Archbishop Lefebvre About Obedience

Archbishop Lefebvre

What follows is the integral text of a statement from Archbishop Lefebvre, published in 1988.  As always, this good man of God surprises with his ability to explain complex concepts in a simple, easy to understand,but always extremely clear way. The contrast with the usual anodyne statements trying to please everyone by at the same time endeavouring to not openly contradict Catholic teaching, typical of our time, is more than evident.

Note the similarities between the situations then and now: Rome seems to want peace, and then turns out to be exclusively interested in the neutralisation of the SSPX. Where I live it’s called duplicity, and deception.

Emphases mine.


March 29, 1988

The rector of the Seminary of the Society of St. Pius X in Switzerland, Fr. Lorans, having asked me to help in drawing up this issue of the Letter from Econe, it seemed to me, in these circumstances, that it would not be without benefit to put before you again what I wrote on January 20, 1978, concerning certain objections which could be made as to our attitude with regard to the problems created by the present situation of the Church.

One of these questions was: ”How do you see obedience to the pope?” Here is the reply I gave ten years ago:

The principles governing obedience are known and are so in conformity with sane reason and common sense that one is driven to wonder how intelligent persons can make a statement like, They prefer to be mistaken with the pope, than to be with the truth against the pope.”

That is not what the natural law teaches, nor the Magisterium of the Church. Obedience presupposes an authority which gives an order or issues a law. Human authorities, even those instituted by God, have no authority other than to attain the end apportioned them by God and not to turn away from it. When an authority uses power in opposition to the law for which this power was given it, such an authority has no right to be obeyed and one must disobey it.

This need to disobey is accepted with regard to a family father who would encourage his daughter to prostitute herself, with regard to the civil authority which would oblige doctors to perform abortions and kill innocent souls, yet people accept in every case the authority of the Pope, who is supposedly infallible in his government and in all words. Such an attitude betrays a sad ignorance of history and of the true nature of papal infallibility.

A long time ago St. Paul said to St. Peter that he was “Not walking according to the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:14). St. Paul encouraged the faithful not to obey him, St. Paul, if he happened to preach any other gospel than the Gospel that he had already taught them (Gal. 1:8).

St. Thomas, when he speaks of fraternal correction, alludes to St. Paul’s resistance to St. Peter and he makes the following comment: “To resist openly and in public goes beyond the measure of fraternal correction. St. Paul would not have done it towards St. Peter if he had not in some way been his equal…. We must realize, however, that if there was question of a danger for the faith, the superiors would have to be rebuked by their inferiors, even in public.” This is clear from the manner and reason for St. Paul’s acting as he did with regard to St. Peter, whose subject he was, in such a way, says the gloss of St. Augustine, “that the very head of the Church showed to superiors that if they ever chanced to leave the straight and narrow path, they should accept to be corrected by their inferiors” (St. Thomas [in the Summa TheologicaIIa, IIae, q.33, art. 4, ad 2).

The case evoked by St. Thomas is not merely imaginary because it took place with regard to John XXII during his life. This pope thought he could state as a personal opinion that the souls of the elect do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after the Last Judgment. He wrote this opinion down in 1331 and in 1332 he preached a similar opinion with regard to the pains of the damned. He had the intention of putting forward this opinion in a solemn decree.

But the very lively action on the part of the Dominicans, above all in Paris, and of the Franciscans, made him renounce this opinion in favor of the traditional opinion defined by his successor, Benedict XII, in 1336.

And here is what Pope Leo XIII said in his Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum, June 20,1888: “If, then, by any one in authority, something be sanctioned out of conformity with the principles of right reason, and consequently hurtful to the commonwealth, such an enactment can have no binding force of law.” And a little further on, he says: “But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest while obeying man, we become disobedient to God.”

Now our disobedience is motivated by the need to keep the Catholic Faith. The orders being given us clearly express that they are being given us in order to oblige us to submit without reserve to the Second Vatican Council, to the post-conciliar reforms, and to the prescriptions of the Holy See, that is to say, to the orientations and acts which are undermining our Faith and destroying the Church. It is impossible for us to do this. To collaborate in the destruction of the Church is to betray the Church and to betray Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now all the theologians worthy of this name teach that if the pope, by his acts, destroys the Church, we cannot obey him (Vitoria: Obras, pp.486-487; Suarez: De fide, disp.X, sec.VI, no.16; St. Robert Bellarmine: de Rom. Pont., Book 2, Ch.29; Cornelius a Lapide: ad Gal. 2,11, etc.) and he must be respectfully, but publicly, rebuked.

The principles governing obedience to the pope’s authority are the same as those governing relations between a delegated authority and its subjects. They do not apply to the Divine Authority which is always infallible and indefectible and hence incapable of failing. To the extent that God has communicated His infallibility to the pope and to the extent that the pope intends to use this infallibility, which involves four very precise conditions in its exercise, there can be no failure.

Outside of these precisely fixed conditions, the authority of the pope is fallible and so the criteria which bind us to obedience apply to his acts. Hence it is not inconceivable that there could be a duty of disobedience with regard to the pope.

The authority which was granted him was granted him for precise purposes and in the last resort for the glory of the Holy Trinity, for Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the salvation of souls.

Whatever would be carried out by the pope in opposition to this purpose would have no legal value and no right to be obeyed, nay, rather, it would oblige us to disobey in order for us to remain obedient to God and faithful to the Church.

This holds true for everything that the recent popes have commanded in the name of Religious Liberty or ecumenism since the Council: all the reforms carried out under this heading are deprived of any legal standing or force of law. In these cases the popes use their authority contrary to the end for which this authority was given them. They have a right to be disobeyed by us.

The Society and its history show publicly this need to remain faithful to God and to the Church. The years 1974, 1975 and 1976 leave us with the memory of this incredible clash between Ecône and the Vatican, between the Pope and myself.

The result was the condemnation, the suspension a divinis, wholly null and void because the pope was tyrannically abusing his authority in order to defend laws contrary to the good of the Church and to the good of souls.

These events are an historical application of the principles concerning the duty to disobey.

That clash was the occasion for a departure of a certain number of priests who were friends or members of the Society, who were scared by the condemnation, and did not understand the duty to disobey under certain circumstances. Since then, twelve years have passed. Officially, the condemnation still stands, relations with the pope are still tense, especially as the consequences of this ecumenism are drawing us into an apostasy which forced us to react vigorously. However, the announcement of consecration of bishops in June stirred Rome into action: it at last made up its mind to fulfill our request for an Apostolic Visitation by sending on November 11, 1987, Cardinal Gagnon and Msgr. Perl. As far as we were able to judge by the speeches and reflections of our Visitors, their judgment was very favorable indeed, and the Cardinal did not hesitate to attend the Pontifical Mass on December 8th, at Econe, celebrated by the prelate suspended a divinis.

What can we conclude from all this except that our disobedience is bearing good fruit, recognized by the envoys of the authority which we disobey? And here we are now confronted with new decisions to be taken. We are more than ever encouraged to give the Society the means it needs to continue its essential work, the formation of true priests of the holy, and Catholic, and Roman Church. That is to say, to give me successors in the episcopate.

Rome understands this need, but will the pope accept these bishops from the ranks of Tradition? For ourselves it cannot be otherwise. Any other solution would be the sign that they want to align us with the conciliar revolution, and there our duty to disobey immediately revives. The negotiations are now under way and we shall soon know the true intentions of Rome. They will decide the future. We must continue to pray and to watch. May the Holy Ghost guide us through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima!

† Marcel Lefebvre

Posted on July 4, 2012, in Catholicism, FSSPX and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. When one truly knows then one truly understands. Although knowledge logically precedes understanding, the more perfect one’s understanding the more perfect is one’s knowledge.
    That real intimacy with the object of one’s knowledge really does mean that some of the supposedly most complex matters become, seemingly, simple when elucidated by a man like the late Archbishop.

    I no longer say that I believe Christ present in the Sacrament of the Altar and my reason for this is, simply, that I know it is so. It is, of course, only through God’s grace that I say that ‘I know’ what I am sure I know. I do not deserve it but there it is. I know what I know. I am very sure and peaceful in my knowledge and equally sure of my sinful unworthiness of it but so it is, thanks be to God. The late Archbishop knew many things by that same Grace and the God who supplied the Grace supplied the clarity of thought and simplicity of expression that makes deep knowledge understandable to the rest of us.

    I am praying to the Archbishop, asking him to pray for the SSPX to return to walking the path of sound doctrine and to come away from dallying with those who do not walk that path. That means changes, I think we know and agree. The present leadership is compromised and has lost the trust of most. When you sup with the Devil etc

    I ask all who knew RP Ludovic-Marie Barrielle to pray for his intercession – he is an influential soul with the Lord, as I can testify. Pray for the SSPX – the Church needs the SSPX and the SSPX needs all our prayers.

    • I understand your concern, John, but is it really so that by just talking with the Vatican one becomes a devil? They aren’t the devil, though I suspect the devil is having a field day with their pride and ignorance.

      How can an organisation supposed to belong fully to the Church refuse to talk? Of course, if the talks are not satisfactory they will lead to nothing. But I think our men at the SSPX know the truth you have so beautifully described, and aren’t afraid that Mueller may take it away from them…


  2. Did I say not talk? I did not, I think.

    I would not wish to cease dialogue with any soul of good will but we may never trust one whose word and intentions are not as advertised. Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay must be and is a natural precursor to any productive and honest discussion.

    The Vatican is not the Devil, I agree, neither does it appear to be populated at the highest levels by persons of unalloyed probity, does it? When you sup with the Devil be sure to use a long spoon lest he swallow you up. I advocate prudence, not obdurate silence.

    It is plain that within the Vatican there are those of good faith and good heart but it is also happily – very happily from a prudential viewpoint – very clear to all and sundry – including Bishop Fellay, at last – that there are also ravenous wolves and sly, duplicitous silver foxes prowling the corridors. Sobrii estote et vigilate …circuit quaerens quem devoret.

    I do not believe it just to make Mueller the embodiment of all we must avoid and mistrust. Bishop Mueller would not be where he is had not the Pope appointed him. We know the Pope knows Mueller very well. The Pope has appointed his ideological bedfellow to the most important doctrinal post and his appointee is a Modernist. The conclusion we might legitimately draw is, thus, what? Modernists and their often unwitting fellow travellers abound at the end of the via della Conciliazione and it is well we recognise the fact.

    • John,

      “not talk” is what the likes of Tissier de Mallerais say. This is what worries me.


    • I think the conclusion we can draw from the Pope appointing neo-modernist theologians is that in the last phase of his pontificate the desire of not seeing his entire work being thrown into the garbage bin has won over the desire to see some meaningful restoration of Catholicism as it was once (correctly) intended.

      It is, if you ask me, as if he had seen traditionalists will not make of him their hero, but will throw away his theology together with all that belongs to V II. This can’t be right, he must have thought.

      This is a man who obviously neglects his work as Pope to write books. It is very clear the way he will perceived as theologian after his death (the work of his life) is more important to him that his role as Pope.

      The rest comes from itself.


    • The desire of the Sovereign Pontiff must be “Thy Will be done” and His Will does not include the perdition of countless souls.which is what these Modernists risk. How loving of these liberals to insist upon their right to gamble with the eternal salvation of others, which is what they have been doing all their misbegotten clerical lives.

      ‘His’ theology? It is the theology of the Christian Church and this man who sits in Peter’s seat is supposed to be its greatest defender.Should we now say he prefers his very doubtful reputation over the souls of which he is the chief shepherd?.’Woe to the worthless shepherd who leaveth the flock’

      We do, it seems plain, live in a time where not only heresy but outright apostasy has the ascendency in the Church of Christ.

    • John,

      I do think his pride of theologian his playing him a very bad trick in the end. Whilst this reminds us of how cunning Satan is, there can be no justification for a Pope when he behaves that way.

      I have just published a blog post about an hypothetical (but not too much) prospective convert now doubting the opportunity of joining the shop. If hypothetical (but not too much) brillian people have these doubts,what will happen to millions of Catholics already tragically neglected and who know Catholicism only by hearsay?

      Dies irae, dies illa…


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