Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Arch goon, lunatic, and one of the comic masters of the 20th Century, Spike Milligan (R.I.P) was a classic Shakespearian fool, who lived his irreverent but prophetic vocation to the end. The inscription on his tombstone says it all: “I told you I was sick.”
The man was a crack-up in more ways than one. His wacky humour may not be everybody’s cup of English Breakfast, but his commitment to making people laugh was certainly impressive; laugh without the slightest trace of bitterness, as one who surrenders their whole being to the truth of who we are and have always been. Because the man who by God’s grace understands himself to be wholly an idiot stands the best chance of becoming a holy idiot.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to start a cause for the beatification of Spike Milligan. I couldn’t tell you if he was even a Catholic, not that that’s necessarily a problem these days, though the fact that he’s been dead for over 12 months must at least qualify him for consideration. I would, however, suggest that there is a man—one with considerably less chance of ever being canonized—who probably deserves an epitaph like Milligan’s to grace his place of rest. In Marcel Lefebvre’s case, of course, we would need to adjust the wording slightly: “I told you it was sick.”
Lefebvre was well placed to make this assessment of the conciliar church.
Never the dissident he was widely portrayed to be, his formation in the faith and as a priest; his unsought but well-earned rise through ecclesiastical ranks to become archbishop and superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers— “Lefebvre was widely respected for his experience in the mission field and his ability to deal with the Roman Curia” (Wikipedia) his membership of the group of churchmen selected by John XXIII to prepare the schemas to be addressed at Vatican II; his insight into the organization, motivations and political slickness of the modernist bloc that hijacked the Council; his witness, post-Council, of the tightly orchestrated and rapidly unfolded destruction of everything that in the Roman Catholic Church had once been Holy; and the conviction that led Paul VI to bitterly regret that the smoke of Satan had entered the sanctuary and Josef Ratzinger to observe that the French Revolution within the church had been accomplished, led Marcel Lefebvre to conclude that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church could no longer be counted on to perform its Catholic duty.
But it seems Lefebvre was wrong.
A string of recent sainted (or at least beatified) popes—in fact every Holy Father since Vatican II, with the exception of John-Paul I (R.I.P.) who died too soon, and Benedict XVI who hasn’t died at all— says most emphatically that he was wrong. Clearly, we live in blessed times; not the dark, dogmatic ages of the Church that thundered down night upon us until that bright dawn of 1962. Since then we’ve moved from dogmatic to catatonic, from penitential to existential in a glorious evolution into the always new.
If Assisi cast a shadow of doubt, cast it joyfully off. The new Francis absolves us of all fear—except the justified fear of things old—as we witness early in his address to the faithful on the occasion of his 2014 Mass to mark the closing of the (first) extraordinary synod on the family and the beatification of the Servant of God Paul VI: “God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us ‘new’. A Christian who lives the Gospel is ‘God’s newness’ in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this ‘newness’!”
Bystanders like those at the first Pentecost (Acts 2:15) might well have questioned whether this man wasn’t drunk. But to suggest that would be neoblasphemous and a sin against the Holy Spirit who fueled the fires that blazed neo-revelation to those assembled for a Council that, apparently, rivals the greatest in Church history.
Intoxicated maybe, but certainly not drunk. This Francis who stands before us, does he not fill us with a peace that surpasses understanding. Well, “peace” may not be exactly the right word. “Confusion” is possibly more apt. But one thing we can’t deny is his inspired sense of timing: that all this talk of newness should proceed from yet another outpouring of the Third Person during what had been a most extraordinary synod.
As for “understanding”, the message couldn’t be clearer: God loves all things new and surprising. He especially loves our inventiveness in creating new laws, new orders of morality and a new, democratic understanding of our relations with Him, the Almighty.
And do you know why God is such a massive fan of newness? Of course you do. Yes, it’s because he’s a new god.
Not the God-made-man of the Gospels, but the man-made-god of the new and improved latest version of Catholic truth. Download the app on your iPhone today.
[Forgive me, dear reader, if it seems I stray too far in the way of disrespect; forgive me if I flirt with irreverence. As a man I am Catholic, but as a Catholic I must also be a man, not a mouthpiece to parrot the stale formulae prescribed by party policy. We are all too often guilty of failing in our duty to speak the truth; and if we fail to speak it, then is only a matter of time before we cease even to think it, and in this we diminish the image of Christ in our souls.
A Catholic faith is surely no faith at all if it does not first discover and then convert the unruly part-pagan who lurks in each of us, to the practice of some kind of virtue. Personally, I have to confess to battling an inner Milligan.
Yes, I tell you, I am sick. The church and all the world is sick, and I am sick of their being sick, and occasional outbursts such as this represent a personal attempt to alleviate the symptoms.] If it was clear, by certain standards, even conservative standards, that Marcel Lefebvre was wrong in the stance he took towards Rome, it is even clearer that this historical judgement laid upon the good archbishop has become increasingly less sustainable.
Unsustainable in the face of each new Bergoglio media extravaganza; in view of yet another in what has become almost a tradition of prelates preaching heresy without fear of censure, much less of correction; in the train of the latest synodal circus, with its gaily painted wagons, wooden life-size puppets and faceless puppet masters, all leaving town in haste and carefully orchestrated confusion.
Critics label Lefebvre’s distinction between the Rome-of-the-Council and the Rome-of-all-times as false and mere sophistry. “He disobeyed the Pope,” they exclaim repeatedly, united in their rage and utterly convinced that the law of obedience is absolute. But St Paul (Gal. 4: 21-26) asks: “Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, have you not read the law?” Undaunted, they chant even louder: “He disobeyed the Pope.
He disobeyed the Pope.” Paul goes on calmly to explain (and I will paraphrase the Apostle) that there are, in fact, two laws (or testaments): “The one from mount Sinai, engendering unto bondage” which affirms our citizenship of “that Jerusalem which now is”; and a second which ties us to “that Jerusalem, which is above, is free: which is our mother.”
Lefebvre declared on November 21, 1974: “No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. ‘But though we,’ says St. Paul, ‘or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.’” The law of obedience to Rome binds us to Rome and gives us rights as the citizens of Rome. Within those rights subsists the entitlement to partake of the treasures of the Church, namely the grace of God that flows to us through the doctrines, the liturgy and the sacraments of the church. Received and used rightly throughout our lives this grace will open for us the door through which we must pass to enter the Rome above.
But if the will of Rome below is poisoned by pride; if the government of Holy Church turns its eyes and heart away from gazing with steadfast love and devotion upon the unchanging truth and compelling majesty of the Almighty; if the sacrificial ministers of the New Covenant lay hands upon the sacred gifts bestowed by God and disfigure them with melting ambition to fashion an image of worldly success; and if they make of this idol the object of Roman worship, then the grace of God is thwarted and the door to Rome above nailed shut, even as it was once nailed open.
Though the father has fallen into mortal sin, the son remains as son. He must continue to honour his father with love and devotion, and strive with all his might to assist the father’s return to the grace of God. The one thing he cannot do is follow the father into sin because all fatherhood is from above, and to honour and repay the sacred trust of God is man’s eternal duty. In union with the father above and by living to fullness his duty as a son, the child, by the great mercy of God, may yet become the father of the father and a means whereby the whole house is restored to the kingdom of God.
So, and this is the question that divides even good Catholic from good Catholic, was Archbishop Lefebvre justified in asserting that the Conciliar Church has become an essentially humanitarian organization that values the material above the spiritual and the temporal above the eternal, thus endangering souls? In other words, is there, or is there not a state of emergency within the Church?
Seriously, you have to laugh. I mean, this is the point in the conversation when I just gape open-mouthed for a full twenty seconds as the rest of me twitches uncontrollably from head to toe. I don’t mock. No, I really don’t. But I gasp in disbelief: “The Good God gave you eyes and ears and a brain. Didn’t He? You tell me whether there’s an emergency.”
As I’ve argued above, Marcel Lefebvre’s pedigree as a churchman is beyond reproach. That doesn’t, however, entirely preclude the possibility of his having made an error of judgment, in 1988, by ordaining 4 bishops against the express wishes of the Holy Father. But what sign in the intervening 27 years has Rome given to demonstrate anything other than that Lefebvre was entirely correct in his assessment of crisis?
In fact, as troubled as the situation may have been in 1988, there is scant possibility that the church then would have even entertained the thought of radically reforming its laws pertaining to marriage and the reception of Holy Communion—for its hour had not yet come. Now, not only do we discuss these matters in full view of a world that sanctions almost every form of perversion imaginable and ridicules God as a matter of principle, we actually dignify heresy by implementing a high-level official process that—in words used by Archbishop Lefebvre to characterize the liberalism of Paul VI— “encourages change, baptizes mutation” and follows the lead of those who would see the church destroyed.
Make no mistake, the reforms will come, gradually, stealthily, in classic, dishonest, self-interested modernist fashion. Our Lord and Redeemer may have promised that the gates of Hell will never prevail—and they won’t—but He didn’t put a figure on just how many will actually still have the faith when He returns.
For God’s holy sake, let’s put an end to the gutless human respect that cripples reasonable judgment and divides right-thinking Catholics into bickering, nitpicking factions, quarrelling about who’s got faculties over which deckchair on the Titanic. Truth is everything. Icebergs are impressive. And of course Marcel Lefebvre was right. Of course we should support the SSPX—in the very least by not constantly trying to undermine the good and noble work it performs—in striving to realize the motto of its patron: instaurare omnia in Christo. On the day Catholics are called to give witness to the Rome above and below, we will stand united by the will of God, and His will alone, with a single symbol of our cause - Christ crucified.
If history tells us anything—and it tells us much of what we need to know—the only thing that will unite us will be a common enemy. How much simpler it would be if we could rely on an enemy without, dark hordes massing at our gate. But that’s not how it is or will be. We live in an age of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare. Gueranger (The Liturgical Year, v.11 - 20th Sunday after Pentecost) delivers this warning: “Supernatural light will, in those days, not only have to withstand the attacks of the children of darkness, who will put forward their false doctrines; it will, moreover, be minimized and falsified by the very children of the light yielding on the question of principles; it will be endangered by the hesitations and the human prudence of those who are called far-seeing men.”
And who are these so-called “far-seeing men” who will endanger us with their human thinking? They are our leaders, even, by their own canonized opinion, our so-called saints. In this matter at least Pope Francis is clear: “In [his] humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom” Sorry, did he say “grandeur”? Did he actually say Paul held fast against a “secularized and hostile society”? That he was farsighted and wise?
All I can say is: thank God for laughter.
It was the laughter of a child that allowed loyal subjects to see through the emperor’s new clothes and all his proud and foolish beliefs. Thank God for Spike, too, and spare a prayer for his soul. ■