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Marcel Lefebvre - Problem of obedience

Schism - Excommunication



St. Peter

'The Church is destroying herself by the path of obedience... The masterstroke of Satan is thus to spread the principles of revolution from within the Church, and under the authority of the Church itself... he has succeeded in getting those whose duty it is to defend and propagate the Church, to condemn those who are defending the Catholic Faith...'
Archbishop Lefebvre


Those who deny that the post-conciliar 'popes' and 'the bishops in union with them' are Catholic, have no problem with rejecting their authority. However, for those who believe these men are true popes, true Vicars of Christ, the problem becomes more difficult. Be this as it may, there is no question but that the majority of those born to the faith are being asked to follow the directions laid down by the post-Conciliar 'pontiffs,' and to accept the changes in doctrine, worship and governance that have been initiated since Vatican II, in the name of 'obedience.' It is therefore of the utmost importance that Catholics understand the nature of their obligations with regard to this virtue.

According to Tanquerey, 'obedience is a supernatural, moral virtue which inclines us to submit our will to that of our lawful superiors, insofar as they are the representatives of God... It is evident that it is neither obligatory nor permissible to obey a superior who would give a command manifestly opposed to divine or ecclesiastical laws. In this case, we should have to repeat the words of St. Peter: 'We ought to obey God rather than man''(Acts 5:29) (Dogmatic Theology).

Let us consider the triple denial of Peter. This occurred just before our Lord's Crucifixion, but long after Christ had established him as head of the Church. No one has ever suggested that we follow the Apostle's example in this matter. And even after the Resurrection, after the Decent of the Holy Spirit, Scripture gives us yet another example where one is not forced to absolutely agree with Peter's opinion. In Galatians Chapter 2 we read how Paul rebuked Peter on the issue of circumcising the Gentiles. With regard to this episode St. Cyprian says: 'Nor did Peter whom the Lord made the first, and on whom He built His church, act insolently and arrogantly when Paul afterwards disputed with him about circumcision; he did not say that he held the primacy, and was to be obeyed...' (Epist. lxxi, n.3). St. Augustine, quoting this passage of St. Cyprian adds: 'The Apostle Peter, in whom the primacy of the Apostles is pre-eminent by so singular a grace, when acting about the circumcision differently from what truth required, was corrected by the Apostle Paul.' And so we see from Scripture that we are not to follow those who have Peter's authority either blindly or absolutely.

Since Vatican II the faithful have found themselves in the difficult position of choosing between the centuries-old teaching and discipline of the Church and the commands of the post-Conciliar hierarchy. When such a conflict occurs, the faithful have the constant teaching of the Church to warrant their adherence to the former. To demonstrate that such is the case, let us consider the words of St. Vincent of Lerins (+ 434). According to the summary found in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), he taught that: '...Should some new doctrine arise in one part of the Church, then firm adherence must be given to the belief of the Universal Church, and supposing the new doctrine to be of such a nature as to contaminate almost the entirety of the latter, as did Arianism, then it is to antiquity one must cling; if even here some error is encountered, one must stand by the general councils and, in default of these, by the consent of those who at diverse times and different places remained steadfast in the unanimity of the Catholic faith...'

He continues: 'he is a true and genuine Catholic who loves the truth of God, and the Church and the Body of Christ; who prefers not anything before the religion of God, nothing before the Catholic faith, not any man's authority, not love, not wit, not eloquence, not philosophy, but despising all these, and in faith abiding fixed and stable, whatsoever he knoweth that the Catholic Church held universally of old, that alone he decideth is to be held and believed by him; but whosoever he shall perceive to be introduced later, new and not before heard of, by some one man, besides, all, or contrary to all the saints, let him know that it pertains, not to religion, but to temptation' (xiv. Haeres.)

Nor should one assume this attitude is an isolated one Pope St. Gregory the Great taught in his Moralium (lib. V, c. 10): 'Know that evil ought never to be done by way of obedience, though sometimes something good, which is being done, ought to be discontinued out of obedience.'

Scholastic philosophy taught that 'true obedience is a virtuous decision of the spirit, the execution of a right command with discretion.' Alan Lille, a well known Scholastic theologian of the 12th century expounded on this passage: 'You must beware lest you err in obeying. Mark the companions obedience should have: that is, righteousness, that what is commanded may be right. For this reason it is said: 'the execution of a right command with discretion.' Secondly, what is decided should be honest: as it is said, 'a virtuous decision.' Thirdly, it should proceed from discretion; for this reason is added: 'with discretion.' That obedience which is without discretion is therefore hollow. That which is without honesty, is retrograde, for he who obeys honesty but out of an excess of obedience, shows spiritual pride. If indeed obedience is without righteousness, it is without law or principle... We know that evil should never could about through obedience...'

The same principles were taught by St. Bernard in his treatise On Precept and Dispensation. Discussing the role of the superior, he notes that: 'the Abbot is not above the Rule, for he himself once freely placed himself beneath it. Thee is only one power above the Rule... which we must admit, and that is God's rule... He who has been chosen abbot is placed as judge, not over the traditions of the Fathers, but over the transgressions of his brethren, that he may uphold the rules and punish offences Indeed, I consider that those holy observances are rather entrusted to the prudence and faithfulness of the superiors than subjected to their will.'

Since all authority in the last analysis comes from God, all obedience in the last analysis is given to God. As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, 'it sometimes happens that the commands issued by prelates are against God. Therefore not in all things are prelates to be obeyed. For those under them are bound to do so only in those matters in which they are subject to their superiors, and, in which those same superiors do not oppose the command of a Power higher than themselves'(Summa II-II, Q. 104, Art. 5). Elsewhere he teaches that obedience to superiors only obliges when 'they proclaim to us those things which the Apostles left behind' (De Veritate, Q. 14, Art. 10). He explains: 'Anyone would be subject to a lower power only in so far as it preserves the order established by a power higher than itself; but if it (the lower power) departs from the order of the higher power, then it is not right for anyone to be subjected to that lower power - for example - if a proconsul ordered something to be done when the emperor above commanded the contrary' (Summa, II-II, Q. 69, Art.3).

Even more specific is the statement to be found in the famous Dialogue between a Cluniac and a Cistercian: 'We must heed our superiors with complete obedience, even though they lead improper lives, so long as they rule over us and instruct us in accordance with the authority of divine law. If, however, they are so completely perverted towards moral ruin that they do not follow the authority of divine law in ruling over their subjects but follow instead their own willful impulses and fancies, then let us, as scandalized and displeased subjects heedful of the dictates of divine law, flee from them as we would from blind leaders, lest together with them we fall into the pit of eternal damnation... irrational service is not acceptable to God, as the Apostle tells us in commanding 'reasonable service'' (Rom. 12:1).

Now it would be irrational to expect the teaching of the Church to be other than this, for in obedience, as the Angelic Doctor states, 'not only is promptitude requires, but also discernment' (Commentary on the Epistle to Titus, 3:1). Blind obedience is as foreign to the Magisterium as is blind faith.

Pope Benedict XIV in his treatise on Heroic Virtue clearly states: 'A superior is not to be obeyed when he commands anything contrary to the divine law. Nor is an abbot to be obeyed when he commands anything contrary to the rule, according to the well-known letter of S. Bernard to the monk Adam. A blind obedience excludes the prudence of the flesh, not the prudence of the spirit as is shown at length by Suarez.'

These principles are well summarized by a modern author, Father Vincent McNabb. Writing in the early part of the present century he stated: 'Some higher person or law must authorize and control all created authority whether individual or collective... from this follows the momentous principle, which we may enunciate thus: NO AUTHORITY HAS THE RIGHT TO COMMAND UNLESS IN COMMANDING IT IS ITSELF OBEYING. In other words, authority can command obedience only when its act or command is an act of obedience.'


Throughout history situations have arisen where the saints were obliged to disobey their superiors. One of the earliest of these is to be found in the old Roman Breviary and concerns Pope St. Marcellinus whose Feast-day is celebrated on January 19th. According to Pope Nicholas I, 'in the reign of the sovereigns Diocletian and Maximian, Marcellinus, the Bishop of Rome, who afterwards became an illustrious martyr, was so persecuted by the pagans that he entered one of their temples and there offered incense. Because of this act an inquiry was held by a number of bishops in Council, and the Pontiff confessed his fall' (Letter to Emperor Michael, 865).

Another writer named Platine gives us more details: 'When Pope Marcellinus was threatened by the executioners, he yielded to fear, offered incense to the idols and adored them. But when, soon afterward, a Council of 180 Bishops met in Sinuessa, Marcellinus appeared in the assembly clothed in sackcloth and begged the synodals to impose upon him a penance because of his infidelity. But no member of the Council would condemn him; all declaring that St. Peter had sinned similarly, and had merited pardon by his tears.'

The fact that scholars dispute the accuracy of the story is beside the point. It is to be found in the older Breviaries of the Church which aimed at teaching principles by example rather than in satisfying the demands of modernist historians. The story is however accepted as true by St. Robert Bellarmin and the great Catholic historian Baronius. And hence it was a common mediaeval saying that 'because Pope Marcellus offered incense to Jove does not mean that all the bishops should do likewise.'

Yet another example is provided by the case of Pope Paschall II who reigned between 1099 and 1118. It was a period when the battles between the Church and State were fiercely raging - the issue in question was that of 'investiture' - in essence, who should appoint the members of the hierarchy (bishops): the Church or the Emperor? It was a particularly touchy matter as the bishops of the Church in that era controlled large tracts of land which were obliged to provide the state with soldiers and support in the event of war. The issue had been settled in an Ecumenical council during the reign of his predecessor Gregory VII, and this after great struggles. The Church was to retain control of their appointment, but the traditional feudal obligations of land owners towards the temporal authority was to be preserved.

Despite this the issue was of such great importance that Henry V, Emperor of Germany, actually invaded Italy and made the pope a prisoner. For two months Paschal II was subjected to the most fearful threats and cruel treatment. Finally, under pressure from his own fellow-captive bishops, he signed a treaty with the king allowing him to invest by 'ring and crozier' - spiritual symbols - (both lay and cleric) and further signed away to the emperor the right of deciding between rival claimants in contested elections and the privilege of rejecting papal appointments. He also surrendered to the king monastic lands and possessions. This treaty in essence gave the king complete control of the Church's hierarchy in over half the territory of Europe. Further, the Pope swore not to avenge himself on the Emperor for his actions and never to revoke the treaty if he was released.

When he was released the Pope felt bound by his oath and hesitated to repudiate this treaty. Godfrey, the zealous Abbot of Nendome, contrasted his actions with the heroic resolution of the martyrs of old, and particularly with the examples of SS. Peter and Paul. He wrote to the Pope that 'if the successor of the Apostles has disregarded their example, he should hasten, if he would not forfeit their glorious crown, to undo and repair what he had done, and like a second Peter, expiate his fault with tears of repentance.' Lay investiture, he added, whereby power was granted to laymen to convey possessions, and therewith jurisdiction in spiritual matters, was equivalent to the denial of the faith, destructive of the liberty of the Church, and out-and-out heresy. The Abbot of Monte Cassino, when ordered to surrender the monastic lands, refused. 'I love you,' he wrote to the Pope, 'as my lord and as my father, and I have no desire for another as pope. But the Lord has said, 'whosoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me...' As for this outrageous treaty, wrung from you by violence and treachery, how can I praise it? Or indeed, how can you...? Your own laws have condemned and excommunicated the cleric who submits to lay investiture...' Another prelate, the Archbishop of Lyons, urged the pope in still stronger terms: 'Detestable pilot that your are, in times of peace a bully, and before the storm a coward.' The Archbishop of Vienne, Paschal's own legate in France, called a Council and declared lay investiture to be heretical, and proceeded to excommunicate Henry V. At this Council, three subsequently canonized saints - Ss. Bruno, St. Hugh of Grenoble and St. Godfrey of Amiens, as well as a future Pope, Calixtus II - all stated that unless he revoked his agreement with the Emperor, 'we should be obliged to withdraw our allegiance from you.' The Pope admitted he was wrong and rectified his error. At still another Council he said 'I confess that I failed and ask you to pray to God to pardon me.'

One final example, that of Robert Grosseteste. He was a doctor of Theology at Oxford when it was a center of Catholic learning. Now he was one of the staunchest defenders of the papacy, comparing the Pontiff to the Sun which illuminates the visible world. After he reluctantly accepted the bishopric of Lincoln, he was asked by the Pope to appoint an absentee priest (the Pope's new nephew) to one of the prebends of the diocese, a situation in which the priest received the income from a parish while he lived in Rome. Here is his response:
'It is not possible that the most holy Apostolic See to which has been handed down by the Holy of Holies, the Lord Jesus Christ, all manner of power, according to the Apostle, for edification and not for destruction, or command or in any way attempt anything verging upon this kind of sin, which is so hateful to Jesus Christ, detestable, abominable and pernicious to the human race. For this would be evidently a falling off and corruption and abuse of its most holy and plenary power... No faithful subject of the Holy See, no man who is not cut away by schism from the Body of Christ and the same Holy See, can submit to mandates, precepts, or any other demonstrations of this kind, no, not even if the author were the most high body of angels. He must needs repudiate them and rebel against them with all his strength. BECAUSE OF THE OBEDIENCE BY WHICH I AM BOUND TO THE HOLY SEE, AS TO MY PARENTS, AND OT OF MY LOVE OF MY UNION WITH THE HOLY SEE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST AS AN OBEDIENT SON, I DISOBEY, I CONTRADICT, I REBEL. You cannot take action against me, for my every word and act is not rebellion, but the filial honor due to God's command to father and mother. As I have said, the Apostolic See in its holiness cannot destroy, it can only build. This is what the plenitude of power means; it can do all things to edification. But these so-called provisions do not build up, they destroy...'

When the Pope received this letter, we are told that he was beside himself with rage and threatened to have Bishop Grosseteste imprisoned by his vassal, the King of England. However, he was restrained by Cardinal Gil de Torres who said: 'You must do nothing. It is true. We cannot condemn him. He is a Catholic and a holy man, a better man than we are. He has not his equal among the prelates. All the French and English clergy know this and our contradiction would be of no avail.' Bishop Grosseteste prevailed and according to the traditions, when he died all the church bells in England rang spontaneously. He was considered by his contemporaries as a saint. (5).


In concluding this chapter, it is great interest to consider some of the statements of the Freemasons on obedience. According to the Permanent Instruction drawn up by the Grand Masters of Freemasonry (Alta Vendita) in 1819-20, which fell in to the hands of the Church and were published by Pope Pius IX, 'we must turn our attention to an ideal that has always been of great concern to man aspiring to the regeneration of all mankind. This ideal is the liberation of Italy, whence is to come the liberation of the entire world and the establishment of a republic of brotherhood and world peace.' The document continues: 'Among the many remedies that have been suggested by the more energetic members of our organization, there is one which we must never forget.'

'The Papacy has always exerted a decisive influence on Italian destinies. Everywhere with the arms, voice, pen and heart of its countless bishops, monks, nuns and the faithful, the Papacy as always found people enthusiastically ready for sacrifice and martyrdom... At the present time we do not intend to rebuild, even for our advantage, this power which has been temporarily weakened (due to the overthrow of the papal states). Our ultimate purpose is identical with that of Voltaire and the French Revolution: that is, the total annihilation of Catholicism and even of Christianity.'

'For seventeen hundred years the Papacy has been an essential part of Italian history... We cannot endure such a state of affairs; we must find a remedy for this situation. And here it is! Whoever he may be, the pope will never join the secret societies: therefore, the secret societies must take the first step toward the Church and the pope, for the purpose of vanquishing them both.'

'The task we undertake will not be completed in a day, a month, or a year. It may require many years, perhaps even a century... We do not intend to win the pope over to our cause by converting him to our principles or making him their propagator... WHAT WE MUST DO IS WAIT FOR, like the Jews awaiting the Messiah, A POPE SUITABLE FOR OUR PURPOSES. Such a pope alone, will be of greater help to us in our assault on the Church than the little pamphlets of our French brothers or even the gold of England. And why? Because with such a pope we could effectively crush the rock upon which God built His Church... The little finger of Peter's successor would be caught in the plot, and this little finger would be more effective in this crusade than all the Urbans II and all the St. Bernards of Christianity.'

'We have no doubt that we shall achieve this ultimate goal of our efforts... Before we can produce a pope according to our desires, we must produce an entire generation worthy of the kingdom we hope for. We must ignore old men and those of middle age. We must seek the young, and if possible, even the very young... Once your good reputation has been established in boarding schools, high schools, universities and seminaries, once you have won the trust of teachers and pupils alike, foster especially in those who are embracing the ecclesiastical state, a desire to associate with you... This reputation of yours will make the younger secular clergy and even the religious receptive to our doctrines.

Within a few years, this same younger clergy will, of necessity occupy responsible positions. They will govern, administrate, judge and form the council of the Sovereign Pontiff; some will be called upon to elect a future pope. This pope, like most of his contemporaries, will be to a greater or lesser degree influenced by those Italian and humanitarian principles which we are now circulating. It is a small grain of mustard seed which we entrust to the soil...'

'Along this path which we now outline for our brethren there are major obstacles to surmount and difficulties of all kinds to overcome. With experience and wisdom, we shall triumph over them. The objective is so glorious that, to reach it, all sails must be unfurled. Do you want to revolutionize Italy? Seek a pope fitting our description. Do you want to establish the kingdom of the elect (i.e., the Masons) on the throne of the Babylonian whore? Then INDUCE THE CLERGY TO MARCH UNDER YOUR BANNER, IN THE BELIEF THAT THEY ARE MARCHING UNDER THE PAPAL BANNER. Do you want to make the last trace of tyranny and oppression disappear? Lower your nets like Simon bar Jona; lower them into the sacristies, the seminaries and the monasteries, instead of into the sea. If you do not precipitate events, we promise you a catch of fish even greater than St. Peter's. The fisher of fish became a fisher of men; you will fish for friends at the very feet of St. Peter's Chair. BY SO DOING YOU WILL NET A REVOLUTION CLOTHED IN TIARA AND MANTLE, PRECEDED BY THE CROSS AND PAPAL ENSIGN; A REVOLUTION THAT WILL REQUIRE BUT LITTLE HELP TO SET FIRE TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD.'


All this may seem far fetched to the average reader. But what is one to say when a leading Freemason, Yves Marsoudon (State Master, Supreme Council of France, Scottish Rite) tells us: 'The sense of universalism that is rampant in Rome these days is very close to our purpose of existence... With all our hearts we support the 'Revolution of John XXIII'...' Not satisfied with this, Yves Marsoudon dedicated his book 'Ecumenism as seen by a Traditionalist Freemason': to the Pope in the following words: 'To the Memory of Angelo Roncalli, Priest, Archbishop of Messembria, Apostolic Nuncio in Paris, Cardinal of the Roman Church, Patriarch of Venice, POPE under the name of John XXIII, WHO HAS DEIGNED TO GIVE US HIS BENEDICTION, HIS UNDERSTANDING AND HIS PROTECTION.'

He has further dedicated it to: 'The Pope of Peace, to the Father of all Christians, To the Friend of All Men, to His August Continuer, HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI'.


Present day Catholics are faced with a terrible dilemma. If they obey the post-Conciliar 'popes,' they must apostatize from the Catholic faith as it has existed since the time of Christ and the Apostles.

It is clear from what has already been stated in previous chapters that Catholics must give their intellectual assent to everything in the Ordinary Magisterium. Vatican II has been repeatedly declared to be the 'supreme form of the Ordinary Magisterium.' Encyclicals and other statements dealing with faith and morals (which includes liturgical changes and changes in the form of the Sacraments) that are promulgated under the aegis of papal authority (the 'popes' speaking within their function as popes) also require our intellectual assent. To speak of intellectual assent is to speak of obedience, for virtue requires that our wills act in conformity with our intelligence.

Now these documents (Vatican II, Encyclicals, etc.,) clearly teach doctrines contrary to what has always been magisterially taught prior to the demise of Pope Pius XII. This being so, the Catholic must accept the fact that either the Holy Ghost taught error in the past, is teaching error at the present time, or is free to change His mind about the truth - matters dealing with faith and morals. If the post-Conciliar 'popes' are responsible for teaching even one error with presumed Apostolic authority, then we must either hold that Christ Himself is teaching error (quod absit), or that the post-Conciliar 'popes' are usurpers that lack authority.

Catholics who take their faith seriously have long recognized this dilemma. They have come up with a variety of solutions aimed at maintaining 'obedience to papal authority' (our salvation depends upon it) and not apostatizing from the faith. Some have declared that they can pick and choose what they like from the documents of Vatican II and other papal statements - accepting those 'in conformity with tradition' and rejecting innovations (The Society of Pius X). But such violates the Catholic requirement of giving intellectual assent and obedience to those they recognize as being 'one hierarchical person with Christ.' Others attempt to deny the magisterial status of the documents of Vatican II (and Encyclicals, etc.,) or teach falsely that the ordinary magisterium can contain error (Michael Davies). Still others claim that their organizations are exempt from obedience because of historical reasons (Order of St. John). Some have gone to Rome and obtained permission to say the traditional Mass and choose to ignore the fact that such permission is always dependent upon their accepting the teachings of Vatican II and the equal validity of the Novus Ordo Missae (The Society of St. Peter and various individual priests). Innumerable minor variations on these themes abound.

Recognizing that no one can teach error with the authority of Christ, many Catholics have openly declared that the post-Conciliar 'popes' have no authority. Some hold that the Apostolic See is vacant - usually referred to as sede vacantism. Such a position is not anti-papal, but rather strongly pro-papal. It is because of its great respect for papal authority that it immediately rejects anyone who uses the papal chair to teach error with obstinacy. Others, recognizing that the post-Conciliar 'popes' are actually sitting in the chair of Peter, adhere to the materialiter/formaliter theory which declares that they are material popes but not formally popes; that despite their sitting in the chair of Peter, they have no authority, but that should they suddenly become Catholic and teach true doctrine, they would have authority. Those who deny the authority of the post-Conciliar 'popes,' are of course bound to obey the magisterial teaching of the Church up to the time of their usurpation.

Let us conclude with a doctrinal note. Obedience is a moral virtue. Faith, Hope and Charity are theological virtues. As such they are of a higher value than obedience. This is of course logical, for obedience is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The purpose of obedience is to 'encourage' us to obey the Faith and not the other way around. To give our obedience to error or a false faith is apostasy. (Faith, as pointed out earlier, has two aspects; one is the dogmas and teaching of the Church, and the other is our assent to them.)


(1) Alan Lille, The Art of Preaching, Spencer, Mass.: Cistercian Publications, 1978.

(2) St. Bernard, 'Treatise On Precept and Dispensation', Treatises, I, Spencer, Mass.: Cistercisn Publ., 1970.

(3) Idung of Prufening, Cistercians and Cluniacs, Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publ., 1977.

(4) The Game, Vol II, Advent, 1918.(London)

(5) Some have used Grosseteste's disobedience as grounds for their disobeying the post-Conciliar 'popes.' It should be clear that there was no issue of faith and morals involved here. The pope was not demanding assent to error or obedience to liturgical change.

(6) A more complete text is to be found in Chapter I, Vol II, The Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco, under the title of Freemasonry in the Piedmont. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Silesiana Publishers, 1967.

(7) Quoted in World Trends, (Ed. Yves Dupont), Hawthorn, vic. Australia. This same Yves Marsoudon considered Pope Saint Pius X as 'pharisaical, hypercritical, and hate filled' and characterized Pius XII as attached to 'outdated disciplines and sclerotic dogmas.' He also quotes J Mitterand, anther prominent Mason, to the effect that 'Those informed Catholics i.e., the Progressives)... are of the insufficiencies and omissions of the Council, but they avail themselves of the CLIMATE WHICH IT HELPED TO CREATE in order to demand the authentic renovation of the Church. The liberating character of their contestation cannot but draw the sympathy of Freemasons...'

Virtual Vandée's Editorial Note
We preserved the integrity of the text which we received as computer files from Doctor Coomaraswamy in 2000. This edition of the book, second one, doesn't differ from the first one in the sphere of conclusions , however, the book was practically rewritten from the beginning. In January 2002 Doctor informed us that he works on the next edition, which will be published on his own internet page.

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