Book Review: Horn of the Unicorn

Title: The Horn of the Unicorn
Author: Dr. David Allen White
Publisher: Angelus Press
Why: Written in an extremely readable style
Excellence: 4 stars
Summary in a Sentence: A mosaic of the life of a man to which every Traditional Catholic is deeply indebted.

When something like Dr. White’s book on the Archbishop comes along, a reviewer finds himself reading a book without stopping, being left with thoughts and ponderings for days, and in fear of writing a review because it may not do the book proper justice.

But with the release of this book imminent, I feel constrained to force myself into my desk and with the manuscript at hand, I will do my best to not only highlight the most salient parts of this work, but also to encourage you to pick it up and read it yourself.

The Horn of the Unicorn is a worthy follow up to Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais’ Marcel Lefebvre. While not as comprehensive as the latter, it pays tribute not only to Dr. White’s highly allusive literary mind, but also to Archbishop Lefebvre's highly Catholic thinking and way of life.

The book is divided into sections and while switching between third and first person accounts, one almost feels that you are watching the crisis in the Church unfold through the Archbishop’s eyes. It is also written in "historical sound bites," divided by the Archbishop's coat of arms. One section may have a Scriptural quote, another a quote from the Archbishop, another a narrative, another an anecdote. It makes for easy start-and-stop reading.

Part One

One cannot understand Archbishop Lefebvre without understanding his family. “From the year 1738, the Lefebvre family had given nearly fifty of its members to Mother Church, including a cardinal, a few bishops, and many priests and religious” (p. 11).

Of the Archbishop’s saintly mother, Dr. White notes: “her friends noted her love of conversation, not centered on chatter about fellow students or local gossip, but, rather, focused on her fascination for ideas” (p. 15).

As for the Lefebvre family’s daily routine:

Every morning the Lefebvres rose early to prepare for the five-minute walk to the parish church; every morning when possible Rene and Gabrielle assisted at Mass. On those mornings when worldly tasks intervened, they received Communion from the parish priest who gave Communion every fifteen minutes from 5:15 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. to accommodate the large number of souls who had to be at work and did not have time to attend Mass. This was a custom of the place and time.

Hence, we can see the roots of the Archbishop’s love of the Church – grown within the family stock, nourished by his mother, and fortified by the Divine Savior in daily visits.

But that love was not some academic ideal locked away in an ivory tower. Even while young, Marcel understood that Catholicism was not simply “out there” but that it began at home – and without being rooted in home it would fail:

Young Rene, the eldest son, had a penchant for cards, perhaps a legacy from his paternal grandfather. Having failed one day to find a partner among his friends and unwilling to settle for solitaire, Rene asked his younger brother Marcel to play with him. Marcel refused. Rene, as elder brother, played his “trump card” and ordered the younger brother to the table. An elder brother possesses authority over a younger sibling. Marcel obeyed.

Beyond simple passive obedience, even the young Marcel was animated to do more than simply “avoid evil.”

When still a young child, the eldest Lefebvre son, Rene, sat down one day and wrote a letter to the reigning pontiff, Pope Pius X. He respectfully requested that the Pope allow children to begin receiving the Blessed Sacrament at a younger age. Rene had full knowledge of the sacrament, and though still a young boy, longed to receive his Lord and Savior in the Holy Eucharist.

Can a younger brother who did not hesitate to obey simply a command to play cards not be vivified by such a spirit from an elder brother? Not likely.

Indeed, he was to follow his elder brother into the priesthood. It was said of Marcel that he was “a seminarian before the fact” (41).

Though initially unsure about his call, the words of his Trappist uncle confirmed his vocation: “You will be a priest…you must be a priest” (42).

Part Two

This chapter introduces the reader, if he doesn’t know the name already, to the august personage of Fr. Henri Le Floch, Archbishop Lefebvre’s principal mentor at the French Seminary in Rome. In the words of the Archbishop:

Fr. Le Floch and the professors taught us how we should view current events, exposed errors to us – liberalism, modernism, and so many others of which we were not aware – and taught us how we must search for the truth in the papal encyclicals, particularly those of St. Pius X, Leo XIII, and all the popes who had preceded them.

Dr. White points out:

When, half a century later, this same man would hear popes making statements that differed from the uniform ideas that had been defined by so many earlier popes over so many previous centuries, the revelatory understanding from his great teacher from his formative seminary years must have set off alarm bells. He saw the smoke and smelled the fire; no wonder he formed a bucket brigade.

Yet we find out that in this time Fr. Le Floch is dismissed from the Seminary by rumor-mongering. How was such a man dismissed? Because the crisis of faith did not begin in 1960 with Vatican II, as some naïve persons would have you believe. When Pius X (of immortal memory) ascended to the throne of Peter, he already knew the Modernists were in high places. Indeed, at this time, in the late 1920s, after the Saint’s death, the Modernists were starting to act more openly. Dom Schuster, "beatified" in 1996, was responsible for performing an investigation before the dismissal of Fr. Le Floch. He noted “Fr. Le Floch’s deep faith, his exceptional concern for his students, and his profound, positive influence on them” (49). No matter, he (like Cardinal Billot from the Gregorian) was dismissed. We can only guess that similar words were in Cardinal Gagnon’s 1986 report on his Apostolic Visitation to the Society. The parallel is almost overwhelming. But in a way, it was fitting that the student undergo the same sufferings as the teacher, viz. being dismissed by a Church he loved, because of enemies who operated by tactics of rumor, lies, and deceit. As a young seminarian, Marcel Lefebvre was schooled in how the Modernists operated, and when he found himself all alone defending the past teachings of the Church, he knew we could not cede the field to the Modernists under “obedience” for all would have been lost. But, onwards.

The rest of this part sees the Archbishop as a newly minted priest returning to his parish at Lille and beginning to help the Cure of his parish. He was noted for his great charity and zeal and everyone around him, even the unbelievers and non-practicing Catholics, were edified. Yet, the quiet parish life, though it suited him to the bone, was not to be his. His brother Rene, working with the Holy Ghost Fathers in Gabon, Africa, kept calling through his letters for Marcel to follow. Dr. White remarks that the obedience shown in such a small matter of cards cannot be disregarded as part of young Fr. Lefebvre’s decision to join Rene’s work. He left his family, not knowing it would be the last time he would see his mother, who was undergoing a crucifixion of bodily sufferings, on this earth.

Cream rises to the top, and Fr. Lefebvre was identified as a seminary professor. He worked to near breaking, as did many missionaries of that day. Indeed, the average life expectancy for missionaries of that time was 28-30, not simply due to the challenging African climate, but also because of the manifold diseases that roamed the dark continent (and alas, still do). One night, “In agony, he said, ‘I can’t stand it any more, I believe it is very serious. One cannot know, but I may die. Please hear my confession’” (66). Deo gratias, the Archbishop did not leave us that night, but it is illustrative of his spirit – to suffer in silence until it was absolutely unbearable. This was a mark of the Archbishop’s character.

As Part Two closes, we witness Fr. Lefebvre, surrounded by some happy children from his mission parish, reading a letter ordering him back to France to another seminary post. We end Part Two with another of Dr. White’s “historical sound bites”:

With sorrow, Fr. Lefebvre prepared to return to a war-torn Europe, a shattered continent that in half a dozen years had seen millions of souls ground up in the unrelenting jaws of war. One of the victims, dead in the concentration camp of Sonnenburg in 1944 was his father, Rene Lefebvre.

So much for Rocco Palmo and his vaunted (and flaunted) "SSPX anti-semitism." I wonder if Rocco knows that the father of the Society’s founder suffered the last years of his life in a Nazi concentration camp and also died there. Probably not.

Part Three

The death of Rene Lefebvre ends Part Two, but in the beginning of Part Three we can read his words to his children:

You know that I die a French Catholic, monarchist, because for me, it is only by the re-establishment of Christine monarchies that Europe and the world will be able once again to find stability and true peace. If I should die here, it is the Good Lord who will have decided in this fashion and without a retreat to prepare myself for heaven that my purgatory should have begun here.

This was the Lefebvre family spirit that exemplified the words on the Archbishop’s coat of arms: Credidimus caritati (We have believed in charity).

Fr. Lefebvre continued his duties of forming priests, now in his native France, with his body recovering from the hard years in Africa. Simply obedient to what the Church up to this time had asked him, viz. The task of forming priests, he was quite surprised when he received a call which informed of his designation as Apostolic Vicar of Dakar – a post that necessarily carried an Episcopal consecration.

Dr. White communicated the Archbishop’s thoughts thusly:

Fr. Lefebvre’s response to this news was not simple resignation, but fear. The priest knew fear. He had some knowledge of missionary work; he had learned to teach seminarians and to run a seminary; he had dealt with simple souls in parish life. To be a bishop means to be elevated beyond common tasks or simple duties. Responsibilities and burdens multiply; in a very real sense you become separated from those around you.

The Archbishop had taken the Oath against Modernism when ordained a subdeacon, deacon, and priest. Now, as a bishop, he would affirm it once more.

Thousands and thousands took the oath. As the years passed, more and more forgot or ignored it, or allowed their own consciences to redefine its meaning and their obligation. Two bishops kept the oath to the letter for their entire lives, one the Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, the other a bishop in Brazil.

In 1967 the oath was suppressed.

It should not be not be thought that I am quoting the only important parts of Dr. White’s momentous, instantly classic, work. The reality is that the tapestry he weaves cannot fairly be commented on – the intimacies of home life, his travails in Africa, the anecdotes of his episcopacy, etc. They must be read in their context, and in highlighting what I do, I hope to provide a framework wherein one might see the gaps and readily desire to fill them by reading more.

Good men never stay in one promotion for long. Bishop Lefebvre was soon appointed Apostolic Delegate for all of French-speaking Africa. This made him roughly equivalent to a papal nuncio, and such high elevation without greasing the wheels of politics in Rome would be noted in years to come.

The Archbishop was too much of a free agent for the liking of many in the Roman Curia. Too few in red and lavender robes with episcopally ringed hands had pushed the papers or put their seal of approval on this nobody’s appointment. This man must be an intruder, an upstart, an independent agent. Keep a close eye on him.

For now, his duties as listed showed the complete faith, trust, and hope that the Holy Father, in the person of Pius XII (of happy memory), placed in His Excellency.

…You will have forty-six dioceses to visit…see if the number of dioceses should be increased or decreased, if new bishops should be made…When a bishop resigns or dies, you will be in charge of submitting names to Rome for appointment of other bishops, etc. That means there will be dossiers to prepare. You will have to establish contact with the superiors general of the religious congregations, as the nominations of bishops also pertains to them, for they must tell you which of their subjects would be most apt for the episcopacy, etc.

How did the new Apostolic Delegate face such tasks?

With “great charity and kindness…natural politeness…radiant serenity. Calm of soul and grace of heart radiated from him and touched all who came to know him….Never impatient, never condescending, neither irksome nor quarrelsome, always upright and just, compassionate and stalwart."

Did such gentleness of heart make him a pushover? Indeed not. When faced with an unacceptable collaboration with Islam, in the guise of buying Muslim talismans or under pressure to convert away from Catholicism, Archbishop Lefebvre reacted in a Catholic manner. He put the region under interdict until the situation was resolved. “A warm, benevolent Archbishop wields a crosier that bites when it strikes in defense of the flock.”


But the unmitigated practice of Catholic bishopry was not to be allowed much longer. The wind changed, and a man who asked to receive his red hat from the hand of a Socialist and whose file in the Holy Office was marked “suspected of Modernism” appeared to have become the pope and got an “inspiration” to have the first pastoral council in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church.

John XXIII also succumbed to the spirit of collegiality before it was even named. The French bishops, upset that Archbishop Lefebvre would now be returning to France because the "pope" had relieved him of his duties as Apostolic Delegate, made sure that despite his rank as Archbishop, he would not be given an archdiocese and would not be allowed to participate in the French Assembly (read: infant growth of the infelicitous current Bishops’ Conferences).

Here our happy story takes us down the the unhappy and well-trod path that we, unfortunately, know too well because of the scholarship of the last 20 years. Dr. White manages to cover in an effective and narrative style, the sequence of events that have been well chronicled in Fr. Wiltgen’s Rhine flows into the Tiber, Michael Davies’ Pope John’s Council, Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, and The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, Romano Amerio’s seminal Iota Unum, Atila Sinke Guimaraes’s monumental In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, and the Archbishop’s own I accuse the Council! and A Bishop Speaks. Those who have read those works will find nothing new, but will not be bored with Dr. White’s own retelling of the facts. Indeed, we seem to have entered the act in the tragedy with the most unbelievable events, and Dr. White’s literary imagination does not lose the opportunity to actually and realistically walk through the idea of Paul VI as Hamlet or John Paul II as Lear.

Part Four

The Council was now closed. Men like Arcbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer became irrelevant as the "Church" decided on a new priesthood, a new Mass, a new approach to the world. What was the point of a sacrificial priesthood if the Mass was now the “Lord’s Supper,” as in a definition approved by Paul VI?

What was whispered about Fr. Le Floch (integrist, ultramontanist, rigorist, jansenist) was always whispered about the Archbishop. But now the long knives came out, vindicated by the unction of the “Spirit of the Council.”

This part, which includes many wonderful pictures of the Archbishop and his work, closes with an effective expulsion of his person as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. Aggiornamento had now become not just a clarion call from the Vatican, but was a freight train bearing down on those who would dare to “transmit what they had received.” This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, when "authority" would "expel" such a lion of Tradition.

One of Dr. White's prescient phrases about the character of the Archbishop also occurs here: "His basic decency and sense of fair play did him in" (151). Indeed, this happened also some time later at his kangaroo "trial" with 3 Cardinals in Rome.

Some of his last words as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers occurred here:

This spirit of democratization of the Church's teaching is a mortal danger if not for the Church, which God will protect forever, but for millions of helpless and poisoned souls to whose aid no Doctor comes.

Part Five

Now, the "drama of Econe," as it would be called for many years afterwards, truly began. It began as a remark from the Archbishop to a close friend, Fr. O'Carroll: "If I have to leave the congregation I shall found a traditionalist seminary and, within three years, I shall have one hundred and fifty students" (159). Given the destruction and hopelessness of the time, one might, if not aware of the Archbishop's sense of reality, think such remarks histrionic. But, indeed, they were a prophecy. And try as the Novus Order might to stamp it out, as in the obfuscation of the Third Secret, presided over by the current "Pope," some Catholics still believe in prophecies. Indeed, was it not a prophecy that a Babe would be born in Bethlehem?

Dr. White makes the point:

In 1965, there were 48,992 seminarians in the United States preparing for the priesthood; in 2002, there were 4,719 preparing to become cheerleaders for the "Civilization of Love." This was the New Pentecost"?

St. John Vianney follows:

If you want to destroy religion, you begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no more priest, there is no more sacrifice, and where there is no more sacrifice, there is no longer religion. Leave a parish twenty years without a priest and they will be worshipping the animals.

Econe was providentially given to the Archbishop, who went through the proper ecclesiastical channels to found the Society, which was providentially erected by the Bishop of the diocese, and Econe, despite denouncements from the bishops as a "wildcat seminary," began to flourish.

Dr. White reprints in this part a few speeches to the faithful that still today sound like the milk and honey of the true Faith that so clearly must have resounded to the parched faithful of just 40 years ago, just out of the destruction that was Vatican II. And they knew the voice of a true shepherd.

The "designated shepherd of Christ," Paul VI, of unhappy memory, was too busy making statements like "The Second Vatican Council has full authority. It is even more important than the Council of Nicea" (178).

Dr. White calls this statement "incredible." I actually searched my thesaurus to find a more adequate word, because it's beyond astonishing. To put it informally, it's flabbergasting. Nicea, which affirmed the Divinity of Our Lord, less important than Vatican II, which did nothing but let in destruction? Yes, the smoke of Satan, introduced by Paul VI and Vatican II, had truly entered the Church.

Now the story follows the course, familiar to some, not known to others, of the Society's "suppression," the Archbishop's "suspension" (to which he cheerfully replied that he did not mind being suspended from saying the New Mass, as he did not say it), and calumnies about Econe spread worldwide.

The sequence in this part of the Archbishop's final audience with Paul VI is not only one of the most memorable and telling parts of this book and the drama of Rome and Econe, it is told in a narrative way that one reading it might truly feel present at that exchange. Paul VI, with a "tormented and feverish face" (210) and The Archbishop "overcome, put(ting) his head in his hands" (211) when the Pope asked (among other wild and crazy accusations) whether he should resign and give his position to the Archbishop, and when Archbishop Lefebvre realized that this audience was not about doctrine and ideas, it was about "hurt feelings" (211).

Part Six

This part chronicles the time after this audience to the controversial consecration of 1988. Bishop de Castro Mayer, against his doctor's advice, flew to Econe to demonstrate his unity with the cause of Tradition, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger worked day and night to bind the Archbishop and the Society to the millstone of Vatican II, and the whole Catholic world watched in astonishment as the word "excommunication," withheld from such "new luminaries" like Congar, Curran, and Kung, was now put on this Lion of the Faith, and Bishop de Castro Mayer, and the four new bishops.

These events, more recent, are perhaps better known, but Dr. White gives them even deeper context in the words of the Archbishop. In response to the question of whether he was in schism, we find the Catholic response of the Archbishop:

Why is breaking with the Pope an act of schism? Because where the Pope is, there is the Catholic Church. It really means withdrawing from the Catholic Church. Now the Catholic Church is a mystic reality that exists, not only on the earth's surface, but also in time and eternity. For the Pope to represent the Church and be her image, he must be united to her, not only in space, but also in time, the church being essentially a living tradition.

In the same measure that a pope should withdraw from this tradition, he would become schismatic, would withdraw from the church. Theologians like St. Bellarmine, Cajetan, Cardinal Journet, and many others have studied this eventuality. It is, therefore, not something inconceivable...

Limiting ourselves to internal and external criticism of Vatican II, that is, analyzing the Council's texts and studying its affinities and effects - we believe we may state that, turning its back on tradition, breaking with the Church of the past, it is a schismatic council...

Limits of space and painfulness of reality constrain our discussion of the Apostasy-Event of Assisi 1986. Indeed, "the past judges the present. God will judge in the future," (220) as the Archbishop said.

Part Seven

June 1988 had many consequences. One of them was the abandonment of Tradition for the label of legitimacy by Dom Gerard Calvet of Le Barroux.

Those close to the Archbishop said that when word reached him that Dom Gerard had broken his word, they witnessed the Archbishop weep, so deep was his disappointment and dismay. (They had never seen him weep but that once; they only saw him angry once, when some seminarians mocked a modernist priest, and only saw him run once, when he tried to catch Jean Madiran, who was boarding a train).

This part, along with the epilogue, ties together all the previous parts in a way that not only satisfies, but throws a light out through the darkness in the spirit of the Archbishop, one of our last links with a Church, a faith, and a priestly formation that, without him, might have been lost forever.

Dr. White is to be commended for writing a classic. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in traditional Catholic history. It would be of interest to those who do not attend chapels serviced by the priest of the Society of St. Pius X so that they may read of the trials of a man, who, whether they want to admit it or not, is the only reason that the Latin Mass and the Traditional Faith still exist in the Church today.

From all of us who know that to be true:

Gratias tibi agimus, et requiescat in pace, Marcel Lefebvre.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France, where he attends Mass celebrated by the clergy of the IMBC. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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