Gerhard Ludwig Müller: Another Faulty Traditionialist Condemnation?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus

Archbishop Gerhard Müller—the brand new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—has  come under Traditionalist attack. A case in point is the July 9th Remnant Online blog entry, New Head of CDF Dissents from Certain Doctrines of Faith?, by “a concerned Catholic priest.” All this does is make me concerned for the priest.

Essentially this anonymous author, in his zeal to condemn Archbishop Müller for heresy, has gone to the extreme trouble of looking up information about his ideas on, well, Wikipedia. However, not all of the cited material is from the English Wikipedia page. The German-language page is far more extensive, but one problem is that the alleged damning quotations are somewhat difficult to interpret, and they are all translations.

Despite the fact that these quotations were clearly selected to alarm conservative Catholics, each one cries out to be read in the context of the larger work from which it was taken. Without this context, it is actually impossible to be sure of the specific point the Archbishop was attempting to make. But one can easily imagine several perfectly orthodox contexts in each case. With this in mind, let us take up each quote in turn:

On the Eucharist, from a book on the Mass in 2002: “In reality, the body and blood of Christ do not mean the material components of the human person of Jesus during his lifetime or in his transfigured corporality. Here, body and blood mean the presence of Christ in the signs of the medium of bread and wine.”

This statement does not in itself contradict the Real Presence. In fact it specifically affirms the presence of Christ under the appearance (signs) of bread and wine, though by itself it admits the possibility of a merely spiritual presence, which would be a heresy. But it seems to be speaking to a deeper question of the Real Presence, the question of what constitutes substance as opposed to accidents in a proper understanding of transubstantiation. Let us consider for a moment that the material components of Christ’s earthly body were changing constantly, and we have no adequate conception of the material components of his transfigured body. Even from this simple point of view, there are interesting questions about this notion of presence. We definitely wish to know the question or quarrel that provided the context for this speculation.

In the absence of that knowledge, we might consider one possible context which makes the statement rather easy to resolve. When we refer to the “body” of Christ, we would be wrong to assert that the meaning of the word “body” is exhausted by the material components of Christ’s body. And when we refer to the “blood” of Christ, we would also be wrong to assert that what we mean is exhausted by the material components of Christ’s blood. For in fact we know by Faith that Christ is present body, blood, soul and divinity in either Eucharistic species. And therefore, strictly according to the quotation in the dock, “material components” is not what “body” and “blood” actually “mean”.

I emphasize again that I do not know exactly what point Archbishop Müller wished to make in context, but we are a long way from proving heresy from this quotation.

Comment on Liberation Theology: “The theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, independently of how you look at it, is orthodox because it is orthopractic and it teaches us the correct way of acting in a Christian fashion since it comes from true faith.”

Here I have just two points to make. First, Archbishop Müller was at one time a student of Gustavo Gutiérrez, a very significant liberation theologian, and he remained a friend. In this context, I would tend to cut anyone some slack.

Second, however, consider what this quotation actually says: It says that purely in itself Gutiérrez’ mode of theology was orthodox in that it was primarily concerned to take our faith (as defined by Catholic doctrine, or orthodoxy) and teach us how to live out its demands in practice (orthopraxis). So in skeletal or paradigmatic form—“independently of how you look at it”—this is not unorthodox. But of course people may “look at it” the wrong way; they may introduce their own agenda, and twist the theological method in its actual results.

In any case, this was said of his teacher and friend. It is the kind of generous statement which I can live with, especially if Archbishop Müller’s experience of Gutiérrez was that of a man of deep faith. It may also be theologically more precise than some of us, after past battles, care to admit. In other words, quarrels with Gutiérrez were not primarily over doctrinal issues, but over how to practice the Faith.

Mariology, from the 5th edition of his Catholic Dogmatics in 2003: The doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is “not so much concerned with specific physiological proprieties in the natural process of birth…, but with the healing and saving influence of the grace of the Savior on human nature.”

This one is even easier. If we presume that Archbishop Müller means to deny the physiological miracles associated with the Virgin Birth, of course, the quotation sets off loud alarms. But why assume what the quotation does not say? In fact, it admits the physiological miracles easily enough. All it says is that the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is “not so much concerned” with the physiological miracles as with what it teaches us about the “healing and saving influence of the grace of the Savior”.

The phrase “not so much concerned” may simply mean that the doctrine has a higher purpose than what meets the eye, exactly as most of Christ’s miracles did. I would love to see this in the original context of dogmatic theology, to see how this notion of the “healing and saving influence of the grace of the Savior on human nature” is explicated and applied as a principle of theological interpretation (hermeneutic).

Advanced theology is hard work. Let’s not jump to unwarranted conclusions about the orthodoxy of a close friend and trusted colleague of Pope Benedict XVI, an archbishop who is overseeing the publication of the sixteen volumes of the Pope’s writings, a theologian who has spent his last ten years working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Congregation’s new Prefect, whose views may have matured and refined themselves significantly during that time.

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