Tradidi quod et accepi

“Today, by consecrating these bishops, I am convinced that I am keeping alive Tradition, that is to say, the Catholic Church.”

'Tradidi enim vobis, in primis quod et accepi"  1 Cor. 15, 3.
‘Tradidi enim vobis, in primis quod et accepi”
1 Cor. 15, 3.

In one word, the life of Tradition is a life of contemplation of the Eternal Truth and love of the Eternal Good–not a constant change! (Abp. Marcel Lefebvre)

Twenty-seven years ago today, on June 30, 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X, and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, bishop emeritus of Campos, Brazil, consecrated four bishops at the seminary of Econe, Switzerland, in the presence of 10,000 faithful and hundreds of priests and religious.

In the July, 1988 issue of The Angelus, Rev.  Father Francois Laisney, then District Superior of the Society in the United States wrote about the historical Episcopal Consecrations. The following are some excerpts. I believe the entire article is available online at The Angelus Archives.

Christ has given to His Church the complete Deposit of Faith. Each individual may deepen his knowledge of this Deposit, but the Church had it all since its beginning. The Church may defend it more and more explicitly against the negators and the heresies, but neither adds to it, nor loses any parcel of this Eternal Truth.

The Church possesses, from the beginning, the Perfect Example of Virtue: the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. All the saints have imitated Him; we have to follow in their footsteps. The way to heaven is not to be invented; there is one, and only one; it is Our Lord Jesus Christ: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me!”

Therefore there can be no change in the Church’s morals, which are all summed up in these words of Our Lord: “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). The Divine Perfection is eternal and immutable. In heaven the saints “rest” in God, thus without changes, sharing Divine Eternity. On the contrary, in hell, the damned will be tormented by unrest: the unceasing succession and changes of torments, one worse than the other. Folly of those who love change for the sake of change! They might have an eternity of changes… in hell!

If there is some change in the Church as such, it is her wonderful capability of putting into practice her eternal principles to meet the needs of each era. This is particularly manifested in the many religious orders which have sprung up throughout the whole history of the Church. All of them follow the same Model: Jesus Christ, and the same principles of Faith and morals, but adapt them to their particular circumstances. In this regard, one can see Tradition living in the work of Archbishop Lefebvre and all the other traditional foundations. They have all come to the Eternal Principles to receive Eternal Life from them.

In one word, the life of Tradition is a life of contemplation of the Eternal Truth and love of the Eternal Good–not a constant change!

Injustices of the Condemnation
Those who condemn us, try to accuse us of not being faithful to the “living” Tradition. I hope the above reflections show that the true faithful to the Living Tradition are those who keep it and live it, without adulterating it with the spirit of the world. This is the very meaning of the word “faithful,” i.e., the one who keeps the Faith! Not the one who changes it! Liberal principles, which the Popes have repeatedly condemned, shall never be able to become a part of the Catholic Faith. In a time when so many have tried to marry the Church and the Revolution, it is urgent to keep Tradition, and to provide for its continuation. Therefore, according to the very principles of Canon Law, in cases of real emergency, there can be no sanction. Any sanction is unjust, since its motive is to destroy the Tradition of the Church, to refuse it the means to continue.

If any one still had doubts, the Good Lord in His divine providence, arranged some enlightening coincidences. On the very same day, June 30th, Rome was publishing a directory for “Celebrations Without Priests.” When Archbishop Lefebvre was providing for the continuation of the Catholic Priesthood, Rome was providing for the absence of priests! What will be these celebrations? They will be much like Protestant services.

Another coincidence, in the widely diffused USA Today, of July 1, the article announcing the Roman sanction against Archbishop Lefebvre was just above an article concerning Archbishop Hunthausen[5], entitled “Masses for Homosexuals”; the Archbishop of Seattle was resuming this abominable practice! If one had doubts about Archbishop Lefebvre’s rights, he had just to read a little further to get the answer: there is no justice in this current situation!

And Our Attitude Now?
“Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” These words of St. Paul are for each one of us. When evil seems to reign, we must not be discouraged and fall into bitterness. Our Lord, at the height of the hatred of the Jews and compromises of Pilate, did not curse, but rather prayed for His enemies: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” This must be our attitude: pray for the Church, pray for the Pope, pray for the bishops, that they may come back, as the Apostles who had abandoned Our Lord on Good Friday came back to the Faith on Easter Sunday. But do not follow them in their abandon; stay at the foot of the Cross with the few faithful to Christ, to the Sacrifice of Calvary, to the Sacrifice of the Mass.

This is a time for heroism–heroic faith and heroic charity. “Do not render evil for evil, nor cursing for cursing, but, on the contrary, blessing” (I Pet. 111:9). “Love your enemies, do good to your enemies, do good to those who hate you: and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you” (Mt. 5:44).

Indeed, Tradition is not only the handing down through the centuries of the Deposit of Faith, but also the example of the holiness of Our Lord, the examples of the saints. May the Blessed Virgin Mary help all of us to be faithful to the whole of Tradition: to the Truth and holiness of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are what we have always been—Catholics carrying on. That is all.
We are what we have always been—Catholics carrying on. That is all.

The four new bishops, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais (born 1945, France), Richard Williamson (born 1940, England), Alfonso de Galarreta (born 1957, Spain), and Bernard Fellay (born 1958, Switzerland), were chosen by Archbishop Lefebvre among the members of the Society of St. Pius X because “they seemed to us the most apt, whilst being in circumstances and in functions which permit them more easily to fulfill their episcopal ministry, to confirm your children, and to be able to confer ordinations in our various seminaries,” as he explained in the sermon of the ceremony of consecrations.

Neither schismatic nor excommunicated
In the same sermon, Archbishop Lefebvre emphasized the extraordinary circumstances justifying his grave decision:

It is not for me to know when Tradition will regain its rights in Rome, but I think it is my duty to provide the means of doing that which I shall call “Operation Survival,” operation survival for Tradition. Today, this day, is “Operation Survival.

If I had made this deal with Rome, by continuing with the agreements we had signed, and by putting them into practice, it would have been “Operation Suicide.” There is no choice, we must survive. That is why today, by consecrating these bishops, I am convinced that I am keeping alive Tradition, that is to say, the Catholic Church.”

One year after the consecrations, in an interview published in the July-August 1989 issue of the SSPX’s magazine in France, Fideliter, the archbishop maintained that

We should have no hesitation or scruples with regard to these episcopal consecrations. We are neither schismatic nor excommunicated, and we are not against the pope. We are not against the Catholic Church. We are not creating a parallel Church. All that is absurd. We are what we have always been—Catholics carrying on. That is all.”

The role of our bishops
Their ministerial function being limited to the administration of the sacraments of holy orders and confirmation, our bishops neither received nor claimed any episcopal jurisdiction over priests or faithful.

In his 1989 interview by Fideliter, Archbishop Lefebvre stated that:

The four bishops are there to give ordinations and confirmations, to replace me and to do what I did for several years. For the rest, it is clearly the district superiors who are given a territory which is theirs and who, as far as they can, go to the help of the souls calling for them. For these souls have the right to have the sacraments and the Truth, the right to be saved. And, so we go to help them, and it is the request of these souls which grants us the right, as foreseen by Canon Law, to minister to them.”

In his letter to the four candidates, August 29, 1987, Archbishop Lefebvre had already explained that

The main purpose of my passing on the episcopacy is that the grace of priestly orders be continued, for the true Sacrifice of the Mass to be continued, and that the grace of the sacrament of confirmation be bestowed upon children and upon the faithful who will ask you for it.”

Archbishop Lefebvre insisted on their attachment to the Holy See and on their service to his priestly Society:

I beseech you to remain attached to the See of Peter, to the Roman Church, Mother and Mistress of all Churches, keeping in its entirety the Catholic Faith as expressed in the various creeds of the Faith, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, in conformity with what you were taught in your seminary. Remain faithful in the handing down of this Faith so that the Kingdom of Our Lord may come.

Finally, I beseech you to remain attached to the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, to remain profoundly united amongst yourselves, in submission to the Society’s Superior General, in the Catholic Faith of all time, remembering the words of St. Paul to the Galatians (1:8-9): ‘But even if we or an angel from heaven were to teach you a different gospel from the one we have taught you, let him be anathema.’

The Roman reaction to the consecrations
On July 1, 1988, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, signed a decree of excommunication announcing that Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop de Castro Mayer, and the four new bishops had performed a schismatic act and excommunicated themselves latae sententiae (automatically) in accordance with the provisions of canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law:

“A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”

The following day, July 2, 1988, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic letter motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei adflicta, confirming the excommunications and the existence of a schism.

The Society of St. Pius X has always contested the juridical validity of the censure. Besides other considerations, the excommunication was not incurred because a person who violates a law out of necessity is not subject to a penalty (canon 1323 §4), and even if there is no state of necessity, when one inculpably thought the opposite he would not incur the penalty (canon 1323 §7); and if one culpably thought there was such a state of necessity, he would still incur no automatic penalties (canon 1324 §3).

Accusation of schism
As for the accusation of schism, Archbishop Lefebvre always recognized the pope’s authority. Consecrating a bishop without pontifical mandate would be a schismatic act if one pretended to confer not just the fullness of the priesthood but also jurisdiction, a governing power over a particular flock. Only the pope, who has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, can appoint a pastor to a flock and empower him to govern it. But Archbishop Lefebvre never presumed to confer anything but the full priestly powers of holy orders.

Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Canon Law, in La Repubblica, October 7, 1988, stated that the consecrations performed by Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer did not constitute an act of schism (“The mere fact of consecrating a bishop is not in itself a schismatic act”).

The Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Catholic Institute of Paris, Fr. Patrick Valdrini, confirmed that “it is not the consecration of a bishop that creates a schism; what consummates the schism is to confer upon that bishop an apostolic mission” (Valeurs Actuelles, July 4, 1988).

And Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has declared, on at least five separate occasions in public interviews (30 Giorni n. 9, 2005), that the Society of St. Pius X is not in a situation of formal schism. He has also affirmed that “the bishops, priests, and faithful of the Society of St. Pius X are not schismatics.” (Die Tagespost, February 8, 2007)

Finally, on January 21, 2009, a decree of the Congregation for Bishops, signed by its Prefect, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, based on the faculties expressly granted by Pope Benedict XVI, declared the decree of July 1, 1988, to be deprived of any juridical effect. (Source)

The above posting is simply to honor the very brave act of Archbishop Lefebvre 27 years ago today. It is not my intention to defend Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions, because they do not need defending. We who have the Latin Mass today, owe this brave and saintly man such a huge debt of gratitude, for his actions, by saving tradition, saved the Church, saved the faith. 

Remember, pray the Rosary and confound the devil!