Preface: taking a two month break from writing more polemical posts, so here is an article written by another traditional Catholic, this time a priest. I was reminded of this article yesterday reading this recent, similar, refreshingly sympathetic post by Fr. Z: LINK.
This review, published in the Latin Mass Magazine, was written by a diocesan priest who now offers the Traditional Latin Mass, here in the Heartland. Let's call him "Fr. X."
Latin Mass Magazine | Fall 2004 | Father X (name edited to protect the Anonymity of said priest; illustrative photos added)
Marcel Lefebvre -- by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais.
Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais is one of the four episcopal "sons" of Archbishop Lefebvre, uniquely qualified to offer a definitive account of Lefebvre’s life and career, much of which he personally witnessed. His personal experience of the archbishop, and his having been formed in the priesthood – and the episcopate – by Lefebvre himself, certainly provide a much-needed "inside view" of the prelate’s motivations and character, something often lacking in the thirty-second soundbite polemics of our day.
Nevertheless, the work undertaken here by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais is not a personal memoir. Instead, this is a work comprising years of painstaking research, a comprehensive review of documentation and literature, and a gathering of interviews and anecdotes from virtually all relevant sources regarding the life of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. While some aspects of the development of Lefebvre’s character, like that of all men, must remain a mystery known only to God, yet perhaps it is now possible to better understand, from the trajectory of the life, and that of the Second Vatican Council, the decisions that he faced near the end.
Tissier de Mallerais traces for us the origins of Lefebvre’s family and describes in detail the environment and the times in which he was born and came of age. This son of a locally prominent French industrialist and resistor during both World Wars, Rene Lefebvre, and of his mother, the gentle mystic, Gabrielle, was given an exceptional formation in the Catholic religion in his earliest years. He was one of eight children, five of whom received religious vocations. As a responsible factory owner, Rene faithfully worked for the implementation of Catholic social principles in chaotic postwar France, while Marie led the children to a deep love for Church and faith, and for the prayerful union with God which both engendered in her.
Taught by his family to follow the light of Catholic faith and principles and to apply them in tumultuous times, Marcel was blessed next with good and faithful priest-mentors, and with a complete Thomistic seminary formation – a rare gem, even then. At last he discerned a missionary vocation that led him to the Holy Ghost Fathers. The author shows us how this industrious missionary demonstrated striking gifts of planning, organization and leadership along with orthodox doctrine which led him to a singular missionary career in Africa, becoming the first Archbishop of Dakar and the Apostolic Delegate for French Black Africa and Madagascar. The fruits of the young prelate’s work in Africa are quite stunning; and through it all his character develops into that of a prudent, gentle father figure, careful, superior, and discerning defender of orthodoxy – and especially, that of a disciplined man of principle who has renounced his own ideas in order to always "think with the mind of the Church."
Archbishop Lefebvre’s involvement in the Second Vatican Council is described in detail and makes a fascinating story. His alarm grew as he saw that same "mind of the Church" seem to question its own principles, and he was far from silent or passive through the proceedings, building coalitions and making interventions. But he was too late, outnumbered, and out-foxed. The deck was stacked against him. Tissier de Mallerais also addresses the questions about Lefebvre’s own signatures on the Council documents.
The picture painted of Lefebvre is not that of an implacable reactionary who could not bear the onslaught of progress and change. Such a man could not have made such incredible inroads in missionary Africa in prior decades. Lefebvre was quite willing to make adaptations and adjustments whenever necessary or prudent. In many ways he was quite flexible and even innovative regarding the application of the apostolate, but always without compromising the integrity of the Faith and the sacred tradition of the Church. After all, was not the unbroken transmission of that Faith to souls, for their salvation, the very purpose of the apostolate and the mission of the Church?
Obedient and not unwilling to adapt, nevertheless Lefebvre became a witness to the "autodemolition of the Church" (as Paul VI put it) during the postconciliar years – the demolition, especially, of the integrity of the priesthood and the liturgy. Novel doctrine regarding religious liberty and the social reign of Christ the King were also foremost concerns.
Although he was supposed to retire, he was deeply concerned, and, responding to the pleas of others, he took action to foster the formation of holy priests and the preservation of tradition – the missionary bishop to the end! The struggles of the early years of the formation of the Society of St. Pius X, and mounting opposition and intrigue from the French episcopate, are recounted in great detail. With this biography, the light of day now shines on the obstructionist tactics of his enemies, part of a long chain of events that would climax with Lefebvre’s decision to consecrate four bishops without papal mandate, in order to insure the survival of the Society after his death. Dramatic behind-the-scenes encounters with popes and cardinals fill the pages; but in the end, we are presented the picture of a man at peace. "Tradidi quod et accepi," he said, quoting St. Paul. It was to be his epitaph: "I have handed on what I received."
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais’ biography of Archbishop Lefebvre is replete with quotations, documentation, primary source references and firsthand interviews. Numerous maps and charts help the reader to orient himself as he follows the remarkable story of this lifelong defender of Catholic truth. Now that nearly forty years have passed since the close of Vatican II, perhaps some of the smoke begins to clear. In recounting the life and work of Archbishop Lefebvre, this volume becomes a contemporaneous history of an entire era of the Church, deepening our understanding of the movements, events and major figures leading up to and following the Council. As the conciliar era fades, the time to gain perspective has arrived, especially among a new generation who did not live through the battle but must now reap its consequences. Understanding the life and times of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre means understanding events within the Church that have brought us to where we stand.
Bravo Father. That took some courage, not to mention your ongoing commitment to the truly extraordinary form of the Roman rite, wherever God sends you. A very fair and balanced review, I thought.
Here is a LINK to Angelus Press, where people can buy this book, a must read for every traditional Catholic across the spectrum. After I read it myself, it was difficult to not conclude with many Catholics that Archbishop Lefebvre was an extraordinarily heroic bishop.
Also, here is the Documentary about the saintly bishop's life.