All of this is ironic. Vatican II went to great lengths to emphasize the authority of individual bishops. The Council taught that bishops were true pastors with authority over their flocks and the liturgical life of their diocese, not just middle managers or vicars of the Pope.
This Vatican II teaching is, of course, now wantonly ignored by our current Vatican II pope whenever he wants to impose his progressive will. But Vatican II aside, do we have any historical precedent of a pre-Vatican II bishop resisting the implementation in his diocese of a terrible papal disciplinary order that would harm the Church?
In fact, we do.
On January 12, 2017 I wrote a piece called “Resisting Papal Errors: Another Historical Precedent for Cardinal Burke.”[v] In that piece, I told the story of a brave and prominent Archbishop of Paris who directy resisted the papal brief of Pope Clement XIV suppressing the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1773. As I stated in this article:
...one of the historical examples the Neo-Catholics have repeatedly used as a binding disciplinary decision of the pope is the suppression of the Jesuit order by Clement XIV. If you recall our previous debates with the Neo-Catholics regarding the “abrogation” of the Latin Mass, they assured us that Catholics were bound to accept with complete docility any disciplinary decision made by a pope. To do any less, they said, would be to deny the very authority of the pope over disciplinary matters. Thus, they argued, all Catholics were obliged to humbly and quietly give up their Latin Masses in 1969 in favor of Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae.
Like the suppression of the Latin Mass, the suppression of the Jesuits is considered one of the worst and unjust prudential decisions of a pope in Catholic history. Pope Clement XIV cravenly caved in to pressures from the Church’s enemies and secular kings and ended up doing their bidding by eliminating their greatest foe and the Church’s greatest ally. Famed Catholic historian and founder of Christendom College, Dr. Warren Carroll, stated the following about the decision in Volume V of his History of Christendom series: The Revolution Against Christendom:
It is hard to believe that so evil an action as the suppression of the Jesuits could have been taken, involving as it did so many eminent churchmen and Catholic statesmen, but it happened. As an editor of the vehemently anti-Catholic Encyclopedia wrote in amazement to Frederick of Prussia in 1769: "It would be madness for the Pope to destroy his bodyguard to please the Catholic princes….It is strange that their Most Catholic Majesties want to annihilate these staunch defenders of the Holy See and that your most Heretical Majesty is the only one to defend them."
Pope Clement XIV’s brief suppressing the Jesuits was entitled, “Dominus ac Redemptor Noster” and was given at Rome on July 21, 1773. It stated in relevant part:
...after a mature deliberation, we do, out of our certain knowledge, and the fulness of our apostolical power, SUPPRESS AND ABOLISH THE SAID COMPANY: we deprive it of all activity whatever, of its houses, schools, colleges, hospitals, lands, and, in short, every other place whatsoever, in whatever kingdom or province they may be situated; we abrogate and annul its statutes, rules, customs, decrees, and constitutions, even though confirmed by oath, and approved by the Holy See or otherwise; in like manner we annul all and every its privileges, indults, general or particular, the tenor whereof is, and is taken to be, as fully and as amply expressed in the present Brief as if the same were inserted word for word, in whatever clauses, form, or decree, or under whatever sanction their privileges may have been conceived. We declare all, and all kind of authority, the General, the provincials, the visitors, and other superiors of the said Society to be FOR EVER ANNULLED AND EXTINGUISHED, of what nature soever the said authority may be, as well in things spiritual as temporal….
...Further, we do ordain, that after the publication of this our letter, no person do presume to suspend the execution thereof, under colour, title, or pretence of any action, appeal, relief, explanation of doubts which may arise, or any other pretext whatever, foreseen or not foreseen. Our will and meaning is, that the suppression and destruction of the said Society, and of all its parts, shall have an immediate and instantaneous effect in the manner here above set forth; and that under pain of the greater excommunication, to be immediately incurred by whosoever shall presume to create the least impediment or obstacle, or delay in the execution of this our will: the said excommunication not to be taken off but by ourselves, or our successors, the Roman Pontiffs.
"Further, we ordain and command, by virtue of the holy obedience to all and every ecclesiastical person, regular and secular, of whatever rank, dignity, and condition, and especially those who have been heretofore of the said Company, that no one of them do carry their audacity so far as to impugn, combat, or even write or speak about the said suppression, or the reasons and motives of it, or about the institute of the Company, its form of government, or other circumstance thereto relating, without an express permission from the Roman Pontiff, and that under the same pain of excommunication...[vi]
What bishop could possibly resist the will of the pope, so forcefully expressed in such a brief? Its language is much harsher, direct, and deliberate than Traditionis Custodes or Archbishop Roche’s implementation guidelines. It even offers severe ecclesiastical penalties for anyone who impedes it, including excommunication reserved to the Holy See! As I stated in my article:
Although most Catholic churchmen and laity of the time did as the Neo-Catholics suggested and obeyed the unjust suppression out of a sense of obedience to the Pope and fear of the secular princes, there was another Catholic path they could have chosen: the path of resistance. The same one those Catholics living in the time of John XXII laid out for them.[vii] Fortunately for us, history records that one brave churchman did choose that path. As if prefiguring the great Archbishop Lefebvre, it was the old Archbishop of Paris, Cristophe de Beaumont, who saw the evil in this unjust papal decision, and courageously and publicly defied it. As Dr. Carroll explains:
“On May 2, 1774 the Archbishop of Paris, the tragically unknown Christophe de Beaumont, "an old bag of bones" with gallstones and blood in his urine and a doctor in 'constant attendance upon him, was carried into the sickroom of the dying King Louis XV of France. Archbishop Beaumont had solemnly, magnificently protested Pope Clement XIV's brief suppressing the Jesuits -- one of the most extraordinary rebukes ever given to a Pope (though almost unknown to the posterity he hoped to honor)”
Christophe de Beaumont
Archbishop Beaumont’s letter in response to Clement XIV’s suppression of the Jesuits is below. “The Brief” refers to the suppression order of Clement XIV. “The Bull” refers to Pascendi munus of Clement XII which, just years earlier, had praised and defended the Jesuits. (This is a striking paralell to Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, which stated, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful” just years before Traditionis Custodes.) Archbishop Christophe de Beaumount responded to Pope Clement XIV as follows (emphasis added):
This Brief is nothing else than a personal and private judgment. Among other things that are remarked in it by our clergy is the extraordinary, odious, immoderate characterization of the Bull "Pascendi munus" of the saintly Clement XII, whose memory will be forever glorious, and who had invested the Bull in question with all the due and proper formalities of such documents: It is described by the Brief not only as being inexact but also as having been "extorted" rather than obtained; whereas it has all the authority of a general council...
It was conceived and published in a manner as general as it was solemn. . . . As for the secular princes, if there were any which did not unite with the others to give their approbation, their number was inconsiderable. Not one of them protested against it, not one opposed it, and even those who, at that very time, were laying their plans to abolish the Jesuits, allowed the Bull to be published in their dominions. . . .
The Brief which destroys the Society of Jesus is nothing else than an isolated, private, and pernicious judgment, which does no honor to the tiara and is prejudicial to the glory of the Church and the growth and conservation of the orthodox Faith. In any case, Holy Father, it is impossible for me to ask the clergy to accept the Brief, for in the first place, I would not be listened to, were I unfortunate enough to lend my ministry to its acceptance. Moreover, I would dishonor my office if I did so ...
To charge myself with the task you wish me to perform would be to inflict a serious injury on religion as well as to cast an aspersion on the learning and integrity of the prelates who laid before the King their approval of the very points that are now condemned by this Brief. For what is the peace that is incompatible with this Society? The question is startling in the reflection it evokes; for we fail to understand how such a motive had the power to induce Your Holiness to adopt a measure which is so hazardous, so dangerous, and so prejudicial. . . .
In a word, what the Brief designates as peace is not peace[viii]. . . . It is precisely that peace against which the Jesuits in the four quarters of the world have declared an active, a vigorous, and a bloody warfare; which they have carried to the limit and in which they have received the greatest success. To put an end to that peace, they have devoted their talents; they have undergone pain and suffering. By their zeal and eloquence they have striven to block every avenue of approach by which this false peace might enter and rend the bosom of the Church; they have set the souls of men free from its thralldom, and they have pursued it to its innermost lair, making light of its danger and expecting no other reward for their daring, than the hatred of the licentious and the persecution of the ungodly. . . .
In a word, Most Holy Father, the clergy of France, which is the most learned and the most illustrious of Holy Church, and which has no other aim than to promote the glory of the Church, does now judge after deep reflection that the reception of this Brief of Your Holiness will cast a shadow on the glory of the Church of France, and it does not propose to consent to a measure which, in ages to come, will tarnish its glory. By rejecting this Brief and by an active resistance to it our clergy will transmit to posterity a splendid example of integrity and of zeal for the Catholic Faith, for the prosperity of the Church and particularly for the honor of its Visible Head.[ix]
We can only pray that brave Catholic bishops in our day will write this letter almost word for word as a response to Pope Francis and Archbishop Roche’s order to implement Traditionis Custodes. Who will carry the banner of the late Archbishop de Beaumont in providing such a glorious example to our posterity? Regardless of the outcome, such bishops would go down in history as courageous men of the Church who carried the cross of the Faith and the Mass even in the face of unjust persecution from Christ’s own vicar.
As for Pope Francis, let us pray he will reverse course and not live his last days like his predecessor, the tragic Clement XIV:
In his final hours he knew what he had done, crying in despair “I have cut off my right hand.” Ghosts pursued him in his sleep; in the silence of the night he would kneel before a miniature of the Virgin detached from his prayer book, perhaps remembering that she is ever the refuge of those who have no other hope.[x]
Watch the latest from RTV | A MAJOR VICTORY: Heroes and Patriots Sacrifice Everything for Freedom
[viii] One can easily substitute the word “unity” in place of “peace” as the pretext for the current suppression of the Latin Mass.
[ix] History of Christendom: Volume V: The Revolution Against Christendom, Dr. Warren Carroll.