Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher (on the right) with Cardinal Johannes Joachim Degenhardt
What is a layperson? According to common parlance and understanding it is someone who depends on experts. If he wants to invest his wealth, he looks for an investment adviser; if he wants to build a house, he engages an architect. The predominant majority of Church members are lay people. Can the above also apply to them as lay people in the Church?
As an expert in theology, the then 36-year-old Professor Joseph Ratzinger took part in the Second Vatican Council and gave an account of what was negotiated there on the subject of “laity”: “What was noticeable was that in spite of every effort no one was able to give a positive definition of the laity. One has grown used to seeing the layman in antithesis to the priest and religious, as the person who is neither of the two.” Within the demand for office and ordination this understanding has remained prevalent until today.
Karl Barth, one of the most renowned protestant theologians, was invited to the Council to Rome as a guest, but was only able to come, as he called it, ad limina apostolorum — to the doorstep of the apostles, to Peter and Paul, in 1967. He brought critical questions along with him, among others about the decree on the mission of the laity: “Why is the lay apostolate not based on the Church’s definition as polulos (laos) Dei [people of God], but instead on the reference to its contemporary necessity?”
Herbert Wallbrecher (*1922 †1997), like both his older brothers and Johannes Joachim Degenhardt, whom he was closely connected with in the catholic youth movement, considered joining the Jesuits. When his brothers did not return from the war and his parents’ insurance and tax office fell to him. After the end of the Nazi dictatorship and the catastrophe of the Shoah, it was impossible for him to go back to the way life used to be before 1933 as if nothing had happened, which many tried to do. But how to be a Christian now? In this time of questions, that worried him as well as many of his contemporaries, he, now a lawyer and working as an entrepreneur, met Gertraud Weiß from Munich, a psychology student and national head of the Heliand, who had the same question. They met, in Munich they attended a production of Paul Claudel’s “The Satin Slipper” at the newly reopened Kammerspiele; in the afterword, which Hans Urs von Balthasar added to his translation of the play, they found a clearer phrasing of what their question was: “How is it possible to live completely in the world and completely in God?”
Twenty years later the Integrated Community presented itself to the public as the fruit of this initial constellation; another ten years later she was recognized as an “Apostolic Community in the spirit of the decree Apostolicam actuositatem No. 18 and 19 of the Second Vatican Council” by the archbishops of Paderborn and Munich and Freising, the cardinals Johannes Joachim Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger. In the decree it says, i. a.: “Maintaining the proper relationship to Church authorities, the laity have the right to found and control such associations and to join those already existing. The group apostolate of Christian believers happily corresponds to a human and Christian need. Among these associations, those which promote and encourage closer unity between the concrete life of the members and their faith must be given primary consideration.“
Dr. Herbert Wallbrecher with his wife Gertraud – are they perhaps representatives of the modern laity of the Church, whom the fathers of Vatican II hoped for?