God or Nothing
Thoughts Concerning the Book by Cardinal Robert Sarah
by Cardinal Gerhard Müller
First of all, I would like to thank Cardinal Robert Sarah for his witness to the Faith, which he presents with his book Dieu ou rien. Entretien sur la foi, which has been published just this year. At the same time, I congratulate the German-speaking world that is able now to get to know in their own language the richness of thought of a great theologian and spiritual man.
In ten circles of questions, the Cardinal reflects theologically and spiritually upon the situation of the Catholic Church in the world of today and offers not only a diagnosis, but also a therapy for the postmodern man who has no orientation any more: that is to say, the Faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Redeemer of the whole world. […]
In the liturgy, the Faith expresses itself as an immediate response to the Triune God Who reveals Himself to each person in His Incarnate Word, in His Son Jesus Christ, and Who means Himself to be seen as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. […] It is not about an external staging of rites and symbols in which man plays with himself, turns around himself, honors and adores himself – but still without crossing over into the true transcendence of God. In the liturgy, there happens the elevation of man through Grace. Because it is the opposite of an egotistical trip full of self-pity; the liturgy means to elevate one's heart to God, Whom alone deserves adoration and glorification; it is not like in a Pagan cult and myth where man flatters the gods in a servile manner, or revolts against them in a Promethean way, but it is, rather, as in Christ, where God and man encounter each other. That is how Christians worship God. "The Glory of God lives in man (who lives in Grace), but man lives in the vision of God." That is how Saint Irenaeus of Lyon put it in the 2nd century (Adv. Haer. IV, 20, 7: Gloria enim Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei). The Triune God is adored, glorified, and loved, He Who Himself Assumed our flesh and Who in Jesus Christ in His truly human nature, in His human history, in His sacrificial death for us on the Cross and in His real Resurrection from the dead overcame death and the separation from God. This is the same Jesus Christ Who as the Exalted Lord meets us historically, bodily, and communally, in the Church and in Her Sacraments realistically from person to person. […]
In the age of the creeping or noisy de-Christianization of the Global Society, the true understanding of the liturgy and of its dignified celebration becomes a crucial question of survival for Christianity in the world of today and tomorrow. In order to be able to fulfill this task, one needs more than a professional knowledge of the art of the liturgy in the stricter sense. The intellectual horizon of a Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship has to have permeated intellectually the philosophical, fundamentally theological, the dogmatic and cultural, as well as political preconditions and conditions of being a Christian in modern and postmodern times. Only a deep and thorough diagnosis of the spiritual and cultural structure of the globalized world can also lead to the development of a therapy which overcomes the Nihilism – as the common denominator of all expectations and yearnings of a world without God – and thus can make the Faith in God as the reason and purpose for man to shine anew. The liturgical incapacity of the modern man – of which Romano Guardini already spoke in 1948 at the Katholikentag in Mainz – and the "crisis of the sacramental idea" in a conscience which is reduced only to the aspect of immanence (as observed by Joseph Ratzinger), both have their roots in the monistic system of a naturalism which denies the transcendental dependency of man – both in spirit and in freedom – upon the Mystery of God. Consequently, this naturalism limits man one-dimensionally and intra-worldly and it is not capable of seeing man as a listener of the word that points to a supernatural Revelation of God in the world, in history and in the spirit of man. […]
Man is oriented toward the absolute. Only where God is above and in man, there is truth in freedom and justice in love. Where man tries to take power over the absolute, he turns himself into an idol who, with the help of the clench for a totalitarian dominance, brings man sternly into line and thus enslaves him by means of a political exercise of power which makes use of the media. […]
When Cardinal Sarah was in his youth, he also got to know and to love the Holy Mass as a community with Jesus in love and truth. Missionary Work and the Cross, but also especially the Liturgy, are the sources of the spiritual existence of Cardinal Sarah. If I assist at the Holy Mass with Faith and the due deep reverence before God, then Jesus takes me with my whole life, work, worries and suffering into His sacrifice on the Cross, in which He gave Himself for the Father for the sake of the salvation of the world, so that we can live in God, from God, and for God now and for ever. The sacramental Communion leads us into spiritual communion with Christ, if we are in the state of Sanctifying Grace – in the Baptismal Grace which we either have preserved in life or have gained back with the help of the Sacrament of Penance – and if we receive it with the love for God above all and with the love for our neighbor as for ourselves. This communion is a unity with Jesus Christ in His true humanity and divinity. […]
Celibacy is only understood by spiritual people. To the sophisticated and secular man, it appears to be a relic of an age in which the faithful relied completely on God. The current hedonism considers celibacy to be the object of hate per se. Consequently, it is misinterpreted, under suspicion, and ridiculed by those who are only able to assess the Catholic priesthood in the worldly categories of a cult official or a social worker (who, at times, wears strange clothes) or a life coach.
Finally, his parents experienced how their son became a pastor, a professor of theology, and, with 33 years of age, the archbishop of the capital [of Guinea]. They feared daily for his life, he who often was threatened with death and who so courageously gave witness to the love, humility and mercy of Jesus in the face of the powers of this world. That is Christian identity: to know that from the Cross flows the true freedom, the true happiness of man and his eternal salvation. […]
The Church worldwide is the only defender of the poor. Her goal is not the adaptation of Africa to the sophisticated, nihilistic, and cynical way of life of a Europe and a North America that have distanced themselves from the Faith. Social help is not all about helping the poor to become millionaires in order that they may discover that money is the purpose of life and then thereby lose the treasury in heaven which will not – unlike all the riches of the world – be destroyed by rust and moths. It is, rather, about a life in all dignity and about not depriving the poor of the richness of Grace and of the Mercy of God. […] Whoever does not recognize the hunger of man for God, leaves him in his worst misery. Some Catholic charitable organizations are today even embarrassed to speak about God. They want to limit themselves to purely humane activities, in order to avoid the reproach of proselytism. […]
One can counter the thoughtless and banal reproach that the hope in God paralyzes the engagement on earth, and countered it with a reference to famous and lesser known Saints who lived in an exemplary way the unity of love of God and neighbor, of orientation toward God and responsibility for the sake of the world. The Cardinal names Damian de Veuster, who sacrificed his life for the lepers on an island in the South Sea, as well as Mother Teresa who was present to the poor of Calcutta. At the end, the review of the ideologues who seek to establish an empire of merely earthly welfare – in contradistinction to the Faith in God – turns out not only to be sobering, but also to be shattering, even if one would only but limit oneself to consider the 20th century. Who, specifically, is astonished about the indifference among Western politicians and public opinion leaders concerning the immense cruelties against the Christians of Africa and of the Near East, when, after all, their overall goal is the de-Christianization of Europe and of the whole world? In the eyes of the enemies of the Church, are the human rights, after all, to be separated or split up? […]
The idea of a supposed equality between the religions and the Self-Revelation of God in Christ proves to be a product of Western relativism which denies the possibility of a supernatural Revelation. […]
Cardinal Sarah has lived during the whole crisis of the Church which showed itself after the [Second Vatican] Council – and he has accompanied it in a biographically and intellectually alert and spiritually compassionate way. He knows that it is not the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council which is responsible for it, but the ideological and political instrumentalization of the so-called "spirit of the Council," which is, however, a spirit of progressivist ideologies. Within the frame of Modernist schemes of development, Revelation and the Dogmas of the Church are merely historically conditioned transitional stages at the end of which stands the self-divinization of man. The Revelation in Christ and its heretofore history would only be a preparatory stage for an understanding of God, world and Church in which man himself is subject and object of the Revelation at the same time. That is the true background for the thesis according to which the "life realities" are the true source of Revelation, while Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are being reduced to mere preliminary historical stages which are being removed by the higher position of the absolute spirit which unfolds and comes to itself in man. The depositum fidei (1 Tim: 6-20) – the whole truth of the Revelation which the Church and especially the Magisterium of the pope and of the bishops have to preserve faithfully – is then replaced with the opinion of the majority, as further organized by the media, in which, supposedly, is to be found the sense of the faith of the people of God. In truth, there is not to be found a new revelation in the sense of the Faith of the people of God, but, rather, there is the Revelation of Salvation which was given by God in Jesus Christ "once and for all" (Heb 10:10) and which is being preserved completely and then applied to the People of today and of tomorrow. It is not about adapting Revelation to the world, but about gaining the world for God.
Instead of studying Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, students of theology, research institutes, and survey polls concerning sexual morality only squander their time and the money which had been donated to them with the help of the Church tax payers. They are only determined and set resolutely so as to bring in line the Magisterium itself, as if the life of the Church would follow the laws of a party agenda. Most probably, the protagonists are not aware of the consequences of such theories and they downplay their position in order to put innocent souls to sleep – especially by talking about a merely pastoral approach. […]
It is, in the eyes of Cardinal Sarah, destructive for the Church when she exposes herself to the political and social media struggle for power. Instead of searching for truth which stems from the definitive Revelation in Christ, ideological movements want to turn the Church into an opponent or collaborator of Naturalism – in its Liberal, Nationalistic, or Communist versions. […]
The de-Christianization is to be promoted all the way into the anthropological roots. When man in his bodily, spiritual, and intellectual being is merely the product of an ideological construct – and thus owes his existence, not to the goodness of God, but, rather, to the arbitrary societal interests and ideological pressure groups – any morality will thereby be deprived of a foundation. The inherent moral constitution which has been written by God into the conscience of each person and which is thus part of his intellectual-moral nature – even if he does not yet even know the Ten Commandments by word (Rom 2:14, following) – is still able to say: "The good is to be be done and evil is to be avoided!"
In the program for the destruction of morality and with the atheisation of mankind, the moral code of law is turned into its opposite. The killing of a child in the mother's womb becomes a women's right; the disposal of a severely sick person or of the dying person becomes an act of mercy; the multi-billion dollar programs to promote abortion and contraception are euphemistically declared to be part of the struggle against poverty – with the further result (and intention) that the natural resources are being preserved for the rich and are not being consummated by the armies of the poor; additionally, the self-destruction by means of drugs is now an act of self-determination, and the human trafficking with women from poor countries is only lukewarmly being combated – or, even worse, trivialized as being merely caused by themselves. The multi-billion dollar sex-and-pornography industry is nothing other than an exploitation of human beings who are already being deprived of their personal dignity. It unworthily joins the ranks of the greatest of crimes against humanity.
The author shows that the gender ideology has no argumentative foundation and that it has to be seen as a consequence of the radical feminism and the purported sexual revolution of the year 1968, which did not care about the just participation of all men and women in the intellectual-cultural life, but which, rather, aimed at the destruction of the bodily-intellectual identity of human beings as man and woman.
Concerning homosexuality, which is given an disproportionate importance and weight – compared to the fateful questions of humanity – the Church alone defends the dignity of each person. The Church rejects the game with the concerned persons [homosexuals] and protects them against their instrumentalization for the sake of the ideological proof that man is not made by God, but, rather, that he is a product of societal self-and-external determination which one could thereby manipulate in a random fashion. The human dignity and the civil rights of man and woman of these persons [homosexuals] are, however, not at all part of the open debate here. By legally and socially placing the marriage of man and woman on the same foot and level with a sexual relationship between persons of the same sex, marriage in its essence as a unity of body, life, and love between a man and a woman is thus destroyed. Therefore, the foundation of the future of mankind is being altogether removed in a biological, mental and cultural way. That is the truth which shines through the nebulous wall of propaganda and agitation. The goal of the gender ideology and of radical feminism is not the recognition of the personal dignity of human beings with homosexual inclinations, but, rather, the destruction of the marriage between man and woman and thus the destruction of the family which naturally flows out of the life-long bond between man and woman as father and mother of their common children.
It is only a subtle neo-Colonialism when the Development Aid for Africa – as offered by international organizations and Gender-Ideology-States – is connected with the adaptation of this destructive ideology. "They shall rather starve to death if they do not want to expose themselves to our brain washing"; this is the shameless blackmail. The demon of European and Anglo-Saxon pride resurrects itself again when students from the poorest countries are given a dose of mainstreaming and lessons in Gleichschaltung [phasing] – funded, of course, with the help of Western tax money – so that they shall bring into line in their own homelands the Elderly who are still [purportedly] caught up in a pre-rational way of thinking, in view of their own taboos, and who are thus still untouched by the wisdom of the gender ideology.
The Church owes to the people the truth of God. She may not allow herself to be intimidated by the reproaches about her alleged undervaluing of sexuality, for example, or by getting into the dilemma of the demonization or idolization of sexuality. Many factors show the coherence of both the marital teaching and the sexual teaching of the Church which she has received from God: the substantial unity of man in spirit, soul, and body; man's orientation toward the community and the generational responsibility; and the identity as man and woman in their complementarity with respect to one another. […] When now, even from within the Church, there is a call for a new sexual morality, some people might then – while ignoring the truth of the Gospels – consider this call to be a liberating removal of burdens, a removal of pressure from family, media, the working place, and would, thus, welcome it. However, man is not helped by an old Pagan sexual teaching which is being praised anew which is based upon false anthropological premises and which contradicts in a diametrically opposed way the Commandments of God and which is, from the standpoint of Revelation, to be qualified as being heretical. Only that which is morally good and which is in accordance with God's will can lead man to happiness and salvation. Entirely apart from the fact that hedonism itself is an age-old heresy and has as its theoretical foundation only the atheistic Nihilism, one can only- in the light of such an atheistic anthropology – consider sexuality as a morally free space in which there exist merely a few external rules. However, from its essence, sexuality itself is exposed to be accountable to the moral principle of the discernment of good and evil: namely, that it has as its criterion – with the help of the unity of the person in soul and body – love and its self-giving, without reservation and without calculation or mutual instrumentalization.
We all know, says the Cardinal [Sarah], that we are sinners and that, especially in the realm of sexuality, there shows itself to be seen very clearly the weakness of man to integrate the bodiliness into the being as a person. God never refuses His forgiveness to that man who sees his misconduct and who sincerely repents his guilt, and He also gave to the Church that authority to forgive all sins in the Sacrament of Penance. The scandal does not lie in the fact that the Sixth Commandment has been violated – and still is again and again violated. The real scandal would be – and it would be the apostasy of the Church from God – if the Church would not anymore name the differences between good and evil; or if she – in a shameful way – would even declare that to be good which God declares to be a sin; or if one would even refer to God with pious words in order to justify the sin, instead of the sinner.
A Message from Africa for Catholic Germany
The book of Cardinal Sarah in its German translation makes a hit into the Catholic Church of this language region where the crisis of the Faith is very palpable: empty Churches; empty confessionals; barely any priestly candidates; one monastery after another closes; the knowledge of the Faith is at its lowest level; and Protestants and Catholics together have lost in the year 2014 a half a million Christians, who had become children of God through Baptism and who have now publicly turned their backs on the Church of Jesus Christ. Often, I am asked whence the establishment of the so-called "German Church" takes the claim to be the leader of the Universal Church– in the face of so many symptoms in the German Church of dramatic decline, especially concerning the questions of sexual morality and of the Church's teaching on Marriage. If one pours old wine into new skins, the skins could burst and destroy the new wine. Along with the causes of the crisis of Faith in Europe, one could easily also export its consequences to Africa. One should once try it the other way around: Let not the Europeans, with condescension, puff themselves up as the teachers of the Africans. Instead of offering to the young, growing Church [in Africa] a self-secularization as the model and answer to the crisis of Faith, we should import into our country [Germany] the spiritual richness and the strength of the Faith of others. Only in this way, can the Catholic Church survive in Europe and also revive the spiritually dead back to a life in the Faith. We can learn from the young Churches, and we should stop privately rejoicing in the fact that, wherever there are human beings, there are also some frictions and even defects. We should not promise others that it will turn out to be with them the same way as it is with us – as if the de-Christianization is a natural process that cannot be halted. No! With the Faith, one can move mountains.
Only a sustainable new Evangelization with a full apostolic candor and zeal will be able to oppose the stale flattening out of Christianity in Germany; but, instead, one declares – being blinded about the Church's real problems – that our giving Holy Communion to civilly married people who still have a valid and binding sacramental marriage; and that our recognition of homosexual relationships should purportedly be central themes of the Church's pastoral care for the future. And the activities are astonishing. One tries, by all means – i.e., with the help of exegesis, history, dogmatic history, and with reference to psychology and sociology – to de-construct and relativize the CatholicChurch's teaching on marriage which comes from the teaching of Jesus Himself, and to attempt this only in order that the Church should appear to be conforming with society. Whoever remains faithful to the teaching of the Church is attacked by the media, and even defamed as an opponent of the pope, as if the pope and all the bishops in union with him were not loyal witnesses of the revealed truth which has been entrusted to them so that the truth does not run the risk of being leveled down by men to a human measure and standard.
In this climate of an effective German claim to leadership in the Universal Church, it can also happen at times that, writing in a tabloid, a lay functionary or a professor even gives forth some instruction to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning questions about the Catholic notion of Revelation. However, in the face of the destruction of the Christian image of man, Apostolic candor and faithful self-confidence should be used in our bearing witness to the truth of the Gospels, rather than our squandering our energies with internal struggles for prestige within the Church, or by our showing off to our claimed independence from "Rome."
The [Second Vatican] Council says clearly that Revelation is to be found in Holy Scripture and in Sacred Tradition and that it is to be interpreted faithfully by the Magisterium. But popes and bishops do not receive a new public revelation which transcends the depositum fidei (Lumen gentium 25). The development of doctrine refers to our deeper understanding and it cannot be turned against itself in a dialectical manner, and in order to find a putative higher unity (Dei verbum).
The valid and sacramental marriage is either indissoluble or dissoluble. There is not third option. In view of so much talk about dialogue and its long processes, one cannot overlook in reality an ideological constrictedness or crampness. The goal of such an ideology is to enforce at least a change of practice, even if it damages truth and the unity of the Church. According to this attitude, one may, for a while, preserve the teaching as a theory, in order to calm down and tranquilize Catholics in Asia and in Africa who are intellectually and emotionally "not yet ready" – while at the same time, in the pastoral care, the God-given sacramental order is de facto rescinded. The contradiction is also being carried directly into God Himself Who, on one side – and as a good Creator and merciful Redeemer – has established Grace and the indissolubility of marriage; but, Who, on the other side – being shocked about their unendurable consequences – now suspends His own Commandments. This collusion between mercy and justice in His Being thereby even forces Him to suspend the irrevocable grace of the Sacrament of Marriage in order to be able to permit additional marriages during the lifetime of the legitimate sacramental spouse – and this is done in full contradiction to Jesus Himself Who said that the very "hardness of hearts" of the Pharisees was responsible for the Mosaic allowance of divorce and remarriage.
Concerning the separation of teaching and practice of the Faith, we in Germany should especially be very cautious and we should not forget the lessons of the Church's history. The selling of indulgences became, in the fateful year 1517, the cause for the Protestant Reformation and for the unintended schism in Western Christianity. It is not that the teaching of Johann Tetzel about the remission of the temporal punishment [i.e., indulgences] was wrong – as we know today – but, it was, rather, wrong because that doctrine was ignored in practice and also because there were some false appearances made. The teachers of the Faith may not give the people the false impression that their salvation is secure – and just because these teachers themselves are fearful of being at all provocative. And the original protest of Luther himself against the negligence of the shepherds of the Church was justified, because one may not play with the salvation of souls, even if the purpose of the deception would be to bring about a good deed. Likewise today, we may not deceive the people, when it comes to the sacramentality of marriage, its indissolubility, its openness toward the child, and the fundamental complementarity of the two sexes. Pastoral case must keep in view the eternal salvation, and it should not try to be superficially pleasing according to the wishes of the people.
And nobody can deny that the way to the Resurrection leads to the Cross and that also each Christian has to take up his Cross daily in marriage and family, in the priesthood and in the religious orders. Jesus did not promise His disciples a comfortable life according to the fashions of the time, but He gave us the promise: "Be loyal unto death, then I will give to you the wreath of life" (Revelation 2:10).
We agree that those Christians who are sacramentally married, and who have still yet entered into a civil marriage that is not approved by the Church, need, indeed, the special care of the Church. This applies also because of the children involved who are often put into a conflict between their love for their parents and their knowledge about the Commandments of God and the teaching of the Church. But the full reconciliation with the Church in the Sacrament of Penance and in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist cannot replace the steep path to the goal, but, rather, can only be the goal of the path which leads to a theological clarification of the status of a sacramental marriage. The sacramental truth about a marriage must not be ignored. That is a reality established by God to which the factual situations of men have to orient themselves; and not the other way around. Man cannot make himself the standard for God in His order of Creation and Redemption.
I thank Cardinal Sarah for his courage not to withhold from all Catholics in Africa and in Europe the truth of the Catholic Faith and its consequences for pastoral care – and not to not cut in half the truth for the sake of a compromise. I cannot believe only half-way in the Divinity of Christ or only say "Lord, Lord," without doing the Will of God in heaven (Mt. 7:21). In the face of God, there is either all or nothing. With God, we have everything, without Him, we are nothing. This is the leading thought of the book by Cardinal Sarah, in which he deals with the most important themes of Christianity in the Postmodern times. My thoughts about it were not intended to replace the close reading of the book itself, but they are only meant to be an invitation to do that.