the preference of the interests, pressures or needs of people, following trends which profoundly obscure the Christian message, as we have pointed out in the Apostolic Exhortation Quinque iam Anni, of 8 December 1970, five years after the close of the Council (cf. AAS 63, 1971, p. 99);

— those who pretend to ignore the living Tradition of the Church, from the Fathers to the teachings of the Magisterium, and reinterpret the doctrine of the Church, and the Gospel itself, spiritual realities, the divinity of Christ, his Resurrection or the Eucharist, depriving these practically of their content and thus creating a new gnosis, and in a certain way introducing into the Church ‘‘free examination.” This is all the more dangerous when it is done by those who have the very high and delicate mission of teaching Catholic theology;

— those who reduce the specific function of the priestly ministry;

— those who sadly transgress the laws of the Church, or the ethical exigencies demanded by them;

— those who interpret theological life as the organization of a society here below, reducing it indeed to a political action, and adopting for this purpose a spirit, methods, and practices contrary to the Gospel, and the point is reached of confusing the transcendent message of Christ, his announcement of the Kingdom of God, his law of love among people—founded on the ineffable paternity of God—with ideologies which essentially negate this message and substitute for it an absolutely antithetical doctrinal position, propounding a hybrid linking of two irreconcilable worlds, as is recognized by the very theorists of the other side.

Such Christians are not very numerous, it is true, but they make much noise, believing too easily that they are in a position to interpret the needs of the entire Christian people or the irreversible direction of history. They cannot by doing this appeal to the Second Vatican Council, because its correct interpretation and its application do not lend themselves to abuses of this sort. Nor can they appeal to the exigencies of the apostolate to bring closer those who are distant or who do not believe: the true apostle is sent by the Church to give witness to the doctrine and life of the Church herself. The leaven must be spread through the entire dough, but it must remain the leaven of the Gospel. Otherwise it too becomes corrupt together with the world.

Venerable Brothers! We have wished to confide these reflections to you, aware as we are of the hour that strikes for the Church. She is and will always be the standard lifted up before the nations (cf. Is 5:26; 11:12), for she has the mission of giving to the world which looks to her, sometimes with an attitude of challenge, the truth of that faith which sheds light on the world’s destiny, the hope which alone does not deceive (Rom 5:5), the charity that saves from the selfishness that under various forms tries to pervade the world and stifle it. This is certainly not the moment for abandonment, desertion or concessions; much less is it the moment for fear. Christians are simply called to be themselves, and they will be themselves to the extent that they are faithful to the Church and to the Council.

We do not think that anyone will have doubts about the sum of indications and encouragements which, during these years of our pontificate, we have given to the pastors and to the People of God, indeed to the entire world. We are grateful to those who have made a programme of these teachings, which have been given with an intention ever sustained by earnest hope and a serene optimism that is not divorced from concrete realism. If today we have dwelt more at length on certain negative aspects, it is because the very singular circumstance and your benevolent trust has made us consider this as opportune. In effect, the essence of the prophetic charism for which the Lord has promised us the assistance of his Spirit is that of vigilance, of indicating the dangers, of searching for the signs of dawn on the dark horizon of the night: Custos, quid de nocte? Custos quid de nocte? [Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?] These are the words that the prophet puts into our mouth (Is 21:11). Until the serene dawn restores joy to the world, we will continue to raise our voice for this mission that has been confided to us. You, our friends and closest collaborators, are able above all and better than anyone else to echo these sentiments among so many of our Brethren and sons and daughters. And while we prepare to celebrate the Lord who, with the signs of his passion and his glorious Resurrection, ascends to the right hand of the Father, we must, looking up to the “open heavens” (Acts 7:56), remain full of hope, joy and courage. In the name of the Lord! In this holy name, we bless you all.

[Source of Italian original: Vatican.va Web Site]
[Translation taken from L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, n. 23 (427), June 3, 1976. Italics given.]

Image source: alamy.com (Keystone Press)
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