Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s New Book on Hope Provides Counterpoint to Francis Agenda

Die Botschaft der Hoffnung (The Message of Hope)
Gerhard Ludwig Müller
Publisher Herder
280 pages
€ 24.99

[Editor’s Note: We’ve had this review in the queue since October, but with all that is currently transpiring in Rome, it seemed appropriate to publish it now, insofar as it stands as a witness that Cardinal Müller, whose duty it is to act as the chief doctrinal guardian of the Church, has in fact already made arguments in his recent book that align with the thrust of the dubia put forward by the Four Cardinals. We hope that the good cardinal will stand with them as the curia gathers together in Rome for tomorrow’s consistory.]

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has published yet another book with which he again attempts to teach and defend the Catholic Faith in light of the current confusions which are spreading within the various ranks of the Catholic Church. If one reads the new book carefully, it could very well be read as a polite and indirect corrective to many aspects of the Francis Papacy concerning matters of Faith and Morals.

2016-11-18_13-49-37Previously, in 2014, Cardinal Müller had made two similar attempts at defending the Faith by publishing the interview-book The Hope of the Family and by writing an essay for inclusion in the Five Cardinals Book. With both of these contributions, the German cardinal aimed specifically at defending the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and the family. With his new book – published so far only in the original Spanish and also translated into German – he has taken a broader approach to the Faith, namely considering it especially under the aspect of hope. Die Botschaft der Hoffnung. Gedanken über den Kern der christlichen Botschaft (The Message of Hope. Thoughts on the Essence of the Christian Message) is the title of the book now recently published by the publishing house Herder Verlag in German from which I will henceforth quote (and translate) in the following commentary. Father Carlos Granados, editor-in-chief of the Spanish publishing house Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, was the person who asked the questions for this interview-book and published it himself in Spanish.

What I shall try to show in the following is how this new book answers many questions that have been more widely raised and thereby defends many aspects of the Faith that have been sometimes put into question under Pope Francis. Indirectly, Cardinal Müller politely corrects the Holy Father. Dr. Sandro Magister, the Vatican specialist, has already published in English important parts of the book that deal with questions concerning, for example, priestly celibacy, women’s priesthood, and the Protestantization of the Church. Therefore, I shall not go into any detail with regard to those clearly essential parts of the book already touched upon.

In this new 280-page book, Cardinal Müller addresses a large audience – it seems that this book also speaks to those people who are outside of the Catholic Church and who sincerely try to understand the Catholic Faith. He shows that the West and many other parts of the world have become sad and hopeless because people have excluded from their innermost lives Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is the abiding reason for true hope.  With piercing words,  Müller describes our modern world as aimless and unhappy. People have become mere materialists and hedonists and consider themselves to be “mere accidents of evolution” with no deeper aim or ultimate purpose in life, with no thought about what comes after death. The family as the kernel of society and of the Faith also finds itself under special attacks from some new ideologies. Müller describes our world as follows when speaking about these new ideologies that are undermining and uprooting the family:

It is de facto a new form of pre-Christian hedonism which clearly aims at manipulating society. Nothing is better and easier to control than an insecure individual without true family bonds, without history and without any other goal except prosperity – even if of low quality. One offers him panem et circenses (Bread and Circuses), just it was the case in Ancient Pagan Rome, but now enfolded in a modern, digitalized robe. (p. 176)

With this important – and very realistic – depiction of the current situation we are in, Cardinal Müller proceeds to analyze, and sometimes to reject, the following claims and proposals that have gotten much attention and more magisterial weight under the Francis papacy. For example, Cardinal Müller thus

  • speaks throughout the book in the language of supernatural Grace and describes theological hope as a supernatural virtue (p. 9);
  • speaks against a more decentralized structure of the Catholic Church which undermines its universality and cohesion (p. 103);
  • criticizes, in the atmosphere and tendentious context of a call for a more Synodal Church, the additional idea of a more democratized Church, especially because “the Church is not a human institution” and because “God Himself in His absolute sovereignty reigns over her” (104);
  • rejects the idea of putting the purported supernaturalis sensus fidei (the supernatural sense of the Faith claimed by the faithful) above the Magisterium of the Church, which would thus unjustly promote another ambiguous “democratization of the Faith” and a strengthening of the “subjective and private opinion of each of the individual faithful in the Church” (p. 105);
  • defends priestly celibacy, rejects the idea of female priests, and of the custom of promoting viri probati (married men with proven virtuous lives) as a first step toward having more married priests (pp. 113-119 – for more details see Dr. Magister’s above-mentioned article); says, for example: “Are we aware that a massive acceptance of so-called viri probati … would mean for sure the end of celibacy?” (p. 119)
  • insists upon the infallibility of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium which has closed many of these debates about moral matters, and already now for a long time (p. 117);
  • insists upon the need to have and affirm the Catholic Faith whole and entire (“Rechtgläubigkeit”) in order to reach salvation (Beatitude and Eternal Life) (p. 121);
  • also insists that one’s own individual life has to be lived consistently in accordance with that Faith (p. 122);
  • rejects the interpretation of Pope Francis’ famous words “Who am I to judge” as meaning a loosening of the Catholic Church’s moral laws; he says that “the pope and the bishops have the duty to present those criteria of the Last Judgement” and to “say what is right and what is wrong” (pp. 128-129);
  • insists that “without a personal conversion, a relationship with Christ is impossible” (p. 130);
  • speaks about the fact that a lack of Faith and one’s deep rootedness in the Faith – and thus a lack of an “anthropology that is rooted in Revelation” – leads to a state of “permanent revolution” and creates a “state open to manipulation” (pp. 137-138); [my emphasis]
  • says that “we Catholics have no reason to celebrate 31 October 1517 [the Protestant Reformation] because it broke apart Western Christianity” (p. 156); [my emphasis]
  • mentions Mary as the Mother of God who is “the point of departure and center of the mystery of salvation” and the “personified anticipation of the Church in the order of the Faith, of the love, and of the perfect union with Christ” (p. 165); reaffirms the Marian Dogmas (such as her Assumption, her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual Virginity and her state as being the Mother of God) (pp. 48, 165-166);
  • calls us not to accept “the different ‘family models’” which the “seemingly crazy Western society wants to impose upon us,” and also importantly says that there exists no human right to do what is wrong. (p. 175) [my emphasis]
  • insists that “there is no human fulfillment” in any irregular sexual relationship – be it homosexual or polygamous” (p. 174); there cannot be a right to such a way of life because “human rights are based on human nature and not on the desires of individuals”;
  • reminds us that “marriage is a gift from the Lord,” that God will help us with the Sacrament and His Grace to live it, and that He thereby never fails any marriage. “He [God] promised us that His Grace will help us.” And he says that marital love “is a gift from God which has to be selflessly lived and daily preserved as the finest gift that one will ever hold in one’s hands” (p. 180; pp. 190-193); “With Jesus, a love is possible that lasts for the whole lifetime” (p. 205);
  • claims that gender theory is the essence of “the idea that man can create himself,” and without the Creator; thus the danger that “we turn our own desires into an idol and decide ourselves what is good and what is evil” (pp. 183-184); [my emphasis]
  • importantly points out that the “fragmentation of man” and an “extreme individualism” is the twin of the totalitarian ideologies (p. 186);
  • insists that, since the Church’s duty is to lead people to heaven, she has “never any authorization to dispense man (because of a purported compassionate or well-meaning attitude) from obeying God’s Commandments” (p. 194);
  • speaks about the negative consequences of artificial birth control on marriage and the family – especially since it turns human sexuality into a mere self-serving idea, instead of seeing a “path to accept the Gift of Life” (p. 202-203);
  • criticizes the Orthodox Church’s allowance of a second marriage, because he does not see it at all in accordance with the Gospels – “When I consider the words of Jesus about the indissolubility of marriage, I do not see how this [Orthodox Christian] practice [of allowing a second marriage] can be deduced from the Will of God” (p. 206);
  • insists upon Familiaris Consortio‘s teaching concerning the “remarried” divorcees and their not being able to access to the Sacraments, unless they practice continuous chastity; says that this document “confirms explicitly the dogmatic teaching of the Church on marriage” (pp. 208-209); [my emphasis]
  • re-states that “the individual conscience cannot be separated from the Church’s Magisterium, just as the pastoral practice cannot be separated from the Church’s doctrine” (p. 211). He says that the Church cannot “lower the standard of the Commandments,” that she may not “promote sinful conduct” and “mock God and His Commandments” with the putative help of only a false mercy; and that one reaches the “radiant state of sanctifying Grace” only with the help of true forgiveness of sins – thus by the sinner’s freely turning away from the “dark life without God” (pp. 260-261; 267);
  • warns us all against becoming “complicit in another’s sin” (p. 268) and reminds us, instead, to practice, at times, firm acts of “fraternal correction” (p. 269); [my emphasis]
  • states that true “Mercy cannot relativize the Commandments of God” (p. 270);
  • tells us that “repentance and penance as active repentance” are “the only way [for someone] to find peace and reconciliation with himself” (p. 272);
  • and he finally also reminds us of the existence of hell as “a real possibility”; and he speaks of purgatory, too. (pp. 271, 273)

Cardinal  Müller’s underlying idea is that all of these societal problems are moral problems to which only a virtuous Hope in the Triune God can give us sufficient help and assistance, as well as rootedness and security. He thus proposes radically to change our society by leading people back to the Faith. (p. 204) He reminds us of the importance of the Grace of God in our lives and of all the seven Sacraments. Cardinal Müller also reminds the Church to teach a clear teaching and insists that a priest has to live a strong prayer life and to perform a “worthy celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass …. to offer Him up with highest dignity in the unbloody Sacrifice of Holy Mass” (p. 146) – in order to help him to re-evangelize the world.

As I said above, all these thoughts and doctrinal teachings are very helpful in the midst of our current situation of chaos and anarchical confusion. If I myself would have the chance – for, upon my request, I was told that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is right now very deeply occupied and thus cannot answer my questions – I would like to discuss with him some points that I find still insufficiently considered in a book explicitly about hope: these points, if included in the book, might also help foster a stronger and more vibrant Faith. This I propose from the viewpoint, and with the limited experience, of a convert to the Faith, with the vantage point of a wife and mother and a mere laywoman who tries to live and grow in the Faith with her family in this time of history.

Here I shall now name only six main points, even though there could easily be found a few more. Moreover, in justice I have to note, once again, that the currently published German translation itself stems from the Spanish original and thus it has gone through the hands of a later German translator, and not through Cardinal Müller himself. Certain formulations in the current German version have raised a few questions in my mind as to whether the translation has been sufficiently accurate and also reliably close to the original Spanish version.

But, here are some points that I would have liked to present and to discuss with Cardinal Müller himself, for he

  • claims that “we share with the Jews not only some values and historical memories, but the same God of the Salvific History of that same Chosen People. The God for whom we Christians hope is the same for whom the Jews hope, to whom they pray and to whom they dedicate their whole lives” (p. 37); (Here I would ask: Do the modern Jews hope in the Triune God?);
  • claims that Jesus Christ Himself somehow also had the Virtue of Hope, as when he says that “Jesus Himself lived the hope in his Father” (p. 38); (Here I would object, saying that Jesus only had one infused Theological Virtue: the Virtue of Charity. The Incarnate God had no need of infused Faith and Hope); in the Hypostatic Union, He had knowledge, not belief; and He had no fear of defection or the final loss of Beatitude.
  • says that “the causes for the current crisis of Faith are not to be found in the [Second Vatican] Council as such” since the Council presents “in all of its documents … the Christian Faith in its entirety”; adds that the Council gave the Church “good fruits in difficult times” (p. 132); criticizes “traditionalists who relativize the Council because it purportedly was not dogmatic” and for thereby having and holding an “extreme position” (p. 145);
  • does not once explicitly and doctrinally mention in a book on Hope the two sins against Hope: namely, presumption and despair, both of which are also grave sins against the Holy Ghost;
  • explicitly says that “the only seed … is the Faith in Christ as the Son of the living God. This is the only true seed – if we are truly interested in securing the future for the coming generations: the Faith in Christ, connected with the Sacraments” (p. 246); he says these words without further pointing to the Blessed Mother and all the Angels and Saints as constant aides and consoling causes for hope; and also without once mentioning throughout the book the importance of the Rosary – for nations and individuals, especially for families in times of crises and distress. The recent Celebration of the Battle of Lepanto should give us a hint as to the importance of the Rosary for the increase of Hope in a People, to include the ultimate Hope of Salvation (Spes Salutis);
  • supports, in the context of the family, the idea to “bring more into accord the life of work and the life of families” for both spouses (p. 177) without once speaking of the evils of the ideology and “praxis” of “feminism” which has largely taught women that they are only of worth if they also work outside in the world, thus thereby helping to destroy the family wage for a man to be able to provide for his whole family on his own; he omits, it seems, one of the major reasons for the current and ongoing subversion and weakening of the family, namely: the mother’s going out of the home to work, and apart from her children, making it harder for them to know the warmth of the hearth and the heart of the mother.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller was himself ordained as a priest on 11 February 1978, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, on 11 February 1978. He is known to be a supporter of Our Lady of Lourdes, having, for example, personally organized and led a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2008 when he was still the Bishop of Regensburg, Germany. He likely thus has a strong Marian devotion, at least on the evidence of these facts. Thus I hereby invite him publicly likewise to help spread the devotion to Our Lady as the Hope of Christians, manifested in so many historical circumstances (such as at Lepanto or at the Vistula). The most recent example, perhaps, is the success in the pushing back of the Islamicist Group Boko Haram in Nigeria, which was ardently done with the help of the Holy Rosary.

May Our Lady of Lourdes watch over Cardinal Müller and strengthen him to help our beloved Church to come back to the fullness of the beauty of our Faith – to include our strong call to all men in the world to join the One True Church of Christ. May she bless him for his sustained and pain-filled struggle to defend the many teachings of the Church which are right now so much under a subversive siege – just as once the whole of Christendom was under siege by the Muslims; a siege that was then effectively stopped with the help of Our Lady of the Rosary – and not only at Lepanto.

(Nota Bene: According to Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., the English translation of Cardinal Müller’s book on hope will be published by Ignatius Press in spring of 2017.)

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