Müller und Kasper: Enough Manifestos!

by Felix Neumann

“Let not your heart be troubled!” is the slogan that Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller places at the head of his “Manifesto of Faith.” He issued this, according to the introduction, at the request of many of the faithful “in the face of growing confusion about the doctrine of the Faith.”

The brief manifesto is not lacking in certainties. The cardinal, uninfected by any postmodern doubt or ambiguity, states what the reality is. Cardinal Müller’s heart is not troubled. His Yes is Yes, his No is No.

Shortly thereafter his great counter-force in the college of cardinals, the resistant Cardinal Walter Kasper, who as former officer for ecumenism is well versed in dealing with ambiguities, issued a critique of Müller’s manifesto.

Where Müller gives a Yes to the truths of the faith, Kasper relentlessly gives a But: Yes, we believe in the trinitarian God. But what about the Jews and the Muslims? Cardinal Kasper’s heart is not troubled. He puts out into the deep.

The two positions stand unreconciled next to each other: the one a lighthouse against the “zeitgeist,” the other calm in the face of the uncertainties of the present.

It is easy to project these fundamental differences within the church onto a political left-right schema. But a distinction of this sort is not productive – not least with a view toward the horizon of redemption, about which the two distinct cardinals are united.

Already over ten years ago, Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the order of Dominicans, provided a formula for these fundamental hermeneutical differences among Catholics which is not easy to grasp with worldly political categories. He spoke of “Kingdom of God Catholics” and “Communio Catholics.”

According to Radcliffe, the first have a deep sense for the pilgrim People of God on their way to the Kingdom of God. They emphasize openness and the action of the Holy Spirit even outside the Church. Freedom and justice and mercy are important to them.

The others, the Communio Catholics, want to strengthen the community of the Church. They emphasize Catholic identity and are skeptical of the shallowness of modernity. They value order and truth and clarity. It is clear: Müller belongs to the Communio Catholics, Kasper to the Kingdom of God Catholics.

Already in 2006 Radcliffe lamented the lack of discussion between these two groups. Today the problem is greater. A Kingdom of God Catholic can hardly comprehend the uncertainty and the fear of confusion which Müller stands against. A Communio Catholic can hardly comprehend how unworried the other side is about pluralism and the dissolution of certainties.

Neither of these positions is simply “right” or “left,” “orthodox” or “heterodox.

Radcliffe wrote then that the split can only be healed when we strive to understand why others think the way they do. He wrote nothing about manifestos.

Up until now, the method of Francis is to keep silence about such controversies such as the dubia and Vigano’s explosive letter. Supporters and opponents wish that he would clearly position himself – in this, there is no lack of clear positions in the church. In his office of unity, it would be the Pope’s place to state his position: not as a judge between the positions, not as one party, but as a bridge-builder who promotes dialogue.

Felix Neumann is on the editorial staff at katholisch.de. This piece is published in translation with his kind permission.


  1. Which makes me wonder: What about folks who are both Kingdom of God *and* Communio Catholics, and who can see merit and limits of both, and yet strive to Hope in the sense of which Charles Peguy once wrote*? One of my great concerns about our current form of “conversation” as immediately transmitted, mediated and masticated through the Internet is how often it serves as grist for anxiety, resentment and expectation – and thus corrodes the Hope that the disciples of the Lord are called to manifest.

    * “Faith sees what is . . . .
    Charity loves what is . . . .
    Hope sees what has not yet been and what will be.
    She loves what has not yet been and what will be.”

    This kind of Hope I see in the life and work of people like Dorothy Day and Flannery O’Connor: who, in their incredibly different ways, had a fundamental outward and forward dynamic motion that was premised on a fierce little but hardly comforting Hope that even moved ahead of her sisters Faith and Charity, pulling those sisters along with her, in Peguy’s sense.

  2. In the following sentence, for “France” read “Francis.”
    “Up until now, the method of France is to keep silence about such controversies such as the dubia and Vigano’s explosive letter.”
    The website is katholisch.de. From my observation, it leans to the “Communio Catholic” tendency described in the article.

    1. Thanks! I corrected the typo.
      I don’t claim to read katholische.de thoroughly, but I have the impression that both Kingdom of God and Communio tendencies are well represented at the site.

      1. You are correct on katholisch.de, which is the Internetportal of the Catholic Church in Germany. I was thinking of kath.net as tending to the Communio side (and publishing some content in English), as contrasted with kath.de, which is a good German portal on the Kingdom of God side and mainly links to other publications, news services and church institutions.

    1. Except that dialogue is a hallmark of the Lord’s public ministry. Jesus is in dialogue practically the whole length of the Fourth Gospel. Otherwise, Peter, the rich young man, Mary and Martha in their home, Matthew, various scribes and Pharisees.

      To be accurate, Peter, dialogue is a method, a tool. It implies a disciple who does not only talk, but listen. It suggests a rich prayer life for the believer, in which one can be silent before God after saying one’s piece.

      I realize that dialogue is a swear-word in some political corners. But rejecting dialogue is, in a way, a rejection of God’s methodology. Potentially a heresy or apostasy.

      1. Oh, agreed. All of this gets worked out (or not) at the local and personal level anyway.
        It strikes me that Saint Paul’s methodology is most apt: being all things to all so that some may be saved. (If I have that citation close to correct.) The Rebuilt people get a lot of flak on this site, but they have the measure of it, paraphrased: what is Church for, those seeking or pondering admission to the hospital, or the staff?

  3. This seems like a helpful heuristic, but like KLS above I have some difficulty locating myself within it. I would say that my roots a Communio Catholic, born of a sense of the horrors of the world and seeing the Church as offering a concrete alternative to those horrors. But with the passage of time I have come to feel keenly the failures of the Church to be a true communion of disciples of Jesus, of how the Church has perpetrated its own horrors. Unfortunately, this has not raised my estimation of the world, so I can’t join the Kingdom Catholics in their relative optimism about the Spirit’s work in the world. So what do you call those Catholics who are stuck between a horrible rock and a horrible hard place? Maybe “neo-Jansenist Catholic”?

    1. Thank you for that deft capture of the actual vs expected cause-effect toggle there.

      While the adolescent version of myself loved many parts of the Pensées, for now I may be tempted to call some of us “Rufus Johnson* Catholics”.

      * The Lame Shall Enter First….

  4. I confess that I am in more of the Communio camp. Though I tend to look at the differences between the two camps in terms of revealed truth. I place much more emphasis on Scripture, the consensus partum, and the statements of the ecumenical councils and papal decrees rather on the sign of the times and role of individual conscience and how people feel that God is speaking to them directly in the here in now. Doctrine develops but it appears to me to be much less malleable.

    That said, I can be convinced of some “progressive” position if framed and argued in a certain way. For example, communion for the divorced and remarried I am sympathetic to arguments based on the fact that the Councils of Florence and Trent may not have wanted to excluded Eastern Orthodox practice of people receiving communion after a second union and that this practice was going on when East and West were still united. Or the permissibility of the female diaconate based on Patristic evidence.

  5. I see value in both “Communio” and “Kingdom of Catholic” approaches to Catholicism. Of course it’s not an either-or, and one can draw on both approaches in varying proportions.

    I must say, however, that if we’re talking about faithfulness to Jesus, and focusing on his priorities, one of these wins hands down and the other doesn’t. Nothing was more central to Jesus preaching and ministry than the Kingdom of God.

    It is important that that church be a unified communio – as a sign of the Father’s presence among us and our unity in Christ, and as a sign to the world of the Father’s plan for humanity. But surely this is subordinate to the Kingdom – it is a sign of the Kingdom and points to the Kingdom.

    In my own faith journey, my inclination has not been to prioritize the Kingdom of God. I found more comfort or security (or I’m sure I would have said, more truth) in the communio vision. I’ve been led increasingly to embrace the Kingdom vision not because I’ve wanted to, but because I came to realize that it is God’s will and I don’t have a choice in the matter. I’ve come to see conversion as meaning that we find joy and delight in the will of God which previously appeared to be a burden or threat.


  6. I don’t see any need to feel positive about the state of the world, in order to feel deeply that the work of God is accomplished in it.

    The Crucifixion was still an act of grave injustice on the human level. But therein, God wrought His greatest beneficent work and merciful act.

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