(LifeSiteNews) — The following is the video and full text of Cardinal Gerhard Müller’s speech from the 2023 Rome Life Forum.
The Church of Christ in fidelity to the Apostolic succession
1. Without Christ – No Church
A Church that no longer believes in Jesus the Christ is no longer the Church of Jesus Christ. Bishops who betray their divine mission in order to avoid being accused of proselytism or of being rigorists for defending Christian morality have forgotten the meaning and reason of their existence. That relativism in doctrine does not make Christianity fit for the present, a fact which has been impressively brought to our attention by Pope Benedict XVI. And already in the 17th century the great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal had warned the Jesuits against laxism in his Lettres Provinciales. These “smart guys” wanted to reconcile Christianity with the frivolous goings-on of the Bourbon court. But despite their willingness to secularize Christianity, they ended up being the victims of their own strategy of adaptation.
Bishops and theologians who have forgotten that in Christ alone we are given the fullness of grace and truth, or who – like the modernists at the beginning of the 20th century – think they can develop the teachings of Christ according to their own liking, should remember the words of St. Paul: “If I wanted to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ: the Gospel I preached did not come from men… I received it through the Revelation of Christ.” (Gal 1:10f)
The “shepherds of the Church of God appointed by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 20:28) are nothing other than the legitimate successors of the Apostles (cf. 1Clement Letter 42-44). To His Apostles the risen Lord said: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. To whom you refuse forgiveness, it is refused.” (Jn 20:21f).
Only because Christ revealed himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6), can the Holy Spirit ensure “the Church of the living God be the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15) The “truth of the Gospel” (Gal 2:14), which Paul even once had to defend against the ambiguity of a confused Peter, is therefore not, in the sense of Hegel’s dialectical-processual theory of development, the expression of the changing spirit of the age. The spirit of truth and life is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the truth of Christ and introduces us to the full knowledge of the Word made flesh. For in Jesus Christ “we have seen the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)
Thus, the Holy Spirit does not update the supposedly dead Tradition for the present through self-appointed prophetesses, as the Montanists thought in the 3rd century. The sensus fidelium is also not the voice of the people demanding to be heard by their shepherds or the breath of the Holy Spirit, which the pope then interprets in his own sense. The holy People of God participate in the prophetic ministry of Christ, in that the entirety of the faithful who have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit cannot err in faith. Vatican II explains, “they manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ (Augustine, De Praed. Sanct 14, 27) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals… By that sense of faith… the people of God… adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints (cf. Jude 3).” (Lumen Gentium 12)
Even the bishops, with the pope at their head, do not receive new revelation, but “preach to the people committed to them the they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old.” (Lumen Gentium 25).
Nor does the Holy Spirit establish his own Third Kingdom after the Kingdom of the Father in the Old Testament and of the Son in the New Testament, as Joachim of Fiore thought in the 12th century. This doctrine of the dialectically unfolding God in three stages, who appears in the Holy Spirit as an absolute spirit after he has passed through the whole history of the world and after having absorbed it, has determined the philosophy of history of Hegel. As is known, Karl Marx reinterpreted this absolute idealism into an absolute materialism, so that in the end, man does not find his goal in God, but in the earthly paradise, in which man elevates himself as his own creator and redeemer.
Today, this historical materialism is called the New World Order of the Davos “World Economic Forum,” and Yuval Harari is the prophet of this godless and inhuman nihilism.
The truth, on the other hand, to which the Church proclaims and testifies, is the person and work of Christ. In Him, the unsurpassable newness of God and the fullness of His truth has irreversibly come into the world (cf. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV 34,1). Therefore, the believers in Christ are told: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever! Do not be led astray by various strange doctrines.” (Heb 13:7-9)
2. The bishops in Apostolic succession as ministers of the Truth of Christ
In Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, therefore, changing human views about God and the world – which bishops and theologians would always have to update – are not presented. Rather, through these media, namely, Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, i.e., the Baptismal Creed and the Divine Liturgy, Christ is proclaimed as He who speaks to us in the word of preaching (1 Thess 2:23) and who communicates His salvation to every believer in the seven sacraments of the Holy Church.
This is why Vatican II teaches: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God committed to the Church… But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” (Dei Verbum 10).
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, therefore, Vatican Council II does not begin with a sociological-immanent definition of the Church. To the Church’s loss of weight in society, the pope and the bishops cannot respond with a modernistic adaptation by transforming their mission for the salvation of the world in Christ and by proving their right to exist with a religious-social contribution for inner-worldly goals and ideologies (in the sense of the Great Reset of the atheistic-philanthropic “elite,” the eco-religion, the hyperactivism in the corona crisis, the anti-rational Woke movement diametrically contradicting natural and revealed anthropology).
The Church, in fact, is not a purely human organization that would have to prove its usefulness or systemic relevance before the world. Her essence and mission are founded in her sacramentality, which derives from the God-human unity of Christ. The ecclesia catholica [Catholic Church] is the Christus praesens visibilis [the visible presence of Christ].
At the beginning of the 2nd century, the holy martyr-bishop Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Church of Smyrna: “Where the bishop appears, there shall be the Church, as that where Christ Jesus is, the Catholic Church is. Without the bishop, one may neither baptize nor hold the love feast [the Eucharist], but what he deems good is also pleasing to God.” (Smyrnaeans 8:2).
This is why Vatican II declares that the Church, “by no weak analogy… is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the Divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the Body.”
“This is the one Church of Christ, which in the Creed is professed as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which he erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth.’ This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” (Lumen Gentium 8).
The apostolic succession of the bishops, that is, its “hierarchical constitution” (cf. Lumen Gentium 18-29), is a constitutive element of the being and mission of the visible Church and guarantees her necessary historical identity with the Church of the Apostles.
The authentic sense was unfolded in principle by Irenaeus of Lyons – whom Pope Francis declared a teacher of the Church, Doctor unitatis – in the debate with the Gnostics precisely in the sense of a referential connection between Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the teaching authority of the bishops in the legitimate succession of the apostles. “Therefore, it is necessary to listen to the rulers of the Church who, together with the succession in the episcopate, have received the reliable charism of truth (charisma veritatis certum), as it pleased God. The others who do not want to know about this succession, which goes back to the origin, are … heretics who spread strange doctrines … Whoever rises up against the truth and incites others against the Church remains in hell.” (Against Heresies IV 26,2)
3. The definitive criterion of the Apostolic succession in the Roman primacy
The individual local churches form the one Catholic Church of God in the communio of the episcopal churches. The local Church of Rome is one among many local churches, but with the peculiarity that its apostolic foundation through the martyrium verbi et sanguinis [martyrdom of the Word and of the Blood] of the Apostles Peter and Paul gives it, in the communion of all episcopal churches, a primacy in the total witness and unity of life of the catholica communio. Because of this potentior principalitas [superior leadership], every other local church must agree with the Roman one. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III 3,3)
Since the College of Bishops serves the unity of the Church, it must carry within itself the principle of its unity. This can only be the bishop of a local church and not the president of a federation of regional and continental church federations. Nor can this be a purely factual principle (parliamentary majority decision, delegation of rights to an elected governing body, such as in Germany with a synodal council composed by virtue of human law, to whose decisions the bishops would have to submit).
Since the inner essence of the episcopate is a personal witness, the principle of the unity of the episcopate itself is thus embodied in one person, namely the bishop of Rome. As an ordained bishop (and by no means only as a non-bishop designated to this office), he is the successor of Peter, who himself, as the first apostle and first witness of the Resurrection, embodied in his person the unity of the apostolic college. Crucial to a theology of primacy is the characterization of Peter’s ministry as an episcopal mission, as well as the recognition that this office is not a human right but a divine right, insofar as it can only be exercised in the authority of Christ by virtue of a charism given personally to the bearer in the Holy Spirit. “But that the episcopate itself may be one and undivided, … (the eternal Shepherd Jesus Christ) placed St. Peter at the head of the rest of the apostles and instituted in him an everlasting and visible principle and foundation of the unity of faith and communion.” (LG 18; DH 3051)
As an ordained bishop (and by no means only as a non-bishop designated to this office), he is the successor of Peter, who himself, as the first apostle and first witness of the Resurrection, embodied in his person the unity of the apostolic college. Crucial to a theology of primacy is the characterization of Peter’s ministry as an episcopal mission as well as the recognition that this office is not human but divine right, insofar as it can only be exercised in the authority of Christ by virtue of a charism given personally to the bearer in the Holy Spirit. “But that the episcopate itself may be one and undivided, … (the eternal Shepherd Jesus Christ) placed St. Peter at the head of the rest of the apostles, and instituted in him an everlasting and visible principle and foundation of the unity of faith and communion.” (LG 18; DH 3051)
4. The victory of Truth in love
This is precisely the Church’s testimony to Jesus, that He not only proclaims truth, but is Truth. “We do not want to live by word and tongue, but by deed and truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth and by it we act in love.” (Jn 3:18f). “Let us, guided by love, hold to the truth and grow in all things until we reach Him: Christ, the head of His body, the Church.” (Eph 4:15f)
The advice to the Church to modernize her true teaching of the Gospel with the help of a relativistic philosophy brings only illusory results. One must not fall for the following suggestion: If you want to reach the people of today and be loved by all, then, like Pilate, leave aside the truth, then you will spare yourself persecution, suffering, cross and death! In worldly terms, the power of politics, media and banks are safe, while the truth challenges contradiction and promises suffering with Christ, the crucified Savior of the world. Jesus could have easily saved Himself with the message of the unconditionally loving heavenly Father who does not demand repentance and conversion.
But why did He challenge the devil, the “father of lies and the murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44f)?
Is there, diplomatically, a pact with the rulers of this world, the political-media elite? Do we not ourselves have to secure the future of the Church by a compromise with the powerful and wise of this world, instead of always proclaiming “Christ crucified: to Jews a stumbling block, to Gentiles foolishness; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23f)?