Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

The Clarity of Cardinal Sarah’s Words — Part I

May 20th, 2016, Promulgated by Diane Harris

I am personally convinced that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Clarity, and not of ambiguity or confusion.  When we try to pick and choose words to fit any other agenda,  we are not serving “Truth.”  It is almost a warning sign, a flashing light of caution, a resounding ‘uh-oh’ that warns us we are about to cross the line, and to support those who perpetrate a false or feel-good agenda.  Admiration for the clarity of his writing has drawn me over and over again to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI’s) works, and now I am delighted to find such clarity and lack of fear in “God or Nothing” by Robert Cardinal Sarah.

A month ago I posted an invitation on Cleansing Fire to participate in reading and reviewing Cardinal Sarah’s book; here again is the same invitation to contribute. Meanwhile, I will begin to post some of the quotes which I’ve high-lighted in my copy, hoping to whet your appetite.  See the prior post for the early years; the following comments begin on page 46 (Chapter 2)  and continue through Chapters 3 and part of 4.  More to come as I plan to read slowly, savoring the texture.

On Faithfulness to Sacred Scripture:  

  • “It is important for us to show … respect and fidelity to the Word of God, so as not to manipulate it to fit historical, political, or ideological circumstances, for the purpose of pleasing men and acquiring a reputation as a scholar or avant-garde theologian….”
  • “The true servant of the Bible, the true theologian, is the one who exemplifies each day, by his life and by his actions, the words of the Psalmist: ‘Oh, how I love your law.  It is my meditation all the day….'”  [I think this is a particularly important excerpt, as we are lately subjected to all kinds of writings implying that those who support the traditional teachings of the Church, particularly about divorced/remarried not receiving the Eucharist, are seen as Pharisees or Doctors of the Law!]
  • Writing of the years he spent studying Sacred Scripture: “… those years are necessary in order to let the Word of God penetrate us like a two-edged sword.  It takes time for our stony hearts to receive the Word of God … which is also the wisdom of God, truly … more penetrating when it is received with faith and love.” … “Yes, this Word goes much farther than a two-edged sword, because there is no power or force that can deal such considerable blows, and the human mind cannot conceive of a point so subtle and so penetrating.  All human wisdom, all the subtlety of natural knowledge, falls short of its keenness.”
  • “One must humbly acknowledge that a whole lifetime is necessary to study the Word of God and to acquire the wisdom that leads to love.”


  • “I sometimes have the sense that seminarians and priests are not doing enough to nourish their interior life by founding it on the Word of God, the example of the saints, on a life of prayer and contemplation, all rooted in God alone. There is a form of impoverishment or aridity that comes right from the interior of the Lord’s  ministers.”
  • “The priest who neglects his Mass can no longer see how much God loves us, to the point of giving us his life.”
  • “Today how can anyone deny the fact that some men of the Church are in a state of moral ruin?”
  • “The crises in the Church, as serious as they may be, always have their origins in a crisis of the priesthood.”
  • “… pastors must speak in a way that their sheep can understand.”
  • “…there are many who consider their own opinion to be the real doctrine!”
  • “One of the major difficulties at present is found in ambiguities or personal statements about important doctrinal points, which can lead to erroneous and dangerous opinions …. These bad habits disorient many of the faithful …. Confusion about the right direction to take is the worst malady of our era.”
  • “Western societies are organized and live as though God did not exist. Christians themselves, on many occasions, have settled down to a silent apostasy.”
  • “I wonder sometimes whether even we clerics are really living in the presence of God…. Can we speak about the ‘Treason of the Intellectuals?'” They devote only a little time to him during the day because they are swamped in what I would call the ‘heresy of activism.'”
  • “God did not ask us to create personal projects but to transmit the faith.”
  • “We need … pastors passionately committed to the evangelization of the world, and not social workers or politicians.”
  • “… priests who choose to follow or to propagate political ideas are necessarily on the wrong path, since they make sacred something that is not supposed to be.”

Liturgical Reform

  • “If we do not turn our attention radically toward God, our faith becomes lukewarm, distracted, and uncertain.”
  • “Priestly celibacy has been guarded by the Church for centuries as a brilliant jewel and retains its value undiminished even in our time ….”
  • “As an African, I certainly inherited our joyful fear of everything sacred…. In the Old Testament the Hebrews always approached God with fear and veneration.  Ultimately, I sought to imitate them.  The best way to do this is through the liturgy.”
  • Regarding the pain of seeing “botched” implementation of “liturgical reform” post Vatican II, the Cardinal writes: “We were angry, incredulous at this hasty decision [destruction of the replica of the Bernini baldachin and the main altar in the diocese of Conakry in Guinea, where one day he would become bishop.] ….”I can attest to the fact that the botched preparation for the liturgical reform had devastating effects on the Catholic population, particularly on the simpler people, who scarcely understood the swiftness of these changes or even the reason for them.”
  • “No doubt it is regrettable that some priests allowed themselves to be so carried away by personal ideologies. They claimed to be democratizing the liturgy, and the people were the first victims of their actions.”
  • “The liturgy is not a political object that we can make more egalitarian according to social demands.  How could such a strange movement produce in the life of the Church anything but great confusion among the people?”
  • “We have seen all sorts of ‘creative’ liturgical planners who sought to find tricks to make the liturgy attractive, more communicative, by involving more and more people, but all the while forgetting that the liturgy is made for God.  If you make God the Great Absent One, then all sorts of downward spirals are possible, from the most trivial to the most contemptible.”
  • “If we make the liturgy for ourselves, it moves away from the divine; it becomes a ridiculous, vulgar, boring theatrical game.”
  • “Joseph Ratzinger saw at the root of the crisis of faith a defective understanding of the idea of Church.”
  • “If man claims to adapt the liturgy to his era, to transform it to suit the circumstances, divine worship dies….the crisis of the Church can never be separated from a crisis of God.”
  • “We must not fall into the trap that tries to reduce the liturgy to a simple place of fraternal conviviality…. The Mass is not a place where men meet in a trivial spirit of festivity…. man would like to confine the sacred to the realm of the profane.”
  • “God is horrified by forms of ritualism in which man satisfies himself.”
  • “The Catholic Church should reflect and take action in response to scandalous liturgical phenomena. Other people of faith … are shocked to see the debasement of some celebrations.” [In his relatively new prefecture responsibilities, Cardinal Sarah should be able to do much for true liturgical reform.]


  • Cardinal Sarah quotes Pope Pius XII’s first encyclical Summi Pontificatus (Oct 20, 1939) that as Pope his “first duty [is] to bear witness to the truth…. When God is hated, every basis of morality is undermined.” 
  • “The recognition of great accomplishments, when they exist, has never implied the renunciation of the truth.”
  •  Cardinal Sarah (who was named to be the youngest bishop then in the world, by Pope Paul VI) writes regarding the author of Humanae Vitae: “… the pope never intended to get involved in a debate that was distorted by libertarian thinking. Paul VI published his document; then he remained silent, bearing with all the difficulties in prayer.  Until his death on August 6, 1978, he never wrote another encyclical.”
  • “If we are seeking the truth, Benedict XVI is an exceptional guide. If we prefer lies, silence, and omissions, Benedict  becomes an unacceptable problem ….”
  • “…I think it is necessary to acquire the ability to come to terms with oneself as ‘intolerant,’ in other words, to have the courage to tell someone else that what he does is bad or wrong.”


  • “…because of the diversity of opinions on some serious questions and the loss of values and the disorientation caused by relativism, we would commit a grave sin against the unity of the Body of Christ and of the doctrine of the Church by giving episcopal conferences any authority or decision-making ability concerning doctrinal, disciplinary, or moral questions.”
  • “On November 2, 1954, Pius XII called for policies whereby Church ‘government is made more uniform, the wonder of the faithful is avoided, for often they do not understand why in one diocese a certain policy is followed, while in another, which is perhaps adjacent, a different or even a quite contrary policy is followed.'” [One can’t help but think of certain recent Synod discussions as illustrative of these concerns.]


And, perhaps for these times, we might close for the moment by recognizing that the words Cardinal Sarah wrote about his life as a Bishop under a totalitarian dictatorship may have some teaching for us today: “In dealing with mad and dangerous dictators, words can sometimes prove counterproductive.”  [But never prayer.]  Next installment: poverty, gender issues, and Africa.


2 Responses to “The Clarity of Cardinal Sarah’s Words — Part I”

  1. raymondfrice says:

    Nice summary!!

    Much of it true in 2016,1939,1916, 1870 and all the way back to 313AD!! The Spirit often corrects these by the inspiration of Calling a Council where discussions can take and clarification can be given and expected.

  2. Ben Anderson says:

    pure gold – thanks for sharing, Diane.

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