Thursday, July 12, 2012

Are the SSPX in schism?

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."

Notice that 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 heresy with marijuana and cocaine and SSPX with Johnny, and excommunicated with arrested. 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.


David said...

Dear Boniface,

What about the fact that the bishops of the SSPX do not claim any ordinary jurisdiction whatsoever? They are not heads of the Society by any of their Constitutions, they do not have any higher role in the Society than other priests and are not considered to be a hierarchy, but merely are there to administer the Sacraments of Confirmation and Orders. For a long time Father Schmidberger was the superior of all four current bishops (and Archbishop Lefebvre as well). I admit that the faithful attending SSPX chapels might look to them more than to some other member of the Society, but they are not in fact seen by themselves or the faithful as having a hierarchical role.

I do also think that there are different elements in the SSPX and that the question of schism is not so easily settled. Some may be schismatics, but I do not think we can say that the SSPX is a schism. Mainly because of the question of not setting up new jurisdictions nor denying the ones that are in existence.

And I also want to say that I do not attend SSPX chapels, I do think there are problems with doing that as a matter of principle. If there are other available options for the Traditional Sacraments I would prefer them.

In the Precious Blood,

Boniface said...


Good question. It does not matter whether they have any jurisdiction - all that matters is that they are bishops, and as such, are members of the hierarchy, just like a titular bishop is a member of the hierarchy even if he has no jurisdiction because his see is suppressed.

Lefebvre did not ordain the bishops because they were going to get jurisdiction, but because he wanted to perpetuate apostolic succession. This is the issue JP2 quoted in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta.

Since consecration of a bishop, regardless of whether or not they have any jurisdiction, creates a new member of the hierarchy just by virtue of that a bishop is created - a bishop who takes his place in the apostolic succession and has power to consecrate other bishops. That is where the crux the matter is. A single bishop consecrated illicitly has the potential to ordain other bishops, even if he himself has no jurisdiction.

Its not about jurisdiction. It is about that they are bishops period.

David said...

Dear Boniface,

I find the meaning that Lefebvre consecrated bishops to "perpetuate apostolic succession" to be a bit obscure. Was this really the case? Did he believe that apostolic succession would have ended if he did not consecrate bishops? That I could not see in either his actions or writings. Please elaborate.

In Christ,

Boniface said...

This is the claim his defenders make when they cite the argument that the consecrations were legitimate because he though the Church was in a state of crisis and needed to safeguard Tradition.

Let's say, though, you are right and that is a little far-fetched. I would say that because this still touches upon the issue of apostolic succession, JP2's critique here is valid. Even if Lefebvre never meant to "perpetuate" apostolic succession by his action, his action does in fact set up a new branch of the apostolic succession that is outside the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff - i.e., a rival episcopacy.

celarent said...

My personal opinion is that this analysis is exlusively focused on the formal point of the question, while the material one is (I thinked of placing a word ‘almost’ in front, but I think that really there is not a single moment when you consider this point) completely neglected. Now I absolutely agree that, according to your settings, the conclusion is correct, but I don’t agree whether this settings are correct. I shall skip the issue of definition of a schism and the difference between the Pope’s authority in itself and its extension because I think it isn’t a crucial point in this question, but shall comment this one:

,, the argument that Lefebvre was acting because he perceived a state of emergency does not change things’’

Yes, it does. If it really was a state of necessity, then obviously the penalties would be non-binding and the schism non-existent. The material factor would work as abrogating this facts, regardless of the Pope’s pronouncement – although he is the supreme judge in the Church, nevertheless he is in no way infallible in this point, and could well be wrong, as it was the case with excommunication of St. Athanasius and Savonarola; but on the other hand, it must not be assumed that one could criticise the Pontiff recklessly, as the modernists do, but that point should be grounded on clear and obvious facts. Now, I am not saying that this really is the case in this issue, but merely that this possibility exists and that the argument that is brought up in this article is in no way complete and conclusive. Also this one:

,, 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.’’

Ok, but if we go a step further in the analysis, we find that the consecrations were the result of a desire to preserve the Traditional Mass, which would come into danger had Archbishop Lefebvre died. The real question for me is the Protocol which was offered to the Archbishop and which he signed, but afterwards revoked his signature – wheteher this move was justified or not, and I think we should rather focus on this point.

Boniface said...

Good points. Question - do you believe the fact that Athanasius was excommunicated wrongly means he was not canonically excommunicated?

El Eremita said...

David / Boniface,

The SSPX may say that they don't claim jurisdiction, but nonetheless, they ordinarily incur in acts which require it to be valid and/or licit.

Even the act of teaching the Faith requires the authority to licitly do so (potestas docendi)!

From Pius XII's "Ad Apostolorum Principis":

"...bishops who have been neither named nor confirmed by the Apostolic See, but who, on the contrary, have been elected and consecrated in defiance of its express orders, enjoy no powers of teaching or of jurisdiction since jurisdiction passes to bishops only through the Roman Pontiff"

There is an interesting explanation of this doctrine in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

"It is a controverted question whether the bishops hold their jurisdiction directly from God or from the sovereign pontiff. The latter opinion, however, is almost generally admitted at the present day, for it is more in conformity with the monarchical constitution of the Church, which seems to demand that there should be no power in the Church not emanating immediately from the sovereign pontiff"

It must be noted that the C.E. was redacted before Ad Apostolorum Principis, so, at that time, this doctrine was not "official doctrine" of the Church but only the common teaching of theologians, that's why it says that "it is a controverted question". It can be argued that Pius XII settled the controversy (although not by a definitive act) in favor of the traditional doctrine: due to the monarchical nature of the Church, there is no power in her that doesn't emanate from her Visible Head, not even the potestas docendi.

From this follows that the SSPX lacks the authority to teach, sanctify or govern any member of the Church. Nonetheless, they ordinarily perform acts which require this authority.

In this it can be recognized that they have effectively established a "rival authority": they consider that they have authority to perform acts like teaching the Faith, ordaining priests, etc., disregarding the fact that such authority can only be conferred by the Visible Head of the Church.

David said...

Dear Boniface,

I don't see "safeguarding Tradition" as the same concept as "perpetuating apostolic succession". Perpetuating apostolic succession would mean, as far as I see it, that such a succession would have ended unless the Archbishop had consecrated bishops. I can't see that, that would mean he was a sedevacantist and/or believed that the hierarchy was non-existent. Did he believe that? Did he truly think that the Church would fail unless he did what he did?

And as for the facts, isn't the Church in a state of crisis? Yes. Does that mean that apostolic succession is in danger? No.

I think you are mixing things up, but maybe I'm wrong or I'm misunderstanding you.

In Christ,

Beefy Levinson said...

I hope and pray the SSPX is fully reconciled with Holy Mother Church some day. I'm not a supporter of the Society, but I think the Holy Father is right to say that the Church herself is partly culpable. There is never a valid reason to place oneself outside of communion with Peter. However, the SSPX would not exist at all if there weren't real, dire problems in the Church in the first thirty years after Vatican II. I believe the Society is wrong if they refuse to reenter communion with the Holy Father on the grounds that the Church isn't as perfect in her earthly incarnation as she is on the supernatural level.

Anonymous said...

As a sidenote: I do think the fact, mentioned above, that the SSPX bishops do not claim ordinary jurisdiction is perhaps more significant than you make it out to be. Though many in the Society reject this logic nowadays, there are a handful of famous quotes where Lefebvre tells these bishops to hand over power to the pope as soon as it is safe to do so. They were consecrated not to rule as bishops but to continue the traditional forms of the sacraments. In connection to this, it is worth remembering that a priest, and not any of these bishops, was for many years the superior general of the Society, and it is the superior general rather than the bishops who is their leader (right now a bishop is the superior general, but that's just right now).

The main point I am commenting is to re-emphasize my response to your first post on this subject: I agree that schism comes about by an act of disobedience to a legitimate authority and not only by the theoretical denial that there is an authority. However, it seems the question we should be asking is not simply is the pope a true authority, something I think most anyone in the SSPX would readily admit, but is there actually any limitation to his authority such that, regardless of whether or not the SSPX is such a case, a case may at least be imagined in which disobedience to the pope is obedience to God (as Cardinal Newman says may be done if something is commanded that would be destructive to the Church, which I take to be different from merely obeying unjust commands such as St John of the Cross and others who allowed themselves to be imprisoned out of obedience).

What of all the holy martyrs during the muslim occupation of spain who were canonized for disobeying the bishops who commanded them not to offer themselves for execution (the bishops said it was the sin of suicide, but later we have saints). Certainly they disobeyed their bishops and by their actions publicly denied their power to rule on the matter.

It seems to me that this question of whether or not there is real limitation to episcopal/papal authority is the real issue, and is more complex than you make it out to be. Your post in fact seems to assume that there is no such limitation without ever formally raising the question. I understand that your main point is simply to define what a schism is, but I do not see how we can say something is an act such as you describe without actually addressing whether or not the pope and the bishops actually have the authority to rule in such a case. It's not that I think the SSPX do have that authority, but that I am quite certain that no bishop including the pope has the authority to command us to destroy the faith (e.g. I know of one SSPX priest who originally left his diocese because money was being collected throughout the diocese to support a scandalous sex-ed program to be implemented in the Catholic schools. He was the only priest who did not obey his bishop, and I suspect on this matter that he was the only priest who obeyed God).

Boniface said...


Okay, I can grant that point about safeguarding tradition vs. perpetuating apostolic succession. Yet you can't deny that apostolic succession was a factor since it is cited in JP2's condemnation.


I agree in principle that there are some limitations to obedience. However, for that argument to hold in this particular case, you would have to prove that not ordaining four bishops illicitly = allowing the faith to be destroyed, which is a tremendous stretch, even if Lefebvre may have believed it himself.

You cited the Franciscan martyr's disobedience. Yes, disobedience, but not all disobedience is schismatic or ultimately (as you proved) even wrong in the long run. But I don't think that holds here.

Was the Church in dire straits? Absolutely. Was there a state of emergency that necessitated Lefebvre disobeying the Holy Father, such that to not disobey would be to destroy the Faith? Boy, that is tough to swallow...that "state of necessity" clause in canon law was originally meant to apply to bishops in missionary countries where there are no other members of the episcopacy who can administer holy orders. Furthermore, it is the Holy Father who decides whether the decision to act out of a state of necessity exists.

As far as I can tell (and I may absolutely be wrong because in my experience all my commentators on this blog are smarter than I am), Lefebrve acting in disobedience out of a perceived state of necessity may lessen his personal culpability for the schism but does not change the canonical status of the schism. Some distinction between the sin of schism and the canonical state of schism is important, here.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Boniface. Excellent two part series. Kudos.

You mentioned the Orthodox and that bringg-up an interesting irony involving the sspx.

The Sacraments of Marriage and Penance are invalid due to the status of the sspx whereas those sacraments are valid when administered by the Orthodox so a wise ass, like my own self, can observe that the way the sspx is going, there will soon be no doubt that those sacraments as administered by them will soon be valid.

Anonymous said...

If Rome says it is partly culpable , what exactly does this mean? It might be implicitly taken that Rome doesn't know what it is doing at times? Can that be said in re to the council and its spirit? Then the situation has to be re-thought. The possibility exists that in this case that the church is more than partly wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think I can be happy with you agreeing in principle that there are limitations to obedience to Church authorities, as it seems to me this is most commonly the fundamental point of disagreement between many SSPXers and so-called neo-catholics (I don't think I would place you in either group, for what it's worth). If we disagree about whether or not Lefebvre consecrating the bishops was an instance of such limitations I consider that an intelligible disagreement. What I have grown very tired of hearing is the argument that "the pope said so" is always and everywhere an unbeatable argument (which makes me wonder if many people have heard of the medieval pope who taught that all souls await judgment until the resurrection, or some of the odd neo-pagan liturgies allowed by renaissance popes). If I had to summarize why I think the action was justified I would point to the traditional forms of the sacraments (not just the mass which continued to survive in FSSP and elsewhere, but particularly confirmation and holy orders) as well as to the many places in the world where people were unjustly denied not only the traditional forms of the sacraments but also traditional doctrine directly or indirectly by their bishops. I know for instance that even the indult mass where I first learned about these issues was originally ilicit and involved a monk sneaking out of a monastery in the middle of the night, and that the bishop who eventually granted it some real status admitted it was only to keep people out of the SSPX chapel that had moved in, but I'm sure it's not right to generalize based on my own home town.

I will gladly admit that it is not perfectly clear that Lefebvre's was the only way, and I do not have an idealistic view of the SSPX even though I consider them to be within the Church. My first pastor in their chapels frequently said things like "we must seek to be subject to the bishops in as far as it is possible without succumbing to modernism" but I also know other priests who would probably say that even to suggest we could be more or less respectful of our bishop is to have given in (and other much more ridiculous statements from people who are very concerned about "compromise"). The latter group in my mind essentially is schismatic in that they seem to consider the movement of traditional catholicism to be a perfect society without need for the pope and consider the pope to have lost the protection of the Holy Ghost. However, to look at something more official, I always found this interesting: "I can understand why you are scandalized by the division in the traditional movement. Many others have also been scandalized, until they realize that unity is impossible without a strong hierarchy to enforce it and insist upon it. There will only be true unity when we have once more a strong pope, backed up by docile bishops." (source: ) The rest of that goes on to say all the things you would expect about modernist rome and indult masses, but I think the theoretical acknowledgment that they are not the Church, that they need the pope to be whole, is at least a matter of interest (certainly it is unique from the Orthodox or Anglican schisms, even if it is not real proof that they are not in schism). My guess is that, if this is a schism, this acknowledgment will at least make it necessary for them eventually to be reconciled or to become sedevacantists. Schism or not, it seems unlikely that the present position of waiting it out while formally acknowledging the pope cannot go on too many more generations.

Thank you for considering my arguments.

Jonathan said...

Irrespective of whether the SSPX is in schism or not, it must be admitted that the consecration of a bishop in defiance of the express will of the Pope is gravely against the teaching of the Church. In Ad apostolorum principis, Pope Pius XII declares that such consecrations, whilst they may be valid, are gravely illicit i.e. criminal and sacrilegious. The teaching of Pius XII is itself based on the solemn teaching of the First Vatican Council which teaches that obedience to Pope is not limited to matters of faith and morals, but also to matters appertaining to the discipline and government of the church.

On the 'schism' could the (non binding) statements made by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos be put under teh category of diplomacy?!

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Anonympous' position is that he is the ultimate authority; that is, he is a practical protestant.

That is his argument distilled to its simple reality.

He will judge when the Catholic Church is right or wrong and he will judge when to obey the Pope and Bishops and when he will not.

Gatsby said...

But what's wrong with being Protestant, IANS? Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal, wrote that Protestantism can no longer be seen as a heresy, and that "protestants have made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith." As a Pope, if I remember correctly, he's even given communion to Protestants at least once. Thus I don't understand why you keep throwing that word around like it's something negative! Learn from the Holy Father, our ultimate (earthly and visible) authority, and don't try to pick and choose!

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Gatsby. As Vatican Two ,correctly, taught the truth about protestants but a Catholic can not act like a protestant because to be Catholic means to maintain the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority and whereas a protestant can not be rightly blamed given that he was born into a protestant family, a Catholics who rejects the Faith is under a severe penalty as 2 John 9 teaches

Gatsby said...

This is very odd, IANS. You write my name at the beginning as if you're addressing me, but nothing you write touch even close to antyhing I wrote in the previous comment! You must have made a mistake.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Gatsby. You wrote about protestants and I responded with a comment having to do with protestants and you then claim that what I wrote had nothing to do with what you wrote.

I see no basis for an exchange.


Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Gatsby. You wrote about protestants; I responded about protestants.

Good bye

Matthew Rose said...

To treat the question of the SSPX's status apart from the existence of a crisis in the Church is bound to fail. If you do not accept that a significant crisis of appalling proportions exists in the Church, one which affects the transmission, teaching, and praxis of dogma, liturgy, and morality, then of course the SSPX is in schism.

But their entire raison d'etre is to preserve the Catholic Faith against the internal enemies of the Church. Just because a Pope says there is not a State of Necessity justifying Episcopal Consecrations against his will does not mean it is not so, for how could the Pope judge such if he is perpetuating the crisis? Or, are we going to say that John Paul II was some resolutely traditional Catholic Pope, or adopt the protestant caricature that the Pope can do absolutely no wrong whatsoever?

To separate the consecration of Bishops by ++Lefebvre from the SSPX's defense of the Traditional Mass and Faith utterly misses the point. Why he consecrated Bishops matters for more reasons than simply to determine his subjective culpability.

Boniface said...


To separate the consecration of Bishops by ++Lefebvre from the SSPX's defense of the Traditional Mass and Faith utterly misses the point.

No it doesn't. External conditions might have something to do with mitigating individual culpability, but I don't think they alter the canonical status of the Society.

Apologists for the Society have been making the following claim:


In apology for the argument to hold any weight, I think they would have to prove the contrary as well, namely, that:


Phrased this way, it is preposterous, as if the integrity and survival of 2,000 years of Catholic Tradition depended upon four episcopal ordinations. Was stuff messed up in 1988? Absolutely. Was it the state of necessity Lefebvre thought? I don't think so, and the popes agreed.

Ultimately, the 1988 condemnation and use of the words "schism" have to be explained away by the SSPX. And, if the SSPX reject an explanation of "John Paul II said so" as being too simplistic, I must also say that their defense of "John Paul II was just wrong" is also too simplistic. The pope is the interpreter of canon law, and how can the SSPX say there is a state of necessity when the chief pastor has said there was not?

Matthew Rose said...


Thank you for your response.

So, you are suggesting that it was likely that had ++Lefebvre approached any Catholic Bishop with ordinary jurisdiction and requested that he ordain the former's seminarians in the Traditional Rite, to say the Traditional Mass exclusively and to practice and teach the faith in a Traditional manner, that ++Lefebvre could have done so?

Or is the Novus Ordo simply acceptable enough, and to die on the hill of the TLM and the rest of Catholic Tradition not-quite-necessary?

Of course, properly speaking, the Church would not have died out had the consecrations not happened - we know that is impossible. But humanly speaking, who else was working to preserve Catholic tradition? If ++Lefebvre and his priests were not really suspended, then where was he to get more priests to continue the work of preserving Catholic Tradition? Quattor abhinc annos was a dead letter; Una Voce doesn't seem to have been having much success; the few resilient diocesan priests were likely mostly gone by then; the FSSP did not exist because they only came to be due to the consecrations.

I find it hard to figure how the Pope's judgment on the existence of a State of Necessity is necessarily correct. Is it by definition impossible for a Pope to be wrong, objectively speaking, in determining the existence of a state of necessity? I am honestly asking. I do not think one can justly argue that he could be wrong but his judgment would still be canonically binding, because that dispenses with justice and simply makes truth whatever the Pope says it is, and I hardly think he is infallible in this case.

As an aside, I have never been to an SSPX Mass, nor do I know personally anyone how reguarly assists at SSPX Masses.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

The plain and simple truth is that the sspx does not consider Pope Benedict XVI worthy of their obedience.

The Romish Papist said...

Dear Boniface,

I have in my possession a very rare and commercially unavailable video recording of a Michael Davies debate on this exact topic that is of immense value. I would like very much to mail it to you if you are interested in borrowing it and can promise to return it at some point in the next few months.

What say you, sir?

Boniface said...

Romish Papist-

That is awesome! Please email me at and we will work out the details. Does he argue they are not in schism, I presume?

The Romish Papist said...

He certainly does. But regardless of that disagreement, the important thing is that you get to enjoy a good couple hours (appx 90-120min?) of witty, thickly welsh accented, trad-tastic Davies awesomeness.

I've just sent the details to your email.

celarent said...

Boniface - sorry for posting so late (long story - at first moment I wasn't sure how to formulate the answer, and also was pretty tight with time), I hope that You still follow this discussion and are willing to answer. Regarding Your auestion of excommunicating St. Athanasius - obviously, grounds for the excommunication were unjust and thus non-binding, but the Pope used his authority legitimately, as did JPII. Legitimately humanly speaking, but not from the divine perspective (

So I want to refer on this statement by Card. Hoyos:

MJM: I recently had an opportunity to speak to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos. At that time, I asked him if, as a journalist, I should use the word “schism” with respect to the Society of St. Pius X. His answer: “No, schism is not the word. Theirs is an irregular canonical status.” Would you agree with His Eminence on this question?

Father Laguérie: Like Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, I would never suggest the Society of Saint Pius X is schismatic! And not only for reasons of friendship which definitively connect me to the Society (I was with the SSPX for 25 years of my priesthood) but especially for theological reasons. A schismatic is not one who merely disobeys. A schismatic disputes the authority of the Pope in principle. It can never be repeated too many times: schism goes against the theological virtue of Charity and not against the moral virtue of obedience. It is thus that the true schismatic inevitably comes to profess an error against the Faith: a denial of authority in the Church and mainly that of the Roman Pontiff. Such is obviously not the position of the Society of Saint Pius X!

So the SSPX does not deny Pope's authority as such, nor his right to command, but it refuses to obey some of the papal commands because they think that some of the issues are contrary to demands of justice. And this in no way constitutes a schism, and I think You should seriously reconsider the whole post. Especially, I would like to refer to this texts written by M. Davies:

Obviously, Bishop Grosseteste didn't commit a schismatic act in refusing to obey a papal command, and on this sole reason we can't say that Archbishop Lefebvre did it. He may have done it, but on grounds that really there was no case of necessity and likewise no need of consecrating bishops. Also, I think that it is difficult for one to remain a sincere traditionalist while consciously treating SSPX as a schismatic community. I think that we should speak rather like Fr. Lagurie and Card. Hoyos, of an irregular situation.

Boniface said...

I am not sure about your distinction about charity versus obedience, but I am going to not comment on this until this weekend because I am watching a Michael Davies apologetic for the SSPX and want to see his argument.

Hoyos says they are not in schism; JP2 says they are. That is the fundamental problem I have - JP2 is the authoritative interpreter of canon law, and he says there is a schism. How can you get around this? If you deny he is the legitimate interpreter, and that his interpretation is in fact correct, then you are denying the pope's authority in principle.

BTW, I dealt with the distinction between "mere disobedience" and schismatic disobedience in the previous post entitled "What is Schism?" (

Regarding your last point on no sincere Trad can really think the SSPX is in schism, this would only be true if we define Traditionalist as someone who is yoking their identity to that of the SSPX.

The fact that I love the Traditional Latin Mass and the Tradition of the Church and think that things post-V2 went way awry does not have anything to do with what one thinks about the canonical status of the Society.

I think one thing trads have to do in the future is disassociate their own cause with that of the SSPX. Let them go. Traditionalism does not stand or fall with the SSPX; in fact, these days traditionalism has less and less to do with the SSPX at all and they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the degree that they maintain their irregular status.

Boniface said...


Anonymous said...

I think that the consecrations can be reasonably called a schismatic act, but it does not by that fact, absolutely follow that they have gone into schism. Nor do I think that St. JP II ever explicitly called them schismatic. Obviously, the danger of schism exists, and was clearly present, for the first step in creating an alternative hierarchy would be consecrations of bishops.

But I think you cannot really separate the problems for tradition from those consecrations. There still have never been any consecrations of traditional bishops from any EF group, despite promises. While there have been ordinations and confirmations in the EF (which require episcopal powers) they were not at all available back in 1988 and would not likely be today, without the consecrations for the FSSPX. They are still uncommon today, and the creation of Ecclisia Dei, the FSSP, and other communities only happened after the 1988 consecrations.

I would argue that the SSPX never set up a separate hierarchy. They seem to have kept the consecrations restricted to the purposes for which they were desired.

A telling point of this, and one that you did not address, is that they still, and to my understanding, have always, referred sins reserved to the Holy See to the Holy See, and have often been provided faculties for the remittance of these sins from the Vatican. This indicates that they do operate under the legitimate hierarchy, but due to the limits they see forced upon them by tradition, they are in a very irregular situation, and so have an uncanonical status. But I do not see them as being schismatic to date.

I do think that if they fail to reconcile, they eventually will be schismatics, but we aren't quite there yet.

And, I have never been to an SSPX mass or other activity. Just sayin'.