Friday, November 21, 2014

An Interview with Cardinal Brandmüller

His Eminence Walter Cardinal Brandmüller
Q: Your Eminence, why are conservatives so hard and merciless? 

A: Are they? I have not met a person who was merciless because he is conservative. There are both merciful and merciless people among both liberals and conservatives. However, is the doctor who withholds a life-saving operation from a patient and instead allows him as much alcohol and nicotine as he likes being merciful? Or one who gives a diabetic chocolate cake? 

Q: But don't conservatives rather speak of sin, whereas liberals talk about forgiveness and mercy?

A: That's a new one on me. Where do you get this? From a newspaper? Liberals also talk about sin. But they do usually mean something else, that's true. For them, sin is rather like bad parking or cheating on a diet. What, then, is sin? 

Q: And your answer?

A: Sin is a morally inferior attitude or action by which people harm themselves and others. 
Whereby, we have all learned that we feel bad when we do what is bad and false; that fraud, adultery, murder, etc., have never actually made a person happier. Dostoevsky wrote entire novels about this dark secret. 

Q: But aren't conservatives rather more fearful, whereas liberals are more courageous?

A: Where is this coming from? Do we talk about elephants "courageously" stomping through a china shop? I would never confuse caution in handling precious vessels with fearfulness.

Q:  How did conservatives acquire the reputation of being obscurantists, as opposed to the liberal luminaries?

A: Am I supposed to laugh at that? The charge of "obscurantism" is a straw man drawn from the feretory of the so-called Enlightenment. It's a prejudice without any reasoned justification. Already more than 200 years ago, everyone who opposed this obsession with progress and the "spirit of the age" was slandered as being "obscurantist," while the Jacobins were styling themselves "luminaries" as they made heads roll for progress.

Q: Why, even 200 years later, are liberals still so fascinated with the notion of revolution?

A: You'll have to ask the liberals that. I shiver at the thought. Let's not forget how much blood and tears the great revolutions have shed over humanity! The Nazis also saw themselves as revolutionaries. Revolutionaries are pyromaniacs. 

Q: But do not conservatives like to look backwards, whereas liberals actually look forward and into the future?

A. [Nodding]

Q: Why?

A: I am a historian. The past is the stuff of experience and very concrete. The future is the realm of dreams and seducers, in which it is easy to make unsubstantiated claims and empty promises. Only on the sure basis of historical experience can the future be built. 

Q: Why has the conflict between conservatives and liberals broken out precisely over the issue of the family?

A: Ideologies that want to change man and society begin with the family and its destruction. That was the case with both Marx and Lenin. The family is the primordial cell of every human community. That's why it is so threatened. It should not be experimented with. I'm not talking about the latest madness of "freezing" female egg cells. But an unbelievable battle has erupted over the family - which, unfortunately, no one is defending like the Church. This was prophetically indicated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II decades ago.

Q: How do you interpret the fact that the two biggest adversaries in this debate between conservatives and liberals in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Kapser, are Germans?

A: I have to respond with Goethe: "In me there are two souls, alas!" This is, in a way, true of Germany, especially since the Reformation, in as far as Germany has divided into two camps. This division has since become evident in the Catholic Church in Germany, too.

Q: The 1535 conflict with Henry VIII over the indissolubility of marriage cost the Catholic Church the separation of the Anglicans. Was it worth the price? 

A: The question is poorly framed. No pope and no council can ignore the words of Jesus regarding marriage. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Fidelity to the Word of God was more important to Pope Clement VII than the political threats of the English king. The Church has no right of disposal over the sacraments. The Apostle Paul says that we are merely custodians, and that a custodian must be loyal. The Church is a foundation, and the will of the founder is decisive.

Q: Do we not now, with the help of modern theologians, understand the Word of God much better than before?

A: God's Word is inexhaustible in both content and substance. That's why there can be real progress in our understanding. It is, however, unthinkable for our later understanding to contradict what has already been understood. Two times two remains four. Truth doesn't change. And God's Spirit does not contradict Itself.

Q: But isn't precisely this conflict necessary for a healthy Church? 

A: A certain degree of unrest does good to every community. Conservatives, too, need a surface upon which to strike their matches. Error, too, has its own role in the progress of understanding.

Q: Shouldn't we, however, fear a Church which consists of conservatives only?

A: That depends on what you mean by "conservative." 

Q: What does "conservative" mean, Your Eminence?

A: "Conservative," in culture and in religion, means something else than in politics. To uphold certain social circumstances or forms of government, such as monarchy, at all costs is not conservative. The same is true of life. The lizard sacrifices its tail to save himself. The true conservative understands sacrificing things of secondary importance to retain essentials. To preserve worthless things  is not conservative. It is not conservative to preserve the ashes, as John XXIII said, but to guard the embers. In dentistry, it is conservative to preserve the root, and not to pull the tooth. We need conservation, especially of important things such as blood and foods. What would become of the artwork of the world without conservators? The fire department, too, is conservative - when it arrives in time!

(Original: [German])


  1. To speak of conservative and liberal Catholics is to let The World into one's vocabulary.
    Why do we do it? In my humble opinion we must take back our language.
    The rainbow is the symbol of The Blessed Trinity,
    'Gay' means a degree of happiness expressed,
    Queer means unusual in a negative way,
    Marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life,
    The Catholic Church is the one true Church,
    'Truth' is the conformation of one's thought with 'reality.'
    Christians are followers of Christ, but members of The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church are Catholics, not Christians.
    I could go on and on but the point is we must not let The World co-opt our language.

  2. That's exactly what was going through my mind while I was translating it: Why is he allowing this journalist to inject the political "conservative-liberal" narrative into the Church, where it doesn't belong? But, then again, the two words, while they exist in German with roughly the same meaning, are not nearly as politically charged as their counterparts are in English. In German, the words "right" and "left" are used instead of "conservative" and "liberal" to describe political ideologies; the latter terms are used much more literally, and without as much political baggage. That is to say, I've yet to run across a German journalist using "right" and "left" to describe factions in the Church. Granted, this detail escapes most English readers. But I went ahead with the publication because I found the interviewer so brazenly heretical in his views that it bordered on the comical - which was by no means lost on the good Cardinal, and something which I hope comes across in the translation.


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