Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Bishop Williamson’s separation ought to bring the SSPX to its senses

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 20, 2014

The inherent separatism of the Society of St. Pius X and other similar Traditionalist groups is made glaringly obvious by the progress of Bishop Richard Williamson’s breakaway organization. In his latest newsletter, Williamson rejoices in the establishment of a new (and expensive) Queen of Martyrs house for his group in southeast England. (Note that the link is to his weekly “Eleison Comments”, and so the text there will be replaced by the next week’s comments within a few days.)

More importantly, Williamson regards it as good news that the “betrayal of the Faith” by what he now calls the “Newsociety of St. Pius X” is becoming clearer to priest members, some of whom regard the current leadership as far too soft. According to Williamson, “Newsociety leaders are abandoning Archbishop Lefebvre’s glorious fight for the Faith in exchange for a mess of Conciliar pottage”—a trend for which the Church of Rome has yet to see even the remotest evidence. Still, this allegation lies at the root of the growing split. But the point to notice here is that this tendency toward separatism is always found in groups of believers who reject the authority principle which is explicitly identified in Divine Revelation as found only in the Church united with the See of Peter.

To avoid any possible misunderstanding, let me explain my terminology. I use the term “Traditionalist” to describe one who makes an “ism” out of Tradition, in effect preferring his own theory of the deposit of Faith to the authority of that Church which alone can properly guard and explicate it. “Tradition alone” (without the Church’s authority) is no better than “Scripture alone” (without the Church’s authority). Note also that when I use the religious term “separatism”, I mean that phenomenon by which groups of believers, lacking any principle of authority, break into separate churches or sects whenever, according to their own lights, the church or congregation of which they have been a part fails to meet their own private tests for doctrinal, moral or ritual purity.

Thus separatism is a key feature of Protestantism, explaining why there are now several hundred conflicting Protestant sects. But separatism is also a key component of Traditionalism, and so we can all be sure of one thing: The splintering will continue. As I have said before, all those who love Tradition but accept the ongoing authority of the Catholic Church over its proper interpretation, as that authority is exercised in their own time and against their own potential errors, are correctly called by a different name. They are called Catholics, and should accept no substitutes.

But with the growth of Williamson’s splinter movement, one would think that many in the Society of St. Pius X would have their eyes opened. The SSPX remains the largest of the Traditionalist separatist groups, and the shocks and aftershocks the SSPX is experiencing ought to enable both the leaders and the followers to see the implacable inner logic at work. For these separatist concussions are merely so many conclusions which demonstrate the falsity of the initial premises. After all, just as Bishop Williamson possesses no possible authority for judging the leadership of the SSPX as treasonous to the faith, in exactly the same way the SSPX has no authority for making any judgment whatsoever against the faith of Bishop Williamson—let alone the Faith of the Church of Rome. Authority in separatist groups is all smoke and mirrors.

The lesson ought to be painfully clear to everyone involved. It is better to suffer any number of unfortunate modern tendencies (wherever such tendencies are truly unfortunate) and any number of wounded sensibilities (wherever such tendencies are simply uncongenial to one’s own particular piety)—better, I say, to suffer uncountable sins and sufferings in union with Rome than to enjoy a single apparent triumph through separation from the Bride of Christ.

Let those with ears, hear.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JimKcda - Jan. 22, 2014 12:24 AM ET USA

    I don't understand why everyone wants to re-define the term "traditionalist." Yon know, capital "T" small "t" etc. I am a Catholic and believe everything the Church teaches about Tradition; therefore, I am a Tradionalist -- and that's good. Let's just call these "other folks" exactly what they are, using time honored clearly defined words such as "heretic" and/or "schismatic" depending on the situation they have put themselves into! Otherwise, as usual, I agree with everything you wrote!

  • Posted by: hughsson57 - Jan. 21, 2014 10:25 PM ET USA


  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 21, 2014 8:49 PM ET USA

    Apostasy is one thing that separates men from the Bride of Christ. Bl. John Paul II spoke of a "Silent Apostasy" in the Church. Our current Holy Father recently spoke of the importance of our baptism. He spoke to something at the heart of the crisis of faith in the Church. The Greeks advised: Know yourself. There is a wisdom in this that is worth the consideration of each of the baptized and of their pastors. There is hope, and the hope is in Christ. Be faithful to your baptismal vows,

  • Posted by: Jason C. - Jan. 21, 2014 2:50 PM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus: "It is better to suffer any number of unfortunate modern tendencies ... and any number of wounded sensibilities ... than to enjoy a single apparent triumph through separation from the Bride of Christ." Perhaps, but the Society's "apparent triumphs" have been OURS: Summorum Pontificum; traditional priestly fraternities in union with Peter (FSSP, IBP, et al.); critical studies of Vatican II that result in clarity. None of that exists with the SSPX as a dialectic foil to the modernists.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jan. 21, 2014 7:47 AM ET USA

    The damage SSPX does to the Church is greater than that inflicted by any Protestant sect or denomination (btw, I believe the latter number around 30,000 now, not a few hundred). SSPX claims the Catholic label, maintaining it is "in-house", and thus fools many into believing it is somehow legitimate, something the Protestants don't do. (I wonder, has Williamson dragged his loathsome anti-Semitism into his new "church"?)