Rorate Caeli

Count Neri Capponi, Defender of the Traditional Mass, Requiescat in pace

Count Neri Capponi (left) with Michael Davies at a FIUV meeting

A dear friend and reader of Rorate Caeli alerted us to the fact that a great traditionalist of the 20th century, Count Neri Capponi, died yesterday, on the feast of St. Lucy. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

Neri Capponi, from a venerable Italian noble family, spent many decades teaching at the University of Florence and serving the archbishop of Florence on the marriage tribunal, where he was a judge.  Well into his 70s he was handling marriage cases, as a glance at his desk at Palazzo Capponi would illustrate. He was also credentialed to plead before the Roman Rota.  

Capponi defended the right of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to continue his work without the label “schismatic,” which term Capponi rejected, saying: “You cannot apply the standards of the new code of canon law and the mentality of the old code. According to the new code, Lefebvre could do what he did with a Catholic intention, and he did what he did in ‘sincerity’ and invoked the ‘state of emergency’ argument, which the new code permits. You might not like the new code, but it’s what governs the Church.” 

Almost alone in the world, this eminent canonist and legal scholar argued lucidly and strenuously that the old Mass had never been juridically abrogated. He was arguing the position of Summorum Pontificum long before it was a twinkle in the eye of a pope. I remember reading articles by him in early issues of Latin Mass magazine and wondering if he was right about these things. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI vindicated his claims, using almost identical words.

Capponi’s mother was British and he spoke fluent English. He served also as informal counsel to Chuck Wilson’s St. Joseph Foundation, which defended the rights of laity, mostly in the USA, who were being treated unfairly, typically for the “sin” of orthodoxy. Under the auspices of the St. Joseph Foundation, he delivered a lecture entitled “Times of Crisis, Times for Faith” in six American cities in 1995. A transcript is available at EWTN online. This article reads as if it were written not 23 years ago, but rather just yesterday. In the Introduction he writes:

God has entrusted His most precious gift to us, His Church, not to angels but to men, to us sinners; all of us, be we pope, bishop, priest or layman. Therefore, we, with our sins and shortcomings act upon the Church as the executioners acted on the physical body of Our Lord. This applies to the shepherds as well as to the sheep. Notwithstanding all this, Our Lord has guaranteed that His Church will never completely fail; but she has suffered, is suffering and will suffer from those two evils which beset every society governed by men; human malice and human error.

Having summarized what he considered the four greatest historical trials of Christianity, Capponi comes around to the postconciliar crisis and observes:

When asked why I believe the crisis we now face is worse than Arianism, I give these reasons: (a) The principal vehicle of the faith, the liturgy, was untouched by the Arian crisis; (b) whereas the Arian crisis was precipitated and sustained by the intervention of secular power, the post Vatican II crisis comes from within the Church and is therefore more difficult to fight; (c) in the fourth century, Pope Liberius finally signed the excommunication of St. Athanasius under duress—in the twentieth century Pope Paul VI was admittedly taken in and hoodwinked by his misguided optimism, but there was no duress; (d) the present crisis is not only one of faith but of morals as well. In addition, today not only one dogma, albeit a very important one, is denied as with Arianism, but all dogmas, be it even the existence of a personal God!

Count Capponi leaves his beloved wife, Flavia, and four children as well as seven grandchildren.  One of his sons, severely disabled, he visited practically daily at the Catholic institution caring for him. 

May Our Lord grant him eternal rest and a reward for his labors for the Catholic Church.

Capponi (right)