A zealous pastor of souls

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller (Getty)

For those of us who often feel overwhelmed by the number of worthwhile articles on the internet flowing from faithful pens that we do not have time to read, The Power of Truth by Gerhard Cardinal Muller (Ignatius) is a very useful volume. Mainly a collection of his recent essays in the US magazine First Things it also includes his “Manifesto of Faith” and a long essay on Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. Indeed, it is much more than useful; reading it is like receiving manna in the desert of modern confused and conflicted Catholic intellectual life.

Cardinal Muller writes with authority, aware of his great responsibility to hand on the Faith clearly and intact, without suggesting there are new “paradigm shifts” which other churchmen sometimes talk vaguely about. We lay people don’t want “paradigm shifts” – which Muller dismisses as a “modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith.” Nor do we want to be lectured on “situation ethics”, which remains “a false ethical theory.” Muller reminds us, as we have learnt to our cost, that some bishops are appointed “who are ill-equipped for their eminent duty of teaching and preaching.”

For him it is clear that this duty is passionately accepted and all-consuming. Chapter titles provide some idea of the Cardinal’s firm stance: “By What Authority?”, “Development or Corruption?” and “Is There a Saving Truth” are only some of the themes analysed in his authoritative style. There are several references to the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman, with which Muller is clearly well acquainted. I also learnt, by the by, that the favourite Gospel verse of St John Paul II was “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I suspect Cardinal Muller has made it his own motto.

Naturally, Cardinal Muller is the enemy of the liberal camp in the Church; this of itself makes one trust what he writes. In “Who May Receive Communion?” he asks, “Is it enough to affirm the faith of the Church in order to be able to receive the Eucharist, or is it necessary actually to belong to the Catholic Church?” His explanation is a model of clarity and orthodox understanding of ecclesiology.

In his essay, “Humanae Vitae and the Revolution of Love”, he touches on the question – recently highlighted by Prince Harry’s remark in Vogue that, for the sake of the environment, he will only have two children – as to family size. Muller writes that the question must be seen “in the context of a vocation. In prayer and in dialogue with each other, parents are the interpreters of God’s plan for them, in the light of which they will try to read their concrete circumstances. They are not the absolute authors of life.” I wonder what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would make of this?

A former German student of Muller’s once described how the Cardinal was always available to those he taught and would join them in recreation periods, in his role as a pastor, a teacher and a friend. It made me think of St John Bosco and his similar solicitude for the youths in his care. If our bishops only realised how much lay people look to them for moral courage and sound teaching, perhaps it would persuade them to be real shepherds – rather than bureaucrats fearful of stepping out of line and incurring the wrath of the media. 

Meanwhile we have the writings of Gerhard Cardinal Muller, once Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and now a zealous pastor of souls.