The Constantinian Heathenism of the Church: Joseph Ratzinger and the Crisis of our Time

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“The appearance of the church in the modern era shows that in a completely new way it has become a church of heathens, and increasingly so: no longer, as it once was, a Church made up of heathens who have become Christians, but a Church of heathens, who will call themselves Christians, but have really become heathens. Heathenism is entrenched today in the church itself. That is the mark of the Church of our time and also of the new heathenism. This heathenism is actually in the church and a church in whose heart heathenism lives”

(Joseph Ratzinger, Hochland, October 1958)

With these incendiary words in an article shocking for its candor during a time when such things were just not said, a young Joseph Ratzinger burst onto the theological scene in Germany.  All was not well with the Church, despite outward appearances, and Ratzinger was convinced that the Church was in a deep crisis of faith requiring an equally deep theological response.  What is instructive in the quote isn’t just the blunt claim that the Church had been infected by “heathenism,” but also that these words were written in 1958 which gives the lie to the currently popular view among some conservatives that the reforms of Vatican II are responsible for the malaise in the Church.  All Vatican II did was to lift the lid off of the ecclesiastical libido and to thereby allow for the first time a full public expression of the unbelief, brewing for centuries, of the laity and the clerics alike.  Only this can explain why the putative “Catholic” culture of the pre conciliar Church collapsed almost overnight.  The vapid lunacy of the post conciliar Church was the product of the hollow and merely forensic “faith” of the pre conciliar Church.  There is only one Church and these shallow distinctions between the pre and post conciliar Church – – distinctions designed in order to assign blame based on your favored ecclesiastical ideology – – are useless as valid diagnostic tools. 

Ratzinger was not alone in ringing the alarm, as many fellow ressourcement theologians, philosophers, Dorothy Day, and Catholic literary figures in the period between 1920-1960 were making similar claims. The signs of rot were there if you only had the eyes to see it. These prophets were largely ignored by Church leaders and were viewed with deep suspicion as crypto-modernists – – the charge of “modernism” being the new twentieth century version of “she’s a witch!” as it was indiscriminately deployed against both real modernists as well as the nouvelle theologie.   Church leaders were mainly focused on maintaining the façade/illusion of “fortress Catholicism” viewed as a rock-solid bulwark of unchanging “orthodoxy” standing firm against the evils of the modern world.  Ratzinger, and like-minded thinkers, knew that the “fortress” was in fact a house of cards as later events would confirm. 

One of the thinkers who also raised the alarm was the French novelist George Bernanos.   I am currently reading a new reprint of an old book by Bernanos called “The Great Cemeteries Under The Moon.” The book is an account of what Bernanos witnessed in the Spanish civil war while living in Majorca.  First published in 1938 it is a scathing indictment of the Church’s alliance with the Franco regime and its turning a blind-eye to the State sponsored terrorism that Franco used in order to stay in power.  And pertinent to Ratzinger’s claim about the new heathenism in the Church, the main alarm Bernanos is raising is the same as in all of his novels. Namely, that the worldly, practical atheism of the Church was causing a numbing-down of her spiritual senses through a process of accommodation to the existential exhaustion of bourgeois European culture. 

I mention the text by Bernanos in particular because it brings out the main point I want to make in this post.  Namely, that the “heathenism” that Ratzinger saw in the Church was of a far deeper kind, and involves a far deeper apostasy, than the heathenism of a moral and religious relativism that Ratzinger was concerned with at that time.  These are real concerns, and I too share them, but they are largely the bourgeois concerns of the leisured academic class (a class of which I am a member).  In other words, Ratzinger was correct, but insufficiently so (as he himself came to see), since the heathenism that Bernanos is pointing out is not just of the kind denounced in the usual jeremiads about the “corrupt worldliness of the Church” but rather an indictment of the Church’s blessing and embracing of worldly “power” as such that amounts to an endorsement, among many other things, of State sponsored murder.  Indeed, the Church has not only quite often blessed modern, worldly power but also, as Bernanos notes, it has sought to import its methods and to imitate them.  The Church has, of course, murdered people herself in the name of “orthodoxy” not so long ago, so her baptism of the bastards should not shock us, despite the happy-face ecclesiastical emoji that her leaders like to project as they use the fig leaf of “development of doctrine” as an excuse to overlook past sins:  “yeah, yeah, we used to do bad stuff, but we don’t now. Our bad. Now, onto our reform of curial dicasteries.” 

Therefore, one can hardly be blamed for understanding the relativism that so concerned Ratzinger as merely a symptom of a much deeper rot. Because nobody is ever really a relativist.  Ever.  Relativism therefore is always a subspecies of some kind of a deeper rejection directed at the existing moral and spiritual ordo of a specific culture.  And the rot of that culture, the Church’s culture included, with its hypocrisies, corruptions, inconsistencies, and manifest injustices, shares deeply in the blame for the emergent “relativism” of those who reject the entire, tired monument of mendacity.  There are of course theoretical, philosophical relativists, but they do not seem to understand that if their thesis is “true” then they should stop writing and retire to the faculty lounge for a spirited discussion of linguistic theory while drinking high-end bourbon out of a crystal glass made in a sweat shop, while sitting on furniture made in a sweat shop, and wearing tweed suits made in a sweat shop.  Nobody takes such idiots seriously.  But what we often call, too superficially, “relativism” in the broader culture is in reality nothing more than the cri de couer of exhausted souls, living in an exhausted culture, and in search of alternative answers. 

The deeper problem, brought out clearly by Bernanos, is the Church’s 1700 year commitment to various iterations of the Constantinian arrangement. I know this is a cliché these days, but even cliches can be true and this one is.  I hasten to add now all of the usual caveats concerning the broad social implications of the Gospel and of the necessity of the Church to be a participant in the full life of a culture, its political culture included. Nevertheless, the Church is never stronger in the political/public sphere than when it is least implicated in the apparatus of the State.  As soon as it becomes an apparatchik for the reigning political powers its ability to preach a Christ who was unjustly murdered by the Roman Imperium is blunted. The Roman State is often treated as a vestige of a “long ago” regime that was apparently a one-off example of the misuse of State power, rather than being held up, as it should be, as a paradigm for just about every “sovereign State” that has come after.  That certainly seems to be one of the main points of the book of Revelation with its “whore of Babylon” sitting astride the nations. However, Christ’s State execution is often glossed over and soteriologized into a purely “spiritual” act seen as having little to do with our efforts throughout history to curry favor with State power.  The Gospel has social implications? You are damn right it does, and first among them is the recognition that Pilate’s question “what is truth?” displays the convenient relativism of “power” employed by all hegemonic States. Therefore, the Church’s proper stance toward all such forms of political power should not be collusion, but distance.  For it is only in distance from such power that the Church is most free even if, and perhaps most especially, that freedom is that of the martyr.  And that is the only “integralism” that matters. The integralism of the cross and its paradoxical victory over the powers of this world. 

The list of authoritarian States the Church has colluded with over the centuries is so long it would take pages upon pages to enumerate.  But far worse than this collusion wherein the Church tacitly baptizes worldly power for the sake of proximate and expedient goals, is the fact that the Church herself has imported patterns of worldly power into her own governing structure.  After Constantine the Church began a centuries long expansion of power that saw the rise of an inflated “papalism” equipped with all of the apparatus of a political power and eventually adorned in princely, if not kingly, renaissance garb.  Bishops began living in palaces and behaving like the landed aristocracy (and many still do), all of which, in practical terms, was an open repudiation of Christ’s warning that you cannot serve both God and mammon.  The political, as opposed to the cultural, concept of “Christendom” was predicated on the notion that the Church had to wield worldly power in order to be free from other worldly powers.  The papacy even developed its own prisons, standing army, and executioners.  And this is to say nothing of the rampant corruptions and debauchery that infected the Church as a result of this mimesis of Caesar’s power. 

Would the great schism between East and West have happened without this political corruption of the Church?  Would the Reformation?  Tetzel may have lit the match, but the kindling was all around, doused with accelerants, and just waiting to explode into an inferno.  And even though these are all events in our distant past, the fact remains that the Church, well into modern times, clung to its Constantinian power, its worldly perks, its secretive, curial intrigue in the tradition of corrupt kingly courts, and its episcopal pleasure palaces, with ferocious tenacity, kicking against the goad as Christendom slowly died one body part at a time. And even as Christendom’s corpse began to give off a stench the Church tossed perfumed talc over the mess and published a syllabus of errors and demanded oaths against modernism.  Errors were indeed afoot, and modernism was real, but the point is that the old methods of coercive power were now as effective as putting a band aid on a melanoma. 

On the theological side it was inevitable that this political corruption of the Church would also bleed into the concept of the Church as “teacher” and “the sole means of salvation.”  The proper uses of the magisterium devolved into a hyper magisterialism that turned the doctrine of apostolic succession into a weaponized ideology of control. Theological orthodoxy and holding to all the right doctrines became a central focus of the Church’s concept of salvation as such, elevating doctrines and creeds beyond their status as second and third level reflections on the sources of Revelation, and into the realm of Revelation as such.  Creeds, as C.S. Lewis notes, are like road maps.  Useful indeed, but they are not a substitute for the reality they depict.  Creeds are necessary.  But the living Christ is a person, and not a creed. Thus did correct adherence to doctrine come to be wedded with coercive power as the Church justified murdering unrepentant heretics on the grounds that it was for their own good since their salvation depended on getting the doctrines correct.  Church sponsored inquisitions have been greatly exaggerated, as many modern historians are now uncovering, but their existence nevertheless cannot be denied, and they did indeed put people to death.  And the fact that the magisterium of the Church did not condemn the very concept of an inquisition is a sure indicator that the doctrines of the Church had been turned into an ideological superstructure for the maintenance of political Christendom. 

Salvation is a gift from God, in the ordo of grace, and not a parlor game for the intellectually gifted.  And well into the modern period this politicized and distorted magisterialism created an ethos of inquisitorial coercion that did nothing to stem the tide of modernism since its chief means of operation was coercive power and not argument, the imitation of Christ, and the exercise of legitimate authority.  As for modernism and the supposed “fortress” of magisterial efforts to combat it Ratzinger writes: 

“Modernism never really came to a head, but was interrupted by the measure taken by Pius X … The crisis of the present is but the long deferred resumption of what began in those days.”

(“Faith and the Future” Franciscan Herald Press; 1971, p. 92)

I am obviously not arguing against the theological necessity of a magisterium, apostolic succession, the papacy, and the witness of the Church in the public square.  I hold to all of those truths.  However, I am arguing against the peculiar political form that these structures have taken on.  The Italian philosopher Augosto del Noce in an important essay reprinted in the Summer, 2015 edition of the journal Communio makes an important distinction between “power” and “authority.” True authority is rooted in a moral and spiritual sphere and exercises its responsibilities to the truth utilizing tools from that same moral and spiritual domain.  As such, it is the exact opposite of the coercive modus operandi of political “power.” Political power must be coercive since it has no attractiveness in and of itself, and even when it appeals to the enlightened self-interest of its citizens does so from purely utilitarian calculations.  As such, it has very little power to “persuade” and quite often must resort to the stick of force when the carrot of self-interest fails.  Furthermore, when political power does manage to “persuade” it is often through populist demagoguery, or war mongering, or flat-out lies. How much more imperative then is it for the authority of the Church, which is after all a theological reality, and moral and spiritual in its very essence, to eschew “power” and to persuade rather than to coerce.  And the only power of persuasion it has is the towering figure of Christ, who coerced no one but drew the world to himself even as he was “lifted up.” The Church therefore will have no authority whatsoever unless it pursues the path of its Lord and imitates His pattern of kenotic “glory.” 

My claim therefore is that the crisis in the Church today  – – a crisis of faithlessness and de facto atheism – – has been caused by a Church that has had, historically, a lot of “power” and, therefore, now has very little “authority”. And what good, after all, is a magisterium in a Church that has no real spiritual authority even as she continues to function in a purely forensic manner? The “infallibility” of the Church may still be technically intact, but the authority behind it is not.  I wonder, for example, if the American bishops understand that they have zero credibility to teach anything? Decades of colluding with the local civil authorities to cover up child rape for the purpose of preserving that outward façade of a “holy” Church may have preserved their “power” for a time, but at the expense of their authority.  And their response to the crisis, which arose only after their lies were exposed, was to tinker with the bureaucratic apparatus of the Church, her “mechanisms,” all the while exempting themselves from their own protocols for “others” thus insuring a degree of immunity for their ongoing “power.”  All they did was double-down on “process” in order to save the appearances.  In short, it was a cynical and mendacious betrayal of the faithful in order to save their own skins showing once again that the only thing that matters to them is the power that comes with respectability.  We have replaced the old political integralism with an integralism of insurance companies and lawyers, an integralism of bourgeois comfort, in order to preserve the current status of the Church as a suburban strip-mall of ersatz spiritualities. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar notes that there are two basic principles that structure the Church.  The Petrine principle forms the institutional, skeletal element without which the Church would just be a formless blob of disconnected tissues lacking a proper foundation. The Marian principle, which is superior to the Petrine, constitutes the Church’s internal holiness, her “guts” if you will.  And Balthasar emphasizes that without this Marian dimension of holiness the Church is just a dead pile of bones.  The Dominical warning about “whited sepulchers” comes to mind and is exactly what Balthasar is alluding to here.  For too long our hyper magisterialism, born out of an idolatrous ecclesial ideology that makes the Church an end onto itself rather than a mere medium to Christ, has fostered an eclipse of that Marian element in the Church, no matter how many apocalyptic visions of Mary are currently popular.  I have no doubt that Mary has appeared, but her message of prayer, penance, and holiness is ignored in favor of the “secrets” and predictions of doom.  In other words, we are awash in “correct doctrines” and superficial pieties that tickle the ears, but where is the true Marian holiness?? 

The pathology is, unfortunately, deep as can be seen in the quality of our current debates.  Is Pope Francis a heretic?  Should we take communion on the hand or on the tongue? Is the Novus Ordo a creation of Freemason conspirators? Should women lector at Mass? Is Vatican II a robber Council? Should Benedict still be wearing a white cassock? Latin or vernacular? Gothic or fiddleback? Should homosexuals be ministered to gently or should we smash them over the head with a catechism as we refuse to bake them cakes? Is Vigano a prophet or a clown? Should the Vatican bank be shut down? How should the curia be reformed? Should some women be made Cardinals? Deacons? Is Bishop Barron a dangerous modernist? Was von Balthasar a heretic? All of these debates signal a Church still locked in the heathenism of power insofar as they are all concerned with “winning” the debate for “their side” of disputes that are essentially concerned with the Petrine element of the Church at the expense of the Marian.  Where are the debates over asceticism, prayer, penance, vocational commitment, evangelization, and so on? Off the radar.  Nobody cares.  My good friend Fr. Michael Kerper calls this sort of thing “team theology.” And lost in the debates, as we take our side with our team members, is the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42). In short, we are a Church of Marthas. 

My positive proposal is simple, yet difficult:  holiness.  The Church of concordats and position papers is dead.  “Infallibility” is a completely empty concept when it is rooted in power instead of authority.  And where there is no holiness, there is no authority.  I wouldn’t take a recipe for brownies from Stalin, no matter how perfect they look.  Personnel is policy and a hypertrophy of the Petrine element produces the wrong personnel.  Nor is this Donatism.  I am not questioning the validity of anyone’s office.  I am questioning the existential authenticity of the modern Church and its efficaciousness. 

Joseph Ratzinger also understood that the Church of success, wealth, and power – – the Church of Constantine – – had run its course.  The future would belong, he wrote, to a “remnant” of believers, serious in their pursuit of holiness even as they reached out to their neighbors.  It will be a smaller, chastened Church, that will be cruciform and devoted to the “simple ones” so neglected by the world.  It will be a deeply spiritual Church, shorn of its political trappings and having almost no social standing.  And so I give him the last word even as I gave him the first: 

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult… but the Church of faith.  It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that it was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming, and be seen as man’s home where he will find life and hope beyond death.”

(“Faith and the Future”, pp. 105-106)

Dorothy Day, pray for us

27 comments

  1. After reading this I couldn’t help but think of Nicolás Gómez Dávila’s statement that “the [true] Church is the sewer of history, the tumultuous flowing of human impurity toward immaculate seas.” The heathen, instead, diverts, via hegemonic power, the flow of human impurity into his own cesspool.

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  2. Your argument makes me ask what has been the alternative? For a Christian bishop living in the 300s, finding that the Emperor wishes to support the Christian religion, does he say no, you’re a sinner, we don’t want anything to do with you?
    What about the Catholics in Spain in the 1930s, who see clearly enough that the regime in Madrid wants to destroy them, but the Nationalist rebels are seeking their support? I note in passing that 1938 was mid-Spanish Civil war, and Franco was still fighting for power, not established. I don’t know what the situation was on the island of Majorca that Bernanos wrote about, but perhaps the local Church was just happy that Franco’s thugs didn’t want to kill Catholics, like the other side did.
    Suppose you are working today in a bureaucracy that supports a government that promotes abortion, should you resign? Maybe you should. I read somewhere that the early church forbade its members from joining the army AND the imperial bureaucracy.
    You write: The list of authoritarian States the Church has colluded with over the centuries is so long it would take pages upon pages to enumerate. Before the modern era, all states were authoritarian. So is it your argument that the Church should have refused to ever deal with governing authorities?
    Looking through your list of debates that display the pathology, I thought perhaps refusing to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding could count as a move towards holiness. Because the bakers know it will draw down persecution on them, and they are giving public witness. If I was a baker, I would probably just bake it, reasoning that my co-operation with the evil was trivial and remote.
    Your article pivots between talking about heathenism and practical atheism. Of course, heathenism is very different from atheism; heathens have beliefs. I can discern one “belief” in those you criticize; “we must protect our organization”, but I assume more than just that is at work.
    It appears to me that you might be in favour of something like Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, that the “holiness” you speak of might require a significant level of withdrawal from society.
    I also think about stories of saints who accompanied condemned men up onto the scaffold, pleading with them to make a last confession so that their souls would be saved. My reading of our Pope’s views is that they were remiss for not protesting against the death penalty.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your articles.

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  3. Like Michael above, I also enjoy reading your articles (though I find myself wishing that someone would give them one last, close reading for punctuation and typos before you let them fly – but that’s minor).

    Anyway, I found myself latching on to the noun “inquisition” and the adverb “inquisitorial” and your pronouncement midway through the essay about “the very concept of an inquisition”. This is something you think the Church should have condemned – do I have that right?

    You probably grew up in a house like mine, with siblings and chaos and noise. Were you ever subjected to the inquiries of your mother and/or father when you stumbled in a little bit drunk at 2am? I know I was! Many times. Now I know these “inquisitions” don’t rise to the level of the Spanish Inquisition in the great book of world history, but they certainly did in my life, and the lives of my siblings.

    The point I’m trying to make is that “the Church”, as “Mother”, is well within her rights to make inquiry regarding the beliefs and associated actions of her children. In fact, like all good mothers, she is OBLIGATED to do this.

    Obviously, the Church should never allow the apparent need for inquiry, the process of inquiry, or the result of inquiry to become the basis or motivation for some type of power play.

    There’s clear evidence in the past that this was done, and you’re right to condemn it, but I humbly submit that your point needs to be refocused or reconsidered.

    The “Marian Element” – the Church asking her sons and daughters: “What are you doing stumbling in drunk at 2am??”

    I hope this makes sense! God bless.

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  4. Thanks Larry for the thought-provoking essay as usual. I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Cavanaugh – I found his chapter in the Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (titled “Church”) very helpful as I wrestled with how to appropriately critique the worldliness of Christendom without declaring that the Holy Spirit was somehow asleep at the wheel for 1,500 years. I think he holds the tension well.

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    1. I know Bill well. Been an admirer of how works for years. In fact, he spoke at a conference I organized and ran about 25 years ago. Yikes… I am getting old. His views on this topic are my views. I certainly don’t hold that the Holy Spirit has been absent for 1500 years. Quite to the contrary. However, I don’t think the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church keeps her from falling into deep corruption and deep sin. I think history proves that to be the case. Furthermore, even in the one area where the Holy Spirit’s guidance is guaranteed … the teaching magisterium… the charism involved is mainly a negative one of guaranteeing that no serious errors pertaining to the substance of faith will happen. However, my claim is that under the influence of an inflated view of the Church as a perfect society that the charism of the Holy Spirit came to be viewed as more positive than negative, with magisterial documents … especially papal ones… taking on an Oracular quality on a par with Holy Scripture.

      I am not a Protestant in this either despite the accusation in an earlier statement above. Many, many Catholic theologians of a high caliber have noted very similar things. The idea that the Constantinian arrangement was more of a negative than a positive for the Church is now an almost commonplace truth held by most Catholic theologians.

      Anyway… I know I am preaching to the choir here. Thanks for your comment!

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      1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you held that the Holy Spirit was essentially asleep at the wheel – this tension was just something I struggled with as I made my way back into the Church (and still do somewhat). Thanks again for pricking our consciences!

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      2. No problem. I was not offended in the slightest and welcomed the chance to clarify as your comment was pointing out a possible ambiguity in the post. Thanks for reading the blog!

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  5. It is always refreshing to read your thoughts Larry, I agree wholeheartedly with the general thrust of your article. Three thoughts, each of which is probably a little “out of season”. 1. If you ever revise this, you may want to work in, when dealing with the 20th century pre-VII Church’s entanglements, a mention of the disastrous 1933 Concordat with the newly-elected Nazi government made on behalf of Pius XI by then-secretary of state Pacelli, the future Pius XII, and also the prophetic warnings against it, particularly that of future saint Edith Stein. I would argue it was this act, and the subsequent entanglements and compromises of Pius XII’ s church that (in addition to the infamous “neutrality” officially adopted vis-a-vis Hitler’s Germany, also the arguable cooperation of Rome, via such as Cardinal Stepinac, with Nazi-inspired ethnic and religious cleansing in the Balkans) that, more than anything else, morally discredited the pre-conciliar Church, and paved the way for VII’s attempted reforms. 2. Regarding von Balthasar’s inciteful distinction between the “Petrine” and “Marian” charism’s, I would respectfully suggest that the substantively spiritual/mystical side of the Church meant by von Balthasar in the “Marian” charism would be more adequately reflected under a title of a “Johannine”, or perhaps “Johannine/Marian” charism. Not at all to denigrate the Theotokos’ essential role in our salvation or her undoubted leadership role in the early Church, von Balthasar’s ascribing of the mystical element primarily to Mary is an example of the, in my view, and the predominant view of my adopted church, Orthodoxy, unfortunate tendency in the West since the Schism to assimilate whatever remains of what *must* be ascribed to Christ, to Mary. To St. John the Theologian, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is attributed the final and “spiritual” Gospel, three Epistles, and, somewhat controversially, the Apocalypse. He is also inextricably linked to the Theotokos by Tradition. It is my opinion that the West needs to reacquaint itself with and reemphasize more the apostolic and especially Johannine element of the Church, which I believe will strengthen the spiritual/mystical element and provide better integration of the two “sides”. 3. Of much lesser importance, and I suppose it is a pet peeve of mine, but I roll my eyes every time someone adverts to the Masterpiece Cake shop controversy as an example of some sort of oppression of the “LGBT+ community”. We are talking about a small bakery owner, not a Catholic, who refused to bake a cake, not for a homosexual couple qua homosexual couple,, but specifically designed to celebrate a “same-sex marriage”. I don’t think we need to take cheap shots at this act of conscience because we believe that the homosexual community has been unfairly targeted and fixated upon by some elements in the Church. My opinion.

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  6. I would like to suggest reading David Bentley Hart’s article, “Christ or Nothing” -https://www.firstthings.com/article/2003/10/christ-and-nothing – along with your article. Both provide food for thought on where Christians bear responsibility for the confusion, apostasy, and atheism of our time and what Christians need to do.

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  7. unfortunately i am an excitable feller and having just been introduced to your thoughts, i’m left with the inevitable conclusion that God is indeed good; what else can one say when confronted with such clarity. I read this article Friday night and spent yesterday with your other works and i would highlight this: in your post about the visit to the Abbey you mention how you were given the gift of hope; it seems to me that a real fruit of that hope is to be found herein. Hope gives courage to accept the truths of humility, which is best defined as that virtue which allows us to see things as they really are; exhibit number 1, this post.
    This is a hopeful post speaking hard truths that leave one with difficult conclusions. this madness will take generations to solve and will start Christian by Christian choosing to say yes to the call to holiness which is truly the invitation to Divine Eros, and then meeting the world with the inevitable fruit of that union: Agape.
    sorry to ramble, but as i said, i’m easily excitable. thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, for kindling my hope, for your zeal. peace.

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    1. Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for this very thoughtful comment. There is a great need in the Church right now for blunt truths to be spoken. These are difficult times and we need Christians to rise up in holiness to meet the challenge.

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      1. as is typical when i’ve been blessed by a moment of clarity and truth such as when reading this post, it becomes something of a hermeneutical filter for a time as i consider all the implications of its truth. So it was that this morning at Mass when we got to that stunningly generous prayer after the Our Father: Lord look not upon our sins but on the faith of your Church, that I was struck by how the words in this post have relevance to that very petition. I would say that what you offer here becomes a moment of truth wherein one can start to understand what is lost by our compromise w/comfort, power, and mammon. A compromised Church, laity and clerical both, reduces the efficacy / power of this petition, and the world needs, I need, those I love need, this prayer to be prayed with integrity, love, hope, and spiritual power. I am the worst of moral idiots and cling to the generosity of this prayer as a means for salvation. When the Church is faithless, defensive, scared, and compromised the world is left without an effective intercessor. Now God is indeed generous and will accept the intercession of Juan Diego, three little shepherd children, and the Faustina’s of the world, but imagine if he could find those saints everywhere, imagine the solace, salve, and salvation for myself and my neighbor. Anyways, sorry to prattle, just wanted to share the fruit of your good work in my own salvation; i will strive for holiness so that i may effectively pray for my children, my neighbor, and the world. thanks again for helping me get there.

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      2. Prattle on! I write what I write not just to express myself to others, but to explain myself to myself. It helps me to be brutally honest with myself when I write in such a public way my innermost thoughts. Thus, I can only say that I share the experience at Mass you describe. I think we are all clinging to the lifeline of Christ these days.

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  8. Thanks, Larry. As a Hauerwasian convert I sometimes wonder if these sorts of views – which are so near and dear to me – are in fact genuinely Catholic. I sent the piece to several of my fellow Duke converts with the good news that we are Catholics after all. Of course, Baxter and Cavanaugh have taken flack for years for being sectarian tribalists, Donatists, Protestants, or whatever. Glad to add you to the list (not that I ever had any doubt)!

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    1. Hi Colin. Thanks for the reassurance that I am still a Catholic! Judging from many of the emails I get from the rad trad types you would think I am barely sane, let alone Catholic. This issue really, really triggers these types because it makes obvious that they are beholden to a particular political ideology more than they are to Christ.

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  9. I read your post after reading Teresa’s. I find a lot of truth in both. My question is, if Ratzinger saw so clearly the “rot” in the church, why did he not radically change the church? It seems to me that Francis is trying to address the issues but is finding much resistance.

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    1. First off… hi Joe! I hope all is well with you. Give my regards to your wonderful wife. Your question is complicated. As always right? Ha. Ratzinger did try to change things while Pope but also met with betrayal and resistance. His own personal secretary leaked a bunch of his private documents to the press. I think this is why he resigned. Francis is trying too, but he too has been ineffective. Maybe a Church of 1.5 billion is just too much for an old man in Rome to manage.

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  10. I think you make a very good point, which is in many ways similar to the point Cardinal Sarah made in his last book The Day is Now Far Spent.
    In the end it is quite simple -which does not mean easy:
    1) The point of life and the Church is to make us holy: to brings us closer to God so we can somehow join Him for all eternity. This an only this matters: happiness on Earth has never been on the menu; this life is an instrument, not an end. A precious and all important instrument, yes, since there is no other and nothing less than eternal life is at stake, but an instrument.
    2) holiness is like a sport, you can watch others doing it and you can read about it, all that is good, but in the end you have to practice it yourself.
    3) The practice of holiness is simple in principle: prayer, fasting, almsgiving – very hard to actually do in practice; impossible without the sacraments, difficult even with them. For us in our culture step one is to stop entertaining ourselves; there is no point praying the rosary and then watch a Netflix series afterwards.
    4) If you start practicing holiness, God will be your personal trainer, so no need to worry about sweeping top-down rules and regulations. Your conscience will tell you what to do (if you have created enough interior silence to hear it) in any given situation in your life. So, yes, you may have to quit your job and move to a small village in a Ben Op type of scenario, but not as part of a general strategy for humanity but in the pursuit of your own personal holiness. Don’t worry about it, God will let you know when the time comes.

    One minor objection to your article, you leave something crucial out: community. Holiness is a team sport. That’s what the Constantinian arrangement destroyed, Christian communities. That’s what Saint Benedict brought back, Christian Communities. That’s what we need now, Christian Communities; not institutions (or institutional reform) but communities. And what is the difference between institutions and communities? Again simple: in a community your problems are the problems of the community and vice-versa. Not something I have personally experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

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