Letter of Mgr. Lefebvre to Pope Paul VI
His Excellency, Monseigneur the Nuncio in Berne, has just delivered to me Your Holiness's last letter. Dare I say that every one of these letters is like a sword going through me, for I am so desirous of being in full accord with and full submission to the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter, as I think I have been, the whole of my life.
But that submission can be made only in the unity of the faith and in the "true Tradition," as Y our Holiness says in your letter.
Tradition, being, according to the teaching of the Church, Christian doctrine defined for ever by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, it carries a character of immutability which obliges, to the assent of faith, not only the present generation but future generations as well. The sovereign pontiffs, the Councils, can make the deposit explicit, but they must transmit it faithfully and exactly, without changing it.
But how can the statements in the Declaration on Religious Liberty be reconciled with the teaching of the Council of Trent and with Tradition? How reconcile the working out of ecumenism with the Magisterium of the
Church and Canon Law concerning the relations of the Church with heretics, schismatics, atheists, unbelievers,
The new departures of the Church in these domains imply principles contrary to that “true Tradition” to which Your Holiness alludes, Tradition which is unchangeable because defined solemnly by the authority of your predecessors and preserved intact by all the successors of Peter.
To apple the notion of life to the Magisterium, to the Church, and also to tradition, does not allow of a minimizing of the concept of the immutability of defined faith, because faith in that case borrows its character of immutability from God Himself, immotus in se permaners while being the source of life, as are the Church and Tradition.
Saint Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis has clearly shown the danger of false interpretations of the terms “living faith,” “living tradition.”
It is this sad proof of the incompatibility of the principles of the new orientations with Tradition or the Magisterium that we come up against.
Could it, please, be explained to us how man can have a natural right to error? How can there be a natural right to cause scandal? How can the Protestants who took part in the liturgical reform state that the reform allows them from now on to celebrate the Eucharist according to the new Rite? How, then, is that reform compatible with the affirmations and the canons of the Council of Trent? And, finally, what are we to think of reception of the Eucharist by persons not of our faith, the lifting of excommunication from those belonging to sects and organizations which openly profess contempt for Our Lord Jesus Christ and our holy religion, that being contrary to the truth of the Church and to all Her Tradition?
Is there, since Vatican Council II, a new conception of the Church, of Her truth, of Her Sacrifice, of Her priesthood? It is on those points that we seek enlightenment. The faithful are beginning to be disturbed and to understand that it is no longer a question of details but of what constitutes their faith and therefore of the foundations of Christian civilization.
There, in brief, is our deep concern, compared with which the whole operation of the canonical or administrative system is nothing. As it is a question of our faith, it is a question of eternal life.
That said, I accept everything that, in the Council and the reforms, is in full conformity with Tradition; and the Society I have founded is ample proof of that. Our seminary is perfectly in accordance with the wishes expressed in the Council and in the Ratio fundamentalis of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education.
Our apostolate corresponds fully with the desire for a better distribution of the clergy and with the concern expressed by the Council on the subject of the sanctification of clerics and their life in community.
The success of our seminaries with the young is clear proof that we are not incurably immobilized but are perfectly adapted to the needs of the apostolate of our times. That is why we beg Your Holiness to consider above all the great spiritual benefit that souls can draw from our priestly and missionary apostolate which, in collaboration with diocesan bishops, can bring about a true spiritual renewal.
To seek to force our Society into accepting a new orientation which is having disastrous effects on the whole Church is to compel it to disappear, like so many other seminaries.
Hoping that Your Holiness will understand, on reading these lines, that we have but one purpose, to serve Our Lord Jesus Christ, His glory and His Vicar, and to bring about the salvation of souls, we beg you to accept our respectful and filial wishes in Christ and Mary.
+ Marcel Lefebvre
Former Archbishop-Bishop of Tulle
on the Feast of St. Francis Xavier
3 December 1976.