SSPX/Ecclesia Dei Convergence
By Sean Johnson
August 24, 2014
When the 2007 reprint of Michael Davies’ classic became available from Angelus Press in 2007,
it never occurred to me to question the purpose of the release. I presumed that Davies was
augmenting his already solid work with additional argumentation and documentation.
In fact, it was only with the benefit of hindsight that the nature of the changes to Davies’ work
began to place themselves within the greater post-2012 context of SSPX convergence with the
Ecclesia Dei Communities.
Had we not just recently seen an unbelievable congratulatory notice to the Ecclesia Dei
communities for their 2013 priestly ordinations appearing on the SSPX Polish District website?
Had we not seen the scandalous study released by the General House to explain the ban on Fr.
Pivert’s book “Our Relations with Rome” (which is predominantly a compilation of quotes from
Archbishop Lefebvre) attempt to justify that ban thusly in Section 5 (Which defends the Ecclesia
Dei communities against the condemnations of Archbishop Lefebvre!)?1
More recently, we were offered the spectacle of witnessing SSPX officials posing for pictures
with Ecclesia Dei priests, and sharing “tradcumenical” conference venues with them; we witness Institute of Christ the King priests siting in choir at Bishop Fellay’s Belgium Mass (an
act of tradcumenism, not conversion); we see SSPX priests extending reciprocity, and attending
the first Mass of a newly ordained priest of the Institute of Christ the King in France (So much
for all the old SSPX apologetics against attending the indult Mass!); etc.
But this troubling convergence of the SSPX and Ecclesia Dei communities is not only a matter of
political convergence, but doctrinal as well. And it is the purpose of this article to highlight not
only the contradiction of the current posture in Menzingen towards the Ecclesia Dei
Communities, in contradistinction to the operative principle of the SSPX prior to 2012, but also
to draw attention to doctrinal deviations (particularly with regard to errors pertaining to
apostolicity, and the new Conciliar and post-Conciliar ecclesiology) this book seems to promote.
In general, we are witnessing the reduction of the combat for the faith against the Conciliar
errors (and are in fact showing signs and symptoms of infection from these same errors), from
the preservation of integral doctrine, to merely the preservation of the traditional Mass…a la
It was from this realization, that I was inspired to write the following article.
This September will see the 10 year anniversary of the death of Michael Davies.
A strong supporter of Archbishop Lefebvre until the time of the 1988 episcopal consecrations, he then opted to side with the indultarian Una Voce movement (becoming its President in 1992).
Having traded the battle for integral Catholic doctrine in preference for the permission to attend the 1962 Mass, he significantly toned down his rhetoric, lest his movement be seen to criticize the modernists, and jeopardize the indult.
Among other things, he is remembered for his famous saying, “It is the Mass that matters.”
Indeed, this saying could be the motto for every indult group in the Church, since it is the only thing their false obedience has been able to retain (and even in that respect, it is only to be considered a preference; a rite on equal footing with the Novus Ordo).
So, it was only natural that Michael Davies and the SSPX should drift apart.
Whether he was conscious of it or not, Michael Davies was only given his “table scraps” because the Romans perceived that others like him (i.e., battle weary, or scrupulous, or compromised Catholics) could be drawn away from the SSPX with the lure of an approved Traditional Latin Mass.
So pitched were the differences between the SSPX and various indult/Ecclesia Dei organizations, that they would not even march in the same direction at the annual Chartres (France) Pilgrimage for Tradition, nor would they travel the same route: Leaders would meet in advance of the opposed pilgrimages to ensure the two did not intersect!
This was symbolic of the completely opposite ends which the two groups had in mind: Securing the Mass, on the one hand, vs. securing the entire Faith, on the other.
But those were the good old days.
Recent years have seen mounting evidence of a convergence of aims and ends between the SSPX and the various indult groups in ways which would have been impossible under Archbishop Lefebvre: The notice appearing on the SSPX Polish District website congratulating the Ecclesia Dei communities’ recent 2013 ordinations2; the January 2014 letter from Menzingen in which Fr. Pivert’s book is condemned, with Menzingen offering strident defenses of the indult communities; the ‘trad-cumenical’ initiatives in which The Remnant participates at The Angelus conferences; etc).
But I would like to discuss one which flew under the radar: The 2007 Angelus Press reprint of the revised/expanded “Pope John’s Council” by Michael Davies.
Having just illustrated the divergence of opinion between Michael Davies and the SSPX since the 1988 episcopal consecrations (and the dumbing-down of the subject matter of Davies’ later books, which must always follow upon a regularization), it is a pleasant mythology spread amongst SSPXers that, towards the end of his life, Michael Davies “came back” to the SSPX, and again collaborated with them, having realized the limited and short-sighted nature of his indult position.
However, it is the purpose of this brief article to demonstrate that in fact, it is the opposite which is true:
That with the commencement in 2007 of the branding campaign (designed to cease-fire against modernism and the modernists in Rome, for the purposes of securing a Roman approval of the SSPX), the Society moved closer to Michael Davies’ indult position, rather than the other way around.
Observe that in 2001, the SSPX was condemning Dominus Iesus thusly:
“As a result, the document does not wish to repeat, firmly and univocally, that there is only one way of salvation, i.e., that established by Christ in His Church. Instead it gives us to understand, through its equivocations, that we must admit that “historical figures and positive elements of these [other] religions may fall within the divine plan of salvation,” and that, according to Vatican II, the false religions can be seen to exercise “a manifold cooperation” and even a “participated mediation” in the one mediatorship of Christ. There is one reservation, however: these “participated forms of mediation…cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his.” In fact, the concept of parallel [equal] complementarity is very different from that of participated [subordinate] mediation.
This concept of participated, subordinate mediation has always been intrinsic to the Catholic religion. What is new in the Declaration, and what is unheard-of in the Catholic religion, is that this participated mediation is now no longer reserved to the Most Blessed Virgin, the Saints and the members of the Mystical Body, but extended to all the false religions (the sects and the pagan religions). This is in harmony with the “new theology,” which no longer understands the Mystical Body to be coextensive with the visible Church (plus the individual exceptions in the case of souls united to the Church “in voto,” by implicit and explicit desire), but broadens and expands Christ’s Mystical Body to embrace all humanity with all its false religious beliefs.
The fundamental concept of ecumenism can be reduced to this: “All religions are orientated to salvation, which is one, and is of Christ. These religions are ranked according to each one’s degree of participation in the fullness of truth and salvation which is found in its highest degree in Christ and his Church.” This is the basis supporting the superstructure of the
Declaration Dominus Jesus, and we cannot see in what way it differs from the thesis of Modernism, namely, that God reveals Himself “in the life of all the religions, individually and collectively, but most of all in the life of Christianity” (George Tyrrell, Per la sincerità in Rinnovamento [For Sincerity in the Renewal] July-Aug. 1907.”3
That was the SSPX in 2001 (i.e., Well before the branding campaign was commenced, and at a time when the plan to “proceed by stages” towards a “reconciliation” was in its infancy).4
But in 2007, the Angelus magazine announced that, with the new incoming editor (Fr. Higgenberger), a new editorial policy would feature a “more positive” and less critical approach regarding the crisis in the Church and the partisans of error.
That same year, Angelus Press released Michael Davies revised edition of “Pope John’s Council”, which contained an heretical notion of apostolicity, with Davies claiming that -in accord with Dominus Iesus– the Orthodox churches were “authentic local churches,” and that the Orthodox possess formal apostolicity.5
The book also contains an Appendix titled “The Declaration Dominus Iesus Regarding the Term Subsistit,”6 in which Davies (and the SSPX’s) confusion reaches new heights, going so far as to exclaim, “Some traditional Catholics have questioned the possibility as to how there can be true churches not in communion with the Pope…,” as though it were we who were confused on the matter!
Now to be clear, Orthodox bishops possess mere material apostolicity (i.e., episcopal continuity), but not formal apostolicity (which in addition to episcopal continuity, adds jurisdiction).7
Since Orthodox bishops possess mere material apostolicity, it necessarily follows their local churches are not to be regarded as authentic churches (i.e., Since their bishops, lacking formal apostolicity, lack jurisdiction).
At this point, a number of questions arise:
- To publish such a book, which defends an heretical proposition regarding apostolicity, and promotes the ecumenically inspired ecclesiology of Dominus Jesus (itself, perfectly in line with Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium), the SSPX has walked back on its 2001 condemnation (cited earlier).
- It seems it was not Michael Davies revising his book to approach the SSPX position outlined in their condemnation of 2001, but rather, the SSPX publishing a book in 2007 which contradicts its former condemnation of Dominus Jesus in 2001, to promote Davies’ ecumenical position.
- Interestingly enough, I perceived this error back in 2007 when I purchased the book, and contacted The Angelus to make them aware of the error on apostolicity. I was told by the editor that it had been reviewed by three SSPX priests before it went to press (i.e., the implication being that I was wrong). I pressed the issue, and finally received an acknowledgement from a District official that conceded the point, and told me that, minimally, a notice of “errata” would be inserted in future shipments. Has this been done? Or, have they expunged the ecumenical content from Davies revised volume (in which case there would be little point of publishing a revision at all, since it is precisely in this area in which most of the new content has been added)?8
- Regardless of who moved towards who, can anyone explain why the SSPX would publish a book promoting ecumenical ecclesiology (i.e., Dominus Jesus, and by extension, Lumen Gentium)?
My conclusion is this:
The publication of this revised Michael Davies work was one of the first attempts by the branded SSPX at incrementally “shifting” the SSPX audience towards looking favorably upon recent magisterial documents;
It was useful for building the bridge between SSPXers, Romans, and indultarians.
The only other alternative is to believe that the SSPX has suddenly become doctrinally incompetent, and is oblivious to publishing errors, which is not likely.
In any case, it shows that Michael Davies definitely did not come back to a traditional SSPX perspective (as though Archbishop Lefebvre would have accepted Dominus Jesus any more than Bishop Fellay did in 2001), but instead, that the SSPX moved towards Michael Davies’ indult position.
More disturbing than this, is the fact that in the larger picture (in light of the other examples cited above, which is far from exhaustive), it evinces an SSPX embarked upon a trajectory of convergence with the indult communities.
Once that convergence is completed, via slow boil, will there really be any need to negotiate a practical accord?9
Indeed, as the Dominicans at Avrillé recently wrote, the terrain is already prepared for a recognition of tolerance “ad tempus” (in which no written accord will be necessary).
But at what price?
When the day comes that you see the indultarian and SSPX Chartres Pilgrimages for Tradition marching in the same direction, understand that there is much more symbolism there than meets the eye.
In view of the eminence and reputation of Michael Davies, many readers of this article may be reluctant to accept that so gifted a man erred in so obvious and fundamental a doctrine as that on the Church’s teaching regarding apostolicity.
The first error of Mr. Davies is that he overlooked (or ignored) the distinction between material vs formal apostolicity (even though, interestingly enough, he uses the term “formal apostolic succession” in an erroneous sense at the bottom of p. 97).
As recounted above, “material apostolicity” is mere episcopal continuity (i.e., episcopal lineage traceable down to the Apostles), whereas “formal apostolicity” adds to mere material apostolicity the power of jurisdiction, which comes from the Pope.
Since a schismatic “church” cannot possess jurisdiction (other than a supplied jurisdiction acquired through necessity), and therefore cannot possess formal apostolicity, it necessarily follows that schismatic churches can never be considered authentic or true local churches.
But Michael Davies says otherwise:
Davies cites in support of his contention that the schismatic Orthodox possess formal apostolicity the Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius IX, Arcano Divinae Providentiae (1868), in which he observes that the great Pontiff “invited the bishops of the churches of the Oriental Rite not in communion with Rome to be present at the First Vatican Council on an equal basis with the bishops of the Latin Rite in communion with Rome.”10
Now it is telling that this citation (obviously meant to justify Dominus Jesus, which follows as a separate appendix at the end of the book on pp 403-408) is entirely absent from the original 1970s version of “Pope John’s Council.”
But what is missed by Davies is that the Apostolic Letter is not an invitation to participate in Vatican I as schismatics, but an invitation to rejoin the Mystical Body of Christ in order that they could participate:
“On September 8, 1868, the pope wrote an Apostolic Letter, Arcano Divinae Providentiae Consilio, to the Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, which demanded fidelity to the commitment they made to reunion at the Council of Lyons in 1274 and again at the Council of Florence in 1439.”11
But Davies, confusing the matter even further, misreads this Letter as pointing to the Councils of Lyons and Florence as having allowed schismatics to participate as schismatics, not as uniates (as though schismatics could set policy and doctrine for the Catholic Church!), and not in the proper sense just previously quoted.
For example, the Orthodox participated in the Second Council of Lyons only because they consented to sign this declaration (which made them Catholics):
“The Holy Roman Church possesses the supreme and full primacy and principality over the whole Catholic Church. She truly and humbly acknowledges that she received this from the Lord himself in blessed Peter, the prince and chief of the apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is, together with the fullness of power. And since before all others she has the duty of defending the truth of the faith, so if any questions arise concerning the faith, it is by her judgment that they must be settled.”12 13
That this participation and Council did not end the schism permanently or completely is only because, according to Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, the representatives had no authority to bind the other Orthodox bishops back home.
But the simple fact is that those Orthodox who participated were converted Catholics at the onset by the signing of that declaration.
It is worth mentioning that in so far as certain Churches (e.g., the Greek Orthodox) become uniate or schismatic at various points in history, they likewise vacillated between true particular churches possessing formal apostolicity, and schismatic churches, possessing only material apostolicity (therefore not representing true local churches at such times).
But in the appendix titled “The Declaration Dominus Iesus Re: The Term Subsistit,” which represents a blatant defense of Lumen Gentium as well, the reader will be shocked to see how far this error regarding formal apostolicity and true local churches causes Davies to embrace the new ecclesiology:
“But what of the churches, dioceses, that have breached their unity with the Holy See? Do they cease to be particular churches? By no means.”14
Now, I will be unjustly fair to Mr. Davies here, because as the phrase stands, he does not distinguish between authentic and schismatic particular churches (which makes it merely ambiguous).
But from the context, previous quotes showing him arguing in favor of schismatic churches representing authentic churches, and the sentence immediately following that just quoted, in which Mr. Davies reverts to his already refuted erroneous interpretation of Pius IX’s Arcano Divinae Providentiae, we know what he means, and he finishes with the alarming statement that:
“There is thus no doubt whatsoever that the Dioceses of the Eastern Orthodox Churches constitute true particular churches despite being schismatic.”15
That statement is heretical, insofar as it directly contradicts the Church’s immemorial teaching on apostolicity, in addition to implicitly rejecting Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis Christii (of which Dominus Jesus and Lumen Gentium are also violators).
No particular church can be said to be a “true particular church” which does not possess formal apostolicity, and therefore receive its jurisdiction from the Pope. It necessarily follows, therefore, that all true particular churches are in union with Rome, since otherwise, it is not possible for them to possess ordinary jurisdiction (the distinguishing feature of formal apostolicity). To say otherwise is to make of the Petrine Primacy an empty title, by implying jurisdiction (which only flows from Peter) is not necessary for a true particular church to have a legitimate apostolic mission.
And it is ludicrous to contend that there can be such a thing as a true particular church not in union with Peter, which is at once divided in government, worship, doctrine, and devoid of jurisdiction and legitimate apostolic mission, for to hold any other opinion is to negate the gravity of schism (and heresy) and make the injunctions of the Church and Pius XII, et al, frivolous and of no consequence for salvation.
Moreover, it is to encourage complacency and peaceful conscience in the hearts of those our Lord is trying to prompt to reach out to the only Ark of Salvation which is the Catholic Church, and in such measure, the position advocated by Davies, Dominus Jesus, and Lumen Gentium is antichrist.
Therein lies the true evil latent within the teaching of Dominus Jesus and Lumen Gentium, and the contorted path Michael Davies has traveled in order to attempt to justify them.
But having reached this point, we are brought back to asking ourselves the question: Why is the SSPX publishing a book promoting such ideas?
To my thinking, that question has already been answered above.
1.”5: The attitude toward the Ecclesia Dei communities is counterproductive. […] From the start of the book, Fr. Pivert claims that the Ecclesia Dei communities have supposedly abandoned doctrinal Tradition, nothing more, nothing less! From page to page, one discovers regarding [these communities] some very severe judgements [of the Archbishop] which are not put into their proper context. From the episcopal consecrations until his death, Archbishop Lefebvre hardly had the time to see how these communities would evolve. […]
“[Archbishop Lefebvre] also affirmed that he expected that the priests of the Fraternity of Saint Peter would soon adopt the New Mass. The facts have shown to the contrary that they have been able to resist all attacks. They were victorious in 1999, when Rome made an attempt at subverting them, and almost all of the 16 signers of a petition for bi-ritualism have since had to leave the Fraternity. Today, they’re over 250 priests celebrating the ancient rite. No one can say that Archbishop Lefebvre would have maintained the same apprehension today as in 1988. At the same time, when one searches in the correspondence of Archbishop Lefebvre, one also finds more moderate passages with regard to the Ecclesia Dei communities, admitting the fact that they are not “rallied”20 in spirit, and that they have the advantage of reminding the bishops on a daily basis what Tradition is…”
3. www.sspxasia.com/Documents/SiSiNoNo/2001 September/Dominus Jesus.htm
4 For an excellent account of the plan between Rome and the SSPX to “proceed by stages” towards a practical accord, please see the excellent book of Fr. Rioult titled “The Impossible Reconciliation.”
5 Davies, Michael. “Pope John’s Council” p. 97 (Angelus Press: 2007).
6 Ibid, pp. 403-408.
8 Luker –a personage on the now defunct Archbishoplefebvreforums confirms that a sticker has been superimposed on subsequent volumes, but that the only change the overlay makes is to remove the word “formal” from apostolic succession. Hence, an heretical statement has been “improved” to one merely ambiguous. Small consolation. Meanwhile, the entire ecumenical sense of this portion of the book is consistent with Dominus Jesus and Lumen Gentium).
9 In fact, as subsequent articles in this slim volume will explain, in light of the Resistance spawned in part by reaction to the April 15, 2012 Doctrinal Declaration, the new strategy in Rome/Menzingen seems to be to water down the SSPX to the point where modernist Rome, no longer feeling threatened by a toothless and subservient SSPX, will offer the Society a “unilateral recognition.” This recognition will allow Menzingen to say that it has been accepted without having to compromise anything. See especially the final article in this work for a lengthy (but fractional) list of compromises already conceded by Menzingen towards attaining this recognition.
10 Davies, Michael. “Pope John’s Council,” p. 98 (Angelus Press: 2007)
12 For citation, and interesting discussion of this issue from the Orthodox perspective, please see this thread: http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=36485.0
13 “The council had six general sessions: on 7 and 18 May, 4 or 7 June, 6, 16 and 17 July. In the fourth session the union of the Greek Church with the Latin Church was decreed and defined, this union being based on the consent which the Greeks had given to the claims of the Roman church. In the last session the dogmatic constitution concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit was approved, this question having been a cause of disagreement between the two churches. The union however appears to have been imposed, on the Greek side by the emperor Michael VIII. He wanted the support of the pope in order to deter Charles of Anjou from an attack on the Byzantine Empire, while the majority of the Greek clergy opposed the union. The union was therefore fleeting, either because in the East the clergy steadily resisted it, or because the popes after Gregory X changed their plan of action.” https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/LYONS2.HTM
14 Davies, Michael. “Pope John’s Council,” p. 406 (Angelus Press: 2007).