Reflections of Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P. († 1975), who was perhaps the first theologian to condemn the modern trends in France, with Bishop Tissier’s commentaries.
John XXIII opens the Council in October 1962. Soon afterward Father Calmel denounces the “soft language,” the “imprecise, talkative, and even slippery” composition, which “tends to naturalize the supernatural, and to reduce to the level of natural evolution the mysteries of the Incarnation, Redemption by the Cross, and the Kingdom of God.”1
In April 1965 in an article in Itinéraires entitled “Ambiguous Evangelism,” Father Calmel raises the question: Is it real reform going on in the Church, or vandalism?
“The more I thought about the revolution, it became apparent to me that it has three specific characteristics: It does not remedy abuses, but attacks the very nature of things; it does not bring noble and generous tendencies and wise desires for renewal to a successful issue, but misappropriates them for their ultimate destruction and thereby ruins them; it does not rule by means of a visible authority, however tyrannical, but reduces men into slavery by means of an occult authority against which it is nearly impossible to have recourse because it is like a poison spread throughout the tissues of the social body.”
Father Calmel gives examples of the second revolutionary tactic at work in the Church at a certain point in its history: the aspiration for biblical or liturgical or missionary renewal:
“See how the revolution will act to circumvent them, to mislead them, to falsify them. They begin by sidelining the practicing traditional Catholics who were going to bring about the renewal in fidelity to the Tradition of the Church; they replace them with revolutionaries who pit ‘a return to the sources’ against Tradition, and the Gospel against the Church; they gradually teach the Christian people, frightfully mislead, to understand Scripture contrary to traditional theology, to celebrate the liturgy while stifling adoration and recollection, to magnify marriage over consecrated virginity, to exalt evangelical poverty above private property, to become apostles to unbelievers by abstracting from faith and baptism.”
Father Calmel more specifically denounces an un-heard of way of exercising authority, which is consubstantial with the revolution: It is “an occult system of power that hides behind the curtains, making use of a parallel hierarchy, channels of communication, infiltration, and manipulation of public opinion in order to mold minds and consciences.”
In March 1967, Father Calmel returned to the subject dealt with in his Theology of History (a series of articles in Itinéraires, 1966). The time of the coming of Antichrist is not an idle question, for this instrument of the devil will not be content with merely opposing the gospel. His strategy will consist in rendering it irrelevant. He will spread a spirit of superficiality such that “the thoughts and sentiments of men will have not the slightest inclination toward anything supernatural or even religious.” To do so, he will enlist political power and social life “such that irreligion necessarily impregnates life so that it becomes an integral part of life.” And this will apply to the Church as well: “When it will have reached the stage of globalization, the system of a ruling power and parallel authorities will become prodigiously effective at stifling souls and subverting the Church. It is undoubtedly by means of this system of domination, once it has become global, that the immediate preparations for the coming of the Antichrist will be made” (p. 411).
In April 1969, in Itinéraires No. 132 devoted to the memory of Abbé Victor Alain Berto, recalled to God the previous 17th December, Father Calmel wrote a short article entitled “Croire en l’Eglise,” in which, following the teaching of the deceased, he affirmed: “Eternal salvation hinges on faith in the Church and in the pope, nothing less. Acknowledging or rejecting in the abstract or in practice the authority of the pope as pope, that is, in so far as he teaches or decides by the mandate he holds from Jesus Christ, is a matter of eternal life or death. Everything is at stake. Father Berto knew, as too few do in practice, that for the faithful, but especially for the ministers of Jesus Christ, eternal salvation, heaven or hell, inevitably depends on the reception they will have given to the ordinary or solemn teaching of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.”
Later on, Father Calmel said that this affirmation was exaggerated, without saying why. An attentive reading of Gaudium et Spes 11 §2, or of Paul VI’s speech at the close of the Council, or the interview of Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori in September 1984, allows us to articulate the missing reason why: As pope, the pope must teach or judge what belongs to the revealed deposit.2 The subject, the one who teaches, is dependent on the object, what is taught, and not the inverse. So if the pope or any other teacher should manifest an intention contrary to the object of the magisterium, for example, the intention to introduce into the doctrine of the faith novelties contrary to this doctrine, this counter-intention blocks the assistance of the Holy Spirit. No divinely aided act of the magisterium occurs; in fact, there is no act of the magisterium at all.
With this clarification, Father Calmel’s affirmation is true, and he continues: “This is rigorously true, even when the powers, the heights or the depth, become identified with the cause of our pains and our struggles in a sorely tried Church. This is true even when we have to work out our sanctification in a Church divided, undermined from within, suffering, as it were, under an occupation government, because its enemies are working within—in sinu gremioque Ecclesiae, as St. Pius X said regarding modernist pastors; there is no situation that can render null and void the promise of victory the Apostle gives us” (p. 267).
There is no situation that can render null and void the help of Christ by His Spirit to the Church, provided that His ministers do not withdraw themselves from this assistance. But for the moment, it seems to Father Calmel that such a withdrawal is not the case. What is happening, he sees, is that “Peter is on vacation” while false prophets of a pseudo-Church are doing the talking.
Father Calmel was the first one to react against the promulgation of the New Mass, the first time on September 19 by writing to the pope privately, and then publicly on November 27, 1969, well before Bishop de Castro Mayer and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. He expresses not a plea to be able to keep the usage of the former rite as did two cardinals (Ottaviani and Bacci in the study commonly known as The Ottaviani Intervention), nor a canonical argumentation proving the non-obligatory character of the new rite as did Fr. Raymond Dulac; but rather, he enounces a complete, tightly reasoned Non possumus, poured out under the patent influence of the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and of the Spirit of counsel and fortitude:
“I’m keeping the traditional Mass, the one that was codified, but not concocted, by St. Pius V in the sixteenth century in conformity with a tradition several centuries old. I refuse the Ordo Missae of Paul VI. Why? Because, in reality, this Ordo Missae does not exist. What exists is a universal, permanent liturgical revolution the current pope either wanted or for which he accepts responsibility, which for a while wears the mask of the Ordo Missae of April 3, 1969. Every priest has the right to refuse to wear the mask of the liturgical revolution.
“Simple honesty, but infinitely more, the honor of the priesthood, demands that I not have the impudence to traffic the Catholic Mass I received on the day of my ordination....The first proof of loyalty and love the priest has to give to God and men is to keep intact the infinitely precious deposit entrusted to him when the bishop laid his hands on him. It is first of all on this proof of loyalty and love that I will be judged by the supreme Judge. I most confidently expect that the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Sovereign High Priest, will obtain for me the grace to remain faithful unto death to the true and unequivocal Catholic Mass. Tuus sum ego, salvum me fac.”
This declaration is a counterrevolutionary act in the good sense of the word: it is not a challenge to the supreme authority nor a call to revolt against it. It is a profession of faith with all the practical consequences. Such an act is of a nature to thwart the effort of the revolution; it is even the only act that can thwart the subversive tactics used in establishment the New Order and against the true Mass and the Church. It is to such a verbum fidei, a word of faith, that the salvation of those who hear it and the one who pronounces it is attached (cf. I Tim. 4:16). It is just such a frank declaration of war that frustrates the adversary’s maneuver: it takes from him the principal weapon he was counting on: in his victims, human respect, weakness, compromise. Such a verbum veritatis, such a word of truth springs from a proud heart, but also a pure heart; it proceeds from an unbending will, but also from a mind enlightened from above and from a living fire of love.
Just this sort of declaration was that of November 21, 1974, by Abp Marcel Lefebvre on the two Romes:
“We hold firmly with all our heart and with all our mind to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith..., to the eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth. We refuse on the other hand, and have always refused, to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies, which became clearly manifest during the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it....”
Later on the Archbishop will attribute this declaration to “a movement of indignation”; he could well have said “righteous anger.” A man arose, filled with the Spirit of God, and the course of events changed because of it; the history of the Church is forever affected by it. The same was true of Father Calmel, in all his spiritual simplicity and spontaneity: an effective, humble, and magnanimous counterrevolutionary.
Father Calmel’s reflections about the Church of his times and the end of time developed as the revolution in the Church worsened. These were aired in his essay, “Apologie pour l’Eglise de toujours,” published in Itinéraires No. 151 in March 1971. In it we find a look at the real goal of conciliar ecumenism and a veritable prophecy of what will result from this ecumenism during the pontificates of the popes to come:
“Misled by the grand chimera of their own desire to find easy, infallible means to achieving once and for all the religious unity of mankind, prelates occupying the most important posts are working to invent a church without borders in which all men, unconditionally dispensed from renouncing the world and Satan, will soon be united in the bonds of brotherly love. Dogmas, rites, hierarchy, discipline, if one insists, would all be carried over from the first Church, but everything would be bereft of the safeguards willed by the Lord and specified by Tradition; by that very fact, everything would be drained of Catholic vitality, namely grace and holiness. The adepts of the strangest confessions, and even those who refuse any confession, would enter as equals, but they would enter equally into a dummy church. Such is the present endeavor of the prestigious Master of lies and illusions. Behold the masterwork, of Masonic inspiration, to which he commits his minions, faithless priests promoted eminent theologians; oblivious or disloyal bishops, if not disguised apostates, rapidly elevated to the choicest honors and invested with the highest prelatures. They spend their lives and lose their souls building a postconciliar Church under the star of Satan” (Prologue, p. 104).
“One wonders what would prevent the non-Christian religions themselves from belonging to the new universal church, which is continually being updated by ecumenical interpretations. One wonders about it if one at least accepts the point of view so many former Council Fathers, circumvented by Vatican II, allowed to be imposed on them: The Church has to forge a heretofore unknown system and a new apparatus in order to win over the world without being exposed to failure, nor suffering, nor persecution, beginning with relativizing the supernatural” (p. 105).
One finds described in advance the action of a typical, monstrous network of agents of influence which became all-powerful within the bosom of the clergy and the hierarchy under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which Father Calmel will only know from heaven.
Father Calmel’s rules of conduct, especially for priests and religious and nuns, became more and more absolute. “The greatest danger today,” he wrote, “is self-delusion, avoiding the battle for the sake of peace” under the pretext of maintaining one’s spiritual life. It is just the opposite, he says. It is precisely the exigencies of religious life that forbid any and all compromise, human fear, or cowardice. “The martyrs of the first centuries, the bishops (Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Hilary) did not avoid going to prison. They accepted it in a contemplative manner.” That is why this witness “cannot be given without a mystical life”; it “cannot be lived without union with God” (p. 466).
To a nun he wrote: “Understand that modernism keeps everything in theology, but it reinterprets everything.” That is why “nothing can be conceded. This is what it means to be a religious now—concede nothing even if it means martyrdom. Be steadfast: struggle, martyrdom, no discussions” (p. 467).
Father Calmel did limit himself to the consideration of principles, but also gave prudential rules corresponding to these principles.
“Let the faithful priest who is apt to preach, absolve, and say Mass carry on in the exercise of his power and his grace of preaching and instructing, of forgiving sins and offering the holy sacrifice in the traditional rite. Let the teaching nun carry on in her grace and her ability to train up girls in the faith, good morals, purity, and the humanities. Let every priest, layman, small group of laity and priests having authority and power over a citadel of the Church and of Christendom carry on to the extent of their ways and means. Let each one of these little fortresses, protected, defended, led, and guided in its prayer and songs by a real authority, become as far as possible a bastion of holiness: this is what will assure the continuation of the true Church and will serve as preparations for renewal whenever it shall please the Lord.”
So then, no global associations, nor planetary congresses, nor the idle talk of bulletins and broadsheets, since the divinely instituted head will be lacking; but rather a seeking after the holiness of numerous bastions of Christendom: convents, schools, chapels, pious confraternities, networks of families, pilgrimages—therein lies the Church’s salvation.
Father Calmel does not exclude sacerdotal societies that train their priests, but he does not mention it; he believes that the Lord will provide for His Church “the indispensable amount of hierarchical power and ordinary priestly power” (p. 19). He absolutely does not speak about “supplemental” bishops, as they will be called, even for the ordination of priests: Either that seems to him to exceed the bounds of the divinely instituted hierarchy, or he does not yet dare advance the hypothesis.
Without being more specific, he believes that the Lord will grant “bishops who wisely and personally exercise their powers” and that He will “raise up a great and holy pope when He sees in His Church souls and groups sufficiently fervent to welcome them.”
“So doing,” he writes, “we have no doubts about being sons of the Church. We are nowise forming a marginal sect; we belong to the one, holy Catholic Church, Apostolic and Roman. We are preparing the blessed day when the authority having again found itself, the Church will at last be delivered from the stifling fog of the present trial. Even though this day is long in coming, we try not to let up in the essential duty of our sanctification. We do so by keeping Tradition with the same spirit with which we received it, a spirit of holiness” (p. 598).
1 Itinéraires, 1964, pp. 305-306.
2 Cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus: “For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth” (Dz. 1836).