Recalling Why He Resisted
Letter to Friends and Benefactors

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Econe, Switzerland (1975)


( Editor’s Note: What follows is the official, authorized English translation of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s 1975 statement as released thirty-one years ago by the St. Pius X Seminary in Econe specifically for publication in The Remnant.  As was the case then, we again urge our readers to give their utmost thought and prayer to the present controversy between the Vatican and the SSPX, which involves far more than mere conflicting Church personalities and policies but, rather, goes straight to the heart of the most serious crisis the Catholic Church has suffered since the 4th century.  As Fr. Bryan Houghton suggested on the Lefebvre question at the time, this is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but where precisely lies the Truth and how is it to be conscientiously heeded, followed and defended.  Needless to say, the Truth is what concerns us now—that and the defense of Christ’s Mystical Body here on earth.  Perhaps we would do well to read the following in light of just two recent bits of Church news, i.e., the endorsement of the sodomite film, Brokeback Mountain, by Pope Benedict’s new appointment to the episcopal see of San Francisco, and the Pope’s February 14th call for the world to collaborate with the fundamentally anti-Catholic World Council of Churches in its quest for peace.   These seem to us, alas, to be only the most recent in a long line of heartbreaking indicators that a universal diabolical disorientation plagues the Church today even at the highest levels.  As we read the following, then, let's ask ourselves one question: Would the late Archbishop Lefebvre have considered now the right time for rapprochement between his SSPX and a Vatican so steeped in liberalism that it can't even recognize a crisis so grave in the Church today that it's coming dangerously close to eclipsing that of the Arian Heresy?   Michael J. Matt

 Dear Friends and Benefactors:

It seems to me that the moment has come to bring to your knowledge the latest events concerning Econe, and the attitude which in conscience before God we believe we must take in these grave circumstances.

As far as the appeal to the Apostolic Signatura is concerned, the last attempt on the part of my lawyer to find out from the Cardinals forming the Supreme Court exactly how the Pope intervened in the proceedings being brought against us was stopped in its tracks by a hand-written letter from Cardinal Villot to Cardinal Staffa, President of the Supreme Court, ordering him to forbid my appeal.

As for my audience with the Holy Father, it has likewise been refused by Cardinal Villot.  I shall obtain an audience only when my work has disappeared and when I have conformed my way of thinking to that which reigns supreme in today’s reformed Church.

However, the most important event is undoubtedly the signed letter from the Holy Father, presented in the Pope’s own writing by the Papal Nuncio in Bern, but in fact type-written, and which takes up again in a new form the arguments or rather the statements of the Cardinals’ letter.  This I received on July 10th.  It calls on me to make a public act of submission “to the Council, the post-conciliar reforms and the changes of direction to reject which is to reject the Pope” (orientations qui engagent le Pape luimeme).

A second letter from the Pope which I received on September 10th urgently required an answer to the first letter.

This time, through no desire of my own, my only aim being to serve the Church in the humble and very consoling task of giving Her true priests devoted to Her service, we found ourselves confronted with the Church authorities at their topmost level on earth, the Pope.  So I wrote an answer to the Holy Father, stating our submission to the successor of Peter in his essential function, that of faithfully transmitting to us the deposit of the faith.

If we consider the facts from a purely material point of view, it is a trifling matter, the suppression of a Society which has barely come into existence, with no more than a few dozen members, the closing down of a Seminary.  How little it is in reality, hardly worth anyone’s attention.

On the other hand, if for a moment we heed the reactions stirred up in Catholic and even Protestant, Orthodox, and atheist circles throughout the entire world, the countless articles in the world press, reactions of enthusiasm and true hope, reactions of spite and opposition, reactions of mere curiosity, we cannot help thinking, even against our will, that Econe is posing a problem reaching far beyond  the modest confines of the Society and its Seminary; a deep and unavoidable problem that cannot be pushed to one side with a sweep of  the hand, nor solved by any formal order, from whatever authority it may come.  For the problem of Econe is the problem of thousands and millions of Christian consciences, distressed, divided and torn for the past ten years by the agonizing dilemma:  whether to obey and risk losing one’s faith, or disobey and keep one’s faith intact; whether to obey and work for the preservation and continuation of the Church; whether to accept the reformed liberal Church, or to go on belonging to the Catholic Church.

It is because Econe is at the heart of this crucial problem, seldom till now posed with such fullness or  gravity, that  so many people are looking to this house which has resolutely made its choice of belonging to the eternal Church and of refusing to belong to the reformed liberal Church.

And now the Church, through Her official representatives, is taking up a position against Econe’s choice, thus condemning in public the traditional training of priests, in the name of the Second Vatican Council, in the name of post-conciliar reforms, and in the name of post-conciliar changes of direction, to reject which is to reject the Pope.

How can such opposition to Tradition in the name of a Council and its practical application be explained?  Can one reasonably oppose, should one in reality oppose a Council and its reforms:  What is more, can one and should one oppose the orders of a hierarchy ordering one to follow the Council and all the official post-conciliar guide-lines?

That is the grave problem today, after ten post-conciliar years, confronting our conscience as a result of the condemnation of Econe.

One cannot give a prudent answer to these questions without making a rapid survey of the history of liberalism, and Catholic liberalism over the last centuries. The present can only be explained by the past.

Principles of Liberalism

Let us first define in a few words the liberalism of which the most typical historical example is Protestantism.  Liberalism pretends to free man from any constraint not wished or accepted by himself.

FIRST LIBERATION: frees the intelligence from any objective truth imposed on it.  The truth must be accepted as differing according to the individual or group of individuals, so it is necessarily divided up.  The making of the truth and the search for it goes on all the time.  Nobody can claim to have exclusive or complete possession of it.  It is obvious how opposed that is to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

SECOND LIBERATION: frees the faith from any dogmas imposed on us, dogmas formulated in a definitive fashion and which the intelligence and will must submit to.  Dogmas, according to the liberal, must be submitted to the test of reason and science, constantly, because science is constantly progressing.  Hence it is impossible to admit any revealed truth defined once and for all.  It will be noticed how contrary such a principle is to the Revelation of our Lord and His authority.

Lastly, THIRD LIBERATION: frees us from the law.  The law, according to the liberal, limits freedom and imposes on it a restraint first moral and then physical.  The law and its restraints are an affront to human dignity and human conscience.  Conscience is the supreme law. The liberal confuses liberty with license.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the living Law, as He is the Word of God; it will be realized once more how deep runs the opposition between the liberal and our Lord.

Consequences of Liberalism

The consequences of liberal principles are to destroy the philosophy of being and to refuse all definition of things, so as to shut oneself into nominalism or existentialism and evolutionism. Everything is subject to mutation and change.

A second consequence, as grave as the first if not more so, is to deny the supernatural, hence original sin, justification by grace, the true reason for the Incarnation, the sacrifice of the Cross, the Church, the priesthood.  Everything our Lord accomplished gets falsified; which works out, in practical terms, in a Protestant view of the Liturgy of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments, whose object is no longer to apply the merits of the Redemption to souls, to each single soul, in order to impart to it the grace of divine life and to prepare it for eternal life through its belonging to the Mystical Body of our Lord, but whose central purpose from now on is the belonging to a human community of a religious character.  The whole liturgical Reform reflects this change of direction.

Another consequence:  the denying of all personal authority, sharing in the authority of God.  Human dignity demands that man submit only to what he agrees to submit to.  Since, however, no society can live without authority, man will accept only authority approved by the majority, because that represents authority being delegated by the largest number of individuals to a designated person or group of persons, such authority being never more than delegated.

Now these principles and their consequences, requiring freedom of thought, freedom of teaching, freedom of conscience, freedom to choose one’s own religion, these false freedoms which presuppose the secular state, the separation of Church and State, have been, ever since the Council of Trent, steadily condemned by the successors of Peter, starting with the Council of Trent itself.

Condemnation of Liberalism By the Magisterium of the Church

It is the Church’s opposition to Protestant liberalism which gave rise to the Council of Trent, and hence the considerable importance of this dogmatic Council in the struggle against liberal errors, in the defense of the Truth and the Faith, in particular in the codifying of the Liturgy of the Mass and the Sacraments, in the definitions concerning justification by grace.

Let us list a few of the most important documents, completing and confirming the Council of Trent’s doctrine:

-    The Bull “Auctorem fidei” of Pius VI against the Council of Pistoria.

-    The Encyclical “Mirari vos” of Gregory XVI against Lamennais.

- The Encyclical “Immortale Dei” of Leo XIII condemning the secularization of states.

- The Papal acts of St. Pius X against the Sillon and modernism, and especially the Decree “Lamentabili” and the Antimodernist Oath.

-  The Encyclical “Divini Redemptoris” of Pius XI against communism.

-  The Encyclical “Humani generis” of Pius XII.

Thus liberalism and liberal Catholicism have always been condemned by Peter’s successors in the name of the Gospel and Tradition.

This obvious conclusion is of capital importance in deciding what attitude to adopt in order to show that we are unfailingly at one with the Church’s Magisterium and with Peter’s successor reigning today when he echoes the apostolic traditions and all his predecessors’ teachings.  For it is the very definition of Peter’s successor to guard the deposit of Faith and hand it faithfully down.  Here is what Pope Pius IX proclaimed on the subject in his Encyclical “Pastor Aetemus”:  “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might keep inviolably and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles”.

Influence of Liberalism on Vatican II Council

Now we come to the question which so concerns us:  How is it possible that anyone can, in the name of the Second Vatican Council, oppose the centuries-old apostolic traditions and so bring into question the Catholic Priesthood itself and its essential act, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

A grave and tragic ambiguity hangs over the Second Vatican council, which is presented by the Popes themselves in terms favouring that ambiguity: for instance, the council of the ‘aggiornamento’, the ‘bringing up to date’ of the Church, the pastoral non-dogmatic Council, as the Pope again called it just a month ago.

This way of presenting the Council, in the Church and the world, as they were in 1962, ran very graver risks which the Council did not succeed in avoiding.  It was easy to interpret these words in such a way that the Council was open wide to the errors of liberalism.  A liberal minority among the council Fathers and above all among the Cardinals was very active, very well organized, and fully supported by a constellation of modernist theologians and numerous secretariats.  Take for example the enormous flow of printed matter from the I.D.O.C., subsidized by the Bishops’ conferences in Germany and Holland.

Everything was in their favour for their demanding the instant adaptation of the Church to modern man; in other words, man who wishes to be freed of all shackles, for their presenting the Church as out of touch and impotent, for  their beating their predecessors’ breasts.  The Church gets presented as being as guilty as the Protestants and Orthodox for the divisions of old.  She must ask present-day Protestants for forgiveness.

The Traditional Church is guilty in her wealth, in her triumphalism; the Council Fathers feel guilty at being ‘out of the world’, at not belonging to the world; they are already blushing at their Episcopal insignia, soon they will be ashamed of their cassocks.

Soon this atmosphere at liberation will spread to all fields, and it will show in the spirit of collegiality which will veil the shame felt at exercising a personal authority so opposed to modern man, let us say liberal man.  The Pope and Bishops will exercise their authority collegially in Synods, Bishops’ Conferences, Priests’ Councils.  Finally, the Church is opened wide to the principles of the modern world.

The Liturgy too will be liberalized, adapted, subjected to experiments by the Bishops’ Conferences.

Religious liberty, ecumenism, theological research, the revision of Canon Law, will all soften down the ‘triumphalism’ of a Church which used to proclaim herself the only Ark of Salvation!  The truth is to be found divided up among all religions; joint research will carry the universal religious community forward around the Church.

Geneva Protestants – Marsaudon in his book “Ecumenism As Seen by a Freemason” – liberals like Fesquet, are triumphant.  At last the era of Catholic states will disappear.  All religions equal before the Law!  “The free Church in the free state”, Lammenais’ formula!   Now the Church is in touch with the modern world!  The Church’s privileged status before the Law and all the documents cited above turn into museum pieces for an age that has out-grown them!  Read the beginning of the Schema on The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), the description of how modern times are changing; read the conclusion – they are pure liberalism.  Read the Declaration on Religious Freedom and compare it with the Encyclical “Mirari vos” of Gregory XVI, or with “Quanta cura” of Pius IX, and you can recognize the contradiction almost word for word.

To say that liberal ideas had no influence on the Second Vatican Council is to fly in the face of the evidence.  The internal and external evidence both make that influence abundantly clear.

Influence of Liberalism on the Postconciliar Reforms and Trends

And if we pass on from the Council to the reforms and trends since the Council, the proof is so clear as to be blinding.  Now, let us take careful note that in the letters from Rome calling upon us to make a public act of submission, the Council and its subsequent reforms and trends are always presented as being three parts of one whole.  Hence all those people are gravely mistaken who talk of a wrong interpretation of the Council, as though the Council in itself was perfect and could not be interpreted along the lines of the subsequent reforms and trends.

Clearer than any written account of the Council, the official reforms and trends that have followed in its wake show how the Council is officially meant to be interpreted.

Now on this point we need not elaborate: the facts speak for themselves, alas, all too eloquently.

What still remains intact of the pre-Council Church?  Where has the self-destruction (as Pope Paul called it) not been at work?  Catechetics – seminaries – religious congregations – liturgy of the Mass and the Sacraments – constitution of the Church – concept of the Priesthood.  Liberal ideas have wrought havoc all around and are taking the Church far beyond Protestant ideas, to the amazement of Protestant and to the disgust of Orthodox.

One of the most horrifying practical applications of these liberal principles is the opening wide of the Church to embrace all errors and in particular to the most monstrous error ever thought up by Satan: communism. Communism now has official access to the Vatican, and its world revolution is made markedly easier by the official non-resistance of the Church, nay, by her regular support of the revolution in spite of the despairing warnings by cardinals who have been through communist jails.

The refusal by this pastoral Council to issue any official condemnation of communism alone suffices to disgrace it for all time, when one thinks of the tens of millions of martyrs, of people having their personalities scientifically destroyed in the psychiatric hospitals, serving as guinea-pigs for all sorts of experiments.  And the pastoral Council which brought together 2350 Bishops said not a word, in spite of the 450 signatures of Fathers demanding a condemnation, which I myself took to Msgr. Felici, secretary of the Council, together with Msgr. Sigaud, Archbishop of Diamantina.

Need the analysis be pushed any farther to reach its conclusion?  These lines seem to me to be enough to justify one’s refusing to follow the Council, these reforms, these trends in all their liberalism and neo-modernism.

We would like to reply to the objection that will no doubt be raised under the heading of obedience, and of the jurisdiction held by those who seek to impose this liberal trend.  Our reply is:  In the Church, law and jurisdiction are at the service of the Faith, the primary reason for the Church.  There is no law, no jurisdiction which can impose on us a lessening of the Faith.

We accept this jurisdiction and this law when they are at the service of the Faith.  But who can judge that?  The Tradition, the Faith taught for 2,000 years. Every Catholic can and must resist anyone in the Church who lays hands on his Faith, the Faith of the eternal Church, relying on his childhood catechism.

Defending his Faith is the prime duty of every Christian, all the more of any priest or bishop.  Wherever an order carries with it a danger of corrupting Faith and morals, disobedience becomes a grave duty.

It is because we believe that our whole faith is endangered by the post-Council reforms and trends that it is our duty to disobey, and to maintain the Traditions.  The greatest service we can render to the  Catholic Church, to Peter’s successor, to the salvation of souls and of our own, is to say “no” to the reformed liberal Church, because we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, who is neither liberal nor reformable.

One final objection: the Council is a Council like the others; therefore it should be followed like the others, Yes, it is like them in its ecumenicity and in the manner of its being called; it is not like them in its object, which is what is essential.  A non-dogmatic Council need not be infallible; it is only infallible when it repeats traditional dogmatic truths.

How do you justify your attitude towards the Pope?

We are the keenest defenders of his authority as Peter’s successor, but our attitude is governed by the words of Pius IX quoted above.  We applaud the Pope when he echoes Tradition and is faithful to his mission of handing down the deposit of the Faith. We accept novelties intimately in conformity with Tradition and the Faith.  We do not feel bound by any obedience to novelties going against Tradition and threatening our Faith.  In that case, we take up a position behind the papal documents listed above.

We do not see how, in conscience, a Catholic layman, priest, or bishop can adopt any other attitude towards the grievous crisis the Church is going through.  “Nihil inovetur nisi quod traditum est” – let nothing be introduced which is not contained in Tradition.

May Jesus and Mary help us to remain faithful to our episcopal promises!  “Call not true what is false, call not good what is evil.”  That is what we were told at our consecration….

We are being struck neither by the Church nor by the Successor of Peter, but by churchmen steeped in the errors of liberalism and occupying high positions, who are making use of their power to make the Church of the past disappear, and to install in its place a new Church which no longer has anything to do with Catholicism. Therefore we must safeguard the true Church and Peter’s successor from this diabolical assault which calls to mind the prophecies of the Book of Apocalypse.

Let us pray unceasingly to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Holy Angels, St. Pius X, to come to our help so that the Catholic Faith may triumph over error.  Let us remain united in this Faith, let us avoid discussions, let us love one another, let us pray for those who persecute us and let us render good for evil.

  Marcel Lefebvre

On the Feast of St. Pius X, 1975