MUNICH (LifeSiteNews) – “Jesus… does not want to proclaim a doctrine of God,” the Archbishop of Munich and former head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, recently claimed. Taking issue with the Church’s Magisterium and the insistence on her role as teacher of revealed dogma, Marx also claimed that the Church’s demand that the faithful assent to her definitive teachings runs afoul in attempts to evangelize.
According to the German news outlet Katholisch.de, the cardinal thought that “one of the causes of the crisis of the Catholic Church… lies in its dogmatics.” In the October issue of the journal Herder-Korrespondenz, Marx wrote, “The crisis of the Church is perhaps therefore also a crisis of an institution that has claimed and claims to know quite a lot about God and to be able to authoritatively communicate His will to all people.”
Marx proposed that, “Only if we overcome an all too superficial, self-understanding, self-confident talk about God and at the same time open the door to Jesus’ experience of God is the core of Christian faith uncovered. Jesus obviously does not want to proclaim a doctrine of God, but through his examples and parables of the kingdom of God he wants to make clear what the presence of God in our midst means now…
“Some ‘concepts of evangelization’,” the cardinal continued, “still seem to me as if one imagines the sender with the truth on one side and the receiver on the other side, from whom agreement is expected.”
“But evangelization hardly succeeds in this way,” he claimed.
Justifying his stance in the fact that God is a mystery, Marx said, “I think that in the past we sometimes spoke too much of God, of his nature, of his intentions, of his will, and that this tended to obscure the fact that God remains the ‘absolute mystery’ and that any statement about him can only ever be analogous.”
It is not clear, however, that Marx understands what it means to say that all speech about God is analogous. For St. Thomas Aquinas, this meant that because human words are first drawn from creatures, who are inferior to God, they necessarily fall short of the full reality of God while still truly signifying Him, even if imperfectly. An approximation to the truth, on the other hand, fails to actually get at the reality of what one is trying to signify: close to the truth but not actually there. Analogy does get to the truth, though imperfectly.
That Marx understands analogy more as a kind of approximation that is only close to the truth is underscored by previous comments made to the Bishops’ Conference. According to Katholisch, “Already at the autumn plenary meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) in Fulda, the cardinal had emphasized to his fellow bishops that all statements of faith could only ‘come close to what we know about God.’ Theologians should not ‘make assertions as if they had immediate access to the truth.’ What is needed is a new way of speaking of God ‘that does not know too much and pretends that we know exactly and that others only need to listen,’ the archbishop said.”
Coming close to the truth is approximation. Analogy begins with what we know about creatures but ends in saying something that does arrive at the truth about God. Human words about God, being human, necessarily fall short of the full reality they signify, but this does not mean that do not actually signify that reality at all.
Addressing Marx’s more fundamental claim that “Jesus obviously does not want to proclaim a doctrine of God,” one brief look at the Gospels reveals many times Christ teaches some truth about God, sometimes to the point of severely condemning those who reject his doctrine.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus reveals His eternal procession from the Father and His Incarnation in time: “I came forth from God and came into the world.”
He reveals the procession of the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins through the ministry of the priest: “The Father will give you another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.” “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them.”
He reveals the doctrine of the Eucharist: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life within you.”
He affirms His Divine Sonship to the Apostles: “Flesh and Blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven.”
He declares the Petrine Primacy: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
He confesses His divinity before the high priest and the Sanhedrin: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God?” “You have said so. And you shall see the Son of Man descending on the clouds of heaven, and seated at the right hand of God.”
He declares His divine kingship to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. For this I was born, for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”
He teaches the rich young man the necessity of observing the commandments for salvation: “What must I do to enter into eternal life? …Keep the Commandments.”
Indeed, without supernatural truths to be believed, faith is stripped of its content, since it is that virtue by which the intellect believes in God, in all that He has revealed, and in all that the Catholic Church proposes to be believed as revealed by God, because God can neither deceive nor be deceived. Statements of faith are not approximations to the truth, but communicate the truth about God, Who He is, and His plan of salvation, in an accurate and exact way, even if human words cannot contain the whole reality they signify because that reality is supernatural.
Regarding the Church’s authority in teaching the truths of faith, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), expounding on the teachings of Vatican I, issued the document Mysterium Ecclesiae in 1973, which declared the following:
“According to Catholic doctrine, the infallibility of the Church’s Magisterium extends not only to the deposit of faith but also to those matters without which that deposit cannot be rightly preserved and expounded. The extension of this infallibility to the deposit of faith itself is a truth that the Church has from the beginning held as having been certainly revealed in Christ’s promises.”
“The First Vatican Council, basing itself upon this truth, defined as follows the matter of Catholic faith: ‘All things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith that are contained in the written or transmitted Word of God and that are proposed by the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed’. Therefore, the objects of Catholic faith—which are called dogmas—necessarily are and always have been the unalterable norm both for faith and for theological science…”
“All dogmas, since they are revealed, must be believed with the same divine faith… As for the meaning of dogmatic formulas, this remains ever true and constant in the Church, even when it is expressed with greater clarity or more developed.”
Rejecting the notion that the statements and definitions of faith do not signify in a determinate and accurate way the truth about God, the CDF warned that such a position was nothing less than dogmatic relativism:
“The faithful, therefore, must shun the opinion, first, that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify truth in a determinate way but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort or alter it; secondly, that these formulas signify the truth only in an indeterminate way, this truth being like a goal that is constantly being sought by means of such approximations. Those who hold such an opinion do not avoid dogmatic relativism, and they corrupt the concept of the Church’s infallibility relative to the truth to be taught or held in a determinate way.” (Denzinger, 4536, 4538, 4540)
Likewise, Pius X, in a syllabus of errors titled, Lamentabili (Denzinger 3426, 3428, 3466), condemned the propositions of modernism that would make dogma changeable or see it reduced to the practical, as well as the notion that Jesus did not teach such doctrines as His Messianic role.
The following propositions of modernism were numbered among formally condemned statements:
“26. The dogmas of faith are to be held only according to their practical sense; that is to say, as preceptive norms of conduct and not as norms of believing.”
“28. When he was exercising his ministry, Jesus was not speaking in order to teach he was the Messiah, nor were his miracles aimed to prove this.”
“65. Modern Catholicism can be reconciled with true science only if it is transformed into a non-dogmatic Christianity; that is to say, into a broad and liberal Protestantism.”
It is high time that the prelates of the Church who do not accept her dogmas, her teaching authority, and the teachings of Christ Himself, who desire to replace these things with new inventions of their own, be corrected and disciplined for abandoning the faith they are bound to uphold and defend.