Rorate Caeli

On the 15th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum: “What we oppose to Traditionis custodes is not ‘non possumus’ but ‘non licet’: it is not permitted!” — Jean Madiran in defense of traditionalism

With July 7, 2022 we reach the fifteenth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio and come close to the first anniversary of Pope Francis’s attempt to cancel out its provisions in his own motu proprio. On this occasion Rorate publishes a translation of the following article by Rémi Fontaine (original here), based on three earlier articles at Le Salon beige on November 5, 2021, March 31, and June 1, 2022). The internal quotations are drawn from the writings of Jean Madiran.--PAK

The motu proprio Traditionis custodes of July 16, 2021 was felt like a blow:

—a slap in the face to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose letter and spirit of the motu proprio Summorum pontificum of 2007 taught and decreed almost the opposite of this unjust and accusatory text;

—a slap in the face to what could be called the “Ecclesia Dei” people, against whom he immediately and globally addresses a reckless judgment and with whom he breaks his word;

—a humiliation inflicted on the Church itself, “Jesus Christ spread and communicated” (Bossuet), by the offense thus brought to the principle of non-contradiction, which is incompatible with a “hermeneutic of rupture,” as well as to the natural and canonical law relative to the Mass.

In this way, one could rightly react by repeating the words of Our Lord before the High Priest, when a servant slapped him: “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to what is wrong. If I have spoken well, why do you strike me?”

In this regard, we can reread what Jean Madiran (who died in July 2013) wrote just after Benedict XVI’s motu proprio but which is valid a posteriori for Pope Francis’ motu proprio: “With benevolence, everything becomes possible and livable, even possible disagreements. With malice, everything is weakened, everything is contaminated, even possible agreements.”

Certainly, one might say, there are the two sentences of Benedict XVI in his Letter to the Bishops accompanying his motu proprio (the equivalent of which is not, however, among the obligatory norms laid down therein): “Obviously, in order to live full communion, the priests of communities that adhere to the old usage cannot, on principle, exclude the celebration according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not be consistent with the recognition of its value and sanctity.”

Again, Madiran responds in anticipation: “There are two licit ways to hold to the traditional Mass while excluding the other Mass, without it being an exclusion ‘on principle’ [or total]. First, one can exclude the other Mass in virtue of the proper rule of a community or institute. Secondly, it must be understood that to exclude the other Mass on principle would be to exclude it as heretical, schismatic or blasphemous. Now, the most representative opponents of the other Mass [including the Priestly Society of St. Pius X, but even more so and without exception in the so-called “Summorum Pontificum movement”] have not contested, and have even explicitly recognized, its licitness and validity when it is celebrated in accordance with its official text. Even in this case, however, its use can be refused, if not on principle but for pastoral reasons, for example.

A misleading symmetry

Benedict XVI’s motu proprio and his Letter to the Bishops did confirm that the traditional Mass had “never been juridically abrogated” (because it could not be) and that any prohibition had been (or would be) an abuse of power that did not bind in conscience. Conversely, they did not oblige one to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI as well, according to a false symmetry, convenient but misleading. One could (or could not) adhere to the traditional Mass as others adhere (exclusively) to the new Mass without excluding in principle the other form of the Roman rite. This is the substance of the motu proprio of Benedict XVI and its “pluralist” application as an armistice and a liturgical peace to be built over time.

This is analogous to the difference that the Church makes between a commandment (which is imperative) and a counsel (which is optional). The evangelical precept to turn the other cheek depends on the circumstances (Jesus Himself did not always follow it!), unlike the precept not to kill the innocent. Not to pursue every therapeutic means of extending a person’s life is, for example, a case of advice: a relative no, a matter of prudential choice, unlike the absolute no to euthanasia, which is a case of doctrine. While one may legitimately interrupt a treatment considered unreasonable, one must absolutely proscribe euthanasia.

Similarly, because it is not possible to prohibit the traditional Mass, there can be no obligation to celebrate the new Mass, especially since the latter, despite its undeniable recognition, is subject to significant circumstantial reproaches (according to Benedict XVI himself and many theologians). Let us also recall the Brief Critical Examination of the New Ordo Missae, co-signed by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, which points to the promotion of a different conception of the Mass, moving from an essentially sacrificial reality to a communal gathering.

The pastoral reasons that some have for bypassing the new Mass (related to doctrinal reasons) deserve to be listened to, considered, or respected: they belong to the second option of the maxim attributed to St. Augustine: “Unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is not necessary, charity in all things.” May the hierarchy meditate on this crucial distinction, making its pastoral and disciplinary choices less arbitrary! Perhaps we could return to the wisdom and benevolence of Pope Benedict XVI, an eminent servant of the common good of the Church: there are many paths and dwellings in the House of Tradition, unity not being uniformity.

In the light of Jean Madiran but also of Gustave Thibon

As Jean Madiran claimed in the past with regard to the falsifications that were being made of Scripture, to the unheard-of prohibition of the old catechism and the inherited rite of Mass, what we are opposing today to the brutality of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes—specifically, to its restrictions that are ordered to the same unjustified prohibition—is not, N.B., a non possumus (we cannot) but a non licet (it is not permitted)! This is not a matter of sensitivity to the circumstances but of an impossibility intrinsic to (super)natural and canonical law, intrinsic to the organic continuity of the ecclesial tradition:

“A non possumus causes a disorder in the Church, an apparent or real disorder; it raises a de facto exception in front of a commandment that is not intrinsically legitimate. This disorder may be a lesser evil when the non possumus is well founded: however well founded it may be, nevertheless, the extent and inconvenience of the resulting disorder are also to be taken into consideration. On the contrary, a non licet, if it is well founded, is not a factor of disorder, but of order: it is order itself, insofar as it needs to be proclaimed, defended or restored” (Madiran, July-August 1969). Like Antigone facing Creon. Or like Thomas More facing Henry VIII.

Benedict XVI had recognized that the new Mass broke excessively with the traditional Mass, which had “never been abrogated” and could not be. Whatever one thinks of the undoubted validity of this new Mass and its links with the old one, its artificial fabrication and ambiguous institution are too far removed from the legacy of the old one handed down from generation to generation to legitimize an abrogation or even an obrogation of that legacy. One can let a secular custom that has become obsolete die out on its own, but one does not have the right to forbid it (St. Pius V’s provisions preserved all the rites that were at least two hundred years old at the time: Milanese, Mozarabic, Lyonnais, Dominican, Carthusian...). Unless one can demonstrate that this custom, which was that of the Latin Church, sanctifying its faithful for centuries, was bad, we say: Non licet!

No doubt traditions also have their dangers, as Pope Pius V had considered (freeing the Roman Rite from certain recent overloads, judged useless), as Pope Paul VI no doubt also imagined he was doing (decoding in reality what his predecessor had precisely wanted to protect, purify, unify in the tradition of the Roman Rite). Gustave Thibon puts it in his own graphic way: “There is the tradition-source and the tradition-freeze, the second generally succeeding the first as soon as the original inspiration cools down and the letter suffocates the spirit: we then see rites freeze into formalisms, virtue into moralism, art into academicism... This inclines us to deny the source when all we need to do is to break the ice” (Au secours des évidences, Mame, 2022).

In believing he was breaking the ice, did not the liturgical reform of Paul VI deviate from, if not deny, the source itself? To the point of “renewing” the letter in the absence of a manifest adequacy to the spirit that gives life... Under the guise of a return to the sources and of archaeology, has one not “multiplied the waterworks without taking care lest the source dry up,” to use another image of Thibon? He also likes to recall the warning that Chateaubriand already gave to the giddy innovators of his time: “Let us beware of shaking the pillars of the temple: the future can be brought down upon itself!” The living tradition consists more in a reliance on the sources than in a “return” to them.

Jean Madiran (1920-2013)

“Non licet”!

In view of the current fruits of the Vetus Ordo (gradually rediscovered by a youthful and growing population with multiple vocations) and those of the Novus Ordo (practiced by an aging population that is dwindling and whose vocations in many places are drying up), we can at least reflect on the relevance of these general words of the peasant philosopher on the living tradition: “Only artificial flowers do not need roots...”

The emergence, as a survival reflex, of multiple “experiments” of tradition, unforeseen but salutary, which did not always allow themselves to be incorporated into the forms of ritual and parish organization imposed by the liturgical reform, verified that “what is organic is more important than what is organized”—organized also artificially by experts and clerics, even if they are the best-intentioned in the world!—according to the words Benedict XVI addressed in December 2009 to Cardinal Cordes about new communities attached to the transmission of the faith. Regarding these charismatic communities, the Pope added what can also be applied to traditionalists: “Certainly, these movements must be ordered and brought back into the fold; they must learn to recognize their limits and become part of the Church’s communitarian reality.” Nevertheless, in the event of a major crisis, the perfect society (in the philosophical and theological sense) that is the Church really needs these imperfect but organic microsocieties, capable of regenerating it like antibodies in a sick organism. This is what Benedict XVI understood and wanted.

Even if it was a stopgap measure, the cohabitation of the two forms of the Roman rite decreed by his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was certainly the right political (in the noble sense of the word: in accordance with the common good) and theological path: an act of justice and charity capable of reconciling Catholics after decades of bad gashes and liturgical abuses. Subject to certain pastoral norms, one could and should have the leisure to choose the form of the Latin rite. Leisure: “a state in which it is permitted to do what one wishes” (according to the Littré). From the Latin precisely: “licere,” to have the permission to. It is in this sense that leisure differs from work, which is subject to constraint, whereas in leisure one is free to choose one’s activity. This is why the motu proprio of Benedict XVI did not absolutely oblige one to (con)celebrate the Mass of Paul VI (and vice versa).

We can therefore say again with Jean Madiran about “the forbidden Mass”—that of our ancestors but also that of our children—which is again stigmatized without legitimate reason: non licet! “We refuse to separate ourselves from the Church, to allow ourselves to be separated from it…nothing and no one can replace the apostolic succession and the primacy of the Roman see,” nor can anyone else do for them what is specifically their charge, despite their weaknesses or even their crimes.

Communion in all its necessity

It is not a challenge to the apostolic succession or the primacy of the Roman See to respectfully oppose Pope Francis’s motu proprio of July 16, 2021 with a “non licet” (“it is not permitted!”). We are not sinning against the necessity of ecclesial communion, which is treated so badly elsewhere. But it is well known: “The more hierarchical authority becomes ‘lax,’ as they say, even evanescent, in matters of dogmatic fidelity, the more its militarism increases in practical or subsidiary matters” (Madiran, March 1987). Now Catholic communion, which is first of all the communion of saints that we profess in the Creed and that the catechism explains to us, is not a union or an obedience that would have no conditions or limits.

Faced with a submission that is brutally and arbitrarily demanded as a secondary and contingent (“clericalist”?) sign of this communion, traditional Catholics simply practice an objection of conscience. In this legitimate objection of sons of the Church, not being members (with some exceptions) of the teaching Church, they can be more or less wrong, more or less right, but communion and ecclesial unity are not broken: “Clerics, laymen, ordinary Catholics and even saints have found themselves in discussion, in contestation, in quarrel with their bishop; with the Holy See; with the Pope. See, for example, when the Holy See dissolved and suppressed the Jesuit Order, it did not declare them excommunicated; of the Jesuits who, in spite of the Holy See, desired, organized, and finally obtained from the Holy See the reconstitution of the Society of Jesus, no one fulminated against them that they were ‘not in communion with the Holy See.’” Without even mentioning the case of Joan of Arc, the waverings of the holders of the apostolic succession and the primacy of the Roman See before the Protestant Reformation and before the French Revolution also had their unhappy hours cut short by the pathfinders of the Counter-Reformation and the Counter-Revolution...

Besides, the “trads,” as they are called, have no unity as such, with no other commanding authority than the Church’s (which is nowadays quite deficient), to which they consent and submit themselves, so to speak, as much as... if not more than... With variations, different interpretations and subject to the definitive judgement of the Church (which always eventually comes after the objective malfunctions of its history): “Since the crisis of the Mass began, they [the trads] have always been deeply divided as to the attitudes to hold and the initiatives to take in regard to the Mass, according to the diversity of particular opinions, sensitivities, arguments, tactics... The ‘trads’ are not and cannot be a party, an army, or a Church; theirs is a state of mind. And, of course, a behavior. A professio and a devotio(Madiran, January 1987).

The role of the laity (following the example of the Pilgrimage of Christendom)

If, in history, it is the priests who preach the crusade, it is not they who lead it. By their condition, the lay faithful are undoubtedly better able than the clergy, according to this metaphor, to express and ostensibly lead the kind of moral insurrection that this pluralist behavior in medio Ecclesiae and even more so in corde Ecclesiae represents today. The prudential and religious options of the traditionalist movement—this legitimate objection of conscience, this self-defense of the people of God—can certainly be found in many places without any parallel hierarchy or any substitution for religious power. The faithful who join the places where the traditional liturgy is celebrated are led there by what Jean-Pierre Maugendre calls the triptych “coherence, exigency, transcendence”: they want first of all to be spoken to about God, to be taught the Faith, and to be helped to pray with beauty. The rest appears to be accessory…

The history, devotio, and professio of the Pilgrimage of Christendom [i.e., the Chartres pilgrimage] bear witness to this: “The temporal powers of the Christian laity remain what they are, in fact and in law, whatever the failings, maneuvers, or impostures of various representatives of the hierarchical Church.” With their own institutions and temporal authorities, nothing prevents the laity, in order to better fulfill their temporal tasks spiritually—to survive as families in the religious crisis while keeping to the fixed points of the Christian people—from calling upon traditionalist clerics not as leaders but as chaplains or religious advisors (as the non-reformed scouts, the MJCF, and the non-contracted schools have done, with the missionary spirit and vocations that we know), to assist them spiritually, to distribute the sacraments, to enlighten, instruct, and comfort them spiritually according to a moral authority of advice, of supplementation. This authority cannot, of course, claim to be an authority of religious decision or jurisdiction. Tradition, as the constitutive source of the Church, obliges the traditionalist resistance to respect the structure of the visible Church and to work with it despite its deficiencies.

Jean Madiran spoke of a certain “militarism” [caporalisme], where the present pope would say “clericalism” today: “Religious militarism is perhaps the most unbearable phenomenon of all. It consists at present in regarding any objection as blasphemy, any discussion as disobedience, any disobedience (legitimate or not) as schism. The most necessary distinctions are bulldozed by unintelligence. This does not promote unity. On the contrary. See: it is in pieces.”

Regardless of the momentary wielders of power in the Church, the ecclesial Creons, and even after the administrative Responsa of Archbishop Roche and the wavering of Pope Francis, we can nevertheless persist and characterize ourselves as did the late founder of the magazine Itinéraires: “In communion, yes, but with the Holy See”! “Traditional Catholics by conviction (and by pleonasm), we are in communion with the faith in the apostolic succession and in the primacy of the Roman See. To this succession, to this primacy, we strive to bring a Christian and not a servile obedience...” (Preface to Eglise interdite, le livre blanc de Port-Marly, Rémi Fontaine and Alain Sanders, Éditions de L’Orme Rond, 1987).