Vatican’s former doctrine head criticizes Amazon synod working doc for ‘false teaching’ - Corrispondenza romana
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Vatican’s former doctrine head criticizes Amazon synod working doc for ‘false teaching’

(Maike Hickson, Life Site News – July 16, 2019) The cardinal who was tasked by Pope Benedict with defending the doctrine of the Catholic Church has criticized the Pan-Amazon Synod’s working document (Instrumentum Laboris) for its “radical u-turn in the hermeneutics of Catholic theology” and for its “false teaching.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), said the “main problem” with the working document is that “key terms are not being clarified.” His statement was released on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (read full statement below). 

“What is a synodal path, what is integral development, what does a Samaritan, missionary, synodal, and open Church mean, or a Church reaching out, the Church of the Poor, the Church of the Amazon, and more? Is this Church something different from the People of God or is she to be understood merely as the hierarchy of Pope and Bishops, or is she a part of it, or does she stand on the opposite side of the people?” Müller states. 

The Cardinal, who held his post at the CDF from 2012-2017, especially takes issue with the working document’s claim that there are new sources of “Revelation” related to geographical locations such as the Amazon region. 

“If here a certain territory is being declared to be a ‘particular source of God’s Revelation,’ then one has to state that this is a false teaching, inasmuch as for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are the only sources of Revelation and that no further Revelation can be added in the course of history,” he stated. 

“As Dei Verbum states, ‘we now await no further new public revelation’ (4). Holy Scripture and Tradition are the only sources of Revelation, as Dei Verbum (7) explains: ‘This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.’ ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church’ (Dei Verbum 10),” the Cardinal added. 

Most importantly, in Cardinal Müller’s view, the relationship of Holy Scripture and Tradition on the one side and the Magisterium on the other has been put “upside down” in the Vatican document. He asks: “Has the Church of Christ been placed by her Founder as a sort of raw material into the hands of bishops and popes, which they now – illuminated by the Holy Spirit – can rebuild into an updated instrument also with secular goals?”

The approach of the working document, he says, is that “the whole line of thought turns in self-referential and circular ways around the newest documents of Pope Francis’ Magisterium,” and that there are a few “references to John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” with Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers being quoted rarely. In this way, the Magisterium – which is meant to “interpret” and “regulate” the Revelation that is “fully” contained in Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition – becomes the tail that wags the dog, thus turning the hermeneutics of Catholic theology “upside down.”

Cardinal Müller goes on to show how the authors of the working document show a “special loyalty to the Pope” by quoting him intensely, even referring to Pope Francis’ “mantra,” a word which the cardinal himself calls “sloppy.” Müller even shows that some quotations and references in the text are simply incorrect, thus indicating a lack of academic carefulness.

The German prelate also rejects the idea of a “cosmovision” that is to be found in the Vatican working document.

“A cosmovision with its myths and the ritual magic of Mother ‘Nature,’ or its sacrifices to ‘gods’ and spirits,” he states, “which scare the wits out of us, or lure us on with false promises, cannot be an adequate approach for the coming of the Triune God in His Word and His Holy Spirit.”

Müller states that “the cosmos, however, is not to be adored like God, but only the Creator Himself.”

Müller shows where the synodal text goes wrong in its understanding of “inculturation,” since inculturation has only a limited place within the Church’s missionary activity. The Incarnation is the starting point of the Church’s missionary activity; “this self-communication of God as a Grace and life of each man is being spread in the world by way of the Church’s proclamation of her life and her cult – that is to say, by way of the world mission according to the universal mandate of Christ.”

What is missing in the working document, the Cardinal and former dogmatics professor explains, is a “clear witness to the self-communication of God in the verbum incarnatum, to the sacramentality of the Church, to the Sacraments as objective means of Grace.”

The Sacraments, he adds, cannot be inculturated, but merely some “secondary external” elements. The Church witnesses to the Incarnation and to the Sacraments “so that eternal life is the reward for the conversion to God, the reconciliation with Him, and not only with the environment and our shared world.”

He concludes: “Instead of presenting an ambiguous approach with a vague religiosity and the futile attempt to turn Christianity into a science of salvation by sacralizing the cosmos and the biodiverse nature and ecology, it is important to look to the center and origin of our Faith: ‘In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature’ (Dei Verbum 2).”

Cardinal Müller is not the first high-ranking prelate to criticize the document. Last month, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the two remaining dubia cardinals, issued a critique of the document, calling it “heretical” and an “apostasy” from Divine Revelation. He called upon Church leaders to “reject” it with “all decisiveness.” 

Cardinal Raymond Burke has also commented on remarks made by Amazon Synod organizers, saying that relaxing priestly celibacy for the Amazon region would affect the universal Church. “It is not honest” to suggest that the October meeting is “treating the question of clerical celibacy for that region alone,” he said last month. 

Bishop Marian Eleganti, the auxiliary bishop of Chur, Switzerland has also statedthat if ideas in the working document are adopted, they “will contaminate the whole Mystical Body of the Church – and gravely damage it.”

Cardinal Müller’s statement is being published simultaneously in four languages: in Italian by Corrispondenza Romana; in German by Die Tagespost, Kath.net, and CNA Deutsch; and in Spanish by Infovaticana.

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Full statement by Cardinal Müller on the Pan-Amazon Synod working document

“For any other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 3:11)

On the Concept of Revelation as found in the Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazon Synod

By Cardinal Gerhard Müller 

1. On the method of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL)

Nobody would question the goodwill of those who are involved in the preparation and implementation of the synod for the Church in the Amazon and with their intention to do everything possible in order to promote the Catholic Faith among the inhabitants of this large region and its fascinating landscape. 

The Amazon region is to serve for the Church and for the world “as a pars pro toto, as a paradigm, as a hope for the whole world.” (IL 37) Already this very task assignment itself shows forth the idea of an “integral” development of all men in the one house of the earth, for which the Church declares herself to be responsible. This idea is again and again to be found in the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). The text itself is divided into three parts: 1) The Voice of the Amazon; 2) Integral Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and of the Poor; 3) A Prophetic Church in the Amazon: Challenges and Hope. These three parts are built according to the scheme which also Liberation Theology uses: Seeing the situation – judging in light of the Gospels – acting for the establishment of better life conditions.

2. Ambivalence in the Definition of Terms and Goals

As it often happens when such workshop-texts are being written, there are always teams of people with a similar mindset who work on individual parts with the result that there arise some tiresome redundancies. If one were strictly to take out all the repetitions, the text easily could be reduced to half of its length, and even less.

But the main problem is not the quantitatively excessive length, but the fact that the key terms are not being clarified and they are overused: what is a synodal path, what is integral development, what does a Samaritan, missionary, synodal, and open Church mean, or a Church reaching out, the Church of the Poor, the Church of the Amazon, and more? Is this Church something different from the People of God or is she to be understood merely as the hierarchy of Pope and Bishops, or is she a part of it, or does she stand on the opposite side of the people? Is People of God a sociological or theological term? Or is it not, rather, the community of faithful, who, together with their shepherds, are on the pilgrimage unto eternal life? Is it the bishops who should hear the cry of the people, or is it God Who, just as He once did it with Moses during Israel’s slavery in Egypt, now tells the successors of the Apostles to lead the faithful out of the sin and apart from the godlessness of secularist naturalism and immanentism unto his salvation in God’s Word and in the Sacraments of the Church?

3. Hermeneutics Put Upside Down

Has the Church of Christ been placed by her Founder as a sort of raw material into the hands of bishops and popes, which they now – illuminated by the Holy Spirit – can rebuild into an updated instrument also with secular goals? 

The structure of the text presents a radical u-turn in the hermeneutics of Catholic theology. The relationship between Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition on the one side, and the Church’s Magisterium on the other, has been classically determined in such a way that Revelation is fully contained in Holy Scripture and Tradition, while it is the task of the Magisterium – united with the sense of the Faith of the whole People of God – to make authentic and infallible interpretations. Thus, Holy Scripture and Tradition are constitutive principles of knowledge for the Catholic Profession of Faith and its theological-academic reflection. The Magisterium, on the other hand, is merely active in an interpretative and regulative manner (Dei Verbum 8-10; 24)

In the case of the IL, however, it is exactly the opposite. The whole line of thought turns in self-referential and circular ways around the newest documents of Pope Francis’ Magisterium, furnished with a few references to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Holy Scripture is being quoted little, and the Church Fathers barely at all, but then only in an illustrative manner, and for the sake of supporting convictions that are already preexisting for other reasons. Perhaps one wishes thereby to show a special loyalty to the Pope, or one thus believes oneself to be able to avoid the challenges of theological work when one constantly refers back to his well-known and often repeated keywords, which the authors call – in a pretty sloppy manner – “his mantra” (IL 25). This flattery is then being carried to its extreme when the authors also add – after their statement that “the active subjects of inculturation are the indigenous peoples themselves” (IL 122) – the odd formulation, namely: “As Pope Francis has affirmed, ‘Grace supposes culture.’” As if he himself had discovered this axiom – which is of course a fundamental axiom of the Catholic Church herself.  In the original, it is Grace which presupposes Nature, just as Faith presupposes Reason (see Thomas Aquinas, S. th. I q.1 a.8). 

Next to the confusing of the roles of Magisterium on the one side and of Holy Scripture on the other, the IL even goes so far as to claim that there are new sources of Revelation. IL 19 states: “Furthermore, we can say that the Amazon – or another indigenous or communal territory – is not only an ubi or a where (a geographical space), but also a quid or a what, a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God in history. Thus territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God.” If here a certain territory is being declared to be a “particular source of God’s Revelation,” then one has to state that this is a false teaching, inasmuch as for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are the only sources of Revelation and that no further Revelation can be added in the course of history. As Dei Verbum states, “we now await no further new public revelation” (4). Holy Scripture and Tradition are the only sources of Revelation, as Dei Verbum (7) explains: “This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.” “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church” (Dei Verbum 10).

Besides these striking statements and references, the organization Rete Ecclesiale Panamazzonica (=REPAM) – which has been tasked with the preparation of the IL and which was founded for that very reason in 2014 – as well as their authors, of the so-called Theologia india [Indian Theology], mostly quote themselves.

It is a closed society of people with absolutely the same worldview, as can easily be seen on the list of names of pre-synod meetings in Washington and Rome, which contains a disproportionately large number of mostly German-speaking Europeans. 

One is immune to serious objections, because these can only be based on monolithic doctrinalism and dogmatism, or ritualism (IL 38; 110; 138), as well as on clericalism that is incapable of dialogue (IL 110), and on the rigid way of thinking of the pharisees and on the pride of reason on the side of the scribes. To argue with such people would just be a loss of time and a wasted effort. 

Not all of them have experience with South America and are only present because they think it to be in accordance with the official line and because they control the themes at the synodal path of the German Bishops’ Conference and of the Central Committee of German Catholics (abolishment of celibacy, women in the priesthood and in key power positions against clericalism and fundamentalism, adapting the revealed sexual morality to the gender ideology and to the appreciation for homosexual practices) that is concurrently taking place. 

I myself have been active in the pastoral and theological field in Peru and other countries for 15 consecutive years, each for 2-3 months. It was mainly in southern-American parishes and seminaries, and thus I do not now judge with a purely eurocentric perspective, as some would like to tell me in a reproachful manner.

Every Catholic will agree with one important intention of the IL, namely that the peoples of the Amazon may not remain the object of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the object of forces who only think about profits and power, at the cost of happiness and the dignity of other people. It is clear in the Church, society, and state that the people who are living there – especially our Catholic brothers and sisters – are equal and free agents in their lives and work, their Faith and their morality – in our common responsibility before God. But how can this be achieved?

4. The Point of Departure is God’s Revelation in Jesus Christ

Without doubt, the proclamation of the Gospel is a dialogue, which corresponds to the Word (=Logos) of God addressed to us and to our response in the free gift of obedience to the Faith (Dei Verbum 5). Because the mission comes from Christ the God-Man and because He passed His Mission on from the Father onto His Apostles, the alternatives of a dogmatic approach “from above” versus a pedagogical-pastoral approach “from below” make no sense, only if one would reject the “divine-human principle of pastoral case” (Franz Xaver Arnold). 

But man is the addressee of the universal missionary mandate of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), “the universal and sole mediator of salvation between God and all mankind” (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:4 seq.). And man can reflect, with the help of his reason, upon the sense of life between birth and death, and his life is shaken by existential crises of human existence, and he sets in life and death his hope in God, the origin and goal of all being. 

A cosmovision with its myths and the ritual magic of Mother “Nature,” or its sacrifices to “gods” and spirits which scare the wits out of us, or lure us on with false promises, cannot be an adequate approach for the coming of the Triune God in His Word and His Holy Spirit. Much less can the approach be a scientific-positivistic world view of a liberal bourgeoisie which accepts of Christianity only a comfortable remnant of moral values and civil-religious rituals.

In all seriousness, in the formation of future pastors and theologians, shall the knowledge of classical and modern philosophy, of the Church Fathers, of modern theology, of the Councils, now be replaced with the Amazonian cosmovision and the wisdom of the ancestors with their myths and rituals?

Should the expression “cosmovision” merely mean that all created things are interdependent, it would be a mere commonplace. Due to the substantial unity of body and soul, man stands at the intersection of the fabric of spirit and matter. But the contemplation of the cosmos is only the occasion for the glorification of God and His wonderful work in nature and history. The cosmos, however, is not to be adored like God, but only the Creator Himself. We do not fall on our knees before the enormous power of nature and before “all kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matthew 4:8), but only before God, “for it is written, the Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10). It is thus that Jesus rejected the diabolical seducer in the desert. 

5. The Difference between Incarnation of the Word and Inculturation itself as a Way of Evangelization

The “Theologia indigena and the eco-theology” (IL 98) is a brainchild of social romantics. Theology is the understanding (intellectus fidei) of God’s Revelation in His Word in the Faith-Profession of the Church, and not the continuously new mixture of world feelings and world views or religious-moral constellations of the cosmic feeling of all-in-one, the mixing of the feeling of one’s own self with the world (hen kai pan). Our natural world is the creation of a Personal God. Faith in the Christian sense is thus recognition of God in His Eternal Word which became Flesh; it is illumination in the Holy Spirit, so that we recognize God in Christ.  With the Faith, the supernatural virtues of hope and charity are communicated to us.  That is how we understand ourselves as children of God, who, through Christ, say to God in the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). We put our whole trust in Him, and He makes us His sons, who are free of the fear of the elementary forces of the world and of the demonic appearances, gods and spirits, which maliciously await us in the unpredictability of the material forces of the world. 

The Incarnation is a unique event in history which God has freely determined in His universal will of salvation. It is not an inculturation, and the inculturation of the Church is not an incarnation (IL 7;19;29;108). It was not Irenaeus of Lyon, in his 5thbook of Adversus haereses (IL 113), but Gregory of Nazianzus who formulated the principle: “quod non est assumptum non est sanatum – that, which has not been assumed, is not redeemed either.” (Ep. 101, 32) What is meant here was the completeness of human nature against Apollinaris of Laodicea (315-390) who thought that the Logos in the Incarnation only assumed a nature, without a human soul. That is why the following sentence is completely abstruse: “Cultural diversity calls for a more robust incarnation in order to embrace different ways of life and cultures.” (IL 113)

The Incarnation is not the principle of secondary cultural adaptation, but concretely and primarily also the principle of salvation in the “Church as Sacrament of salvation of the world in Christ” (Lumen Gentium 1:48), in the Church’s Profession of Faith, in her Seven Sacraments, and in the episcopacy with the Pope at the head, in Apostolic succession. 

Secondary rites from the traditions of the peoples can help to ingrain into the culture the Sacraments, which are the means of salvation instituted by Christ. They may, however, not become independent, so that, for example suddenly marriage customs become more important than the Yes-Word [“Ja-Wort”] which is constitutive for the Sacrament of Matrimony itself. The sacramental signs, as they have been instituted by Christ and the Apostles (word and material symbol), cannot be changed at any price. Baptism cannot be validly administered in any other way than in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with natural water; and in the Eucharist, one may not replace with local food the bread made of wheat and the wine from the vine. That would not be inculturation, but an inadmissible interference into Jesus’ Will as founder [“Stiftungswillen”] and also would be a destruction of the unity of the Church at her sacramental center.

When inculturation here is referring to the secondary external celebration of divine worship and not to the Sacraments – which is ex opere operato, through the living Presence of Christ, the founder and true giver of Grace in these sacramental signs – then the following sentence is scandalous, or it is at least thoughtless: “Without this inculturation the liturgy can be reduced to a ‘museum piece’ or ‘property of a select few.’” (IL 124)

God is not simply everywhere and equally present in all religions, as if the Incarnation would be merely a typically mediterranean phenomenon. In point of fact, God as Creator of the world is present as a whole and in each individual human heart (Acts 17:27seq) – even if the eyes of man are often blinded by sin, and his ears are deaf to God’s Love. But He comes by way of His Self-Revelation in the history of His chosen people Israel, and He comes very close to us ourselves in His Incarnate Word and in the Spirit which has been poured into our hearts. This self-communication of God as a Grace and life of each man is being spread in the world by way of the Church’s proclamation of her life and her cult – that is to say, by way of the world mission according to the universal mandate of Christ.

But He already works with His helping and prevenient Grace also in the hearts of those men who do not yet know Him expressly and by name, so that, when they hear about Him in the Apostolic proclamation, they can identify Him as the Lord Jesus, in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

6. The Criterion of Discernment: the Historical Self-Communication of God in Jesus Christ

What is missing in the IL is a clear witness to the self-communication of God in the verbum incarnatum, to the sacramentality of the Church, to the Sacraments as objective means of Grace instead of mere self-referential symbols, to the supernatural character of Grace, so that the integrity of man does not only consist of the unity with a bio-nature, but in the Divine Sonship and in the grace-filled communion with the Holy Trinity and so that eternal life is the reward for the conversion to God, the reconciliation with Him, and not only with the environment and our shared world. 

One cannot reduce the integral development merely to the provision of material resources. Because man receives his new integrity only by way of perfection in Grace, here now in Baptism, whereby we become a new creature and children of God, and then one day in the Beatific Vision in the community of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and in communion with His saints. (1 John 1:3; 3:1 seq).

Instead of presenting an ambiguous approach with a vague religiosity and the futile attempt to turn Christianity into a science of salvation by sacralizing the cosmos and the biodiverse nature and ecology, it is important to look to the center and origin of our Faith: “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature” (Dei Verbum 2).