Defender of Truth: 25th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Lefebvre

Rev. Philippe Pazat

An extraordinary man

For those SSPX priests who knew His Lordship Archbishop Lefebvre it could be difficult to describe his extraordinary personality in a few words: missionary, defender of the Catholic faith, of the Mass, of the priesthood and of the social kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, deeply attached to Rome, incredible example of charity, humility and fortitude and extremely paternal with his priests. (I received the first tonsure from Archbishop Lefebvre in 1972).

In an extraordinary disaster

The tsunami of Vatican II has devastated the Church, the Mass was destroyed, the catechism and the sacraments transformed, the priesthood abandoned, religious vocations lost and the lay people completely disoriented. In front of such disaster, like in the time of Arianism, only a few bishops stood up, but only one had the courage to give us back hope with the foundation of the SSPX. In 1970, when we were forced to abandon our monasteries or seminaries to keep the faith, Divine Providence sent us His Lordship Archbishop Lefebvre, not only as a reference of the Catholic Faith, but also as a Catholic authority to guide us without falling into the individualistic Protestant spirit of independence. He taught us to keep the faith under the teaching authority of the Church and the attachment to Rome, in spite of being persecuted by the Roman authorities. He gave us the love of the faith, of the mass, of the priesthood and of the Catholic Church for the salvation of souls.

Virtue of fortitude

One of his many virtues was certainly the virtue of fortitude. The virtue of fortitude is defined as “the supernatural moral virtue that strengthens the soul in the pursuit of arduous moral good, without allowing it to be deterred by fear, even the fear of death." The virtue is twofold: the repression of the fear which tends to paralyse our efforts, and the control of the spirit of daring in order to avoid “temerity” or stubbornness. Even today, still sounding in my mind is the voice of Archbishop Lefebvre saying to us in 1975, when Rome wanted to destroy the SSPX, “I will not abandon you!” Thank God he did not abandon us, otherwise: where today would you be able to find the faith, the sacraments and the attachment to the Catholic Church? There is no doubt that neither the SSPX nor even the institutions depending on the Ecclesia Dei Commission could have existed without Archbishop Lefebvre.

In order to undertake and to carry into execution the difficult enterprise of the foundation of the SSPX and the maintenance of the Catholic Faith, Archbishop Lefebvre shows us a tremendous determination in the accomplishment of his duties as a true pastor of the Church, no matter what the cost may be. He gave us the example of courage and of generosity, particularly in front of the unjust persecution from the Roman authorities, he gave us the example of steadfastness until the end, suffering for God’s sake and for love of the Church, true signs of his charity.


The first part of fortitude is the virtue of “magnanimity”, or greatness of the mind and soul, or nobility of character giving the soul a disposition to be noble and generous to undertake great things for God and for our neighbour. The characteristic of magnanimity is disinterested service. The forty years Archbishop Lefebvre dedicated to the missions in Africa is a perfect and practical illustration of magnanimity. But he brought this virtue to a much higher degree with the foundation of the SSPX and defending the faith in the most adverse circumstances of Church history, when he could have retired to a peaceful life. He also went all around the world to fortify the faith of thousands of faithful, giving the sacrament of confirmation or instructing them with his conferences. And he practiced what he preached in his spiritual life by the pursuit of a high ideal of perfection and exemplary zeal for holiness.


The second part of fortitude is the “magnificence or munificence”, the greatness of the heart which inclines us to do great works and at the great expense (moral, physical, material) that such works entail, and in the same trusting of Divine Providence. Nothing is “just about good enough” for a soul possessed by magnificence. Could we make an exhaustive list of all the schools, churches, seminaries and convents founded under the guidance and sacrifices of Archbishop Lefebvre in Africa? And for the SSPX, how many seminaries, priories, schools, etc.? His munificence continues after his death, because of the example he left behind.


The third part of fortitude is patience that makes us withstand with equanimity of soul, for the love of God, and in union with Jesus Christ, all physical and moral sufferings. Many suffer with complaints, in bitterness of heart and even with rebellion against Providence, or perhaps look for a quick and simple solution to adversity where there is none. Archbishop Lefebvre gave us a tremendous example of equanimity and patience in the face of cruel persecution from the Rome he loved so much.

The oldest priests of the SSPX can remember his conferences in 1975 after returning from Rome, despised, insulted as “crazy” by cardinals, falsely accused. His conferences were an incredible example of calm and patience, keeping firm in the faith but never losing hope, never returning insult for insult. Then, in 1988, I cannot forget the tremendous number of letters he received during the year, from everywhere, each giving their own opinion: some accusing him of “tempting Divine Providence” for postponing the consecration of our bishops, others accusing him of being schismatic if he performed the consecrations without the permission of Rome, and every other opinion possible under the sun. So often I can hear his voice insisting, "We have to follow Divine Providence, not precede it. We need clear signs of Divine Providence." We can say that nothing has changed today. After 50 years of disaster in the Church, some feel discouraged and abandon the combat, some others want quick radical solutions. By the virtue of fortitude we hold with patience to our position: to stay “as we are” since the foundation of the SSPX by Archbishop Lefebvre.


Then the fourth part of the virtue of fortitude is “perseverance, constancy”, consisting in struggling and suffering to the end, without yielding to weariness, discouragement, indolence, insubordination or rebellion. No virtue is solid that has not stood the test of time, that has not been strengthened by deeply-rooted habits. We must persevere in the combat and in fidelity, supported by the almighty grace of God, and continue to work despite the apparently small measures of success of our efforts, remembering that it is our effort and not success that God demands.

In the end

Archbishop Lefebvre died without the blessing and recognition of the Roman authorities. In this regard, he never saw the success of all his sacrifices and prayers. What he did see, and is surely assisting from his place in heaven, however, is the fidelity of the society he founded.

When we see the need of priests, religious vocations, schools, and Catholic families in the Church, the SSPX's efforts, sacrifices and prayers look very insignificant. But the cross is a victory, as it is on Calvary. God will bless us as long we persevere in the heritage received from Archbishop Lefebvre, without rebellion and bitterness, but following his episcopal motto: “We believe in Charity”. His charity gave him the strength (fortitude) to persevere until the end of his life.

As members of the SSPX, we now have to transmit what we have received by his example. May Our Lady of Victory grant us fortitude so that we may follow the example received from Archbishop Lefebvre.

View all articles from Ite Missa Est