27 July 2013

Bishop Fellay and the Grace of State

As the battle presently waging between the adherents of Bishop Fellay and those who have been dubbed "the resistance" shows no signs of ending, it might be (and indeed is) useful to examine an argument that has gained more and more currency among the followers of the SSPX so as to justify their current position and at the same time silence their opponents. This argument might be reduced to this: Bishop Fellay, as the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, has been given the grace of state so as to be able to make any decisions regarding an approval of the Society by the Holy See. Given this special grace, it is in fact disobedience to deny the rectitude of such an accord, or even to question it in any way. The adherents of this position have gone as far as to accuse the "resisters" of following down the path of Luther and the protestant reformers. Thus, we see the resistance labelled a sect for its lack of submission to the legitimate authority of Bishop Fellay and the other superiors of the Society. Sacraments are at times refused to these resisters, not to mention children of resisting parents being threatened with expulsion from Society schools- and not merely threatened. Many aspects of the Society's present position might be examined as to its correctness, but rather than shoot at any and all possible targets, this writer will look more closely at the one underlying many of the actions and attitudes of the Society leadership, namely the question of whether Bishop Fellay possesses a grace of state, and following upon that, to what extent this grace may be relied upon by the faithful as a sure guide of the rectitude of Bishop Fellay's actions.

Firstly, then, we examine the idea of a "grace of state". We know that God gives to each of the faithful special graces that correspond to his duty of state. The existence of a grace particular to ones state is closely allied to the dogma of Divine Providence. God, by His Providence, places us in a position whereby we have certain daily duties that we must perform. Sanctity will only be possible if we submit to what God wishes for us, and this is manifested on one level by the circumstances that He places us in. Thus, a mother of a family does not have the grace to be a nun, because her duty is specific to her role as wife and mother. It is not unheard of, unfortunately, that using the excuse that Saint X., who was a nun and saint, spent many hours a day in devout contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, must be imitated by Mrs. Z. who has a number of neglected children needing to be taken care of. Mothers therefore, who shirk their duty to change their babies' diapers or feed children and husband so as be like Saint X, offend God who gave them a different task to perform so as to attain sanctity. Because God has given us duties in accordance with our state in life, He likewise wishes to give us the graces necessary in order to live in that state in a fitting manner, and by means of that state of life, reach union with God.

Now, there are sacramental graces that are immediately connected with a state of life, such as Holy Orders or Matrimony. If a priest is ordained, not only does the power to confect other sacraments come with the character of that sacrament, but also a special grace so as to be a fitting priest in the discharge of his duties. Grace is then at hand so as to be a priest according to the Will of God, for God demands not only that a thing be accomplished, but that it be accomplished in a fitting manner. What does this mean when it is a case of the priesthood!? "Imitate that which you handle" are the words of the Pontifical when the priest is ordained- and thus a grace is attached so as to do just that.

The same may be said for a husband or wife. Matrimony, though it does not last for eternity, and thus confers no character, nonetheless is a constant state of life that is only broken by the death of one of the spouses. There are many crosses that come with marriage, even as there are many joys. A special grace is given to the spouses so as to be fitting spouses, which means at the very least to be able to fulfill the vows exchanged at the time of their marriage. Thus, God gives, together with the duties incumbent upon the spouses, the graces necessary to be true spouses. Are there problems between the spouses? There is a grace of state ready to help remedy the situation.

Now, it must be plain to anyone who has met either priests or spouses, that the mere fact that grace has been, and will be given so to aid the persons involved to fittingly fulfill their duty of state, does not guarantee that these priests or spouses have in fact, fulfilled their offices fittingly. There is no lack of either bad priests or unfaithful spouses. Does this mean that there was no grace of state in the case of the unfaithful? Hardly. A grace may be offered, but man may, and does, refuse these graces when offered. The grace of state will only profit those who humbly make use of it. Man has the power to refuse grace that is offered, and Hell is a witness to how many times man may say "no".

In the case at hand, there is more to the question than the grace of state. In the case of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, each of them was, and is, given the grace to fittingly fulfill their duty of state as Catholic bishops. In this, there is no difference between Bishop Fellay and the other three. He is a bishop and so are they. Thus, in those things appertaining to being a bishop, there is a grace offered by God so that the bishop may exercise his power in a fitting way. Now, in the case of the four bishops, there is no conferral of ordinary jurisdiction, but only what pertains to orders. Thus, there is no power of rulership or office given to them by the Church in the normal fashion. But it would be inaccurate to ignore that there is also a role given to the bishops by way of extraordinary jurisdiction. This jurisdiction is conferred by the Church when the good of souls requires its exercise, and this only occurs when it is not possible to have recourse to those who possess ordinary jurisdiction. Given the fact that the Roman authorities and those of the dioceses are the apostles of a distorted Catholicism, even if they are of the best of wills, fidelity to the Catholic religion demands the necessity of shepherds who are trustworthy in their adherence to the Faith of all times, and the worship and discipline that goes with it. Thus, extraordinary jurisdiction enables the bishops to both lead the faithful in the way of salvation and protect them from the wolves of false doctrine and morals. This extraordinary jurisdiction, of course, presupposes a state of emergency in the Church. If there is no state of emergency in which recourse is not possible to those possessing ordinary jurisdiction, then there is no extraordinary jurisdiction conferred. Recourse does not mean simply being able to speak to those in authority. It also means that there is the possibility of trusting to the Catholicity of their judgements as well. In our present situation this is not the case. Given that they are infected with Modernism, we cannot have recourse to them. In other words, given the fact that these authorities no longer are faithful to the Faith handed down from the apostles, they must be avoided until such time as the true Faith is professed both by the superiors and by the subjects. And this brings us to the heart of the matter.

We have spoken of the grace of state, and that this grace is immediately related to the duty of state determined by God through the working of His Divine Providence. However, if we look at the arguments adduced in favour of Bishop Fellay, the grace appealed to is more specific than that of a general grace of state. The actual argument derives from the grace of office. This is a special grace given to those who bear an ecclesiastical office that involves the sanctification of souls. While all of the four bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre are given the grace connected with the order of the episcopacy both sacramentally and in the acts of extraordinary jurisdiction that they possess for the salvation of souls, the grace of office is more particular. This grace is joined to a particular office and possesses, if it is the case of a superior of subjects, ordinary jurisdiction. Bishop Fellay is the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X. Thus, it is claimed that he possess a grace in virtue of this office whereby his decisions may not be criticized unless they would be openly against the Faith. In this claim, Bishop Fellay is relying on the ordinary jurisdiction he claims as Superior General of the Society, not as simply a bishop. This claim is what we must examine.

Firstly, all offices are not created equal, and consequent upon the distinction of office, there is a distinction of graces attendant upon that office. Thus, the Pope, who is the visible head of the Church, possessing universal jurisdiction, is given by Christ a corresponding grace of office. The Pope's office, as it is the greatest in the Church, and bears upon every one of the faithful by its extension, has the greatest grace of office so that that role may be fittingly exercised. The higher the office, the greater the graces necessary. This grace of office exists not only for the one filling it, but even more so for those who are subjects of that office. In the Church, an office is related to the salvation of the subjects of that office. It exists for the good of the Church. We know, of course, that the papacy possesses a grace that no other office possesses, and that is the charism of infallibility in the cases laid down by the First Vatican Council, for the Pope is the principle of unity in the Church, and that unity rests on the unity of the Faith. As Pope Leo XIII pointed out in "Satis Cognitum",

"Agreement and union of minds is the necessary foundation of this perfect concord among men, from which concurrence of wills and similarity of action are the natural results. Wherefore, in His divine wisdom, He ordained in His Church Unity of Faith; a virtue which is the first of those bonds which unite man to God, and whence we receive the name of the faithful..."

No other office possesses the charism of infallibility, for no other office is the principle of ecclesiastical unity. But this principle of unity rests upon the Faith that the papacy guards and extends. From the papacy, there are various lower offices. The lower the office, the less the grace of that office. Within the religious orders, there are distinctions of importance as well. There are the orders that are greater rank, whose members profess solemn vows, such as the canons regular, the monks, and the friars. And there are others with simple vows, etc. In those congregations without vows, some are bound by promises, and least of all, those bound by simple oblation. It is in this category that the Society of Saint Pius X falls. But this is not the only criterion to determine the importance of the office of superior.

There are various ranks of congregations based upon their canonical importance. Some are orders in the strict sense, that enjoy being papally exempt, or of Pontifical Right. These have special privileges in law and can only be suppressed by the Holy See itself. The Society does not fall under this category. Then there are others that are of Diocesan Right, and again, the Society does not fall under this category either. At the very bottom, are what in the traditional Canon Law are named "Pious Unions". Those of this rank may be suppressed the most easily and enjoy the least privileges of law. This is the situation of the Society of Saint Pius X. Let us look at the decree of erection written by Bishop Charriere:''

"The International Priestly Society of Saint Pius X is erected in our diocese as a Pious Union... We approve and confirm the Statutes, here joined, of the Society for a period of six years ad experimentum, which will be able to be renewed for a similar period by tacit approval; after which, the Society can be erected definitively in our diocese by the competent Roman Congregation..."

We do not have to guess at the rank of the Society, or the importance of the office of its superior. The Church erected it as a Pious Union on an experimental basis for six years, at the end of which it could be approved for another six years as long as the bishop did not intervene. After that, it could be approved definitively by Rome. Now what is immediately apparent, is that it never got to the definitive stage. In 1976, there was the attempted suppression of the Society. Even if we admit the invalidity of this suppression by the then bishop in concert with the Holy See, we must also admit that the Roman Congregation mentioned did not give it any definitive status. It was certainly never approved by any decree elevating it to any higher rank. In the very best stretch of canonical imagination, it only remains a Pious Union, and that is being very generous indeed.

So where does that leave Bishop Fellay? In the letter to the world's bishops following upon the lifting of the excommunications Bishop Fellay and his three fellow bishops by Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope explicitly states,

"The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church."

This statement on the part of the Pope is clear on one thing, at least, and that there is no office of the Superior General admitted by Rome, and thus no grace of state. For modern Rome the Society has no legitimate ministry in the Church, and that is the end of the question for the Holy See. Thus, there can be no argument that Rome admits any grace of state whatsoever, deriving from any legitimate office in the Society of Saint Pius X. This claim can certainly be denied on the basis of the present state of emergency, which derives firstly from the heresies and errors currently being forced upon the member of the Church by the hierarchy, the pope included.

Even if we claim that Bishop Fellay still holds a legitimate office in the Church, this office cannot be greater than that given to the Society's head by the Church herself, namely as the head of a Pious Union. This is something, but it is worlds away from any supposed protection from error due to his office. If the Pope and all the bishops can be unfaithful to the graces of their offices, the highest established by Christ, then all the more so can Bishop Fellay, who is not even of the rank of the head of the Arch-confraternity of Our Lady of Perpetual Help!

Archbishop Lefebvre was never so unskilled a theologian as to base his role in the crisis upon that of a supposed grace of office. By the time of the Society, he was archbishop-bishop emeritus of Tulle and the former Superior General of the Holy Ghost fathers. He was then the Superior General of the Society, and that soon passed into the hands of another. Archbishop Lefebvre did not base the rightness of his position on grace of state or of office. That is the absurdity of the present claim of Menzingen. A Pious Union has no claim to any infallibility. Even the office of Superior General extends only to what the Statutes give it, and that binds only the clerical members. No, the Archbishop defended his actions on another principle altogether, and refused the nonsensical appeal to a minuscule grace of office:

"Don't say, 'We follow Mgr. Lefebvre,' No! Why Mgr. Lefebvre? He's no saint! But you follow Jesus Christ and the Tradition of the Church. You remain Catholic! What more do you want? No other thing!

I refuse to say, "I am the chief of the people who follow tradition." No, no, no, no! I am a Catholic bishop, no more, and I continue my work to preach Catholic doctrine. I do my work to prepare Catholic priests, and through them, the Catholic faithful, and no other thing. No! Don't say "the doctrine of Mgr. Lefebvre." I have no doctrine. I have no new teaching. My teaching is that of the Church, the teaching of the Catholic Church and the catechism of the Council of Trent. That is very important - to remain in the true way - and not to give the impression that you have founded a new Church. That is what the Modernists are doing - they build a new church. We don't build a new church; we follow the Catholic Church of always.

The grave error of Bishop Fellay is to invent a grace of state that mimics that of the Pope, and to impose by fear upon the priests and faithful this false reality. But if the Pope's grace of office has not stopped him from making the gravest of errors in every part of the Faith, even more so is it no protection for Bishop Fellay who can claim nothing but at most the grace joined to the office of Superior of a Pious Union. This novel claim on his part is enough to warn the faithful of doctrinal aberration. He has invented an ecclesiology of the Society that is not true. Secondly, he has deviated from the truth on other matters. To mention but one, the claim that he knew nothing of Bishop Williamson's ideas concerning the number of Jews killed under Hitler is blatantly untrue. Bishop Williamson's views were open and notorious. There was the affair in Canada long before the Swedish television incident. Every priest with any connection with Bishop Williamson knew about his ideas. And yet, Bishop Fellay publicly denied knowing anything. He only knew Bishop Williamson was a bit "eccentric" and this was laid at the feet of his being British. This should have been a warning that there was a grave problem. Then there was the flagrant violation of canon law concerning Bishop Williamson being excluded from the General Chapter. The canon given as an excuse had no bearing upon the matter at all. The trustworthiness of Bishop Fellay can never be restored, barred a miracle. Yet this is not even the gravest thing. The Society has invented its own laws concerning the discipline of the
sacraments, the supervision of groups such as the Benedictines, the Dominicans, and the Capuchins, a situation nowhere envisioned in canon law for the head of a Pious Union.

So we return to the question of the grace of state or of office enjoyed by Bishop Fellay. As a bishop without ordinary jurisdiction consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, he enjoys the same grace of the episcopal state. He exists because the Roman authorities are not trustworthy and are enemies of the Faith objectively speaking. They cannot be trusted, as he now cannot be trusted. As to the grace of office, at most he possesses a grace that is attendant upon his role as superior of a Pious Union. That is at the very most, and that is small indeed. His importance is only based on his fidelity to the Tradition of the Church in the present crisis, to follow the Catholic Church of always.

It is to be lamented that Bishop Fellay clings to the declaration that he sent to Rome so as to be approved, and that the blame is to be laid on the Roman authorities. Blame is to be laid everywhere byt at his own door. The General Chapter put out its six conditions for an agreement with Rome, reaffirming the betrayal. The Pope had refused Bishop Fellay's declaration before the General Chapter had taken place, and yet Bishop Fellay proceeds onward. Then, there is the declaration of the Three Bishops made for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Society and in paragraph eleven we have the same door open to being approved by Rome. All dissent is followed by punishments, and this continues. Bishop Fellay, after all, has the grace of state. Indeed.

Yet if we are asked, why the great concern about an agreement that never took place? We can answer that this was not because of any reticence on Bishop Fellay's part, but only on Rome's. Nothing has changed but the invention of a grace of state greater even than the Pope's. And so those who disagree with Bishop Fellay are Schismatics, protestants, rebels- all the names thrown once upon a time upon Archbishop Lefebvre. In his case, at least the person he stood against was the Pope. Now it is given to those who have left the new Catholic Church built upon Bishop Fellay. I choose the one founded by Christ.

A final point might be made. In the quote from Pope Leo XIII we are reminded that unity of Faith is the first unity. Since when did modernist Rome convert to the one Faith? How can there be a union when there is no union? When is the unity of the Church built without the unity of the Faith? When anyone can show us that Rome now believes that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice offered to appease God who is offended by sin, that there is one and only one true Church- the others being false religions and hateful to God, that the Pope alone is head of the Church and not a college of bishops with him leading them, and that the right to worship God publicly according to his conscience, even when this conscience is wrong is a damnable lie, then please notify us. Otherwise, it is Assisi and a unity without Faith. That is the fruit desired by Bishop Fellay and his new doctrine of the meaning of grace of office.


  1. Very good essay Father. It seems that the SSPX has attempted a rejoinder on the Ignis Ardens forum via their collective "Nishant" .
    In that rejoinder credit is given to Bishop Fellay for supposedly doing great things for Tradition and the future restoration of the Church. Ordinary layfolk can judge Fellay merely by what he spouted during all those cooked-up interviews and conferences that took place from 2008-12.Even before that the "Talks" were being forever closed but someone always still ongoing! He has de-fanged the SSPX which is now a toothless tiger as far as Tradition is concerned.

  2. You present as the gravest thing (or at least a thing graver than events surrounding the exclusion of Bishop Williamson from the General Chapter) that “[t]he Society has invented its own laws concerning the discipline of the sacraments, the supervision of groups such as the Benedictines, the Dominicans, and the Capuchins, a situation nowhere envisioned in canon law for the head of a Pious Union.”

    Does canon law envision members of a pious union establishing chapels, schools and priories in dioceses without permission from Rome or the local ordinary? Hearing confessions and officiating at marriages without regular jurisdiction? When would canon law ever envision a pious union consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate for the service of its members and associated layfolk, and then being called upon to provide support to other (unauthorized) religious orders? Don’t you find yourself doing things that are not envisioned in canon law, at least on a weekly basis?

    Whatever the SSPX is within the Catholic Church, it assumed (or perhaps more properly, was forced to assume) responsibilities far beyond that of a pious union well before the death of its venerated founder. Aren’t we a little past the point where the SSPX taking responsibilities to itself not envisioned in canon law for a pious union should be the gravest thing – and somehow an argument unto itself against its current Superior General?

  3. I did not say the supervision of the other groups was the gravest thing, but it does in fact point to something different than the other things you mention. Supplied jurisdiction works by supplying to one that has the potency to receive a power, to receive power to act. Now while it is true that the law does not directly foresee founding chapels without the approval of the local ordinary, in the case of the Society, it was foreseen that it would in fact approve chapels. That is not contrary to the law's intent. A priest cannot be given for things proper to a bishop, but a superior can be given jurisdiction that is supplied in order to allow him to do things that superiors do.

    Every priest has the potency to hear confessions and witness marriages. Supplied jurisdiction gives the jurisdiction lacking. Bishops have the power to consecrate bishops, and supplied jurisdiction give them the faculty to do so in need. The Church does in fact foresee acts of supplied jurisdiction, for ecclesiastical law is not meant to foresee every circumstance in its acts.

    But it is not in the power of a superior of a Society to contravene the law directly, for that is not a problem of supplied jurisdiction but of disobedience, and he does not have the power to govern the affairs of other orders, for he does not have the potency in his office to do such a thing. That also is simple usurpation. Supplied jurisdiction gives on the power to do a thing that falls within the potency of the office.

  4. Father, the concerns I quoted immediately followed the sentence, “Yet this is not even the gravest thing.” In that context, I think I was grammatically justified to assume (even without the qualification I included) that the quoted concerns constituted “the gravest thing.”

    Regardless of their specific gravity, I am still not sure I understand the nature of your concerns, as concretely applied to the SSPX and its Superior General. Starting with the supervision issue, and given that a pious union envisioned by canon law would not be obliged or even expected to perform ordinations for other religious orders, or to provide them with priests to supply their spiritual needs, how can the decision of its superior to restrict its members from doing so be a usurpation?

    Is your argument that the superior of a pious union can’t place any restrictions on the movements of its members or the times and places when they celebrate the sacraments without being guilty of usurpation? Or at least any restriction that is more limiting than noting that its members are not to commit sins?