Cardinal Gerhard Mueller published a “Manifesto of Faith” (see here) last week. Actually, it was leaked prematurely by a Polish group. The Manifesto was supposed to appear yesterday, the eve of the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s announcement of his resignation, which also happens to be the eve of the anniversary of Mueller’s ordination, both anniversaries falling on February 11, i.e., today.
Like everything Mueller has published since Pope Francis removed him from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it’s rich in a multitude of ways, though it is only four pages long. Many people have been asking him to clarify Catholic teachings that have seemed to be in doubt in recent years. So, in an indirect way, we finally have responses to the Dubia presented to the pope, which Francis chose not to answer.
The Manifesto addresses the pope’s seeming indifferentism in the recent declaration he signed with Muslims claiming that God wills a plurality of religions. As Mueller points out, the Trinitarian revelation of the Gospels “marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions,” even the other monotheistic faiths. And this is crucially important for our understanding not only of God, but ourselves.
The Church is an integral part of God’s special plan because it “conveys with the authority of Christ the divine revelation, which extends to all the elements of doctrine, ‘including the moral teaching, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, and observed.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2035)
In what is clearly a commentary on questions about marriage raised by Amoris laetitia and about intercommunion with non-Catholics, he lists groups that can’t receive Communion:
From the internal logic of the sacrament, it is understood that divorced and civilly remarried persons, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Faith and the Church, just as all those who are not disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully (CCC 1457), because it does not bring them to salvation. To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy.
And he’s quite blunt about the cumulative effect of failure to restate fundamental truths: “Many wonder today what purpose the Church still has in its existence, when even bishops prefer to be politicians rather than to proclaim the Gospel as teachers of the Faith.”
Such clarifications are all to the good these days. But I was struck by one line near the beginning: “Today, many Christians are no longer even aware of the basic teachings of the Faith,” [emphasis added] which seems obvious enough, though numerous Catholic leaders, even at the highest levels, have long seemed unconcerned about that lack of awareness.
Imagine if a nation – actually if you’re American you won’t have to try very hard – woke up to find one day that it was not teaching its children, which is to say its future generations, the basic truths about its past; training them in how to read, write, and think clearly and consistently; to do basic math, so that asking 2 + 2 = ? leads us into philosophical/theological tangles.
How would responsible parents, teachers, leaders react?
Benedict XVI remarked in a 2010 interview that it’s puzzling how Catholics who have attended Catholic schools for a dozen years or more often seem to emerge with a sympathy for Islam or a basic acquaintance with Buddhism, but without much loyalty toward or knowledge of their own faith.
This is more than an educational problem. It goes to one of the central questions about the very nature of Christianity. As Mueller continues in that sentence I quoted above about the loss of basic truths, “so there is a growing danger of missing the path to eternal life.”
And so we confront something that has fallen by the wayside in much modern Christian thought. Is Christ what He Himself told us He is: the Way, the Truth, and the Life? And not in some vague sentimentalized way in which we all are – eventually and indulgently – saved, whatever we think and do. But in the, yes, merciful, but also demanding – sometimes even threatening – way of the real Jesus in the Gospels, who speaks of Gehenna “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk. 9:48)
I raise this point in full knowledge that the infernal propaganda machine long ago succeeded in making anyone who brings up Hell appear like the longhair kook on the street corner with the sign: The End Is Near. For many people, even Christians, God is just too Nice a Guy for such things.
But the words are Jesus’. As Mueller remarks, “We are to resist the relapse into ancient heresies with clear resolve, which saw in Jesus Christ only a good person, brother and friend, prophet and moralist.”
There are many horrific evils in the world, even in the modern, progressive, enlightened world. Starting with the thousands of innocents slaughtered every day before they are even born.
Even the Aztecs who cut out still-beating hearts in human sacrifice or the ancient worshippers of Moloch didn’t run up anywhere near such body counts. (Pace the pope and his Muslim counterpart, all religions are not equal and do not necessarily seek the same things.)
The good shepherd knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. But they know each other not just by smell, or by being of the same flock – a flock may be good or bad. They know each other, if they are human beings and not merely animals, with their hearts, minds, and souls. And that inevitably means they are one because they share and live by certain truths.
Kudos to Mueller for his sturdy clarity: “It is the shepherds’ very own task to guide those entrusted to them on the path of salvation. This can only succeed if they know this way and follow it themselves.”
*Image: First Communion by Pablo Picasso, 1896 [Picasso Museum, Barcelona]. This is one of Picasso’s earliest paintings, done when he was just 15.
**Image: The Last Communion of St. Jerome by Botticelli, c. 1490 [The Met, New York]. The beautiful frame is from the workshop of Giuliano da Maiano; the lunette painting is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, Botticelli’s friend. The detail below shows the great saint receiving worthily.