Oops: The former “Guardian of Orthodoxy” is a Heretic himself!
The Heresies of “Cardinal” Müller, Part 1:
His Denial of Transubstantiation
Time and again the secular and Novus Ordo media have portrayed “Cardinal” Gerhard Ludwig Müller (b. 1947) as a conservative Catholic theologian and, especially in his recently-completed five-year role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that is, as the Vatican’s chief “guardian of orthodoxy”.
What many people do not realize and some appear to deliberately ignore is the fact that there is copious evidence to show that the 69-year-old German theologian is in fact a heretic himself.
No, that’s not an exaggeration. In this post and those that follow in this series we will demonstrate beyond doubt that Gerhard Muller may indeed be a lot of things but member of the Roman Catholic Church is not one of them.
Although we have mentioned Muller’s heresies on this web site before from time to time, a dedicated blog post series on this very topic is justified on account of the fact that the idea of Muller being an orthodox Catholic “no-compromise” theologian is still enjoying widespread popularity and quite unjustly so. This misconception is mainly due to the fact that he insists, entirely correctly, that adultery is never permissible and that those who are publicly known to persist in this sin cannot be admitted to the sacraments.
This alone, however, does not make a Catholic. It does not suffice to adhere to one dogma or even most; one must adhere to all of them without exception. He who pertinaciously doubts or denies even one dogma is not a Catholic at all, regardless of what other orthodox ideas he may hold:
The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodore drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. “No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic” (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).
(Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Satis Cognitum, n. 9)
Müller’s Academic Background
Muller was a student of the infamous “Cardinal” Karl Lehmann (b. 1936), the long-time “bishop” of Mainz, Germany. Lehmann himself was a student of the Modernist Fr. Karl Rahner (1904-1984), who at the time of the Second Vatican Council was one of those notorious suit-and-tie priests together with his buddy, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger.
Muller wrote his 1977 doctoral dissertation and his 1985 so-called Habilitationsschrift (an additional dissertation required to be allowed to teach at a German university) under “Cardinal” Lehmann. The fact that his doctoral thesis focused on the ecumenical-sacramental theology of the Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer (source) says plenty about what kind of “theology” resides in the Mullerian mind. In 1986, he became professor of dogmatic theology and the history of dogma at the University of Munich, a position in which he remained until 2002, when “Pope” John Paul II appointed him “bishop” of Regensburg.
Muller has authored numerous books, most famously his 900-page dogmatic theology manual, Katholische Dogmatik, which is currently in its 10th edition (first published in 1995). He is an admirer of Joseph Ratzinger, who tasked him with compiling, editing, and publishing his Collected Works, the first volume of which was published in 2008 (the entire collection spans 16 volumes). On July 2, 2012, the same Fr. Ratzinger, as “Pope” Benedict XVI, appointed Muller Prefect of the Congregation for the Destruction of the Faith. He held this post until July 1 of this year, when Francis declined to renew his contract for another five years.
It is time, therefore, to take a good look at the theology presented by Mr. Muller, who, considering his academic career, has no excuse in the world that would absolve him from the charge of heresy, whether in its material element (dogma-denying error in the intellect) or its formal element (pertinacity in the will).
The first installment in this series on the heresies of “Cardinal” Muller will focus on the man’s denial of the well-known Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation.
The Catholic Dogma of Transubstantiation
Before we examine Muller’s writings on the issue, let us briefly review the teaching of the Catholic Church on the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, which is accomplished through the mystery of Transubstantiation at the consecration during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The clearest and definitive dogmatic teaching on this comes from the Council of Trent, Session 13, promulgated by Pope Julius III in 1551:
First of all the holy Synod teaches and openly and simply professes that in the nourishing sacrament of the Holy Eucharist after the consecration of the bread and wine our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. For these things are not mutually contradictory, that our Savior Himself is always seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven according to the natural mode of existing, and yet that in many other places sacramentally He is present to us in His own substance by that manner of existence which, although we can scarcely express it in words, yet we can, however, by our understanding illuminated by faith, conceive to be possible to God, and which we ought most steadfastly to believe. For thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have discussed this most holy sacrament, have most openly professed that our Redeemer instituted this so wonderful a sacrament at the Last Supper, when after the blessing of the bread and wine He testified in clear and definite words that He gave them His own body and His own blood; and those words which are recorded [Matt. 26:26ff.; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19 ff.] by the holy Evangelists, and afterwards repeated by St. Paul [1 Cor. 11:23 ff.], since they contain within themselves that proper and very clear meaning in which they were understood by the Fathers, it is a most disgraceful thing for some contentious and wicked men to distort into fictitious and imaginary figures of speech, by which the real nature of the flesh and blood of Christ is denied, contrary to the universal sense of the Church, which, recognizing with an ever grateful and recollecting mind this most excellent benefit of Christ, as the pillar and ground of truth [1 Tim. 3:15], has detested these falsehoods, devised by impious men, as satanical.
This, indeed, the most Holy Eucharist has in common with the other sacraments, that it is a “symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace”; but this excellent and peculiar thing is found in it, that the other sacraments first have the power of sanctifying, when one uses them, but in the Eucharist there is the Author of sanctity Himself before it is used. For the apostles had not yet received the Eucharist from the hand of the Lord [Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22] when He Himself truly said that what He was offering was His body; and this belief has always been in the Church of God, that immediately after the consecration the true body of our Lord and His true blood together with His soul and divinity exist under the species of bread and wine; but the body indeed under the species of bread, and the blood under the species of wine by the force of the words, but the body itself under both by force of that natural connection and concomitance by which the parts of Christ the Lord, “who hath now risen from the dead to die no more” [Rom. 6:9], are mutually united, the divinity also because of that admirable hypostatic union with His body and soul. Therefore, it is very true that as much is contained under either species as under both. For Christ whole and entire exists under the species of bread and under any part whatsoever of that species, likewise the whole (Christ) is present under the species of wine and under its parts.
But since Christ, our Redeemer, has said that that is truly His own body which He offered under the species of bread [cf. Matt. 26:26ff.; Mark 14:22ff.; Luke 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor. 11:23 ff.], it has always been a matter of conviction in the Church of God, and now this holy Synod declares it again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a conversion takes place of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This conversion is appropriately and properly called transubstantiation by the Catholic Church.
Can. 1. If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist there are truly, really, and substantially contained the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, but shall say that He is in it as by a sign or figure, or force, let him be anathema.
Can. 2. If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist there remains the substance of bread and wine together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the entire substance of the wine into the blood, the species of the bread and wine only remaining, a change which the Catholic Church most fittingly calls transubstantiation: let him be anathema.
(Council of Trent, Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist; Denz. 874-877; 833-884.)
Notice that although the notion of Transubstantiation is somewhat complex, Holy Mother Church nevertheless teaches it not in a confusing or obscure manner, but with great clarity so as to allow the believer to understand this mystery as much as is humanly possible. Anyone can glean from this that the Church teaches that when the consecration takes place at Mass, the substance of the bread and wine ceases to be and is converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, the mere appearances of bread and wine remaining. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, edited by St. Charles Borromeo and published by Pope St. Pius V, explains this further in its section on the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Müller’s Idea of the Real Presence
The clear and magnificent Catholic teaching on Transubstantiation being fresh in our minds, we will now examine the doctrine that is taught by Mr. Muller, which can only be described as insufferable mystifying gobbledygook.
Our sources for the Mullerite doctrine will be three books authored by him in which he explains in some detail what it is he believes about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. They are the following: Mit der Kirche denken [“Thinking with the Church”], 2nd ed. (Wurzburg: Johann Wilhelm Naumann, 2002); Die Messe: Quelle christlichen Lebens [“The Mass: Source of Christian Life”] (Augsburg: Sankt Ulrich Verlag, 2002); Katholische Dogmatik [“Catholic Dogmatic Theology”], 8th ed. (Freiburg: Herder, 2010). As none of these books have been translated into English, we will provide our own translation of the passages to be quoted.
The first quotation we will examine is taken from Muller’s book Thinking with the Church. We will first provide the original German, followed immediately by a faithful English translation. If you think some of this sounds grotesque, the problem is not with the translation — it is with Muller’s theology.
Jesus nimmt die Mahlgaben von Brot und Wein in seine Hände. Er bringt sie so in die unmittelbare Einheit mit seiner leiblichen Präsenz. Sein Stiftungswort macht sie zu Zeichen, in denen er selber in seiner ganzen geschichtlichen und leiblichen Gegenwart als Sohn des Vaters kommunizierbar wird. Jesus spricht an den Vater das Dankgebet, die Eucharistia. In dieser dankenden Hingabe des ewigen und des Mensch gewordenen Sohnes nimmt er Brot und Wein in seinen Gehorsam und seine Liebe zum Vater hinein. Er reicht nun den Jüngern Brot und Wein. In diesem Darreichungsgestus zeigt sich seine hingebende Liebe für uns und seine Bereitschaft, seine Lebenshingabe zum Zeichen der sich in der Geschichte durchsetzenden Liebe Gottes zu den Menschen zu machen. Er läßt die Jünger gleichzeitig aber auch teilnehmen an seinem Hingabeakt an den Vater für uns. Wer darum diese Gaben von Brot und Wein genießt, kommuniziert real an der Menschheit Jesu und seinem ganzen Schicksal, nämlich an seinem Leib und seinem Blut. Er tritt darin in die Wirklichkeit des Neuen Bundes, d. h. die liebende Gemeinschaft mit Gott ein, die in der Offenbarung der Liebeseinheit von Vater und Sohn kommunizierbar geworden ist. Brot und Wein sind hier selbstverständlich nicht Vertretungssymbole, sondern Realsymbole, weil sie am Wirklichkeitsgehalt der menschlichen und leibhaftigen Selbsthingabe Jesu teilhaben und eben aufgrund des Stiftungswortes diese Wirklichkeit gegenwärtig machen.
Jesus takes the gifts of bread and wine into his hands. In this way he unites them directly with his bodily presence. His words of institution make them into signs in which he himself becomes communicable in his entire historical and bodily presence as the Son of the Father. Jesus prays to the Father the prayer of thanksgiving, the Eucharistia. In this grateful abandonment of the eternal and the incarnate Son, he takes bread and wine into his obedience and his love for the Father. He now hands the bread and wine to the disciples. In this offertory gesture his devoted love for us shows itself, as does his willingness to make the offering of his life a sign of the love of God for men, which [love] asserts itself in history. At the same time, however, he allows the disciples to participate in his act of abandonment to the Father for us. Whoever, therefore, consumes these gifts of bread and wine, partakes in a real way of the humanity of Jesus and his entire destiny, that is to say, of his body and blood. He enters thus into the reality of the New Covenant, that is, [into] loving fellowship with God, which has become communicable in the revelation of the unity of love of Father and Son. Thus bread and wine are not, of course, representational symbols [Vertretungssymbole] but reality-symbols [Realsymbole], because they share in the reality-content [Wirklichkeitsgehalt] of the human and bodily self-giving of Jesus and, on account of the words of institution, make this reality present.
(Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Mit der Kirche denken, p. 47)
Got that?! In case you didn’t, do not worry because there is more, lots more.
We now turn to Muller’s book on the Mass:
Nun ergeben sich an dem Begriff “Leib und Blut” Mißverständnisse, wenn man meinte, Fleisch und Blut stünden hier für die physischen und biologischen Bestandteile des historischen Menschen Jesus. Es ist auch nicht einfach der verklärte Leib des auferstandenen Herrn gemeint, wenn man hier unter Leib einfach die materielle Dimension am Menschsein meint….
In Wirklichkeit bedeuten Leib und Blut Christi nicht die materiellen Bestandteile des Menschen Jesus während seiner Lebenszeit oder in der verklärten Leiblichkeit. Leib und Blut bedeuten hier vielmehr Gegenwart Christi im Zeichen des Mediums von Brot und Wein, die im Hier und Jetzt sinnengebundener menschlicher Wahrnehmung kommunizierbar wird. So wie die Jünger vor Ostern mit Jesus wahrnehmbar zusammen waren, indem sie seine Worte hörten und ihn in seiner sinnlichen Gestalt auf eine menschengemäße Weise wahrnahmen, so haben wir jetzt Gemeinschaft mit Jesus Christus, vermittelt durch das Essen und Trinken des Brotes und des Weines.
The term “body and blood” would be misunderstood if one were to suppose flesh and blood to mean the physical and biological components of the historical man Jesus. Neither is it simply the transfigured body of the risen Lord if by “body” is meant the material dimension of being human….
In reality, “body and blood of Christ” do not mean the material components of the man Jesus during his lifetime or in his transfigured corporeality. Rather, body and blood here mean the presence of Christ in the sign of the medium of bread and wine, which [presence] is made communicable in the here and now of sense-bound human perception. Just as before Easter the disciples were perceptibly together with Jesus by hearing his words and perceiving him in his sensory figure in accordance with human nature, we now have fellowship with Jesus Christ, communicated through the eating and drinking of the bread and the wine.
(Gerhard Ludwig Müller, The Mass: Source of Christian Life, pp. 139-140)
It’s good to know that Mr. Muller eats and drinks “bread and wine” at “Mass”, lest anyone should mistake him for a Catholic.
Although Muller does indeed speak of a “conversion of substance” (Wesensverwandlung) on the very same page from which we just quoted, it does not take long to find out that his idea of conversion of substance is not at all the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation. On the contrary, he attempts a phenomenological reinterpretation of the notion of substance:
Das natürliche Wesen dieser Gaben besteht nicht in dem, was naturwissenschaftlich als letzter Baustein ausfindig gemacht werden kann. Das Wesen dieser Gaben kann man nur in ihrem Bezug zum Menschen verdeutlichen. Die Wesensbestimmung muß also anthropologisch ansetzen. Das natürliche Wesen dieser Gaben als Frucht der Erde und der menschlichen Arbeit, als die Einheit eines Natur- und Kulturproduktes besteht darin, Nahrung und Stärkung des Menschen und die Gemeinschaft der Menschen im Zeichen des gemeinsamen Mahles zu verdeutlichen. Natürlicherweise sind diese Gaben auch ein Hinweis darauf, daß unser Leben und die Erhaltung unseres Daseins von Gott abhängt, dem wir uns deshalb zu Dank verpflichtet fühlen. Dieses natürliche Wesen von Brot und Wein wird von Gott verwandelt in diesem Sinn, daß das Wesen von Brot und Wein nun darin besteht, die Heilsgemeinschaft mit Gott anzuzeigen und zu realisieren, die in Menschwerdung, Kreuz und Auferstehung des Sohnes Gottes und in der Sendung des Heiligen Geistes gegeben ist.
…In der Wesensverwandlung geht es also darum, daß Brot und Wein aus natürlichen Medien der Kommunikation zum neuen Weg einer übernatürlichen Kommunikation werden zwischen Gott und der Menschheit, mit dem Ziel der Vermittlung des Heils, das in Jesus Christus sich real-geschichtlich ereignet hat. Christus ist also real gegenwärtig in einem objektiven Sinn, weil Gott allein den absoluten Horizont setzt, vor dem die Weltwirklichkeit und die Geschichte und die Weise seiner Selbstvermittlung betrachtet werden kann.
The natural substance of these gifts [of bread and wine] does not consist in that which can be examined by natural science as the ultimate building block. The substance of these gifts can only be explained in their relation to man. Thus the determination of substance must begin anthropologically. The natural substance of these gifts as the fruit of the earth and of human labor, as the integrity of a product of nature and culture, consists in showing clearly the nourishment and refreshment of man and the human community under the auspices of the common meal. Of course these gifts are also an indication that our life and the preservation of our being depends upon God, which is why we feel we owe Him our gratitude. These natural substances of bread and wine are converted by God in the sense that the substance of bread and wine now [i.e. after the conversion] consists in indicating and bringing about the saving communion with God which is given in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of the Son of God and the sending of the Holy Ghost.
…In other words, the conversion of substance means that bread and wine go from being natural vehicles of communication to being a new way of supernatural communication between God and man, with the goal of transmitting salvation, which occurred in Jesus Christ in a real-historical way. Christ, then, is really present in an objective sense, because it is God alone who fixes the absolute horizon, before which the reality of the world and history and the manner of his self-communication can be contemplated.
(Gerhard Ludwig Müller, The Mass: Source of Christian Life, pp. 140-141)
Is your head spinning yet from all the bafflegab?
One thing is clear: Whatever Muller may actually affirm about the Real Presence of Christ, it’s definitely not the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation.
False Philosophy behind Müller’s Heresy
As becomes evident here, Muller has a completely different (and false) idea of what the philosophical notion of substance is. For this reason alone he can speak all he wants about a “conversion of substance” — he will always mean something other than Transubstantiation. The Catholic dogma to which he is obliged to adhere under pain of heresy and eternal damnation, however, is not some idea of conversion of substance, or some kind of Real Presence, but Transubstantiation specifically. And for this reason, we can and must say that Muller is a genuine heretic.
In another place of the same book, the heretical “cardinal” asserts: “The uniformity of this confession [of faith in Transubstantiation] is not dependent on the Aristotelian distinction of substance and accidents” (The Mass, p. 196). However, the exact opposite is the case, as Pope Pius VI made clear in his 1794 document Auctorem Fidei, a bull in which he condemned a number of errors that had been put forward by the diocesan synod of Pistoia, Italy — a prototype of Vatican II, incidentally — eight years prior:
The doctrine of the synod, in that part in which, undertaking to explain the doctrine of faith in the rite of consecration, and disregarding the scholastic questions about the manner in which Christ is in the Eucharist, from which questions it exhorts priests performing the duty of teaching to refrain, it states the doctrine in these two propositions only: 1) after the consecration Christ is truly, really, substantially under the species; 2) then the whole substance of the bread and wine ceases, appearances only remaining; it (the doctrine) absolutely omits to make any mention of transubstantiation, or conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, which the Council of Trent defined as an article of faith, and which is contained in the solemn profession of faith; since by an indiscreet and suspicious omission of this sort knowledge is taken away both of an article pertaining to faith, and also of the word consecrated by the Church to protect the profession of it, as if it were a discussion of a merely scholastic question,–dangerous, derogatory to the exposition of Catholic truth about the dogma of transubstantiation, favorable to heretics.
(Pope Pius VI, Bull Auctorem Fidei, n. 29; Denz. 1529; underlining added.)
Notice that the definition which the Sovereign Pontiff assails here does not in fact contain anything positively erroneous. It was condemned on the grounds that it suspiciously omitted what is essential to the integrity of the dogma, that is, the very term “Transubstantiation” and the precise truth it expresses.
By the middle of the 20th century, some theologians favored replacing Transubstantiation with a different concept, arguing that the Aristotelian notion of substance had been superseded. Pope Pius XII firmly rejected any such attempts:
Some even say that the doctrine of transubstantiation, based on an antiquated philosophic notion of substance, should be so modified that the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist be reduced to a kind of symbolism, whereby the consecrated species would be merely efficacious signs of the spiritual presence of Christ and of His intimate union with the faithful members of His Mystical Body.
(Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 26)
These condemnations by Popes Pius VI and Pius XII drive a dagger through the heart of Muller’s approach to the Real Presence. His underlying thesis — namely, that one can adequately express the dogma of the Real Presence without the Aristotelian-scholastic terminology consecrated by the Church for this purpose — is thus exposed as false and dangerous.
It is important to keep in mind that the notions of substance and accident are an intrinsic part of the dogma. They are not merely a convenient explanatory model temporarily borrowed by the Church in order to express a truth to a particular audience at a particular point in the long-gone past, only to be replaced by one more suitable to our times as the need may arise. If that were so, then the Church would be in continual need of “updating” (aggiornamento!) her teachings according to the whims and mores of contemporary man. Instead of being “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), the Church would be but a house “built … upon the sand” (Mt 7:26), a “reed shaken with the wind” (Mt 11:7), “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14).
In the dogma of Transubstantiation, the Church has wedded herself irrevocably to the substance/accident distinction first drawn by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. This distinction wasn’t “invented” by Aristotle but discovered and properly formulated by him. It is a distinction demanded by reason and easily verified by common sense. That is the reason why the Church was able to embrace it and make it part of her dogma in the first place, so much so that it is impossible to adequately express the dogma without using the notions of substance and accident. Any attempts to replace these categories with different ones — for example, by borrowing ideas from modern philosophy — necessarily involve a denial of the dogma and thus will be heretical.
In evaluating Muller’s bizarre theology of the Eucharist, then, not only do we discover his tinkering with Transubstantiation, we also find that his entire philosophical foundation is messed up: “[T]he truth of faith of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic signs presupposes the symbolic structure of reality…”, the dissident theologian claims (Catholic Dogmatic Theology, p. 697). Thus he shows that he bases his “theology” on a novel and faulty ontology (philosophy of being) inspired by modern and post-modern philosophical currents such as phenomenology, existentialism, and German idealism. It is hardly surprising, then, that the result should be verbose gobbledygook that undermines Catholic dogma.
Müller’s clever Teflon Theology
Of course, like all Neo-Modernists, Muller is extremely clever. One can indeed find in his writings individual statements that sound like they are presenting orthodox doctrine on the Holy Eucharist, and it is to such that his defenders will point when he is accused of proposing or flirting with heresy. Yet these ostensibly orthodox statements must be dismissed, at best, as a clever ruse to escape condemnation because no one who is truly orthodox continually mixes orthodox statements with ambiguous ideas or outright errors so that heresy is likely to be taken from his words, again and again.
Pope Pius VI rejected precisely such maneuverings in his condemnation of the errors of the Synod of Pistoia:
[Our predecessors] knew the capacity of innovators in the art of deception. In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, the innovators sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous maneuvers by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith that is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation. This manner of dissimulating and lying is vicious, regardless of the circumstances under which it is used. For very good reasons it can never be tolerated in a synod of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.
Moreover, if all this is sinful, it cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it.
It is as if the innovators pretended that they always intended to present the alternative passages, especially to those of simple faith who eventually come to know only some part of the conclusions of such discussions, which are published in the common language for everyone’s use. Or again, as if the same faithful had the ability on examining such documents to judge such matters for themselves without getting confused and avoiding all risk of error. It is a most reprehensible technique for the insinuation of doctrinal errors and one condemned long ago by our predecessor St. Celestine who found it used in the writings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, and which he exposed in order to condemn it with the greatest possible severity. Once these texts were examined carefully, the impostor was exposed and confounded, for he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed.
In order to expose such snares, something which becomes necessary with a certain frequency in every century, no other method is required than the following: Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements that disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to Catholic truth is camouflaged.
(Pope Pius VI, Bull Auctorem Fidei, introd.; underlining added.)
What Pius VI rebukes here is very much what “Cardinal” Muller does: He affirms in one sentence what he denies in another, using language that is so obscure and complex as to leave even the attentive reader incapable of understanding what he is actually proposing. This allows him to demolish the dogma of Transubstantiation in the minds of the faithful while rebuffing those who call him out for it as not “getting” what he really means.
It is evident from the quotes presented here that Muller’s writing is a hopeless mix of vague ideas wrapped in impressive-sounding but undefined made-up-on-the-spot terminology, with the apparently intended aim of causing as much confusion in the reader as possible while retaining a modicum of plausible deniability. What Muller does could be called Teflon theology, because nothing will stick to it. His words and ideas are intended to be slick and slippery enough to prevent any censure, especially that of heresy, from being attached to it.
False Alternatives to Transubstantiation
We see this very clearly in what he has written about the Holy Eucharist and especially the Real Presence. While it is clear that Muller does not teach Transubstantiation as defined by the Council of Trent, just what he actually does hold is anyone’s guess. The notion of the Real Presence he puts forward sounds very much like the error of “Transignification”, once infamously promoted by Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner. But this distortion of the Real Presence was condemned even by Antipope Paul VI (see “Encyclical” Mysterium Fidei, n. 11), and of course Muller disclaims that he subscribes to this view. At the same time, he concedes that Transignification — as well as its cousin, “Transfinalization” — can be developed within the framework of the theory of reality-symbolism he endorses (and which has its origin in Rahner; see Catholic Dogmatic Theology, p. 708).
If we are looking for an accurate label to stick on the Mullerite version of the Real Presence, perhaps the term “Transcommunication” would describe it adequately, since he appears to be saying that in the Eucharist, God chooses bread and wine to communicate His Presence. But whatever the most accurate term for the Mullerite concept may be, it is most certainly not Transubstantiation, which is the Catholic dogma.
Unfortunately for the German heretic, the First Vatican Council ruled out any kind of “reinterpretation” or “deeper understanding” of dogma once it has been defined:
For, the doctrine of faith which God revealed has not been handed down as a philosophic invention to the human mind to be perfected, but has been entrusted as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence, also, that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding. Therefore . . . let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, grow and progress strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries; but let it be solely in its own genus, namely in the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding.
(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Ch. 4; Denz. 1800)
Further, Pope St. Pius X condemned the following proposition as a Modernist error: “The dogmas which the Church professes as revealed are not truths fallen from heaven, but they are a kind of interpretation of religious facts, which the human mind by a laborious effort prepared for itself” (condemned in Decree Lamentabili Sane, n. 22; Denz. 2022).
False Ideas have Consequences
Because he does not believe in the dogma of Transubstantiation as once defined, Muller also does not see any sense in asking at what precise point in time during Mass the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ:
Zu klären bleibt noch eine in der Theologiegeschichte entstandene Frage nach dem genauen Zeitpunkt dieser heiligen Wandlung von Brot und Wein zu realen Zeichen der Heilskommunikation mit Gott in Jesus Christus. Ist es die Herabrufung des Heiligen Geistes, die in der ostkirchlichen Liturgie meist nach den Einsetzungsberichten geschieht, oder ist es die Rezitation der Einsetzungsworte Jesu selber, die die Wandlung bewirken? Man wird die Frage weder in diesem noch in jenem Sinne beantworten müssen, weil die Frage theologisch keinen richtigen Sinn ergibt. Die Wandlung, die zum Grundbestand des katholischen Glaubens in der Ost- und Westkirche gehört, geschieht durch die Einbeziehung der Opfergaben in den Dialog von Vater, Sohn und Geist. Dies ist der Inhalt der drei Gebetsabschnitte, die auf die Präfation folgen, wo der Vater angesprochen wird in der Vermittlung des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Indem die Gaben von Brot und Wein in dieses Geschehen der dreifaltigen Liebe, die sich in der Heilsgeschichte zu unseren Gunsten verwirklicht hat, einbezogen werden, werden sie für uns zu Leib und Blut Jesu Christi.
There still remains to be clarified a question which has arisen in the history of theology concerning the exact moment [at which takes place] this sacred conversion of bread and wine into real signs of the salvific communication with God in Jesus Christ. Is it the calling down of the Holy Ghost which in the liturgy of the Eastern churches mostly takes place after the institution narrative, or is it the recitation of the words of institution of Jesus itself which effects the conversion? It will not be necessary to answer the question the one way or the other, because the question does not really make sense theologically. The conversion, which is part of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith in the Eastern and Western Church, occurs through the incorporation of the sacrifical gifts into the dialogue of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is the content of the three parts of the prayer following the Preface, in which the Father is addressed in the communication of the Son and the Holy Ghost. By including the gifts of bread and wine in this action of triune love, which in salvation history actualized itself to our benefit, they become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.
(Gerhard Ludwig Müller, The Mass: Source of Christian Life, pp. 141-142)
Real Catholics want to know exactly when bread and wine cease to be and the Incarnate God becomes present on the Altar because they want to adore Him and not bread and wine, which would constitute the mortal sin of idolatry. The fact that Muller thinks this question is not only not important but actually non-sensical is further unassailable proof of his repudiation of the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation. It also demonstrates his great pride, for in the past the Church has taken great pains to answer this very question, a question which according to him makes no sense to even ask.
The truth is, of course, that Transubstantiation occurs as soon as the priest has finished pronouncing the words of consecration over the bread and the wine, respectively: “…immediately after the consecration the true body of our Lord and His true blood together with His soul and divinity exist under the species of bread and wine…” (Council of Trent, Session 13, Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist; Denz. 876).
A Final Piece of Evidence
For those who are still skeptical about our contention that Muller is a heretic and who are holding out hope that perhaps there is still some legitimate way that the pretend-cardinal can be said to believe in the dogma of Transubstantiation as defined, we offer one final piece of evidence from his writings that puts the last nail in the coffin:
In der Eucharistie ißt der Glaubende nicht physische Bestandteile des Leibes Jesu auf, sondern er kommuniziert in den Zeichen des konsekrierten Brotes und Weines an der Menschheit Jesu, seiner Sendung und seinem Schicksal in Kreuz und Auferstehung.
In the Eucharist the believer does not consume the physical elements of Jesus’ body, but in the signs of the consecrated bread and wine he communicates in the humanity of Jesus, his mission, and his destiny in the Cross and Resurrection.
(Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Catholic Dogmatic Theology, p. 710)
It is just too bad for Mr. Muller that what he says here is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Catechism of the Council of Trent (also known simply as the Roman Catechism):
…[I]n this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ whole and entire. He should point out that the word Christ designates the Godman, that is to say, one Person in whom are united the divine and human natures; that the Holy Eucharist, therefore, contains both, and whatever is included in the idea of both, the Divinity and humanity whole and entire, consisting of the soul, all the parts of the body and the blood, all of which must be believed to be in this Sacrament.
(Catechism of the Council of Trent, “The Sacrament of the Eucharist”; underlining added.)
In addition, Muller’s thesis is contrary to the teaching of Pope Clement VI: “The body of Christ after the words of consecration is numerically the same as the body born of the Virgin and immolated on the Cross” (Apostolic Letter Super Quibusdam, n. 42; Denzinger-Hünermann 1083 [Latin here]).
Isn’t it a real shame that the Popes, saints, doctors, and theologians of the past, not enlightened by Muller’s incredible genius, only thought of the Real Presence in such dull physical terms, not realizing that consuming the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ means “communicating in the signs” of Christ’s “humanity, mission, and destiny”?!
To add insult to injury, the Modernist “cardinal” finishes by haughtily declaring that Catholic faith in the Real Presence is not the result of a “positivist submission to the authority of Christ” (Catholic Dogmatic Theology, p. 710)! But that is exactly what it is, as we pray in the Act of Faith: “I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them….” For Catholics, the matter is quite simple: “Thy word is truth” (Jn 17:17).
Ladies and gentlemen, the conclusion is inescapable: Muller pertinaciously denies the dogma of Transubstantiation.
In a recent interview with the Italian Il Foglio, “Cardinal” Muller lamented the “de-christianization” of the West, which, he claimed, “far surpasses mere secularization.” The poor fellow does not seem to understand that it is precisely the kind of theology he produces that is largely responsible for the great falling away from the Faith we have witnessed in the past five decades.
This theology is known as the Nouvelle Theologie (“New Theology”) or ressourcement theology. Some strands of it were condemned by Pope Pius XII in the 1940s and ’50s, and some of its proponents, such as Marie-Dominique Chenu and Yves Congar, were silenced. In the Nouvelle Theologie, the beautiful, edifying, and clearly-defined doctrines of Catholicism are replaced by nebulous gobbledygook that uses lots of words to say very little. This is justified under the pretext of “returning to the sources” of theology and drawing from them ever more deeply. A hallmark of this dangerous and false theology is its utter contempt and disdain for Scholasticism, among whose most exemplary fruits is the very dogma of Transubstantiation.
The Nouvelle Theologie became the official theology of Vatican II. Its advocates that had been censured under Popes Pius XI and Pius XII were rehabilitated by Antipope John XXIII and were appointed to serve as theological expert advisors (periti) to various bishops at the council. Is it any wonder that widespread apostasy has been the result?
Some will surely object that perhaps we simply lack the intellectual prowess to grasp “real” Catholic theology. But this is sheer nonsense. The Catholic Church has produced genuine and highly sophisticated theology for two millennia, and while there certainly are many difficult concepts to learn and understand especially when it comes to the finer points of this sacred science, the glory of genuine Catholic theology lies in its clarity, its succinctness, and its systematic structure.
For example, we can see that the Council of Trent teaches Catholic dogma very clearly, succinctly, and in such fashion that, once the reader has become familiar with some basic concepts, he can easily understand what is being taught. Are we to believe that Trent didn’t present “real” Catholic theology?
Similarly, we find nothing but clarity, succinctness, and a very organized presentation of real Catholic theology in the theological manuals that were in use before Vatican II. If we consult, for instance, the famous Sacrae Theologiae Summa of the Spanish Jesuits published in the mid-1950s, we find an extremely lucid and scholarly presentation of the dogma of Transubstantiation. In a mere ten pages, the truth of Transubstantiation is laid out in deductive and systematic fashion. First the thesis is stated, then its terms are defined. Then adversaries of the doctrine and their errors are identified. Then the doctrine of the Church is presented from her magisterial pronouncements, followed by proof from Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Then the theological reasoning is given and objections are answered. An excursus into some false explanations of Transubstantiation concludes the treatment of the dogma. (See pp. 292-301 in Sacrae Theologiae Summa, vol. IVA, translated by Fr. Kenneth Baker [Saddle River, NJ: Keep the Faith, 2015]). Is this, too, not “real” Catholic theology?
Catholicism is not Gnosticism, in which only a select few of the specially-anointed elite can know and understand the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The teaching of the Church is accessible to all: “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house” (Mt 5:14-15).
By contrast, what the Neo-Modernist Nouvelle Theologie presents is obscure, verbose, and haphazard; and of this “Cardinal” Muller is a perfect example. Read ten pages of Muller on the Real Presence and you still have no clear idea as to what the man is actually saying. Once you think you have finally grasped his point, you find it relativized, denied, or contradicted elsewhere. This phenomenon becomes even more interesting when you consider that two out of the three sources we have used in this post to expound Muller’s teaching are books written by him for a popular audience, not for academic peers or university students.
There is indeed method to the madness: The idea is to loosen what was secure, to twist what was straight, to make obscure what was clear, and to render doubtful what was certain, so that in the end all of Catholic theology is turned into a convoluted hodgepodge of ideas that don’t mean anything definite and are subject to constant change or reinterpretation. It is for this reason that Novus Ordo theologians can, without batting an eye, go from “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14) to adultery being “the most generous response which can be given to God, and … what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal” (Antipope Francis, “Apostolic” Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, n. 303).
At the root of this Nouvelle Theologie is the error of historicism. The German Fr. Georg May — incidentally from the diocese of Mainz, the same one as Muller’s originally — explains the matter well in his massive new book exploring the last 300 years of Catholic, Modernist, and Protestant theology:
A typical Modernist error is the talk about the historicity of truth. By this is not meant the (explicative) development of dogma which is guided by the Holy Ghost, but the abandonment or redefinition of dogmas. The binding (and unchanging) faith of the Church is passed off as the product of a historical period which has been overcome, and thus the faith has to adapt itself to the changed social conditions. The standard for modifying what is preached is to be the spirit of the age (Zeitgeist). The thesis about the historicity of truth provides the apparent basis for reformulating the truths of the Christian faith, to make them “acceptable” to contemporaries. One speaks so much about the [historical] circumstances of a [dogmatic] definition and the changed conditions until the original sense of a dogma is no longer recognizable. An example of this mode of procedure is the constantly repeated attacks against the sacrosanct term of Transubstantiation.
(Fr. Georg May, 300 Jahre gläubige und ungläubige Theologie [Bobingen: Sarto Verlag, 2017], p. 913; our translation.)
In 1950, Pope Pius XII warned that historicism “overthrows the foundation of all truth and absolute law both on the level of philosophical speculations and especially to Christian dogmas” (Encyclical Humani Generis, n. 7), and we have tragically seen the truth and prudence of this admonition verified before our very eyes.
The direct connection between the Nouvelle Theologie of Vatican II and the “de-christianization” of the West that Muller now claims to lament, is undeniable. Why should it be surprising that replacing clear Catholic teaching with Modernist gobbledygook leads to a loss of Faith?
Nowhere is this more evident than on the liturgical level, where in 1969 the traditional Roman rite of Mass was replaced by the “New Mass” (Novus Ordo Missae) of Paul VI. Just as the ancient Roman rite expresses true Catholic theology, so the New Mass expresses Neo-Modernist theology. The fruits produced by that change — shoved down everybody’s throat as “renewal” — are known only too well to require further elaboration. “By their fruits you shall know them” (Mt 7:16), our Blessed Lord told us.
Always remember this: Modernists like Muller, Ratzinger, Kasper, Rahner, etc., got their way. For decades things have been done “their way” in the Vatican II Sect. They claimed to have a theology so much superior to that “unenlightened” scholastic theology of the past; they insisted that their new theology would be able to reach modern man because it speaks his language. Well, they got a chance to prove it, and they failed miserably.
Just look at the results after 50+ years of their ideas at work. To call the current “Catholic” terrain a devastated vineyard would not do it justice — it is an infernal toxic wasteland that bears no resemblance to the Roman Catholic religion as it was known throughout the globe until the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.
After reading Muller on the Real Presence, what believer of average intelligence would have the faintest idea as to the way in which our Blessed Lord is actually present in the Holy Eucharist? With the Mullerite version in your mind, just how would you approach the Blessed Sacrament in church? In what sense would you acknowledge the presence of Christ? Is Christ really there? Literally and physically? Or only “sort of”? Can you kneel down in genuine adoration before What/Who is truly present, or do you have to kneel and adore in a way similar to the way you would kneel and adore Christ before a statue or picture of Him, which is obviously not His literal presence?
The simple fact of the matter is that reading Muller on the Eucharistic Presence of our Lord leaves the Christian not enlightened and edified but instead perplexed, bewildered, and filled with doubt and hesitation before the Blessed Sacrament — a terrible state of mind that is accompanied on an emotional level by a feeling of nausea.
Far from an orthodox Catholic, then, “Cardinal” Muller is exposed as a true and proper heretic. Unfortunately, many “conservatives” in the Vatican II Sect will not let this evidence affect their view of Muller. All is forgiven him because, remember, he opposes adultery. Nowadays this suffices to receive the title of “conservative Catholic” in the Novus Ordo and secular media, who have reduced “orthodox Catholicism” to little more than conservative sexual morality. This too is apostasy, albeit under a different veneer: “Whosoever revolteth, and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 Jn 9).
One of the chief causes of all this apostasy is pride, Pope St. Pius X noted in his landmark encyclical against Modernism:
…[P]ride sits in Modernism as in its own house, finding sustenance everywhere in its doctrines and lurking in its every aspect. It is pride which fills Modernists with that self-assurance by which they consider themselves and pose as the rule for all. It is pride which puffs them up with that vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and makes them say, elated and inflated with presumption, “We are not as the rest of men,” and which, lest they should seem as other men, leads them to embrace and to devise novelties even of the most absurd kind.
(Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, n. 40)
What an apt description of Gerhard Ludwig Müller and his false theology!
In light of all this, Muller’s recent protestation to the Lefebvrist Bp. Bernard Fellay that he wants the Society of St. Pius X to be fully reconciled to Rome so that they can help “fight the Modernists” is exposed for the laughable farce that it is.
The simple truth is that the Vatican’s former “guardian of orthodoxy” is a heretic himself.
[THIS SERIES IS CONTINUED IN PART 2: Müller’s Denial of the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary]
We are indebted to the German Tradition und Glauben blog for some of the research presented here.