This famous declaration has a history. It was composed by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in a specific context.
After the founding of the Society of Saint Pius X in Fribourg on November 1, 1970, and the opening of the seminary at Ecône, in the Valais [Canton of Switzerland], calm still reigned despite some minor difficulties. From 1973, the situation was tense because Archbishop Lefebvre’s unshakeable position regarding the Mass. The bishop refused the Novus ordo, the liturgical reform of Paul VI, which he considered to be “poisoned,” as he would often say.
The attacks came first from France where the bishops were absolutely furious against the “wildcat seminary” which soon would provide a traditional clergy called to exercise an apostolate on French territory. While they were working behind the scenes, the situation was becoming strained in Switzerland as well. The new Bishop of Fribourg, Pierre Mamie, opposed the Society. Nestor Adam, Bishop of Sion, discouraged by the evolution of the crisis of the Church, no longer supported the foundation and distanced himself, even though he had accepted opening Ecône in his diocese.
The storm finally fell on the work of priestly formation. It broke out abruptly on November 11, 1974, when Archbishop Lefebvre announced to the seminary community the arrival, on the same day, of two apostolic visitors. Sent by Pope Paul VI, they were mandated by three Roman congregations to inspect the seminary. They were Msgr. Albert Descamps, secretary of the Biblical Commission, and Msgr. Guillaume Onclin, under-secretary of the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law.
The visitors spent three days in Ecône questioning professors and seminarians. They made aberrant and scandalous theological remarks to them. “They thought the ordination of married men was normal and inevitable, they did not admit that truth is immutable, and they expressed doubts concerning the physical reality of Christ’s Resurrection.” They finally left, but without presenting any protocol or report of their visit to the superior of the Society.
Archbishop Lefebvre traveled to Rome on November 16th to visit some Congregations. But understanding that there nothing much to wait for, “in a moment of indignation,” as he would later say, he wrote in one go and without correction an admirable statement of his principles which he presented to the community on December 2nd. It would be the pretext for the persecution against Ecône and its founder.
The 1974 Declaration
We hold fast, with all our heart and with all our soul, to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to preserve this faith, to Eternal Rome, Mistress of wisdom and truth.
We refuse, on the other hand, and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which were clearly evident in the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it.
All these reforms, indeed, have contributed and are still contributing to the destruction of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the abolition of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life, to a naturalist and Teilhardian teaching in universities, seminaries and catechectics; a teaching derived from Liberalism and Protestantism, many times condemned by the solemn Magisterium of the Church.
No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries.
“But though we,” says St. Paul, “or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).
Is it not this that the Holy Father is repeating to us today? And if we can discern a certain contradiction in his words and deeds, as well as in those of the dicasteries, well we choose what was always taught and we turn a deaf ear to the novelties destroying the Church.
It is impossible to modify profoundly the lex orandi without modifying the lex credendi. To the Novus Ordo Missae correspond a new catechism, a new priesthood, new seminaries, a charismatic Pentecostal Church—all things opposed to orthodoxy and the perennial teaching of the Church.
This Reformation, born of Liberalism and Modernism, is poisoned through and through; it derives from heresy and ends in heresy, even if all its acts are not formally heretical. It is therefore impossible for any conscientious and faithful Catholic to espouse this Reformation or to submit to it in any way whatsoever.
The only attitude of faithfulness to the Church and Catholic doctrine, in view of our salvation, is a categorical refusal to accept this Reformation.
That is why, without any spirit of rebellion, bitterness or resentment, we pursue our work of forming priests, with the timeless Magisterium as our guide. We are persuaded that we can render no greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff and to posterity.
That is why we hold fast to all that has been believed and practiced in the faith, morals, liturgy, teaching of the catechism, formation of the priest and institution of the Church, by the Church of all time; to all these things as codified in those books which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council. This we shall do until such time that the true light of Tradition dissipates the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.
By doing this, with the grace of God and the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that of St. Joseph and St. Pius X, we are assured of remaining faithful to the Roman Catholic Church and to all the successors of Peter, and of being the fideles dispensatores mysteriorum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi in Spiritu Sancto. Amen.