Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has written a new book about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Called Benedict and Francis, Successors of Peter in the Service of the Church, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief offers a “frank analysis and reflection” on the challenges that societies and contemporary culture pose to the Church in light of the two pontificates, according to publishers Edizioni Ares.

The book, a series of essays to be released in the coming days in Italian, covers the “role of the papacy today, the value of secularism for a Christian, the apparent dichotomy between the uniqueness of the Church founded by Jesus of Nazareth and ecumenism, and the universal call to the apostolate and to holiness amid the demands of a ‘new evangelization’.”

“In these instances,” the book’s publishers continue, “the popes — also Benedict and Francis — each respond with a charism all their own which the author on these pages intends to emphasize.”

In his essays, Cardinal Müller considers how, given the gravity of the “human crisis in our time”, and how the world “seems every day to be on the point of shattering” due to “personal narcissism and increasingly global conflicts”, the Gospel can be rediscovered, “incarnated through the centuries in the Tradition of the Church.”

This allows the Church to carry out “her sacramental mission around the Roman Pontiff, the only beacon that can help man, every man, that divine imprint that distracts him from earthly horizons and makes him even now a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem.”

In a short excerpt, the publishers quote Cardinal Müller’s own words in which he writes that “in the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ and in the ‘globalization of indifference’ — to borrow the expressions of Benedict XVI and Francis — the boundaries between truth and falsehood, between good and evil are becoming confused.”

He adds that the “challenge for the hierarchy and for all members of the Church is to resist these worldly infections and to heal the spiritual diseases of our time.”

 

Continuity and critique

Cardinal Müller has often tried to steer a line of continuity between Benedict and Francis while at the same time being critical of certain prevailing elements and trends in the Church.

This was perhaps seen most clearly in a little publicized talk he gave a year ago in Chile. The German theologian stressed the importance of bishops reaffirming their union with the Pope, but also warned against the “introduction of elements of liberal Protestantism” in the Church.

Turning to bishops conferences, he said they should not become “a kind of de facto central government of the Church” in any particular country. Quoting St. John Paul II, the cardinal said they exist to “help the bishops, not to replace them”, but a “poor understanding” of the theological nature of the relatively new institution has led to the danger of them taking on the “organizational style of the Reformed community”. They then become similar to a “national church”, he said, able to determine “certain emphases of content and procedure” to which they adapt diocesan pastoral programs.

Cardinal Müller also spoke of the dangers of relativism in the Church, recalling how the 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus was rejected by some theological circles, and how relativism has led to “a religious syncretism”. He also noted how it has “affected relations with other Christian confessions”, leading to an ecumenism that in some cases abandons the true Christian message to proclaim instead “purely natural religious truths.” As a consequence, fundamental anthropological truths about the human person have become “diluted”, he said, especially Christian concepts of the “human person, marriage and life.”

He noted that “theological dissent” in the field of Catholic morality, always a concern of the CDF, has been “particularly present” in recent decades. He reminded bishops and clergy that having been “entrusted with the task of preserving, explaining and spreading the Word of God,” they must “correct errors with courage and boldness”, even making use of the mass media to do so.

Cardinal Müller made several references to the 1990 CDF Instruction Donum Veritatis which says “theology has importance for the Church in every age so that it can respond to the plan of God ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4).”

The cardinal also criticized the undue influence of human sciences on theology, and how dissent sometimes appeals to a “kind of sociological argumentation which holds that the opinion of a large number of Christians would be a direct and adequate expression of the ‘supernatural sense of the faith’.”

Regarding the “sensus fidei”, or the sense of the faithful, he said “the opinions of the faithful cannot be purely and simply identified with the ‘sensus fidei’." That is a "property of theological faith," he said, "and, as God's gift which enables one to adhere personally to the Truth, it cannot err.”

The cardinal also noted the “disappearance or lack of appreciation of the importance of divine grace in the spiritual life” which ends up “disfiguring” the “purpose of the sacraments, prayer and traditional Church teaching on Christian and vocational life.” 

He further underlined the importance of an “adequate teaching of the content of the Catechism” which he said, quoting again the words of John Paul II, "is a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”