Mundabor: The “Athanasius Question”

[ While I strongly recommend readers consult the conferences given by Canon Gregory Hesse, STD, STL (R.I.P), available through and YouTube concerning related questions, the indefatigable Mundabor does indeed raise a legitimate issue. One I’ve wondered about (without deciding) more than once. ]

Athanasius was excommunicated. He continued his job, uncaring. More than that – and something I seldom read about – he and St. Eusebius started appointing bishops of their own, again ignoring the Pope. The bishops they appointed – and I read about that seldom, too – were not bishop without territorial jurisdiction, like the SSPX one. They were bishops in charge of a diocese all right. Nor can it be said that in that world of difficult communications the Pope might not have had control of certain territories. Firstly, it is poppycock (communications in the Roman Empire were, like all the rest, stunningly efficient), secondly it is neither here nor there, because the fact remains that Athanasius and Eusebius clearly appointed those bishops without caring a bit of what the Pope thought about it. He could approve them if he wanted to. If he did not like them, though luck.

To make a modern comparison, it is as if the SSPX appointed the new archbishop of Chicago without either asking or caring for what Francis says, and the Catholic faithful of Chicago accepted this appointment as a matter of course, fully uncaring of Francis’ more or less sensible thought on the matter.

Let us, then, now pose the “Athanasius question”: did those Bishops have jurisdiction? Could they hear confession, administer the Last Rites, marry their sheep? And could the priests appointed by them do the same?

If yes, why? If not, why not? …

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10 comments on “Mundabor: The “Athanasius Question”

  1. This has to always be considered (as opposed to advocated) in light of ALL the traditional doctrines on papal supremacy, qua supremacy. Without which, there would be no visible Church.

    Nevertheless, given that Francis is pope, but exhibits gross incompetence and materially heretical acts and words (making him a danger to the faithful), may – in fact – a bishop tell him to buzz off and go on with the business of saving souls through handing on traditional rites and appointments to which and to whom the faithful may repair?

    (There are numerous conflicting issues in these questions. It is not a slam-dunk.)


    Five times banished
    Exiled seventeen
    Excommunicated champions
    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,
    Feast day of worth
    On the second of May
    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –
    As history has charted –
    You preserved the true Mass
    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre
    And the sixties egalitarians
    Like Athanasius,
    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished
    Death by death
    Sent him to absolve
    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon
    The same sun we’re all under…
    We venal rain – but Lefebvre

    Righteous thunder!!

  3. It is critical that the proper questions be framed accurately.

    Whereas Abp Lefebvre openly taught (and rightly so) that the Second Council of the Vatican endorsed clear heresies and impermissible novelties that defy Tradition, and the Society he canonically erected in 1970 is STILL recognized as Catholic and its Sacraments valid, then the question of another bishop’s ability to do likewise would appear to have been most practically answered.

    Key to this is the legitimacy of any canonical founding, per se.

    Unlike mavericks and schismatics who’ve run off in a snit and “founded” or “organized” their own little separate communities, a bishop who wishes to defend and hand on Tradition would still have to operate fully within the Law of the Church, all the political and ecclesial backlash he would undergo, notwithstanding.

    Whatever the bishop did, he would have to pledge loyalty to the Holy See, even though the past six pontificates have been loyal only to their mythical “super-council” and all its pomps and works. And he would have to demand equal loyalty to the Holy See of all clergy, religious and laity under his jurisdiction.

    That’s a point the SSPX has consistently maintained. And it’s crucial.

    Without a pope, the visible Church ceases to be visible. Even if the pope at any given time is a material heretic or a lunatic.

    However, insofar as the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls and to fulfill that obligation Catholics MUST resort to fully Catholic sacraments, if and when a pope is a material heretic or a lunatic, it is a danger to the Faith and the salvation of souls to NOT draw a very bright line, based on Tradition, AGAINST error, heresy and novelty.

    That only Abp LeFebvre, Bp deCastro-Mayer and Bp Segaud had the courage to do so over the past half century is a tragic fact, but it hardly limits any other bishop in the present day from doing likewise.

    The question is a complex one and cannot be treated lightly, any more than allowing the madness that has engulfed the conciliar Church cannot be seen apart from the horrific damage it has inflicted since the 1960s.

  4. The major canonical difference between the times of St Athanasius and today is that the Pope’s approval was not necessary on pain of excommunication for the appointment of bishops.

    There was no law preventing St Athanasius from appointing Catholic bishops in sees occupied by heretics. A sad consequence of subsequent canonical developments is that it is very difficult to dislodge heretics without the Pope’s specific approval. Obviously this approval is less likely when the Pope himself is a heretic, even if only a material heretic.

    • ^^^ An excellent perspective. Gratias tibi.

    • Also, St. Athanasius was Patriarch of Alexandria, an office higher than that of any cardinal today. With the lack of instant communication, he was effectively the pope for his patriarchate. His loyalty was unquestioned for all he had done for the Church, and he certainly knew that Liberius had been imprisoned by enemies, the same ones chasing him down as he had to hide in the desert. There wouldn’t have been any question in his mind what was necessary for him to do, especially when it was impossible for him to communicate with the pope.

      Today, the pope is only imprisoned by his ideology, but is free to express his will. I don’t see how to justify going over his head.

  5. I’m going to go hypothetical here, but the things I am espousing as hypothetical sadly have a real good possibility of happening.

    What do you think St. Athanasius would do if he were alive today to see this upcoming sex synod specifically called by the bishop of Rome who appointed an apostate (Walter Kasper) to try and find a backdoor way to allow and legalize adultery, homos, divorce and God knows what else?

    So what happens if Bergoglio, Kasper and the rest of the revolutionaries “legalize”, under the false, heretical and modernist guise of mercy and tolerance the sins I mentioned above at this synod?

    Are we then obliged to listen to this pope, who, in my opinion, after legalizing these abominations that clearly violate the teachings of Our Lord and His Church would be a formal heretic?

    I think not.

    Obviously I have no way of knowing for sure, but from the history of St. Athanasius it is my opinion that if the pope starts promoting heresy, that he would resist him as fervently as he did other bishops and Cardinals.

    Titles are good, especially one Our Lord Himself instituted ( The Papacy).
    But that doesn’t bind us to follow people who are clearly preaching heresy.

    Cardinal Juan de Torquemada wrote about that back in the 15th century in his book Summa de ecclesia.

    • We are not obliged to listen to a heretic and we are not obliged to obey or follow a heretic. We are obliged to resist and oppose any law which runs counter to the Natural Law and the Divine Positive Law.

      I think we might even be obliged to work for the deposition of an heretical Pope. However, the specific purview of the OP was the appointment of bishops without Papal mandate. Since Canon Law was revised after 1954 to cope with the schismatic Chinese Patriotic Association, and the imposition of a penalty of latae sententiae excommunication on those who attempt to consecrate a bishop without Papal mandate, I don’t see how any resistance and opposition to heresy could licitly incorporate the appointment of bishops.

      Obviously one could use the “situation of emergency” clause which the SSPX employ (and I believe the emergency is far greater now than when they first cited this in their defense), but that would not be effective in the deposition and eviction of heretical bishops from their sees without the co-operation of the Holy See.

      If I wasn’t a Catholic I would suggest that either shooting or poisoning the Pope would be the best way out of this crisis, but unfortunately I think I still am, so I will refrain from suggesting it. ;)

      (I would also suggest changing Canon Law so that the penalty for resigning the Papacy would be burning at the stake, but I fear that this also would not be good for one’s soul!)

  6. My apologies for being the “Johnnie come lately” to this discussion but I had to think about this for awhile. I believe St. Athanasius would call the heads of all the traditional orders together,including the FSSPX, and give them canonical jurisdiction and faculties worldwide with the specific mission to confer sacraments in the Traditional Rite to all who profess the Catholic Faith. He would also oppose the enclyclical Evangelii Gaudium of Jorge Bergoglio in much the same way as Fr. Paul Kamer at
    He would caution all sincere and loyal catholics to reject any statements made by church authorities, including the pope, which purport to teach the tenets of modernism, labelled by St. Pius X as the synthesis of all heresies. Finally, he would call for the resignation of Jorge Bergoglio as a material, if not formal, heretic for having the gall to preach obvious heresy and for stating that the old covenant is still in effect. Finally, I must confess my total inadequacy to even imagine what so great a saint would do in our time.

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