Where does the Church stand?
As far as we can even think Him, God is at one place in Christ, in the Church. Through rationalism and mysticism, God’s placelessness was inherited to us. His placelessness is expression of modern religiousness. On one side, the new situation is characterized by the placelessness of our Church.
She wants to be everywhere and so she is nowhere. Never and nowhere is she completely herself. She only exists in disguises. She became world without the world becoming Church. Fleeing from herself, the Church today has become subject of profound contempt. Sects are taken more seriously than the Church because they stand at a specific place. Thus, nature and claim gain clarity. As the Church, so also her conception of God is without claim and place, everywhere and nowhere. The Church could not bear the feeling of loneliness in her specific place anymore. She has lost the criterion for her place. Today’s Church is widely a celebrating Christianity. With that she stands at the outskirts and not at the center of life. But she wants to be at the center and so she comments judgingly and condemningly on central questions of life from the outskirts. Thus she makes herself contemptible and hated. What is the actual place of the Church within Christianity? The entire reality of the world’s everyday life. But the entire reality of everyday life has to be seen in the way it comes to stand under God’s judgment. Church, community is there where God’s word is heard throughout all reality, is believed and adhered to. That Church is the center of the world.
Translated from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Das Wesen der Kirche (The nature of the Church), 1932
The good opinion
The biggest obstacle that keeps people from believing, and thus from attaining knowledge and the forgiveness of sin, is the good opinion they have of themselves –
in fact, this “belief in yourself” that in the end is nothing other than the true perversion of faith. When Rousseau says that man is naturally good, then that is just wrong, Nature is neither good nor bad (and it is in no way a measure for good and evil, only for the useful and harmful, the pleasant and unpleasant).
But this is true: Everybody “naturally” has a good opinion of themselves that they do not want to give up for anything in the world and that is also the cause of the feeling, which remains unfamiliar to no one, that the life they are leading might not be the right one. At the same time, precisely because they naturally have that good opinion of themselves, everyone tends to live their life, contrary to said feeling, as a life where everything is absolutely fine and in apple-pie order. And if ever there is something not quite right, then the mess obviously comes from outside.
Translated from: Ferdinand Ebner, Das Wort und die geistigen Realitäten (1919)
Why man is tempted at times
A rabbinic legend tells the tale of a river in a faraway land that is so pious that it stops flowing on the Sabbath.
But God does not give such signs. Obviously, he shudders at the inevitable result: that then precisely the least free, the most fearful and the weakest would be the “most pious.” And God obviously wants only those who are free for his own. But, in order to discern between free men and slavish souls, the mere invisibility of his rule is hardly sufficient. For the fearful ones are fearful enough to prefer, when in doubt, to take the path which “in any case” does not hurt and will even possibly – with a fifty-fifty chance – be useful. Therefore, in order to separate the wheat from the chaff, God must not only be advantageous, he must be absolutely damaging. So he has no choice: he must tempt man; not only must he hide his ruling from him, he must even deceive him about it; he must make it difficult for him and even impossible to see it, so that man may have the opportunity to believe in him and to trust in him truly, that is, in freedom. And so man must know that at times he is tempted in the name of his freedom.
From: Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), The Star of Redemption (1921), in Translation by Barbara Ellen
Reform and Renewal
One of the most significant differences between true renewal and reform. The reformer makes demands of others, especially of authorities;
in his fervent arguments you can always discern a quiet ultimatum: if you do not finally set the Church straight according to my suggestions, then at some point you will have to do without me!
The admonition of someone dedicated to renewal can also be serious and imploring, but essentially and chiefly it is directed toward himself; toward others it is not a demand, but an appeal. His hopes are based neither on the abilities of the others or his own, but on the Spirit of God, who is the spirit of renewal. It is from Him that he expects renewal, not from people, their institutions and methods; he sees being open to Him as his actual contribution. He waits and prays impatiently because the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. But deeper than his impatience is his patience because to him the things of God are not linked to his own achievement and consequently the duration of his own life.
Translated from: Walter Dirks, Die geistige Aufgabe des deutschen Katholizismus, in: Frankfurter Hefte (Nr. 2, Mai 1946, 1. Jahrgang)
Zeitgeisty – 1930
Noticeable about the attitude of the two national churches is their lolling tongue. Breathlessly panting they are chasing the spirit of the times, lest someone gets away. “Us too! Us too!”, no more “Us”, as in centuries prior.
Socialism? Us too. Youth movement? Us too. Sports? Us too. These churches create nothing, they change what others have created, what others have developed, into elements that can be useful to them. The church has given in; she hasn’t changed herself, she has been changed.
Translated from: Kurt Tucholsky, Braut- und Sport-Unterricht (1930)
Pope Francis warned of the temptation to want to “clean up” the Church. “That would mean taming things, taming the young people, taming the heart of people.”
It is not about “cleaning up”, the Pope says. “Nowadays we are called to bear the imbalance. We can do no good, nothing gospel-like, if we are afraid of imbalance.” The gospel itself is an “unbalanced teaching”, says the Pope: “Just take the beatitudes, they deserve the Nobel Prize for imbalance.”
Francis illustrated his train of thought with the example of a highly functionally equipped diocese, where many specialists neatly sit in offices and work on problems. The diocese in question, Francis did not name it, has “more employees than the Vatican”, but it moves further away “from Jesus Christ every day because it worships harmony, the harmony of functional worldliness. In these cases we have fallen into the dictatorship of functionalism.” From the Pope’s perspective the problem with this is that the gospel turns into “a wise saying, a teaching”, but not proclamation. The invention of synods and counter-synods also shows a departure from proclamation: they show attempts to “clean up” things. True synods need the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit gives the table a kick, throws it over and starts from the beginning.”
Francis also called the priests, religious and lay people to overcome their own interests. The good shepherd in the gospel, who searches for that one lost sheep, has but one interest: that not one of them is lost. “Often times we are obsessed with thinking of the few sheep that are still in the fold. And many give up on being shepherds of sheep and become barbers of exquisite sheep.”
From the words of Pope Francis to priests, religious and lay people of the Roman diocese, May 9th, 2019, in the Lateran Basilica; translated from Vatican News.
On ecology of man
The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly.
Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.
From the address of Benedict XVI at the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, Berlin; the complete address you will find here.
A comment on the state of Christianity in Germany
Christianity – and this is its fairest merit – subdued to a certain extent the brutal warrior ardor of the Germans, but it could not entirely quench it;
and when the cross, that restraining talisman, falls to pieces, then the ferocity of the old combatants, the frantic Berserker rage whereof Northern poets say and sing so much, will break forth again. The talisman has become rotten, and the day will come when it will crumble to dust pitifully. The old stone gods will then arise from the forgotten ruins and wipe the thousand-year-old dust from their eyes. And Thor with his giant hammer will arise again, and he will shatter the Gothic cathedrals. … And when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then know that at last the German thunderbolt has fallen. … A drama will be played in Germany, compared to which the French Revolution will seem but an innocent idyll.
Translated from: Heinrich Heine, Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (1835)
What can withstand death
he world is too small for man, even when he can fly to the moon or maybe one day to Mars.
He longs for the other, the completely other, that he cannot give himself. Behind this stands the desire to overcome death. In all their feasts people have always searched for the life that is bigger than death. Ultimately, man is striving for joy, fumbling, wandering from one place to the next. This joy is only true if it withstands the question of death. Eucharist means that the resurrection of the Lord gifts us the empowerment to joy, which no one else can give. It has cost the death of the Lord, and only because of this can it be the gift of the resurrection.
Translated from: Joseph Ratzinger, Das Fest des Glaubens (1981)
Fragment on Holy Scripture
According to its form, its rhythm, its cadence: a book from the night of the times. That is true, and at the same time the reader of our times, today, can read his own story in the bible, book by book, unlike in any other book:
he can discover it there, then understand it, then face it. The reader is the tragicomical hero of all the biblical stories; not just of the stories, but also of the love poems, like in the Song of Songs, and of the cries for help, like in the Psalms, over and over again. You, reader, have lived the first moment of color in Eden, and you will witness those black and blacker last moments, your mouth full of vinegar (and worse), where you will cry out with the question, why your so to speak omnipotent Father has abandoned you. Hence for the reader the bible is a terrifying, dangerous book: He is forced to see what his true situation as a mortal is, deep down. Lost son, who feels safe because his Father has forgiven him for once – even prepared a feast for him. But after, on the cross, where is he, my Father and his promised feast? The bible can awaken sheer horror in its reader: ah, this lunatic, who thinks he is God, immortal; that sniveler, who in distress boasts of the omnipotence of his Father to his adversaries, and of how He will come to the rescue at any moment; this so-called Son of God, who dies like a stray dog – I am all of that, I, who am reading this. You, who read the bible today: Beware, danger of death! Or danger of life? Ensouling danger? Inspiring danger, since that night of the times? Healing danger? Danger of salvation?
Translated from: Peter Handke, Langsam im Schatten (1992)