Cardinal Sarah laments the “true scandal” of “confusion between good and evil…made by Catholic pastors”

A new book-length interview with the African prelate offers strong criticisms of movements to dilute the Gospel and a call to renew belief in God

UPDATE (Apr 14, 2015): I’ve confirmed that Ignatius Press will be publishing Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or nothing, this coming fall. More details to be available soon.


Sandro Magister has published excerpts from a new book—an interview of Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea—titled, “Dieu ou rien” [God or nothing], by French journalist Nicolas Diat. The Cardinal is quite candid and direct:

There is now no mistake when one realizes that there exists a form of rejection of the dogmas of the Church, or a growing distance among men, the faithful and dogmas. On the question of marriage, there is a chasm between a certain world and the Church. The question is ultimately very simple: is it the world that must change its attitude, or the Church its fidelity to God? Because if the faithful still love the Church and the pope, but do not apply its doctrine, not changing anything in their lives, not even after coming to listen to the successor of Peter in Rome, what kind of future should we expect?

Many faithful rejoice to hear about the divine mercy, and they hope that the radical nature of the Gospel could also mitigate in favor of those who have made the decision to live in rupture with the crucified love of Jesus. They think that because of the Lord’s infinite goodness everything is possible, even while deciding not to change anything about their lives. For many, it is normal that God should pour his mercy upon them while they dwell in sin. They do not understand that light and darkness cannot coexist, in spite of the many appeals of St. Paul: “What should we say then? That we should remain in sin so that grace may abound? Of course not!” […]

This confusion demands rapid responses. The Church cannot go forward as if reality did not exist: it can no longer content itself with ephemeral enthusiasms, which last for the duration of great gatherings or liturgical assemblies, as beautiful and rich as they may be. It can no longer hold back from a practical reflection on subjectivism as the root of most of the current errors. What use is it that the pope’s Twitter account is followed by hundreds of thousands of persons if men do not concretely change their lives? What use is it to tally up the figures of the crowds that throng before the popes if we are not sure that the conversions are real and profound? […]

In the face of the onslaught of subjectivism that seems to be overrunning the world, churchmen must guard themselves from denying reality while basking in misleading appearances and glory. […] In order to set a radical change of concrete life into motion, the teaching of Jesus and of the Church must reach man’s heart. Two millennia ago, the apostles followed Christ. They left everything and their existence was never the same. Still today the journey of the apostles is a model.

The Church must rediscover a vision. If its teaching is not understood, it must not be afraid of putting its capacities to the test a hundred times. This is not a matter of softening the demands of the Gospel or of changing the doctrine of Jesus and the apostles to adapt it to the shifting fashions, but of radically bringing into focus the manner in which we ourselves live the Gospel of Jesus and present dogma. …

According to my experience, in particular after twenty-three years as archbishop of Conakry and nine years as secretary of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, the question of divorced or civilly remarried believers is not an urgent challenge for the Churches of Africa and Asia. On the contrary, this is an obsession of certain Western Churches that want to impose solutions that are called “theologically responsible and pastorally appropriate,” which radically contradict the teachings of Jesus and the magisterium of the Church.

Read more at the Chiesa website.

Dr. Samuel Gregg has read the book and states, “Cardinal Kasper Could Learn from This African Bishop”:

The book’s title underscores Sarah’s central theme: societies that lose a sense of God—and not just any god, but the God who is simultaneously Caritas, Logos, Misericordia, and Veritas—and opt for nothingness cannot help but experience profound decline. This death of God/death of man theme is hardly new. It’s implied in Plato’s discussion of the three versions of atheism, and was spelt out centuries later by Nietzsche. What, however, makes Sarah’s contribution different is the sophistication with which he makes his argument. This is a man equally at home discussing the finer points of animist religions as he is with explaining the Galileo case’s more obscure dimensions.

“Man’s greatest difficulty is not,” Sarah writes, “what the Church teaches on morality; the hardest thing for the post-modern world is to believe in God” [my translation]. Drawing on sources ranging from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Greek philosophers, the Church Fathers, Jewish references, Russian literature to modern French thinkers, Sarah outlines a powerful case to suggest that choices against the God who reveals Himself in the Bible are laying waste to much of the world, especially the West and even more specifically Western Europe. And in doing so—for, as anyone who has met Sarah will attest, he’s a genuinely humble man—the Cardinal born in the obscure African village of Ourous inadvertently reveals a formidable intellect that’s matched by years of pastoral experience and a profound knowledge of, and direct personal contact with, the many different challenges confronting the Catholic Church throughout the world.

For Sarah, it matters little whether the nothingness is expressed via militant atheism, Marxist materialism, secular liberalism, or the politically correct non-entity worshiped by what another Cardinal, Blessed John Henry Newman, famously condemned as “the spirit of Liberalism in religion.” The denial of God, Sarah maintains, can only lead to one thing: an enormous void that’s invariably filled in destructive ways. These include self-absorption, hedonism, and techno-utopianism. Sarah isn’t afraid to draw an analogy between these trends in the West and the ways that he believes animist African religions fabricated false gods to help people divert themselves from the fear that grips man when he thinks he’s truly alone in the universe.

Gregg concludes:

Much more could be said about this remarkable book. Though surely not intended as a reply to Cardinal Kasper’s now-infamous comment about Africans, Dieu ou Rien illustrates that African Catholicism has more than come of age and has profound things to say to the universal church. This especially matters in light of projections, such as suggested by the recent Pew-Templeton study, that four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050. As world Catholicism’s gravity shifts away from Western Europe and towards the developing world, listening to Africans like Cardinal Robert Sarah may be something that even the most hidebound of liberal German theologians won’t be able to avoid in the future.

Read the entire review on the Crisis website.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.