The Joy of Clarity
Commentary on the Declaration of the SSPX’s General Chapter
SSPX.org is pleased to offer this commentary from The Remnant newspaper written by columnist, Brian M. McCall (professor of law who spoke at the 2011 Angelus Press Conference).
The Declaration makes clear that the Society of St. Pius X embraces the authority of the Pope, which is in stark contrast to virtually the rest of the Church which tend to deny it in favor of democratic collegiality.
In my open letter to the Bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, of May 15, 2012, (reprinted in The Remnant June 15, 2012 edition), I noted that I had thus far refrained from commenting on the ongoing discussion between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X. My reason was that for the past nine months the details of the discussion have been shrouded in confidentiality. In an attempt to minimize undue and untoward outside pressure, both sides had kept the specific details of the exchanged documentation confidential. The past few months, which have seen premature leaking of information, have demonstrated the prudence of such an attempt.
Yet, following the General Chapter of the Society of St. Pius X we now have before us some concrete information on where the Society (but not the Vatican) stands on the issues. The document is a model of precise and clear language and a careful reading leaves us with a firm understanding of the position of the Society, which turns out to be the same position of her founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, which she has maintained for forty years. I believe one day this Declaration will be looked upon as having the same importance as the 1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre. The Declaration dispels many of the rumors and myths which have been multiplying for weeks on the internet like the bubonic plague.
The following points emerge from the Declaration.
The Society is Unified in Her Mission
The devil seems to have been focusing efforts lately on attempting to harass the Society from without and within. The enemies of her work have been attempting to sow seeds of division and disharmony sometimes fostered, perhaps unwittingly, by some with apparent goodwill thinking they were trying to help the Society. These efforts aimed at creating an environment of fear and instability. It was in response to this perceived escalation of emotion that I wrote to their Excellencies from the Eternal City back in May. My request: A meeting of the Society’s leaders that would publicly reassure the priests and faithful that notwithstanding the need for open and frank discussion of the details they stood united on the foundation of the Catholic principles that gave birth to the Society.
The General Chapter has fulfilled this need and should reassure priests and faithful alike of the strong sense of unity among the leaders of the Society. The Superior General met with the “bishops, superiors, and most senior members of the Society” and concluded that after “frank exchanges of views” they had “overcome the difficulties which the Society has encountered in recent times. We have recovered our profound unity in its essential mission: to preserve and defend the Catholic Faith, to form good priests, and to strive towards the restoration of Christendom.”
In the midst of all the diplomatic communiqués and Vatican maneuvering, the Chapter humbly admitted that it is easy to get lost in the details (as many of us came to understand over the past nine months). This Declaration seems to break through this haze of confusion which gave rise to the acknowledged difficulties.
The best way to overcome confusion is the Catholic way – return to core principles and purposes. The Society thus re-established a deep bond of unity based on the threefold mission of her founder, Archbishop Lefebvre: the defense of the Faith, the proper formation of priests and the commitment to rebuild the visible Reign of Christ the King. Notwithstanding the importance of one day seeing the reversal of the injustice of legal persecution of the Society, the Declaration clarifies that this objective is not the raison d’ệtre of the Society. Righting this legal wrong will and must occur some day but it is only accidental to the mission of the Society which is nothing else than offering these three-fold gifts to the Church for the good of the Church. Such a clear declaration of adherence to first principles should cause all inside and outside the Society to see that the clouds of the past nine months have passed, leaving in view this clear fidelity to the original three-fold mission of Archbishop Lefebvre.
The Society Adheres Completely to the Catholic Church and to Eternal Rome Mistress and Mother
Unlike the heads of dioceses, universities and religious institutes who spout error and heresy on almost a daily basis all around the world, only the Society of St. Pius X is being hounded to make a public declaration of Faith. Yet, a simple proposition – I believe all the Truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because You have revealed them – seemed to become a major jumble of diplomatic maneuvering, with the Vatican sending mixed signals about what this declaration needed to say. It appeared the Vatican was pre-occupied with pleasing everyone, those critical of Vatican II and the progressives wedded to its novelty and expansion. The Society has cleared the diplomatic air by issuing a simple profession of Faith sounding in traditional idiom and vocabulary:
[W]e reaffirm our faith in the Roman Catholic Church, the unique Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ, outside of which there is no salvation nor possibility to find the means leading to salvation; our faith in its monarchical constitution, desired by Our Lord himself, by which the supreme power of government over the universal Church belongs only to the Pope, Vicar of Christ on earth; our faith in the universal Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of both the natural and the supernatural orders, to Whom every man and every society must submit.
This statement really says it all in absolute clarity as a Profession of Faith particularly responsive to our times. It specifically reaffirms the three dogmas most under attack in our time: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, the Monarchial – not collegial – nature of the Church, and the Kingship of Christ to which all men and nations must submit and without which even natural virtue and peace are impossible. These three dogmas are effectively denied by the Liberty (possibility of salvation or elements of salvation outside the Church), Equality (Denial of Christ’s hierarchal rule) and Fraternity (collegial government of the Church) promoted by the party of Vatican II or the “French Revolution in the Church”, to paraphrase Cardinal Suenens.
Instead of harassing Bishop Fellay to sign a doctrinal preamble, the Vatican should require every superior, university president and ordinary to sign the above quoted statement to remain in office. I sense there would be quite a few vacancies as a result!
How does this powerful reaffirmation of the Faith relate to the issue of our day, the issue at the root of the crisis around us – “a Church in crisis and a world which distances itself farther from God and His law with each passing day”? The Declarations make clear that it is both the novelties of the Second Vatican Council as well as the practical changes that followed:
The Society continues to uphold the declarations and the teachings of the constant Magisterium of the Church in regard to all the novelties of the Second Vatican Council which remain tainted with errors, and also in regard to the reforms issued from it. We find our sure guide in this uninterrupted Magisterium which, by its teaching authority, transmits the revealed Deposit of Faith in perfect harmony with the truths that the entire Church has professed, always and everywhere.
This statement is very carefully worded and must be read as such. First, it does not say that the Church has officially promulgated error, a statement which would deny the infallibility of the Church. It does not reject the entire Council as erroneous or even itself as containing heresy. It states that the only way to evaluate the “novelties” of the Second Vatican Council is through the “declarations and the teachings of the constant Magisterium of the Church.” Note: it is not, the Declaration makes clear, the Magisterium of the Church which contains errors but that only the novelties are “tainted” with error. Their solution is nothing other than the advice of St. Vincent of Lerins which has stood the test of time for a millennium and a half:
We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.
Later in the same work St. Vincent explains what this rule means for the Church:
But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s.
By the Holy Father’s own admission, Vatican II does contain novelties. Whereas the Holy Father wishes to try to square the circle of finding novelties to be in continuity with their opposite, the Society merely repeats the canon of St. Vincent when it answers the question of how to deal with novelties – hold to what has always and everywhere been believed or in other words “the declarations and the teachings of the constant Magisterium of the Church.” This is all we can do in the face of admitted novelty.
The Society is Not Schismatic
For virtually its entire forty-two year history, the enemies of the Society have hurled the calumny of “schism” at her in an attempt to discredit her. Usually those hurling the term can barely define it. Schism is an act of the will. To be in schism means one denies the authority of the Pope and the bishops united to him and thereby chooses to cut himself off from the Church. Unlike being in a state of error which can occur unintentionally, one cannot unintentionally become schismatic.
One must cut oneself off from the Church knowingly and willingly. The Declaration makes clear that the Society clearly embraces the authority of the Pope (in fact, they do so in contrast to virtually the rest of the Church who deny it in favor of democratic collegiality). The key profession of Faith quoted above specifically declares “the supreme power of government over the universal Church belongs only to the Pope, Vicar of Christ on earth.” I challenge anyone to find an historical example of a known schismatic who publicly declared such. There will be none; for this statement is the direct opposite of the intention of schism. The prayer to Our Lady with which the declaration closes also contains this reaffirmation of the intention to avoid schism:
May she deign to keep in the integrity of the Faith, in the love of the Church, in devotion to the Successor of Peter, all the members of the Society of St. Pius X and all the priests and faithful who labor alongside the Society, in order that she may both keep us from schism and preserve us from heresy.
Hardly the words of schismatics! The Declaration clears the air by publicly professing adherence to the Supremacy of all the Popes, which includes the declarations and teaching of all over the course of centuries.
Let the calumny against the SSPX finally and at long last cease and desist.
What Happens Next?
How will the Vatican receive this clear declaration? After the polite acknowledgement issued on the heels of its publication, it is hard to conjecture at this point. The Declaration does not refuse further meetings or discussions with the Vatican. It does not refuse any legal regularization but merely declares that any proposal will require a deliberative vote of a General Chapter. A requirement showing that the unity of the Society, which is merely a participation in the mark of oneness of the Church, is to be maintained in the process.
If the Vatican were to react with a return to persecution, a hurling of new excommunications, the clarity of this Declaration would make the Vatican look absurd. For what offense would the Vatican “excommunicate” the Society? For remaining faithful to “the declarations and the teachings of the constant Magisterium of the Church?” For reaffirming the defined dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus? For defending the Kingship of Christ and wishing to see Christendom rebuilt?
Will they be declared schismatic for praying to be preserved from Schism? Such a farce would be similar to the absurdity that was reported by The Remnant over ten years ago when a Catholic priest attempted to have Father Michael McMahon SSPX and his students arrested for praying the rosary in a Catholic Church in Michigan. As readers will recall, the police could not comprehend how a Catholic priest should be arrested for praying a Catholic prayer in a Catholic Church. The result was that the Novus Ordo priest was the one who ended up looking pretty absurd.
Yet, the SSPX Declaration alludes to the possibility that this profession of Faith will trigger new persecution. The General Chapter expressed a wish to unite themselves “to the other Christians persecuted in different countries of the world who are now suffering for the Catholic Faith.” This sentence almost contains a foreboding of further persecution to come and expresses a willingness that, if it be God’s will, the Society is ready to suffer any unjust persecution so as to water the seeds of the Faith.
May God forbid such a disastrous reaction by the Vatican which already bears so many wounds from decades of imprudent management. What will be the reaction of the Church and the World to a Vatican which permits outright flaunting of the Faith all across the globe while threatening to re-excommunicate a small group of priests for declaring their intent to live and believe as Catholics always have?
If Benedict XVI really wants to foster restoration of the Church from the post-Conciliar crisis he should simply accept the SSPX’s beautiful declaration of Faith and unilaterally declare the Society in communion with the Church and on his own authority grant to them jurisdiction directly from himself throughout the world to continue their work. That may sound impossible but recall that the Society has just offered up a twelve-million rosary crusade for the Church. Nothing is impossible for God and He can refuse no request of His Blessed Mother.
1 Unless otherwise noted all quotations are from the Declaration of the General Chapter made public on July 19, 2012.
2 Chapter 4 of the Commonitorium A.D. 434
3 Chapter 25
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