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Mythbusters: Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles ) | Jan 22, 2013

You may recall the appointment of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in July of last year. The announcement created a tempest in a teapot as both Traditionalists and Modernists loudly denounced the new prefect’s theological views.

As I strongly suspected at the time, both groups were simply doing what they always do. They were attempting to create a mythology, or really two different mythologies, which would undermine Archbishop Müller’s ability to do his job.

But when you are denounced by those who reject Catholic teaching on opposite sides, it is usually a very good sign. And indeed, since his appointment, Archbishop Müller has proven himself a man who thinks with the Church—a thoughtful exponent of orthodoxy who can see the kinds of larger arguments that must also be made to communicate the Faith.

In Support of Pope Benedict

It goes without saying that a prefect of the CDF, however brilliant, should in no way attempt to overshadow the pope he serves, and Archbishop Müller has been a strong supporter of Pope Benedict. In particular, he has called attention to the marvelous mind of the Pope on several occasions.

Müller was Archbishop of Regensburg when Pope Benedict gave his famous Regensburg address in 2006, challenging the Islamic world to incorporate reason into their faith, and once again challenging the West to incorporate faith into its reason. Clearly Archbishop Müller took this address very seriously: He wrote a book based on it which was published by the Vatican Press in the same month as his appointment to head the CDF. Then, when the book was released, Archbishop Müller took advantage of the opportunity to stress the need for a true synthesis “of faith and reason and of freedom and love”, taking up Pope Benedict’s concern about the dictatorship of relativism:

Those who do not believe in Christ as the one mediator of salvation are proud of it and accuse the Church of the constraint of consciences and of spiritual imperialism. However whenever Christians and their choice of faith are involved, this tolerance, raised to the absolute in a pluralistic vision of the world, is lacking…. Relativism applied to the truth is not only unphilosophical reasoning but indeed inevitably results in intolerance of God.

Archbishop Müller emphasized the Pope’s gifts to the Church just this month on two separate occasions. He paid tribute to the Pope’s trilogy Jesus of Nazareth, calling it an “extraordinary work” that is “certainly worth studying”. And immediately he showed his capacity to expand the point into something greater than mere praise:

Anyone who wishes to know what to expect of God and what man’s situation is must pass through Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, in fact, is not merely one of the determinative figures of human history, but rather the only man to be the measure for all. Through him God came to us, in him he accepted us and revealed to every person his highest calling. It is the only name under heaven by which we shall be saved (cf. Acts 4:12).

The CDF Prefect also responded in a resounding affirmative to those who ask if he really believes what seems to many to be an impossible Christian mythology. “Creation does not flee from God’s hand,” he said. “The eternal World can become flesh in a Virgin. Faith in God and in his boundless possibility for action is reasonable” and “it would be contrary to reason to limit God’s saving plan and action in history to what the human being considers possible.”

A few days later he again praised Pope Benedict for his extraordinary “breadth of vision and intellectual preparation”, including his rare grasp of philosophy, theology, history and the natural sciences: “I know few people with this depth of thought, which is so necessary today.”

In His Disciplinary Role

In his disciplinary role as Prefect of the CDF, I suppose the results should have been predictable. While still in Regensburg, Archbishop Müller discontinued a diocesan lay council and withdrew support from other lay groups involved in dissent from Church teachings. He was also instrumental in cutting off Church support for dissident groups in Germany generally, including a subsidy of $2.5 million going to the Central Committee of German Catholics, which had become a group hostile to the Magisterium and even pro-abortion. So it is not surprising that after he took charge of the CDF, he took a close look at the controversial “Soho” masses which seemed to cater ideologically to the gay community in London. These masses have since been discontinued.

Similarly, in response to questions about the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), liberation theology and the abuses of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States, Archbishop Müller emphasized the need, both on the left and right, to adhere to Revelation:

We are convinced that there is no alternative to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ…. We are fundamentally convinced that the secular and immanentistic vision is not enough. We cannot find a convincing answer on our own…. The Church is first of all a community of faith; hence the revealed faith is the most important good, which we must transmit, proclaim and protect. Jesus entrusted to Peter and to his successors the universal Magisterium…. Hence the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the responsibility for what concerns the whole Church in profundity: the faith that leads us to salvation and to communion with God and among ourselves….
There is only one revelation of God in Jesus Christ which was entrusted to the whole Church. This is why there are no negotiations on the Word of God and one cannot believe and not believe at the same time. One cannot pronounce the three religious vows and then not take them seriously. I cannot make reference to the tradition of the Church and then accept it only in some of its parts. The path of the Church leads ahead and all are invited not to enclose themselves in a self-referential way of thinking, but rather to accept the full life and the full faith of the Church.

In Understanding the Council

The preceding quotations were taken from an interview during the new Prefect’s first month in office. Since then, he has returned several times to the hope for reconciliation between the SSPX and the Church. In October, he emphasized that “the problems that we had after the Council were not caused by the Council…. The development of the secularist mentality, for instance, had nothing to do with the Council. It came about before the Council, in the 19th century, when we had secularism promoted by liberals who denied the supernatural and saw the Church only in terms of a charitable institution.” He continued:

The waves of secularism began to undermine the Church long before the Council, but they accumulated into a tsunami at the same time as the great event of the Council. Partly because of this coincidence, a certain type of secularism then found its way into the inner circles of the Church. The result is that we now not only have secularism coming from outside the Church, but we have a type of liberalism within the Church which has caused us to lose our direction a little. We must look to our own resources—the Scriptures, the Fathers, the dogmatic teachings of the Church—and, like a good captain, steer the way ahead.

With respect to the Second Vatican Council itself, Archbishop Müller has insisted that “the Church cannot, on the doctrinal level, contradict herself—that is impossible. Any perceived contradiction is caused by a false interpretation.” In November, he went farther and called such interpretations “heretical”. Just last month he emphasized again the need to distinguish “between the true teaching…and specific abuses that occurred after the Council, but which are not founded in the Council’s documents.”

The new Prefect has also vigorously addressed problems as diverse as the Anglican ordinariate and clerical sex abuse. He has insisted that English Catholic Church leaders must wholeheartedly welcome those who have entered the Ordinariate, “not as prodigals but as brothers and sisters in Christ.” He also stressed the importance of the CDF’s involvement with the ongoing difficulties of sexual abuse, working with the individual dioceses in order to act in a “coherent manner” which deals with the perpetrators so as to be “proactive in prevention” while still respecting the dignity of the accused.

In Conclusion

Overall, the one point Archbishop Müller has emphasized most often is the importance of embracing the fullness of the Revelation which has been entrusted for safe-keeping to the Magisterium of the Church. In the same interview in which he indicated the need to distinguish between true teaching and abuses, he put the matter succinctly: “Everyone who is Catholic must ask themselves if they are cherry-picking points from the Church’s teachings for the sake of supporting an ideology.”

Archbishop Müller has not been the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for very long. It has been just over six months. But so far, his tenure is impressive. Let me conclude with the following quotation, taken from an interview last September. It reveals his Congregation to be in very capable hands:

Unity in Christ, not a unity produced according to a program and later invoked by a partisan speaker! We are not a community of people aligned to a party program…our unity is gifted to us. We believe in the one Church united in Christ. If you believe in Christ, really believe—not manipulating the teachings of the Church, or singling out individual points to support your own personal ideology, but rather unconditionally entrusting yourself to Christ—then the unity of the Church is also important. Then the Church will not be, as it is sometimes described in Scripture, torn apart by jealousy and ambition.

Except by way of correction, Archbishop Müller is not interested in “the left” or “the right”, in “Traditionalism” or “Modernism”. He knows that these are ideologies and aberrations. They are, in fact, elaborate mythologies. Adhering to them is like saying I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos (1 Cor 1:12). In contrast, Archbishop Müller is interested in Christ, one and undivided—whose body is the Church.

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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 27, 2013 9:01 AM ET USA

    Traditional Catholics were ostracized- often with condescending language- for their "rightful aspirations." The attitude was one of "good riddance." This is uncharitable and injurious. Pope Benedict and Pope JPII confirmed that this cannot stand. Unchecked modernism has injured the unity of the Church. Wagons were circled; fear intensified, and trust shaken. We baptized must strive for unity in Christ's charity and truth. This is a dynamic time in the Church requiring prayerful charity.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jan. 26, 2013 9:50 AM ET USA

    jimgrum697380's comment gives me an opportunity to clarify something once again. I never use the term "traditionalist" or "traditionalism" to describe those who value Tradition in accordance with the Magisterium. Neither does Archbishop Müller. All such persons are simply Catholics. They should not use the "ism" or "ist" suffixes to describe themselves, as these indicate essentially an adherence to an ideology. I use the terms, as does the CDF, to indicate adherance to supposed Tradition (really human traditions with a small "t") in opposition to the Magisterium, which can alone determine what is and what is not part of the Tradition of the Church.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 24, 2013 11:00 PM ET USA

    "Modernism" is a condemned heresy. "Traditionalism" is not. In fact, many if not most "Traditionalists" or traditional Catholics are tremendous, practicing Catholics. They are loyal to Rome. Modernists and Modernism have been condemned by the Church for more than a century. One of the major recommendations of multiple pontiffs for strategy against modernism was to cling to Tradition. One might review the now archaic "Oath Against Modernism" for reflection. Hebrews 13:8.

  • Posted by: demark8616 - Jan. 24, 2013 6:18 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Dr Mirus. Once more, another informative and well balanced article. We are living in very interesting and hopeful times, with persons like Pope Benedict and Archbishop Mueller in the front line guiding and encouraging us.

  • Posted by: alexb7324 - Jan. 23, 2013 6:47 PM ET USA

    Some more insight on Archbishop Müller can be found in this interview from the Catholic Herald from December. It's noteworthy that in addition to the oft-cited SSPX matters, His Excellency address the more low-key but important work of integrating Anglicans into Holy Mother Church: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2012/12/19/catholics-ought-to-avoid-extremes/

  • Posted by: John3822 - Jan. 23, 2013 2:51 AM ET USA

    Excellent article! Thanks!

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