Saturday, 10 January 2015

The future of the Church

This was posted today on the blog Vultus Christi, under the heading 'The real crisis has scarcely begun'
I will reproduce it here in its entirety - it will already be familiar to some -  as it gives the best possible riposte to to those who now seem to see the future of the sacred ministry in terms of a kind of corporate managerialism, and are prepared to spend huge sums of money in order to re-train their clergy to perform tasks far better performed by others. The author? One Fr Joseph Ratzinger ....  
"The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.
To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are!
How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but but the priest who is no specialist; who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge a Church that has lost much She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she loose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision . As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
Published as Faith and the Future [Ignatius Press]


  1. In the context of your gloss, the Green Report quotes BXVI in characterising this as 'bourgeois Pelagianism', albeit via a secondary source - this being one of the primary sources for the thinking.

    There was much 'faithful remnant' and 'exile' thinking about during the last years of Paul VI, and indeed the first ten years of John Paul II. Only when the 'faithful remnant' theologians seemed in the ascendant - and especially when one of them became Pope - did this cease to be a principal theme in their thinking. Now as the RC Church dusts off the threshold and reopens the windows the 'faithful remnant' retreats into a dark corner, afraid of the light

    I fear there is a touch of Donatism in the underlying clean opposition between the light of Christ and the light of the world. In the Church - as today's Feast emphasises - the two are become one, and as human beings brought to God through the incarnate Christ we need to allow both lights to shine in our hearts.

    1. Ah, yes, the Green Report has that right! As you infer, I had in mind current developments in another Anglican jurisdiction, although I've always rather disliked the word 'bourgeois' because of its all-purpose 'yah-boo' connotations.
      But, as you say, there are dangers in overstating the case - on both sides of this particular argument. Yes, in the Church we serve One who comes not to condemn the world but to save it. On the other hand, the somewhat blithe optimists of the Vatican II era (I won't say the documents of Vatican II itself) and their contemporary disciples have come perilously close to abandoning altogether the need to interrogate the world and its ways of thought by the Person of Christ.and the values of the Gospel.
      It's a constant tension in the history and the life of the Church, and we know only too well the twin temptations of being over-affirmative of 'the world' on the one hand and undiscriminatingly over-critical on the other. We are all, of course, under judgement - particularly those to whom much has been given.
      Naturally I wouldn't agree with you about the supposed negativity of much of the 'remnant' approach - and reject outright any charges of Donatism and the like - it would seem to many of us (including the author quoted above) that it offers a high degree of optimism for the future, and our best hope, given the catastrophic failures of past and present, and to get the necessary tension between being 'in' the world but not 'of' it about right. ....

  2. Outstanding and surely prophetic thinking by Ratzinger.

    That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.


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