Episcopal Vigilance Over Publications

It is also the duty of the bishops to prevent writings infected with Modernism or favourable to it from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No book or paper or periodical of this kind must ever be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be equal to that caused by immoral reading – nay, it would be greater for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not badly disposed themselves but ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the account of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to be read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in preparing the way for Modernism.

To give you some more general directions, Venerable Brethren, in a matter of such moment, We bid you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to put down writings of this kind, but the number of them has now grown to such an extent that it is impossible to censure them all. Hence it happens that the medicine sometimes arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops, putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the outcries of the wicked, gently by all means but constantly, do each his own share of this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII. in the Apostolic Constitution OfficiorumLet the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to prescribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses.

Pascendi Dominici Gregis, 50,51

“The Holy See neglects no means.”  Time for a bonfire, Aelianus?



44. For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

47. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus (1950)


Pius XII: he’ll set the boys on you…

What should we think of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre? Today is the 25th anniversary of his historic action at Econe, when he consecrated four bishops to continue his work after his death: in his own words, ‘to preserve tradition, while waiting for tradition to regain its rights in Rome’. By tradition he meant both divine tradition and the ecclesiastical traditions that are closely bound up with the former. With regard to divine tradition, it was not that he considered that the Roman Church had  defined things contrary to revelation, but rather that a modus agendi had been adopted by the Roman authorities, from the pope downwards, profoundly inimical to certain revealed truths. In particular, he considered that the new ecumenism and new inter-religious dialogue obscured the dogma ‘no salvation outside the Catholic Church’; that the post-conciliar way of addressing civil authorities obscured the right of Christ to reign over all human societies; that the new Mass, both in itself and in its implementation, obscured the Sacrifice; that the new canon law and the approach adopted by the holy see towards bishops’ conferences obscured the right of the pope to rule over the Church. As for ecclesiastical traditions, which are as it were the bark protecting the sap of divine tradition, I have mentioned elsewhere many of those that were imperilled and all but destroyed after Vatican II.

Archbishop Lefebvre’s response to this unprecedented situation was not to deny the authority of the pope or the diocesan bishops. The bishops whom he consecrated were expressly not given jurisdiction, since he asserted that he had no right to give them jurisdiction. His business was to pass on the power of order, so that there would be validly consecrated bishops committed to tradition in its fullness. Jean Madiran, the veteran French commentator on Catholic affairs, was not willing to take up a public position in favour of the archbishop, which caused a painful rupture between them. But that makes his words about the four bishops consecrated all the more significant:-

Ils n’ont pas la carrure de Mgr Lefebvre. Mais ils sont eveques. Ils ont de ce fait, dans l’Eglise, une presence qu’on ne peut meconnaitre. Leurs propos, leurs comportement, parfois ou souvent, peuvent etre juges plus ou moins regrettables. Mais leur presence maintient de facon militante un temoignage episcopal contre la disparition du catechisme romain et contre l’interdiction ou le mepris de la messe tridentine. Sans Mgr Lefebvre et sans ses successeurs, il y aurait quand meme des pretres, des laics, des institutions militants pour la messe et le catechisme traditionnels; il y en a eu, il y en a dehors de la FSSPX: sans eveques, ils seraient loin d’avoir le meme poids (“Histoire de la messe interdite”, fasc. 2, p. 62, 2009 – apologies for the lack of accents).

{They do not have the same stature as Archbishop Lefebvre, but at least they are bishops. From this simple fact, they have a presence within the Church which cannot be ignored. We may consider that their words or behaviour are sometimes unfortunate, or often unfortunate; and yet simply by existing, they ensure that a vigorous protest is kept alive among the world’s bishops against the disappearance of the Roman Catechism, and against the prohibition of the Tridentine Mass, or the tendency to despise it. Doubtless, even without Archbishop Lefebvre and his successors there would still be priests, lay-men and organisations fighting for the traditional Mass and the traditional catechism. There have been and still are such outside the SSPX. But without the bishops, all these would be far from having the weight that they do.}

We cannot say ‘the old rite {etc} would have died out without the archbishop’, since we do not know what God would have done had Marcel Lefebvre not acted as he did. Probably there is no such thing as ‘what God would have done’. But we can say that, as a matter of fact, it was he who preserved it. From his decision to ignore as invalid the suspensio a divinis in 1976, and from his later decision to ignore the papal command not to proceed with the consecrations, has flowed, as a matter of fact, the Fraternity of St Pius X, Le Barroux, Quattuor Abhinc Annos, Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, the Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, Summorum Pontificum, the Latin Mass Society training weeks… I should think there can be few priests in the world today saying the traditional Roman rite who could not trace out a shorter or longer lineage leading to the archbishop. Gesta Dei per Francos?

Of course, there is that matter of disobedience to a papal command, and that disputed question of whether the excommunication was incurred or not. To the latter question, it seems to me that it was not incurred, since canon law recognises the subjective conviction of necessity, even when erroneous and culpable, as excusing from this penalty. Who can confidently deny that the archbishop, whether or not erroneously or even culpably, thought that his action was necessary for the good of the Church? As for the former, St Thomas lays down two cases when it is not necessary to obey the command of a superior. Either his command is contrary to that of a higher superior, or else he is commanding in an area where he has no authority. The latter does not apply here, since the consecration of bishops is certainly within the authority of the pope. What of the former? The archbishop would have said, I believe, that he had, as a bishop, a general duty from God to hand on the episcopal grace to men who would uphold divine and ecclesiastical tradition at a time when these were gravely imperilled, and when there seemed to be no one else (apart from his co-consecrator) willing to act as he did. In other words, he would have argued that the pope’s command was contrary to that of the the pope’s own superior.

I do not think one can say a priori that it is impossible that things should ever become so bad that such a course of action would be justified. Whether things have in given circumstances become that bad is a judgement that a bishop must make before God according to such light as he possesses. Obviously it is about the gravest possible judgement that any man can be called on to make. It is not, I think, for those who were not in Marcel Lefebvre’s unique position to pass judgement upon his action. Light would have been offered him to see his way; whether he took it or not is the secret of God. And yet, for my part, when I think of the man and his life’s work, I cannot but echo those words that Cardinal Oddi is said to have spoken at the archbishop’s tomb in Econe on the 18th September, 1991: “Merci, Monseigneur”.

“The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino

Not in the 1960’s, according to Mgr Ronald Knox:-

Within the lifetime even of the younger of us, we have seen in England and in many other parts of the world a complete apostasy of the human conscience on matters relating to sex. We have seen an attempt, successful, unfortunately, in many minds, to substitute pleasure for duty as the chief end of the married state. And because the Catholic Church, almost alone now in her protest, obstinately insists that the marriage tie is indissoluble, and that the use of marriage is unlawful when artificial conditions render it unfruitful, the Catholic Church is becoming the object of a fresh attack, destined, I think, to be no less bitter than any of the attacks which have gone before it (“Reboam” in ‘A Retreat for Priests’, first published in 1946).

The phrase ‘partial’ or ‘imperfect communion’ has come into vogue in official Catholic discourse since Vatican II to refer to the relation which baptised non-Catholics have to the Church. It was put into Unitatis Redintegratio without being defined, as if it were an unproblematic phrase, being put forward there as the reason why the Catholic Church accepts such people as brothers (UR 3). The modern Catechism quotes this same passage of Vatican II, again without defining the phrase.

Obviously there is a sense in which baptised non-Catholics are closer to us than, say, Jews and Muslims. So St Augustine remarked that Catholics use the word fratres, brothers, of the Donatists, and not of the pagans. The problem is in the word ‘communion’. It suggests that the baptised non-Catholic as such has a share, albeit a lesser one, in the good things of the Church, in particular in the life of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now this can only be true when the non-Catholic in question is in good faith; if he is not, but is a formal heretic, he is to that extent in a worse position than the Jew or Muslim. It is probably a good idea in our dealings with a baptised non-Catholic to assume good faith, as an application of the principle that we should always interpret people’s behaviour in the best way possible. But are we to assume not just that some given baptised non-Catholic but that all such people are in good faith? How would that fit with the honour due to God, who has not hidden His church under a bushel? Yet it seems that some such assumption would have to be made if we are to make a blanket statement such as ‘Protestants are in partial communion with the Catholic Church’.

I suggest, then, that not the doctrine of Unitatis Redintegratio, but its vocabulary is unsatisfactory. Rather than ‘partial communion’ it might be better to say, ‘a baptismal relationship’.

There is a good article on this subject in the Spring edition of Sedes Sapientiae by Bernard Lucien, a priest and theologian of the archdiocese of Vaduz (Sedes Sapientiae is the journal of the Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer.) Fr Lucien distinguishes three ways in which the teaching authority either of the Pope or of the body of bishops with the Pope may be engaged:-

1. Full engagement. This means that a doctrine is taught directly or per seand as bound up with revelation (either directly revealed or as in some other way necessarily linked to what is revealed). Such teaching is infallible and so must be definitively accepted.

2. Partial but authoritative engagement (‘merely authentic’). Again this means that a doctrine is taught directly or per se, but here no link with revelation is explicitly affirmed. This is what calls for ‘religious assent’, even though the possibility of error is not absolutely excluded.

3. Merely pedagogical and not authoritative engagement. This is found when a doctrine is not taught directly and per se, but is presented by way of introduction, explanation, argument, illustration or inference with regard to what is being taught directly. The author considers that this 3rd category, which he reckons is present to a large extent in Vatican II, has, as its proper response, ‘careful attention’ (l’attention docile) rather than adhesion of the mind as such.

The distinction between 2 and 3 seems to me useful, and not often made.

So with regard to Vatican II, he argues:

A. The faithful must begin by a ‘global adhesion’ to the council, which, however, does not mean begin by accepting it all as unquestionable, but rather accepting it all as an act of the supreme magisterium (against certain SSPX views which hold that John XXIII and Paul VI showed in certain remarks that they didn’t wish to exercise the magisterium), in such a way that the reception of individual points must depend on the mode of magisterial engagement at that point.

B. Statement such as ‘Vatican II was infallible’ or ‘Vatican II was not infallible’ or ‘Dignitatis Humanae [say] was, or was not, infallible’ are misguided. It is not the council as a whole or documents as a whole which should be qualified in this way, but particular statements of doctrine within each document, judged according to the criteria 1-3 mentioned above.

C. Vatican II should be held to be teaching infallibly whenever it directly teaches a doctrine and presents it as revealed or linked to revelation. Otherwise the Church would fail in its God-given task of keeping revealed truth undistorted.  The author considers that the central affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae – whatever it is! – is thus infallibly taught.

D. Vatican II teaches in a non-infallible way when it affirms a doctrine but does not affirm that this doctrine is revealed or linked to revelation. The author considers that the sacramental nature of the episcopacy is an example of such a teaching. This of course raises the question that Aelianus raised recently, of what the point is of such teaching.

E. Vatican II makes statements that do not as such require the assent of the faithful but rather their respectful attention. The author suggests that the ‘personalist’ philosophy by which the central affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae is supported may be an example.

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