Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Prophecy From A German Theologian Leads To Babbling About Love

I can see Jesus in a tee shirt with this on the front.  Not Peter though.

The following is from a 1969 interview with a theologian who served at Vatican II.  In some ways it was quite prophetic.

"From today's crisis, a church will emerge tomorrow that will have lost a great deal," he said on German radio.

"She will be small and, to a large extent, will have to start from the beginning. She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings created in her period of great splendor. Because of the smaller number of her followers, she will lose many of her privileges in society. Contrary to what has happened until now, she will present herself much more as a community of volunteers ... As a small community, she will demand much more from the initiative of each of her members and she will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will raise up to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs ... It will make her poor and a church of the little people ... All this will require time. The process will be slow and painful."

The German theologian who spoke those words was not Hans Kung, it was Joseph Ratzinger.  It seems his notion of the smaller and purer church has been on his mind for half a century.  Somewhere a long the line, perhaps with his first appointment to hierarchical authority, his ideas about the shape of that smaller church changed a great deal.  The current version, as it 's playing out in the West, is getting smaller precisely because nothing much is being demanded in the way of initiative from her lay members, other than obedience, the acknowledgement of bishops as supreme teachers,  and of course,  financial support in order to maintain all those large buildings that are no longer filled.

As for some of us his other notions, those aren't coming forth quite the way he envisioned. For instance, more time and verbiage has been spent by paid professionals on kicking people out of the community than by volunteers forming community. As for new forms of ministry the Church has acknowledged the formation of deacons, but has not especially changed anything about the priesthood. It has certainly not raised up proven Christians who have other jobs.  In point of fact, Benedict himself spent a whole year extolling the virtues of the priesthood of the nineteenth century.  (To be honest it was really hard for me to believe that Benedict the priest identified much with John Vianney the priest.)

I give Benedict credit for seeing the smaller foot print Roman Catholicism would have in the West, but not much credit for his foresight about how that church would look.  That he got wrong.  He got it wrong because the Vatican is not willing to let go of the big buildings, the arrogance of it's curial class, and it's wealth in order to get down and dirty and poor with the simple people.  Then there is the whole problem that in Western democracies the simple people insist on being seen as equal citizens in the Kingdom rather than children of their paternal Kingdom keepers. The laity in the West it seems, is not so simple after all.  And the Church in the West has indeed lost a lot of her privileges, not because of lack of numbers, but because of the actions of her leadership, their lack of transparency and their refusal to be accountable to anyone but themselves.  Not even to God.

I'm not sure it's possible to reverse this trend without some serious retooling of the priesthood and the Christology which supports the current understanding.  On these issues the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict himself have done everything in their considerable power to prevent both of those things from happening.  I've lost count of how many theologians have been silenced because of issues in their Christology or how many community based organizations have been curtailed because they de emphasised the role of the priest in favor of an increased role for laity.  The current Christology serves to separate the clerical caste from the poor and simple.  It does nothing to promote real communion with the poor and simple.  In the end the kind of Christology embodied in most of the approved lay groups, like the Legion and Opus Dei, serve to support clerical power over the laity and not solidarity with the laity. 

This Christology is at it's core, spiritually disempowering.  It alienates the laity from the truth of their humanity which is that of brothers and sisters with Jesus.  It serves to keep the laity infantilized and dependent.  It does not let them grow up.  When I read the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, I do not see Jesus attempting to keep his followers dependent and infantilized.  I see a teacher who challenges His followers to go beyond the status quo and envision a different way of doing business, of being human, of relating to God.  This is a way which is not based in hierarchy or a ritual priesthood or reflexive obedience.  Jesus's way is based in mature responsible love. It demands the breaking down of artificial cultural barriers which make it difficult for us to understand we are all one and all destined to return to the Father.  It demands truly understanding that death makes us equal and we can't buy, barter, steal, or ordain away that fact. He teaches that the real power which organizes and creates beauty in the universe is not fear, but love.  Fear leads to chaos, dysfunction, and abuse.  Love leads to healing, unity and beauty.  One of the most difficult aspects of really practicing the way of Jesus is to choose to act from love rather than fear.  If there is such a concept as original sin it's not about sin per se, but about our instincts to act from fear rather than love.

I predict that when it comes to Christology, the official Church will lag well behind cutting edge science in human consciousness and holistic healing when it comes to understanding the real nature of what Jesus was teaching.  It is truly unconditional love which is at the core of creation and the ground of our being.  As human pilgrims in this reality,  we have no choice but to go with in ourselves to find our relationship with the Ground of Being.  It can't be given to us from some external authority or found by following a set of rules and rituals.  It involves a decision to under go a conversion to a different way of experiencing this reality and it's not easy. 

Christian communities were intended to make this conversion easier by forming a sort of new group consensus reality which supported this conversion, while also generating a new view of reality in which love organized the social organism rather than power.  History has shown humanity just wasn't ready to give up it's addiction to fear based systems and so two millenia later we have what we have in Catholicism, a fear based system of belief.  Times they are a changing.  The dysfunction and inherent disorganization in fear based religious systems are becoming really obvious. They are being rejected.  As a species we are moving towards an understanding we need to move beyond a fear based consensus reality.  It's time to give love a chance.

Here's a link to a New Year's sermon from an Irish bishop who seems to get that things have to change with how Catholicism presents itself and it's message.


  1. When I look at Jesus and the disciples in the NT, (especially in Mark) I frequently get the picture of a frustrated and patient teacher dealing with folks who consistently don't get it. In fact, If I were to paint a mural of christian history it would be this: Jesus, hand firmly smacking his head in the middle of a room crowded with arguing apostles who seem to be actively ignoring him.


  2. I sometimes swim with the secular fishes over at DailyKos. There were several posts concerning religion that dominated the recommended list on New Year's Day.

    I was a Christian Once started things off. There were over 900 comments before it dropped off the list. Then there were the response diaries including "I Still am a Christian" with over 1,100 comments and "Why I am a Buddhist - a case in favor of religion", "Why I am an atheist", "Religion, or lack of it is irrelevant", "Why I am not an Atheist" etc.

    That sea is teeming with humanity, heaving with struggles that might be the natural environment of religion.

    And we've got a leadership made up of cats who don't like to get their red leather Prada's wet. They don't even like fish.


    PS Colleen, I made a long comment earlier that never did appear. Please check the spam file and rescue it if it is possible. Thanks.

  3. Kallisti, I so agree with your picture. The thing is Jesus also drug the Apostles around for three years so they could directly experience the outcome of his teachings--and they still didn't get a lot of it.

  4. p2p your longer comment was in the SPAM folder. I attempted to publish it but it seems it is now lost in cyberspace. Maybe it will show up later.

    It does seem that the search for meaningful spirituality is a not well understood phenomenon and much more prevalent than the press about secularism and atheism would have us believe. There are a lot of fish which could be caught, but the fishermen seriously need to change bait.

  5. I read that quote and wonder if my version of English is anything like similar to either B16 or the priest/bishop/cardinal he was before his elevation.

    One wonders for example exactly what he means by initiative. It could be a fine and wonderful thing if it means more people step up of their own accord to provide ministry of various sorts. But maybe his version means they just look for more and 'better' ways fit into the niche in society the Church assigns to them - pay, pray and obey if you will. I certainly don't see much there to indicate a throwing out of the caste system the Church has become.

    As for the Church losing its privileges in society: Exactly what privileges does he think the church should have? What privileges did Jesus have during his 33 years living on this earth as a human being? And who accorded those privileges? That he wrote this in 1969 just means he felt entitled then, just as he apparently does now.

  6. @ Colleen,

    Thank you for attempting to find my missing comment.

    It was about Bishop Olmsted, Canadian Catholic hospitals and Canadian public hospitals. I won't attempt to include the quotes or references in my summary below.

    1. Catholic hospitals voluntarily eliminated their Ob/Gyn/ Maternity wards as a way of dealing with "provision of service" legislation.

    2. Public hospitals here attempt to treat the whole patient including their spiritual needs. So how is it that a bishop would cut off a Catholic hospital and yet provide ministry to other non-Catholic hospitals, military, schools and other public institutions?

    In Toronto public hospitals provide chaplains and facilitate access to clergy. They also provide chapels, sacred books, religious items such as prayer shawls etc.


    Sorry to be off-topic

  7. I think that Ratzinger got this notion from Rahner who also predicted a smaller Church. There was one huge difference, however. Rahner posited that this would be a natural societal process rather than the product of excommunications and a restorationist agenda. Rahner recognized that with the loss of the Catholic ghetto being a Christian would necessitate a personal encounter with Christ in the midst of a secularized world. It would be much like the days of the Roman Empire where Christians were a small, but potent group. Potent, not because of worldly power, but because of a witness that is transformative.

  8. I love Karl Rahner's concept the "Anonymous Christian." We won't know who the real Christians are until we die. Then we may find that our true Christian brother is a Vietnamese Buddhist who walks behind his water buffalo through the rice paddy. What true humility and spiritual power we could have if we would undergo the true kenosis or emptying out of self. But this ideal will always be in conflict with our fearful need to control others. Unfortunately, religious authorities manipulate in the name of God.

  9. Good comments one and all. I too like Rahner's concept of the anonymous Christian. I more closely resembles what has been my own experience. Some of the people I know who most live the teachings of Jesus are not Christian. This says to me that the teachings are a universal truth even though they are often expressed in culturally specific terms.

  10. Fr Henri Nouwen has a wonderful insight into the true meaning of kenosis or "emptying out" of self. In his book "In The Name of Jesus" kenosis means giving up our need to be relevant, popular (spectacular) and powerful. These are the true and necessary lessons to be learned from Jesus' Temptations in the Desert. Ministry is to be attempted only AFTER these lessons are learned. Otherwise, ministry feeds only one's ego and narcissism and need to control others.

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