I apologize that this is such a post-heavy day, but I didn’t want anything lingering in my draft box. Anyway, for those interested, Angelus Press has released the English-language version of Archbishop Lefebvre: A Documentary for the very reasonable price of $14.95. There is no doubt that Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X, was and remains one of the most polarizing Catholic figures of the 20th C., and yet he was remembered by no less an authority than Pope Benedict XVI as “a great man of the Church.” (That’s a telling remark given that Lefebvre was, allegedly, excommunicated in 1988 for consecrating four bishops without papal permission.) Like so many long lives which tend to be defined by their closing events, too much of Archbishop Lefebvre’s holy work as a missionary in Africa, bishop, and member of the Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council has been lost from sight due the controversies over the fraternity of traditional priests he founded. Some say Lefebvre was a Saint. Others, of course, disagree vehemently. Only time will tell. However, even Catholics who do not sympathize with the SSPX’s position would be well-served, I think, in learning about a churchman whose life was, I think it’s safe to say, quite extraordinary.
Though I have not seen the documentary yet, my hope is that it offers the same three-dimensional picture of Lefebvre’s life and times as Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais’s extensive (albeit at times uncritical) Marcel Lefebvre: The Biography (Angelus Press 2004). Another fascinating source of information on Lefebvre and the early years of the Society can be found in Michael Davies’ fairminded trilogy Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre. (A fourth volume was planned but apparently never completed.) Lefebvre also left behind a number of formal and informal written works, including his Little Story of My Long Life. While SSPX accounts of the Archbishop can be, for understandable reasons, somewhat hagiographical, the materials available have tended to be objective enough to allow readers to draw their own conclusions on the principles and prudence of Lefebvre, particularly when it comes to the fateful episcopal consecrations. As Davies himself has noted, Lefebvre was not always measured in his rhetoric and some of his decisions remain debatable. However, Catholics owe a debt of gratitude to him for standing up during literally the worst of times of the post-conciliar fallout in an effort to preserve the Tridentine Mass and many aspects of Catholic tradition we take for granted today. The future was far from certain 40 years ago.