Cardinal Gerhard Müller, during a rare visit to the United States this week, emphasized the continuity between Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially with regard to the Church’s teaching on mercy and its relation to justice and truth.
The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was in Houston, Texas for the episcopal ordination of Bishop Steven J. Lopes as the first bishop for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. On Monday, February 1, the evening before the ordination, Cardinal Müller gave an address at Houston’s University of St. Thomas on “Mercy and Truth in Deus Caritas Est.”
In his theological reflection on the 2005 encyclical by Pope Benedict, Cardinal Müller examined what he described as two great obstacles to evangelization: rationalism and emotionalism, both of which he said “derive from a lack of knowledge of the cognitive nature of love.” On the one hand, rationalism “refuses love as a source of knowledge and relegates it to a position of subjective or private affection”; on the other, emotionalism is “a wide-ranging phenomenon that transmits a vague irrationalism to the religious experience.” In Deus Caritas Est, Cardinal Müller said, Pope Benedict seeks to address these two extremes and makes the “immensely courageous” assertion that love is the source of all truth.
“These are the two major affirmations of Christianity in which love is involved: knowing God in one’s heart; and the loving manner in which human beings recognize this mystery,” the cardinal said.
That love is a kind of knowledge and the source of truth doesn’t mean it belongs to a purely theoretical realm, Cardinal Müller explained. In fact, “it is impossible to separate the theological knowledge of God from the pastoral works of the Church. …This is the reason why the Holy Father’s focus in writing this encyclical is evangelization, as is understood from his very words: ‘To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.’”
In discussing the “fundamental dynamism” of justice, truth, and mercy, Cardinal Müller said, “The logic of mercy does not justify man through the possibility of introducing exceptions to a law that is excessively severe, as if it were to refuse its truth; rather, it offers the sense of an excess that regenerates. This occurs particularly when forgiveness reconciles the person gratuitously and makes him capable of living the Covenant with God.”
When asked about how he sees Pope Francis developing the theme of mercy as laid out by Pope Benedict, Cardinal Müller dismissed what he characterized as media-fueled interpretations that look for contradictions between the two popes.
“We can say, surely, Pope Benedict was more a teacher of theology and Pope Francis is more a pastor, but this is not a contradiction because Jesus in his own person was teacher of the truth and also the good pastor,” Cardinal Müller said. “Every pope has the right and duty to fulfill with his own person, his own characteristics, the Petrine service.”
“Pope Francis has his charism to invite personally the people to come to look to the mercy of God,” the cardinal continued. “We are invited personally with the love of God to change our lives, to become a new creation in Jesus Christ. I think that is the big message of Pope Francis, but it is in full continuity with Pope Benedict. We can say Pope Benedict is great in the doctrine, and Pope Francis is great in the pastoral realization of this message. And it is not just the message of Pope Benedict, it is the message of the Gospel.”