The German Cardinal Gerhard Müller was, without a doubt, the closest collaborator of Benedict XVI in the final stretch of his pontificate. Not in vain, in July 2012, he appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican “Ministry” that Ratzinger himself directed with John Paul II. At the age of 75 and after being retired by Francisco from his position in the Roman Curia, he continues to be a disciple, knowing his thoughts inside out and, above all, a friend of an emeritus pope who has now left him something of an orphan.
If you had to define Benedict XVI with one word, which one would you prefer?
I believe that, sooner or later, he will be recognized as a new Father of the Church for our time. Precisely the thought of him drinks from the sources of San Agustín, San Buenaventura and San Tomás de Aquino. His unusual intellectuality in many aspects places him at one of the heights of research and deep reflection within the Catholic Church. In particular, I would highlight his commitment to an affective theology, becoming the great preacher of the love of God.
He has brought us closer to God with both the depth and the simplicity of his expositions. He made us see how the Christian faith is not an abstract theory about the world or about being, nor a mere moral regulation, but rather a personal encounter in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the encounter with a person, not a mythological figure, but not just a historical figure either. He thus exposes it in his three books on Jesus of Nazareth.
In general, Benedict XVI has been able to elaborate a synthesis between the transcendence and the immanence of the human being. Faith is a revealed truth, and not just a psychological contact with a person. In the same way, God is not of philosophers and religions. This does not exclude the natural knowledge of God nor the synthesis of theology, but Christians believe through the light of faith in the God who made himself known through the prophets and through his Son . To all this, Benedict XVI helped us.
Since he was elected Pope, he had to face not a few criticisms and prejudices that positioned him as a staunch guardian of orthodoxy. Do you think that time has proved you right and will do justice to him?
Currently, any judgment that is issued in the different public forums is clearly politicized and everything seeks to fit into the categories of the left and the right with catastrophic consequences for humanity, as a prelude to totalitarianism. For me, falling into this simplicity is a failure of human intelligence, because the act of thinking begins precisely with opening up to nuances, with being open to dialogue.
Benedict XVI was a victim of this conception of reality when he was elected successor to Peter, but with his calm and firm character he has been able to show that he transcended any label. But, above all, he has escaped any category of power, precisely when he was accused of wanting to have power, when he himself presented himself to the world as a “humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Power is completely detached from morality and philosophical and theological thought. That causes politicians to end up defining history and manipulating the facts according to their own interpretation. I don’t need a Pedro Sánchez to interpret reality, that’s what philosophers like Plato or Aristotle are for, or great theologians like Joseph Ratzinger. Thinkers would have to be our true interlocutors between reality and the world of ideas and transcendence.
Politicians, on the other hand, should address problems such as youth unemployment and rising food prices, and not get involved in anthropology, belittling the ability of citizens to think for themselves by treating them as subjects and slaves.
Benedict XVI did treat Catholics as adults and not precisely as adolescent believers…
The Pope was, above all, a man of logos. And that is why he spoke with such maturity to all of his interlocutors, always emphasizing the person’s freedom when it came to professing his beliefs. Therefore, he insisted over and over again that faith was neither a convention nor an external tradition or set of customs.
They have taught us that faith is a personal decision that can only be given when the human person freely chooses it, thus giving his life as a response to a God who has revealed himself to us by giving us his Son. Thus, Catholics are not soldiers in an army who have to blindly obey the officers. The Church is a community, a communion of free men and women. This religious, anthropological and political freedom is more necessary than ever in Europe today.
Throughout the history of humanity, and especially in recent times in the history of the Church, various trends hostile to Christianity have emerged, such as: secularism, materialism, postmodernism, extreme liberalism or atheism. None of these trends, and especially atheism, have a reason to exist, neither now nor in the future. Without God there is no worthy and full meaning of human life. Let us not be fooled by the militant atheism that stalks us, that pursues the de-Christianization of Europe and thus strips our continent of its religious and moral roots.
And all, in a Church that was going through and is going through a crisis of credibility and follow-up in Europe…
I have spoken many times with the Holy Father about the current crisis in the Church and I agree with him that overcoming this crisis is possible thanks to a profound renewal of theology and a living priestly spirituality. The new evangelization, especially in the countries of Christian Europe, is not possible without a renewed apostolic zeal in the preaching of the Word, in pastoral care, and in active love for one’s neighbor.
What was Benedict XVI like as a boss? Very demanding?
With me it has never been necessary for him to be harsh, because I am also very rigorous at work. The Pope always acted with enormous delicacy, from an extremely fraternal communication, although he was decisive in his approaches. Y
I am very grateful to him for the trust he always placed in me by appointing me prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith. Above all, taking into account that he led this Congregation during the pontificate of John Paul II. The brilliant pontificate of Benedict XVI can make us forget that stage with the Polish Pope, when he was a fundamental piece for him.
There is, for example, his work for the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Dominus Iesus” to go ahead in the year 2000, which allowed warning of an ecclesiological pluralism that is nothing more than the catastrophic consequence of the ambiguity about the person of Jesus.
In addition to his hierarchical superior, he managed to forge a friendship relationship…
I think we have considered each other good friends. It helps a bit that we could communicate naturally in German…
What would you say to those who oppose the pontificate of Benedict XVI to that of Francis?
Some are interested in their own power interests and are bent on dividing the Church by pitting the two Popes against each other. It is clear that they are two very different characters, both in their life trajectory and in their ecclesial career as well as in their thought.
Benedict XVI is a classic German university professor, while Francis is a pastor who comes from another country with another culture. While one is an academic, the other is a practical man interested in other problems in the world today, such as climate change, wars, the social… Both are worthy successors of Peter, who share the same faith: “You are Christ the son of the living God.”