A life for Christ the King: Archbishop Lefebvre

First published in the October 2011 issue of The Angelus magazine.

Archbishop Lefebvre: A Life for Christ the King

Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais

Archbishop Lefebvre always linked the priesthood to the social reign of our Lord Jesus Christ: the one is source of the other; the other spontaneously flows from the first.

I. At the French 
Seminary in Rome

On the Via Santa Chiara, where he trained for the priesthood from 1923 to 1929, Fr. Lefebvre learned from Fr. Henri Le Floch, the Father Superior of the house, not to separate what should be joined: the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and His social reign, a priest’s doctrine and his piety, and also the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the social reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the teaching of the popes in their encyclicals.

Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI are the masters, and also Cardinal Pie, Louis Veuillot, and so on. But the Fathers of the seminary were also well-beloved masters to whom they listened.

Fr. Le Floch

According to Archbishop Lefebvre:

Fr. Le Floch made us enter into and live the history of the Church, this fight that the perverse powers take to our Lord. We were mobilized against this dreadful liberalism, against the Revolution and the forces of evil which were trying to overcome the Church, the reign of our Lord, the Catholic States, and the whole of Christianity."[1]

This conflict imposed a personal choice on every seminarian: "We had to choose: we had to leave the seminary if we didn’t agree, or else join in the fight." But taking up the fight meant taking it up for one’s whole life: "I think that our whole life as priestsor as bishopshas been marked by this fight against liberalism."[2]

But how does the priesthood fit into this essentially political combat?

At the French Seminary, the seminarians had to read or had read to them the writings of Godefroid Kurth [The Origins of Modern Civilization, 1912] to make them consider how

the mystical Body of Christ transformed the pagan society of imperial Rome and prepared the growing movement that recognized the plans for society of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and King";

the seminarians also learned through the writings of Fr. Deschamps [in his book Secret Societies and Society] that

revolutions caused the exclusion of Christ the King from government with the final goal of eliminating the Mass and the supernatural life of Christ the sovereign High Priest."[3]

Fr. (and later Cardinal) Billot’s De Ecclesia made them grasp “the sense of the royalty of Christ and the horror of liberalism.” Through the works of Cardinal Pie they learned

the full meaning of ‘thy kingdom come,’ namely, that Our Lord’s kingdom must come not only in individual souls and in heaven, but also on earth by the submission of States and nations to His rule. The dethroning of God on earth is a crime to which we must never resign ourselves" (Fr. Fahey).[4]

[Fr. Fahey was a seminarian in Rome 12 years before Marcel Lefebvre. He attended the same seminary, which was also under Fr. Le Floch’s direction.] “Pius IX’s Syllabus and the encyclicals of the last four popes,” said Fahey, “have been the principal object of my meditations on the royalty of Christ and its relation to the priesthood.”[5]

What a surprising meditation subject for a young seminarian: joining the highest spirituality with the submission of the temporal order to Christ. For Marcel Lefebvre’s teachers, there was no divorce between individual life and political action in the broadest sense. So-called “Catholic” liberalism separates what should remain united.

Fr. Voegtli

It was also at the French Seminary in Rome that Fr. Marc Voegtli, C.S.Sp., a professor at Santa Chiara, commented on Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas of December 11, 1925, on the social kingship of Jesus Christ. Before his enthusiastic young audience he set forth the political program of the Catholic Church by the action of the Catholic priest. We’ll explain at the end of this talk the political program in which the priest is engaged.

The testimony of Fr. Voegtli’s students is unanimous: His teaching was simple, he spoke only of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King…. He taught the integrity of the priesthood, the priesthood taken to its logical conclusion: the sacrifice of the priest [Keep that idea in mind] for the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything was judged in that light. 'My dear friends,' the Father would say, 'you must preach Our Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart!'"

A collective testimony signed by twelve seminarians declares:

Through him [Fr. Voegtli] we learned to see our Lord Jesus Christ, the King, as the center of everything, the answer to all questions, our food, our thought, our life, everything…. That is what he wanted to impress upon us: that will remain!"[6]

And remain it did, as we shall see. Marcel Lefebvre was one of those who had an unforgettable memory of Fr. Voegtli’s conferences. You may be thinking, "Let’s get to his actions during the Council and after!" Yes, but it is essential to understand the mainspring of his action!

The mainspring of Archbishop Lefebvre’s fight for Christ the King: 
a testimony

He essentially gave his own testimony to the fact: 50 years [after the 12 seminarians’ testimony] one of Fr. Voegtli’s rare faithful disciples, Marcel Lefebvre, also bore witness to the indelible impression produced by Fr. Voegtli’s “talks, which were very simple, taking the words of Scripture, showing who Our Lord Jesus Christ was…. That remained with us for life!”[7]

It even became the subject of the seminarian’s meditation:

We shall never have sufficiently meditated on, or sought to understand, what Our Lord Jesus Christ is…. He should rule our thinking, He makes us holy. He is also our Creator since nothing whatsoever was made without the Word, and therefore without Our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Word. So we must only think about and contemplate Our Lord Jesus Christ. And that transforms one’s life!"[8]

What a striking remark. For Marcel Lefebvre, belief in the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and consequently His right alone to reign meant personally dedicating himself to the fight. This he did, like many of his confreres, at Rome before the Confession of St. Peter. There he made a private vow of doctrinal and militant “Romanity.” The account of the Fr. Berto suggests that making such a vow was normal and went without saying. The seminarian promised “to be constantly on crusade” (Archbishop Lefebvre).[9]

He didn’t know when or where or in what troubled, tragic circumstances of the Church it would be that he would have to enter the arena and himself write a page of that Church history that he was shown under the light of Christ the King, but he knew that he would have to join in the battle.

The Second Vatican Council was to be the providential moment for Archbishop Lefebvre, the moment when he felt himself pushed to intervene in fidelity to the promise he had made as a seminarian at Rome long before.

II. Herald of Christ the King

During the Council, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre became the head of the resistance against false religious freedom in the name of Christ the King. During the presentation of two rival drafts on religious freedom, one by Cardinal Bea and one by Cardinal Ottaviani, at the last meeting of the Central Preparatory Commission in June 1962, he gave his opinion.

About the liberal schema of Cardinal Bea, he said:

On Religious Liberty: non placet… since it is based on false principles solemnly condemned by the sovereign pontiffs, for example Pius IX, who calls this error "delirium" (Denzinger 1690)…. The schema on religious liberty does not preach Christ and therefore seems false…."

About the Catholic schema of Cardinal Ottaviani, he said:

‘On the Church’: placet. However, the exposition of the fundamental principles could be done with more reference to Christ the King as in the encyclical Quas Primas…. Our Council could have as its aim to preach Christ to all men, and to state that it belongs to the Catholic Church alone to be the true preacher of Christ who is the salvation and life of individuals, families, professional associations, and of other civil bodies.

…The Theological Commission’s schema expounds the authentic doctrine but does so like a thesis; it does not sufficiently show the aim of this doctrine which is nothing other than the reign of Christ…. From the point of view of Christ as source of salvation and life, all the fundamental truths could be expounded as they say “pastorally,” and in this way the errors of secularism, naturalism, and materialism, etc., would be excluded."[10]

III. Theological adversary 
of the secular state

The Declaration on Religious Freedom promulgated by the Council on December 7, 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, seems to assert that the State must recognize the Catholic religion as the one true one (DH 1), but at the same time it teaches the “natural” freedom of the adherents of false cults to practice their beliefs publicly (DH 6). This contradiction became more problematic after the Council from the way the Holy See required its application by States that were still officially Catholic: the article in their constitutions professing the Catholic religion as the State religion had to be expunged.

So, while passing through Colombia, South America, soon after the suppression of the “Catholic religion” as “that of the nation,” Archbishop Lefebvre remarked that “the speech of the president of the Republic is more Catholic than the Nuncio’s.” The Archbishop was indignant that Ireland had agreed to replace the expression “the special position of the holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church as guardian of the faith professed by the great majority of its citizens,” with “the homage of public worship” given by the State “to Almighty God.”

In Italy, Article 1 of the Lateran Accords of February 11, 1929, read:

Italy recognizes and reaffirms the principle expressed by Article 1 of the Statute of the Realm of March 4, 1848, by which the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion is the only religion of the State."[11]

In 1984, to the consternation of Archbishop Lefebvre, the new concordat between the Holy See and Italy only recognized that “the principles of Catholicism constitute part of the historical patrimony of the Italian people.” In 1977 [7 years before the 1984 concordat], Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, the Archbishop of Milan, had declared: "o stato non puo essere che laico.The State can only be secular. He explained:

The Church does not ask for privileges, but for genuine freedom…. In the current historical development of society, a confessional State is not possible: not only a confessional Christian State, but also a confessional Marxist atheistic State or a confessional radical bourgeois State. We are calling for a State that does not embrace any particular ideology, that does not impose the dogmas of any culture, and that does not identify with any party. Otherwise, very many of its citizens, because of their religious or ideological or partisan choices, would be compelled to feel like strangers in their own land."[12]

In terms that are insulting to the Church of Christ thus put on a par with ideologies, parties, and cultures, the Cardinal could not better express the current interpretation given to Dignitatis Humanae as propounding the agnostic and indifferentist State. The State’s pledge of allegiance to Jesus Christ, God Incarnate and the one true God, would amount to uncharitableness, contempt for human dignity, and unfair discrimination.

Archbishop Lefebvre spoke out against these liberal platitudes in an interview with the three cardinals who questioned him in 1975. “The goal of the secularization of the State,” he said, “is nothing other than the goal of the devil, who is behind Freemasonry: the destruction of the Catholic Church by affording all the false religions freedom of speech and by forbidding the State to work for the social kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The archbishop explained what he meant: First of all, the recognition of Christ by the State is not a privilege; it is the right of the Man-God and Redeemer of the human race. On the other hand, “How many Catholics are still able to recognize that the work of our Lord’s Redemption must also be accomplished through civil society?” And yet this is so, for “everything was made for our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul teaches (Col. 1:16).[13]

Man has but one ultimate goal: eternal salvation. The Church works directly toward this goal, but the State should also work towards it, although indirectly, for civil society is also a creature of our Lord Jesus Christ.[14] Consequently, as St. Pius X teaches, the State has as its “ultimate object …man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course.”[15]

This… is founded on the dogmatic reason and on the experience of the conversion of numerous nations subsequent to the conversion of their rulers: for example, Clovis, Ethelbert, and so on. This fact prompted St. Alphonsus Liguori to declare: “If I convert a king, I do more for the Catholic cause than hundreds of missionaries.”

Archbishop Lefebvre also held the supernatural and traditional position of the Church on Christ the King—namely, that the State should be an instrument in the work of Redemption. He is not far from taking as his own the program of his brother in religion and co-alumnus of Santa Chiara, Denis Fahey: since the reign of Christ must be established by the cross (“Regnavit a ligno Deus” we sing in the Vexilla Regis):

In order to favor union with Christ as Priest in Holy Mass, God wants the world organized under Christ as King."[16]

From this it follows that:

At Holy Mass all the members of Christ express their determination to work for the integral establishment of the rights of God and of Christ the King over the world."[17]

More briefly, Archbishop Lefebvre would often say: “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the expression of the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

At the French Seminary in Rome, Fr. Marc Voegtli, following the teaching of Fr. Deschamps, taught the young Marcel Lefebvre the liberal, Freemasonic agenda in three points:

  1. The banishment of Christ the King from government by the secularization of the State;
  2. eliminating the Mass which would result from the persecution of the Church by legal means, and ultimately the secularization of the Church itself, the supreme plot of initiated Masons; in order
  3. finally to suppress the grace of Jesus Christ High Priest in souls—the very secularization of Catholic souls. All of this happened after the Second Vatican Council…

What Archbishop Lefebvre did is reverse this satanic program in order to come up with the Catholic program, which is that of the Society of St. Pius X, also in three points:

  1. Restore to the faithful the Mass—the true Mass, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—which is the source and expression of the reign of Jesus Christ.
  2. By the grace of the Mass, form an elite of faithful Catholics living in the state of grace; and
  3. through the work of this elite in public institutions—not just in ecclesiastical organizations, but also in openly Catholic civil organizations—re-crown our Lord Jesus Christ in society: “Omnia instaurare in ChristoEstablish all things in Christ,” according to the motto of St. Pius X.

This is the program Archbishop Lefebvre tried to explain to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, in a meeting they had in Rome on July 14, 1987:

Eminence… you are working to dechristianize society and the Church, and we are working to Christianize them. For us, our Lord Jesus Christ is everything, He is our life. The Church is our Lord Jesus Christ; the priest is another Christ; the Mass is the triumph of Jesus Christ on the cross; in our seminaries everything tends towards the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. But You! You are doing the opposite: you have just wanted to prove to me that our Lord Jesus Christ cannot, and must not, reign over society.

For us, our Lord Jesus Christ is everything!"[18]

See also these related books:


1 Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography, pp. 36-7.

2 Ibid.

3 Fr. Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp., “Apologia pro Vita Mea,” 1950 (reprinted in Catholic Family News, April & May 1997), quoted in Tissier, Marcel Lefebvre, p. 37.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., pp. 37-8.

6 Tissier, Marcel Lefebvre, pp. 43-4.

7 Ibid., p. 44.

8 Ibid.

9 Archbishop Lefebvre, The Little Story of My Long Life [ref. to French edition], p. 28.

10 Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre, p. 285.

11 A.A.S. 21 (1929), pp. 290 seq.

12 Quoted from L’Osservatore Romano, translated from the Italian and published by “Ya” on July 14, 1977, and reprinted in the bulletin of the CICES, No. 210, March 15, 1977, under the byline of Andre Laforge.

13 Spiritual Conference, Econe, September 23, 1977, relating the conference of Archbishop Lefebvre at Rome at Princess Palaviccini’s in June 1977. Cf. They Have Uncrowned Him, p. 101 [ref. to French edition].

14 It is a creature of God because the social nature of man is God’s creation.

15 St. Pius X, encyclical Vehementer Nos condemning the Law of Separation of Church and State in France, February 11, 1906.

16 Rev. Fr. Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp., The Mystical Body of Christ and the Reorganization of Society, pp. 114-5.

17 Ibid.

18 Tissier de Mallerais, Marcel Lefebvre, p. 548.