Full text of Cardinal Mueller’s analysis on the working document of the Amazon synod

“What is missing in the IL is a clear witness to the self-communication of God in the verbum incarnatum, to the sacramentality of the Church, to the Sacraments as objective means of Grace instead of mere self-referential symbols…”

Cardinal Gerhard Muller in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in 2014 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2019 / 09:19 am (CNA).- Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 and 2017, presented an analysis with a series of objections and criticisms of the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, of the Synod on the Amazon, to be held in Rome in October.

The following is the full text of Cardinal Mueller’s analysis:

“For any other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 3:11)

On the Concept of Revelation as presented in the Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazon Synod

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller

1. On the method of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL)

Nobody would question the goodwill of all those involved in the preparation and implementation of the synod for the Church in the Amazon, nor their intention of doing everything possible to promote the Catholic Faith among the inhabitants of this vast region and its fascinating landscape.

The Amazon region is to serve for the Church and for the world “as a pars pro toto, as a paradigm, as a hope for the whole world.” (IL 37) The very wording of these terms of reference suggest the notion of an “integral” development of all of humankind at home on the one Earth, for which the Church now declares herself responsible. This notion appears again and again in the text of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL). The document is divided into three parts: 1) The Voice of the Amazon; 2) Integral Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and of the Poor; 3) A Prophetic Church in the Amazon: Challenges and Hope. These three parts are put forward following a pattern also applied in Liberation theology: Seeing the situation – judging in light of the Gospels – acting to achieve better living conditions.

2. Ambivalently defined terms and goals

As is so often the case when texts are produced as a team effort, by groups of people with a similar mindset contributing, there are many tiresome redundancies. If one were strictly to take out all the repetitions, the text could easily be cut down to half the length or less.

The main problem however is not quantitative, is not the excessive length. Rather, it is the fact that the key terms are not clearly defined and then excessively deployed: what is meant by a synodal path, by integral development, what is meant by a Samaritan, missionary, synodal, open Church? By a Church reaching out, the Church of the Poor, the Church of the Amazon, and other such terms? Is this Church something different from the People of God, or is she to be understood merely as the hierarchy of Pope and Bishops, or is she a part of it, or does she stand on the opposite side of the people? Is the term People of God to be understood sociologically or theologically? Or is she not, rather, the community of faithful, who, together with their shepherds, are on the pilgrimage unto eternal life? Is it the bishops who should hear the cry of the people, or is it God Who, just as He once did it with Moses during Israel’s slavery in Egypt, now tells the successors of the Apostles to lead the faithful out of sin and apart from the godlessness of secularist naturalism and immanentism unto his salvation in God’s Word and in the Sacraments of the Church?

3. Upside-down Hermeneutics

Has the Church of Christ been put by her Founder, as though she was some kind of putty, into the hands of bishops and popes, so they may now – illuminated by the Holy Spirit – rebuild her, into an updated instrument with secular goals, too?

The structure of the text presents a radical U-turn from the hermeneutics of Catholic theology. The relationship between Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition on the one hand, and the Church’s Magisterium on the other, has been classically determined in such a way that Revelation is fully contained in Holy Scripture and Tradition, while it is the task of the Magisterium – united with the sense of the Faith of the whole People of God – to make authentic and infallible interpretations. Thus, Holy Scripture and Tradition are constitutive principles of knowledge for the Catholic Profession of Faith and its theological-academic reflection. The Magisterium, on the other hand, is merely active in an interpretative and regulative manner (Dei Verbum 8-10; 24).

In the case of the IL, however, the very opposite is the case. The whole line of thought revolves, in self-referential and circular ways, around the latest documents of Pope Francis’ Magisterium, furnished with a few references to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Only little is quoted of Holy Scripture, and the Church Fathers barely at all, and then only in an illustrative manner, for the sake of supporting pre-formed convictions. Perhaps one wishes thereby to show a special loyalty to the Pope, or one thus believes oneself to be able to avoid the challenges of theological work when one constantly refers back to his well-known and often repeated keywords, which the authors call – in a pretty sloppy manner – “his mantra” (IL 25). This flattery is then being carried to its extreme when the authors also add – after declaring that “the active subjects of inculturation are the indigenous peoples themselves” (IL 122) – the following odd expression: “As Pope Francis has affirmed, ‘Grace supposes culture.’” As if he himself had discovered this axiom – which is of course a fundamental axiom of the Catholic Church herself.  In the original, it is Grace which presupposes Nature, just as Faith presupposes Reason (see Thomas Aquinas, S. th. I q.1 a.8).

Next to the confusing of the roles of Magisterium on the one side and of Holy Scripture on the other, the IL even goes so far as to claim that there are new sources of Revelation. IL 19 states: “Furthermore, we can say that the Amazon – or another indigenous or communal territory – is not only an ubi or a where (a geographical space), but also a quid or a what, a place of meaning for faith or the experience of God in history. Thus, territory is a theological place where faith is lived, and also a particular source of God’s revelation: epiphanic places where the reserve of life and wisdom for the planet is manifest, a life and wisdom that speaks of God.” If here a certain territory is being declared to be a “particular source of God’s Revelation,” then one has to state that this is a false teaching, inasmuch as for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition are the only sources of Revelation and that no further Revelation can be added in the course of history. As Dei Verbum states, “we now await no further new public revelation” (4). Holy Scripture and Tradition are the only sources of Revelation, as Dei Verbum (7) explains: “This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face.” “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” (Dei Verbum 10).

Besides these striking statements and references, the organization Rete Ecclesiale Panamazzonica (REPAM) – which has been tasked with the preparation of the IL and which was founded for that very reason in 2014 – as well as their authors of the so-called Theologia india [Indian Theology] mostly quote themselves.

It is a closed group of absolutely like-minded people, as can easily be gleaned from the list of participants at pre-synodal meetings in Washington and Rome, and it includes a disproportionately large number of mostly German-speaking Europeans.

This group is immune to serious objections, because such objections could only be based on monolithic doctrinalism and dogmatism, or ritualism (IL 38; 110; 138), as well as on clericalism incapable of dialogue (IL 110), and on the rigid way of thinking of the pharisees and on the pride of reason of the scribes. To argue with such people would just be a loss of time and a wasted effort.

Not all of them have direct experience with South America, and are only invited because they toe the official line and determine the agenda at the synodal process of the German bishops’ conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics currently underway (i.e. abolishing celibacy, [ordaining] women to the priesthood and promoting them to key positions of power so as to tackle clericalism and fundamentalism, conforming Catholic sexual morality to gender ideology and an appreciation for homosexual practices) that is simultaneously taking place.

I myself have been active in the pastoral and theological field in Peru and other countries for 15 consecutive years, always for two to three months on end. It was mainly in South American parishes and seminaries, and thus I do not now judge with a purely Eurocentric perspective, as some would like to tell me in a reproachful manner.
Every Catholic will agree with one important intention of the IL, namely that the peoples of the Amazon may not remain the object of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the object of forces solely dedicated to profit and power at the expense of the happiness and dignity of other people. It is clear in Church, society, and state that the people who are living there – especially our Catholic brothers and sisters – are equal and free agents in their lives and work, their Faith and their morality, and this in our common responsibility before God. But how can this be achieved?

4. The Point of Departure is God’s Revelation in Christ Jesus

Without doubt, the proclamation of the Gospel is a dialogue which corresponds to the Word (=Logos) of God addressed to us – as well as our response to it by the free gift of obedience to the Faith (cf. Dei Verbum 5). Because this mission comes from Christ the God-Man and because He passed His Mission on from the Father onto His Apostles, the seeming tensions between a dogmatic approach “from above” versus a pedagogical-pastoral approach “from below” are rendered pointless, unless one were to reject the “divine-human-principle of pastoral ministry” (Franz Xaver Arnold).

However it is man to whom Jesus addresses the universal missionary mandate (Matthew 28:19), “the universal and sole mediator of salvation between God and all mankind” (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:4 seq.), and man can reflect, by way of reason, upon the meaning of life, from birth to death, a life shaken by the existential crises of human existence, and he sets in life and death his hope in God, the origin and goal of all being.

A cosmovision with its myths and the ritual magic of Mother “Nature,” or its sacrifices to “gods” and spirits which scare the wits out of us, or lure us on with false promises, cannot be an adequate approach for the coming of the Triune God in His Word and His Holy Spirit. Much less can the approach be a scientific-positivistic worldview of a liberal bourgeoisie which accepts from Christianity only a comfortable remnant of moral values and civil-religious rituals.

In all seriousness, in the formation of future pastors and theologians, shall the knowledge of classical and modern philosophy, of the Church Fathers, of modern theology, of the Councils now be replaced with the Amazonian cosmovision and the wisdom of the ancestors with their myths and rituals?

Should the expression “cosmovision” merely mean that all created things are interdependent, it would be a mere commonplace. Due to the substantial unity of body and soul, man stands at the intersection of the fabric of spirit and matter. But the contemplation of the cosmos is only the occasion for the glorification of God and His wonderful work in nature and history. The cosmos, however, is not to be adored like God, but only the Creator Himself. We do not fall on our knees before the enormous power of nature and before “all kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matthew 4:8), but only before God, “for it is written, the Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:10) It is thus that Jesus rejected the diabolical seducer in the desert.

5. The Difference between Incarnation of the Word and Inculturation itself as a Way of Evangelization

The “Theologia indigena and the eco-theology” (IL 98) is a brainchild of social romantics. Theology is the understanding (intellectus fidei) of God’s Revelation in His Word in the Faith-Profession of the Church, and not the continuously new mixture of world feelings and world views or religious-moral constellations of the cosmic feeling of all-in-one, the mixing of the feeling of one’s own self with the world (hen kai pan). Our natural world is the creation of a Personal God. Faith in the Christian sense is thus recognition of God in His Eternal Word which became Flesh; it is illumination in the Holy Spirit, so that we recognize God in Christ.  With the Faith, the supernatural virtues of hope and charity are communicated to us.  That is how we understand ourselves as children of God, who, through Christ, say to God in the Holy Spirit Abba, Father (Rom 8:15). We put our whole trust in Him, and He makes us His sons, who are free of the fear of the elementary forces of the world and of the demonic appearances, gods and spirits, which maliciously await us in the unpredictability of the material forces of the world.

The Incarnation is a unique event in history which God has freely determined in His universal will of salvation. It is not an inculturation, and the inculturation of the Church is not an incarnation (IL 7;19;29;108). It was not Irenaeus of Lyon, in his 5th book of Adversus haereses (IL 113), but Gregory of Nazianzus who formulated the principle: “quod non est assumptum non est sanatum – that, which has not been assumed, is not redeemed either.” (Ep. 101, 32) What is meant here was the completeness of human nature against Apollinaris of Laodicea (315-390) who thought that the Logos in the Incarnation only assumed a nature, without a human soul. That is why the following sentence is completely abstruse “Cultural diversity calls for a more robust incarnation in order to embrace different ways of life and cultures.” (IL 113)

The Incarnation is not the principle of secondary cultural adaptation, but concretely and primarily also the principle of salvation in the “Church as Sacrament of salvation of the world in Christ” (Lumen Gentium 1:48), in the Church’s Profession of Faith, in her Seven Sacraments, and in the episcopacy with the Pope at the head, in Apostolic succession.

Secondary rites from the traditions of the peoples can help to ingrain in culture the Sacraments, which are the means of salvation instituted by Christ. They may, however, not become independent, so that, for example suddenly marriage customs become more important than saying “I do” to the very Sacrament of Matrimony itself. The sacramental signs, as they have been instituted by Christ and the Apostles (word and material symbol), cannot be changed at any price. Baptism cannot be validly administered in any other way than in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with natural water, and in the Eucharist, one may not replace with local food the bread made of wheat and the wine from the vine. That would not be inculturation, but an inadmissible interference with the will of Jesus as founder of the Church, and also would constitute a destruction of the unity of the Church at her sacramental center.

When inculturation here is referring to the secondary external celebration of divine worship and not to the Sacraments – which is ex opere operato, through the living Presence of Christ, the founder and true giver of Grace in these sacramental signs – then the following sentence is scandalous, or is at least thoughtless: “Without this inculturation the liturgy can be reduced to a ‘museum piece’ or ‘property of a select few.’” (IL 124)

God is not simply omnipresent and equally present in all religions, as if the Incarnation were merely a stereotypically Mediterranean phenomenon. In point of fact, God as Creator of the world is present as a whole and in each individual human heart (Acts 17:27seq) – even if the eyes of man are often blinded by sin, and his ears are deaf to God’s Love. But He comes by way of His Self-Revelation in the history of His chosen people Israel, and He comes very close to us ourselves in His Incarnate Word and in the Spirit which has been poured into our hearts. This self-communication of God as a Grace and life of each man is spread in the world by way of the Church’s proclamation of her life and her cult – that is to say, by way of the mission for this world according to the universal mandate of Christ.

But He already works with His helping and prevenient Grace also in the hearts of those men who do not yet know Him expressly and by name, so that, when they hear about Him in the Apostolic proclamation, they can identify Him as the Lord Jesus, in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

6. The Criterion of Discernment: the Historical Self-Communication of God in Jesus Christ

What is missing in the IL is a clear witness to the self-communication of God in the verbum incarnatum, to the sacramentality of the Church, to the Sacraments as objective means of Grace instead of mere self-referential symbols, to the supernatural character of Grace, for which reason the integrity of man does not just consist in communion with biological nature, but in the Divine Sonship and in the grace-filled communion with the Holy Trinity and for which reasons eternal life is the reward for the conversion to God, the reconciliation with Him, and not only with the environment and our common world.

One cannot reduce the notion of integral development to merely mean the provision of material resources. For man receives his new integrity only by way of perfection in Grace. We receive it presently in Baptism, whereby we become a new creature and children of God, and one day in the Beatific Vision in the community of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and in communion with His saints. (1 John 1:3; 3:1 seq).

Rather than proposing an obscure approach comprised of vague religiosity and a futile attempt to turn Christianity into a science of salvation by sacralizing the cosmos, nature’s biodiversity and ecology, one must turn to the very center and origin of our Faith: “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature.” (Dei Verbum 2)

(Translator’s note: emphases in italics added for clarity.)

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  1. Cardinal Gerhard Müller apprehends a clear impasse for the Church with the Amazonia Synod. “As Dei Verbum states, ‘we now await no further new public revelation’ (4). Holy Scripture and Tradition are the only sources of Revelation'”. In these words Cardinal Müller settles the issue that God’s self revelation in the Verbum Incarnatum is final and cannot be changed. He as well as eminent Church historian Roberto de Mattei perceive the Instrumentum as a return to Paganism in the guise of a Christian humanism that affirms the natural good of the indigenous Amazonian’s affinity with nature and God’s creation. While there is a semblance of good in this the overall theology is accommodation to Man’s Fallen state rather than conversion to the Gospel. The final thrust, the Cardinal’s theological coup de grace is that “Sacraments are objective means of Grace not mere self-referential symbols to the supernatural character of Grace for which reason the integrity of man does not just consist in communion with biological nature, but in the Divine Sonship”. The distance between Christ’s revelation and the Amazonia doctrine is night and day, Darkness and Light.

  2. The IL for the Amazonian Synod attempts an “AMAZONIAN FACE” for Evangelization. But, earlier, St. John Paul II unveiled the interior moral law and the beatitudes as “A SORT OF SELF-PORTRAIT OF CHRIST” (Veritatis Splendor, 16). So, inculturation: so, face to face, how to bridge the gap?

    At Tepeyac Our Lady of Guadalupe wonderfully adopted an indigenous and particularly Mexican face on the tilma….But, exactly, how IDENTARIAN or particularly Mexican, or Amazonian—or Black or Red or Yellow or White or Brown!—is the gospel of Redemption: the indwelling Presence of Christ?

    Now Cardinal Muller. What a blessing! Here, hauling coal-to-Lancaster, are some thoughts aligned numerically and in content with Cardinal Muller:

    1. Muller finds that IL is a group project, redundant, too long, and lacking clarity. Yes, and which is to say in the vernacular: “a CAMEL is a horse designed by a committee.”

    2. On the need for defined terms, how about these two:

    First, IL’s “integral ecology” is a brain-challenged, kitchen-blender mix of apples and oranges—of natural science and theology, spiced with local color. Teilhard de Chardin’s “noosphere” warmed over, where instead, the Sacred Liturgy finds that “[both] heaven and earth are filled with YOUR glory!”

    And, second, “synod/synodal” is a grammatical trick. It used to be that a synod or even a council is what the Church DOES, not what the Church IS.

    3. A new source of Revelation!—Mother Nature alongside Scripture and Tradition. Valuable rain forests (“holy ground”!) unfortunately cleared by controlled burns are curiously equated with the Exodus “burning bush”—a presence that burned but was not consumed. In 1991 (!) With merciful clarity, St. John Paul II already claimed STEWARDSHIP of God’s creation, and solidarity with future generations as moral imperatives, in Centesimus Annus (nn. 38,39,49).

    4. Amazonia is top-heavy with German pied pipers. While IL does very correctly counsel against colonialism in the Amazon, it then is ADULTERATED with the external German agenda, e.g., toward “ordained deaconesses” and a non-celibate (and seminary-exempt?) priesthood—“ideological colonization!” In Marx-like terms (both Karl and Reinhardt, with Orwell): “all colonization is equal, but some is more equal than others.”

    5. The irreducible difference between INCARNATION and inculturation? In short, the Second Person elevates human nature into His own eternal Person. Christ is not to be confused as some kind of hybrid. As Cardinal Newman puts it, we have a Trinity, not a Quaternary. Not even with an Amazonian face.

    6. Cardinal Muller concludes that what is missing in IL is clear witness to Christ, not as an indigenous expression, but as divine SELF-DISCLOSURE.

    Lacking this—even as natural religion does, in fact, search for Christ—do we end up with natural religion blended with warmed-over 12th century Joachim of Fiore? He famously proposed a sequence of three ages: The Old-Testament Father, then the Son, and NOW the age of the Holy Spirit. A new evangelical dispensation of universal love and mercy, proceeding from the Gospel of Christ, of course (!), but transcending the letter, transcending an altar Christus priesthood, and now possibly transcending even a consistent harmony between faith and morals(?).

    Adios to the incarnate Christ, who IS “the bridge”—“the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

  3. There is only one reason for the Amazonian synod. Pope Francis realized that he could never get this baloney through a regular world wide synod. Remember his temper tantrum at the last synod when he could not force them to do what he wanted them to do? So he cannot call a regular synod of the whole world. He must therefore, call a synod that is limited to highly suspect clerics, who can be expected to vote the way he wants them to vote. The way to do that is appoint a special synod of the Amazon only.

    What he wants is a trial of married priests. This will be allowed, on the grounds that there is an “emergency” – the very same reason that German bishops tried to declare that Protestants could take communion. Then, of course, those same Germans that made up the IL committee, will declare in a year or two that they are in an emergency, and must have married priests. The rule is, wherever there are not enough priests, it is an emergency, and therefore there will be ordained married men.

    But of course the priest shortage in Germany is a manufactured one – they drive the faithful young men out of the seminaries, declaring them too rigid, or not pastoral enough – because they believe in Catholicism.

    So Pope Francis is merely pulling a fast one, as he always does. What a stinking, lousy pope.

    • I think it is likely his last desperate effort to bring “irrevocable” change to the Church before the mounting accusations of corruption, abuse of power and covering up sexual abuse make it impossible for him to continue to cling to power.

  4. Refreshing to come across a critique by a competent theologian with real credence.
    Shameless is the crew who proceeds on a venture mendacious and corrupt from its conception. But have we come to expect anything less from the Bergoglian enterprise?

  5. The ghost of Teilhard de Chardin continues to haunt the Jesuits and those who follow their lead in search of another, more cosmic Christ and another, more pagan Gospel. How can a pope who boasts of vaunted Jesuit discernment be so blinded by the wiles of the devil?

  6. I read the first sentence:

    “Nobody would question the goodwill of all those involved in the preparation and implementation of the synod for the Church in the Amazon, nor their intention of doing everything possible to promote the Catholic Faith among the inhabitants of this vast region and its fascinating landscape.”

    Actually, sad to say, I would question it.

    • So do I. Ze Germans have never had the best interests of the Church as a whole in mind, let alone the salvation of Souls, in drafting this abomination. They simply want to transform the (German branch of) the Catholic Church into a glorified country club, where the only absolute Dogma is the payment of the Church tax.

  7. The one gift in Card Mueller’s analysis that stands out for me is the absolute need to tether the synod’s emphasis on inculturation to Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, so that the latter (SS & ST) always govern the former, not the other way around. My fear is that if the synod’s workings give the sociological precedence over the theological, it (the synod) may risk fostering more clericalism in the Church. For example, through a proposed “official ministry” for women (cf. IL 129a3) and a possible female diaconate. Does this not raise needless opportunities for clericalizing the laity? It seems inconsistent with (even contradictory to) what Pope Francis has continuously preached regarding the need to avoid and root out all forms of clericalism. Can we fight clericalism with more clericalism?

    St. JPII on clericalizing the laity:
    “The commitment of lay persons is politicized when the laity is absorbed by the exercise of ´power´ within the Church,” John Paul II added. “That happens when the Church is not seen in terms of the mystery of grace that characterizes her, but rather in sociological or even political terms.”

    Like St. John Paul II in the above quote, Card. Mueller alerts readers on the error of
    giving precedence to sociological categories (for the synod’s approach to pastoral issues in the Amazonian Church) over the theological, or at the very least elevating the sociological to the same status as the theological in framing the synod’s proposed workings. The way I see it, this is a recipe for manipulation by the loudest, most influential voices – again, the risk of possible further clericalist and cronyist control, and subsequent confusion in matters of faith regarding the nature of the Church, salvation and the Gospel message of salvation, in my estimation. If this is the case, it seems to me that the integral welfare – spiritual, social economic, cultural – of the Amazonian people may not be well-served. Rather, their pastoral may be used to fuel an ideologically driven agenda which sadly objectifies them as a means to some kind of revolutionary end. Does this not smack of Marxism’s leverage of the proletariat’s suffering to achieve its own power-seeking ends under the guise of false utopic promises, adding further misery to the lives of the masses in the long run? We’ve seen this tragedy already. Let us heed the voices of courageous men and women who will speak up against this needless repetition of failed attempts to change history.

    Notwithstanding all the above, the Holy Spirit continues to blow in the Church, and stir up prophetic voices like Cardinal Mueller’s, which call her to accountability in correctly proclaiming the Faith.

    The synod, as currently proposed is not yet a done deal. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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