In February of 2013, Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, SSPX, published an article entitled, Can one speak of the ‘conciliar church’?
Some months later, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais wrote an article drawing some very different conclusions. In it, he both explained and defended Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s thoughts concerning the existence of a “conciliar church,” one that the Archbishop accused of being radically incompatible with the Holy Catholic Church.
At the outset, Bishop Tissier – author of the Archbishop’s “definitive biography” and one of his “closest associates and a scholar in his own right” (according to Angelus Press) – offers the following definitions:
The Catholic Church is the society of the baptized who want to save their souls in professing the Catholic faith, in practicing the same Catholic worship and in following the same pastors, successors of the Apostles.
The conciliar church is the society of the baptized who follow the directives of the current Popes and bishops, in espousing more or less consciously the intention to bring about the unity of the human race, and in practice accepting the decisions of the Council, following the new liturgy and submitting to the new Code of Canon law.
He then proceeded to propose the dual-hierarchy theory:
If this be so, we have two churches who have the same heads and most of the same members, but who have different forms and ends diametrically incongruous: on the one hand eternal salvation seconded by the social reign of Christ, King of Nations, on the other hand the unity of the human race by liberal ecumenism, that is to say broadened to all religions…
Bishop Tissier evidently recognizes that the idea of “two diametrically incongruous churches with the same heads” represents a challenge to both faith and reason. He then asks rhetorically:
“Is it possible to have one hierarchy for two churches?”
The very purpose of Bishop Tissier’s article is, of course, to demonstrate why such a proposition is indeed possible, the alternative being to assert his disagreement with Archbishop Lefebvre. (More on that imperative later.) I would encourage readers to examine His Excellency’s arguments in their fullness by following the hyperlink provided.
Here, I will address the question that has been posed, offering for consideration an alternative point of view. Before we begin, let me be perfectly clear in saying that my purpose is in no way to denigrate the memory of Archbishop Lefebvre. All who call themselves “traditional” owe a great deal to His Excellency.
That said, his opinions are not above reproach. In our attempts to make sense of the problems that presently beset us, the best we can do is to search for the truth using Catholic common sense, with reliance on the sure doctrine of the Church, while trusting in the Lord to meet our sincerity with the grace necessary to persevere in faith. It is with this in mind that we now proceed.
Bishop Tissier quotes Archbishop Lefebvre as saying:
How could it be more clear?! From now on it is the conciliar church one must obey and be faithful to, and not to the Catholic Church. This is precisely our problem. We are suspended a divinis by the conciliar church, of which we do not want to be a part. This conciliar church is a schismatic church, because it breaks with the Catholic Church of all time. It has its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new liturgy, already condemned by the Church in many official and definitive documents.
Elsewhere, Bishop Tissier makes it perfectly plain that the Archbishop held to the existence of “a parallel and organized society called the conciliar church,” as opposed to merely “a liberal and modernist ‘spirit’” that somehow managed to infect the Catholic Church; i.e., the Archbishop, he tells us, held to the existence of two distinct societies – one Catholic, the other conciliar.
Returning to the quote above, in short order, Archbishop Lefebvre repeated one of the concepts that most cry out for our attention:
The church which affirms such errors [the conciliar church] is at one and the same time heretical and schismatic.
With this description in mind, we can rephrase the question at hand:
Is it possible for the hierarchy of a heretical and schismatic organized society to serve, at one and the same time, as the sacred hierarchy of the Holy Roman Catholic Church?
To answer this question, one is hardly constrained to mere speculation alone; rather, there exist relevant, concrete examples for us to consider.
The bishops of the organized societies known as the Orthodox Churches, for instance, are both heretical (e.g., their rejection of the Immaculate Conception, the indissolubility of marriage, the doctrine of original sin) and schismatic (their rejection of papal primacy). More could certainly be said of their condition; e.g., with regard to Apostolic succession, the valid but illicit nature of their sacraments, etc., arguably adding to the parallels that exist with the Novus Ordo Church.
For our purposes, however, it is enough to note – firstly, as a matter of Catholic common sense – that these men by no means are, nor can they aspire to be, “heads” of both the Orthodox and the Holy Catholic Church.
At this, it may be helpful to focus our attention more specifically on the nature of schism. To this end, the new (that is, the conciliar) Code of Canon Law will suffice:
Can. 751 Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
As for the consequences of schism:
Can. 1364 §1 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of Can. 194 §1, n. 2; a cleric, moreover, may be punished with the penalties mentioned in Can. 1336 §1, nn. 1, 2 and 3.
For the sake of thoroughness:
Can. 194 §1 The following are removed from ecclesiastical office by virtue of the law itself:
2° one who has publicly defected from the catholic faith or from communion with the Church.
As for Canon 1336, it simply describes penalties that may be incurred in addition to those already treated, the former already being sufficient for our purposes, we’ll move on.
With all that has been said thus far in mind, we may repeat after Archbishop Lefebvre: How could it be more clear?!
If one accepts the Archbishop’s view (as reality demands) that the conciliar church is A) an organized society quite separate from the Catholic Church, and B) schismatic and heretical, then one is also hard pressed to deny – as the canons cited above make clear – that the dual-hierarchy theory is utterly untenable.
Even so, Bishop Tissier went on to engage certain anticipated arguments against it:
That the Catholic hierarchy governs at the same time the Catholic Church and a society which has the appearance of a counterfeit church seems to go against the assistance promised by Christ to Peter and his successors, guaranteeing the unerring magisterium and the indefectibility of the Church (Mt. 16, 17-19; 28,20).
Before moving on, we must make note of a contradiction: As previously shown, Bishop Tissier made it plain that Archbishop Lefebvre’s position concerned more than just the appearance of a counterfeit church, as if it were but an illusion; rather, he proposed “a parallel and organized society called the conciliar church.” In other words, this counterfeit church truly exists.
That clarification out of the way, I would encourage readers to examine a previous post wherein the indefectibility of the Roman Church and the Roman Pontiff’s role in Christ’s promise is examined in some detail. Having done so, one will understand why Bishop Tissier sees this as a major challenge to the dual-hierarchy theory.
Unfortunately, however, it’s a challenge he does not fully engage as he continued:
If the Pope directs another church, he is an apostate and he is no longer pope and the sedevacantist hypothesis is verified. We simply need to respond that “Prima sedes a nemine judicatur” and that by consequence, no authority can pronounce obstinacy, declaring the pertinacity of a sovereign Pontiff in error or deviance; and that on the other hand in case of doubt, the Church supplies at least the executive power of the apparent Pope (can. 209 of the Code of Canon law 1917).
In this, we find a secondary motive (or perhaps more accurately, motive 1b.) behind Bishop Tissier’s pre-ordained conclusion; namely, to discredit the sedevacantist hypothesis out of hand, and this without bothering to mention its rather obvious relevance to the present discussion, even if only to argue against it.
Bishop Tissier is essentially asking his readers to forgo any critical analysis whatsoever and simply assume that each of the conciliar popes – men who openly served as the recognizable heads of that organized, heretical and schismatic society known as the conciliar church – have always been, at one and the same time, true popes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
A detailed examination of the sedevacantist position is well beyond the scope of the present article, however, let us apply once more the Orthodox analogy:
Is it within the realm of possibility that the Ecumenical Patriarch of the schismatic Orthodox Church could also be, at one and the same time, the Holy Roman Pontiff?
If Archbishop Lefebvre’s dual-hierarchy theory is correct, then we must conclude that it is possible. As those with sensus Catholicus most certainly know, however, it is not.
The only argument offered by Bishop Tissier in this matter concerns the fact that “the first See is judged by no one,” a truth that isn’t even being called into question, and one that in no way supports the idea that one man can be both the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church.
In addition to being forced, as it were, to ignore relevant facts and gloss over relevant arguments, another unfortunate consequence of laboring to uphold an untenable proposition is that it often leads one to set forth equally untenable supporting arguments. One of the most remarkable, in this particular case, is the following from Archbishop Lefebvre:
This conciliar church is therefore not Catholic. In the measure in which the Pope, the bishops, priests or faithful adhere to this new church, they separate themselves from the Catholic Church. The church of today is the true Church only in the measure in which it continues and is one with the Church of yesterday and of always.
The Society of St. Pius X and self-identified traditionalists everywhere (aka Catholics) often rail, and rightly so, against the ludicrous notion that one can somehow be in partial communion with the Catholic Church – that is, somewhat in communion, while also somewhat out of communion – and this as opposed to full communion.
And yet, as painful as it may be to do so, we must admit that Archbishop Lefebvre himself, in a sincere effort to make sense of the unprecedented crisis at hand, suggested essentially the same thing when he proposed the novel idea of a society that is Catholic in measure.
Simple observation alone tells us the conciliar church is precisely what the Archbishop believed it to be – an organized society that is heretical and schismatic, one that no longer teaches the true Faith and thus is radically incompatible with the Holy Catholic Church, the same which it simply mimics in the manner of a counterfeit.
What seemed to His Excellency to be measures of Catholicity discernible within this counterfeit church were truly nothing of the kind; they were, and are, simply artifacts of the Faith that have been stolen from the one true Church of Christ.
These are the very same Catholic treasures that the Second Vatican Council, in its ungodly ecumenical fervor, anointed as “elements of sanctification and truth found outside of the Church’s visible structure” (cf LG 8); specifically, in the communities of the heretics and schismatics. (Are you seeing the common thread?)
This manner of thinking is precisely what gave birth to the Council’s reprehensible proposition stating that “the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.” (ibid.)
How ironic it is that Archbishop Lefebvre, who fought so valiantly for so long against the falsehoods set forth by the Second Vatican Council, inadvertently lent credence to one of its most poisonous errors.
The conciliar church is not unlike all of the other organized, heretical and schismatic societies to be found in this world; it is an amalgam of Christian truth and diabolical lies. The most noteworthy unique feature of the conciliar church is that it poses, and evidently convincingly so, as the Catholic Church.
The Council, as cited above, made mention of “the Church’s visible structure,” which at the time of its calling was still plainly visible for all to see. This brings us to yet another observation concerning the dual-hierarchy theory.
Unaccounted for in Bishop Tissier’s treatment is the fact that the only plainly visible structure before our eyes today is that of the conciliar church; indeed, they have the buildings! They also have, as we have considered, the overwhelming preponderance of the hierarchy. As Archbishop Lefebvre noted, they also have theirnew dogmas, new priesthood, new institutions, new liturgy and a new Code of Canon Law as well.
It is as if the Catholic Church – the Roman Church into which St. Cyprian proclaimed “faithlessness cannot gain access” – is almost entirely eclipsed by the counterfeit version. One may even be tempted to wonder if she hasn’t defected.
As noted, Bishop Tissier anticipates this difficulty as well. He states:
And as for the indefectibility of the Church it does not hinder the fact that it can come to be that the Church, following a great apostasy as that announced by St. Paul (2 Thess. 2:3), is reduced to a modest number of true Catholics. In consequence, none of the difficulties raised against the existence of a society truly called the conciliar church and directed by the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy are decisive.
This is the closest he comes to engaging the indefectibility argument head-on. A reading of the citation provided (2 Thess. 2:3), however, reveals that it too is merely a deflection.
It is one thing to imagine the Church being reduced to a “modest number of Catholics,” it is quite another for the Apostolic See (aka the ever faithful Roman Church, or “Eternal Rome” as the Archbishop often said) to become either unrecognizable, invisible, or both.
In its treatment of the indefectibility of the Church, the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia states:
The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men.
It can never lose the Apostolic hierarchy…
Herein lies a third motivating factor for embracing the dual-hierarchy theory in spite of its obvious shortcomings; it serves to account, albeit poorly, for the Roman Church’s lack of visibility in our day. This, as noted in a previous post, is a genuine mystery, one to which I do not have an answer.
Bishop Tissier makes a final attempt to paint the dual-hierarchy theory with Catholic colors, stating:
Formally considered the conciliar church is a sect which occupies the Catholic Church. It has its organized instigators and actors, as had the modernism condemned by St. Pius X…
Here, we find yet another contradiction as Bishop Tissier had previously presented the conciliar church as an organized society all its own, apart from the Catholic Church. This is rather more substantial than a mere “sect” within the Church.
In any case, the analogy fails inasmuch as the Modernists opposed by Pope St. Pius X, even though organized in their nefarious and often furtive efforts, were not a true society unto themselves, with a clearly identifiable structure and hierarchy. They were, more properly, infiltrators and subversives moving about within the visible structures of the Holy Catholic Church, while the conciliar church identified by Archbishop Lefebvre, as we have noted, is much more than this.
In conclusion, one of the takeaways from this exercise thus far is that we live in such extraordinarily trying times that even the most saintly defenders of tradition are at a loss to fully explain it. To some degree or another, we must occasionally (perhaps often) admit, I just don’t know.
May it please God to enlighten us with patience and faithfulness and wisdom, until such time as the Immaculate Heart of Mary triumphs at long last.