Cardinal Meisner Recounts His “Nearly Traumatic Call to the Episcopacy”

As we reported yesterday, Cardinal Joachim Meisner appears now to have been singled out especially for criticism among the Four Cardinals who have recently made public their dubia with regard to Amoris Laetitia.

In this context, we have thought it to be worthwhile to present a brief text that Cardinal Meisner wrote in April of 2016, the very month of the publication of Amoris Laetitia. This text was written as a foreword to a book authored by the German theologian and book author, Dr. Markus Büning, who recently himself defended Cardinal Meisner with an explicit reference to that same foreword, even pointing to the fact that Meisner had to grow up amidst many burdens in Communist East Germany. Meisner thus wrote the foreword to Büning’s book which is entitled “Encouragement to Become Holy: The Virtues in the Lives of the Saints and the Blessed,” published in 2016 by the German publishing house Fe Medien Verlag.

With prior permission received from Dr. Büning and the Fe Medien Verlag, we gratefully present here a translation of that German foreword written by Cardinal Joachim Meisner. This text will show the sincerely beautiful Faith, Hope, and Charity, as well as the palpable humility and courage of this prelate. Such qualities are also to be found among the other authors of the dubia. May the manifest truth about them be also now more radiant to us and help defend them against unjust accusations.


Cardinal Joachim Meisner

“I can do everything through Him Who gives me strength” (see Phil. 4:13), says the Apostle Paul – and many courageous Christians have taken and made this same Apostolic word the orientation of their own lives. To be a Christian means at all times, but especially in our time, diligence and commitment. It is here not about learning goals, but about Graces that are here being offered. The Christian only has to make use of them [the Graces offered].

In my episcopal coat of arms, the motto for my own episcopal service comes from the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Spes nostra firma est pro vobis” (2 Cor. 1:7). That means, in translation: “Our Hope for you is firm.” I think that Hope is the heart of the three Theological Virtues. That is why it stands between Faith and Charity. The symbol of Hope is the anchor which saves the boat from sinking even in a strong storm. To each of us, with the Faith, is given such an anchor which very firmly connects us with the reality of the living God and thus renders us also effective in our charity.

In the context of this theme, I remember my nearly traumatic call to the episcopacy. Under the circumstances then in Communist East Germany (GDR), I was one evening given a letter written by Pope Paul VI himself informing me that he intends to appoint me as the Auxiliary Bishop to the Apostolic Administrator of Erfurt-Meiningen, Hugo Aufderbeck. Additionally, there was a letter from the Apostolic Nuncio himself according to which I was only allowed to speak with a confessor or spiritual director about the question as to whether there exist reasons why I should decline this vocation or whether I am duty-bound to accept this appointment out of obedience.

I spent half of that night at the telephone, entirely unable to find a spiritual director or confessor. Nobody even picked up the telephone. In my need I took the New Testament into my hand and said: “Holy Ghost, after all, You are the Author of the New Testament. And You are the Spiritual Guide par excellence.” I then closed my eyes and prayed: “Come, Holy Ghost!” I then opened the New Testament and had in my hands the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John concerning the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. There I identified with a touching marginal figure – the little boy with [his basket of] the five loaves and the two fishes who was called into the center by Our Lord. That little boy also gave away all that he had so that he may become a starveling just like all the others. But the little he had to offer he gave there at the most important place in the world – that is to say, into the hands of Our Lord. And thus, what was a lack turned into abundance. Everybody had become replete. And there were still twelve baskets filled with the left-over bread pieces. And one of these twelve full baskets I then placed into my episcopal coat of arms and heraldry, with the words of Hope: “Our Hope for you is firm.”

Our Lord fills our emptiness. He relieves our need. He satisfies our hunger. He makes us strong. Without a living Faith, we have no access at all to Hope. And this Hope then becomes efficacious in virtue of Charity. Even five thousand hungry men attained to repletion: “Spes nostra firma est pro vobis.” The center of the Divine Virtues is Hope. It does not die in our lives if the prior Faith is alive and the Charity comes forth afterwards.

As youths growing up in the Communist times in the GDR [German Democratic Republic], we prayed:

“Lord, let me stand

where the storms are blowing,

and do not spare me.

The child has to disappear,

and the man has to appear:

do not be afraid!”

The Divine Virtues give us the diligence and competence to stand there where the storms are blowing, along with a little bit of splendor and glory. I have experienced some of this myself in my long life.

Cologne, in April of 2016, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop emeritus of Cologne

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