Only when the Faith is in question

Archbishop Lefebvre's 1983 Ridgefield Conference

On April 24, 1983, Archbishop Lefebvre gave a conference to the seminarians at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The background was the opposition of nine priests (one just ordained) and a few seminarians who had disobeyed His Excellency’s instruction to follow the 1962 liturgical books.

Despite their disobedience to his directive, the Archbishop attempted to remonstrate with them, but eventually was compelled to expel them from the Society of St. Pius X for obstinate refusal to obey their superior.

As the opposition had been led by the former seminary rector, Archbishop Lefebvre prudently decided to delay the diaconate ordinations that were scheduled for that year. He wanted to ensure that the future deacons would willingly follow the SSPX’s policy concerning the liturgical books to be used.

During the conference he explained his reason for deciding upon the 1962 liturgical books and the principle upon which it was based, asking the future deacons to consider this and thus determine their decision if they intended to remain faithful members of the Society of St. Pius X.

We present here three extracts from the conference outlining Archbishop Lefebvre’s exemplar attitude and firm response in dealing with this past historical event of the SSPX.

Extracts from Archbishop Lefebvre's conference

What is the first principle to know what we must do in this circumstance, in this crisis in the Church? What is my principle?

The principle of the Church, it is the principle of St. Thomas Aquinas. It is not my choice; it’s not my favor; it is not my personal desire... I am nothing... I merely follow the doctrine of the Church. This doctrine is expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas.

So what does St. Thomas Aquinas say about the authority in the Church? When can we refuse something from the authority of the Church?

Principle: Only when the Faith is in question.

Only in this case. Not in other cases... only when the Faith is in question... and that is found in the Summa Theologica (II II Q.33, a.4, ad 2m): St. Thomas' answer is that we cannot resist to the authority; we must obey:

  1. "Sciendum tamen est quod ubi immineret periculum fidei." Periculum fidei, i.e., the danger to our faith...
  2. "etiam publice essent praelate a subditis arguendi.", i.e., the subject can be opposed to the authority if the Faith is in question ("periculum fidei");
  3. "Unde et Paulus, qui erat subditus Petro, propter imminens periculum scandali circa fidem, Petrum publice arguit," i.e., St. Paul opposed St. Peter because it was a danger for the Faith (cf. Galatians 2:11).

That is the principle (of St. Thomas), and I cannot harbor another motive to resist the pope… it is very serious to be opposed to the pope, and to the Church. It is very serious, and if we think that we must do that, we must do it (resist the Holy Father) only to preserve our Faith, and not for any other motive.

We must now do an application of the principle. For me I think that the liturgical reform of Pope John XXIII has nothing against the Faith. You can take the Pontificale, the Rituale, the Breviary, the Roman Missal, and… what is in these books of Pope John XXIII that is against the Faith? Nothing! And so [in an urgent tone]: ...I cannot refuse this book (of Pope John), because he is the pope, and the pope gave me this book (and I must obey).

It is quite another thing with the reform of Pope Paul VI… in this book of reform of Pope Paul VI is a very grave danger to my Faith... it is precisely Periculum Fidei. So I refuse it, because ecumenism is the idea and motive of this reform… and this ecumenism... they say themselves, Pope Paul VI, Bugnini, etc., all say the motive of their reform is ecumenism, and this ecumenism takes away all (Catholic) things which are displeasing to the Protestant.


Some people abandon the Society on the left (i.e., moving towards the left), and some abandon her moving towards the right.

Those who abandon the Society on the left, they now use the rite of the New Mass... they are Progressivists... they are not against Progressivism any more.

Those who abandon us to the right, for them, there is no more any relations with Rome, no more relation with the Church, and they look (for a pope elsewhere) in the case of Fr. G--, where he went to Spain to see if the famous Palmar De Troya [a schismatic “traditionalist” cult in Spain who elected their own “pope”—Ed.], i.e., Clemente… he went there to see if Clemente is the true pope! Because such priests (who defect to the right) they look for authority; (by nature) they cannot remain without authority… because they have none... they have none.


This situation is very sad because I thought that I was helping my priests, (since I gave them) all my prayers, all my spirit, all my heart.

I gave all this to these priests... [“The Nine” who were expelled—Ed.] and they did good work… But it is a pity now… what will happen to the faithful? ...the poor faithful, if they know that five or six or seven priests are no more members of the Society of St. Pius X?

What has happened? They will be bewildered to hear that it is true, these priests are not members of the Society any more… [with great distress and heartache]; is very sad, very sad for the faithful. I know these American faithful... they are very good people... and now... what can I do?"

Perhaps it is my fault, because I waited too long... if I took this decision three or four years ago, perhaps the situation would not be as grave as now. But perhaps I am too lenient, too tolerant, too good to them, because I do not like to go against my brothers, my priests.

So I tolerated them... I thought perhaps next year, or some time, things would change... but truly nothing has changed... it’s not better... in fact things have gotten worse with time.

Thus, we must pray... we must pray.

I hope, slowly, slowly, they can return in the good way, in the good progress of the seminary... and I hope I can give you ordination. We need priests... but we do not need priests that disobey, no.