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Cardinal Sarah: There is Now a “Crisis of the Magisterium”

Editor’s note: what follows is the official English text from His Eminence. Original address delivered in Italian here:

Presentation of “Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith”

Robert Cardinal Sarah,
Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Rome, Thursday, 26 October 2023


Firstly, I would like to thank His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider for inviting me to take part in this presentation of his latest book.

But how can I not also thank all of you here present for your friendship, and especially for honoring us with your presence. This evening, you have agreed to consecrate your precious time to come and listen to distinguished speakers who help us appreciate this Compendium and the riches of the mystery of our Catholic Faith.

At this time of serious crisis in the Church, of confusion, and especially as all too often we hear so many discordant opinions coming from the mouths of so many high-ranking prelates on doctrinal and moral issues, and on the acceptance of ideologies that deny God and His teachings on the nature and mission of man, the publication of the book “Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith” is an initiative of great importance, and it has come at the right time. Indeed, a true cacophony reigns today in the teachings of pastors: bishops and priests. They seem to contradict each other. Each one imposes his personal opinion as if it were a certainty. The result is confusion, ambiguity, and apostasy. Great disorientation, deep bewilderment and devastating uncertainties have been inoculated in the souls of many Christian believers.

The German philosopher Robert Spaemann aptly described this bewilderment with a quotation from the First Letter of St Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Cor 14:8). This is precisely why I wrote in my Endorsement:

So much is said by so many about the Catholic faith today—some of it is confusing, some is downright erroneous—that we must be profoundly grateful to Bishop Schneider for this faithful, succinct, profound, and truly up-to-date exposition of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Utterly conscious of the duty received at his episcopal consecration faithfully to hand on intact that which he himself has received in the living tradition of the Church, in this Compendium Bishop Schneider invites all men and women of good will to deepen (and even, where necessary, to correct) their knowledge of Catholic doctrine. His clear and concise questions and responses facilitate this, whilst his assiduous notation of sources encourages a deeper exploration of the riches of the Faith.

Whilst I am sure that this book will serve Bishop Schneider’s aim of coming to the aid of those little ones “who are hungry for the bread of right doctrine,” it will also prove to be an important tool in the essential missionary work of evangelization and apologetics in announcing the Saving Truth of Jesus Christ in our world that so desperately needs it.

This book reminds us of the nature and well-structured content of Christian truths. It helps us to believe. But believing presupposes knowing, and knowing implies a commitment of reason to better know, internalize, teach, and transmit. With this book, each of us may be enabled to retrace our own journey of faith, to return to the fundamental sources of the faith as it were, so as to rediscover a serene faith that is not ashamed of itself. This book can help us to discover Jesus Christ more deeply, to love and believe in Him, and to be able to say with St Paul: “For I know whom I have believed, and I am certain that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him, against that day” (2 Tim 1:12).

We do not believe in a doctrine, but love a Person, Jesus Christ, in whom we believe. We do not believe in dogmas, ideologies, or the wisdom of this world (1 Cor 2:6), but through our faith in Jesus Christ, each one of us can say: “I believe in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20). We believe in Him who said: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). In the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil. There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out all other lights begin to dim.

In fact, the light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God (Lumen Fidei, 3-4). When we speak of a crisis in the Church, it is important to point out that the Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, continues to be ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic.’ The sources of theology and the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching remain unchanged and unchangeable. The Church, as the continuation and extension of Christ in the world, is not in crisis. It is we, her sinful children, who are in crisis. She enjoys the promise of eternal life: the gates of hell will never prevail against her. Jesus says to Peter: “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam” (Matthew 16:18). We know and we firmly believe that in her there will always be sufficient light for one who sincerely desires to seek God.

St Paul’s appeal to Timothy, his son in the faith, concerns us all: “I charge thee before God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate, a good confession… keep that which is committed to thy trust (the deposit), avoiding the profane novelties of words, and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called. Which some promising, have erred concerning the faith” (1 Tim 6:13, 20-21). The deposit of faith continues to be a supernatural divine gift. But today, the crisis of the Church has entered a new phase: the crisis of the Magisterium. Certainly, the authentic Magisterium, as a supernatural function of the Mystical Body of Christ, exercised and guided invisibly by the Holy Spirit, cannot be in crisis; the voice and action of the Holy Spirit are constant, and the truth towards which it leads us is steadfast and unchanging.

The Evangelist John tells us: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine and shall shew it to you. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine. Therefore, I said, that he shall receive of mine, and shew it to you” (Jn 16:13-15). Dogma, doctrine, divine Revelation do not change at all. The Church stands before the Lord to adore and glorify Him, and her way of praying and believing, whilst always capable of harmonious growth and enrichment, is essentially unchanging.

Lex credendi and lex orandi have walked hand in hand and nourished each other throughout the history of the Church. If we believe that our dogma is like a seed that grows day by day, why should we not see the way we pray and express our dogma in a similar way? Theologians begin the study of their subject by deepening their knowledge of the field, as it is presented to them in the Old Testament, New Testament writings, Church Fathers and finally in the Magisterium of the Church. Only after a long journey may they claim to know the Tradition and develop a theory that is in continuity with previous theology on the one hand, and on the other, offers a current and, in some ways, original perspective on the matter. Without changing doctrine.

This is what His Excellency Bishop Schneider wishes to remind us of in his book “Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith.” For this we thank him immensely, and I thank you for your patience and indulgent listening.

Official translation by Diane Montagna, published with the kind permission of His Eminence, Robert Cardinal Sarah.

Photo credit.

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