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Monday, 2 July 2012

Sitting on the fence over Bishop Müller's appointment

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The big news today is that Bishop Gerhard Müller has been appointed as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to succeed Cardinal Levada. This appointment has occasioned a certain amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth, from both traditionalists and liberals.

Some time ago, Rorate Caeli summarised the concerns of traditionalists: In charge of the henhouse? This summarises some problematic statements. I would find it difficult to support what he said on the Eucharist (though I do not have access to the context of what was part of a lengthy dogmatic treatise) but there has been perhaps too much panic about what he said on the Virginity of Our Lady.

As long ago as 1952, the theologian Albert Mitterer, discussed the question of the doctrine of Our Lady's virginity in partu (Dogma und Biologie der heiligen Familie. Vienna, 1952.) His discussion is reported by Ludwig Ott in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (page 205). Ott comes down on the side of physical integrity "on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine" but the alternative explanation was never condemned. Essentially, as Müller said, the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary is
not not so much concerned with specific physiological proprieties in the natural process of birth (such as the birth canal not having been opened, the hymen not being broken, or the absence of birth pangs)
He says that it is concerned rather "with the healing and saving influence of the grace of the Savior on human nature." I would certainly want to add there that the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, pre partum, in partu et post partum, affirms as a matter of faith that the conception of Christ was not through the union of Our Lady and St Joseph in the marriage act. That needs to be said unambiguously. (Again, I do not have Müller's 900 page book to hand and for all I know, he may well have affirmed this.) The question of Our Lady's physical integrity was discussed by Tertullian. Writing against the docetists and in favour of Christ's true humanity he argued against physical integrity and in favour of a normal birth.

In summary, Bishop Müller's theological opinion on the relationship of physical integrity at birth to the doctrine of the virginity of Our Lady in partu is not heretical, even if most devout Catholics would want to go with the general teaching of the Fathers and St Thomas.

Annoyance at the appointment of Bishop  Müller can be found from quite different sources. John Allen's article in the NCR about the appointment has a comment from a German correspondent who accuses Bishop Müller of authoritarianism and of "reviling and disciplining those holding divergent opinions."

The clearly annoyed liberal links to a sermon Bishop Müller gave earlier this year, including his translation of one offending passage. The Bishop said:
"We should not allow any room for anti-Roman blabber and these stupidities ... Any activities directed against the truth of the Faith and the unity of the Church will not be tolerated"
My guess is that German readers might well pick up other quotations and anti-Müller comments in similar vein from the Wir Sind Kirchecrowd.

LifeSite news views the appointment positively: Levada out; New head of Vatican’s CDF is Bishop who corrected dissident groups, citing Bishop Müller's action to halt Church funding to pro-abortion groups that claimed to be Catholic, and his suppression of various other organisations that dissented from Catholic teaching. Deacon Greg Kandra has also picked up on an interview in which Bishop Müller affirmed the impossibility of the ordination of women to the diaconate

"So OK...", I hear some of you say, "Fr so-called Hermeneuticalness, sit-on-the-fence, rather suspect theological logic chopper Finigan - where do you STAND?"

Sitting on the fence at the moment.
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