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Cardinal Müller: there can be no ‘paradigm shifts’ in the Church

Cardinal Gerhard Müller (Getty Images)

The Catholic Church cannot have “paradigm shifts” in the interpretation of the deposit of its faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said.

The former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote that although Church doctrine does develop, it can only do so when it is grounded on what has come before.

“Development of doctrine… 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,” the cardinal wrote in First Things.

“Development of doctrine is possible because in the one truth of God all the revealed truths of faith are connected, and those that are more implicit can be made explicit.”

By contrast, modernists seek to reinterpret doctrine and in doing so “corrupt” it rather than develop it.

His words come after Cardinal Blase Cupich gave a talk entitled “Pope Francis’ Revolution of Mercy: Amoris Laetitia as a New Paradigm of Catholicity”. In that talk, he called for a “major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary”.

This “paradigm shift” would involve moving from an approach focused on “the automatic application of universal principles” to one which is “continually immersed” in “concrete situations”.

When asked whether this should be recognised as an attempt impose radical doctrinal change on the Church, the cardinal said those with such concerns should ask themselves: “Do we really believe that the Spirit is no longer guiding the Church?”

However, Cardinal Müller writes that when people speak of a “paradigm shift” in relation to Amoris Laetitia “this seems to be a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith.”

Explaining the origin of the term, he writes:

It was in 1962 that Thomas Kuhn introduced his controversial and at the same time influential idea of “paradigm shifts” into the debate internal to the philosophy of science, where the expression received a precise, technical meaning. Apart from this context, however, this term also has an everyday use, referring to any form of fundamental change in theoretical forms of thought and social behavior. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8)—this is, in contrast, our paradigm, which we will not exchange for any other. “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).

He also warned that those who seek to reinterpret doctrine were in danger of following the Gnostic heresy. “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,” he wrote.

As for the idea that the Holy Spirit is leading a development in doctrine, Cardinal Müller said: “Development means a growth in the understanding of spiritual and theological realities, guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 8). This growth does not occur from any kind of natural necessity, and it has nothing to do with the liberal belief in progress.”

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin was the first to propose that Amoris Laetitia was a “paradigm shift” in an interview with Vatican News last month.

He said the document resulted from a “new paradigm that Pope Francis is carrying forward with wisdom, with prudence, and also with patience.”

“It’s a paradigm change, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us – this new spirit, this new approach! So every change always brings difficulties, but these difficulties have to be dealt with and faced with commitment,” he added.