Cardinal Müller and the defence of sacramental marriage

This article was written by Maike Hickson and first published in The Wanderer. It is reprinted with kind permission.

Ignatius Press has just published two books, The Hope of the Family and Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which are very important in relation to the upcoming Synod of Bishops, taking place October 5-19 in Rome. Both books are important because they are written by influential cardinals in the Church who try thereby to resist proposed novelties of Walter Cardinal Kasper concerning the admission of remarried couples to Holy Communion and concerning an increased leniency of the Church toward those who break God’s marriage laws.

(For information on ordering these books, please visit www.ignatius.com or call 1-800-651-1531.)

The first book, entitled The Hope of the Family, is an interview with Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the following, we shall distill some important arguments from this 86-page-long book.

The German cardinal, who was known when a bishop for his close friendship with liberation theologian Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, discusses the theme of marriage and divorce from many vantage points. Led by the questions of the interviewer, Fr. Carlos Granados, he points out that the marriage crisis within the Church is mostly and importantly a crisis of faith. There are so many Catholic marriages contracted in our time where the persons involved often do not hold the Catholic faith loyally and entirely, and do not even know much about the substance and effect of the Holy Sacrament of Marriage.

Cardinal Müller shows how our modern world revolves around material things and does not even have an idea what the supernatural institution of marriage, as founded by Christ, means.

The cardinal indeed points out that children are the ones who suffer most from the divorce of their parents. He even claims that they are “the poorest of the poor,” because they have to grow up “without their own parents,” and as the “orphans of divorce.” They are the abandoned children who “lack the most basic thing: the solicitous love of parents who renounce themselves for their sake.”

Cardinal Müller reminds us that the indissolubility of marriage protects the most vulnerable ones, the children. Herewith, he stresses an aspect of divorce that should be placed more at the center of this discussion. Inasmuch as marriage as a sacrament has as its first aim the procreation of children and their formative education unto eternal life, any discussion about this topic has to have the children at the center of concern and care. “Let the Little Ones come to me,” said our Lord.

Müller stresses that matrimony is an act of self-giving that imitates Christ’s own sacrifice for us. Marriage is intrinsically selfless, in an act of self-giving to another person, but then also and immediately an opening of oneself to the Gift of Life as God bestows it. Therewith, such a marriage stands obstructively “in the way” in a complete secular society that is largely centered on the individual and his material desires for success and wealth and temporal comfort.

As Cardinal Müller shows, members of the younger generation are thereby — and also by the fact that many of their parents are divorced — badly equipped to commit themselves responsibly and loyally to a marriage that lasts for life and that will entail many joys and challenges.
He then beautifully tells the reader that one can only live the higher demands of God in living a lifelong commitment to a spouse, as well as to one’s children, if one receives the graces from God. When God demands something that challenges us in our weak human nature, He will — if we ask Him — help us with it.

“God grants us his mercy so that we can be faithful,” the cardinal says. Müller reminds us of the teaching of the Church on marriage. Marriage “reflects Christ’s covenant with his Church, by which marriage comes to be an efficacious sign that communicates sanctifying grace.” And: “The grace received in the Sacrament of Matrimony transforms us interiorly.”

Müller thereby encourages and reminds all married couples of the treasure of graces that they can rely on (and do rely on) for a happy marriage. He says: “Every married couple who places God at the center of their conjugal love discovers with joy and amazement that their love is nourished every day and grows.” God, we may add, wants us to have an abundant life!

While Cardinal Müller gives the reader thereby much encouragement and beauty and sound doctrine, he very strongly and clearly refutes any attempt to weaken the indissolubility of the sacramental marriage bond: “Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church.”

And: “the Church cannot allow divorce in the case of a sacramental marriage that has been contracted and consummated. This is the dogma of the Church. I insist: the absolute indissolubility of a valid marriage is no mere doctrine; rather, it is a divine dogma defined by the Church. In the case of a de facto breakup of a valid marriage, another civil marriage is not permissible.”

The Church cannot dissolve such a bond, because this reality “belongs to God.” “The grace received in the sacrament of Matrimony transform us interiorly” and thereby becomes a supernatural reality.

Müller also stresses in this context that one may not use a false concept of mercy to undermine the laws of God: Mercy “should never be used as a justification to suspend or invalidate the commandments and the sacraments. To do that would be a crude manipulation of genuine mercy and, therefore, a vain attempt to justify our own indifference toward God and man.”

On the contrary: “God grants us his grace so that we can be faithful.” The Sacrament of Matrimony expresses God’s own faithfulness, which shows His own divine mercy. Müller reminds us that God is not only mercy, but also holiness and justice, and that there is a danger of transforming mercy into the “one and only valid theological-sacramental argument.” We would thereby trivialize the image of God. God’s mercy cannot dispense us from His Commandments and the teaching of the Church. “Quite the contrary: God, by his infinite mercy, grants us the grace and strength to obey his commandments fully.”

Cardinal Müller also very clearly refutes the argument (proposed by Cardinal Kasper) that there is a difference between doctrine and (natural) life, as if one can live practically in opposition to the doctrine. This would mean practically that one can remarry civilly outside the Church yet at the same time receive Holy Communion, thereby contradicting a clearly stated dogma of the Church.

Müller responds to this claim, once again, and with force: “No. Doctrine in addition to the Word of God gives us life and the most authentic truth about it. We cannot profess doctrinally that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ and then not do his will. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: separating life from doctrine is like trying to separate Christ as Son of God from Christ as Savior. The split between life and doctrine is part of the Gnostic dichotomy. As is separating justice and mercy and Christ, Christ himself as God and as Shepherd, or separating Christ from the Church.”

And we could add, may we also not fall into the danger of a false dichotomy between doctrine and pastoral care. Church doctrine is intimately bound up with the supernatural life of the soul.

Carry Your Cross

Müller warns us Catholics to take heed about the demands of the world, and invites us to follow the courageous path of the martyrs. Christ called us to convert and to follow Him, not the world. If we were to separate our concrete lives from Christ, we would turn our faith “into a new, politically correct civil religion, reduced to a few values that are tolerated by the rest of society. This would achieve the disgraceful goal of some people: to sideline the Word of God so as to be able to manage all of society ideologically.”

The German cardinal invites us to follow Christ and not the Devil: “Living as a Christian, therefore, is living according to faith in God. To falsify this pattern is to make a foolhardy compromise between God and devil,” which is, of course, impermissible and a subversive self-contradiction.
The claim that dogma is living and changeable (as the other German cardinal proposes) is also refuted by Müller with strong conviction. After a proclamation of a dogma, says Müller, “there can be no development that would conclude or affirm the contrary.” There is not such a thing as “continual development of dogma.”

Unlike many modern authors who claim that human nature is changing and that thereby, along with the changing historical conditions, the dogmas have to change and to be adapted — or re-conceptualized — Müller restates the clear irreformable truths of the Church.

Thereby, he reminds us of the sanctity and the sacramentality of marriage, which needs to be guarded, protected, and defended with full strength, especially because we thereby defend Christ Himself and His teaching and because we show our loyalty to Him.

In reminding us of our Christian duty to carry our cross on earth as Christ Himself did, Müller also puts the topic of the divorce and marriage struggle in another, and more supernatural, light. Instead of covering the wounds involved in divorce and even marriage troubles with an easy solution of remarrying, Müller proposes to embrace these wounds and to carry them, knowing that this world is not a paradise, but that, rather, only in the afterlife will God wipe away all tears.

The cardinal invites us to live “a life of grace” and to follow the supernatural vocation God sends us. If we do so, we will please God either by enduring marriage difficulties or the separation of a marriage without looking for an immediate remedy. Then we “can cope with sickness, old age, loneliness, rejection, widowhood, moments of discouragement or anger with one’s spouse, or the challenge of having children.”

With this, Müller invites us all to live the true life of a Christian and not to live the life of the world. He thereby gives us many good reasons and hopes in defense of the indissolubility of the marriage bond. He gives us supernatural arguments to refute a proposal to solve the marriage crisis in the Church with earthly means.

A Pro-Marriage Initiative

In this context, it might be worth noting that there is an initiative launched by several organizations, among them Human Life International and LifeSiteNews, which also publishes material providing us with sound arguments for the defense of the Sacrament of Matrimony in light of the upcoming synod.

It is called Voice of the Family (voiceofthefamily.info) and it recently published an article by Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, director of HLI in Rome, entitled “Reflections on the Instrumentum Laboris [Working Document] for the Synod of Bishops.” In it, Barreiro points out the danger of losing sight of the concept and reality of natural law and of the stability of human nature.

Like Cardinal Müller, Barreiro warns that the concept of the mutability of human nature will attack the stability of any dogma of the Church. It is a very slippery slope, so to speak, which could undermine the teaching of Christ about marriage in the current context.
Barreiro says that couples who are not married with approval of the Church should be counseled in light of the teaching of the Church, and with true mercy:

“Faced with this question of the faithful, the Church with pastoral zeal, love, and patience, should try to get a true conversion of these faithful, making them take the path of penance and help to get rid of the irregular situation in which they find themselves.”

And, he adds, “a mercy that hides the truth is not merciful, it would only be a caricature.” Such an approach is oriented toward the true good of these couples which is the salvation of their souls.

In a similar way, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra points out in the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ — a collection of essays which contains also a contribution by Raymond Cardinal Burke, and which shall be more deeply discussed in a sequential article — that to allow remarried couples to receive Holy Communion would also give the wrong impression to the children of those couples, as well as to the rest of the faithful, namely that “at its heart, there exists no marriage that is absolutely indissoluble, and that the ‘forever’ to which every true love cannot but aspire is an illusion.”

It is encouraging to see that there are many strong, intelligent, and full-hearted responses to the challenge of Cardinal Kasper in the preparation for the important Synod of Bishops. May we all pray and do our utmost to help defend Christ and His teaching in this difficult time of history. And may God bless the authors of both books, especially Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Burke, being both in high places in the Church, for their courageous and sacrificial witness to the faith.

Written by Maike Hickson, published in The Wanderer 5th October 2014