His Eminence, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller is considered a possible future Pope and is currently visiting Australia to deliver the keynote address at the National Conference of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.
Cardinal Müller graciously granted an exclusive interview to Catholic Outlook’s journalist Jordan Grantham, addressing important questions about youth in the Church, the German intercommunion controversy, ideological divisions and the living Word of God as source of the Church’s unity, the role of Church and state, and lessons for today from the Nazi violation of the natural moral law.
The former head of the Holy See’s powerful doctrinal department is warm and engaging, forming his answers in a methodical and comprehensive manner.
Prior to his service as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (2012 – 2017), Cardinal Müller became a Professor of Dogmatic Theology and then Bishop of Regensburg, Germany. Pope Francis appointed His Eminence to the College of Cardinals in 2014.
He offered deep explanations of the meaning of the revelation of Jesus Christ and the unity of the Church within Him, the living Word of God. His answers pointed to the cohesive unity of the Catholic Faith and the Holy Spirit’s power to unify the baptised in the paradigm of Pentecost.
His primary purpose in Australia is to speak about the Church’s salvific mission and encourage priests in their important part of this mission.
“The Faith is not an ideology but the Faith is revealed as the Word of God, received and accepted by human beings, and so forth the Church began and the Faith in Jesus Christ to make people holy and bring them to God, to eternal life,” Cardinal Müller said.
Cardinal Müller redirected the topical notion of the Church listening to young people towards all the baptised, young and old, listening to the Word of God as their first priority.
“The Church is not only the hierarchy but the Church is all who are baptised and if the youth are baptised we cannot say that the Church, which is the communion of the baptised, must listen to the baptised. It’s a little bit self-referential,” he said.
“After the Second Vatican Council, this sort of language is a little bit strange. I think this is a little bit of old fashioned language used here. It is better to say: we all, the shepherds and all the faithful, have to listen to Jesus Christ, to the Word of God and to realise the Word of God and follow the Word of God under the conditions of the world today.”
As a leader of the Congregation for Catholic Education, he underlined the importance of education, such as in the historical and philosophical context of the Incarnation, and in the rationality of reality, both important to understand the Church’s mission to sanctify.
“Therefore we are not a separated religion, self-relating and self reflective but we are the missionary religion, the Catholic Church. The Apostles did not reach other cultures and destroy them but fostered all that is good and so brought them together. Therefore Pentecost is our paradigm, the Holy Spirit came to everybody and the mass of people represented everybody coming from everywhere, from different places and different cultures.”
In his discussion of the Church’s unity, or communion, with members throughout the ages, the Cardinal moved into a discussion of the present problem of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ Catholics.
“This distinction is absolutely stupid, without sense, because there we have political understandings and also the politics that comes itself,” he said.
“The meaning of this distinction comes from the French Revolution and that ideology of progressivism. There are some people living now with this or that understanding but philosophically, this distinction has no sense, at least in the Church, who is the communion of the faithful listening to the Word of God.”
His Eminence explained the Holy Spirit cannot be appealed to in attempts to override Holy Scripture, Apostolic tradition and the magisterium of the Catholic Church, “we must underline the Christological and Incarnational foundation against this unilateralism. Nobody, even the Pope and a council, has a direct line to the Holy Spirit because they are not receiving a new revelation,” he said.
“The Holy Spirit is always the spirit of God the Father and of the Son and therefore there is no distinction between a Christological and a Pneumatological [Holy Spirit derived] basis of the Church and the Faith.”
His Eminence also spoke about lessons for Australia from Germany.
“It is also very important for Australia not to overcome the natural moral law as its foundation with only positive [human made] legislation. It cannot relativise, that is, referring in the old way to the omnipotence of the state, accept only an evolution of some absolute states of the old kings to the totalitarian state of today,” he said.
“[T]he state has to accept religious freedom, to accept, for example, the confessional seal. They cannot bring themselves, by unjust laws, into the conscience, the innermost relation of man to God, because we must obey God’s law more than man.
“[A]ll the horrors of the Nazis were justified legally. They made the racist laws officially legal according to the rules of their state. Not all that is formally legal is correct.
“Therefore, what we learn from history is that the positive law of the states, of the parliaments, the government, and the tribunals must be based in the natural moral law, which is universal.”
His Eminence, who is a member of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, underlined the impossibility of intercommunion between Protestants and Catholics, which is being debated in Germany.
“Unfortunately, our Bishops are thinking more in categories of politics and power and not in this line of the New Evangelisation.
“Intercommunion is not possible, absolutely, objectively, is not possible because the Communion is the sacramental representation of the communion in the Faith. If you don’t have full communion in the Faith, it’s not possible to have full communion in the sacramental expression, especially in the Eucharist.”
He was deeply affected by recent conflicting messages from the Holy See and pointed to the importance of the papacy in unifying the Church.
“I am very sad that from Rome are coming directives, which are contrary ones; that of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith is contradictory to the letter Cardinal Marx received from the Holy Father.”
“The Pope, according to the Catholic Faith, is the universal principle of the unity of the Church, not political unity but the unity in the revealed Faith. The Faith, the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the Eucharist and the Eucharist’s belonging to the full communion of the Church under the Pope and the episcopacy is very clear. It cannot be changed.”
Full interview transcript
Jordan Grantham: Your Eminence, thank you for the honour of your first Australian interview. What brings you to Australia?
Cardinal Müller: I am invited by a group of priests to give a talk about the priesthood, to encourage them in their way to preach the Gospel and to administer the Holy Sacraments and to lead the Church as good pastors. We are the universal church, the Catholic Church, therefore we are all responsible for one another and a Cardinal especially, because he is involved with the Primate of the Holy Roman Church and we have this international work in matters of the Faith. The Faith is not an ideology but the Faith is revealed as the Word of God, received and accepted by human beings, and so forth the Church began and the Faith in Jesus Christ to make people holy and bring them to God, to eternal life. This is the first time I have visited Australia.
JG: So, your talk is on the Mission and Identity of the Priest. Is it all right if you share your message for this talk?
+M: My thesis is not something I invented, not my personal ideas. I do not think that everybody must be interested in the ideas of a man who is living far away, in Europe, but we are partaking in the Holy Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ and He founded the apostolate of the Twelve Apostle and of St Paul and the other Apostles of the first, primitive Church. He sent the Apostles to all the world to give witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because He was sent by the Father and in the Name of the Father. In His own Name and the power of the Holy Spirit He sent the Apostles to all the world and now are their successors in the episcopacy and in the priesthood.
JG: Pastors are especially important to guide young people like myself and the Bishops have made this a Year of Youth in the Australian Catholic Church.
The Holy See is hosting a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, also about young people, which has a preparatory document stating, “by listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world”.
Why does the Church need to listen to young people, who mostly do not practice the Faith in Australia, Germany and the West?
+M: I do need to ask what is the meaning of this expression “the Church must listen to the youth”? Who is the Church, who is the subject, who is listening? The Church is not only the hierarchy but the Church is all who are baptised and if the youth are baptised we cannot say that the Church, which is the communion of the baptised, must listen to the baptised. It’s a little bit self-referential.
After the Second Vatican Council, this sort of language is a little bit strange. I think this is a little bit of old fashioned language used here. It is better to say: we all, the shepherds and all the faithful, have to listen to Jesus Christ, to the Word of God and to realise the Word of God and follow the Word of God under the conditions of the world today. We must make an analysis all together because the hierarchy are not living in centuries past. What are the conditions? What are the obstacles also for all of us? We are people all together, in three or four generations, who are living together at the same time. It is also necessary that the different generations in the Church are listening to one another because the young people are right to express their experiences and their ideas. Every generation has a right to live in their time but not to isolate themselves and to think in the ideology of progressivism that the latest times are the best ones. I think as a famous author said, all generations are immediately to God and we belong together through all the centuries. For example, we listen to the Word of God expressed in the words of the people from the time of the Apostles, and the Church Fathers and the other times. In this sense we can say ‘we are conservative’ but not conservative as remaining in the past, a former time, but to listen all together as one communion of the faithful to the Word of God, who comes to us all, to mankind during all times, God forever and ever.
JG: How can members of the Church today transcend these labels you mention, conservative and progressive?
+M: This distinction is absolutely stupid, without sense, because there we have political understandings and also the politics that comes itself. The sense of this distinction comes from the French Revolution and that ideology of progressivism. There are some people living now with this or that understanding but philosophically, this distinction has no sense, at least in the Church, who is the communion of the faithful listening to the Word of God.
The Word of God is present in each time to give answers, but not our own answers, our own understanding, to other people, but to be together and listen to the one Word of God, which is the Word of God for us today and also for the future. It is absolutely necessary that we overcome this distinction, this schism in the Church, as well as in the other Christian communities where we have this problem.
The Word of God is this reality who unites, unifies everybody. We are not divided in parties, just as in the times of the Apostle Paul, there are not Paulinists, Petrinists. And according to the different apostles, we all united in the one Body of Christ, we are members of the Body of Christ, Christ is the head of His body, which is the Church herself.
JG: Does this require education of all the faithful and relate to your work in the Congregation for Catholic Education?
+M: The Congregation for the Education has the overview about education in the schools and the universities because we are the religion of the logos, in Greek, of the reason. This is the reason of God: all our existence is reasonable, not reasonless, we are not nihilists but we are positivists, in that sense, that being exists.
Education is very important, we are disciples of the Word of God, disciples of Jesus Christ and the Church began with this history in Jerusalem in the Jewish world and they entered the Greek and Roman world. We are understanding that the Word of God became flesh and it is possible, this expression, that the Word of God is a permanent Incarnation, enculturation of the one Word of God in the different nations, traditions, understandings. However, the Greek understanding of philosophy is not only one of many philosophies. Two absolutely important principles for all of mankind that the Greeks discovered were the principle of reality and the principle of the rationality of the world. The reasonableness of all that exists, and therefore the idea of creation could be expressed; the presence of God in reality, in our thinking, in our understanding of the world and investigation of the material world, of the spiritual world.
Therefore we are not a separated religion, self-relating and self reflective but we are the missionary religion, the Catholic Church. The Apostles did not reach other cultures and destroy them but fostered all that is good and so brought them together. Therefore Pentecost is our paradigm, the Holy Spirit came to everybody and the mass of people represented everybody coming from everywhere, of different places and different cultures. We can read in the Acts of the Apostles that everybody could listen to the words of the Apostles in their own language. This means not only understanding in one’s own words but also in one’s own culture.
JG: That is an interesting point for readers in the Diocese of Parramatta (Western Sydney), which is the most multicultural Australian diocese with the most migrants.
Do you have some suggestions for how laity, clergy, religious and the episcopacy can be docile to the Holy Spirit in listening to the Word of God?
+M: Nobody can say, “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3) The Word of God is not an ideology, not a philosophical system of thinking, but the living person of Jesus Christ who is the Messiah. The missionaries were sent by the Holy Spirit, full of the Holy Spirit and we as followers of Jesus Christ, are related to the person of Jesus Christ. We are members of His body and Christ works through us, present in the world through all the baptised. According to the common priesthood, everybody represents Jesus Christ and the Apostles and the Bishops, in a special sense. We can do this only because of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We need to not be self-centred but to announce the Gospel in a friendly way because the Holy Spirit is a friend of everybody. We are Sons of God in Christ but we are friends of God in the Holy Spirit and therefore the Holy Spirit can encourage us, also for overcoming our self-centredness. This is the part of the vision of the Church the Holy Spirit can also help us overcome the divisions in conservatives, liberals, and whatever it could be.
Everybody has to listen to the Holy Spirit and if you listen to the Holy Spirit you will say “I am a Catholic”, not a conservative or a liberal Catholic because this distinction is against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites the Church and is the antidote against the divisions and separations.
Through history, different groups referred themselves to the Holy Spirit, Enthusiasts. They said that we have direct feeling, a direct line to the Holy Spirit, ‘we don’t need the Holy Scripture, we don’t need the Apostolic tradition, we don’t need the magisterium of the Catholic Church.’
Therefore, we must underline the Christological and Incarnational foundation against this unilateralism. Nobody, even the Pope and a council, has a direct line to the Holy Spirit because they are not receiving a new revelation. There is one revelation, forever given in Jesus Christ and therefore our basis is Holy Scripture. We can say nothing, nor establish a doctrine or an understanding in the Church that is against the words of God in Holy Scripture and the expression of Catholic tradition. Nobody can have a contrary understanding to Jesus Christ as the true Son of God who became man, as the Council of Nicaea expressed. Nobody can say I had a revelation of God now in my own chamber and the Holy Spirit revealed to me that only six sacraments exist. We are members of the Church and we do not have such private prophecies, charisms are given for the good of the Church and not for one’s own standing, that ‘I am better, I know it better than you because I have a private revelation from the Holy Spirit’. The Holy Spirit is always the spirit of God the Father and of the Son and therefore there is no distinction between a Christological and a Pneumatological basis of the Church and the Faith.
JG: Is Islam, which is increasing in Germany, a misguided private revelation? There are also currently controversies about Islamic refugees and migrants in Germany.
+M: We, as Christians, we accept the possible existence of private revelations, aside from the one only public revelation in Jesus Christ. For example, we can speak of a private revelation in the messages of Fatima. In the context of Christian, unique revelation, God is Jesus Christ. I think Muhammad was intending a public revelation, which was important for everybody, not only a charism within the Christian world and for those who are convinced that he is a mediator of the Word of God, like Moses, that is their conviction. We as Christians cannot accept it as a public revelation. It is absolutely impossible after Jesus Christ, neither as a private revelation within the Christian context. We could accept him as Christians, as a man, with subjectively good will and as a religious person. However, we as Christians, if we remain Christians, cannot accept his message as a revelation coming from God. Therefore, there is a great difference. You are Christian or you are Muslim. You cannot change the basis of it all. I am not convinced, as a Christian, that a revelation of this type is possible after Jesus Christ. You cannot reduce Jesus Christ to being only a prophet, He is the Son of God, He is the logos made flesh and therefore no other revelation is possible because all of reality, all the content of revelation is the person of Jesus Christ. We have the identity of Jesus Christ as the mediator of the new covenant and He is also the content.
JG: What does the Church’s wisdom have to offer in terms of resolving the tense refugee situation in Germany in a just manner?
+M: First of all, we as Christians have full respect for everybody because everybody is a creature of God. They are created in the image and likeness of God but that cannot lead into relativism. We are convinced of Jesus Christ and we cannot overcome and do not want to overcome Jesus Christ, or to relativise Him as one of the prophets. But we should also help the state and society to accept a pluralistic understanding. We are not in a Christian state but we are a democratic, pluralistic state. The state must be tolerant and accept all the diverse, different religions but on the basis of human rights and the natural moral law. It is also very important for Australia not to overcome the natural moral law as its foundation with only positive [man made] legislation. It cannot relativise, that is, referring in the old way to the omnipotence of the state, and accept only an evolution of some absolute states of the old kings to the totalitarian state of today.
JG: Could you please give me an example of an area where the state is in danger of violating natural moral law?
+M: For example, with abortion. Everybody has a right to exist from the beginning of existence in the mother’s womb and we cannot say the autonomous self makes the ultimate determination. The adult persons, the mother and father, do not have the right to kill their children. Before or after our birth, there is no essential difference. There is no essential difference between the babies of one, two or three years of age, they don’t have self-conscious reflexive awareness. That is not diminishing their basic natural right to their existence. And the state has to accept religious freedom, to accept, for example, the confessional seal. They cannot bring themselves, by unjust laws, into the conscience, the innermost relation of man to God, because we must obey God’s law more than man. We have to respect our constitution, we are living in a society that needs a democratic form of organisation, which we define as the state but the state is not God. I think some people believe the old theories of Thomas Hobbes where the state is a Leviathan, it is all defining. We cannot say that instead of the absolute power of the old kings, we have now the absolute power of the majority of the parliament. That is not right.
JG: You were the Bishop of Regensburg, where St Emmeram Castle (a former Abbey and seat of the local Prince) is a symbol of Church and State working hand in hand.
Is there any connection between the pluralism of today and relativism?
+M: In our modern democratic states, everyone has a fundamental right to his religious freedom and the state and society must respect it. We as the Catholic Church are the promoters of religious freedom, not only requiring it for ourselves. We are not a lobby for ourselves, but we are the promoters of this natural right, which everybody deserves: religious freedom derived from the natural moral law and freedom of conscience. Surely everybody must respect the natural moral law for the other. If another man is saying ‘I accept the Muslim religion’, we have respect for him on the basis of the natural moral law and we can live together with people of other religions. Nobody can say all that belongs to my religion is allowed or must become the basis of the community, for example female genital mutilation, because that action is against the natural moral law and the inviolability of the human body.
The realisation of a pluralistic community must be on the basis of the natural moral law for everybody. There is no right to destroy the natural moral law regarding other people. We are not merely self-centred as Catholics, as Christians, self-centred communities only interested in the benefit of our own people.
Moreover, we have our own social doctrine, political doctrine, and therefore we have our contributions to the social life in education, in the Catholic schools and in our thinking about the relation between workers and business leaders. We cannot accept Manchester Capitalism, according to Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest in that sense. We are saying that everybody has a responsibility for society and therefore the Catholic Social Doctrine was and is very helpful also for living together in a pluralistic society. The Catholic Faith does not need a society as its basis, a unified Christian state, the old Roman Empire and those many states. We happen to be a minority or majority and it does not matter. We can live together peacefully with other people if they also respect our religious freedom and religious practice. We cannot accept the false dogmas of political liberalism that religion is only a private thing. We, as members of our society and the states, have the same rights to public presence and participation as liberals or the Freemasons.
JG: You were born in Mainz, Germany on New Year’s Eve in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War, when this city was 80% destroyed by bombing.
Was the horror of the Second World War part of why intellectuals became disillusioned with the idea of a Christian society?
+M: I think it was a quandary because people after the Second World War and the Nazi dictatorship, understood that the Second World War and the Holocaust and all the disastrous cruelties were caused by the atheism and nihilism of the Nazis and then the Communists.
Therefore, we had a new spring of the Christian faith in Germany after the Second World War, after the dissolution of Nazism. Both the Protestants and the Catholic Church and the builders of our new democracy, Adenauer, and these people had a very good orientation in the Christian faith, which was also the basis for a humanism, it was a Christian humanism, a theocentric humanism. The constitution of the new democracy in Germany states it was accepted by the German people, knowing their “responsibility before God and man”.
We know what the consequences are of one man or a party constituting themselves as God for the other. The power of the state must be responsible to the transcendent, to the higher law and reality and nobody can say ‘I am the creator and perfector’ of the others. This is very meaningful for us against the absolutisation of the state, and the purely positive law because, this is a true scandal, all the horrors of the Nazis were justified legally. They made the racist laws officially legal according to the rules of their state. Not all that is formally legal is correct. Therefore, what we learn from history is that the positive law of the states, of the parliaments, the government, and the tribunals must be based in the natural moral law, which is universal.
JG: Today Germany is the leading nation in Europe. How is the global New Evanglisation progressing there?
+M: Germany is the leading country economically but we need leadership also in the moral-ethical orientation and in this way we can say that most of the European leaders and people in authority are too much linked with certain ideologies, they are supporting marriage for all, such as homosexuals, and abortion and euthanasia.
They think this is the progress of humanity but it is a regression from what we have learned from the brutal dictatorships of the 20th century. As I said, we must have full respect for human life and freedom, that is not only unlimited self-determination but freedom that is a possibility to do good, not only to follow my individual personal interests. Our life is given to us from God to be respected, surely, but also to be the basis for doing the good. We are not a collection of individualists on an egocentric trip but like Bonhoeffer said, “the mystery of human existence is to exist for others”, in favour of others; the mother, the father, the family, the Grandfather.
In the familial context, everybody has his rights but we live together and belong together to help, to be for others, to sacrifice for others. Love is overcoming self-centredness to be other centred, not merely in altruism but in Christian love, to love the other like ourselves. This is a good balance between self-acceptance and the acceptance of other people, not instrumentalising other people.
JG: Do you see signs of hope in Germany and what is the situation with the intercommunion crisis and controversy?
+M: Unfortunately, our Bishops are thinking more in categories of politics and power and not in this line of the New Evangelisation. Intercommunion is not possible, absolutely, objectively, is not possible because the Communion is the sacramental representation of the communion in the Faith. If you don’t have full communion in the Faith, it’s not possible to have full communion in the sacramental expression, especially in the Eucharist.
We have so many families of Protestants and Catholics, also sometimes Orthodox but that is not as problematic because the Orthodox have the same Faith as us, but not the full communion. Between the Protestants, Lutheran or Calvinists, we have quite a different understanding of the role and the essence of the Church.
The Church is not only for us a communion of the individual faithful but is the Body of Christ, as a sacramental representation of the presence of God, of Christ in the world and therefore we have the other consequences, they have only one sacrament, Baptism, and in a certain way, another understanding of the Eucharist. We have seven sacraments and we cannot say it is all the same and it is enough to have a religious feeling, or sentiment that we are belonging together. That is very good but it’s not enough for the sacramental communion and therefore I hope the German Bishops will find the way back to more a religious and spiritual understanding of the Church and to respect also the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith, that cannot be changed.
I am very sad that from Rome are coming directives, which are contrary ones, that of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith is contradictory to the letter Cardinal Marx received from the Holy Father.
The Pope, according to the Catholic Faith, is the universal principle of the unity of the Church, not political unity but the unity in the revealed Faith. The Faith, the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the Eucharist and the Eucharist’s belonging to the full communion of the Church under the Pope and the episcopacy is very clear. It cannot be changed.