Thursday, October 27, 2005

How are the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in error?


I may encounter an SSPX one day, what are some things I should beef up on so as not to be fooled?

I believe the SSPX, in claiming to submit to the Roman Pontiff but rejecting the decisions of Vatican II and current canon law, make propositions which have already been condemned by Pius VI in 1794. Observe,

It is well known traditional Catholic doctrine that ecclesiastical discipline can never be harmful or dangerous to the faithful, as was taught by Pius VI's condemnation of the Jansenist proposition to the contrary [cf. Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei, 78 (1794).]

See more here: Are Ecclesiastical Disciplines Infallible?

According to Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos, 9 (1832):

“the discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or branded as contrary to certain principles of the natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect"
Pope Gregory XVI, Quo Graviora, 4-5 (1833), admonishing those like the SSPX who state:

"... categorically that there are many things in the discipline of the Church... [which] are harmful for the growth and prosperity of the Catholic religion.... these men were shamefully straying in their thoughts, they proposed to fall upon the errors condemned by the Church in proposition 78 of the constitution Auctorem fidei (published by Our predecessor, Pius VI on August 28, 1794)..... do they not try to make the Church human by taking away from the infallible and divine authority, by which divine will it is governed? And does it not produce the same effect to think that the present discipline of the Church rests on failures, obscurities, and other inconveniences of this kind?
And to feign that this discipline contains many things which are not useless but which are against the safety of the Catholic religion? Why is it that private individuals appropriate for themselves the right which is proper only for the pope?"
According to Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 66 (1943):

“Certainly the loving Mother is spotless in the Sacraments, by which she gives birth to and nourishes her children; in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate; in her sacred laws imposed on all; in the evangelical counsels which she recommends.”
I also refer you to the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia, written under the papacy of Pope St. Pius X, from an article entitled "Ecclesiastical Discipline", under the heading "DISCIPLINARY INFALLIBILITY".

Here's an excerpt...

"[Disciplinary Infallibility] has, however, found a place in all recent treatises on the Church. The authors of these treatises decide unanimously in favour of a negative and indirect rather than a positive and direct infallibility, inasmuch as in her general discipline, i.e. the common laws imposed on all the faithful, the Church can prescribe nothing that would be contrary to the natural or the Divine law, nor prohibit anything that the natural or the Divine law would exact. If well understood this thesis is undeniable; it amounts to saying that the Church does not and cannot impose practical directions contradictory of her own teaching."
From a 1908 source of Catholic doctrine, P. Hermann, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae (4th ed., Rome: Della Pace, 1908), vol. 1, p. 258:

“The Church is infallible in her general discipline. By the term general discipline is understood the laws and practices which belong to the external ordering of the whole Church. Such things would be those which concern either external worship, such as liturgy and rubrics, or the administration of the sacraments. . . .“If she [the Church] were able to prescribe or command or tolerate in her discipline something against faith and morals, or something which tended to the detriment of the Church or to the harm of the faithful, she would turn away from her divine mission, which would be impossible.”
The SSPX, railing against this traditional Catholic doctrine, and contrary to Pius VI's 18th century condemnation, reassert that present ecclesiastical discipline is harmful even in its approved form.

From the SSPX web page, citing MSgr Marcel Levebvre:

"The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules...bears within it a poison harmful to the faith" (Marcel Levebvre, An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 29)
This proposition is the Jansenist claim all over again, which was already condemend by Pius VI. Traditionalist Catholics ought to know better.


With regard to the SSPX dispute over Vatican II's teaching with regard to religious liberty, it's important to remember that their founding bishop MSgr Marcel Levebvre signed Dignitatis Humanae, the very document the SSPX rail against.

For an outstanding scholarly explanation of religious liberty, I recommend the following articles by Fr. Brian Harrison, who is the best defender of Dignitatis Humanae available in English.

Pius IX, Vatican II and Religious Liberty by Fr. Brian W. Harrison

Vatican II and Religious Liberty, Contradiction or Continuity? by Fr. Brian Harrison

Religious Libetry: "Rights" versus "Tolerance" by Fr. Brian Harrsion

See more here: Against Indifferentism


I believe they are wrong about their faulty use of probabilism, which is anything but traditional casuistry, yet they cling to it as their defense just like the modernists do. I find that rather ironic.

Casuisty - "a resolving of specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine" (Webster's)

According to Fr. Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Sources of Christian Ethics, (1995):

"The traditional position, valid moreover in every field, was to tip doubt toward the solution having the best reasons in its favor."
Probabilism seems to have originated with Spanish Dominican, Bartholomew of Medina, who wrote in 1580:

"It seems to me that if an opinion is probable, it is lawful to follow it, even if the opposite opinion is more probable." (ibid)
I agree with Fr. Pinckaers' assessment of this rather untraditional casuistry:

"In weighing reasons in favor of freedom or of law in doubtful cases, it was permissible [under probabilism] to follow the opinion in favor of freedom if it was probable and was supported by good reasons, even if the opposite opinion, maintaining a legal obligation, was based on better reasons. Without fully realizing it, Bartholomew of Medina and his followers had passed the frontier of reason, which naturally favors the opinion with the best reasons behind it. Conscience, as a result, lost its balance."
Fr. John Hardon, defines probabilism as:

PROBABILISM. The moral theory that holds that a law against whose existence or application there stands a solidly probable argument does not bind. It is based on the principle that a doubtful law does not bind. It then excludes other theories as either too strict or too lax about the degree of doubt or probability that would exempt one from the obligation of a doubtful law.
Many dissenters, whether liberal dissenters or ultra-traditionalist dissenters (e.g. SSPXers and other Lefebvrists), use probabilism (incorrectly) to justify their dissent with Catholic teaching.

Probablism is an accepted methodology of the Catholic Church, when used correctly for doubtful matters. It teaches that in doubtful matters, people could follow the probable opinion of a competent minority of theologians. However, liberal and utlra-traditionalist dissenters have equally abused this methodology in an attempt to support their disobedience to certain Catholic teachings and practice. Both dissenting groups, ironically sharing the same methodology, tending towards a "we only need to believe infallible dogmas" attitude, and therefore, the non-infallible teachings of the Catholic Church can be considered doubtful at will, and therefore dissented with.

An example of legitamite use of probabilism is as follows: Although unconditional predestination (Thomism) may be held by a majority of Catholic theologians, one may consider this opinion doubtful, and instead assert conditional predestination (Molinism). The Magisterium has decided to not favor one theological position or the other. Therefore, it remains a matter of liberty (ie. a doubtful matter).

However, the dissenting groups that misuse this methodology fail to realize that doubtful matters can no longer be considered doubtful when the Teaching Church clearly decides (whether infallibly defined or not) for one or the other position. In the case of birth control and liturgical reforms, the Church has made certain judgment, eliminating contrary positions as obediently being held because of a pretense to doubtful matters.

Furthermore, one many not deliberately persist in any valid doubtful matter, such as a valid doubt of law. Instead, they are to seek to inform their conscience by seeking clarity from their lawful superiors who have plenary Divine authority to govern the faithful. For example, for doubtful matter, one can send what is called a Dubium to the Holy See. The subsequent decision of the Holy See removes any valid doubt of law or doctrine. See the Respondsum ad Dubium from the Holy See with regard to ordination of women priests as an example:

I recommend the following article, as it provides a more scholastic example of the use and misuse of probabilism:

Probabilism - Use, and Misuse by Anthony Zimmerman, STD

In rebuttal to the dissenters' misuse of probabilism, I also offer the following:

According to the pre-Vatican II source, Summa Theologiae Moralis, 31st Edition, 1956, Vol. 1, by H. Noldin, et. al., when the Magisterium has given an authoritative response, that is one of the cases in which probabilism is thereafter excluded (No. 236-237).

Also, from Academic Dissent: An Original Ecclesiology by Joseph Costanzo, S.J.,

"An authentic noninfallible teaching of the magisterium is invested with certitude, that is, with moral, practical certitude. Such a certitude precludes and, in fact, is un related to any consideration of a contrary probable opinion. It is not the absolute possibility of error that an authentic noninfallible teaching of the Church speculatively does not foreclose that establishes the justifying grounds for recourse to the principle of probabilism. Nor is such recourse dependent upon the acknowledgement of a "doubtful law does not bind," a popular axiom which presumes what it denies. Probabilism does not rely on the absolute possibility of error but rather, given the absence of certitude (which an authentic noninfallible teaching of the Church does provide), it is an exercise of the virtue of prudence to choose between two solidly probable opinions. No such claim on the absence of certitude on the Church's absolute ban against artificial contraceptives may be made as existing within the Magisterium, whatever doubts some private theologians may have entertained within their own persuasion after 1963."

IV - Invalid Sacrament of Penance and Marriage

From another pre-Vatican II source...

Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957) wrote a book in 1929 called The Church on Earth - The Nature and Authority of the Catholic Church, and the Place of the Pope Within it. Well before there was any such thing as the SSPX, Msgr. Knox discusses the Catholic understanding with regard to the Church and the nature of her authority, which may be helpful in understanding why the SSPX absolutions are invalid. Here are some excerpts from Msgr Knox's book:

... no one who understands Catholic theology could consent for a moment to minister, however valid his ordination, to souls which had not been committed to his charge by a bishop in communion with the Holy See.

Hmmmmmmmm... I doubt this text is on the SSPX "must read" list. ;)

MSgr. Knox continues ...

But if he should presume to do so, in one most important particular, his ministry would be not only irregular but nugatory. Lacking mission, he would be defying Catholic order; lacking jurisdiction, he would be pronouncing unavailing words of absolution over sins unremitted in Heaven.

I had to look up "nugatory" ... according to Webster it means:

1. Trifling; vain; futile; insignificant.; 2. Of no force; inoperative; ineffectual.

What do you suppose Msgr. Knox means by saying that if they lack jurisdiction, they would be pronouncing "unavailing words of absolution?" Observe,

The Catholic Church has sacramental rites, and most of these can and may be performed only by duly ordained ministers. ... what concerns us here is to examine more closely the phrase just used: "can and may be performed." There is a distinction between the can and the may. ... Any priest who is validly ordained can say Mass validly, but in certain circumstances, he may not. And, still more important, there are only certain circumstances in which he may, and therefore can, give absolution.To say Mass is the function for which, primarily, a priest is ordained; given the proper opportunity, he may do so unless he has specially been forbidden to do so and defies the prohibition, he can say Mass; that is, his Consecration is a perfectly valid one. But this principle does not hold for the sacrament of Confession, unless the penitent is at the point of death, in which case it is presumed that the Church "supplies" the necessary authority. In normal circumstances, a priest may not give absolution unless he has "faculties" to do so; unless, that is to say, he does so with the express authority of the bishop. And in this case, if he may not, he cannot. For absolution is a judicial act, and no judicial act can be validly performed without jurisdiction. ...The essence of his business is to judge; and a man is not competent to judge, however much learning or prudence he possesses, unless he has been commissioned to try the case, unless he has been told to act in this way. If the judge has no commission, the award is invalid. If the priest has not jurisdiction, the sins of the penitent are not remitted. ... The authority in question is not, of course, limited to the confessional. It is the bishop who commissions a priest to preach and to instruct; it is the bishop who assigns to him a special sphere, giving him duties toward and responsibility for a particular group of human souls. ...A bishop, in spite of valid consecration, does not become ipso facto capable of conferring mission upon priests. He can ordain them validly, but he cannot give them the right to go out and exercise their ministry unless he himself belongs to the Catholic communion and has, within that communion, an assigned sphere of authority. He cannot send unless he himself has been sent by the Universal Church. ...The Church, then, involves a hierarchy, not merely in the sense that one functionary is superior to another in dignity, but in the sense that each functionary derives from a superior his commission to act in the Church's name. Without that commission, all other qualifications would be useless.

Although the SSPX normatively lack jurisdiction to give valid sacramental absolution, if the recipient is in grave danger of death, the Church supplies the jurisdiction needed for valid absolution. Also, if the recipient is "genuinely ignorant" that a validly ordained Catholic priest lacks proper jurisdiction, then the Church supplies jurisdiction in that particular instance. However, one cannot fake this ignorance and expect absolution to be valid. The ignorance of the real lack of jurisdiction must be genuine. It is not due to probable doubt (ie. probabilism) that jurisdiction is supplied, because the Magisterium has removed any pretense to probable doubt on the matter. However, due to genuine ignorance on the part of the recipient, jurisdiction in such cases is supplied by the Church.

This is explained in the following letter from the Holy See:

From the PONTIFICIA COMMISSIO "ECCLESIA DEI", Rome, 28th September 1999:

"... The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but suspended, that is prohibited from exercising their priestly functions because they are not properly incardinated in a diocese or religious institute in full communion with the Holy See and also because those ordained after the episcopal ordinations were ordained by an excommunicated bishop. They are also excommunicated if they adhere to the schism.... Concretely this means that the Masses offered by the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are valid, but illicit i.e, contrary to Canon Law. The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony however, require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese or has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. It remains true, however, that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Pius X do not have the proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplied these faculties so that the sacrament was valid (cf. Code of Canon Law c.144). "

God bless,


"Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth, let me not forget the truth about love"-- St. Thomas Aquinas