Cardinal Robert Sarah’s boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and resisting the Zeitgeist is a prophetic witness reminiscent of a 5th century North African Pope who laid the foundations for healthy church-state relations, Archbishop George Gänswein has said.
In a well-received speech in Rome Nov. 20 at the launch of the German edition of the book God or Nothing — an interview with Cardinal Sarah by Nicolas Diat — the personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI compared the cardinal favorably to Pope Gelasius I whom the Church, by coincidence, commemorated on Nov. 20.
Gelasius’ letter to the Emperor Anastasius I of Constantinople in 494 put spiritual and secular power on an equal footing and helped pave the way for Western democracy.
Commenting on the book, Archbishop Gänswein, who also serves as prefect of the Pontifical Household, said every generation faces giving in to a “totalitarian temptation” that always accompanies the history of the Church “like a shadow.”
Today, he said, it is manifested in the West’s attempt to “overturn, step by step, the natural law at the behest of globally active pressure groups.”
He mentioned gender ideology as an example, adding that the intolerance of secularism is “nothing more than a new pseudo-religion” which once again “takes up where the totalitarian ideologies of the last century left off.” Similarly, he warned that when the state becomes a religion, it is “horrifically expressed in the so-called Islamic State.”
But neither the state nor the Zeitgeist “has the right” to claim omnipotence, Archbishop Gänswein said. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Absolutely. But unto God what is God’s! It is on this distinction that Cardinal Sarah today insists; a solitary, frank and intrepid voice.”
Archbishop Gänswein went on to say that God or Nothing is a radical book in the sense of taking us back to the “roots of our faith.” It “opens our eyes” to the fact that “new forms of indifference to God are not just mental deviations one can simply ignore,” but represent “an existential threat to human civilization par excellence.”
Actively proclaiming the Gospel is “gaining urgency” in this “precarious situation,” the German prelate said, and “in this hour he [Cardinal Sarah] arises, prophetically.” Revelation, he reminded those present, “must not be adapted to the world” as the world “wants to devour God.” But God, on the other hand, “wants to attract and convince us and the world.”
He stressed that the book is neither “a manifesto nor a polemic” but a “guide to God who has shown His face in Jesus Christ.” He also said it is a vademecum (handbook) for the upcoming Jubilee Year which can teach “valuable lessons about the nature of mercy.”
“Mercy and rigor of teaching can only exist together,” Archbishop Gänswein said, quoting the great Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. “The Church is in her principles intolerant, because she believes, and she is tolerant in practice, because she loves.
The enemies of the Church are tolerant with regards to the principles because they do not believe, and they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.” Cardinal Sarah, Archbishop Gänswein said in closing, “is someone who loves,” a man who shows us “how and which masterpiece God wants to shape us into if we do not oppose His artist’s hands.”
During the recent Synod on the Family, Cardinal Sarah gave one of the strongest interventions of the three-week meeting, comparing gender ideology and the Islamic State to “apocalyptic beasts.”
“To the Roots!”
The full text of Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s November 20 speech
Most Reverend Cardinal Sarah! Eminences, Your Excellencies, Dear Brothers, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
As I was reading the galleys of your book God or Nothing this past summer, your candor repeatedly reminded me of the boldness with which Pope Gelasius I in Rome in the year 494 wrote a famous letter to Emperor Anastasius I of Constantinople. When at last a suitable date for the presentation of this book here in the Anima was found, I discovered that it is today of all days, on the 20th of November, that the Church commemorates this Pope. Today the Church celebrates Pope Gelasius from North Africa. Allow me therefore to briefly say a few words about his letter from the year 494.
Eighteen years before it was written, in the year 476, Germanic tribes had overrun the ancient capital. The Völkerwanderungen — the mass migration of peoples — had begun, which brought about the end of the Western Roman Empire. Of that once so powerful empire there remained only the powerless Church of Rome.
It was in this situation that Pope Gelasius wrote the following to the East Roman emperor in Byzantium: To govern the world there is not just one power but two. This we know since the Lord gave to his apostles, after the Last Supper (Luke 22:38), the mysterious information, “two swords,” which they had just handed to him, were “enough.” However, these two swords would have to be, according to his conception, shared by the Emperor and the Pope throughout history. In other words, with this letter Pope Gelasius I put spiritual and secular power on an equal footing. There should be no more omnipotence. Pope and Emperor were — for the benefit of all people! — considered as partners before God.
This constituted a paradigm shift. But there was more. For Gelasius added to this that the Emperor of Constantinople, by divine right, was a little bit subordinate to him, the Successor of Peter in Rome. For did not even the supreme rulers have to humbly receive the sacraments from the hand of every priest? How much more should then the emperor be obliged to be humble vis-à-vis the Pope, whose chair after all towered over every other bishopric?
The claim was outrageous. No wonder then that the Byzantine emperor at the time all but shrugged off the suggestion.
But the “two swords doctrine,” as the claim was named after this letter, would describe the relationship between church and state for about 600 years. Its indirect effects lasted infinitely longer. The gradual emergence of Western democracies is inconceivable without this claim. Because here not only the foundation for the sovereignty of the Church was laid — but also for any legitimate opposition.
Europe in any case has painfully grown and matured from this time onward. The history of the Catholic Church as a civilizing force is unthinkable without the example that Gelasius I set in opposing the pursuit of omnipotence by Emperor Anastasius I. The subsequent separation of church and state and the system of a “balance of power” began with this letter, when the powerless Pope suddenly, fearlessly, denied the most powerful ruler of the world the right to claim to also reign over the souls of his subjects. It was a time of turmoil and the migration of peoples, as I said, during which the Roman Church became the decisive authority of the West.
Of all this today, as quite suddenly a mass migration is again flooding Europe from the East, the historically-minded Cardinal Sarah is very much aware, hailing, just like Gelasius, from Africa, that most vital and dynamic part of the universal, global Church. Probably, therefore, the groundbreaking “African” Synods of Carthage from the 3rd to the 5th centuries are as present to him as any subsequent councils up to the Second Vatican. Quite certainly he sees clearly — as only few others will — that many states today once more lay claim, with all their might, to that “spiritual power” that the Church once wrested from them in a long process for the benefit of society as a whole.
For when the states of the West today attempt to overturn, step by step, natural law at the behest of globally active pressure groups; when they want to adjudge, for themselves, on the very nature of man (as in the highly ideological programs of gender mainstreaming), then this is more than just a fatal relapse into the rule of the arbitrary. It is primarily a new submission to that totalitarian temptation that has always accompanied our history like a shadow.
Every generation knows this temptation, even though it manifests itself in a new form and language in every era. Cardinal Sarah today confidently and forcefully insists that the Church must not be allowed to dissolve into the Zeitgeist, even where this spirit comes disguised and camouflaged as science, as we already know it did with racism and Marxism.
Never again should there be any institution whatsoever of omnipotence. Neither the state nor the Zeitgeist has the right to claim it for them — and neither, of course, does the Church. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Absolutely. But unto God what is God’s! It is on this distinction that Cardinal Sarah today insists; a solitary, frank and intrepid voice.
The state must be not a religion, as it is currently horrifically expressed in the so-called Islamic State. Equally, the state may not prescribe to the people secularism as a supposedly neutral world view, as it is nothing more than a new pseudo-religion, which once again takes up where the totalitarian ideologies of the last century left off in attempting to denounce and ultimately extinguish Christianity (and every other religion) as outdated and useless.
That is why this book by Cardinal Sarah is radical. Not in the sense in which we usually use the word today, but in the original sense of the word. The Latin radix is called “root” [Wurzel] in German. In this sense, the book is radical, because it takes us back again to the roots of our Faith. It is the radicalism of the Gospel that inspired this book. The author is “convinced that one of the most important tasks of the Church is to let the West rediscover the radiant face of Jesus.”
It is for this reason that he has no hesitation to talk anew about the incarnation of God and the radical nature of this good news, which he contrasts with an unsparing analysis of our time. He opens our eyes to the fact that the new forms of indifference to God are not just mental deviations one can simply ignore. He recognizes an existential threat to human civilization par excellence in the moral transformation of our societies.
There is no question that the mission of actively proclaiming anew the Gospel is gaining urgency in this precarious situation. In this hour he arises, prophetically. He knows that the Gospel which once transformed cultures is now in danger of being transformed by so-called “realities of life.” For two thousand years, the Church has cultivated the world with the power of the Gospel. The converse will not work. Revelation must not be adapted to the world.
The world wants to devour God. But God wants to attract and convince us and the world. In this struggle, this book is therefore not a fleeting contribution to a certain debate. It is also not a reply to specific points of view of others. To say this would not do justice to the depth and brilliance of this witness of faith. Cardinal Sarah is not concerned with individual points of debate, but with faith as a whole.
He demonstrates how an individual issue is to be understood by correctly understanding the entirety of our Faith. And how, conversely, every theological attempt to isolate sub-questions damages and weakens the whole. Yet this book has turned out to be neither a manifesto nor a polemic. It is a guide to God, who has shown his human face in Jesus Christ. It is a vademecum for the start of the Holy Year.
On the 20th of November, 2016 — a year from today — this jubilee year dedicated to the “Face of Mercy” will already be over. Until then, we can learn most valuable lessons about the nature of mercy from this book. For “mercy and rigor of teaching can only exist together,” Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote already in 1923. He continued: “The Church is in her principles intolerant, because she believes, and she is tolerant in practice, because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant with regards to the principles because they do not believe, and they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”
Cardinal Sarah is someone who loves. And he is a man who shows us here how and which masterpiece God wants to shape us into if we do not oppose His artist’s hands. This book is a book of Christ. It is a confession of faith. We must imagine its title as a joyful sigh: God or nothing!
(This report originally appeared on ncregister.com.)