Cardinal Brandmüller on the Tradition of Making Papal Professions of Faith

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller – the former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences and one of the four dubia cardinals – has just published an article in German (in Die Neue Ordnung, August issue) in which he discusses an old ecclesiastical tradition – and its exemplified history – of how newly elected popes have made their own professions of Faith.

Under the title “The Pope: Believer; Teacher of the Faithful,” the German prelate reminds the readers that Jesus Christ gave St. Peter the mission of becoming the rock upon which He wanted to build His Church only after St. Peter had made a profession of Faith: “Thou are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” “Following the profession of Faith of the Apostle, Jesus responds with His unique call to Peter,” as Brandmüller explains. He then continues, saying:

In this light, the foundational significance of Peter’s Faith for the inchoate Church becomes clear. Analogously, this of course also applies for the successor of Peter, the pope. Also the pope is foremost a “listener of the word” (K. Rahner [sic]), a believer, and only as such can he thus be a guarantee and teacher of the Faith for the Church.

The cardinal then explains that the pope himself, though the head of the Church, still is “in organic connection a member of that one body.” In light of these words, Cardinal Brandmüller makes it clear how important it is for the Catholic Church that the pope is himself to be seen actually preserving the authentic Catholic Faith:

If this is the case, then it becomes understandable that it lies in the vital interest of the Church that she can be sure of the genuine, authentic Faith of exactly that man who is the successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Peter, and [thus] carrier of his authority.

Importantly, Cardinal  Brandmüller explains that there is a tradition that goes back to the 5th century that a newly elected pope would communicate his profession of Faith (Professio fidei). The shared “community of the Apostolic Faith” (consortium fidei apostolicae) was the purpose of such professions of faith which took different forms over the course of history. (A personal side remark here: My husband remembers how in Rome once, in the presence of Father John Hardon, S.J., one bluntly forthright cardinal reminded Mother Teresa of Calcutta explicitly that “The basis of unity is truth!”)

Moreover, Cardinal Brandmüller refers to early-medieval documents which show that popes during that period of time had to proclaim a profession of faith before and after their own papal election. This profession of Faith was the basis of the unity between “the pope and the faithful of the Church.” In one such early text (from perhaps the 7th century) called Indiculum Pontificis, explains Brandmüller, “the new pope declares the true Faith as it has been founded by Christ, passed on by Peter, and then transmitted from his successor on to the last, newly elected pope, as he has himself found it in the Church and which he desires now to protect with his own blood.” That Faith includes

the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation, as well as the additional ‘dogmata‘ [dogmas] of the Church as it had been laid down by the general councils, the constitutiones [constitutions] of the pope, and the respected teachers of the Church.

Additionally, the new pope binds himself to confirm and to preserve all the decrees of his predecessors.  Brandmüller comments upon this last fact, as follows:

It is striking how explicitly – especially in the last paragraph of the text – the strict preservation of the given and now transmitted is being stressed: he [the pope] promises to preserve the canones [canons] and decrees of our popes as divine and heavenly commandments.

Among other declarations or additional formulas (among them condemnations of specific heresies and erroneous teachings), this specific text explicitly mentions that the new pope threatens anyone who aims at contradicting any element of this orthodox Faith and tradition with an anathema (“anathema sit”).

As Cardinal Brandmüller shows, however, this custom has not been kept without interruption, but it can be found as far back as the 15th century. After the Eastern Schism in the 14th century and the further eruptions in the early 15th century, the Church then tried to “re-establish unity” on the eve of the Council of Constance. These newly formulated professions of Faith for the popes were, however, based on an earlier profession of Faith, the Liber Diurnus. At this point, Cardinal Brandmüller quotes and discusses at length this new text and compares it with previous versions of those professions of Faith. An important aspect here to be mentioned is that he says that that new text was to be read aloud on every anniversary of the pope’s coronation so as to remind him of his promises and solemn profession.

The German prelate then concludes that those professions of Faith have always been “reactions to serious, threatening crises of Faith”: that is, “Answers of popes to threats to the genuine Catholic Faith in its changing historical context.”

It is here that we readers might well consider that Cardinal Brandmüller deftly implies that we too might ourselves be again faced with such a crisis, and that such a profession of Faith might be once more a fitting and helpful tool in the preservation of unity within the Catholic Church.

He concludes his learned essay with the following meaningful words:

In a comparable situation – that is to say, in the confusion concerning the right interpretation of the Second Vatican Council – when Bl. Pope Paul VI even had to bemoan, in a review on 30 June 1972, that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church’s interior, he proclaimed with great concern for the truth and the clarity of the Faith at the end of the “Year of Faith” on 30 June 1968 his “Creed of the People of God.” As the first, he thus had given his own personal profession of Faith in front of tens of thousands of faithful which he then presented to the whole Church. This took place at the height of the cultural revolution of 1968 which had profound effects also on the Church. These went so far that there took place – at the German Katholikentag [Catholic Convention] in Essen in the same year – indignant demonstrations against Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (25 June 1968) – a magisterial document whose prophetic character and whose providential significance since then are being more and more recognized.

Cardinal Brandmüller then brings his essay to a close with this:

Whoever considers this historical finding in the light of our present time may well ask himself what conclusion could be drawn for the Church of our days.

Since Cardinal Brandmüller is one of the dubia cardinals, the implication is that Pope Francis might do well himself to make such an orthodox and public profession of Faith.

It is worthwhile to remember in this context that it was recently, in June of 2017, that an Italian Monsignor Nicola Bux, in an interview with Edward Pentin, called upon Pope Francis to make exactly such a profession of Faith. Cardinal Brandmüller’s own words seem to resonate in those of Monsignor Bux:

We are in a full crisis of faith! Therefore, in order to stop the divisions now in progress, the Pope [i.e., Pope Francis] — like Paul VI in 1967, faced with the erroneous theories that were circulating shortly after the conclusion of the Council — should make a Declaration or Profession of Faith, affirming what is Catholic, and correcting those ambiguous and erroneous words and acts — his own and those of bishops — that are interpreted in a non-Catholic manner.

Otherwise, it would be grotesque that, while seeking unity with non-Catholic Christians or even understanding with non-Christians, apostasy and division are being fostered within the Catholic Church.

Let us also aptly consider – in light of these loyal proposals – that popes might first make an act of retraction – analogous to the ones humbly made by St. Augustine of Hippo – before they then would proceed to make their own profession of Faith.

It is also noteworthy that Cardinal Brandmüller’s own subtle and polite exploration of this topic comes to the public shortly after Cardinal Raymond L. Burke – one of his dubia colleagues – has explained more explicitly what a possible public fraternal correction of Pope Francis would look like. In a 14 August interview with The Wanderer, Cardinal Burke recently laid out a vision for such action as follows:

Q. Setting aside the question of timing, please explain how the process for the execution of a “formal correction” would proceed should a response to the five dubia not be forthcoming? How is a formal correction officially submitted, how is it addressed within the Church’s hierarchical structure, etc.?

A. The process has not been frequently invoked in the Church, and not now for several centuries. There has been the correction of past Holy Fathers on significant points, but not in a doctrinal way. It seems to me that the essence of the correction is quite simple. On the one hand, one sets forth the clear teaching of the Church; on the other hand, what is actually being taught by the Roman Pontiff is stated. If there is a contradiction, the Roman Pontiff is called to conform his own teaching in obedience to Christ and the Magisterium of the Church.

The question is asked, “How would this be done?” It is done very simply by a formal declaration to which the Holy Father would be obliged to respond. Cardinals Brandmüller, Caffarra, Meisner, and I used an ancient institution in the Church of proposing dubia to the Pope.

This was done in a very respectful way and not in any way to be aggressive, in order to give him the occasion to set forth the Church’s unchanging teaching. Pope Francis has chosen not to respond to the five dubia, so it is now necessary simply to state what the Church teaches about marriage, the family, acts that are intrinsically evil, and so forth. These are the points that are not clear in the current teachings of the Roman Pontiff; therefore, this situation must be corrected. The correction would then direct itself principally to those doctrinal points.

There have been cases, as I mentioned, of the correction of past Roman Pontiffs on non-doctrinal points where cardinals have gone to the Holy Father on one thing or the other such as, for example, matters dealing with administration of the Church.

Another question can also be raised. The Pope is the principle of unity of the bishops and all the faithful. However, the Church is being torn asunder right now by confusion and division. The Holy Father must be called on to exercise his office to put an end to this.

So then, the next step would be a formal declaration stating the clear teachings of the Church as set forth in the dubia. Furthermore, it would be stated that these truths of the Faith are not being clearly set forth by the Roman Pontiff. In other words, instead of asking the questions as was done in the dubia, the formal correction would be stating the answers as clearly taught by the Church.

Let us pray for the three remaining dubia cardinals that they may also receive the sustaining light and strength from God as to what step they should courageously take next, and also when they should do it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email