The Society of St. Pius X is Catholic

by Fr François Laisney, FSSPX


The Catholic criteria of orthodoxy : Fidelity to Tradition

The catechism teaches us the act of faith: “I believe all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”

The motive of the faith is here clearly stated: “because Thou hast revealed them”. We believe everything God has taught in his public revelation, because God spoke. “Faith comes through hearing” (Rom 10:17) those whom Our Lord has appointed “to go and teach all nations” (Mat 28:19), i.e. the Apostles and their successors. He who wants the true faith must come to the true Church: “– What do you ask of the Church of God? – Faith! – What does faith offer you? – Life everlasting! – If then you wish to enter life, keep the Commandments.”1 But is every word of the Pope or of the bishops to be believed?

In order that we believe, we must be able to see God’s authority behind the person who teaches the faith. This can happen in two cases. First, when the Church (or the Pope alone) puts the fullness of her authority in an irreformable definition, such as a canon of a universal council. This is the extra-ordinary magisterium: in every single definition, because of the fullness of the authority of the Church that is engaged, we see Christ, the Head of the Church, who speaks.

Secondly in the teaching of her ordinary magisterium when it is “universal”. Thus Vatican I teaches: “by divine and Catholic faith everything must be believed that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and that is proposed by the Church as a divinely revealed object of belief either in a solemn decree or in her ordinary, universal teaching.”2 Those appointed to teach the faith are not always faithful to their duty; in fact, in the history of the Church many priests and bishops, such as Luther and Nestorius, were at the origin of heresies. How then can we distinguish in their teaching the voice of Our Lord Jesus Christ? When they are transparent to the teaching of Christ, i.e., when they faithfully transmit that which they have received. When we look at a window, it is not the window itself that we see, but rather that which is behind the window; the more we see the window, the less we see that which is behind. When we hear a teacher of the faith who faithfully transmits that which he has received, it is not him that we hear, but He who first taught that doctrine. When he teaches a new doctrine, which he did not receive, he is no longer transparent, he speaks of himself, it is no longer Christ who speaks through him.

From the very beginning of the Church, the Apostles themselves were faithful to “transmit that which they have received” (St. Paul: 1 Cor. 11:23 and again 1 Cor. 15:3). They exhort the faithful “to stay in” the doctrine received (1 Cor. 15:1; 16:13): “stand fast and hold the traditions which you have received” (2 Thess 2:14). By keeping that doctrine first received, the faithful can and must reject the innovators: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema” (Gal 1:8-9).

But even before the Apostles, Our Lord Jesus Christ himself was “transparent” to His Father: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do the will of him, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true and there is no injustice in him.” (Jn 12:16-18) And again: “For I have not spoken of myself: but the Father who sent me, he gave me commandment what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting. The things therefore that I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so do I speak.” (Jn 12:49-50)

Hence universality in time is the most fundamental criteria of the ordinary magisterium, according to St. Vincent of Lerins: “In the Catholic Church herself every care must be taken that we may hold fast to that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. For this is, then, truly and properly Catholic [i.e. universal]… What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty… To announce, therefore, to Catholic Christians something other than that which they have received has never been permitted, is nowhere permitted, and never will be permitted… He is a true and genuine catholic who loves the truth of God, the Church, and the Body of Christ; who puts nothing else before divine religion and the Catholic faith, neither the authority nor the love nor the genius nor the eloquence nor the philosophy of any man whatsoever, but, despising all that and being fixed, stable, and persevering in his faith, is determined in himself to hold and believe that only which he knows the Catholic Church has held universally and from ancient times… Guard, he says, what has been committed (1 Tim. 6 :20). What does it mean, ‘what has been committed’? It is what has been faithfully entrusted to you, not what has been discovered by you; what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must be not the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower… Nevertheless, teach the same that you have learned, so that if you say something anew, it is not something new that you say.” (Commonitorium, 2, 3, 9, 20, 22)

That does not prevent a growth within the truth: Our Lord speaks of “the wise scribe drawing from his treasure new and old” (Mat 13:52): it is not drawn from personal ideas, but from the treasure of the deposit of faith. E.g. the condemnation of contraception or in vitro-fertilization is just the application of eternal principles to a new situation. Hence the Council Vatican I teaches: “any meaning of the sacred dogmas that has once been declared by holy Mother church, must always be retained; and there must never be any deviation from that meaning on the specious grounds of a more profound understanding. ‘Therefore, let there be growth… and all possible progress in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom whether in single individuals or in the whole body, in each man as well as in the entire Church, according to the stage of their development; but only within proper limits, that is, in the same dogma, in the same meaning, and in the same purport.” (Dz 1800).

Hence, even the authority of the Pope is within this fidelity: “The Holy Ghost was promised to Peter’s successors, not that they might make known new doctrine by his revelation, but rather, that with his assistance they might religiously guard and faithfully explain the revelation or deposit of faith that was handed down through the Apostles.” (Dz. 1836)

St. Paul says of himself, an apostle, and this is true of all the successors of the apostles: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful.” (1 Cor 4:1-2)

Thus it is solidly established that, outside the case of an ex-cathedra definition, the catholic faithful recognize the voice of Our Lord in the words of the Pope and of the bishops when they are transparent, faithfully transmitting that which has been always taught, but not when their teaching is in opposition with the age-old doctrine of the Church. This is the true catholic criteria of orthodoxy.


Application to the Society of St. Pius X

For more than the first three hundred years of the Church every single Pope was a Saint; for more than a century before Vatican II the Church enjoyed excellent Popes, really attentive to fulfil the mission they received to “religiously guard and faithfully explain the revelation or deposit of faith that was handed down through the Apostles”, though not all were saints. And the faithful forgot that it has not always been so, and the Church had had to deplore scandalous Popes, though relatively few, in the Middle Ages, even Popes like John XXII trying to push new doctrines, which were later condemned as heretical (Dz 530). Thus when the wind of change blew at Vatican II, and great turmoil came all over, most faithful were taken by surprise. For some these changes were such a scandal that they lost the faith; many others simply dropped the practice of the faith; many went along puzzled, not knowing to whom to turn, trying to hold on to some devotion like the Rosary in which they found many graces. But some priests courageously kept the doctrine of all times, and the liturgy of all times. That which had sanctified centuries and centuries of faithful was still capable to sanctify us today. The fidelity of these priests spread by word of mouth, more and more faithful came to them and found – often at last after a long searching journey – a haven of graces in the turbulent years of the after-Council. But then, these priests became the object of sanctions, they were forbidden to have faithful attend their Masses, for no other reason than their keeping the Mass of all times.

They were then faced with a dilemma: either to subject to the orders, and to abandon the faithful in the hands of those changing everything, or to continue to provide the faithful with the traditional liturgy, as all holy priests had done in the past. Knowing that St. Pius V had said that no priest could ever be subject to ecclesiastical sanction for saying the Mass he approved, they continued to provide these faithful with the traditional Mass and sacraments.

And thus came a situation where those who were faithfully “transmitting that which they had received” were apparently disobedient, and those who changed everything (new mass, new rites for every sacrament, new catechism, new theology of the Pascal mystery, new canon law, new rules for all religious orders, new relations between Church and States, often new morals, etc.) were apparently in obedience. Knowing that obedience is a moral virtue, requiring a right measure between a default (disobedience to legitimate orders) and an excess (servility, i.e. obedience to illegitimate orders), they chose fidelity to the age-old faith and practices of the Church, rather than this appearance of obedience. They rightly understood that they had not only the duty to keep the Faith for themselves, but also to pass it on to the next generation: “tradidi quod et accepi.”

When they heard of a bishop keeping also the Mass of all times and training seminarians with this fidelity, they conceived great hopes. He had started his society in perfect obedience, even with the encouragement of both Mgr. Charrière, bishop of Fribourg (where the Society of St. Pius X was canonically erected on 1st Nov. 1970), and of Mgr. Adam, bishop of Sion (where the seminary of Ecône was opened). As could be expected, the whole pressure came on him, and in 1976 he was asked by Paul VI not to ordain the priests who had completed their seminary. Here is a key passage of the sermon of ordination of 29th June 1976:

“If in all objectivity we seek the true motive animating those who ask us not to perform these ordinations, if we look for the hidden motive, it is because we are ordaining these priests that they may say the Mass of all time. It is because they know that these priests will be faithful to the Mass of the Church, to the Mass of Tradition, to the Mass of all time, that they urge us not to ordain them. In proof of this, consider that six times in the last three weeks – six times – we have been asked to re-establish normal relations3 with Rome and to give as proof the acceptance of the new rite; and I have been asked to celebrate it myself. They have gone so far as to send me someone who offered to concelebrate with me in the new rite so as to manifest that I accepted voluntarily this new liturgy, saying that in this way all would be straightened out between us and Rome… Thus it is clear, it is evident that it is on the problem of the Mass that the whole drama between Ecône and Rome depends.

“Are we wrong in obstinately wanting to keep the rite of all time? We have, of course, prayed, we have consulted, we have reflected, we have meditated to discover if it is not indeed we who are in error, or if we do not really have a sufficient reason not to submit ourselves to the new rite. And in fact, the very insistence of those who were sent from Rome to ask us to change rite makes us wonder.

“And we have the precise conviction that this new rite of Mass expresses a new faith, a faith which is not ours, a faith which is not the Catholic Faith. This New Mass is a symbol, is an expression, is an image of a new faith, of a modernist faith. For if the most holy Church has wished to guard throughout the centuries this precious treasure which she has given us of the rite of Holy Mass which was canonized by Saint Pius V, it has not been without purpose. It is because this Mass contains our whole faith, the whole Catholic Faith: faith in the Most Holy Trinity, faith in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ which flowed for the redemption of our sins, faith in supernatural grace, which comes to us from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which comes to us from the Cross, which comes to us through all the Sacraments.

“This is what we believe in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of all time. It is a lesson of faith and at the same time a source of our faith, indispensable for us in this age when our faith is attacked from all sides. We have need of this true Mass, of this Mass of all time, of this Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ really to fill our souls with the Holy Ghost and with the strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Now it is evident that the new rite, if I may say so, supposes another conception of the Catholic religion – another religion4

“Tomorrow perhaps, in the newspapers, will appear our condemnation. It is quite possible, because of these ordinations today. I myself shall probably be struck by suspension… Well, I appeal to St. Pius V, who in his Bull said that, in perpetuity, no priest could incur a censure, whatever it might be, in perpetuity, for saying this Mass. And consequently, this censure, this excommunication, if there was one, these censures, if they are any, are absolutely invalid, contrary to that which Saint Pius V established in perpetuity in his Bull: that never in any age could one inflict a censure on a priest who says this Holy Mass.5

This text is important to understand. The apparent motive of the 1976 suspension was the lack of dimissorial letters normally required for the ordination of seminarians from another diocese; but the real motive was the attachment to the Traditional Mass. Where the real motive of a sanction is wrong, the sanction is invalid. The same is true for the excommunication of 1988. The same was true for the excommunication of St. Joan of Arc, or of Blessed Mother Mary of the Cross McKillop.

One does not become “non Catholic” by fidelity to Catholic Tradition. The guiding principle of Archbishop Lefebvre has always been his “declaration” of 21st November 1974: “We hold firmly with all our heart and with all our mind to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to the maintenance of this faith, to the eternal Rome, mistress of wisdom and truth.” But since one does not really love the truth, unless he rejects the errors opposed to it, he continues: “We refuse on the other hand, and have always refused, to follow the Rome of Neo-Modernist and Neo-Protestant tendencies which became clearly manifest during the Second Vatican Council, and after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it… It is impossible to profoundly modify the Law of prayer without modifying the Law of belief. To the New Mass there corresponds the new catechism, the new priesthood, the new seminaries, the new universities, the charismatic Church, Pentecostalism: all of them opposed to orthodoxy and the never-changing Magisterium… This is why, without any rebellion, bitterness, or resentment, we pursue our work of priestly formation under the guidance of the never-changing Magisterium, convinced as we are that we cannot possibly render a greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to posterity.” (Ibid. p. 38-39.) When one considers the state of most seminaries in the late 60s, 70s and 80s6, then one understands how true service to the Holy Church was the Archbishop’s seminaries. In fact he was the first to implement the “year of spirituality”, one of the few good suggestions of Vatican II (O.T. 12,14).

Objection: but what about acting in dioceses without the permission of the local ordinaries? Response: this situation is not of our choosing, but rather a consequence of the illegitimate sanctions that fell on Archbishop Lefebvre. He had started with these permissions; but when these sanctions came, he was faced with the same dilemma of the local traditional priests: either to submit, and abandon the seminarians and priests of the Society in the hands of many modernist bishops, or to continue to train good priests. In fact, some seminarians had left the Society when these sanctions came, and they were all led either to abandon their vocation or to take the new Mass. Even in the Society of St. Peter, they were led to accept concelebration in the new rite at least once a year. What the Catholic faithful needs most, is good priests, faithful to what the Church has always done without compromise with the novelties. We wish to be able to work with the approval of the local bishops, but the problem is not on our part: we have the catholic Faith, catholic liturgy, catholic catechism, etc. We recognize their authority, we pray for them at every Mass in the Canon, why don’t they approve us?

Because we don’t accept the novelties. But that is not a fault on our part. On the contrary, it is out of fidelity to the Catholic Church, it is a mark of a “true and genuine Catholic” as St. Vincent of Lerins said.


A new criteria of orthodoxy?

However today in certain circles some think that the criteria of orthodoxy is whatever the Pope teaches today, not considering whether it is in conformity with tradition, and raising almost his every word as an infallible word. They pretend that only the Pope can state what, in the catholic teachings of old, does belong to “divine” tradition and what only belongs to “human” tradition, and thus could be changed. It is true that only the Pope can define that which belong to divine tradition; but it is not true that the faithful cannot know what has been taught, except if the Pope today says so. In such a case, he would be not a transparent window to the light of Christ coming from behind, but a television screen: not transparent, but often presenting a partial side of information. Since it is impossible for the Pope each day to teach everything, the faithful must not forget what they learnt yesterday, and must remain faithful to it.

When the Pope speaks in conformity with Tradition, the faithful know it because they remember what the Popes have taught before the present one, and they hear not just the voice of today’s Pope but of all the Popes through today’s Pope: it is the voice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, when he recalls the unchanging teachings on chastity and marriage, teaching fidelity and condemning contraception and abortion and all kinds of modern aberrations, we all adhere to this teaching which is not his invention, but the age-old teachings of the Church applied to the modern situation.

But if today they hear the Pope saying something in opposition to what the Popes said yesterday, the faithful know they must not accept it. For example, when he kissed the Koran (and actions speak more loudly than words), when he invited all kinds of religions to practice their false cults in Assisi (Buddhists offering incense to their idols placed on top of an altar, etc.), and other such novelties, all faithful know that no Pope has ever done that before. It is not Our Lord Jesus Christ speaking through him in such circumstances.

The same applies at a lower level to bishops, successors of the Apostles. When they act as such, i.e. really following in the footsteps of the holy bishops of the past, faithfully transmitting that which they have received, the faithful recognize that which they have been taught in their catechism when they were young, they know they do not speak of themselves, but recognize the voice of the Our Lord Jesus Christ in them. But when a bishop enforces novelties, organizes ecumenical meetings which no holy bishop has organized before, the faithful no longer recognizes the voice of Our Lord. If a bishop would kiss the Koran, would the fact that the Pope did it before excuse him from a sin?

To be in union with the Pope does not just mean with the Pope of today, disregarding all the past; it means union with the Pope and all he represents, i.e. the Faith of Peter, faithfully handed down through the centuries and entrusted to the present successor of Peter, not to be changed nor mixed with novelties, but to be “religiously guarded and faithfully explained.”



In keeping Catholic Tradition, the Society of St. Pius X is perfectly Catholic and awaits the time when the principle of fidelity to Tradition will find again its place in the thinking of those who have received authority in the Church “unto edification and not unto destruction” (2 Cor. 13:10). We are doing a good work for the Church, as the visitation of our Society by Cardinal Gagnon testified; we await for their approval, and entrust our work to Our Blessed Lady, Mother of the Church.



1. Very first questions and answer at Baptism. The new rite of Baptism has suppressed these beautiful questions and answers; it simply says: “What do you ask of God’s Church? – Baptism.

2. The Church Teaches (TCT) n° 66.

3. On May 6th, 1975, the Society of St. Pius X was illegally suppressed by bishop Mamie, successor of Mgr. Charrière, against Canon Law that says that, if a local bishop can erect a new religious society, he cannot suppress it himself, only Rome can suppress it. Mgr. Lefebvre made two appeals against this abusive suppression, but the second remained unheard.

4. The new notion of Pascal mystery ; see the book “the Problem of the New Mass.”

5. The whole text of this most beautiful sermon of Archbishop Lefebvre is found in “Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, vol. I”, by Michael Davies, p. 205 sqq.

6. see books like Good Bye, Good Men.

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact