This article is a follow up to my recent post
on the question of schism. In that post, I looked at what constitutes a schism broadly as preparation for an examination of whether or not the Society of St. Pius X are in a state of schism. I defined schism as disobedience of legitimate episcopal authority while at the same time attempting to set up a rival episcopal authority outside of the jurisdiction of the hierarchy.
Before looking at the question of the status of the SSPX in particular, I wanted to address some questions and comments from the last post, specifically those centering on my definition of schism. In that post, I made the following comment:
"The SSPX argument that they are not in schism because they have not
denied the existence of legitimate authority within the Church is a weak
argument that creates a definition of schism so narrow that virtually
no one other than Sedevacantists would fit it"
One commenter took objection to this statement and said, "No, the eastern schismatic churches deny that the Pope has jurisdictional authority. That's millions of people."
I say this is not the same. The eastern churches deny the pope has jurisdictional authority over them. They do not deny that there is a pope, or that that pope does indeed possess jurisdictional authority. They simply deny that his jurisdictional authority extends to them. All orthodox acknowledge the existence of a valid pope who has valid powers and jurisdiction; some even see him as having a kind of moral primacy. This is quite different from denying that there is a pope (i.e., denying that legitimate authority exists). It is one thing to deny a legitimate authority exists; it is another thing to acknowledge the existence of that authority but say you are exempt from his jurisdiction. Both positions would be schismatic, but the SSPX (from what I have read) tend to focus on the more narrow definition of schism as denying the existence of legitimate authority, which would of course exempt them from being schismatic since they have not denied that the pope truly is the Vicar of Christ and holds legitimate authority.
Referring to my statement in the first post that the essence of schism was in creating a "rival hierarchy", another commenter made the following statement:
"The SSPX are not setting up an alternative hierarchy like the
Anti-Popes et al. They are not creating a rival or new power entity that assumes papal power or something just like it...Fellay is not saying he is Pope nor are they giving up on the Catholic Church and becoming their own Church...they
are not constructing an alternative or supplemental hierarchy, and they acknowledge universal jurisdiction."
I disagree. I never claimed that a rival hierarchy meant a rival papacy. The head of the hierarchy is the pope, of course, but bishops are the heart of the hierarchy; the pope himself is a bishop. I suppose a better phrase would have been "rival episcopacy" instead of "rival hierarchy." The Church's most well-known schisms usually involve a dispute about the Bishop of Rome, but numerically speaking, most schisms in the Church's history did not involve the See of Rome, but rather disputes about the authority or validity of a single bishop in a single diocese.
Also, regarding what the SSPX "acknowledges", it does not really matter what is acknowledged or confessed because schism is ultimately an act and a state of being, not something one believes or doesn't believe (like heresy). A schismatic can acknowledge whatever they wish and it may not change anything.
Ultimately it really is irrelevant whether the SSPX tried to "assume papal power." If we follow the definition of creating a rival or outside episcopacy/hierarchy, the simple consecration of four bishops against the explicit commands of the Holy Father does constitute setting up a rival episcopacy. Please note that at this time, I am only considering the act itself, not whether the intention of Archbishop Lefebvre justified the act. So, considered on the surface, it does appear that Lefebvre was setting up a rival episcopacy.
The Catholic Encylopedia makes the following statement: "Not
every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it
must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors,
denial of their Divine right to command."
it does not
say a denial of the existence of legitimate authority; it
says only a denial of that authority's right to command in a given
situation. So schism need not be somebody positively asserting "I deny
that there is a Pope" or "I deny that Bishop X is a legitimate bishop."
Schism can simply be the position of "I deny that Bishop X's authority
extends to this issue and therefore I refuse obedience." This is usually coupled with the setting up of a new, outside authority. Now, as we have
shown in the previous post
, what the issue is upon which obedience is denied has a lot to do with whether the act is schismatic or just disobedient.
The problem here is that the word schism is a amorphous thing. Some take the approach of "if it looks walks like a schism and quacks like a schism, it is a schism," This is a good rule of thumb, but not helpful when the popes and other heads of Vatican commissions are saying different things, and when there is a distinction between the canonical state of schism, the formal sin of schism, and the use of the word schism in a very loose and sloppy way to denote general disagreement (e.g., the "schism" between Thomists and Personalists in Catholic philosophy.
Contradictory statements from the Magisterium muddle things. For example, John Paul II's 1988 document Ecclesia Dei Adflicta
, in which the excommunications were pronounced, clearly says the SSPX are in schism:
"In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience - which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - constitutes a schismatic act" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, 3).
Again, it is not disobedience simply that makes schism, but disobedience in an issue that touches on the ecclesiastical unity of the Church - in this case, "the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated." This is why the argument that the SSPX can't be in schism because otherwise all the dissenting priests and bishops would also have to be in schism doesn't hold water. Every schism is disobedience, but only certain types of disobedience constitute schism.
The 1988 ordinations are again called schismatic in section 4 of the same document:
"It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, 4).
John Paul II seems to think the act of ordaining bishops without the approval of the Holy See constituted a schismatic act and had broken the ecclesial bond. In the following paragraph, he plainly calls the SSPX movement a schism and states that formal adherence to it carries the penalty of excommunication. John Paul II states:
"In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law" (Ecclesia Dei Adflicta 5:C).
It should be noted that people cannot be guilty of "formal adherence" to a schism unless a schism formally exists.
Cardinal Ratzinger also referred to the SSPX as a schism in his 1988 comments to the Bishops of Chile. His statements are worth quoting at length:
"...the movement led by Lefebvre has
separated itself by a clean break with the Church. A Christian never
can, or should, take pleasure in a rupture. Even though it is absolutely
certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See. Thus we will
be able to offer a place within the Church to those who are seeking and
demanding it, and succeed in destroying all reason for schism. We can
make such schism pointless by renewing the interior realities of the
Church....If once again we succeed in pointing out and living the
fullness of the Catholic religion with regard to these points, we may
hope that the schism of Lefebvre will not be of long duration" (Speech to the Bishops of Chile, July 13, 1988).
It is a very interesting point that Ratzinger makes here - by renewing Tradition and being faithful to the Church's own "interior realities", the necessity for groups such as the SSPX becomes moot. But that is not the point - the point is that he considers the SSPX separated from the Church "by a clean break" and uses the word schism three times. I would be tempted to say that Ratzinger here just meant schism in a generic, not canonical, sense, if he did not say " the movement led by Lefebvre has
separated itself by a clean break." Here he is speaking of a real, ecclesial "rupture", not just a simple disagreement.
Fast forward to 2007 and the pontificate of Benedict XVI, where we had this confusing statement from Cardinal Hoyos, who seemed to say that the SSPX were not in schism, although they had committed a schismatic act. Even so, he warns that the "danger of schism" is very great. Let's look at this statement:
"The Bishops, Priests, and Faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not
schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebvre who has undertaken an illicit
Episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is
for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended
and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not
been excommunicated. They are not heretics. I do, however, share St.
Jerome’s fear that heresy leads to schism and vice versa. The danger of a
schism is big, such as a systematic disobedience vis-à-vis the Holy
Father or by a denial of his authority. It is after all a service of
charity, so that the Priestly Society gains full communion with the Holy
Father by acknowledging the sanctity of the new Mass" (From Rorate, Feb. 2007)
This is very confusing. He says they are not schismatics, but then says the consecrations were a schismatic act. Then he says that the SSPX are not heretics, but that heresy might lead to schism "and vice versa." If he just said the SSPX are not heretics, then why is he worried that "heresy might lead to schism"? Being that this was a live statement, not a pre-written one, did he perhaps mean to say he is worried that "schism might lead to heresy"? That comment would make way more sense. But then he says that "the danger of a schism is big," so I guess they are not in schism? But if they are not in schism and are not heretics, then why the comment about "heresy leads to schism and vice versa"? It makes no sense at all.
In case you are not following why this makes no sense, suppose I replace the words schism
and SSPX with Johnny
, and excommunicated
. In that case: "Johnny does not use marijuana. Johnny has not been arrested. He does not use cocaine. I do, however, share the fear that cocaine use may lead to marijuana, and vice versa." Hmmm...if Johnny uses neither marijuana nor cocaine, why the fear that one may lead to the other? If there is no schism and no heresy, how can you be worried that "heresy may lead to schism"?
Then again, Cardinal Hoyos doesn't always make the clearest statements.He later made the following quip: "We take care of those who did not wish to follow Archbishop Lefebvre -- which is not exactly a schism
." Not exactly
a schism? I say this is not exactly the clearest language.
We could attribute this to just the fact that these were off the cuff remarks. If I were to weigh these confused statements against the official pronouncement of John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta
, I would take John Paul II in a heartbeat. But, being that Hoyos was the head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei at the time, would he have made these sorts of comments without Benedict's approval? Could it be that his comments, no matter how muddled, are a sign that the pope himself may be rethinking this matter?
I think it is clear that Pope Benedict himself may have rethought his position on this matter since the 1988 address to the Chilean bishops. In that address, he said, "[I]t is absolutely
certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See." But by 2007, he had presumably had nineteen years to reflect upon the situation with the SSPX and made the following comment in the introductory letter to Summorum Pontificum
. I have bolded the portion I think is relevant to Ratzinger's 1988 comments that the SSPX schism was not in any way the fault of the Holy See:
"I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu
Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior
reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the
divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one
continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were
coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain
reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of
the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were
able to harden."
This is pivotal. In 1988 Ratzinger says "it is absolutely
certain the fault cannot be attributed to the Holy See", but in 2007 he says, "One has the impression that omissions on the part of
the Church have had their share of blame." Benedict has clearly changed his position since 1988 and now thinks that the Church itself shares part of the blame for the schism.
This seems to get to the heart of the problem: the SSPX do seem to be in schism, but it seems now that many in the hierarchy think that the events leading up to the schism were based on misunderstandings and errors on both sides that mitigate the culpability of Lefebvre and the four bishops. Are the SSPX formally and canonically in schism? I believe so. From history, what Lefebvre did in 1988 in consecrating four bishops illicitly does fit the profile for schism exactly. Canonically I think it is an open and shut case, and the argument that Lefebvre was acting because he perceived a state of emergency does not change things. It is the Magisterium, ultimately the Pope, who decide whether such fears are justified, and even if they were, this would have relevance only in determining whether or not Lefebvre and the four bishops are personally guilty of the sin of schism, not whether or not the organization is canonically in the state of schism. At the end of the day, this is the Pope's call. But on the other hand, Benedict and many in the current Magisterium seem to want to back away from the hard language of 1988 in recognition that "not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain
reconciliation and unity...omissions on the part of
the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were
able to harden."
This is similar to the case with the Eastern Orthodox in a way - formally, they may be in schism, but historically, we can cite many factors and misunderstandings on both sides that brought the schism about. That does not change the canonical reality of the schism, but it does mean that both sides have to look at what they can do to rectify the situation, and acknowledge that there was culpability on both sides.
I do want to respond to two points that are commonly brought up by the SSPX in this discussion. The first is that the SSPX cannot formally be in schism because Benedict XVI in 2007 stated that that Mass of John XXIII was never officially abrogated. Since the SSPX were persecuted for their desire to use what was always a valid Mass, there is no way they could be in schism. How can the SSPX be in trouble for adhering to a liturgy that was, in Benedict's words, "in principle, always permitted"?
The answer is, of course, that whatever the SSPX might have had to put up with for their defense of the old Mass, the excommunications and the charge of schism have nothing to do with their use of the old liturgy but rather with the 1988 consecrations. If the charges of schism stemmed from the use of the old Mass, they would be weak indeed; but they do not stem from the use of the old Mass by the SSPX but rather from the illicit 1988 episcopal ordinations, which were setting up an illicit episcopacy and as such were schismatic.
Speaking of schismatic acts, some SSPX will say that, yes, the ordinations were a schismatic act, but the act is distinguished from the status. You can have a schismatic act, but that does not necessarily confer the schismatic status.
Can act be separated from status? I don't think so; in fact, act is precisely what confers status. If you commit the act or murder, you obtain the status of murderer by the act. An act of theft gives you the status of a thief; it is professing heresy that gives you the status of a heretic, and a schismatic act is what confers the status of schismatic, especially since schism is not ultimately about what you believe but what you do.
The Catholic Encyclopedia also notes that schism is both an act and a state, indicating that the two go together because the separation is the result of the act: "either the act by which one of the faithful severs as far as in him lies the ties which bind him to the social organization of the Church and make him a member of the mystical body of Christ, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act."
I personally have no skin in this game. I was a Traditionalist before I knew what the SSPX was, and for me, the SSPX has never had a role to play in my love of the Church's Traditional liturgy or piety. I don't think Traditionalism necessarily has to do with the SSPX and I reject any attempts to identify Traditionalism with the SSPX categorically. Of course I would like to see a reconciliation (and by the way, if they are not schismatic, what are we negotiating about?), but I have no vested interest in defending the SSPX or in condemning them. I simply and calling this like I see it. In light of the history of other schisms, in light of statements from the popes and just common sense, I do not see how the SSPX can not be considered a schism. I think the confused language we are seeing out of the Magisterium recently has more to do with the pope's willingness to state that the Church itself has some blame in this matter rather than in denying the canonical reality of the schism.
One last thought. Heresy and schism usually go together, as everyone from St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Thomas have always taught. Though Jerome distinguished between "mixed schism" and "pure schism", he stated that the distinction was mainly mental and in reality schism almost always accompanies heresy. If this is true, what about SSPX? Is there a corresponding heresy in the SSPX? If there is (and I say if), it is their persistent insistence that they, not the Holy Father, are the final arbiters of how canon law is to be understood and interpreted.
So, that's my two cents. I say it is a schism, but I admit I may be wrong. If anyone can explain to me why they are not, I would be interested in hearing it.