Sermon by Father Jean, OFMC,
On the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 26th 2014)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
I will begin this sermon with this explanation or rather this invocation of the word of God, not from today’s Gospel, but rather from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone”. If possible, clarifies Saint Paul. Because last night, in our office of matins in Morgon, we read another Epistle of St Paul, that to the Galatians. We have started reading it, and this week we will be reading in the middle of the night, throughout the week, the Epistle to the Galatians. And in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul says: “If someone preaches a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema!” It isn’t the same tone anymore. It isn’t possible to be at peace with someone who has another doctrine, another Gospel.
Let me, therefore, start with this word of God to try and apply it to the current circumstances. When we preach, we must be anxious to, not only explain to you the word of God, the will of God, Truth, but also how to apply it to the current need, to the need of your souls. Most of you are aware, I think, that for a few weeks there have been some grave events affecting our Traditionalist world. For those who wouldn’t be aware, I will quickly summarise the situation. A certain number of priests have left the Society and communities friendly with the SSPX have taken their distance from the authorities of the Society. So you are allowed to think: what about you in Morgon, what are you doing? What are your thoughts about it all? I have asked our Father Guardian if I could preach to you today on this matter. Not to take sides with one or the other, again, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone”. Last Saturday and Sunday I was with Father Fidèle-Marie in Avignon, in one of the Society’s mass centres, and we preached quite a lot, administered confession, and all went very well. And in a few weeks, I will go to Avrillé and preach or rather give a few sessions on Marian theology for a week, to the monks in Avrillé. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone”. There you have it.
But I asked our Father Guardian, and he gave me his permission of course, to explain to you why there is this division. I think that this is what we must understand. This division, visible, sensible, painful even in a way, is in reality something which is apparent to us, visible. It is the result of a division which is much more profound, much graver, of which I would like to speak: It is a division based on principles. It is very important, my dear faithful, that you understand this. It is not about people, it is about principles. If you remember only this much when you leave this church, I will have fulfilled my mission. This is what I told Father Guardian I would like to explain to you. And you have at the back of the church photocopies of a text which I had written a while back, it is not signed, but I take full credit for it, I wrote it. Father Guardian has allowed me to distribute it, it explains what I cannot explain in a sermon. My sermon today might already be a little longer than usual, and I cannot talk about all the details today. This text is at your disposal, there is about 50 copies of it, I think there is enough for everyone. You may copy it and distribute it if you wish, I take full responsibility for it.[i]
The framework of this sermon, if it can be called a sermon, is very simple. First, I will show you that it is very important for us to be men and women of principle. In the second part, I will try to explain how, if we have been, for the past 50 years or so, in our resistance, in our struggle for the Faith, for Tradition, it is because we are men of principle, and our predecessors were men of principle. And thirdly, I will try to apply that to the current circumstances. Today, the problem is a problem of principles in the Tradition.
So first point, we must be men of principle. This is based on the teachings of the Popes. Pope Pius IX, in 1871, received French pilgrims in Rome; he told them: “In France, since the Revolution, what is preventing God’s blessing on you country is the fact that you have altered principles”. That is what Pope Pius IX said. You have altered principles. Then, Pope Saint Pius X, in his encyclical Pascendi – he was only quoting St Thomas Aquinas, it is the doctrine of the Church, pure traditional doctrine of the Church – said : « When you alter a principle, when you deviate only a little from a principle, the consequences are enormous! ». It is a bit like that with rifle shooting. If you move a millimetre, at 200 metres you are a meter from the target.
Pope Pius XII (therefore closer to our times) also said to Frenchmen: “France will only get back on its feet when Catholics will be men of principle, men of doctrine, trained men.” That is how Pope Pius XII spoke on the eve of the Council, to French Catholics. “You must be men of principle”. I won’t go on with quotes from the Popes, but I would like to quote a great cardinal, Cardinal Pie, who gave a whole sermon to explain to his diocese: the Church has always been inflexible on principles and tolerant in practice, with people. And the world, the liberals, it is the opposite; they are very tolerant on principles: think what you like, you have a right to think what you like. And they are intolerant in practice. That is why Cardinal Pie explained. And Bishop Freppel said: “When we abandon principles, it leads to ruin”. And these bishops, these great bishops who lived in the century following the French Revolution, tell us, and it is true, that revolutions are not made by people, they are battles of principles. It is true, and I will explain further in the second point. So, let us remember, my dear faithful: we must be men of principle. The Popes tell us so, the Church tells us so. If we are men of interest, if we make the principles above us bend to our interests, we are heading for disaster, we are not doing God’s will. Principles are not necessarily dogmas of the faith, but if you don’t respect them, well, they will take revenge. It is a principle, in any country, in England as much it is in France, that we must all drive on the same side of the road, even if in England they drive on the left, and we drive on the right. But the principle remains the same. And if you ignore this principle you are heading for disaster. No need to make you a drawing. It is an order of nature. It is not a dogma of Faith. It is not written in the Councils, but it is a principle. If one does not respect this principle, one heads for disaster.
And now, in the second point, I would like to show you that in Tradition, the resistance that we oppose, reluctantly in a way, to the hierarchy in place, to the Pope, to the bishops, exists because it is a question of principles. We are not against the Pope; we are not against the bishops. On the contrary, we pray for them always. But we are against their false principles. I will give you an example which you will understand right away: Council Vatican I established a principle: “Everything on earth is ordained for the glory of God”. It’s a principle, it’s dogmatic, it is even found in Holy Scripture. Vatican I didn’t invent anything, but no Council had declared it before Vatican I. Vatican I only reaffirmed an inescapable principle: everything on earth was created by God for His glory. Vatican II affirmed another principle: “Everything on earth is ordained towards man.” It is in Vatican II written out in full letters. Another principle was thereby affirmed. And our elders, Archbishop Lefebvre, Father Calmel, Father Eugene, did not accept this new principle. And you dear faithful, the old-timers amongst you especially, you did not accept this principle either, in practice, because the new religion which is ordained towards man turned the altar around. And you were surprised, walking into your church one day, to see that the altar had been turned around. You said to yourself: but the sacrifice is offered to God, it isn’t a meal between friends! Your good common sense, your Catholic sense even, realised that right away, without knowing the principle. And if I may talk about my own family, I have a very clear memory of it; it was at the end of the Council, my father didn’t want to attend the parish mass anymore, because they had turned the altar around. He started attending another parish, further out, where an old priest was celebrating the mass of all time. And we could go on. If our elders, the pioneers – those thanks to whom we have fought the good fight of the Faith, and we have had the grace to continue, thanks to my father, thanks to Archbishop Lefebvre – hadn’t existed and done that, we wouldn’t be here. They were men of principle. They refused to compromise. I think you know how Archbishop Lefebvre was repeatedly pressured into saying the “New Mass” at least once in his life. He was in Flavigny once, and a Jesuit priest who had been sent from Rome had a missal under his arm and was begging the Archbishop:
“Please, your Excellency, let us concelebrate Mass once, just once!”
But Archbishop Lefebvre was a man of principle:
“No, if this Mass is bad, I do not want to celebrate it, not even once!”
All this despite this good Jesuit – sent from Rome by Pope Paul VI himself, and with the papers he needed – who was almost begging him on two knees to concelebrate with him.
Archbishop Lefebvre could have said, if he had been not a man of principle but a man motivated by self-interest: Oh, it will smooth things over; they will be nicer after that. Alright then, just this once. No one will see it; in a little chapel in the Lacordaire oratory there. And that’s all, and it will smooth things over.
Something else comes to mind. I do not remember the name of the Pope at the time [ii], but when the King of England [Henry VIII] wanted a divorce to remarry, the Pope told him:
“No, that is not possible, you cannot divorce.”
“If you don’t allow me to divorce, I will leave the Roman Catholic Church.”
“No, no, it isn’t possible. I am not allowed [to divorce you] and I can’t. It is a principle which is above me. You are married, and I cannot [divorce you], you are married before God, you are married!”
As a result, the King of England left the Church and we ended with a schism. One could think, really, the Pope could have said yes, it would have smoothed things over and England would have stayed Catholic! It would have been much better like that. No! It is unsound reasoning. It is a reasoning based on self-interest. That’s the way it is: one has to respect principles. It is in Holy Scripture, Saint Paul says it. We cannot do a wrong to bring about a good. We cannot betray a principle ordained by God for a temporary or particular interest which goes against the common good. And I could give other examples, but my dear faithful, I do not want to linger on this second point so I will resume it if you allow me. Our elders have been faithful to their principles, and it is thanks to them that we are here, that we have fought the good fight.
And now the third point, its application in the current situation, today, this Sunday at the end of January. Again I want to say this in peace, without acrimony, without bitter zeal, but I need to make you understand where the problem is, where the division is: It is in the minds of people. It is not a matter of priests or communities which are not with us any longer. The division is in the minds of the people in our traditionalist world; in our priories, in our convents. That’s it. It is in the minds, because there are minds who profess a principle held for years, which Archbishop Lefebvre left us, and there are those do not admit this principle anymore, who say that this principle is not valid anymore, that it isn’t good. That’s the problem. So what is this principle? I think most of you have already understood. It is the principle that we cannot sign a practical or canonical agreement with the Roman authorities if we do not agree, first of all, on the doctrine, if we do not profess the same truths. And that is a Catholic principle. You have the photocopied letter at the back; you can read it peacefully at home, read well the arguments which I wrote to show you that it is based on Holy Scripture, on the Fathers of the Church, on the practice of the Church. The practice of the Church, I insist on that point, because it has been the attitude of the Popes until Pius XII, for instance with the Orthodox. When the Orthodox, since the Great Schism, since the 9th century with Photius were trying to negotiate with Rome to reunite with Rome, to have a practical agreement, to be reunited to the Roman hierarchy, well, it always stalled on questions of doctrine. Always: the primacy of the Pope, in particular, and the Filioque in the Credo. And when there were agreements, such as the Uniats[iii] in Greece and Russia, certain orthodox communities were reunited with the Roman Catholic Church, became catholic again, Rome never compromised with doctrine. Never. But with regards to the practice, the liturgy, no problem. With regards to the marriage of priests, no problem; it is traditional for you, always has been, no problem. A little example: with the Uniats in Ukraine, the Ruthenes, in the 17th century, Rome said: you must accept the doctrine of the Filioque, which is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; you must not say that it is a heresy. And the Uniats, or those who were going to become Uniats, said: Alright, we accept this doctrine, we have studied the matter again, we see that is in Tradition, that it is what the Church has always taught and we agree with the Filioque. Then Rome said: Actually do not ask that you say it in your Credo, because you have never sung it in your Credo even in the first centuries. So you won’t have to sing it in your Credo. Actually, a century later they asked to sing it in the Credo! So you see, Rome was very firm on a point of doctrine. Doctrine first. We must agree on doctrine, and then we will discuss practical matters, liturgical matters, that can be arranged, but one does not compromise with Faith; in that we are intolerant, absolutely, and proud to be so. Faith does not belong to us. It is a sacred deposit which we have received, it is above us. No one is allowed to touch it, not even a Pope.
Now to our current problem: for years, until the consecrations [of the 4 bishops in 1988] Archbishop Lefebvre tried to negotiate with Rome; since 1975, year of the unjust and null condemnation by Rome of the Society St Pius X, until 1988. When he was called to Rome, Archbishop Lefebvre always went there, and talked about Faith, about doctrine first; then he would look at the practical aspects, is there a way to sort things out, etc. There was always this doctrinal and practical aspect in play. So, sometimes, Archbishop Lefebvre made declarations which touched on the practical aspect, saying, let us experience Tradition, and we ask only for that, that we may be allowed to experience Tradition, and we will sort things out like that. Because he was a churchman, he always had this desire to be, if possible, in communion with the hierarchy.
Then he realised that he had gone too far when signing the protocol. He had gone too far because he had compromised on doctrine. He had put practice first. He recognised it, when he declared it in Fideliter n°66[iv]; those of you who have it at home can read it. In this Fideliter n°66 which dates back to December 1988, on the cover there is written “If talks resume, I will set down my conditions”. That is what Archbishop Lefebvre said after the consecrations and until his death and that is what he bequeathed us.
What are these conditions? You can find them in Fideliter n°66 and you know them anyway: “I will go to Rome with the encyclicals of the Popes and I will tell them: Are you in full agreement with these encyclicals? Quas Primas, on the kingship of our Lord Jesus-Christ? Mortalium Animos, on false ecumenism? etc etc.” Are you in agreement with the doctrine of your predecessors? ». There is a second point which Archbishop Lefebvre adds to his conditions: “Are you ready to reform Vatican II based on these encyclicals?” Because Vatican II says the opposite of Mortalium Animos and the opposite of Quas Primas and others encyclical, for instance on liberalism by Gregory XVI. “Are you in agreement, not only with the doctrine of your predecessors, but are you also ready to change, to reform Vatican II based on sound principles?” Those were Archbishop Lefebvre’s conditions. Read Fideliter n°66 very carefully. You can also buy it, or we can make copies for you if you’d like. In other declarations, In Flavigny, Archbishop Lefebvre said (and we already gave you copies of this declaration): « In Rome they uncrowned Our Lord Jesus-Christ, we cannot agree until they have crowned him again, before they affirm once more that Our Lord must reign over society”. So, let us remember, dear brethren, that after the consecrations Archbishop Lefebvre has always firmly maintained this principle: “I will set out my conditions: the doctrine, the encyclicals of the Popes. Do you agree, yes or no? If you do not, then there is no need for negotiations.” It is written in Fideliter n°66. If we do not agree on doctrine, it is pointless to discuss practical questions any more. That is what Archbishop Lefebvre bequeathed us until his death. And our movement of the Tradition has always been perfectly united as long as we have upheld this principle. And you will read on the copy which is at the back of the church the declarations of the 5 bishops, Archbishop Lefebvre and the 4 bishops he ordained, defending this principle; it is clear-cut and unambiguous. Bishop Fellay, in an October 2008 Letter to Friends and Benefactors which was attached to the French District newsletter, which you would be able to find in your old papers, says this principle is in the order of nature. It is like that of the driving side. It imposes itself on us. It is an order of nature. We must agree on doctrine before talking about practical arrangements.
Unfortunately, and it has been so for a while, I would say since after the discussions with Rome, around autumn 2011, well, little by little, we are forced to observe that the authorities of the Society are abandoning this principle. I say it without acrimony, without bitter zeal. I say it peacefully. I am ready to take responsibility for what I am saying and they [the authorities] cannot contradict me because it is public. It first started with Bishop Fellay saying that one might allow exceptions to this principle. He gave a conference in Canada where he said: with the Orthodox for instance, Rome agreed [with the Orthodox] on the question of marriage; divorce was allowed in certain cases. Bishop Fellay said: this principle does not hold, there are exceptions, one can compromise with it. But when one looks carefully at the question of marriage with the Orthodox, it wasn’t a question of Faith! It was a question of discipline; very different. Then Bishop de Galarreta, in a conference given in Villepreux[v] on October 13th 2012, said: Alright, these questions of practice, doctrine, we put all of these together, and if we can come to an agreement; we will fight the good fight from inside [the Church], we will be the spearhead inside, we will fight them from the inside. And then recently Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, in a conference given in Toulon last June said, and he confirmed it in writing (I had an exchange of letters with him), that Archbishop Lefebvre had always looked for a practical agreement. And I wrote to him saying, before the consecrations, yes, there had been declarations from Archbishop Lefebvre that showed that he was sometimes less strict with this principle. But after the consecrations he was always very clear and I remind Bishop Tissier that in Fideliter n°66 Archbishop Lefebvre had said: “I will set out my conditions, etc”. And Bishop Tissier answered me, I have his letter dated 11th September 2013, “He did say it, but he would not have done it”.
Again I repeat, I am not against anyone, I am not against Bishop Fellay, I am not against Bishop de Galarreta, I am not against Bishop Tissier. I pray for them. They are Bishops and one of them conferred the Holy Orders to me, and again, if possible, I would like to be at peace with everyone. But what I am telling you now are public statements, in Canada, in Villepreux, in Toulon. They are known, I am not telling you hidden things. I am merely trying to make sense of the current problem for you. There is a division in minds. This principle which was kept for years, behind which we all rallied, is being abandoned now.
In 2006 the Society had a General Chapter where it solemnly reaffirmed this principle. In 2012 it abandoned it. It set out 6 conditions, and if they [the Roman authorities] agree on the six conditions, then we can have a canonical agreement, a practical agreement. And Bishop Fellay wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in June 2012, and said: here is the path we chose, we are leaving aside unresolved doctrinal problems, let us first work towards a practical agreement and then we will see about the doctrinal agreements. And Bishop Fellay said to Benedict XVI: “I truly intend to continue on this path”. He clarifies it, he says it clearly, it is his intention. Then a month later, on July 2nd, there was a meeting of religious superiors in Paris, with 2 bishops, Bishop Fellay and Bishop de Galarreta. And, after Bishop Fellay was saying he regretted certain things, a Dominicain priest rose up and said, but your Excellency, shouldn’t the Society come back to the principle set out at the General Chapter in 2006? And Bishop Fellay answered: No, no, no, no. This principle isn’t clear, it isn’t sure. Even though 4 years earlier he had asserted that it was an order of nature, which means something which cannot be changed. There is no possible exception to an order of nature, it is philosophical, it is nature.
So you see my dear brethren, where the problem is. That is what I have tried to explain, without trying to take sides, without attacking people even if I have given names. But I have only given you publicly available information.
And now I will let you pray, I will let you meditate on these things so that each one of us, in conscience, can say: what is God’s will in this matter? That is the most important: what is God’s will in this matter? And do not insult each other saying: they are wrong, we don’t want them anymore, anathema to these priests on this side or that side. If possible let us remain at peace, let us be at peace with everyone. If possible, and it is still possible because there isn’t any official agreement yet. It is still only a battle of principle. It is very important, it is primordial. That is why you have these photocopies at the back of the church, which I invite to read, to understand. All revolutions were run on principles. Our elders told us, we must instil this in our minds. And this question of principles, one must really understand this and then we must follow our consciences because for each of us priests it is a grave problem of conscience. And Bishop de Galarreta had said so during the 2011 Chapter, on October 7th in Albano: “If we abandon this principle, it will mean a grave problem of conscience for priests.” He said it during the Chapter, he gave a warning. And unfortunately this is what we are seeing now. These “departures”, in brackets, come from the fact these priests are facing a great problem of conscience and they are not alone, so do I. What should I do now? Well, let us pray, let us pray a lot now. I think it is part of our prayer intentions, that we may be faithful to what our elders bequeathed us; these principles which, I am certain, come from God, are the will of God in the current crisis, in our dealings with Rome. The condemnation of Father Pivert’s book comes from there; it is because he upholds the old principle. No need to look any further. Why is Father Pivert’s book now banned from sale in the priories? (We still sell it in Morgon by the way). Because Father Pivert upholds the principle which we have held for the last 25 years and which is now being abandoned. That’s it. So if you understand this, you will understand a lot of other very concrete, very practical things.
My dear brethren, I hope to have spoken from God, I hope I didn’t cause any confusion in any soul, I would like it on the contrary to be peace. I think that if we are convinced of the will of God we can only be at peace, even in the worst situations. Let us think of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, Stabat Mater. She was peaceful. Stabat, she was standing. She was not revolted, she was not trembling, and she was not panicked; and yet her Son was in extraordinary torture. The heart of a mother and an immaculate heart, how she must have suffered! Yes she was in peace. We certainly are all suffering, my dear brethren, from this situation. All of us in the Tradition! But let us, as the Blessed Virgin, like her at the foot of the cross, stay peaceful and keep our eyes on God, on the will of God. Why was she peaceful? Because she knew it was the will of God that her Son die in these conditions, and that was enough for her to be at peace. Let us ask this grace from Our Lady, and if possible, remain at peace with everyone.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
[i] I believe that document is the one which is now up on the Reconquista website… in French…
[ii] Pope Clement VII.
[iii] The term Uniat or Uniate is applied to those Eastern Catholic churches which were previously Eastern Orthodox churches, primarily by Eastern Orthodox. The term is considered to have a derogatory connotation, though it was occasionally used by Latin and Eastern Catholics, prior to the Second Vatican Council.
[v] Villepreux is a town not far from Paris where the French District of the Society and other traditional associations hold an annual gathering for the faithful, their families, etc. See http://www.dici.org/agenda/france-journees-de-la-tradition-les-13-14-octobre-2012-a-villepreux/
We thank Suzanne Borgonovo Bretz for the translation from French!