Section 1: Responsibility in the Post Conciliar Church

Grace in Freedom
by Karl Rahner

Section 1: Responsibility in the Post Conciliar Church

The Christians' Responsibility for the Church after the Council

I should like to discuss first the ancient tradition which is also the very latest, secondly the transition period which is now beginning, thirdly the cooperation demanded of the laity, and fourthly something which must always be there and which is most important also in this context, namely the patience of life.

If I say first something about the old things that remain and yet are always the latest, I hope I shall not be regarded as a reactionary who intensely dislikes the whole Council and the movement that has originated from it, and who refrains from criticizing this whole mentality only from a certain esprit de corps. This is not so. For I was also somehow involved in the Council, even though I did not have very much say, and I regard its spirit and its decrees as very important, especially for the Church of the future. Nevertheless, in my opinion our first duty after the Council is to be faithful to the old which is also the new. People who do not know very much about their Catholic faith and journalists who are always after novelties have discussed the Council mostly from the point of view of new and revolutionary developments. Some proclaimed that the Council had produced a revolution in the Church, others regretted the innovations or thought they had not gone far enough. In a word, the Council was judged from a point of view that could not be the final and decisive one. What is decisive for the Church and hence also for us Catholics is the ancient teaching, because it is fundamentally ever-new, for it is what decides our life, our salvation, our eternal future and our situation before the judgment seat of God. For the latest is precisely the holy, Christian Catholic faith which we have received as children, and which we have preserved in our life, perhaps even through many troubles and difficulties, our active Catholic faith of which we shall have to give an account before God; and this faith, of course, remains the same.

Only those who have no understanding of the Church and of Christianity could imagine that the Council was in danger of changing anything of the Catholic dogma, or, on the other hand, that it ought to have done so. This is complete nonsense, and this inheritance, transmitted to us by Jesus Christ through the apostles, has never for a moment been in danger of being doubted or changed by the Council. Of course, we are historical men, placed by God in a definite historical situation; hence we shall always have to see the eternal truth, which is Jesus Christ, under new perspectives, and thus this faith does not remain a sum of dead formulae but is a truly living faith.

It is the faith of the Church such as it has always been, faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, in our duty in this life, in the judgment, in the grace of God which, through Jesus Christ, forgives, saves, sanctifies and ultimately even deifies our life. The Council has changed nothing in this constant faith. For this faith can never change. And thus we live both before and after the Council by that ultimate, mysterious and yet so obvious substance of our faith, that is in living union with the holy and eternal God, who is not only our Creator and Lord because he has called us his creatures forth from nothingness, but who is also eternal love, who gives us his own glorious eternal life in Jesus Christ and his Spirit. This is the old faith, just as the last problems of our life remain the old ones: that we should become loving and unselfish, that we should bear the darknesses of existence, that we should finally come to terms with death, that we should do our duty also when we can expect no earthly reward, that we should follow our crucified Lord and Saviour. This remains our task also after the Council, just as our faith remains the same. And this includes also the ultimate moral principles of our life and the divine law of the Church which is given by revelation. Of course, there is and must be much human law in the Church, and this can be changed; indeed, it not only may but must be adapted to new circumstances. Nevertheless, there is also an immutable law of the Church. Through his religious education every mature Christian ought to be able to distinguish between the actual dogma of the Church and theological opinions that may be changed and improved, between immutable divine law and changeable human law. To give an example: The Church may change and adapt to modern life certain principles of her human law according to which a Catholic must marry; but only a person of little theological knowledge would draw the conclusion that the Church could ever abolish the indissolubility of the sacramental consummated marriage if only there were enough protests. This would be silly; for the one thing belongs to the human law of the Church, the other to the demands Christ himself makes on us. Thus the ancient laws and doctrines which remain ever new are contained also in what we have learned in our youth about the life of piety, the Christian family life and the Christian upbringing of children. Here, too, it is not the case that suddenly all the good things of the past are no longer valid and that everything has to be changed. Of course, we all live in an era of transition, of greater and quicker changes. We shall speak of this presently. Hence everyone has, of course, the duty to transform and renew from their very roots all these inherited traditions of Christian life, piety and education according to modern needs. Nevertheless, today, too, a Christian must continue to pray and to remain in living contact with his God through the spirit of grace. He cannot simply live in the commotion of his job, of keeping up with the Joneses and the rat race, with no thought for his true and eternal vocation. And, even though it is very difficult in our pluralistic society, it is nevertheless the duty of Christian parents to transmit to their children the sacred inheritance of the Christian faith and also of a Christian life provided with practical guiding lines. They will not be asked by God whether and to what extent they have succeeded in individual cases, but they will certainly be asked whether they have done all they could to transmit to their children this Christian inheritance by a really generous Christian life and example. Thus faith is immutable divine law of the Church and also true and living practice, determined not only by abstract principles but also by concrete ideals. It is Christian life at risk, the old religion which will always be new. Christians certainly cannot be dispensed from the duty to hold in high esteem the ancient faith) not even by a modern Council, though this had to speak mostly of other things, precisely because the basic doctrines could be presupposed. Indeed, such novel ideas never entered the head of any Council father.

We are living in a time of transition in which the future has, as it were, already begun. Technological, social and economic factors enforce all kinds of innovations and changes in all departments of life at a tremendous and ever-increasing pace. In such a time the Church cannot simply pretend to have nothing else to do but to remain as she was before and as older people have known her in their younger years. Of course, there are those among us who would like the Church to remain a refuge, a back- water of history into which they can retire because they are afraid of the pace of historical development and all the change and insecurity this entails. The Church has clearly said through the Council that she does not want to live in the backwater of our history. True, there has also been much pettiness at the Council as well as exaggerated caution in some respects and hesitations between conservative and progressive attitudes. Nevertheless, the Church has there stated unequivocally that she must serve men and will courageously take upon herself all the risks of this service and enter the changing history of our time.

There is, of course, a great deal that is controversial. Whether or not the liturgy to which we have been used from childhood is more beautiful than the new one, whether new rules, for example about mixed marriages or denominational schools, are acceptable or not -- such questions will be answered differently whether one is "conservative" or "progressive". Some may find these rules too modern or useless, others even too conservative. But we Catholics are living in an actual Church and not in a cloud cuckooland of abstract ideals, hence we must bear with her when she is trying to confront our time cautiously, yet with courage. For we should certainly be attached to the old ways, but also have courage to approach what is new and as yet untried and thus bear with the uncertainties of a transition period.

The present situation in the Church may be compared to a college with a new president who has new ideas on education and other subjects. In such a case some students will probably be relieved that the authorities have at last seen the light, while others, used to the old style, may first abuse their newly found freedom. Then the old people will say that this is what happens if one abandons the old, well-tried discipline and goes in for new experiments. For in such a transition period those who could really cope with the new situation do not yet exist, because they were prevented from doing so by the old style; hence at first things become worse rather than better. Ten or twenty years ago a seminary, for example, still worked very well in the old way. Everyone knew what he had to do; if anyone did not obey he was expelled, and thus the whole outfit ran smoothly. But now there is a new situation, and lo and behold, on the one hand one realizes that there must be changes, on the other everything appears to get only worse. But this always happens, and it must happen also in the Church, indeed we cannot expect anything else. One will grumble that he must constantly be bobbing up and down at Mass, that there are even more sermons than before and that they are therefore getting worse, while the other will say that this is nothing to worry about, because we cannot yet have made much progress.

We must simply realize that God has placed us in a Church which is in a state of transition. We are members of this Church, and while loving what is permanent yet ever new, we must also have sufficient courage, patience and generosity to give a real chance to what is new and not to destroy it in advance by inner and outer resistance and constant nagging criticism. In such a situation we have the inescapable duty to endure the uncertainties of such a transition period. We must not be defeatist and cry that the whole Church is heading for disaster, but neither should we have the childish idea of a crazy avant-garde that the Church should move ever faster, that what has been achieved is nothing and that everything that is new in the Church is but a modest beginning leading to unheard-of things. For these people all the decisions of the Council are already out of date and uninteresting. But we must remember that our Church is a Church of the whole world. Failure to understand this shows a provincial mentality which has not yet grasped that we are living in a period of world history when no country can any longer be self-sufficient whether in the economic, cultural, scientific or social spheres. In such a period it would be childish to judge the Church and her policies only according to the needs of a particular country or province. We are children of the one Church despite all pluralism which can also exist in the Church, and despite the pluralism of the Churches which was also recognized by Vatican II, despite, also, the decentralization, for example, through the bishops' conferences. And because we live, and want to live, in a worldwide Church, we must bear with a certain self-criticism that which is inevitable if the Church is not to disintegrate into particular Churches which no longer have a common life. To say it again, we must endure the period of transition which is now beginning with devotion to what is old and courage with regard to the new, bearing with insecurity, pain and experiments, all of which is simply inevitable.

We are not merely Christians who find ourselves members of the Catholic Church. We are determined to be such. One idea especially has penetrated through the considerable clericalism that existed in the Catholic Church. It was this, that the Church does not only consist of the clergy, that is the Pope, the bishops and the priests, organized to look after the eternal salvation of others, but that we all, baptized Catholics, are the Church. This means that, despite all justified, even necessary criticism of the Church, the behaviour of her ministers and so forth, we must nevertheless always realize that we ourselves are this Church.

It is said, not without reason, that a nation has usually the government it deserves, that the government actually reflects the whole people. In spite of certain flaws this principle is, on the whole, quite correct.

It is more or less the same with the Church. For it is not true that only the most stupid, narrow-minded and clerical men rise to the highest ecclesiastical offices, so that a generous, holy and idealistic people would have a wholly unworthy clergy. No, what is generally seen in the clergy is also to be found in the laity: inadequacy, shortsightedness, ineffectual good will, fear or blind avant-gardism. We ought really to make our own, even to the very marrow, the fundamental concept of Vatican II, namely that we ourselves are the Church. As a result every right to criticize, to care, to cooperate, to object, warn and protest must not come from outside but from within, from a member who is truly conscious of his own responsibility as well as of his own inadequacy.

After the Council such cooperation, which is the right and duty of every baptized Christian, must first take the form of a personal study and understanding of the Council decrees. Actually all of them are of some interest to every- body. Here I cannot, of course, discuss the contents of these decrees, but I should only like to draw attention to one thought from the Constitution on the Church: The Church is the holy people of God seeking eternal life through the sufferings and the wilderness of this time, and we are this Church. Hence the Church is a Church of sinners, an inadequate Church which must continue to learn throughout her history. She is not only the objective institute of salvation which confronts me and to whose authority I concede certain things but towards which I am, on the whole, in a defensive position. Much would be gained if we were to learn this one thing from the Constitution on the Church, namely that not only we are, but actually I am the Church. For I really cannot expect a Church that would be different from myself, the in- adequate sinner who must constantly rebuild his life through a thousand byways and experiences.

We should further learn from the same Constitution that the Church really does not teach a two-tier theory of her members, according to which some would trot along the common road, hoping nevertheless to arrive at God, while the others, priests and religious, constituting as it were the aristocracy, walk in more exalted paths. We should learn from this Decree that every Christian is called to the perfect love of God in his own way, even if he must realize it through his secular life in the world. For the spirit of the evangelical counsels, of the Sermon on the Mount, of the cross, the spirit of hope in the risen Christ and an eschatological attitude to life belong to all Christian existence and are binding on all.

There is also a special Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, and one on the Missions in which the Church tells Christians -- that is herself -- that in the age of declining colonialism and Europeanism, too, the missions have a permanent duty also in the non-Western countries for which every Christian is responsible in his own way.

Then there is the Decree on Ecumenism, and the Declaration on non-Christian Religions with its condemnation of antisemitism which has not yet been destroyed every- where. There is also the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. This is truly a pastoral constitution, which can really fire the curiosity of laymen, because here the Church is trying to confront the burning questions of our time in a provisional manner, it is true, but nevertheless in a suitable way.

In the documents on bishops, priests, etc., there are also passages which should be of interest to laymen. This is especially true of the texts dealing with the conception of the Church's ministry as a service, which is not meant to eliminate the task of the laymen. For these are not regarded as merely passive objects of the saving activities of the ministry, but, on the basis of true Christian equality and freedom as collaborators of the hierarchy, so that actually the hierarchy must only serve the Christian life which is to be realized by the laity. I should like to illustrate this by a comparison, though this is not to be found in any Council document. In a chess club, too, the main thing is that chess should be played well, and that masters of the game should be trained there. Everything else, the functionaries, the cash registers, the president, the club meetings and statutes are, indeed, necessary and cannot be abolished; but their true meaning is to serve playing chess. The true stars of a chess club are the best players, not the cashier or the president who may, indeed, be players who have failed. Exactly the same is the case in the Catholic Church (and this is not an avant gardist idea of mine). All presiding ministers of the Church, from the Pope and the bishops down to the parish priests and chaplains, exist only so that there may be Christians, that is men and women who believe, hope and love, who bear their cross, who see light even in darkness, who firmly hope even against hope, men who have the folly and the courage to love in a loveless world. All sermons, all papal decrees, all canon law, all sacred congregations in Rome, all bishops -- in short the whole organization of the Church exists only to assist the true Christian life in the hearts of men. Where this meaning is lost it becomes only man's ridiculous presumption before God.

The true lights of the Church, those who are most important for the eternal salvation of mankind as well as of individuals are not the Pope, the bishops or the cardinals in their red cassocks, but those who possess and radiate most faith, hope and love, most humility and unselfishness, most fortitude in carrying the cross, most happiness and confidence. If a Pope does all this as well or perhaps even better than, for example, John XXIII, well, then he is not only a Pope but a wonderful Christian, then it happens that, if I may say so, the president of the chess club is for once also himself a great chess player. But this would be a happy coincidence which God is not bound to bring about and which he has not guaranteed. If we are looking at the Church in this way, we shall not find it difficult to accept that the cashier is responsible for the finances and the president of this holy society directs its activities. But we ought to remain conscious of what is both our pride and our burden, namely that the Church depends ultimately on ourselves.

But I have strayed rather far from my subject. We ought also to think of the Declaration on Religious Freedom, of the Constitution on the Liturgy, the Declaration on Christian Education, the Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication, to name a few more of the Council documents. For all these contain also matters of concern to the laity, even though perhaps stated imperfectly and in a way which might have been done better by a more competent layman. Hence the first thing necessary for lay cooperation is an understanding of, and interest in, the decrees of the Council.

The second is the true lay apostolate which has to be exercised in one's ordinary life. There is certainly also a very praiseworthy and important lay apostolate which consists in the direct cooperation with the hierarchy in the most diverse spheres. This has also been emphasized by the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. Far be it from me to belittle the importance of such an apostolate. Neverthe less it remains true, indeed it is of decisive importance, that the most essential lay apostolate consists in the fulfilment of one's family, professional, and of course also one's civic duties. At first sight this apostolate in a secular world may seem to have nothing to do with religion and be the same task as everybody else's; nevertheless it is the layman's principal duty after the Council, as it had been before.

There is no need to affix a particularly pious label to these seemingly so secular duties of family and professional life with all their daily bitterness and boredom, and to the civic duties from which no one should try to escape. We need not adorn this reality with pious sighs or a complicated theological ideology. Life itself will lead the layman into depths which are actually basic Christian situations, whether they are interpreted as such or not, whose darkness is illumined by the light of the gospel and which can be borne only with the help of God's grace.

Art. 7 of the Decree on the Missions says in so many words that God can give in ways known to himself the grace of faith and thus the hope and love necessary for eternal life also to those whom the actual message of the gospel has not reached. But this does not dispense Catholics from belonging to the Church or authorize them to become anonymous Christians themselves. Catholic laymen must take up their place in life and face their family, their love, their children (who perhaps do not always come up to their expectations), their professional duties which grow ever more irksome and their duties as citizens; in doing so they will meet situations in which, because they reflect on their faith, they will know how to behave as Christians living in the grace of God, the light of the gospel and the imitation of the crucified Christ. This is their true and ultimate apostolate. Such a life will radiate, perhaps precisely because there is no pious talk. Though this is not meant to imply that an educated layman ought not also sometimes have the courage, in the right place and in the right manner, to give an account of the hope that is in him and, as the apostle says, is active in his life.

The third element which belongs to this cooperation and which must be emphasized may be connected with art. 26 of the Constitution on the Church. For this speaks of the local churches as the place where the presence of the Church as such is actualized in the highest form. For there a concrete community is gathered round the altar, there the death and resurrection of the Lord are announced in his gospel, there the congregation knows itself to be united as the body of Christ and thus as a brotherly community of those who love one another. And there, according to the Constitution, the Church is truly present. Now it seems to me that after the Council this experience and piety of the Church is demanded more intensely from us than may have been the case before. I have no illusions about the modern local church, that is to say the parish such as it exists today. But we can no longer treat the Church with her buildings and ministers, her doctrine and sacraments as a kind of religious department store in which we buy the things that are necessary for our personal salvation. We cannot regard the other Christians simply as customers buying, indeed in the same store, but otherwise quite uninteresting to us. For the Church is not simply an institution for the private religious needs of the individual.

The Church is the holy people of God existing in this shabby parish with this parish priest such as he is, though he may preach bad sermons and I may, in ordinary life, often quarrel with these boring creatures, Tom, Dick and Harry, who gather in this church. This church must not only be patiently borne because unfortunately I cannot shop at this spiritual store at an hour when everyone else is excluded. For this local church is the place where the layman must really find his place and his responsibility, where he must feel at home, Just as in a family where one also does not like everyone.

I know that parishes such as they should be are few and far between, I am also quite willing to concede to the educated layman the right to satisfy his essential religious needs outside the parish to which he accidentally belongs -- indeed, canon law does the same. But if these local communities in which the Church appears are not yet ideal, we ought not to say uncharitably: I will wait till things are better and then I will join the parish. No, it is our duty to do as much as we can to make sure that the Church in which the death and resurrection of the Lord are celebrated really comes into existence, for we are called to fashion her.

This collaboration also involves the dialogue with the Church authorities. Just as in the chess club, somebody must also have the last word in the Church. It is a sign of maturity if a person leaves the final decision to another and submits to it even if, rightly or wrongly, he does not consider it a wise decision. But the Church herself wants a fraternal dialogue between laymen and the authorities, because she knows that, though not everyone in the Church is called to the sacramental ministry, all Christians are members of the royal priesthood and this is ultimately the higher order. For, to repeat what has been said before, the importance of the Church's ministry corresponds to the measure of faith, hope and charity which it produces. Even a Pope is judged by God according to the humility, the love, the faithfulness, the faith and hope he has practiced in the exercise of his office.

For this reason the authorities of the Church can really seek a dialogue with all Christians who form the Church and have a share in her royal priesthood. It would certainly be a good thing if there were more, perhaps even institutional, possibilities available for such a dialogue. But unless laymen themselves patiently seek such a dialogue with their parish priests, their bishops and so forth, it will not happen.

A last point I want to make about this collaboration is the necessity to endure the situation of the diaspora.

I do not here mean the diaspora in which Protestants and Catholics live together. What I mean is the religiously atomized pluralistic society of our time of which all forms of Christianity are only a part and in which we live together with post-Christian neo-pagans, if I may be allowed to use this expression. Much could be said about the right understanding of this diaspora situation, but I cannot do this here. I should only like to mention this problem and to bring it to the attention of my readers, recommending It to their meditation with regard to their own Christian experience.

I should like finally to say something about the "patience of life". St. Paul once mentioned the "hypomone", the endurance of hope. Today man is more than ever responsible for himself.

True, on the one hand the individual's sphere of freedom seems to be, and actually is, restricted by social and cultural conditions. But on the other he has immense chances to shape his life; in fact, man can do incredibly much. He is, as it were, no longer bound and supported by society and the ideological situation of his life. He must have an inner centre, a structural principle of his life if he is not to disintegrate under the pluralistic tensions from outside.

In this situation one can do much, but not everything at once, and so there comes about a new kind of being disappointed in life. True, in former times life was often very narrow, as regards one's profession and marriage as well as the education of children and political and cultural activities. The man in the street had few possibilities, but by this very fact he was as it were held together from outside, he was confronted with a certain structure and shape of his life from the beginning, so that he did not need to think very much about it. Marriage was stable, even if outwardly rather than inwardly. But it was stable nevertheless. But now man finds himself in a situation in which he can do all sorts of things, but has, of course, to choose among all these many possibilities, since life must retain a certain inner unity and consistency. Thus he must go without many things, which he had to do also in former times, but then he was not actually aware of it. Thus our contemporaries begin to suffer from an inner disappointment, an irritation that was impossible in former times because the whole life was different from what it is today. Today we are perhaps more disappointed in life than former generations, and the repeated upheavals in the life of society and of individuals may be explained by this mood of despair, because there is so much colourless boredom in life despite its great possibilities. But all this means a new duty for the Christian: he must bear it patiently and not imagine that it could be overcome by sexual promiscuity, incessant activity, moneymaking, a never ending round of pleasure, tourism and whatever other means there are to drown the ultimate Angst of life. We Christians must endure the disappointment of life in faith and hope, in living personal prayer to God in the grace of Christ, and in willingly suffering all this misery. This may perhaps sound strange, but it seems to me that this is a decisive factor of our Christian life today. For only thus can we face the judgment of God and bear witness to our Christian faith before the world.

We must be able to be resigned, to bear this diffused misery of our life without going mad, to say it bluntly, as long as it is still day and as long as we live; we must not imagine that we ought to be only happy in our job, that our children must do well, that our marriage must be nothing but bliss and security; we must bear with the feeling that we are paying more into the bank of life, as it were, than we get out of it. For we begin to be Christians living in the grace of God only if we are honest even when it is no longer the best policy, and we exercise our true apostolate precisely when we appear to be stupid and without much social prestige. But we can really do this only if we slowly begin to believe from the very centre of our heart in God, in Jesus Christ, in his grace, and in eternal life. Thus the last is once more the ancient constant faith which is also the most new: God, Jesus Christ, his grace, his forgiveness and eternal life. If we truly live from this centre, but otherwise live in the modern way, even, let us say, with a Jaguar, but really as Christians, then, it seems to me, we have done what the Council expects us to do. For the whole apparatus and the paperwork of the Council did and could not want to produce anything but faith, hope and love. This is both the easiest and the most difficult, for it is the holy art of living as Christians in the grace of God.


The Christians' Responsibility for the Church after the Council: Text of a lecture in Munich, 5

June 1966, first published in Stellaner Nachrichten 12, no. 8 (1966), pp. 3 -- 14.

Advice to a Worried Catholic

The Council is over. There are not a few truly pious Catholics even in the highest echelons of the clergy who are under the torturing impression that the Council has brought the Church nothing but disquiet and insecurity, a false desire for novelty and silly chatter, even a threat to the true faith. A symptom of this attitude is the group that calls itself Una Voce and which wants especially, though not only, to preserve the Latin liturgy: it corresponds to the Latin Mass Society in England and other similar organizations in other countries. There is another symptom: a Bavarian abbot said some time ago, probably not quite seriously, but nevertheless from his tormented heart: This Council is of the devil. Now this is certainly not true. But we must ask ourselves how to answer such irritated and troubled Catholics.

There are many Catholic priests and laymen who are not at all, or at least much less worried. They regard the Council as a wonderful event, brought about by the Spirit, a new beginning in the Church. Now all these who feel themselves as avantgardists or at least want to be regarded as such ought to take the other, worried Catholics quite seriously. We are all brothers in the one Church of the same faith and the same love which unite us. We should treat each other as such, but we find this difficult, because we are sinful, self-opinionated and presumptuous human beings. Nevertheless we must always try again. Now, after the Council, the so-called progressives have no right at all to treat their "conservative" brothers und sisters in the same way as they themselves, rightly or wrongly, thought they had been treated by their so-called opponents before the Council. Now the progressives must show that they can be charitable, generous and tolerant.

Futhermore, not everything that is worrying conservative Catholics after the Council is only the imagination of old-fashioned people who confuse traditional customs with ever-valid truths. In the liturgy as well as in other departments of the Church's life there are regrettable excrescences and an arbitrary desire for novelties which must be repressed courageously and charitably. Hence such conservative people, too, have a genuine individual function and duty in the whole Church, provided only that they are obedient to the authorities, open to their directives and loving and reasonable towards all their brethren. No one can identify only himself with the Church and her authentic life; everyone has only his own particular gift which he may and should incorporate in the Church, even though this is impossible without a certain fraternal controversy. This plurality of gifts which may at times combat each other will not destroy the unity of faith and love in the one Church. This is guaranteed by the assistance of the Spirit and must be brought about by the authorities with which all must remain united in humility and love.

But within this framework the conservatives should realize their own particular gift quietly and courageously. They have the right to prevent the Latin liturgy from disappearing. Their instinct of faith should ask whether some new thesis of a theologian is still Christian and Catholic, whether it corresponds to the binding dogma proclaimed by the magisterium. They have the right to turn to their bishops questioningly, complainingly, even accusingly if they are justly scandalized in their conscience by what they see, hear and otherwise experience in the Church. But all this on condition that they are themselves charitable and tolerant, prepared not to give up the dialogue with their brothers who are of a different opinion. They must not make mountains out of molehills and exaggerate inevitable teething troubles into frightful catastrophes, but bear patiently the all-too-human side of the Church to which they, too, make their contribution.

Such worried Catholics must also be told this: it is simply not true that everything has become uncertain because of the Council. A so-called conservative cannot be a true Catholic if he did, indeed, love the pre-conciliar Church and her way of life, experienced her as the rock of truth, but now can suddenly only protest against this most recent Council and distrust its teaching and directives. True, this Council is just as human and contemporary as all other Councils, but it is a Council of holy Church and under the power of the Holy Spirit. But Catholics must not obstinately oppose it only because they are not used to its teaching and directives. For if they did they would act like the Old Catholics after the First Vatican Council, even if they do not officially leave the Church. For the Old Catholics, too, did not want to admit that what was new was only the present divinely willed historical form of the old which they, too, thought they ought to defend against a Church devoted to novelties. Such worried Catholics who are already going wild even when they have only to get up and sit down at Mass should really ask themselves quite simply and charitably: What has be- come different in the Church and what has remained the same? If they are true believers and not riding some particular hobby horse they must surely say that everything has remained the same that is really necessary for life as well as for death: the crucified and risen Christ, his grace, baptism, the true body and blood of the Lord in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of sins, the expectation of eternal life, the ancient dogma binding on all, the one commandment of the love of God and our neighbour. Is that so little? No, this is what really matters, and all this has remained because it is what is old and also only truly new.

Of course, there are new questions in dogmatic and moral theology, which have been discussed more openly at and after the Council and which have not yet been solved, among them questions of great importance also for the practical life. But this is not surprising, for the same has happened before, even if some conservative Christians did not realize it. It is, for example, a very grave question as to what exactly the proper Christian attitude towards atomic weapons is; the whole fate of humanity may hang on it. Yet even Pius XII could not give a definite answer. For there are darknesses in life which Christians and the Church have to bear with patience. These difficulties are laid on us by God, they have not been artificially produced by the malice of crazy theologians who will no longer accept anything. According to the will of God the Church that knows and makes decisions is also always the questioning and searching Church which must patiently endure this situation. Caution is not the same as cowardice. If the Church is cautious in questions of doctrine and discipline, perhaps even more so than in the past, if she waits for more information, carrying on a dialogue, perhaps even leaves much to the conscience of the individual, all this does not mean that the authorities have grown cowardly, they have not, for this reason, given up their responsibility and their power.

Finally, even in certain peripheral questions of theology, but especially in the liturgy, penitential discipline, administration and similar matters, there are no definite methods and hard and fast rules which would be wholly good and without any possible dangers. Hence there are theoretically unlimited pros and cons as regards possible decisions, and there will always also be good reasons against any particular decision. Such reasons have also existed against ancient and traditional decisions, even if they were not expressed in so many words and were not felt to be important by conservative people. Naturally such theoretical pros and cons exist also with regard to the decisions made or initiated by Vatican II. If a conservative Christian is against such a decision because he believes he has good reasons against it, these may perhaps be quite weighty and yet his protest against the decision may be unjustified. Every concrete decision stresses certain points in preference to others, though these, too, might have been emphasized. It is a matter of opinion which cannot be solved by discussion alone, but only by a decision which affirms one thing and abandons another, even if the latter was dear to many. Because the Church is universal she must often decide between many cultures, traditions, attitudes and tendencies, and in doing so may not please anyone completely, taking in too little that is new for one and retaining not enough of the old things for another. Certainly uniformity might frequently be abandoned and quite often this is actually done. But it is again a question of opinion whether something might be left open or whether it must be decided as binding for the whole Church. In the concrete case there will again be pros and cons about which the discussion might never end but which must be decided here and now.

This simple fact of human life as well as of the Church is often overlooked by the progressive, when he screams that developments are too slow, that antiquated habits and customs are not abandoned fast enough, especially with regard to canon law. But the worried conservative Catholic also falls into this same error if he thinks that every- thing must be preserved only because it is or was good. But the Church cannot move in all directions at once. A conservative Christian who only obstinately protests will sabotage the possible good effect of a new decision, and thus the new thing will be lost while the good old one is not really preserved. The brotherly dialogue between progressives and conservatives and of both with the authorities about how to deal with the situation of the future, this dialogue may and should continue. But it ought not to result in one party making impossible what is now right and good in the Church, for this could only lead to con- fusion. The conservative Catholic may well regret that a Latin High Mass is now very rare and he may well make use of his Christian freedom and choose a service which suits him. But if he attends a mass such as his own parish priest conducts he should attend to the essential of the mass, the ever-lasting sacrifice of Christ, which is present in every form of the eucharistic celebration and simply take part in this particular service.

The Church is the community of truth and love, and it is the same as in any other loving community of finite human beings: we must always love and accept one another also as men who are strangers to each other and who do not quite understand one another. For this is part of love and even of truth, in which we live only if we accept and endure also those whose personalities are alien or even incomprehensible to us. The Church is not meant to become an ever-decreasing little group of esoteric traditionalists which the world passes by, for this would mean betraying her mission, according to which she is not there for herself, but for men and the world. Therefore she must undergo the change that has begun at the Council. True, this may surprise and worry just some of her best members, while, on the other hand, she herself does not cease to remain unintelligible to outsiders, because her constant message still sounds foolish and scandalous. Today, however, her faithful members are asked whether they truly love the Church, accepting the change even though it appears strange at first, or whether by their secret or public protest they show that they have not really loved the Church herself, but only their idea of her. There have always been not only progressive, but also reactionary heresies and schisms in the Church. Today the conservatives in the Church are asked whether they will integrate their good gift of conservatism into the changing Church, or whether, in a latent heresy, they want to be reactionaries in the bad sense. This question does not imply a recipe for the solution of all actual questions, but it signalizes an attitude which is one of the decisive elements in the Church today.


Advice to a Worried Catholic: Text of a broadcast (North German and West German Radios), first published in Oberrheinisches Pastoralblatt 68, no. 5 (1967), pp. 129 -- 32.


To An Impatient Catholic

After the end of the Council there are now many impatient people who are disappointed. They had ardently and hopefully welcomed the Council, expecting that it would produce a Church which would convince the world because she would appear as the radiant bride of Christ, without spot or blemish. Yet now all seems to have remained more or less as it was before: theologians still struggle painfully with their problems, their is still a bureaucratic administration which seems to prefer the letter to the spirit, there is still no united Christendom, but we are still divided, fearing and mistrusting each other on both sides of the fence. We are still waiting for an obvious and effective reform of the curia, and brotherly collegiality in the Church is not much more than a fine word. The will of the clergy to give the laity a real share in the task and responsibility for the Church is still in its infancy, and the laymen themselves are not exactly wildly keen on it. The Church's responsibility for the world has not yet surpassed the most modest efforts, and the liturgical life seems to be a hybrid of old and new forms. The reform of canon law is still far away . . . in short, there is nothing like a new Pentecost to be noticed, but rather quarrels and alienation among Catholics themselves, new unsolved questions in theology as well as in Christian living on which we had seemed to be agreed before the Council, the continuing silent apostasy of the masses, the rejection of faith, Christian morality and conviction in public life. Is not this sufficient reason for disappointment and especially for impatience? Are we not rightly impatient to see deeds following the beginnings made in the Council, theories changed into facts, principles into life? What can we say to the angry, impatient progressive Catholic now, after the Council?

First of all: there is, indeed, a justified and holy impatience, which has a right to make itself heard in the Church. Not everyone has every gift that is needed in the Church, and it is true that there need not be only angry and impatient Catholics. But they must also be there, because the Church needs them. We must on no account think that now the Church has got over the Council it is high time to restore peace and order as if, as an Italian Cardinal is supposed to have said, the Council had produced only broken pieces which would take a century to put together again. No, the Council was a beginning which must be continued. And for this purpose the Church needs a holy impatience, which should make itself heard in all legitimate ways. These ways include also those that do not please everyone and may not be comfortable for every bishop. This holy impatience must work like a driving motor: it may criticize and try to influence public opinion, it need not be afraid that every quarrel and every dispute it produces is a sign that it is unjustified or perverse. St. Paul, too, had his quarrels, even with Peter himself. And yet it was a holy and necessary quarrel. The peace of the Church is not the peace of a graveyard and has nothing to do with indifferent conformism.

But this impatience must truly be holy, unselfish, loving one's opponent as his brother and not scandalizing him wherever this can be avoided by generosity and love. This impatience must be humble, it must not imagine that God distributes his gifts in such a way that one party is wholly right and the other wholly wrong.

The impatient theologians must be told that they, too, must practice holy impatience. There are really incredibly many questions waiting to be clarified before theologians can assist those who preach the word of God in the way they expect. But even a new and living Catholic theology that does justice to modern man remains dependent on Catholic dogma and the teaching office of the Church. This theology does not want to be modern because it betrays the ancient faith or preaches another gospel that is no gospel. Of course, it is often difficult to decide whether, despite a man's good will, his efforts to understand better the gospel and the doctrine of the Church have really caused him to depart from the truth) or whether a traditionalist sold on the old formulae only thinks so. Of course, such an open question cannot be decided at the drop of a hat. But the orthodoxy of a Catholic theologian should not be suspect only because he does his duty honestly and weighing his own views, remaining in an open dialogue with the magisterium and prepared to leave the last word to the authorities of the Church, always lovingly adapting his individual under- standing of the faith to that of the whole Church. He may well let his holy impatience become effective for the renewal of theology. But he should also know that his proper work is not to destroy traditional taboos but to build up an authentic, living faith.

Holy impatience has a difficult task in the Church. But this is quite natural, the Council will need a long time till it has more or less penetrated the various spheres of life. This was so in the case of earlier Councils, this is so also in the case of the last. The Council can only become effective through setbacks and hesitations, for it will often be difficult to know how to carry out ideal concepts in the sober sphere of reality. This is quite natural, but it is difficult to live with. It is even natural that at first a new concept is carried out less satisfactorily than an old one to which we are accustomed, that there will at first be a hybrid combination of the old and the new. There will be a mixed style which will really please nobody very much, hence holy impatience must be patient, it must hope against hope, it must hold its breath, resolutely yet tolerantly. These holy impatient people should realize that Rome was not built in a day, though the lazy and the reactionaries had better not pronounce these words. A Chinese proverb says that a man who is in a hurry must make a detour; this is certainly not always true, but sometimes it is quite applicable. Experiments and risks are certainly necessary in the Church today; there are many cases when dangerous ventures are demanded by a tutiorism properly understood. But if the Pope for example sometimes seems to apply the Chinese proverb, we should not at once accuse him of hesitation or even indecision. Popes, too, are finite human beings, influenced by their history and experience. Thus it is not always a priori certain that their actions and omissions are directly inspired by a superior wisdom. But the opposite cannot be presumed either. Nor should the impatient individual simply assume that his opinions and demands are definitely the voice of divine wisdom and the divine will. But even if the opinions and tendencies are not in harmony, the members of the Church, whether ministers or others, may yet be united in love and mutual respect, in the will to unity and the preservation of order, in the patience that bears with others. And it is part of an authentic Christianity that such virtues must always begin in oneself, even though they may be exploited by others.

Finally we must say something that may sound like defeatism but is not. The Church is and remains the pilgrim Church, the Church of sinners always needing a reform that can never end, she will never be a Church that will not cause us suffering. For we ourselves contribute to the sinfulness of the Church through our own misery. And this is true also of those who are impatient and full of holy zeal. Because their impatience is not always very holy, and so they resemble the man who wants to remove the speck in the other's eye but fails to notice the log in his own. For it remains true that we work most truly for a holy Church if we patiently and lovingly bear with the imperfect and unholy one, knowing full well that she ultimately shows forth only our own sinfulness. The true Catholic Christian gives the Church not only a limited advance of trust, love and patience. For he sees it ultimately as the institution in which he encounters God in Christ.

For the Church has the baptism, the Eucharist, the grace of love and the hope of eternal life, and this is every- thing. We can be truly impatient for reform in accordance with the nature of the Church only if this knowledge remains alive in us. Otherwise we shall have missed the true starting point and our reforms will end in the deformation of what is most essential. Holy impatience is the fruit of patient love which believes all, hopes all, bears all, which is not embittered but forgiving, which can wait and is prepared to sow a seed which others will reap, which gives without being sure in advance that it will also receive.

In this way we all ought to be impatient, everyone according to his place. We ought to belong to those who long for the kingdom of God which is also the end of the earthly Church, and who work for this Church so that she may become a credible sign of the powerful love of God which reconciles all and brings about his kingdom. The Second Vatican Council has said that Christians should impregnate even the structures of secular life with their eschatological hope; hence this hope must not be misunderstood as dispensing us from being active in the world and reforming it, an attitude which is even more necessary for the Christian's relation to the Church. The Church, too, always remains the responsibility of the Christian; she is not only the permanent institution that mediates his personal salvation. The Church, too, is always what we make her, and we make her what we are ourselves. If we are full of holy impatience, living in faith, hope and love of God and men, if we always hope against hope, then the Church, too, will become what she ought to be. God will certainly always create such men and women. But his grace also gives us the responsibility and the power ourselves to belong to those who do not only want to be supported by the Church, but who themselves help to support her with courage, confidence and patience.


To an Impatient Catholic: Text of a broadcast (North German and West German Radios), first published in Oberrheinisches Pastoralblatt 68 (1967), pp. 161 -- 4.


Compulsory Alternatives

In the last two essays we have tried to say something about the post-conciliar situation of the Church, and we had to distinguish between two types of Catholics. There was first the worried Catholic who thought that too much had been changed and everything had become insecure, and secondly the impatient Catholic for whom the programme of the Council was realized too slowly. We should now like to say something that concerns both types of Catholic in the same way, making some general remarks on compulsory alternatives. They should really be quite commonplace, nevertheless we can better understand the situation of the Church and the tensions involved in it if we consider more exactly this principle of compulsory alternatives for both sides.

This principle means first: In ecclesiastical decisions, measures, etc., there is always a choice between at least two, but usually between a number of possibilities. For in the case of the individual as well as of a society, including the Church, there are always many possibilities from which, however, only one can be chosen at a time for common action in so far as this is necessary. Even abstention from a choice, a policy of neutrality and drifting are decisions, but they do not ultimately dispense from the necessity and the torment to choose one from many possibilities. For one could also do something else. There are many possible ecclesiastical languages, many ways of priestly life, many possible methods of the care of souls, various ways of distributing Church moneys, diverse forms of cooperation between laity and clergy, many possible ways of establishing the relations between the Church and society, the state and so forth.

If the Church is not to disintegrate, only one of all these possibilities can be realized at a given time. Here, too, the principle applies that one can drive either on the right or on the left but not on both sides at the same time; we must make a choice. Moreover, except in the question of truth, all these possibilities have something in their favour, hence we cannot say that we are choosing the only right thing among the various possibilities, otherwise they would all be wrong.

Nearly every choice is the choice of something meaningful involving the loss of another possibility, which would have had its own special good points which are not present in what has finally been chosen. But all men, including the conservatives as well as the progressives in the Church, are always tempted to recommend the decision of their own choice by proclaiming it to be the only right and sensible one, and by completely denigrating the other alternative. They are afraid of damaging the chance of their own proposal if they admit the slightest good in that of their opponent. However, a free man, and especially a sincere Christian, will know that only God is the infinite good without any negative admixture; he ought therefore to regard his own proposal in a spirit of criticism and to acknowledge the good qualities of that of his opponent. He should also know that one must choose humbly and critically between several possibilities, none of which is absolutely preferable to the other. How different would be the certainly inevitable controversies in the Church if all parties would fight honestly, admitting the weaknesses and dangers of their own position, if they would only acknowledge at least the speck in their own eye while they think themselves obliged to take exception to the log in the eye of their neighbour.

We Christians ought to know that we can only conquer in a Christian spirit if we have ourselves increased the danger of our defeat by honestly admitting the weakness of our own position. A bishop must defend his own authority by also acknowledging his failures; a layman must plead for greater rights for the laity by also regretting the frequent indifference of the laity; we all should not only praise our own plan but also show up its weaknesses. Then we would begin to conduct our own controversies within the Church in a Christian spirit. Otherwise we shall, from the Christian point of view, remain obstinate egoists who fundamentally fight for themselves rather than for their object. If we elevate our own good plan to the only good plan we make an idol of it. But then we should not be Christians but, at best, very clever propagandists. We should train ourselves to develop an instinct to distinguish between those proposals which are to be presented modestly, charitably and critically and others that should be abandoned. This might be useful for the discernment of spirits. The way in which the Pope and his measures are frequently criticized today betray a presumption which is itself hardly Christian.

What has been said about the necessity of alternatives must still be clarified. For if an alternative in ecclesiastical matters is truly good, it is so because it accords with the permanent principles of Christianity. However, even so it cannot be said to be the only correct line. Now this is the real crux of these necessary alternatives. For whoever advocates a certain course of action must base his recommendation on Christian principles and try to show that it corresponds to them. This is both his right and his duty. At the same time he must usually not behave as if his idea were the only legitimate way of realizing Christian principles, because this is not normally the case, the opposite view being also a genuine Christian possibility. And it is indeed difficult to do only the one and abandon the other. For there is, on the one hand, a connection between these Christian principles and a proposed programme while, on the other, this connection is not compelling. This shows that a choice between these various possibilities needs decisions, and these cannot be arrived at by theoretical considerations alone. For not only is theory never effective in real life, but even at best theoretical reason by itself cannot make a practical decision.

For example, it cannot be decided by any theological reflection alone whether or not the tabernacle is best placed on the main altar. There are reasons for as well as against. In this case the decision does not depend only on theological considerations. That something is wanted is an addition to the reasons why it is wanted. Hence in the case of theological decisions there will not only be a conflict of theoretical reasons but also a struggle of wills. This is not a bad thing, for it belongs to the nature of human existence. But we must know this and not pretend in theoretical disputes that it is otherwise. Else the discussion would be poisoned, because it would have to be supposed that the opponent is stupid or narrow-minded; and in this case we could no longer realize that such disputes also have a moral element, namely love, respect for the other's attitude and tolerance.

Such virtues are a possible element of true controversy, because this can never be determined by the theoretical reason alone. Thus it also becomes clear that not every compromise is necessarily a betrayal of reason and one's own better judgment: it may be the choice of an alternative that has good reasons in its favour, but beside which there are other possibilities which are not bad either. To choose thus is not undignified. There will always be enough obstinate people who can prevent the wisdom of such relativism from deteriorating into indifference. But if we realize the relativity of a certain decision we cannot rightly pretend that we advocate something absolute.

In my view much could be improved in the inevitable struggles between conservatives and progressives in the Church if the nature of this necessity of alternatives were better understood. This does not mean that controversies are to be avoided. On the contrary, they are inevitable because decisions in the sense described above cannot be made otherwise. Nor will all alternatives be equally good, and therefore it will have to be discussed which is better in a certain case. Nevertheless, a deeper consideration of "compulsory alternatives" would show what is at the bottom of it, namely the course of history which cannot be guided by theoretical reason alone, but demands decisions which might also have been different and must be accepted by all in the unity of the Church, despite their admitted contingency. Both conservatives and progressives ought to understand that the reality which is lived in the Church in love and humility is better than a possibility for which both parties rightly fight, so that one thing may become reality which will then be the truly Christian thing for both.


Compulsory Alternatives: Text of a broadcast, West German Radio, 4 December 1967.


Present Tasks

The following suggestions may perhaps become important for the immediate future of the Church if Christianity endeavours to do justice to the situation in which it must accomplish its mission. Of course, these proposals are not a catalogue of absolute norms nor a panacea for the Church of today, for they will always remain problematic by their very nature. They cease to be interesting and practically fruitful if they are concerned with absolutely everything and recommend all that is useful and desirable. But they become problematical if they make a choice and stress certain points which are necessary for finite human action, because this cannot realize everything at once and can be successful only in contingency. For who is to say what is most necessary here and now? Even if such proposals are made by competent authority they can be only tentative impulses, while the ultimate actual line of development cannot be defined by any human authority but must be left solely to the Lord of history.

For the future of the Church everywhere, too, what is most essential is the ancient yet ever-new message of Christianity, that is to say that in the darkness of this life the hearts of men must entrust themselves to that ineffable, adorable mystery of life which we call God in faith, hope and love and unconditional confidence in Jesus Christ our Lord. Apart from this everything else the Church can do in her official activity is but the mediation of salvation which is, indeed, absolutely necessary, but which must nevertheless be distinguished from that on which ultimately everything depends, as has been said before, namely on the faith, hope and love in the hearts of men. We must, indeed, consider how the Church should act in the present as well as in the future, we must organize and interest ourselves in her social side; but all this must always serve only these ancient and ever-new truths. There is the danger that owing to the will to reform initiated by the Council Catholics are no longer sufficiently aware of this simple truth. Today, too, what is most important is prayer, love of Jesus Christ, silence and suffering, indeed all the things that the good old tradition of the Church has always known and lived. We shall certainly have to take great pains to announce this ancient message in new forms so that it may enter the hearts and minds of modern men. Certainly its eternal validity must not be abused to defend a boring traditionalism that has gone stale. But just those who have welcomed the Council and its almost revolutionary aggiornamento and are fired with a radical reforming zeal must ask themselves whether they really want to serve the true spirit of Christianity and to confess the folly of the cross. True, we must adapt ourselves to the contemporary situation, and this has often been omitted by a traditionalist obstinacy and a pusillanimous desire for self-preservation; but if we adapt ourselves to our time this must only be for the purpose of converting our fellow men from their idols so that they may serve the true and living God and await the return of Jesus, his Son, whom he has raised from the dead and who will save us from the wrath to come (I Thess 1:9 f.). All liturgical renewal, all changes in the education and way of life of priests, all adaptation of the religious orders to contemporary conditions, the activities of mature laymen as well as the frank dialogue with the present world, all these must only serve the love of God and one's neighbour in the unfeigned faith which will always be foolishness and scandal to the wise and prudent of this world. All reformers even of fossilized traditions, however legitimate their desires, must realize that they will have to give an account before God and not only before their contemporaries, and that it is not a priori evident that both judgments will agree.

If we are bold enough to say something about the last strategical and tactical principles of the Church in the Western world as we envisage them for the next few decades, we are nevertheless well aware that God directs history, while man makes plans which will certainly not be realized in the way they were conceived. But this does not dispense us from making plans, and even in ecclesial matters it does not permit us to live from day to day, wanting to hold God responsible for what man has to do. This is true especially in a period of history in which man has been burdened with deciding his own destiny in far greater measure than it has ever been the case, and even possible, before. Today such fundamental principles of ecclesiastical strategy and tactics can no longer, as in the age of paternalism, be left only to the Church authorities, who, in their wisdom, would make their decisions, guided simply by their own instinct and the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The ecclesiastical authorities have certainly the last word and are entitled to expect willing obedience. But today this does not exclude but rather implies that such questions are publicly discussed in the Church and that the faithful take part in considering and advising on them. Of course, such discussions must be carried on with tact and discretion and will rightly and inevitably be guided by the ecclesiastical authorities. But today we need no longer fear that they will do much harm and make the laity less willing to abide by the decisions of the hierarchy. Secret diplomacy is no longer profitable. In the end it will harm confidence and willing obedience more than the public discussion even of delicate questions, because they are well known in any case and can be discussed more objectively in public than if they are only debated in small fanatical circles. Even today Catholics are not dispensed of obedience) but have to learn that they must willingly also do things that are not obvious to them if they have been decided on by the authorities of the Church.

The Church of Personal Faith

There are norms of ecclesial action which are valid for all times, because they derive from the very nature of Christianity, and they, of course, remain the most important. But apart from these there is also the fact that the Church in much of the traditionally Christian world is still on the way from being an established Church (that is, a social institution to which all more or less belong) to a Church of personal faith in a pluralistic society. We ought not to make absolute or glorify either the terminus a quo or the terminus ad quem of this movement. In other words, neither must the former social position of the Church be defended as far as possible in all circumstances, nor must her future social position which is still only partly present be regarded as absolutely desirable. We must first simply consider facts, from which certain principles of action may be derived even before the foreseeable development is either condemned or praised. The future Church in central Europe will enjoy less legal and institutional power than before. If neither her past nor her future are to be considered as absolutely desirable, two opposing principles are ruled out. For we shall neither defend her former social position as far as at all possible, nor shall we want to make her give up whatever is still left of this historical position as fast as possible and of her own free will. It may well be that one does not want to give up voluntarily what one still possesses, though one has to reckon with the possibility of losing it; it may also be that it is better to give up something voluntarily so as to be; better prepared for the future when one will not possess it in any case. There are both conservative and progressive "simplifiers" who would decide the question what is best to be done here and now by eternal principles instead of by prudent practical considerations. If one does the latter, it is of course clear that even a correct or at least meaningful possible decision will not appear as indisputably necessary, and thus a man will not be absolved of his duty to decide into uncertainty. With these reservations we might well be of the opinion that the Church in Germany, and not only there, is, on the whole, still tempted to defend old conservative positions rather than to surrender them in order to prepare even now for an inevitable future, despite some conciliar courage to start anew and risk an uncertain future. The courage to "mobile warfare" does seem to be less than would be desirable. For where in present-day German Catholicism are there really bold experiments?

Concentrating Ecclesiastical Action

It is further necessary for the strategy of the Church that the authorities should have the courage to concentrate their attention on certain definite points. The Church, too, cannot do all that might be good and useful at the same time. She should certainly not become one sided, expecting everything from a gimmick, but she must not want to do everything with the same energy either; she must have the courage to concentrate her finite powers on a few points, even though this will mean giving up other important things. If we take this into consideration as well as the position of the Church in a pluralistic society, we shall realize that today the Church cannot want to care directly for all groups and individuals of our society in equal measure. For this we are simply not strong enough, we would only waste our efforts if we wanted to influence society directly in the way of the former "people's Church". In an increasingly scientific and technological society governed by experts, the Church ought not primarily to address the "people", which in any case will soon cease to exist, but rather the "educated classes". This should be done not, indeed, because these might be worthier of eternal life or even easier to influence, but because the salvation of all will depend on the acceptance of Christianity by the leaders of society.

Courage and Self-Confidence of the Preachers of the Gospel

Courage and self-confidence of the bearers of the Christian message should be a third fundamental principle of the strategy of the Church. Precisely in view of the Church's situation the preachers of the gospel ought not to think themselves condemned to being always on the defensive. We easily regard as the defeat and regression of the Church in modern times what is actually only the social manifestation of a state which has always existed, even in the so-called good old days, because even then people, on the average, had but little faith, hope and love of God and men. Only formerly this was not so obvious, because society was homogeneous, not, indeed, because of the power of grace and the Church, but simply for secular reasons. On the other hand, even from a purely natural point of view Christianity, properly preached and lived, is still a match for every other powerful propagandist Weltanschanung, though men's hardness of heart is often an obstacle to its acceptance.

How the Suggestions of the Council are to be Realized

After these very general remarks I should now like to make some more positive suggestions. First of all, we should try as hard as we can to carry out both the spirit and the letter of the Council. Because the German bishops belonged to the progressive party of the Council we ought not to imagine that there is nothing left for us to do. The Constitution on the Liturgy confronts us with many tasks which are still outstanding, especially as the Bishops' Conferences have been given considerable competences in this field which should be used courageously. Will the bishops have the courage to use the possibilities provided by the Constitution on the Church with regard to the renewal of the diaconate? Will the German Bishops' Conference give itself a statute that really makes it a collegial institution capable of effective action? The Decree on the Bishops has confronted the German Church, too, with the question of the correct size and definition of the dioceses. It cannot be said that the principles according to which this question must be answered are sufficiently clear and that there is the determination to act on these principles even if local interests may sometimes get hurt in the process. The Council has entrusted the Bishops' Conference with working out a new order for the education and training of priests in accordance with contemporary and local needs. Here much will have to be considered and courageously changed. It would be desirable that seminaries and theological faculties should lay less stress on apologetics and the defense of existing conditions. They should put into practice a new conception of theological education which would serve first and foremost the preaching of the gospel, and only secondarily the interests of scholarship for its own sake. They should also lay great emphasis on the living unity of priestly existence and spiritual life so as to overcome the doubts and difficulties of our theological students as well as of the science of theology itself. In this connection it should, of course, also be considered how the seminary life of the future priests could be changed so that it would not unwittingly militate against the intellectually and religiously stronger human personalities.

At the Council ecumenism has certainly gained a greater victory than could possibly have been hoped for even twenty years ago. But this should not obscure the fact that almost everything has still to be done where the unity of divided Christendom is concerned. Real successes in this sphere cannot be forced or achieved prematurely. Nor do concrete results depend only on the good will of the Cath- olic partner. Sometimes one even has the impression that Protestant authorities will, indeed, ask what Catholics are prepared to do, but are less inclined to say how far they themselves will meet the Catholic side. But we shall have to admit that Catholics, too, are reluctant to take the first step before knowing how the others are going to react. In the present situation of Christendom the Churches ought to do everything to promote their unity except what their faith actually forbids; but this principle of true ecumenical action is as yet by no means recognized and obeyed.

The Council admonishes the bishops to realize their responsibility for the whole Church. It is to be hoped that this responsibility will produce greater results than the financing of charitable schemes such as Misereor and Adveniat. Despite the shortage of priests the Church in central and western Europe ought to have the courage, and the clergy the generosity, to put secular priests at the disposal of the missions and of Latin America.

Within the next decade we shall have assiduously to canvass the question whether the religious orders and congregations will really put into practice the Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious Life, whether they will produce a style of life and of government which, on the one hand, is truly suitable for our time and, on the other, is seriously engaged only in the service of Christ. The Decree on the Missions sets all European Churches the task of conquering a missionary defeatism due to the idea that the end of the age of colonialism and imperialism also spells the end of the missionary age.

In the Constitution on the Church there is much that has so far remained only on paper. For we are still very far from experiencing the Church of Christ as the highest realization of the presence of Christ and the unity of love in the local eucharistic community.

The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests is perhaps still too much determined by an ideal which originated in the social order of the past. But this makes it all the more important to develop a pattern which corresponds to the social and intellectual situation of the present and the future. This must not, however, betray the true vocation of the priest, who is not simply entrusted with conducting a few services every week, but has the frightening duty to proclaim the word of God and to bring the message of Christ to the particular situation of the individual whether it is acceptable or not, and who, in the sacrifice of the community, announces the death of the Lord till he comes again. Even the Council is aware that this may sometimes happen in combination with a secular profession.

The dialogue with the contemporary world enjoined on the Church in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is still in its infancy. For there is a wide-spread tradition which tries to keep the Church in a self-sufficient isolation instead of risking herself in the service of the world and of all men.

From a general as well as from the pastoral point of view it would be wrong to assume that the Church in the various countries needed only to follow the directives of the Council willingly and exactly in order to fulfill her God-given task in this time. Certainly, the Council has given our contemporary theologians the task to explain and justify its doctrine, which will occupy them for a long time. But if they were concerned chiefly with conciliar ecclesiology or with commenting on the Constitution on Divine Revelation they would by-pass the main duty laid upon them today.

This is quite obvious if we have really understood the true intention of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. For the dialogue with contemporary life which has been imposed on the Church cannot refer to what she and her members can contribute to improve social conditions in the world. Her one great inescapable duty it to proclaim the living God and his forgiving and deifying nearness in his grace through Jesus Christ. In view of the religious distress of contemporary men theologians must once more consider the central themes of Christian preaching, which are God, the incarnation of the eternal Word in Jesus Christ, grace and eternal life. They cannot assume that everything about these subjects is quite clear and that all that needs to be done is for the preacher to proclaim the theology of the schools as best he can from the pulpit. Theological science itself has not yet tackled even in theory the phenomenon of a worldwide atheism that appears self-evident to itself. We do not yet possess a mystagogy in the experience of God and his grace which would be practicable for the ordinary pastor and which would appeal to our sceptical, scientifically trained contemporaries. We need much thought and practice before we can preach the mystery of the incarnation of the eternal Logos in Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that this message does not sound almost like a myth in which modern men can no longer believe. The theology of salvation history is still far from being worked out sufficiently to be easily credible to a person who knows that human history is perhaps a million years old and that the large mayority of men have not been reached by the message of the gospel. In order to do justice to the spirit and intention of the Council theologians must do more than merely consider the letter of its doctrinal declarations.

Educating Mature Christians

Though the Council has brought and will still bring many blessings, it has certainly also produced dangers for the Church and her life. This is true even if we should perhaps rather say more cautiously that these dangers have become manifest through the Council, and that all this is a crisis of growth. But even a crisis of growth is a crisis and has its dangers. The danger is this, to put it bluntly, that many Christians are tempted to believe no longer in the infallibility oi the Church's doctrine and to make light oi its directives for the life and practice of the individual as well as of the Church.

a. Unchangeable Principles and Changeable Directives

The reasons for this danger are, of course, psychological rather than actually theoretical. According to the traditional teaching of the Church truly educated theologians have always distinguished between irreformable definitions of the magisterium and authoritative, but actually reform- able doctrinal utterances of the Church. Beyond this, there are the more or less unanimous opinions of theologians. Theologians can also understand that a teaching of the Church is not a quantite negligeable, even if it is not proposed as an absolutely binding and irreformable doctrine of the divine and Catholic faith. According to quite traditional teaching they can distinguish also between principles of action that are of divine and immutable law, and positive ecclesiastical decrees which are changeable.

Hence the Council cannot reasonably be a danger to the theologian. The case of a not theologically trained Christian is different, for he is usually unaware of these distinctions. Nor are they easily intelligible, especially as regards their application. We should also admit in all honesty that in the general practice of the Church these distinctions are suppressed rather than clarified as far as the faithful are concerned. In the past the Church has appeared to many Catholics as an absolutely monolithic structure, a system of doctrine and life which had to be either accepted or rejected as a whole, without degrees or nuances of importance in its various components. And many considered this view, which is certainly not that of the Church herself, as the actual characteristic of Catholicism, which was proudly acclaimed as the opposite of liberalistic contradictions.

b. A Right Understanding of the Teaching Office

Further, the ordinary Christian unversed in church history could hardly experience changes in Catholic doctrine and life, because his own life was too short and ecclesial development too slow. Hence he can, for example, be of the opinion that the Church could give up the indissolubility of sacramental marriage just as well as the ecclesial form of contracting a marriage, or that she could change the very principles of sexual morality because formerly she took a different authoritative, though not definitive, view of their application, which will perhaps have to be revised. Moreover, people often do not know how the magisterium arrives, indeed must arrive, at an ultimately binding decision. The popular idea leaves out the necessary human element of study, of the consultation of experts and theologians, of discussion with its inevitable clash of opinions. The Church has always recognized this human element, but the general idea is that the highest authority must decide at once, almost like a deus ex machina, if the decision is to be considered really binding. It is wrongly assumed that if the Pope is not to compromise his authority he ought to decide every dogmatic or moral question that comes up, preferably at once. In fact, however, Paul V for example never decided the controversy on grace which greatly exercised the minds at the time and which was endlessly debated by theological commissions in Rome. It is still open today and will almost certainly not be decided in the future either.

In this situation the Church has a new and very difficult duty of educating people, which will certainly take a long time. The sometimes almost desperate conservatives must be taught to understand, not only theoretically but instinctively and in their spiritual life, that the Church does not exist outside time and history; that she is indeed founded on the grace of Christ, but is nevertheless a very human institution burdened by history. They must realize that her understanding of the faith and the practice of her life must be courageously changed, if she is to remain the pillar of truth and the home of Christian existence. The wildly revolutionary Christians, on the other hand, must be patiently taught that also today and in the future the Church is an authoritatively teaching "absolute system", and that we can modestly yet frankly make only those objections to it which she formally recognizes as belonging to this system, even though nothing is said about their contents.

c. Responsibility in Free Obedience

This is the real task when we attempt to form the much discussed Christian-come-of-age. He must learn more than ever before to bear his own responsibility within the concrete Church and not in a basic, though secret opposition to her, and to cope also with the historical conditions of her doctrine and practice in freely given obedience. He must learn to understand that, if he is not to prefer his own self-will to the will of Christ, his conscience needs the authoritative decisions and directives of the Church, even if these do not involve her supreme authority. Of course, if such principles are to influence human life they need a certain casuistry which we cannot develop here, but which is necessary and which both priests and laity must be able to apply. There is even quite frequently a certain difference between what can be justified before the forum of the Church and what is allowed or even demanded by conscience. This is a difference that cannot be dissolved in every case, hence the individual Christian must learn to bear it with patience and courage without letting it degenerate into a fundamental opposition to the Church. The education of the Christian who has come of age in this sense is perhaps much more important than many other tasks that are emphasized today. It must begin with the clergy. For priests, too, are not necessarily immune against misunderstanding the historicity of the Church's doctrine and practice either from an irritable conservatism or from revolutionary progressivism.

Individual Morality Rightly Understood

Difference between Theoretical and Real Morality.

It is clear from all this that it will be one of the great duties of the Church to take perhaps more account than before of the moral questions confronting the Christian in his daily life and to approach them frankly and courageously. For given not only the sinfulness but also the limitations of human beings, there will always be a difference between the official morality proclaimed by the Church and that which is practiced by the average Christian. True, the Church cannot adapt the moral demands of the gospel to the statistics of average morality. It is certainly not a priori impossible that the Church might be led into almost insoluble and humanly hopeless difficulties, not only as regards the morality of certain individuals, but also the public morals of society or large groups. In such a situation the Church may finally have no other choice than to remain faithful to the gospel and to proclaim the hard message of the holy God, leaving everything else to the grace of him who can certainly also save men in a situation in which the Church can do no more.

But this fundamentally certainly correct principle, too, must be applied with caution. If in relatively normal circumstances there is too great a gap between the theoretical morality of the Church and what is actually practiced even by good Catholics, the Church will have to ask herself whether she has really done all that was necessary as far as the working out of her doctrine in pastoral practice is concerned. The latest theological development in the question of birth control, for example, surely shows that moral theology has not yet done everything possible so as not to let the gap become too wide. This example shows that one fundamental question has not yet been sufficiently considered theoretically, let alone practically solved. This question concerns what the Church should do or not do if society or groups are in a state which, on the individual plane, would be considered as invincible and inculpable error.

In the case of the individual living bona fide in invincible error, moral theologians have worked out useful principles which make life easier regarding the practice of the confessional, admission to the sacraments and so forth. But it can hardly be doubted that such a state of actually invincible error in moral questions exists also in society or in social groups in which the individual participates, so that his power of moral discernment does not go beyond a certain point, which, through no fault of his own, falls below objective morality.

Objective and Subjective Guilt

There need not be truly subjective guilt either in the case of the individual or of a social group, even when the subjective conscience is confronted with the official teaching of the Church as a formally binding authority. For in such a case, too, the moral judgment (that is the capacity of subjective realization) may remain below objective demand even despite normal intelligence and freedom, and though the objective demand has been understood and the fundamental authority of the Church is not disputed. What is the Church to do in such a case, so that, on the one hand, she will do justice to an irremediable situation and, on the other, not betray her vocation to announce the gospel in its integrity and thus slowly to change this situation? The Church will not, for example, be able to baptize an African chieftain who wants to keep his harem; yet she may, in certain circumstances, judge that he has a subjectively good conscience (though he has heard the message of the gospel and is willing in principle to believe in it), because in his actual social and human circumstances he cannot yet realize the moral demand of monogamy, as little as formerly king David and king Solomon. But if the Church cannot actually baptize such a chieftain, there are still questions waiting for an answer) for example, how she is to behave towards him, and how as positive a relationship as possible can be achieved on both sides.

The Problem of Divorce

Theoretically, too, the question has not yet been answered what the Church is to do in the case of an insurmountable difference between theoretical and practical morality. Even less are both clergy and laity accustomed to solve it in practice. This is presumably not only the case with regard to birth control, but also with regard to the second urgent pastoral problem, namely divorce. The Church can certainly not give up the principle of the indissolubility of a consummated sacramental marriage, because she is bound by the words of Christ in the gospel, even, despite a single contrary intervention at the Council, in the case of an innocent party. Nevertheless, one relevant question has not been clarified nearly enough. It is this: what personal conditions must be present in the contemporary human and social situation to guarantee in a concrete case that will to marriage which alone constitutes an insoluble union? Does it really suffice that the partners should have a superficial knowledge of the substance of marriage, be of average intelligence and without vis et metus, as matrimonial canon law requires? Moreover, there is another question that has not been sufficiently cleared up in theory, and for which no practical solution has been found. What should be done by the Church and the individual Christian if a marriage has broken down and there is an insuperable difference between the decision of a subjectively and objectively good and right conscience and that of the Church? No one can seriously maintain that contemporary conditions are not such that these cases become much more numerous, a situation that cannot be prevented by legal measures.

Necessary Conditions and Dangers of a "Morality of Conscience"

Thus we have approached a whole complex of tasks and questions which the Church and her pastors will have to tackle more frankly and courageously in the near future. The Church will certainly not fall for the wrong and over-simple solution of a situation ethics. But even without such a heretical solution she will realize that in view of the complicated conditions of our time in the moral sphere, too, many cases can no longer be decided directly by the official judgment of the Church, but must be left to the individual conscience guided by the great norms of the gospel which she announces. Now some people might object to such a rightly understood individual morality, saying that it allows Christians to act in an arbitrary manner with the result that they will drift into a moral laxism, always taking the easier line even if it does not all correspond to the spirit of the gospel. But such an objection would only prove that Christians have frequently been wrongly educated, that they have unintentionally been imbued with the idea that they are allowed to do anything not explicitly forbidden by the authorities of the Church and that one has less confidence in the power of the gospel and its grace than in detailed external moral prescriptions. There can be no doubt that many Christians are of the opinion that whatever is not apodictically forbidden from the pulpit is permissible. But the Church must overcome this mentality by patient teaching. This duty cannot be replaced by ever more subtle casuistry intended to regulate everything to the minutest detail. This task, too, is more urgent than many others which are only too often regarded as of paramount importance.

The Future Relationship between the "Estates of the Church"

Clergy and Laity

The transition of an established Church to a Church of the community of faith already poses very pressing problems. These exist even if one does not believe that we ought to accelerate this slow transition to an almost suicidal surrender of legitimate historical positions which are profitable for salvation and which the Church still occupies in present-day society. As has already been stressed, here the conservatives as well as the revolutionaries start from presuppositions which are objectively quite unjustified, for they regard either the past or the future of the Church as an ideal state. But even if neither is accepted, we suggest that there are certain things which the Church ought not only resignedly to await but which she might well go forward to meet. As has been said before, it is to be expected that in future the type of the Church both in the diocese and in the parish will be that of a community of faith in a pluralistic society. Hence she will scarcely still occupy social positions which are independent of the truly personal religious convictions of her members, for she will no longer be a people's church to which men belong without such a personal decision. Now if this is the case, then the relation between clergy and laity in such a community Church of faith will differ considerably from what it still is inevitably today.

Clergy and laity will then experience themselves first of all as brothers of the same religious mind and conviction which all have acquired through many sacrifices in a personal decision and in conscious opposition to the mentality of their surroundings. There will then no longer be a "power struggle" between both groups, or if it still exists it will take quite a harmless form, as is the case also in other informal groups which are united to each other for better or worse. In such a community Church the laity will, of course, respect the special vocation of the clergy, but the latter will no longer appear to them as a social group whose religious mission involves real power which is not dependent on the faith and good will of the laity. In such a situation the Church will be able to concede to the laity as much power as is possible within her divine constitution, without thereby endangering the special mission and the specifically religious authority of the clergy. Conversely, the laity will no longer feel themselves treated as minors by the clergy because the priests, too, will be seen to be guided in their task by the same personally acquired convictions as everyone else. The Church might well already begin to meet this situation. At the Council it has often rightly been said that the laity are not only objects of the Church's saving activities but are subjects together with the clergy, that they have their own mission and responsibility in and for the Church, and that they may, indeed in certain circumstances must, also take part in activities which are the more immediate concern of the clergy. But in view of these declarations of the Council it has to be stressed that such active cooperation in tasks which belong primarily to the clergy can be satisfactorily achieved only if it is furnished also with corresponding rights, which must be established by law and not left to the good pleasure of individual bishops and parish priests. Such legal fixation of the tasks and corresponding rights of the laity could already be undertaken, so that the directives and ideals of the Council may not remain merely on paper. We need not perhaps introduce the election of parish priests by the laity such as has been and still is the custom in the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, without the divine constitution of the Church being thereby endangered. But there are surely many possibilities to make it clear also by legislation that laymen have not only the right to receive the sacraments from the clergy, as the present Code of Canon Law states. If the future Church is to have laymen who cooperate responsibly in the tasks of the Church, then surely it is time to begin to train them and to give them a share in the decisions of the Church, even if the administration would function more smoothly without them.

The Problem of the Shortage of Priests

It is perhaps right to consider the problem of the shortage of priests from the same point of view. For this shortage would seem to be by no means so acute if the Church were to entrust the laity with whatever is not prohibited to them by the divine and immutable law of her constitution. To do this would be quite possible, seeing that our laity are very educated and have a considerable amount of spare time. Add to this that the possibilities of the permanent diaconate of married men of mature age have not been at all exhausted. It may therefore be asked how great is the shortage of priests, if we would gradually make the change to a community church of faith.

For if this were done there is another question which places the problem of the shortage of priests under another aspect, which has been discussed before. Up to now the distribution of the clergy has been made according to the principle that every baptized Catholic would have to be looked after directly by a priest. If this principle is applied also to those who do not practice their faith, hence have no real relation to the community Church of faith, then the actual number of priests must, indeed, give the impression of a shortage, for there are not even enough priests for all the established parishes and Mass centres. This conception has inevitably the further consequence that, apart from the priests in the ecclesiastical administration and a few others, all the clergy must be deployed in the parishes. Hence there are hardly any available to care for free, "charismatic", formal or informal groups which are not organized according to the territorial principle. This is aggravated by the tendency, due to various reasons including financial ones, to employ even the regular clergy in the ordinary care of souls. This lack of an as it were "mobile" clergy may well be damaging for the living presence of the Church in a pluralist society, for such a clergy might be aware of new tasks, and make use of special gifts and contacts due to their former professional and general experience. The harm done by the absence of such "freelance" priests might even be greater in the long run than the momentary inability to reach all Catholics as equally and directly as possible. This is not meant to belittle the dignity and importance of the "ordinary care of souls" with its unselfish service and its daily burden. But in a pluralist society of general education and at a time when the community Church of faith is bound to come, we should surely consider whether the spiritual tactics of the people's Church are still viable, and if the "shortage of priests" does not partly stem from this.

In a future community Church of faith there might also be sacramentally ordained "elders" (Greek presbyteroi -- priests) who need not necessarily have passed through all the stages of the modern education and training of priests, an education which was at least partly determined by the fact that the clergy were a sociological "class" among others. This is another consideration which might help to overcome the shortage of priests; for there might well be priests who would be suitable for such a Church of faith and have authority, even though they would be received into the clergy as mature men after a quite differently conceived training.

A few years ago an Austrian Catholic lay congress met under the motto: Do not extinguish the Spirit. Despite the Council we should today perhaps have to say: Arouse the Spirit. True, he is always a gift of God, who governs the Church without having to give an account to us. The Council has also warned against expecting special, arresting charisms in the Church. Nevertheless, we are bound to hope and pray that God may give to his Church the power of a courageous spirit which risks the future, even though this spirit should also include special and unexpected charismatic gifts. We should not only not extinguish such a spirit, but should try rather to arouse it. The Council has shown that such a spirit that dares what is new is still alive in the Church. Its utterances will necessarily either be in danger of being contradicted by obstinate "old believers" (such as happened also in Montanism, Novatianism, Donatism down reactionary Jansenism and Integralism) or of being falsified by a mentality which betrays the spirit of Christ, the folly of the cross and the courage to contradict a world lying in the Evil One by cheap "adaptation". The Church, trusting in her Spirit, must find her way between these two dangers.


Present Tasks: Adapted version of "Blick in die Zukunft", published in N. Greinacher and H. T. Risse, eds,, Bilanz des deutschen Katholizismus (1966), pp. 487 -- 508.