VATICAN CITY — Christianity offers the “greatest alternative” against the “culture of death” because Christians “promote the culture of life and of hope,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has stated.
In this June 14 email interview with the Register, the German cardinal elaborates on the need for Christian hope in the world today — a theme that runs through a new book-interview with him that has just been published.
Entitled The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Cardinal Müller says he agreed to collaborate on it as part of the congregation’s efforts “to both promote and to defend the Catholic faith.”
In 1985, when he was CDF prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger granted a similar book-length interview with the Italian writer Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report.
Cardinal Müller also discusses whether the CDF should return to being the “suprema dicastery” — the highest-ranking Vatican office — as it was until Paul VI transferred those privileges to the Secretariat of State in the 1960s. He reminded readers that Cardinal Ratzinger, when CDF prefect, believed it to be “the most important instrument for the magisterium of the pope because Jesus Christ instituted Peter and his successors as the principle source and foundation for the unity of the entire Church.”
“We trust in the Catholic faith more than in diplomacy and politics,” Cardinal Müller says.
Your Eminence, what prompted you to collaborate on the book?
The interview was at the initiative of Father Carlos Granados. It was his intention for the interview to be similar to the interview that Cardinal Ratzinger gave during his tenure as prefect of this congregation, which was entitled The Ratzinger Report. The interview was granted with regard to the efforts of this congregation to both promote and to defend the Catholic faith.
In 1965, the Roman Curia was reformed, and a missionary dimension was given to this congregation to promote the Catholic faith by engaging the modern world in philosophical and theological dialogue. This is part of the mission of the Second Vatican Council.
What do you hope the book achieves, and what are the key passages of importance, in your view?
The modern world faces great challenges in the face of secularism, which limits the great horizon of the human being and his or her intellectual orientation. In 1 Peter 3:15, we read that we must “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope.”
We are not relics of the past, but we keep our eyes on the future. We do not live as if we were in apocalyptic darkness. The light of Christ, the Son of God, who gives us life through his resurrection, opens the door to overcome death and sin, so that man in his tendency to self-destruction may be overcome. We wait in anticipation for Christ’s second coming to see the ultimate purpose for mankind. There is not an alternative form of Christianity found in other religions. Christianity itself, however, offers the greatest alternative against the culture of death, as we Christians promote the culture of life and of hope.
In the book, you are dismissive of saying the Church has to change with the times: How much is this a current danger that the Church is falling into, in your view?
The Church must be present in every period of time in which she finds herself. Jesus is always with us, and, therefore, every epoch is present to God, who is our Father, to Jesus Christ, who is our brother, and to our friend in the Holy Spirit. However, we must distinguish the characteristics of the different epochs.
Beginning with the Church Fathers, who refused the negative consequences of Greek and Roman mythology, but at the same time, on the other hand, accepted all that is good and true, within the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and in the moral philosophy of the Stoics.
For example, we are against the ideology of gender because we have the better understanding of what gender actually is. Man and woman are equally persons, but they are different with regards to their gender. This reality makes relations between persons possible and makes possible the love of the husband for the wife, and the subsequent responsibility for the upbringing of their children. The family gives a prophetic witness for society that children are not an obstacle for self-realization. On the contrary, however, children are a sign for the world of the love which God has placed in our hearts, the same love that sustains all of creation.
You also oppose “self-help dynamics” in the book — why are they so harmful?
Everything depends on the grace of God. Without his prevenient grace, it is not possible for us to do the good which pertains to our salvation. The Church has refuted all forms of Pelagianism — at all times — as it denies the absolute necessity of grace, justification and sanctification.
In the 20th century, we are faced with the ideologies of self-salvation in the form of political ideologies, leading to one of the biggest disasters in the history of mankind. The grace of God, for which we must pray, does not deny our natural capacities, but on the contrary, makes us able to cooperate with God, which serves for the glory of God, but also for the good of mankind, as we cooperate with him in our individual lives, within our families, within the context of politics, and in the culture as a whole.
In this regard we should consider the social doctrine of the Church, with the good fruit that it has born, and its positive anthropology. Christian anthropology brings with it a positive orientation for human existence, which is hopeful. Nihilism is what lies behind a false activism, which is rooted in self-salvation.
Parts of Amoris Laetitia are criticized for being geared too much to compromising on the Gospel, trying to be too much with the times; is the document, especially Chapter 8, of great concern to you?
I have said it many times, and I repeat it here again: Matrimony is instituted by God the Creator and is elevated as a sacrament by Jesus Christ. By his mystery of salvation, it means that matrimony between Christians is a sign and instrument of the deeper unity with Jesus Christ and his nuptial relationship with the Church as his Bride.
Jesus established clearly, and without doubt, the indissolubility of valid matrimony. This is what we must preach, declare and explain to the Catholic faithful. Recognizing the indissolubility of marriage is a responsibility for all Catholic people. Marriage takes part in the new creation that is brought about by Jesus Christ and is a high, noble and mature choice for the Christian. We should help people who find themselves in a situation of marital difficulty, but not only with pragmatic reflections, according to the spirit of the world, but according to the Holy Spirit, with the means of the sacraments and the internal and canonical conditions for the reception of Holy Communion, which necessarily includes the confession of all grave sin.
Contrition, confession and reparation are the three necessary elements for absolution. These are the immediate conditions for receiving the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ, who is the same divine Person who forgives us.
How important is it to you that you remain a senior figure of the Roman Curia at this time?
My identity does not depend on the position. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis asked me to come to Rome.
With the help of God’s grace, I will do my best. However, the Church does not depend on me, but, on the contrary, I depend upon the Church. The Church, for me, is not the external organization of the Roman Curia, but the People of God, the Body of Christ. The Church is both the sign and the instrument of the communion between God and the world.
Do you believe the CDF should again become the suprema dicastery, rather than the Secretariat of State, which took precedence upon the instruction of Blessed Paul VI?
Especially with reference to the work of Cardinal Ratzinger as prefect of this congregation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the most important instrument for the magisterium of the pope because Jesus Christ instituted Peter and his successors as the principle source and foundation for the unity of the entire Church.
The confession of St. Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” is at the center of our Catholic faith. Peace and social justice in the world is not the essence of the mission, but only its positive consequence. We trust in the Catholic faith more than in diplomacy and politics.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.