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The Four Marks and the Death of the SSPX

Based on notes from various conferences by Fr. Joseph Pfeiffer

The Visibility of the Church


“This talk about the ‘visible Church’ on the part of Dom Gerard and Mr. Madiran is childish. It is incredible that anyone can talk of the ‘visible Church,’ meaning the Conciliar Church as opposed to the Catholic Church which we are trying to represent and continue. I am not saying that we are the Catholic Church. I have never said so (...) But we truly represent the Catholic Church such as it was before, because we are continuing what it always did. It is we who have the marks of the visible Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. That is what makes the Church visible.”

                                    – Archbishop Lefebvre, interview with Fideliter magazine, July/August issue, 1989



In the days of Archbishop Lefebvre, one of the signs that the SSPX continued the Catholic Church, that the Catholic Faith was to be found being practised there (as opposed to the conciliar Church) was that the SSPX possessed the four marks. When we talk about four marks, we mean four signs. Light, heat and smoke are signs of a fire: if you see those things you know there’s a fire. The four marks by which we can recognise the Church are:



Four Marks Castle 2.jpg

These four marks are related to one another and they build one on the other. The first of them is that the Church is One. Another word for ‘one-ness’ is unity. What is the source of this unity? It is the Catholic Faith. The Faith is what makes us one. If you are not united in the Faith, there is no real way to achieve unity. There is only one Catholic Faith, one true doctrine. Any other doctrine, even only the tiniest difference, causes a loss of unity. Without that one Faith, there cannot be unity.


The Catholic Faith brings other things with it. The first of these is Holiness. It is the Faith which brings holiness. Holiness means a setting aside for God, setting apart for God. We say that a church is a holy building meaning that it is not just like any other, it has been set aside for God. Priests and religious are persons set aside for God, Sunday is a day set aside for God. The priest can bless certain articles and they then become ‘holy’, set aside for God. We cannot come to the Faith and simply continue to live like pagans. Our external actions, our thoughts, our words, everything must from then on belong to God. When we have the Faith we are made holy by it, but we cannot having that holiness without first uniting ourselves to the True Faith. When we have the true Doctrine and true holiness, the next thing that comes from that is Catholicity.


The word Catholic means ‘universal.’ Catholicity is thus a ‘universality’, an adaptability, a presence everywhere, possessing a quality which makes the One Faith and the Holiness fit into any country, any culture, any time or era. Thus the unity brought about by the One True Faith, and the holiness which accompanies that are to be found everywhere. The Catholic Faith is not just for the French, not just for old ladies, not just for people from the Middle Ages, etc. Furthermore, that Church which belongs to God desires to be everywhere. It wants God in everything: God in your marriage, God in your children, God in your clothing, God in your business, God in your country... The Catholic Faith must be in every aspect of our lives and every element of our society.


Finally, the True Faith which brings with it Holiness, since it belongs everywhere because it is Catholic it must therefore be spread everywhere and will always seek to spread and propagate itself to the four corners of the world. This is what is meant when we call it Apostolic. Our Lord sent the Apostles, and the word Apostle means one who is sent out. A Catholic who is Apostolic then is one who never wastes an opportunity to spread the Faith, to give that true Doctrine and holiness to others and to bring others to it. The Apostolic Church is the Church which wants to spread to all things, to all people and to all places.



The Attack on the Church

Just as the four marks build one on the other, a diminishment leading to a loss of the Faith and loss of Unity can be seen to follow the same pattern in reverse. The goal of the devil is to undermine Catholic Doctrine, the Catholic Faith, which is the source of unity, leaving souls without the truth. But with Catholics who are in a healthy state, who know their Faith who are Apostolic, he won’t just go straight for the attack on the Faith. First of all he’ll attack the Apostolicity, then the Catholicity, then he’ll attack their holiness, and only after succeeding in capturing those fortifications will he finally attack the main citadel, the oneness, the Faith itself. Today if we look at the conciliar Church we can observe a total lack of any unity. Not only are they all wrong, they all wrong in differing ways! One Novus Ordo Bishop thinks this, another that. The vast majority of Novus Ordo priests disbelieve one or other Catholic teaching.



But if we really want to know what happened in the Church, if we want to know how we got to where we are, why Vatican II became possible, we need to go back five-hundred years ago. Back then Catholics were truly Apostolic. That is what motivated all the missionaries to go out all over the world. Wherever the Spanish and Portuguese went, they brought with them the cross and the crown. They didn’t just bring the cross, but they weren’t just looking for gold either. Christopher Columbus wanted to find a country that had not yet known Christ, and when he landed he planted the cross and he called the land San Salvador. But what happened? With the arrival of Protestantism, the splitting Christendom and the wars between Catholics and Protestants, the idea came into being that we ought to tolerate one another. We’ll go to our Catholic Church in this part of town, you go to your Protestant church in that part of town, we leave each other alone... the Apostolic spirit began to diminish. Make no mistake, they still kept the Catholic Faith and holiness in their Catholic churches. But the Apostolic began to go.


And so it went on. The holiness, the Catholicity, all the way down to the 18th Century and the separation of Church and state in France and America, the 19th Century with its advancing secularism, evolution, the cult of “science”, “progress”, down to 20th century with modernism (an outgrowth of evolution) and the increasingly immodest fashions and modern music which began to take Catholics in. Vatican II was the final bastion, the Unity, the oneness, the Faith, which only fell after all those other advances had already been made.




The Attack on the SSPX


The devil has now succeeded in accomplishing the same thing in the SSPX, except in the case of the SSPX it didn’t take 500 years. This is why we need to understand that the crisis in the SSPX did not begin in 2012. It became obvious and visible in 2012, but it can be traced back many more years. How did we get here?




The attack on the Apostolicity of the SSPX began at least twenty years ago. 1994 was the year in which Bishop Fellay became Superior General. (As it happens, Archbishop Lefebvre advised against a bishop being the Superior General, not because a Bishop can’t be a  Superior General – he can be – but because in our unusual situation in the crisis in the Church, there is a danger that we begin to look on that Bishop in the wrong way. There is a danger that we begin to look on him as “our Bishop”. With the benefit of hindsight, Archbishop Lefebvre was very wise, because that is exactly what happened. The Superior General is supposed to be there for the purpose of making all the boring administrative duties, rather like the CEO of a company. Because he’s a Bishop we start to think of him as the teacher of ‘our truth,’ the one who gives us jurisdiction, who gives us the right to hear confessions and do marriages, etc.)


And when Bishop Fellay became Superior General he decided “We need to look after our priests more. Too many of them are going to burn out. They need better treatment, an easier life.” It sounds superficially very plausible, like all dangerous lies there is some truth in it. But it led to undermining the spirit of the priesthood. If you look at the martyrology, with all the Saints who were not martyrs, Saints like St. Alphonsus Ligouri for example, for them it does not say: “He was a good man who ate three square meals a day, always took his medication on time and was in bed by 10pm every night no matter what. He had a good work life balance with enough leisure time... etc” No. It usually ends with something like: “...Until, worn out by his labours and exertions on behalf of souls, he fell asleep in the Lord.”


Before 1994 the SSPX was spreading all over the world, going to new countries, setting up new Mass centres, new chapels everywhere, answering the calls of the faithful. And it wasn’t necessarily very many faithful. A new Mass centre would open somewhere and it would often begin with maybe only six faithful, with the priest travelling a long way to get there. So the thinking was: ‘We need to scale back and consolidate.’ Of course, it’s true, you can burn out if you’re run ragged all the time, it’s true you do need a certain balance between external apostolate and the internal. But it created a new spirit in the SSPX, and now almost twenty years later, priests refuse to say more than one Mass on Sunday.  There are now some priory chapels where you’ll see the priest say the main Mass on the main altar and another priest saying Mass on the side altar and they go to breakfast together afterwards... and in the meantime there are 5, 10, 15 chapels round about where they don’t have Mass. In Winona, the new formation which they give the priests has a shift of emphasis to the way it used to be in the SSPX: you need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others. This attitude destroys the spirit of the priesthood.




To take just one example, before 1994 it was well known that there were some priests in America who would say five Masses, each one in a different location, every Sunday. Those priests who were ‘lazy’ would ‘only’ be saying three Masses every Sunday. Fr. Pazat used to say his first two Masses in El Paso, Texas; then he would get on a plane and fly 600 or 800 miles to Alberqureque New Mexico and say his third Mass there; then he would get on another plane and fly another 800 miles to Denver, Colorado and say his fourth Mass; then he would get in a car and drive an hour-and-a-half North, to Fort Collins, and say the fifth Mass. Every single Sunday. Fr. Bolduc used to say his first Mass in St. Mary’s Kansas. He had a pilot who would fly him around in a little crop duster, a Cessna 172, so he would fly to Wichita and say his second Mass, and then fly to Kansas City and say the third Mass, then he would fly to St. Louis and say the fourth Mass, then he would drive to Mexico Missouri and say the fifth Mass, and then he would fly back to St. Mary’s on Monday morning. Every week.


So they said “That’s too much! It’s excessive!” And it probably was. But from ‘excessive’ we’ve gone to the other extreme.


In 1994, the year when Bishop Fellay became the Superior, there were 27 priests in the US District, and 105 chapels and 25 schools. Today, twenty years later, there are around 90 priests in the US District and 103 chapels and 22 schools. So the Apostolic has certainly diminished. But we still have newsletters which say “Opening new school!”; “Opening new chapel!”; “Building new Church!” so it looks like we’re alive and vibrant. But at the same time it’s not telling you about the ones that close, or the ones that are being cut back from Mass every week to Mass every two weeks, or from every two weeks to once a month. Our four chapels in Alaska are now down to two chapels in Alaska, four chapels in Hawaii are now down to one chapel in Hawaii, and so on.


And from that time onwards and becoming more and more evident with the years is the new focus. The idea was that the SSPX would focus a little less of its energy on Apostolic activity, visiting the faithful, travelling to say Mass, and a little more on looking after the priests. Over time this became more and more selfish. Today our building projects are more likely to be a new comfortable priory for the priests, making everything as comfortable as possible for the priests. We’re building a beautiful 50 million dollar seminary, but we don’t have the money for a church in St. Mary’s Kansas. In the old days we would be building churches and churches and churches. Now we’re getting nice rectories.


And what about the call of the faithful? We used to go off at 2am to answer sick calls, but now you get the answering machine. In the 1980s many Catholics came to the SSPX simply because when Grandma was dying, they called every Catholic Church in the phone book, and got no reply until they tried the local SSPX church and they called at 2 o’clock in the morning, the priest answered the phone and an hour later he arrives at the hospital. He comes in wearing a cassock, he says prayers in Latin, he sprinkles Holy Water, does the anointing... And in the end the family say “We want to go to your church!” There are so many cases where that used to happen. And it still happens, but less and less. There are still priests who go out and do these things, but the increase of priests who won’t is legion. There are priests now who refuse to hear confessions after Mass. Of course there are times when it’s not possible, but not all the time.


In some places the faithful say there is a special house (i.e. not the priory) for the priests to go to, which is not listed, where no one is allowed to know the address. Everybody knows priests need a break, but do they need special R&R houses? People understand, these things happen from time to time, the priest is human, they need a break too – but do they need a break every day? Do they need a break every week?




So it started off as: “Balance!” But what we ended up with was an evil clericalism. That was phase one, the Apostolicity diminishing and disappearing. Phase two: what do we mean when we say that the Church is Catholic? We mean that the Church has to be everywhere. Catholic workplace. Catholic home. Catholic economics. Now what happens in the new SSPX, we see a diminishing of Catholicity. What does this mean? Avoid politics! Don’t mix religion and politics! Yes, we have a religious teaching, but it has to be made to look not so political. Avoid all that end of the world stuff. Avoid any talk of conspiracy. That’s all the negative way this is shown. What’s the positive side? Fr. Pfluger actually said: “Don’t have an unrealistic view of the Social Reign of Christ.” Yes, we want Christ to reign, but it’s just not realistic, look at the world around you, we’ve got to adapt! No over emphasis on Christ the King.


There was a book published in the 1986 by a SSPX priest called Fr. Tam: “Notes on the Revolution in the Church”. This is typical of the old SSPX. We were Apostolic, we were Catholic. One of the effects of Catholicity in our heart is that we want world domination! We want the whole world to be following Christ. When we turn up in a city to say Mass in someone’s house we’ve already got a battle plan, we’re going to fight against all the bad guys, and we’re going to convert that whole city for Christ. This is the spirit of this book from the old days. Without even reading it, just by looking at the cover you can see: there’s St. Peter’s in Rome, there’s a red clenched fist, there’s a communist hammer and sickle crushing the middle of St. Peter’s Square, and Martin Luther and Lenin and all the bad guys, and Our Lady of La Salette weeping in the background. We used to use these kind of books all the time. If you look at Chapter 10, it speaks of “Six Conditions”! Not six conditions for us to be approved of by Rome – that’s the new, wimpy, pusillanimous SSPX. Back in 1986 we had fewer priests, we had makeshift chapels, often in people’s homes. And we were talking about:

"Six Conditions for restoring Christendom!"

It lists them as follows:  

  •    “Personal Reform”

  •    “Benefit from the Lessons of the Past”

  •    “Return to Sincerity of Language, Flee Equivocal Words, Tell the Truth of Each Thing”

  •    “Return to the Theological Truth of the Existence of Original Sin”

  •    “Return to Economic Truth” – bring back the Catholic Faith into economics, get rid of usury! 

  •    “Return to Social Truth” – bring back Christ into the courts, bring Him back into the public square, bring Him back into everything! That’s the old SSPX. Catholic and Apostolic.


We haven’t denied any of these things, not officially anyway. We’re just not fighting for it any more.


When you went to a SSPX parish picnic in the 1990s or 1980s, what kind of conversations would you overhear? It was: “What part of the conspiracy are you following?” “Did you hear about what the Freemasons are doing?” Now they talk about... the football scores. And being balanced. And not being extreme. “I’m normal!” “Some of these Traditional Catholics are too extreme! I believe in being balanced!” What does being balanced mean? It means ladies wearing modest skin-tight jeans instead of immodest skin-tight jeans. It means you beat your wife only once or twice a week, instead of every day. It means that you are very faithful to your “second wife” or “second husband.” That’s what “balance” means!


This is the new spirit which has been growing amongst us for a while now. No over-emphasis on modesty, for example, or the need to throw out the T.V. The priests used to say “Throw out your T.V.! Ladies, wear dresses!” And now we say: “Be balanced!” “We need to show the world that Catholics are normal, that we’re not weird or extreme!” “And besides, you can have a T.V. and still be a Catholic! You can still be a Catholic and have imperfections of modesty in dress! And with the Social Kingship of Christ, well you know, it’s not the right time, etc.”


So the Catholicity has been diminishing and with it the Holiness. We’re not “set apart for God” so much anymore. Furthermore, we can’t focus too much on devotions, we’ve also diminished the processions we used to do, diminished the devotions and holy practices, adoration, reducing the opportunities for confessions...etc. so the holiness begins to diminish. We think we don’t need all these supernatural things that we used to have. We still have them, but to a lesser and lesser extent.




After all of that, the last thing to go is the Faith. And lest there be any confusion, the Faith went, it has gone. And that is the part that matters. Holiness, Catholicity and Apostolicity matter less: there have always been weak priests in the Church, there has often been a lack of Apostolicity here and there, a weakness in Holiness or in Catholicity, and there have always been scandalous priests, and not even scandalous priests, but just weak ones. But what is different in the SSPX over the last ten years or more is that it is clearly organised. It cannot merely be put down to weakness; weakness explains part of it, but only part of it. It is an organised diminishing of the four marks, and it is not a coincidence. And that those other three marks, the Apostolicity, the Catholicity and the Holiness have been diminishing and weakening leading up to what happened in 2012 is not a coincidence either. There’s an organisation, a plan behind it.


Several priests say they haven’t read the 2012 Doctrinal Declaration. Here you have a liberal doctrinal statement by your superiors, and you choose not to read it! Why would you not read it, even if only to defend it against those you believe are unfairly attacking it? Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to know. Many priests in the SSPX today are like the man who doesn’t go to the doctor because he thinks he might have cancer. If he goes to the doctor, the doctor might tell him he has cancer, and he doesn’t want to be told he has cancer, so he doesn’t go to the doctor. The problem is, in the early stages it can perhaps be treated, but if it’s left too late there’s nothing that the doctor can do.


We find in 2012 a public profession of another Faith than the one we received from Archbishop Lefebvre, the same Faith from 2,000 years ago when the Church was founded.

The Doctrinal Declaration was composed and signed by Bishop Fellay and handed over to Rome as a declaration of what we believe, what we teach, what we accept about Vatican II and the crisis in the Church. It just happens to be different to what we believed, what we declared and what we accepted for the last forty years.


Let’s just take one example:

“7. We declare that we recognise the validity of the sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention to do what the Church does according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Sacramentary Rituals legitimately promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John-Paul II.”

“Legitimately promulgated.” That’s the key. The new Mass according to Bishop Fellay is valid and legitimate: it was legitimately promulgated. If it was legitimately promulgated then we have no right to tell people not to go to it. It used to be that if there was a deviation from Catholic doctrine the SSPX would respond to it, and respond with clarity. Now everything is muddled. Towards the end of Benedict XVI’s time there were rumours of a “hybrid Mass, which would be a mixture of the traditional Mass and the new Mass. Fr. Rostand, the district superior of the SSPX in America, was asked in an interview “Would you consider accepting the hybrid Mass?” And his answer went something like: “Well it’s a question we would have to consider, we don’t know yet exactly what it would look like, what’s important is that we have the right to keep the 1962 liturgy...” He didn’t say “No!” So in effect, what his answer meant was “Yes.” We’re willing to consider accepting the hybrid Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre in his famous 1974 declaration said “We refuse all the reforms” which come from the Council. Isn’t the hybrid Mass a fruit of Vatican II?


All these things, where we stand in relation to Vatican II, true and false obedience, the New Mass, all these things were clear in the SSPX beforehand. Now they are confused. We’re not sure any more what we believe and what we stand for, and we have a loss of unity. But notice, the collapse of the Faith, the loss of unity, could not happen without first a loss of Apostolicity, a loss of Catholicity and a loss of Holiness, and if we look back down the last 20 years we can see the steady corruption.


What’s the final proof - just look at what the Society is saying now. “You can trust us!” That’s what a used car salesman says. When you hear that, you know you’re in trouble. They say “We are united!” They never used to say that, but now they do, and one of the four bishops has been thrown out, the other three don’t agree with each other... Those four elements that made the SSPX Catholic have now gone. That’s why it is no longer a question of swapping out one superior general and putting another in, doing a few cosmetic changes: the corruption has trickled too far down, it’s been going on for too long.


Why is there not a great uproar? Why is there not more open outrage? Every time there is yet another liberal statement, yet another injustice, the reaction is weaker and weaker. It shows that the Society is at stage 4 or stage 5 of the cancer. That’s why it is important to resist it right now.

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