The Athanasius Question

Athanasius was excommunicated. He continued his job, uncaring. More than that – and something I seldom read about – he and St. Eusebius started appointing bishops of their own, again ignoring the Pope. The bishops they appointed – and I read about that seldom, too – were not bishop without territorial jurisdiction, like the SSPX one. They were bishops in charge of a diocese all right. Nor can it be said that in that world of difficult communications the Pope might not have had control of certain territories. Firstly, it is poppycock (communications in the Roman Empire were, like all the rest, stunningly efficient), secondly it is neither here nor there, because the fact remains that Athanasius and Eusebius clearly appointed those bishops without caring a bit of what the Pope thought about it. He could approve them if he wanted to. If he did not like them, though luck.

To make a modern comparison, it is as if the SSPX appointed the new archbishop of Chicago without either asking or caring for what Francis says, and the Catholic faithful of Chicago accepted this appointment as a matter of course, fully uncaring of Francis’ more or less sensible thought on the matter.

Let us, then, now pose the “Athanasius question”: did those Bishops have jurisdiction? Could they hear confession, administer the Last Rites, marry their sheep? And could the priests appointed by them do the same?

If yes, why? If not, why not?

It is very tricky, the Athanasius question. There is no doubt whatever Athanasius was a Lefebvre on steroids. There is also no doubt there was no precedent for the situation in which Athanasius found himself, whilst the SSPX has the shining example and illuminating precedent of… Athanasius. We know as a fact that Athanasius refused to obey to the point of incurring excommunication, did not recant after receiving it, appointed bishops of his own, and really did not care what Patheos would have said.

Therefore, if you follow modern mainstream V II conservatism Athanasius and his brave men had no jurisdiction, those sacraments were not valid, etc. If, however, we accept the principle that when those at the top behave like heretics the tough Catholics begin to play then we must apply the same reasoning to the 100%, 2k years-certified SSPX.

There is no doubt in my mind that the second applies. Every now and then, the Church loses her mind from the very top. It is then the task of a handful of very tough Catholics to simply keep doing what they have always done, safe in the certainty of their orthodoxy because… they do what Catholics have always done. There is no better guarantee of orthodoxy, and no better litmus test of Catholicism.

Athanasius did not know when sanity would come back. Nor did he ever care. He kept doing the Catholic thing and if the entire world derides him, so be it. Athanasius knew he might have to die in the middle of rampant, apparently triumphant heresy. He did not care for that, either.

Truth is truth. How many people refuse to follow the truth is ultimately irrelevant. If the Pope sabotages the truth, then he will be punished more harshly unless he repents, but sabotage it still is.

Truth is truth. It does not depend of from the rank of those who spread lies.

So: Athanasius disobeyed to the Pope. What say you? Athanasius appointed bishops, and bishops with territorial competence, fully ignoring the Pope. Schism? Athanasius decided to disobey and to die, if needs be, excommunicated for being (far) more Catholic than the Pope. What is the difference with Archbishop Lefebvre?

Why, why all those semi-conservative legalists apply all their clerical rigidity to Archbishop Lefebvre, and forget all of it when they speak of Athanasius? Was Athanasius schismatic in the moment, and Catholic only after victory? Or was he, as logic commands, 100% Catholic all the time?

The Athanasius question cannot be easily avoided. It stares at us straight in the face every time we compare Athanasius’ “disobedience” to Lefebvre’s. It has no other answer than this: no heresy can be acceptable because it’s promoted or protected or encouraged from the very Pope, and those who defend orthodoxy are right even when the pope excommunicates them.

In times of great turmoil, God sends us great men.

Thank God for Athanasius, and for Archbishop Lefebvre.




Posted on August 23, 2015, in Catholicism, Conservative Catholicism, FSSPX, Traditional Catholicism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Amen to that Mundy!Mass this afternoon,for me ,with the SSPX in Stoke on Trent.God Bless them!!

  2. As you’ve just proven, it doesn’t take a theologian or a Voris to understand the SSPX situation. It simply takes being Catholic and applying some simple Catholic reasoning (and Faith.). No one can command one to sin or to believe something contrary to what Our Lord taught and the Church has always taught pre-Vatican II. But nonetheless, that is precisely what VII does when it promotes Salvation outside the Church (Assisi, anyone?). And if this is now true since VII, why does anyone need to remain Catholic, get married Catholic or die Catholic?

    If all dogs go to heaven anyway, why worry about being born, bred and dying a Saint Bernard? You can be a slum-bred hound and get there just as easily, no??

  3. …and thank God for Mundabor

  4. Mundabor,
    “Let us, then, now pose the “Athanasius question”: did those Bishops have jurisdiction?”
    Of course they did.

    “Could they hear confession, administer the Last Rites, marry their sheep?”

    “And could the priests appointed by them do the same?”
    Without a doubt.

    I have a question regarding the bishops appointed by St. Athanasius, though. Did he ever appoint a bishop to a diocese that already had a bishop appointed by the Pope? Or were all his appointments to “empty” (so to speak) diocesan sees? In other words, if the bishop of X had become a flagrant Arian heretic, would Athanasius appoint a Catholic bishop in his place? Or would he only appoint to sees that had remained faithful to Christianity, whose faithful Catholic bishop had died or otherwise become incapable of exercising his office?

    It is obvious where I am going with my question: If the crisis got even worse, with both the Pope and the bishops falling even further into flagrant heresy; if it got to the point where most or all of the regularly appointed bishops were obviously no longer Catholic at all, would someone like St. Athanasius be able and willing to appoint territorial Catholic bishops for (the faithful minorities in) dioceses that had almost completely fallen away from the Faith? Or, even more to the point, could the SSPX bishops do such a thing, even if there were still (heretical) bishops in the dioceses in question?

    In short, do we have Athanasian precedent for something like a temporary “replacement diocesan hierarchy” with territorial bishops and priests acting with supplied jurisdiction alongside the official, heretical ones appointed by Rome?

    To me that thought seems scary, because then we are only one step away from appointing a “replacement bishop” for the heretical bishop of Rome. I really do not know enough Church history to have an educated opinion on that topic, but depending on what happens in the coming years, it might be best to start thinking about it now, so that the answer is known and prepared plans of action are in place if and when they are needed.

    • As far as I know, Athanasius appointed bishops to empty dioceses. That is, he started to act like a pope, and in substitution of a pope, and in opposition of a pope; but he did not depose any bishop appointed by the pope. I have read some books on the matter, but I do not want to make the research now because this is (today) not the point.

      If the situation you mention were to become necessary, I think the safest bet would be to look at what the Athanasius of our time (the SSPX) start doing. if they start to appoint new bishops in place of the Cupichs of nuchurch, then I follow them on their decision.

      To me the SSPX, not Rome, is the last word on Catholicism. If I were to think that Francis can throw his heresies down our throats simply by virtue of being the Pope I would be stupid indeed. lefebvre wasn’t stupid, nor was Athanasius. I would choose their side rather than the one of Francis any day.


    • Mundabor,
      “If the situation you mention were to become necessary, I think the safest bet would be to look at what the Athanasius of our time (the SSPX) start doing. if they start to appoint new bishops in place of the Cupichs of nuchurch, then I follow them on their decision. ”

      I would follow them too. Regarding the Catholic Faith, the safest route today seems to be “if in doubt, follow the SSPX”… because they will very probably give a sane, reasonable, fully traditional answer.

      Thank you for your answer regarding the appointments of St. Athanasius. You have confirmed my assumptions about them (that he did not build up a parallel hierarchy).

    • I remember what I have read. Other might come out with different sources. But this is how I understood it.
      I do not remember reading that Athanasius deposed appointed bishops, which would be the only reading of the situation you describe.

    • “To me the SSPX, not Rome, is the last word on Catholicism.”
      I know what you are saying, and I completely agree with it – but some people, even a few well-meaning ones, are going to misunderstand you. The SSPX is currently more reliable than the “official” hierarchy, because of the heresies that permeate “modernist Rome”. Of course, the SSPX is not, literally, the last word on Catholicism. They are not infallible and they could certainly in theory fall away from the faith, soften their stance to gain acceptance or harden it in a way that leads to sedevacantism. Given what they have done in the past, however, that is very, very unlikely, so they have become the “gold standard”, and in that sense the “last word” on authentic Catholicism.

      During the last pontificate, many people said things like “to me, the Pope, not this or that modernist bishop, is the last word on Catholicism”, and what they meant to say was very obvious and, in a way, very true. Sentiments like this were quite common when I converted a few years ago, and I admit to sharing them back then, but after the Papacy became infected by radical modernism, many people, still believing the Pope, defended Bergoglio’s heresies even though they should have known better.

      If the SSPX ever were to deviate from solid Catholicism, some of their followers would defend the indefensible, too. Especially if they believed them to be the “last word on Catholicism”.

    • Yes, I mean “last word” as “gold standard”.

  5. cmichaellofton

    The Pope didn’t have control over every appointment of bishops in the early church from what I understand so I don’t think the analogy works.

    • The analogy does work, for the reason I have explained.

      You can put it in another way: if Liberius had had the control, would you condemn Athanasius for the appointments? Should he allow an heretical church to proceed to appointments because, erm, the heretical pope has control over the appointments?



  6. Thank you!

  7. When bishop Lefebvre was excommunicated in the 1980’s along with the Bishops whom he ordained and also those Bishops who participated in the ceremony, I asked a faithful Catholic priest and seminary professor about his matter, and he said that canon law requires candidates for Bishop to have approval from Rome and that this practice has been in existence for at least 1000 years, while Athanasius lived much earlier than this; he died in 373. Recall that the ordinations were the cause of the excommunications and the SSPX priests had their faculties suspended but were not defrocked nor excommunicated and the lay people were not excommunicated. Up until this time, Lefebvre and his followers were not excommunicated.Bishop Athanasius Schneider (here in red lettering) gives the best , shortest and clearest explanation of what is going on with SSPX that I have recently read, and he is the one appointed by Rome to speak with their Bishops:

    • Poppycock.
      Your friend will certainly not refuse to see reality and recognise that Athanasius’ appointment were made because the pope was a heretic.
      Please let us stop with making excuses.
      Of course, the lay people were not excommunicated. No one ever said the contrary. Lefebvre was excommunicated because he appointed bishops, and he appointed bishops for the very same identical reason why Lefebvre did it: because it was the thing to do.

  8. You nailed it Mundy:+) Thank you for calling a spade a spade. And you are one of those wonderful tough Catholics, my brother. God bless you for it:+)

  9. Thanks Mundabor. Sometimes just plain common sense trumps all the BS being spread around. It really isn’t too complicated. As you stated, we simply need to do what has always been done and we will stay in the truth and in the Faith.

  10. Let us also keep in mind that St. Athanasius was the Coptic Patriarch and Pope of Alexandria, thus he has the power to appoint bishops within his Patriarchate. They need no permission from the Pope of Rome to appoint and consecrate a bishop.

    • Every bishop can appoint other bishops. The question is whether these appointments happen in union with the Pope or not. Lefebvre could, qua bishop, appoint bishops, and his bishops were validly appointed and are recognised by the Church as such. So the question is not the formal ability or right to validly appoint bishops.

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