A Dominican in Time of Crisis

by Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, SSPX

Rev. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P. (1914-1975) was born in Southern France and would become one of the leading French intellectuals during the neo-Modernist era and, especially, after the conciliar revolution. He came from the Languedoc peasant stock and much of the virtues of the terroir, reflected in him, were explained thus by his father: “Work, pray, always very much love the little ones and the humble. I am sincerely happy of your calm at work. That is what you need. I know it by experience: calm, patience, perseverance, tenacity, absolute confidence in God.”

He is 17 years old and at the minor seminary. He reads a book on spirituality and takes life seriously. “What Augustin could accomplish, could not Calmel do it? It will be hard, but together with Jesus, could we not do it?” This indicates a striking maturity, which truly shows that one’s whole life depends on a few “yea’s” and “nay’s” pronounced at age fifteen.

A Short Biography

This slow maturing vocation, which normally would have led him to the secular clergy, suddenly takes on a definitive turn. It leads him to knock at the door of the Dominicans of Toulouse in 1936, and five years later, he is ordained priest in Toulon, on which occasion he meets for the first time the teaching Dominican nuns of St. Pré, who are going to play an important part in his apostolic life. Later on when temporarily stationed in Spain (1956-7), he will write something about this change of vocation: “I am certain that my sudden entrance into the Order, at the end of the summer of 1936, is the fruit of the martyrdom of some unknown Spanish Dominican, martyr of the ‘Reds’ during the summer of 1936.”

At the same time, Fr. Roger Calmel was horrified to discover the defection of prominent French intellectuals, like Mounier, Bernanos, and Maritain, who criticized the Catholic insurrection against the pro-Communist Spanish government. His eyes had already been opened as to the ravages done by the modernist infiltrations in the religious orders, led by the sinuous Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, whose surreptitious heresies were passed under the table. Fr. Calmel saw firsthand the troubles coming from the high Dominican echelons, including the publishing house Cerf, with its magazine the Scholasticate under Fr. Chenu, who formed Congar and Schillebeeckx. Fr. Calmel was especially shocked by the defection of great Thomists and complained that, although they were clearly for the truth, they were too shy to denounce error. And, faced with the Teilhardian effect, they were weak because they did not appreciate the devious character of modern myths.

Because of his recurring poor health, but more so because of his coldness toward any innovation on liturgical or doctrinal issues, Fr. Calmel was sent from one convent to another in Southern France: Toulouse, Marseille, Sainte-Baume, Montpellier, Biarritz, Sorèze, Prouilhe, and finally, Brignoles near Toulon.

It is just after his return from Spain in 1957 that he started a long collaboration with the traditional intellectual magazine Itinéraires of Jean Madiran. Fr. Calmel wrote the impressive sum total of 150 articles. Madiran explains: “We worked together for 17 years. His contract was simple. I had requested him to be a priest of the Order of St. Dominic for the magazine. His answer was that he could not and would not wish to be anything else.” One year into the “contract” Madiran recalled:

“Marcel Clément, after Jean Ousset, repeated the sentence of St. Pius X: ‘There could be no sanctity where there is disagreement with the Pope.’ Fr. Calmel put much energy to reject this proposition. The authority invoked could not shake his certitude. St. Pius X is St. Pius X, and he venerated him with all his heart, but this was a private opinion which wasn’t right. The history of the Church shows canonized saints who disagreed with popes who were not canonized. Fr. Calmel invoked theology as well as common sense on his side. St. Pius X, in the same discourse to the priests on December 2, 1912, declared: ‘One must not limit the field where the pope can and must exercise his will.’ If this means that the field has no limit or only the limit which any Pontiff wishes to grant it, abstracting from any objective criterion, Fr. Calmel argued that we are falling into an obvious error. He spoke in vain. The error was not evident. We had Pius XII. The subsequent events would suffice to better teach us.”

Against the ceaseless Teilhardian barrage of heretical books and pamphlets, Fr. Calmel would use his pen to bring a public voice to Tradition. His articles are little jewels of doctrine and observation. Some of them saw a wide diffusion, being published as books which became beacons of light and harbors of peace in those times of diabolical disorientation. They reflect the mystical realism of a soul living in the supernatural realms and yet very conscious of the need for armed resistance to the forces of destruction prevalent about him. Here is a list of such works, largely not translated, the latter titles being more polemical: According to the Gospel; If Your Eye is Simple; School and Sanctity; Renewed Christian School; On our roads of Exile; Theology of History; The Grandeurs of Jesus Christ; Brief Apology for the Church of all Times; The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Grace (2 volumes).

Champion of Truth in the 1960s

In the thick of the Vatican II, Fr. Calmel6 explained how much he resented the language “moll, viscous or fleeting, which can be drawn in all the senses, which anyone can use at will…I dread them so much the more as they are covered with ecclesiastical authorities. Especially, these expressions seem to me a direct insult to Him who said: ‘Let your word be yes, yes, no no’.” The blurred language avoids any type of definition. For, to define is to delimitate, to distinguish true from false. Yet, today, there is no room for anathemas. As if the Church had no more enemies, as if the world had become reconciled with Christ. “They pretend to reduce us to formless tadpoles or ectoplasms with no heart and no passions.”

After 1965, he would describe the Conciliar texts with vivid imagery: “On the whole, we have the impression of being buried under a pile of pillows. Pillows cannot be refuted. And, if they want to stifle you under their piling up, you draw your knife, you give a few strokes and let the feathers fly to the wind. In this case, the knife represents the definitions of the Councils anterior to Vatican II.”

Rather than a reform in the Church, what we are assisting at is a revolution, a robbery.” His meditation on the French Revolution gave him to offer a mature judgment of Vatican II. “As I was thinking over the Revolution, I came to the conclusion that it presents three distinctive characters: no remedy to the abuses but an attack against the very nature of things; no effective results of the noble and wise aspirations to renewal but poison them and divert them to the pursuit of destruction; no domination by a visible authority, be it tyrannical, but reduce into slavery through a hidden authority, against which any recourse is virtually impossible because it resembles a poison spread throughout the whole social tissue.” And his conclusion was that “If we consider the council as enjoying the particular authority of the Councils, Vatican II did not take place.”

His attack on Vatican II extended also to the nefarious liturgical reform of the late 1960s. “Paul VI has introduced revolutionarily a permanent reform which multiples the ambiguities and leads to Protestantism. He who sees this—and many priests see it—cannot become an accomplice.” To the Ecône seminarians, in the Holy Week retreat of 1974, he explains that modernism is a virus which is highly contagious. One must flee from it. Likewise, “The testimony is an absolute. If I render testimony to the Catholic Mass, I must abstain from the others Masses. It is like the grain of incense offered to the idols: either one little grain or nothing at all. Hence, it is nothing at all.”

To those who object that his refusal of the Novus Ordo Missae goes against the virtue of obedience, he retorts with the principles of Christian obedience, which do not dispense one from “opening his eyes” and resisting orders which contradict those of Christ. This time prefigures that of the Antichrist, and God’s people are being deceived, abused, and betrayed by their leaders. We need to know how to become saints while the precursors of the Antichrist govern, dominate the City, and hold the Church in chains.

Among those conservative priests who preach an unconditional obedience, he sees “a sort of idolatry of the person of the pope.” One can, alas, sin by obedience.

The Church is in no way a gigantic religious administration where one would be asked only to conform without further ado. No! She is the Mystical Body of Christ, His holy Spouse. It is this transcendence which allows the obedient souls to oppose a respectful but firm refusal to the decrees of the hierarchy when they obviously hurt the most certain Tradition. He explains simply: “It is the Church which has taught me to do as I do: never compromise with what destroys the faith.”

It is the ABC’s of Modernism to force the faithful to bow down by the blackmailing of virtue and by throwing away, in the name of virtue, those indispensible means of formation. Modernism leads its victims in the name of obedience, thanks to the suspicion of pride placed upon any criticism of the reforms, in the name of the respect due to the pope, in the name of the missionary zeal, of charity and unity.

Give us a Bishop

In the aftermath of the Council and the next decade, initiatives were numerous where simple faithful and isolated priests set up defenses, bastions and dikes to resist the modernist tsunami ravaging the Catholic landscape. With time, these isolated initiatives showed their limits. As the modernist vice was tightening up and the betrayals multiplied, it became clear to Fr. Calmel that the solution to the crisis could only be a bishop.

He had met Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1963 in Brittany. From 1967 on, he kept up a regular correspondence with him. Then, he wrote Fr. Dulac of his conviction that only this prelate, superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, could unite forces in this combat for the defense of the faith: “I am eager to write again to Archbishop Lefebvre. Of course, he risks much if he takes publicly a position against the present reformism. But, if he did not, it seems to me that he would risk much more and, especially, especially, the security of conscience which many are in need of, and the lack of a unifying would not be granted us… Then, how could we escape the chaos? The day we can say: “A bishop has taken a position; our resistance to the liturgical, dogmatic, disciplinary turmoil is not a matter for plain lay folks and priests, but we have a bishop”; on that day, things will be cleaer, we shall rally the hesitant, other bishops will follow suit. Daily I pray to Our Lady and St. Dominic that Archbishop Lefebvre may speak loud and clear. I see only him.”

A few weeks later, he was jubilant, certain as he was that the Archbishop would break the silence. Through his contacts, Fr. Calmel could appreciate not only his doctrinal rigor and love of Tradition, but also his profound modesty. In a private letter, he said: “Archbishop Lefebvre, of the Holy Ghost Fathers, writes me a good letter. He, for one, belongs to the species—rather rare—of those guardians of the faith who do not get reckless.”

He received with enthusiasm the news of the foundation of a seminary by his Archbishop. “Everything is ready. Finally, a bishop is speaking!” But what surprise awaited him when, the founder, forced to start a seminary which was to open in Fribourg, Switzerland, set his mind to invite him to become its first superior. Fr. Calmel, placing himself before God, believed he could only refuse the honor. The relations were very amicable however and, after a conference given in Toulon in 1970, Fr. Calmel was most impressed by the doctrinal solidity, the supernatural spirit, the prudence and serenity of the prelate. He concluded: “Rarely did I see a bishop less reckless and more solid than Archbishop Lefebvre. This confirms my first impression of 1963 when we met for a long time in Brittany. I saw more clearly that it would be unjust to ask this bishop to compose books or even write articles. He is foremost a man of government, a man of God who fulfils as a saint a charge of governor in the Church.”

Faithfulness Unto Death

The trust between the two men would last until death, which came to Fr. Calmel on May 3, 1975, only one year after he had given strong signals of unflinching fidelity to tradition to the Ecône seminarians. At that juncture, Fr. Calmel had taken residence over a year before, cum permissu superiorum, as chaplain of the teaching Dominican nuns of St. Pré. These sisters, in close contact with him and with his spiritual support, had made a move from the mother house in order for those faithful to tradition to stay together, free from the troubles brewing in the other houses. Brignoles was founded and well guided by their beloved Father. He is buried there as a herald of resistance in troubled times. A memento, inspired from the Mass of St. Dominic, depicts his legacy:

Son most loving and valiant of St. Dominic,

Ardent disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas,

Filled with the fortitude and light of his order,

Devout Preacher of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Faithful and unflinching witness of the Holy Mass,

Father and director for all those who had recourse to him,

Novus Athleta Domini

As his brothers sing of St. Dominic,

Let his intent prayer plead ceaselessly before the Court of the High King,

The cause of the flock he left behind.