Pundits have weighed in with both glee and despair at the appointment, which removes the highest ranking Ratzingerian in the curia, Cardinal Gerhard Müller. Austen Ivereigh euphorically states, “[The] CDF is now headed by a Jesuit, which means someone who understands discernment, which Müller did not. Key to #AmorisLaetitia.” There is some truth to that: Archbishop Ladaria no doubt understands and lives discernment as a Jesuit. To claim that Cardinal Müller does not, though, is absurd and polemical in the worst sense. Amoris Laetitia is without question a watershed in the life of the Church. But to read Pope Francis’s every decision in its exclusive light would be a mistake, and is ironically blind to Francis’s broad and substantial capacity for spiritual discernment in his own right. Traditional voices say things like: “The Purges continue. Who will be next, Cardinal Sarah?” Or “The cleansing continues.” Or “This is a worrisome development.”
No matter the reaction we see, it’s important to remember that all members of the Roman Curia serve at the pope’s pleasure. He is not bound in justice to renew any of their terms. Any ire or upset directed at the Holy Father is unfounded in this regard.
But what of the new prefect, Ladaria?
I remember him — back when he was just Father Ladaria — as an extremely gentle but intellectually powerful man. His teaching style was almost melodic, swaying back and forth between the historicity of the subject and its subtler, hidden impacts. I’m sure I saw him begin to weep at least once while speaking of the Trinity.
Much the same, his public theological contributions are marked by orthodoxy and courage in the difficult times of the post-conciliar Church. Ladaria wrote one of the most masterful works on the Trinity since Lonergan’s De Deo Uno et Trino. His El Dios Vivo y Verdadero: el Misterio de la Trinidad is a profound theological and historical hymn to the mystery of mysteries and the heart and center of the Catholic faith. As Aristotle taught, “A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions.” Ladaria’s scholarship and fidelity on this subject should be an encouragement and grace for all to receive.
He followed his Trinitarian masterpiece with a rare treatment of a forgotten topic in the modern Church: Teología del Pecado Original y de la Gracia. This exploration of original sin owes heavily to the doctrine of Augustine, Thomas, and Trent while also engaging vigorously with the findings of modern science concerning anthropology, evolution, and the age of our species. Ladaria’s questions take seriously the roots of the Church’s credibility and endeavor to form sure foundations for evangelization.
Doubtless owing in part to these writings, Pope Benedict made him secretary of the CDF in 2008. His elevation to prefect further solidifies Ratzinger’s vision for the office, and promises a continuity in its work that will confound pundits for years to come.
We should say a prayer of thanks to God for this holy priest, bishop, and theologian, that he carries out his new task of guarding and promoting the Catholic faith with the fidelity, wisdom, and fruitfulness he has already and so frequently displayed.