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Was Saint Athanasius a Model for the Society of Saint Pius X? September 15, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, different religion, episcopate, General Catholic, history, reading, Restoration, Saints, Spiritual Warfare, SSPX, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, Virtue.

Several of the chief complaints against the Society of Saint Pius X is that they have been involved in the illicit (not papal-approved) consecration of bishops, that they “invade” other dioceses without permission of the ordinary, and refute beliefs held by the great majority of bishops and priests in the Church today, even to the point of being excommunicated for certain acts.  These are frequently trotted out to “prove” the SSPX’s persistence in disobedience/error/schism/etc.

However, Michael Davies – certainly one who was very friendly towards the SSPX, and a frequent apologist for them – claims, citing Blessed John Henry Newman as his principle source, that there is a very strong precedent for exactly the types of behaviors that have earned the SSPX so much ire, from the Church’s Tradition, and that they involve the only crisis/mass heresy that comes close to emulating that in which we are currently embroiled, the Arian heresy.  During this period, Saint Athanasius, among others, based on history reported by Blessed John Henry Newman (citing more ancient sources), routinely consecrated bishops and ordained priests while he was enduring his enforced exile, even doing so outside the normal realm of papal approval and against the wishes of the local bishops.  He did this to preserve orthodox Catholicism when almost the entire Church went over to this most noxious heresy.  He was not alone, either.  Several other bishops, all Saints, also did so, as attested by Saint Basil and others, who apologized for these acts, and for the “illicit” country Masses offered by orthodox priests, because the faithful could not be expected to worship with heretics, and the heresy was so widespread that even the Roman Pontiff briefly fell into it, though under severe duress.

The similarities to the situation in the Church today are certainly marked, are they not?

Davies summarizes his argument below, from pp. 42-3 of his book Saint Athanasius: Defender of the Faith:

What the history of this period proves is that, during a time of general apostasy, Christians who remain true to their traditional faith may have to worship outside the official churches, the churches of priests in communion with their diocesan bishop, in order not to compromise that traditional faith; and that such Christians may have to look for truly Catholic teaching, leadership, and inspiration not to the bishops of their country as a body, not tot he bishops of the world, not even to the Roman Pontiff, but to one heroic confessor whom the other bishops and even the Roman Pontiff may have repudiated and even excommunicated.  And who would they recognize that the solitary confessor was right, and the Roman Pontiff and the body of the episcopate (not teaching infallibly) were wrong?

The answer is that they would recognize in the teaching of this confessor what the faithful of the fourth century recognized in the teaching of Athanasius, the one true faith into which they had been baptized, in which they had been catechized, and which their confirmation gave them the obligation of upholding.  In no sense whatsoever can such fidelity to Tradition be compared with the protestant practice of private judgment.  The fourth century traditionalists upheld Athanasius in his defense of the faith that had been handed down; the protestant uses his private judgment to justify a breach with the traditional faith.

In The Development of Christian Doctrine, Newman refutes the opinion that interference by one bishop in the diocese of another necessarily constitutes schism.  Faithful Catholics have a duty to divide themselves from schismatic or heretical bishops, and where division is a duty it is not a sin.  An orthodox bishop does not sin by interfering in a diocese where the bishop is guilty of separation from the faith by heresy or even de facto schism.  “If interference is a sin,” wrote the Cardinal, “division which is the cause of it is a greater; but where division is a duty, there can be no sin interference.”

[The key evidence……] St. Athanasius did not cause division when he entered the dioceses of Arian bishops.  He was interfering in order to uphold tradition and sustain the faith of true Catholics as a legitimate response to the division caused by the schism of these bishops.  The first loyalty of every bishop must be to the Church as a whole.  During a period of schism and heresy, their duty to defend the integrity of tradition extends beyond any single diocese.  Cardinal Newman illustrates this by pointing out that Saint Athanasius, St. Epiphanius of Salamis, and St. Eusebius of Samosata, all fierce opponents of Arianism, had ordained outside their dioceses, and in the case of St. Eusebius it is certain that he consecrated bishops.  “St. Athanasius,” wrote Card. Newman, “driven from his Church, makes all Christendom his home, from Trier to Ethiopia.”  This was an indubitably legitimate response to a state of emergency or necessity within the Church.

————End Quote———–

OK, at the end there, using some obviously “Lefebrvrist” language.  But the book does demonstrate both that “illicit” Masses were held to escape Arian bishops and their errors, and that priests were ordained and bishops consecrated outside the normal line of authority in the Church.

On both sides of this issue of whether the SSPX acts/has acted rightly or wrongly, there are numerous supports.  Whether the stack of evidence on one side or the other is slightly taller or shorter I really don’t know.  From my experience, one’s tendency to accept evidence for or against the SSPX tends to align almost precisely with whatever pre-existing notions one has held on the subject.  I have long occupied the muddled middle, neither fully embracing the SSPX nor holding any hostility towards it, while being thankful that it exists so that I, among many, can enjoy the benefits its existence has brought (like the return of the TLM in numerous dioceses, the existence of the FSSP and other groups, etc).  I have to say, though, that this latest book has swayed me somewhat in a pro-SSPX direction.

I can also say that my own independent research has shown that there certainly was a reaction against Arian dominance in the 4th century and that several Saints report that a certain number of souls did stop going to their local parish and started worshiping out in the country, often in abysmal weather, under the tutelage of faithful priests in unofficial or impromptu Masses.  That much at least did occur, and was at least somewhat widespread.  I tend to believe that priests were ordained in an “unofficial” or “independent” manner, and probably a few bishops, too.

It is interesting to note that every time he had an opportunity (that is, the heretical emperors allowed him to do so), he would return to his diocese and to a “regular” position in the Church, while fervently maintaining his orthodox beliefs.  When the persecution would start up again and he would be exiled, he would go back to doing what he was doing, keeping the Faith and spreading it to as many as possible.

Perhaps, in this last bit, there is some encouragement for those who fear the impact of a reconciliation between the SSPX and the Roman authorities.




1. SoccerMom - September 15, 2016

How can the SSPX legitimately be “reconciled” to the “Roman Authorities”? What does that really mean?

The SSPX will not turn over their properties (that would be organizational suicide). They will not recognize the Novus Ordo Mass as legitimate. How can this situation continue in any sort of real “reconciliation”? It seems like a word without a real meaning.

Unless, of course, “reconciliation” means that the “Roman Authorities” would be granted some sort of decision making power over the SSPX, but I’m not sure why the SSPX would ever grant them that given their track record (Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, etc.).

How can two organizations, working towards almost completely opposite ends, really come together and be “reconciled”?

Tantumblogo - September 15, 2016

What do you think of Barnhardt’s idea that Francis is an antipope? Could he become one if he extends Communion very openly to protestants? Would that by definition not make him an antipope? How can you negotiate with an antipope?

skeinster - September 15, 2016

There was a good article about this- and I will try to find it- about how “antipope” has a very specific definition and we should use it properly.

Barnhardt tries to make it apply by insisting that Benedict did not actually resign, but most people don’t think that’s correct.

While I sympathize with those who are trying to make it so that this can’t really be happening, b/c this or that reason, I don’t think that’s the case.

skeinster - September 15, 2016
Tantumblogo - September 15, 2016

The article I linked (I hope) in the post by Steve Skojec is the best I’ve read on the subject. Basically the same conclusion, it’s not really the laity’s role to discern an antipope, that comes from the hierarchy. Which just fills me with enormous hope, I can tell you…….

Richard Malcolm - September 15, 2016

“Could he become one if he extends Communion very openly to protestants?”

If he makes it formal, that would be a breaking point.

SoccerMom - September 16, 2016

Canon 188.4 of the new code already gives permission to priests to administer Penance, Holy Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick to non-Catholic “Christians”, not in full communion with the Church, in danger of death. Are you waiting for something more formal?

Tantumblogo - September 16, 2016

Is this the code that just came out yesterday?

SoccerMom - September 16, 2016

I’m sorry, the 1983 code. Did something just come out yesterday?

Camper - September 17, 2016

Apparently, new modifications to the Code came out in the last few days. Don’t know if it counts as a new code or not.

SoccerMom - September 16, 2016

I personally do not think that Benedict legitimately held office in the first place, so I have not read a lot of arguments (including Ann Bernhardt’s) about whether he still retains office and do not have an opinion about it 🙂

2. skeinster - September 15, 2016

Nice try, but reaching.

The SSPX setting up in another’s ordinary without invitation because some of the people in the diocese want them there is not the same thing as the example Davies cites.

Less than stellar liturgy and wimpy catechesis and not enough hating on Vat II is bad, but doesn’t necessarily equal the Arian heresy.

How, other than being validly ordained Catholic priests, are they any different from some guy with a Bible and a storefront setting up shop wherever he chooses?
We don’t do that, because we’re Catholics, not the word which we’re not supposed to use.

Nor are we Congregationalists, which I always think of when the discussion starts about who’s the boss, and to what point, of any order. I’m pretty sure that’s the Pope, like it or not.

(And yes, this is the infuriating thing that causes so much suffering among the faithful- the lack of genuine concrete redress available to the flock. Maddening, but what if the cure is worse than the problem?)

Believe it or not, In spite of the above, my assessment of the SSPX has mellowed a lot and I wish them well and am happy to co-operate with them when feasible.
But still not on board with the special pleading.

Tantumblogo - September 15, 2016

So then it comes down to one’s appraisal of the depth of the crisis and how much error is being taught? We have no visibility into how much the Arian heresy sank into the daily life of the Church back then. It is quite probable that the doctrinal shift was invisible to the vast majority, that they had no idea whether their local bishop or priest was an Arian or not. Some people did, and some of those (most? who knows!) chose to exclude themselves from that heretical cohort. I really don’t know if it is known to what degree people were aware of the Arian heresy and how much it influenced their faith and/or reaction. It is not impossible, it may even be somewhat probable, that people who encountered no preached error chose to separate themselves from those they knew had signed onto a formulation that was erroneous.

If there is some source that can shed more light onto this, I’d love to see it, but from what Saints Basil and Athanasius describe, people refused communion with Arians even if they did not formally preach heresy to them. They simply viewed them as outside the Church and unworthy of Communion. But I’d love to find something that gives more detail
ed confirmation of this, but I’m not sure it exists.

What I am getting at, is that my reading of what is available from that time indicates a more expansive reaction against the heresy than “I must hear heresy preached to remove myself.”

With regard to today, how many of us can claim we have not heard outright heresy preached in their local NO parish? I certainly have, on numerous occasions, which I don’t need to repeat now. But I will say that I have been in few Novus Ordo parishes where some error or other was not eventually taught if I went enough. I heard error at St. Joseph and St. Mark and SEAS and All Saints and down in San Antonio and…… I am fortunate to have a canonically regular option that allows me to escape from that. Some do not.

But at core, skeinster, the very same argument you are making against the SSPX today can be and WAS made against Athanasius then. Which gets back to my conclusion, which is that both sides in this interminable argument can quote enormous supporting data on their particular side. Where I am have been at, and remain, is that I am not going to condemn as protestant or anything else those who in all this mass confusion going back decades and now with Francis doing shocking things on a near daily basis for arriving at a different answer than me.

Perhaps a broader response is that many have experienced a crisis far deeper than bad liturgy, wimpy catechesis, and support for Vatican II. I have personally experienced heresy being taught (contraception OK! Women can be and will be priests! It’s only fornication if you are unsettled with it in your heart!) in enough Novus Ordo parishes that, a few exceptions aside, I am loathe to expose myself or my children to that ever again on the basis of past experience. Which I was reminded of just two weeks ago when out of town.

And if someone takes a bit broader view of what constitutes error, because of the implications of things like altar girls or mass use of EMsHC, etc., is that really a fault?

Camper - September 16, 2016

There was an old saying about the Arian Crisis, “The whole world groaned and awoke to find itself Arian.” Orthodoxy then was in dramatic danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.

Margaret Costello - September 16, 2016

How is it “reaching” when we have been inundated by what Pope St. Pius X calls the “synthesis of all heresies” i.e. Modernism that was the direct result of Vatican II? A new Man-centered, protestantized mass that was thrown together at a conference table by Modernists, new emo-homo-hippy music, a new lectionary that cuts out all that uncomfortable ‘negative’ theology i.e. death, judgement, heaven and hell, a new rosary, new godless/spaceship architecture, new rites, new altar girls, new altars, new calendar, new breviary, new vestments…ALL Modernists. Modernists invading our seminaries, destroying our convents, colleges, schools, missionaries, dioceses, churches.

A completely NuChurch was born from the demonic Modernist ashes of Vatican II and you don’t think that constitutes a state of emergency? A Church that has wrought unmitigated disaster for the past 50 years with four continents losing the faith? Sodomites, perverts, communists, Freemasons, Liberals and general enemies of the faith running the show? Sex Ed from the Vatican? Assisi? Twice? Woodstock World Youth Day? Communion in the hand/sacrilege for decades? I could go on and on and on and on…

Me thinks you have drank the Kool Aid and cannot see the smoke, rubble and ashes and the obvious cause of said destruction: Vatican II. The SSPX saw the monstrosity and diabolical entity that emerged from Vatican II, saw it’s destructive power like watching a tank approach a straw hut. Don’t knock them for seeing the obvious destruction that took place and continues to take place as a result of the Modernist demolition machine unleashed fifty years ago. The Arian heresy was peanuts compared to the insanity we face now. God BLESS the SSPX for being the ONLY public opposition to this Godzilla. They will be the saintly heroes of our time. Let’s have their courage to speak the truth, fight for the traditional faith, even if it means we are called “schismatics” for following the Truth handed down to us by our Fathers in the Faith.

I follow Truth, objective truth, for in the end, Truth is Jesus Christ and His One, Holy Apostolic Church founded in TRADITION. Again, God bless the SSPX. And for the record, I’ve never been to an SSPX Chapel but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that they are on the right side here.

God bless~

Camper - September 16, 2016

There are the sedes. I’m not exactly a sede but they have been out there too. Whether ro not they are right is something else.

The SSPX teaches that VII’s Declaration on Religious Liberty is heretical, as is it’s teaching on ecumenism. Both were condemned by the Syllabus of Errors in 1864 and by the Holy Office (now the CDF) just a few years before VII. VII really was a case of hippy heretics taking over and obliterating the Church. So yes, this is an issue of heresy like the Arian Crisis. These bishops have had chance after chance to learn from the SSPX what orthodoxy and tradition are and have rejected it repeatedly because of hypermontanism.

Theresa Corbin - September 16, 2016

Camper, I agree with what you had to say about the holy SSPX priests. They are chiefly concerned with the salvation of souls and that the souls under their care receive as much sanctifying grace as those souls are willing to pursue and accept in their journey towards the last four things; which, by the way, I have not heard preached in any V2 church in many decades. Sin is another topic I rarely hear preached here on the east coast in the V2 churches, but very sorely needed especially today.

Camper - September 17, 2016

Dear Theresa, you live on the East Coast. Unless you have some special mission there, I strongly urge you to move to a red state, or better yet, abroad if you have enough money to retire. Try this website: internationalman.com. Economic collapse is coming, and people on the east coast will be toast (sorry for the rhyme.) Get your money out of the country ASAP and into gold in Singapore.

As for the SSPX, their problem is that they’re distributist, which is a form of economic modernism. The SSPX really deserves a look, though.

Theresa Corbin - September 16, 2016

Margaret Costello, Thank you for your excellent summary of the state of the V2 church. You have put into words everything that we encountered directly or felt was lurking in the background over the past forty years. The heresies also include, come to find out – maybe because of widespread acceptance in the academy of the false theory of evolution – the total abandonment of belief in the supernatural. Many “Catholics” do not believe in Transubstantiation. Many do not believe in miracles. (For a thorough refutation of evolution my favorite still remains the work of Fr. Barry O’Toole c. 1925, but today’s literature is teeming with excellent arguments in light of what we now know about DNA, etc.).

Margaret Costello - September 16, 2016

You’re welcome Theresa:+) I was very much a frog in the boiling water for many years myself but thanks to God’s grace, wonderful Trad blogs and books, I’ve seen gunk and insanity and thank Our Lord for the SSPX:+)

God bless~

Margaret Costello - September 16, 2016

Whoops! That’s “I’ve seen THE gunk and insanity and thank Our Lord for the SSPX.” God bless~

3. Theresa Corbin - September 16, 2016

Living on the east coast means living in an extremely liberal society. The liberalism has been absorbed through osmosis in almost all the parishes here, and the leadership (priests and bishops) are quite comfortable with that. Yes, we had heard a lot of heresy, and moving from parish to parish did not help. So we had to find a TLM and are grateful for SSPX for providing it for us in Connecticut. I spent many months trying to decide if I was in schism, but my final decision was based on an appeal to authority. The SSPX priests are holy and far better formed than I could ever hope to be. In my mind it was their word against those in the V2 church who stand against them, men who are fairly well educated, but not as well formed in the true faith. “What Catholics Believe” was a program broadcast during the early days of the V2 revolution in this country, and you can still watch it on You Tube. A lot of those programs go into detail about what was lost in the revolution and why the TLM is so necessary to stave off the works of Satan. Another great source for me, though he does not approve of SSPX is James Larson’s web page, “The War Against Being.” Tantum, I believe I first heard of him reading one of your posts about three years ago. Larson does a fantastic job of explicating the underlying causes of the mess we are in today. While I cannot speak for him, I suspect that if he had to attend V2 services in the extremely liberal parishes of the east coast, he would probably look more favorably upon the SSPX.

skeinster - September 16, 2016

First, I must apologize for breaking my blog rule which is not to comment on SSPX threads.

But since I already did…

Mr. Larson’s is the best explanation of why I myself am not SSPX, but his reasoning is not based on the experiential, so I doubt that would change his mind.

I understand why, if the SSPX is a current or potential bolt hole, you need the SSPX apologetic to work.
Some of us, however dreadful things may look in the Church, can’t do that. Tried to work through the parsing of canon law, the “state of necessity” argument, the appeals to history- more than once over the years. Just can’t see it.

Which is wny I need to stay out of SSPX topic comboxes.

Tantumblogo - September 16, 2016

You don’t need to apologize from my standpoint. I know you speak from the best of intentions. I didn’t set out with the aim of finding supports for the SSPX. I found that book in the MD bookstore and had never read it, so I gave it a go. I found the argument interesting. I may not have included the most vital bits, which were the direct testimony of the Saints as to the actions taken by Athanasius and others during that period. I thought the summary provided by Davies might provide better context and framing.

I think this is a matter that can be discussed, though we should all be careful not to let ourselves get overheated (not saying you did this, it’s a general comment). Unfortunately, the passions involved make that a major challenge at times, so your general refusal to comment may be the most prudent approach.

SoccerMom - September 16, 2016

I am not asking this to disagree with Mr. Davies – I have a lot of respect for the SSPX and gratefully receive sacraments from them, but just out of curiosity:

Did Mr. Davies write that St. Athanasius consecrated bishops against papal wishes, or only against the wishes of the local ordinary?

It could be one relevant difference between their situation and ours and why it is difficult for some to understand the “state of necessity” argument when Abp. Lefebvre had direct access to John Paul II in order to seek permission to consecrate his desired bishops.

Margaret Costello - September 16, 2016

I get that you can’t see it. And that’s ok, there is stuff I probably can’t see and haven’t been able to see in the past either:+) Agree that your intentions are good:+)

I do know one thing though…I tremble at the Mad Max spiritually colored world we would live in right now if the SSPX never existed. *shivers*

God bless~

Theresa Corbin - September 16, 2016

skeinster, I’ve read his “War Against the Papacy” and his “Why I Am Not SSPX,” among other of his excellent articles, and I agree with you that his arguments are not “based on the experiential.” On the one hand, I have not myself “mastered” James Larson; on the other hand, the so-called excommunication of the SSPX was lifted and they are not outside of the Roman church, though certainly regarded as having an “irregular” status. So, I do not agree with him on that point. However, he did say that the current state of affairs is a sort of chastisement that God is permitting, and that attending a TLM is a “privilege” not a right. I have no problem with any of that. My problem is that my faith requires that I attend the holy sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday, not a protestant service. If you believe that Holy Communion is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, how can you receive it standing, in your hands? How can unconsecrated hands be permitted to touch Him? Is Mr. Larson more comfortable with the changes of V2 than I am? I have no way of knowing, but I do not think he has to make a choice between committing a sacrilege, assenting to heresy, or foregoing Sunday Mass altogether. If he did, perhaps the experiential would play more strongly in his work.

Sobieski - September 16, 2016

If the SSPX is out of the question and no Ecclesia Dei groups are available, what are we to do, then, if and when our diocesan bishop and TLM start handing out communion to public adulterers? It seems like a no win scenario as we might be cooperating with sacrilege and heresy. So maybe a family picks up and moves, but the time may come (or maybe it has past) where the choices are mutually exclusive, forcing a choice into one camp or another regardless of geography.

I’ve read some of Larson’s site in them past and recall not being so impressed, philosophically speaking, so I stopped. I am going to read his argument against the SSPX position, though, as I have time since it might be better. On a brief perusal, however, I wonder if he veers into ultramontanism because if I recall correctly even the fathers of Vatican I said with respect to infallibility that if the pope taught something wrong, we should ignore him. Though the supreme authority, the pope is still a steward and subject to Christ. He can’t depart from the teaching and Tradition handed down to us by Christ through the Apostles. Likewise, the use of his authority, I would think, would have to be the same. I would think there has be some objective reason for declaring someone to be in schism, for example, that God acknowledges (cf. St. Athanasius). It is not just a matter of willfulness. So I think any discussion of obedience or teaching has to take these things into consideration. Catholics are not voluntarists.

I respect the SSPX and understand the R&R position, but have never gone to one of their chapels. I, like Tantum, have been stuck in the muddy middle, and go to diocesan TLMs or Ecclessia Dei TLMs when available. We don’t have the latter in my diocese. The SSPX, of course, warn against these alternatives because they accept all of VII (at least in principle) to be recognized.

All in all it is a confusing time for (traditional) Catholics to live in, and confusion is a sign of the devil’s handiwork. We shouldn’t need a STD in theology to figure out what to do since as St. Thomas notes, the whole point of Divine Revelation was to give the common man the ability to more easily know the truth and further know truths above the capacity of human nature. Most people don’t have the time, capability and/or inclination to be philosophers and theologians. And even learned men in the Church disagree on what to do in our situation (much like saints did when there was more than one claimant to the papacy). Ultimately, the Church will have to sort this mess out once the crisis passes. Hopefully, God will cut us some slack in the meantime because these issues have concrete ramifications for our families and potentially our salvation.

SoccerMom - September 16, 2016

That was really well said, Sobieski.

For the record, I thought that Rome’s current position on assistance at SSPX Masses is that it is not a sin, but also not recommended to do frequently because of a danger of adopting a “schismatic” attitude (in which case one would need to weigh the relative “dangers”). Has something changed?


Sobieski - September 18, 2016

That’s my understanding too and that they now have faculties for confession, maybe indefinitely.

The SSPX argues they have supplied jurisdiction, of course, for all the sacraments.

4. Hilary Flanery - September 16, 2016


Five times banished
Exiled seventeen
Excommunicated champions
God puts at each scene.

Saint Athanasius,
Feast day of worth
On the second of May
The month of great mirth.

Out in the deserts –
As history has charted –
You preserved the true Mass
Great lion-hearted.

Now Lefebvre
And the sixties egalitarians
Like Athanasius,
His time his Arians.

For He who abolished
Death by death
Sent him to absolve
Sin width and breadth.

And yes the same moon
The same sun we’re all under…
We venal rain – but Lefebvre

Righteous thunder!!

Tantumblogo - September 16, 2016

Long Skirts nice to have you back! Glad I finally had a post worthy of one of your poems!

Hilary Flanery - September 16, 2016

I read your blog a lot and think it’s great! Sometimes I just don’t have anything to add but I learn a lot from you.

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