By Dr. Jeff Mirus
I am indebted to one of our readers for pointing me to the homily preached by Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais on the occasion of the ordination of priests and deacons for the Society of St. Pius X. The event took place on June 15th at the SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota. Bishop Tissier’s homily shows the tremendous resistance to the truth which must be overcome if the breach between the SSPX and the Church is to be healed across the board.
I’ve recently expressed hope that the Superior General of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, will succeed in bringing the Society back into full communion with the Church. I’ve even recommended cutting the Society considerable rhetorical slack. But insofar as members of the Society hold the views expressed by Bishop Tissier, the essential condition for reunion cannot be met. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have insisted on exactly what logic demands, that the Society can combat secularism and Modernism within the Church but it must accept the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council and the modern papacy. Yet Bishop Tissier continues to be unable to distinguish between the weakening of the Church through the sins and misunderstandings of her members and the impossibility that Magisterium is the source of any errors whatsoever.
In other words, if anyone has a particular understanding of the truth which he believes to be an authentic Catholic understanding, he can feel perfectly free to attempt to convert those Catholics who fail to teach and live according to that understanding. But if anyone observes that the Magisterium of the Church has contradicted his own understanding of the truth, then his responsibility is not to convert the Magisterium but to convert himself.
The opposite position is that when the Magisterium teaches something contrary to one’s personal understanding of the truth, then the Magisterium is clearly not reflecting the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of which the individual person is the sole judge and arbiter. It will do no good to cite earlier statements of the Magisterium against later, for to deny the authority of one statement is to deny them all, and to subject everything to private interpretation. It takes a fierce and monumental pride to embrace this position—a staggering, shameful and spiritually frightening pride.
The Ordination Homily
With this in mind, let us examine Bishop Tissier’s homily, which is substantially devoted to exhorting the new priests and deacons to fight the “new religion” which was introduced, not by the sins and weaknesses of many, but by the Second Vatican Council itself. Commenting on St. Stephen’s denunciation of those who were about to make him a martyr, Bishop Tissier warms to his theme:
But he said, you, stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ear, you always resist the Holy Ghost. You always resist the Holy Ghost. As your fathers did, so do you also. Resistance against the Holy Ghost! We think of the Second Vatican Council wishing to introduce the revolution inside the Church and resisting against the Holy Ghost.
It is most unfortunate that Bishop Tissier seeks to lay the problems of the Church at the feet of the Council, for it is certainly possible to describe many weaknesses in the contemporary Church by adverting to the infection of her members by modernism and secularism, without insisting that these errors have been willed and taught by the Magisterium. With one exception, Bishop Tissier does this in the next two citations:
These enemies are the modernists and their new religion – a new religion without sin, without contrition, without penance, without forgiveness, without sacrifice, without atonement, without true charity because there is no true charity without sacrifice. So against this false religion, the emblem of which is the new mass, dear deacons to be, you will have to denounce the heretical perversity of this new religion – naturalistic religion. [emphasis added]
I have italicized the one impermissible phrase here, “the emblem of which is the new mass”, for it is not possible to doubt the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo, and it is quite simply blasphemy to speak of any approved liturgy of the Church, which includes within it the representation of the sacrifice of Christ and makes Our Lord and Savior really present to us, as “the emblem” of a “false religion”. But the next quotation continues the bishop’s condemnation of contemporary errors without attributing them to the Magisterium:
And so, my dear future priests and deacons, with this new religion you will never compromise. You will never blur the frontal opposition between the religion of the Catholic Church and the religion of what I would call the “new church.” That is no church, but only a poison – a poison in the Church.
It is certainly within the bounds of legitimacy to lament all manner of poisons which infect the Church, because of the spiritual imperfections of her members.
A Fundamental Rebellion
Unfortunately, as with his impermissible characterization of the Mass, Bishop Tissier simply cannot restrain himself. He is determined to cross the line from an exhortation to defend the Church against modern errors to a condemnation of the Church as the source of error. The following long passage leaves no doubt of Bishop Tissier’s rejection of the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council and of the modern papacy:
In no way may the Society of Saint Pius X accept to perform any reconciliation nor any compromise with the new religion – this new religion standing from the Second Vatican Council – nor any agreement nor covenant with this sort of “new church” that I described – this “new church” born from the adulterous union between the Church and the Revolution. Archbishop Lefebvre already 30 years ago spoke of this adulterous union performed by the Council between the Church and the Revolution.
This adulterous union has been the principal purpose of the Second Vatican Council according to Gaudium et Spes, No. 11 – this plan to introduce into the Doctrine of the Faith the best of two centuries of Liberalism – the one that introduced these errors of liberalism into the Doctrine of the Faith. That has been the main purpose of the Second Vatican Council. And so it was impossible that this Council be assisted by the assistance of the Holy Ghost in as much as it applied this bad and diverse intention of introducing the errors of the liberalism into the Doctrine of the Faith. That is impossible! So, this council, in as much as it applied this intention, has no binding obligation – has no authority of teaching. We do not – we do not accept that the council be a true Council.
For the text of this homily, I have relied on a transcription provided on the pro-SSPX website Ignis Ardens, though I have left out a word here or there where the transcription indicated its uncertainty with question marks.
The sheer hubris of the text is astonishing, yet this is the problem at the root of the Society of St. Pius X. It is quite correct to say the Church has been disfigured (in her members) by the inroads of the dominant culture, the secularism of the Western world and the accommodating Modernism of too many Catholic intellectuals. It is also quite correct to say that those who wished to maintain orthodoxy in the last third of the 20th century were too often abused and marginalized by priests and bishops who had themselves fallen prey to secularism and Modernism.
But it is a giant step from these two sociological realities to the assertion that the Church herself is the author of these errors, through the very teachings of her Magisterium, apart from which we cannot be certain of our understanding of the truth of Christ. Once one argues that an ecumenical council, or the pope speaking by virtue of his supreme office to the whole Church, can err in a matter of faith or morals, one might as well abandon the Faith altogether. The Church can endure the severest onslaught of Modernism and secularism, just as she has endured and triumphed over different secular trajectories in different periods of her history, as long as her authority principle is intact. But once one denies the authority principle, one is reduced to private interpretation. And in all those who reject her authority principle, the Church really is swept away.
The Root of the Problem
That is why acceptance of the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council and the modern papacy is absolutely essential for full communion with the Church of Christ. Bishop Tissier’s ordination homily states clearly that he rejects that Magisterium. In fact, he has made himself the judge of the work of the Holy Spirit simply by stating that because the Magisterium disagrees with his understanding of the truth, this proves the Holy Spirit cannot be at work. And he specifically encourages the new priests and deacons to prefer a mere human society to the universal Church, to embrace not the Magisterium but SSPXism, or perhaps Lefebvrism, or even Tissierism.
By whatever name, this is fundamentally different from Catholicism. It remains to be seen what portion of the Society will balk in this way if Bishop Fellay comes to sign the doctrinal preamble on its behalf. We must continue to pray for unity. But Bishop Tissier’s homily perfectly illustrates the root of the current problem, and the error which must be renounced in order to once again embrace, and be embraced by, the Catholic Church.