Cdl. Müller: Talk of ‘Paradigm Shift’ a Lapse Into Modernism

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  February 21, 2018   

Denounces push to "revolutionize" teaching in wake of "Amoris Laetitia"

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ROME ( - The Vatican's former doctrine chief is warning against re-interpretation of Church doctrine.

In a First Things article Tuesday, Cdl. Gerhard Müller slammed recent talk of a "paradigm shift" in relation to Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the pastoral care of families.

The former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Müller observed that "In commenting ... some interpreters advance positions contrary to the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, by effectively denying that adultery is always a grave objective sin."

"They seek to justify their claims by insisting that through the ages there has been a development of doctrine under the guidance of the Holy Spirit," he added.

The cardinal's statements come after Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin's January declaration that a paradigm shift is underway in the Church, suggesting a revolutionary shift in its pastoral approach to the divorced and civilly remarried.

It is highly unusual for a cardinal of the Church to openly contradict another. His warning speaks to what is at stake in the debate over Amoris Laetitia.

A son of Germany, Müller condemned ideas about the "development of doctrine" in terms of idealism, historicism and modernism — corrosive philosophical and theological errors which enveloped Germany in the wake of the so-called "Enlightenment."

Cdl. Pietro Parolin

Viewing doctrinal development through the lens of these errors reduces "all the dogmas of the Catholic faith" to mere conceptual, evolutionary formulas that shift with the prevailing spirit of the age. According to this approach, all dogmas are subject to change.

"Following this theory, doctrinal formulas aim at uniting the faithful to the Absolute ... but they do not in themselves really represent revealed truths," Müller explained. "Thus, we would not believe really in God but in the phenomena of our imagination and their echoes in our language."

The cardinal contrasted leftist interpretations of "development of doctrine" with its true meaning: "As far as the substance of the articles of faith is concerned, it is impossible to add or subtract anything. In the Church's efforts to combat heresies and to come to a deeper understanding of revealed truths, there can, however, be an increase in the articles of faith."

"Development of doctrine in this sense refers to the process by which the Church, in her consciousness of the Faith, comes to an ever deeper conceptual and intellectual understanding of God's self-revelation," he wrote.

One can, in fact, sin against the Catholic faith not only by denying some of its contents but also by reformulating its formal principles of knowledge.

Müller illustrated this process by examining the doctrine of the Trinity. "The filioque, for example—that is, the definition of faith that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son—does not add anything to the Trinitarian faith," he said. "This formulation merely gives a clearer expression of a truth that is already known, namely that the Spirit is not the second Son of God."

How then should Amoris Laetitia be read? According to two criteria: "preservation of type" and "continuity of principles," which "are meant precisely to ensure the stability of the faith's foundational structure," Müller noted, adding, "These principles and types prevent us from speaking of a 'paradigm shift' regarding the form of the Church's being and of her presence in the world."

When "some speak of a paradigm shift," he warned, "this seems to be a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith."

The cardinal referenced other heresies of the past — Gnosticism and Protestantism — to illustrate the danger now facing the Church:

The Roman Church, in general, and her bishops, in particular, should be the last to follow the Gnostic's suit by introducing a novel principle of interpretation by which to give a completely different direction to all of Church teaching. ... One can, in fact, sin against the Catholic faith not only by denying some of its contents but also by reformulating its formal principles of knowledge.

One may think here of the Protestant Reformation. Its new formal principle was Scripture alone. This new principle subjected the Catholic doctrine of the faith, as it had developed up to the sixteenth century, to a radical change. The fundamental understanding of Christianity turned into something completely different. Salvation was to be obtained by faith alone, so that the individual believer no longer required the help of ecclesial mediation. In consequence, the Reformers radically rejected the dogmas concerning the seven sacraments and the episcopal and papal constitution of the Church.

"There can be no paradigm shifts in the Catholic faith," the cardinal reaffirmed. "Whoever speaks of a Copernican turn in moral theology, which turns a direct violation of God's commandments into a praiseworthy decision of conscience, quite evidently speaks against the Catholic faith. Situation ethics remains a false ethical theory, even if some were to claim to find it in Amoris Laetitia."

In his final diagnosis, Müller insinuated certain prelates have gone astray in admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion. "Recently, groups of bishops or individual episcopal conferences have issued directives concerning the reception of the sacraments," he wrote. "For these statements to be orthodox, it is not enough that they declare their conformity with the pope's presumed intentions in Amoris Laetitia. They are orthodox only if they agree with the words of Christ preserved in the Deposit of Faith."

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