“I cannot, in good conscience, leave these seminarians orphaned. Neither can I leave you orphans by dying without providing for the future.”
Just as society needs fathers of families, so does the Church. This explains why the consecrations held June 30, 1988, was the “Operation Survival” of Tradition.
It was the operation that saved the life-giving principle from extinction. To understand this better, let us examine in what precisely the life-giving principle consists. This examination will provide grounds for explaining why the consecrations at Ecône were necessary and for defining the precise significance of the 25th anniversary of this event.
The word “bishop” can be understood in two ways: either in the sense of one who possesses a power of orders or in the sense of one who possesses a power of jurisdiction. The power of orders is the power to sanctify, that is, to celebrate Mass and to administer sacraments and blessings. The power of jurisdiction is the power to govern and to teach from authority. The Church is made up of one and the same hierarchy, and one and the same group of leaders, whose members are invested with two distinct powers. The 1917 Code of Canon Law clearly indicates in paragraph 3, canon 108: “Divinely instituted, the sacred hierarchy, as founded on the power of orders, is composed of bishops, priests, and ministers; as founded on the power of jurisdiction, it is composed of the pontificate, the supreme authority, and subject to it the episcopate.” Canon 109 clarifies this distinction further, indicating a difference in the way in which the powers are acquired. “Those admitted to the ecclesiastical hierarchy are constituted in the degrees of power of orders through holy ordination; [the pope is established] in the sovereign pontificate directly by divine right by means of legitimate election and acceptance of the election; [the bishops are established] in the other degrees of jurisdiction through canonical mission.”
The existence of these two powers is necessary to the Church, and questioning its validity would be a threat to the life of the Church. These two powers are the two sources of life in the Church. They represent the fatherhood of Christ.
The fatherhood of Christ pertains firstly to the intellect and the will. With regard to the intellect, man needs to be taught the truths of the Faith; with regard to the will, he needs the precepts of a government. The Magisterium and the government of the Church do not sanctify, as do the sacraments, but they provide the groundwork. They introduce man to divine life because they dispose the intellect and the will to receive grace and to live according to grace. And it is when Christ gives the life of grace through the sacraments that He exerts His paternity most perfectly, completely, and definitively. The paternity of Christ is therefore represented in the Church in diverse and complementary ways. This explains the nature of the relation between the power that gives grace and the powers that prepare the subject to receive it: the government and the Magisterium work in preparation for the power of orders. This means that usually the bishop, and in the same way the priest, must possess both powers, orders and jurisdiction, because the bishop must first prepare souls, mostly through teaching the Faith, but also through the directives of good government, before giving them grace.
However, there is a major difference between these two powers, because no one can replace the priest or the bishop in carrying out the goal of all activity within the Church, bringing souls into the life of grace. The sanctification of souls is a work where the minister alone is the instrument of God, alone, because only he is invested with the character of the sacrament of orders. Teaching and governing are works in which the minister is the representative of God, who has a legitimate mission and sufficient competence founded on the necessary knowledge and prudence. At the very limit, ordinary members of the faithful may also keep and transmit the Faith, obey and have others obey the precepts of the Church in subjection to their pastors. It is possible to help the father and to cooperate with him, in subjection to him, except for in the act of transmission of life. Someone other than the father can help to raise his child by feeding, instructing, and educating him, but no one other than the father can beget the child. Incidentally, this distinction is the explanation for the role of St. Joseph. St. Joseph does not replace Jesus’ divine Father; he participates only by cooperation with the Mystery of the Incarnation. In the same way, the bishop and the priest are irreplaceable in the Church because they alone can transmit the life of grace. They are also indispensable because if the faithful can also keep the Faith and discipline, they can only do it in subjection to the bishop and the priest. And the bishop is even more irreplaceable than the priest, because the bishop gives us the one who gives—the bishop does not only transmit the life of grace, but also ordains priests, who communicate the life of grace; the bishop is not only the leader of those who believe and obey, but also of those who are responsible for preaching the Faith and requiring obedience. The bishop is in this sense the absolute father in the Church, the father of all fathers, and therefore the very principle that gives the life of grace and the life of faith. He is the perfect representative of Christ. Without the bishop, Christ would no longer be present on earth. It is he who fulfills the words of St. Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 15: “For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you.”
The consequences of the Second Vatican Council threaten the fatherhood in the Church with extinction. This threat has caused a state of necessity and justifies the consecrations of June 30, 1988. The erroneous double principle that threatens fatherhood in the Church is the double principle of common priesthood and of sensus fidei, the logical tendency of which is to make the Church into a people of self-proclaimed orphans. It is the modern version of democracy in the Church, a democracy which is a refusal of God’s fatherhood. Let us explain.
The principle of common priesthood is set forth in the constitution Lumen Gentium in paragraphs 9 and 10, chapter 2. The new definition of the Church it offers is this: the Church is the People of God. This definition does not mention the distinction that exists between the leaders and the led, and does not refer to a hierarchy that has authority over the faithful. It seems therefore that the People of God are a community, an assembly of equals: fatherless children—and therefore orphans. This impression is reinforced when the Council speaks of the baptized faithful, saying that they too are priests in a certain sense, because of their baptism: they share a common priesthood. The priest of the hierarchy is a priest for a different reason, which stems from his ordination: he is a member of the ministering priesthood. This confusion means that the fatherhood of the power of orders is minimized. Pius XII does indeed speak of a spiritual priesthood of the faithful, but he specifies that he does not use “priesthood” in its full sense, and distinguishes it from the hierarchical priesthood in the full sense of the term. This essential clarification has disappeared from paragraph 10 of Lumen Gentium, where we are only told that “the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministering priesthood, each in its own way, participate in the unique priesthood of Christ.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992 confirms this teaching when it says, “the whole Church is a priestly people.” The idea that follows from all this in practice is that the Church is before and above all a community or the assembly of baptized who are all equal as such, and that the functions of the ministering priesthood are derived from the community, as so many individual expressions of the common priesthood, and to serve the general priesthood of the baptized.1 What becomes of the fatherhood of Christ among this people of oversized children who think themselves adults?
The principle of the common sense of the Faith is expressed in the same constitution Lumen Gentium, paragraph 12. The People of God are presented there as a people of prophets, directly inspired by the Spirit. The Magisterium’s role is limited to codifying the faithful’s intuitions and co-ordinating them through dogmatic language. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church of 2005 refers to this idea in No. 15: “ To whom is the deposit of faith entrusted? The Apostles entrusted the deposit of faith to the whole of the Church. Thanks to its supernatural sense of faith the people of God as a whole, assisted by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Magisterium of the Church, never ceases to welcome, to penetrate more deeply and to live more fully from the gift of divine revelation.”2 Further confusion: in reality, the ordinary faithful are those destined to receive revelation, not its trustees. They can cooperate in the transmission of faith in subjection to the Magisterium. But only the Magisterium has received the paternal authority from God to bring souls into the life of faith, because it alone has received Christ’s divine mission. The new doctrine of sensus fidei minimizes the fatherhood of God again by minimizing the role of the Magisterium.
A third principle, that of collegiality, only makes the situation worse. After having minimized the fatherhood of the hierarchy over the faithful, that of the pope over the bishops is next. The principle of collegiality means that all bishops receive both powers through episcopal consecration. If in principle the power of jurisdiction is conferred in a sufficient and necessary manner through consecration, all bishops share the same power of jurisdiction, supreme and universal, in virtue of their consecration, which makes them part of the College, the juridical subject of this power of supreme and universal jurisdiction. And the bishop of Rome, designated as chief of this College by ordinary election, could not expect more than a simple primacy of honor, which would add nothing in regard to jurisdiction more than what he already possessed through consecration. The pope is not the father of the bishops, but only their elder brother, the first among equals, just as the bishops and priest are no longer the fathers of the faithful, but only their elder brothers, the first among the baptized.
Finally, let us add that if a link exists between the transmission of faith and the transmission of grace, this link is to be found at the level of corruption of the one and the other. The corruption of faith means the corruption of grace in the one who transmits it. Bishops whose faith is corrupted inspire little confidence in their administration of the sacraments.
At the Service of the Church
The initiative of June 30, 1988, was therefore for the survival of fatherhood in the Church. Archbishop Lefebvre wished to give us Catholic bishops so as not to leave us orphans. He wished, insofar as he could, to continue the Church by giving it the means to transmit the Faith and grace in accordance with the order desired by God, which is the order according to which a father transmits life to his sons.
These bishops are members of the Society, but they are for the Church. Their episcopate is a “supplied” episcopate because he did not aim to replace the entire episcopate of the entire Church. His only goal was to respond to the need of souls in an extraordinary and therefore temporary situation, as long as other bishops doubted of their own fatherhood. These bishops of the Society remain ordinary bishops, who desire themselves to remain the sons of the father of all bishops, that is, in communion with the successor of Peter. Archbishop Lefebvre did not wish to transmit what he did not possess. This is why he did not confer on his bishops a power of jurisdiction that only the pope could confer; he did not give them juridical authority in the Church. He only gave them the power to give the sacraments, with the corollary duty to preach the true faith in case of necessity. The consecration is therefore in appearance against the will of Rome, but not in fact. For if it is contrary to the human will of him who is pope, and who is unfortunately infected with the errors of the Council, it cannot be contrary to the requirements of the papacy, which are those of the Church of all times—requirements of the Faith and for the salvation of souls.
1 Fr. Otto Semmelroth, a Jesuit expert at the Council and professor at the scholasticate of Frankfurt explained the novelty of Lumen Gentium as follows: “The institutional distinction between function and lay is not the aspect that must be considered first when one wishes to reflect in the appropriate manner on the nature of the Church. Before considering any differences and notwithstanding them, the following are givens: unity, commonality and the essential equality among the people of God.”
2 The Compendium refers here to No. 91 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.” They say this because faith is understood as an experience lived by the People in conformity with that of the twelve apostles. In his catechesis of March 26, 2006, Benedict XVI specifies that “through the apostolic ministry, the Church, a community assembled by the Son of God made man, lives on through time building and nourishing the communion through Christ and through the Spirit, and all are called to this communion where they can experience salvation given by the Father.” And in the catechesis of April 26, 2006, Benedict XVI said that “the Spirit appears as the guarantee of the active presence of mystery throughout history, the One who ensures its accomplishment throughout the centuries. Thanks to the Paraclete, the experience of the Resurrected Christ, shared by the apostolic community in the earliest days of the Church, can be lived by later generations, insofar as the experience is transmitted and made present through the faith, worship, and the communion of the People of God on its pilgrimage through time.…The transmission of the good of salvation makes the Christian community the permanent re-enactment, through the force of the Spirit, of the original communion, that is the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.”