Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review of Dr. David Allen White’s The Horn of the Unicorn

By: Dr. Peter E. Chojnowski
August 24, 2006

“One word of Truth shall outweigh the whole world.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
This statement by Solzhenitsyn cannot but be considered sublime. Its profundity, however, must not distract us from asking the ultimate philosophical question, “Why?” Why is it the case that the “whole world” is normally being weighed in the balance against Truth? Why are truth and the world opposed? Why do we now expect that a man required by his circumstances and conscience to speak the truth will have the whole of the world against him? It must be that truth is the affirmation and direct identification of an aspect of the created and divinely ordained order. The fallen “world,” however, operates according to a system, which may be more or less in accordance with the divinely ordained order or it may be opposed to that order. The extent to which truth is incomprehensible within the context of that system, the greater the distance between the divine order and the human “order.” In such a situation, the truth, spoken clearly and without consideration of its ramifications for the system, points out the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be. Truth can make it clear to those who have assimilated the false ideas of a system that not only have they been lied to, but that they are living a lie. The only way of understanding Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the man whose life is portrayed so effectively in Dr. David Allen White’s biography of him, The Horn of the Unicorn, is to see him as a man who understood the full ramifications of the moral claim that truth makes upon us. In fact, Dr. White’s biography of the Archbishop can easily be divided in half, in the first half the Archbishop is working within the truth, with papal sanction, to communicate Catholic truth and its fruits to souls – in the time honored manner of the Apostles and their successors. In the second half of the text, presenting an account of the year 1962 to the Archbishop’s death in 1991, we find Marcel Lefebvre having to defend the truth against those whose predecessors had sanctioned his own efforts for some three decades.
A) Lefebvre’s Milieu (1905-1929)
Whereas in the second half of the text, the sections dealing with Vatican II and, especially, the events leading up to the 1988 episcopal consecrations, it is clear that righteous indignation is the psychological and moral spirit pervading the account, in the early sections of this text we find manifested a very delicate spirit of admiration. Whether it is in his rendition of the accomplishments of the Lefebvre and Watine (the Archbishop’s mother’s maiden name) families in the sometimes French cities of Lille and Tourcoing, or his riveting accounts of the virtues, struggles, and deaths of the Archbishop’s mother and father, Gabrielle and René Lefebvre, we find Dr. White admiring, with a certain awe, the possibilities that develop within a family, society, and educational system completely imbued with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In this regard, Dr. White writes, “Everything in the young boy’s life was Catholic and church-oriented: his family, the daily Mass, his school....young Marcel Lefebvre grew up enveloped in a Catholic world and had his life organized in a loving and well-ordered Catholic “factory” designed to turn out seamless and beautiful Catholic souls.” Here the literary scholar quotes Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, as explaining that one good memory from childhood can help a man endure the trials and sorrows of a lifetime. Surely Marcel Lefebvre had an abundance of these.
Dr. White is a layman. Most of those reading his biography of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre will be laymen and women. Therefore, it is admirable that he should dedicate good sections of his book to an account of the life of the layman and laywoman who made the Archbishop the great churchman that he was. René Lefebvre and Gabrielle Watine were both from very devote Catholic families who, each in their turn, considered a religious vocation prior to their marriage. The marriage, happily arranged by a parish priest, was to endure through years of great joy and heroic suffering. No one can be unmoved by Dr. White’s account of the imprisonment and familial separation endured by Gabrielle Lefebvre, a Stigmatist, during the German occupation of Lille through the years of World War I, nor will anyone forget the account of her death, a death so moving and inspiring that her youngest son Michel said, “If I ever doubt, I only have to think of the radiant face of my mother on her deathbed, listening to the Magnificat being sung, I knew by her eyes she was gazing in rapture on our Blessed Mother.” Nor can we, without emotion, read the last written testament of René Lefebvre, imprisoned for his clandestine activities during World War II that were motivated by his Catholic and Monarchist convictions, “The Holy Virgin has been so kind to me....She will lovingly bless my family, who must remain consecrated to her, totally devoted to her, and seek through her the extension of the reign of her Divine Son.”Surely those who identify themselves with the Archbishop’s cause, can understand their own struggles and achievements to be fruit of the hope and confidence of this great Catholic father.
B) Catholic Priest and Missionary Bishop (1932-1959)
“You will be a must be a priest.” These were the words that the young Marcel Lefebvre heard when he went to the Trappist Abbey of Poperinge in order to speak to a holy Trappist Father, Fr. Alphonsus. The immediacy of this exclamation made it clear to the young man where his destiny lie. The only question which remained was in which manner was he to serve the Church as a priest. The traits of Marcel Lefebvre which come through clearly in Dr. White’s account of this period in the Archbishop’s life are his genuine commitment to the Church and its mission, his sense of his own unworthiness for the priestly vocation, and, also, his reliance on the voice of authority.
This reliance on authority can be seen in his decision to heed the voice of his parents and his bishop Liénart (a man who would play a very significant role in Archbishop Lefebvre’s life, moving from apparently sympathetic benefactor to an outright opponent) that he should not join the missionary Holy Ghost Fathers, as did his older brother René, but rather become a diocesan priest for his home diocese at Lille. It was this choice of the life of a parish priest and the political and economic situation created in the aftermath of World War I, which put Marcel Lefebvre in the path of the great Fr. Henri Le Floch, the priest whose teachings would prove to be determinative in the life of the Archbishop.
To understand what Archbishop Lefebvre received from Fr. Le Floch, one only has to read the published statements of the Archbishop as recounted by Dr. White. According to the Archbishop, “Fr. Le Floch and the professors [at the French Seminary in Rome] taught us how we should view currant events, exposed errors to us – liberalism, modernism, and so many others of which we were not aware – and taught us how we must search for the truth in the papal encyclicals particularly those of St. Pius X, Leo XIII, and all the popes that had preceded them.” This desire to “view events in the spirit of the sovereign pontiffs,” never left Archbishop Lefebvre – especially when it came to confronting and analyzing the Modernist and Liberal notions that rose to the surface of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. In this regard, when speaking about the dismissal of Fr. Le Floch from his professorship at the French Seminary, ultimately with the approval of Pope Pius XI, Dr. White makes a very telling statement when writing about the positive reports produced concerning the work of Fr. Le Floch and, yet, recounting the fact of his dismissal; he writes that, “higher forces were in play.” Here Dr. White broaches a topic that needs to be seriously considered, namely, how much of this infiltration of the higher reaches of the ecclesiastical organization of the Catholic Church by Modernism and Liberal/Leftism was Archbishop Lefebvre aware of during his long years as a missionary priest and bishop in French West Africa? What we do know, as Dr. White mentions, is that, during his time as bishop for Dakar, Senegal and his years as Apostolic Delegate for French West Africa under Pope Pius XII, the Archbishop spoke of the great support he received from the Roman Curia, and especially from the Pope himself, in the course of all of his many building and evangelization projects. Speaking about his annual trips back to Rome to report on the progress of his missionary work, the Archbishop writes, “So I left and went to see the Holy Father [Pope Pius XII]. He received me like a true father and I immediately felt that there was great union of thought, that we were well united in the desire to extend Our Lord’s kingdom and to live truly the Christian and priestly life....I was really touched by this visit with Pope Pius XII. We spoke together and he said that he was relying on me to develop the evangelization of the whole African territory.”As far as can be discerned, this complete papal and ecclesial support continued until the election in 1958 of Angelo Roncalli as Pope John XXIII. This election would be the turning point in the life of Archbishop Lefebvre. From that point on, The Horn of the Unicorn portrays a man who suddenly finds himself under attack for propagating doctrine, which had suddenly become unacceptable and, most importantly, “inopportune.” The false Liberal System was attempting to fully swallow the Catholic Church. It would take Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre many years to realize that it was his destiny to be the bone in the gullet of the all-consuming Liberal Beast.
C) The Archbishop and the Pastoral Take-Over of the Catholic Church (1958-1968)
“Many who knew the man throughout his life speak of his great charity and kindness, his natural politeness, his radiant serenity. Calm of soul and grace of heart radiated from him and touched all who came to know him. Those who came up against him saw another distinguishing characteristic – his backbone of steel and will of iron. When questions of faith or the good of his flock were at stake, he could prove firm, intractable, and unyielding.” These sympathetic and penetrating words of Dr. White express the spirit of the man who, in the revolutionary 1960s, would confront a situation which he could not have expected. To be fighting for Catholic truth, alone. It was in these circumstances that we see some of the “intractableness” spoken of by Dr. White.
In one of his most moving paragraphs in The Horn of the Unicorn, Dr. White speaks of the anomaly which was Marcel Lefebvre in this flattened, consumerist, egalitarian age of ours. When writing about the man who threatened to shatter the Liberal/Modernist paradigm, Dr. White states, “We do not live in an age of great men. The democratic principle is a leveling principle. As mankind flocks together, the “sheeple” collectively become fearful and mindful of comfort, no one head lifting above the white wooly plateau, no one voice bleating too loudly. Life becomes the greatest good and suffering must be avoided at all costs. These are not attitudes that give rise to greatness.” With this said, Dr. White makes a comparison between the Archbishop and another great prophet of the age, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Here he says, “And yet this era of passive and pusillanimous creatures has produced two very great men, two heroic visionaries who have stood high above the flock, raising themselves from obscurity to world-wide recognition by virtue of their courage and their truth-telling: Marcel Lefebvre and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” We find the usual good-natured humor and humane gentleness of David Allen White being momentarily suspended when he expresses something ultimate about our own day and tells us, finally, why he chose to write a book about the great churchman. When speaking about what made the Archbishop and the anti-Communist dissident both antidotes and exemplars, he says, “True manhood consists precisely in advancing the truth and protecting and preserving the moral order – the words “virile” and “virtue” grow out of the same root. Here were real men.” When a great teacher speaks with such clarity, ultimacy, and precision, we would be well-advised to listen because something important is being said. As cited by Dr. White in his account of the activity of the Archbishop prior to the Council, Michael Davies, in his work Pope John’s Council, describes the early days of Vatican II: “Many of the Council Fathers, perhaps most, arrived in Rome for the First Session of Vatican II without any clear idea as to why they were there and without any definite plan as to what they attended to achieve.” Since the Council had not been called to counter a dominant heresy (e.g., the Council of Trent) or to deal with a great social and political crisis relating to the papacy and the Catholic Church (e.g., the First Vatican Council), this lack of orientation was, perhaps, inevitable. Archbishop Lefebvre thought the two years spent formulating the schemata that were to be presented for the consideration of the Council would ensure that there would be a Catholic statement of doctrine and principle made to the increasingly anti-Christian contemporary world system. When speaking about the work of the Preparatory Commission, all of whose sessions he attended, the Archbishop stated, “This work was done most conscientiously for presentation to the Council; these schemas conform to the doctrine of the Church, though adapted to the mentality of our generation, adapted after careful thought and with much prudence [emphasis mine].” Rather than the caricatured portrayal of the traditionalist and orthodox position, we find here a serious attempt to present Catholic truth, in its fulness, in language understandable to modern man and, yet, fully in accord with Thomistic philosophy and perennial Magisterial Teaching. I might also add that this was precisely the attempt of most of the neo-Thomistic school of philosophy since the 1930s.
Here the actions and intentions of Pope John XXIII become problematic. Did the Pope simply find himself being manipulated in 1962 as the Council entered its initial stages or was the Liberal predominance planned since the initiation of the Council? Two interesting events from the life of the Archbishop in 1962 are mentioned in The Horn of the Unicorn. First, of course, was the discarding of all the schematic texts drawn up before the Council, this was facilitated by Pope John when he, contrary to the established rules of the Council, allowed the schemas to be rejected even though 2/3 of the Council Fathers had not voted against them. As the Archbishop states, “A fortnight after the opening of the Council, not a single one of these carefully prepared schemas remained; not one. All of them had been discarded, thrown into the waste-paper basket; there remained nothing, not a single sentence. All had been discarded.” Second, there was the presence at the Council of theologians who had been under censure for their neo-Modernist orientation under Pope Pius XII. When he questioned Cardinal Ottaviani, then head of the Holy Office, about the presence of these left-leaning theologians at the early planning sessions of the Council – men like Karl Rahner, E. Schillebeeckx, Hans Kung, Yves Congar, and Joseph Ratzinger, we was told that the presence of these men had been required by Pope John XXIII himself. In later years, identified the philosophical roots of the problem with the bishops and theologians of Vatican II. The crisis in the Church would be the consequence of a rejection or a “bracketing” of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. When speaking about the reasons for the crisis in the Church, the Archbishop related, “I sincerely believe that it is the Council which is at the back of all this since many of the bishops...were people who had studied an existentialist philosophy but had never studied Thomistic philosophy and so do not know what a definition is. For them, there is no such thing as essence; nothing is defined any longer; one expresses or describes something, but never defines it. Moreover, this lack of philosophy was patent throughout the whole Council.”
This policy of ensuring the leadership positions of the neo-Modernist theologians and Rhine region bishops and marginalizing the voices of orthodox bishop like Lefebvre, Castro-Mayer, Ottaviani, and Siguad, was to continue throughout the Council under both Pope John XXIII and, his successor, Pope Paul VI. The perfect expression of the new orientation given to the Catholic Church by the popes and the official “pastoral” documents approved by the Vatican Council, happened in October 1965 when Pope Paul VI traveled to New York to address the United Nations. Here we find a pope who sought to present to the world a New Catholic Church, one fully acceptable to Modern Men and the Liberal Age. In line with his intellectual mentor, Jacques Maritain, he seems to have forgotten or put safely aside the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. From now on, Catholics would be acceptable and non-threatening. To the global organization, set up to consolidate the post-World War II geo-political system, Paul VI said, “You organize the brotherly collaboration of peoples. In this way a system of solidarity is set up, and its lofty civilized aims win the orderly and unanimous support of all the family of peoples....This aspect of the organization of the United Nations is the most beautiful; it is its most truly human aspect; it is the ideal of which mankind dreams on its pilgrimage though time; it is the world’s greatest hope [emphasis mine].” Finally, making a statement that seems to be an implicit rejection of the indirect jurisdiction of Sovereign Pontiff over the political order of men, Pope Paul VI stated that, he had “nothing to ask for, no question to raise,” but only “a desire to express and a permission to request: namely, that of serving you insofar as we can, with disinterest, with humility and love.” Disinterest? Permission?
D) A Bishop’s Duty (1968-1991)
Having been elected Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1962, then the most numerous missionary order in the Catholic Church including some 5,600 priests, it is truly shocking to read of the 180° turn which this order made from 1962 to 1968. This was mirrored by the institutional Catholic Church as a whole. Having been hailed as Superior General in 1962, he found himself, in 1968, told by Msgr. Antonio Mauro, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, to “Leave them alone and make a short trip to America.” This, in response to the complaint of the Archbishop that his beloved religious order had “departed from a faithful observance of the spirit of the order.” Indeed, during the years 1968-1969 Archbishop Lefebvre found that things had changed and that he was, less than politely, being “shown the door.”Having been replaced as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Archbishop Lefebvre planned for retirement since he was approaching the age of 65. Such was not to be, however. In response to the appeal of a number of seminarians that they could no longer find a seminary that they could consider truly Catholic, the Archbishop, with the full support of Swiss episcopal authority, established, in 1969, the “St. Pius X Association for Priestly Training” and was to send seminarians to Fribourg University. The Archbishop, however, was forced to seek another solution when the seminarians encountered the same Modernism that they had experienced elsewhere. With the approval of Bishop Charrière and Cardinals Wright, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and Antoniutti, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, the Archbishop established the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X with its own seminary at Econe, Switzerland. One must have a strong stomach and relatively calm nerves to read the account which Dr. White gives of the retraction of Rome’s approval of the Society and the seminary at Econe. It is difficult to read about the double-dealing, the illegal and peremptory procedures, and the ecclesiastical indifference to the fate of Catholic Tradition. We must endure reading it; the Archbishop had to live it. For anyone with a sense of the true mission and sanctity of the Church, along with a knowledge of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s life long dedication to the Church, it is difficult to read the statement of Msgr. Benelli who said in 1976, 4 days before the Archbishop was to ordain men for the Priesthood in the ancient manner and for the ancient reasons, that by ordaining, the Archbishop was going to be acting “contrary to ecclesial communion, and damaging...the unity and peace of the Church.” Communion and unity in what? Peace for what? If this is bad, what is good? What did he mean when Msgr. Benelli told the Archbishop, “In the name of the Catholic Church, Catholics are required to subject themselves to the Conciliar Church”? How are we to understand the statement made by Pope John Paul II in Mexico in 1979, also cited in The Horn of the Unicorn, that those who, “remain attached to the incidental aspects of the Church, aspects which were valid in the past, but which have been superseded, cannot be considered the faithful” [emphasis mine].
That something had gone wrong in the Catholic Church, seriously wrong, was made clear to Archbishop Lefebvre in 1986 with the Prayer Meeting at Assisi. Here, without question, the Vicar of Christ had called together all the leaders of world religions to pray to their own gods. Marcel Lefebvre, the pious youth, the energetic priest, the missionary father of the African people, the fearless defender of doctrine at the Vatican Council, understood this to be a watershed in the history of the Catholic Church. It was his sign that he must consecrate traditional Catholic bishops in order to preserve the Catholic priesthood in its pristine integrity and orthodoxy. Such was his “bishop’s duty.”
Our literary Virgil, Dr. David Allen White, leads us to the end of this great realm, which is the life of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Like him we do not weep over the death of the great Unicorn, the one whose single horn purifies the waters so that all may drink, for we too wonder, “What now would be the state of us, But for this unicorn?”