dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

"A smaller but purer Church"?

The phrase above is often attributed to Pope Benedict XVI. I have just googled it but not found it as his own expression, although many people attribute the idea to him. For example, in a story at the time of his election, I find this reference to our own David Gibson: "He has said himself that he wanted a smaller but purer church, Gibson said, referring to Ratzingers suggestion that Christianity may need to become smaller, in terms of its cultural significance, to remain true to itself." In Davids book, The Rule of Benedict, there is a reference to the phrase in the context of a discussion of Ratzingers criticism of the German hierarchy during the Second World War for having allowed concern for institutional security to dull its awareness of what was going on under the Nazis. David writes:

Ratzinger says there was a German core that did remain faithful to Catholicism, but as cardinal and pope he would return to the theme of the dangers of privileging institutional ties, emphasizing that the church would do better to shed bricks and mortaruniversities, hospitals, parochial schools, and the likerather than have them animated by anything less than a purely orthodox faith. This is an element of his oft-cited preference for a "smaller but purer" church of the holy remnant. This preference for the minimum, the creed of the classical conservative he remains, would manifest itself in many ways, notably in an ingrained suspicion of national bishops conferences, which he saw in wartime Germany and later as acting in national-self-interest rather than in the interests of worldwide Catholicism.

This reference could suggest an argument along these lines: If the Catholic Church in Germany under the Nazis had been smaller but purer (e.g., if there had been more people like Franz Jgersttter and fewer like his bishop), it would have provided a greater Christian witness against Hitlers totalitarian regime than it did. I would agree with such an argument. Similarly, the massive institutional structure and apparatus of the Church can seriously compromise the freedom and eagerness of the Church to follow Christ as much as his possessions led the rich young man to depart saddened from his encounter with Christ because he had demanded that he sell all that he have, give it to the poor, and follow him along a path that would end at Calvary.But I would like to be able to consult the place or places in which Ratzinger/Benedict speak of this "smaller but purer church"? Can anyone help?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Fr. Komonchak, thank you for this post. I had contemplated adding a comment in a thread below, asking for a cite of this oft-repeated claim.Thanks also for the passage from David G's book - it looks like a very interesting read (particularly that bit about national conferences), and I'm just finishing up the book I've been reading ...

Fr. Komonchak - I believe this sentiment comes from a harsh interpretation of Ratzinger's comments about the "mustard seed." I found a helpful synthesis of the theme here: http://scecclesia.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/ratzingers-mustard-seed/

Suppose: 1) the words "smaller, purer church" were not said by Ratzinger; 2) those words, however, have been increasingly offered as the appropriate interpretation of what he did say, which is susceptible (at least on its face) to such an interpretation; and3) the ideal of the smaller purer church is increasingly present in the approach of the life of the American church, thanks in part to people such as Chaput, the apb of Minnesota, Burke, etc. Just like (to pick up another thread): 1) the words "wall of separation of church and state" are not in the Constitution; 2) those words, however, have been increasingly offered as the appropriate interpretation of what is in the Constitution which is susceptible (at least on its face) to such an interpretation; and 3) the ideal of a wall of separation is increasingly present and powerful in American political life.In both cases, merely pointing out that the original words do not compel such a development (and all interpretation involves some form of development --at least specification) isn't sufficient to combat the difficulty.

Makes sense to have a smaller purer church not tied to appeasing political leaders. Seems to me this kind of church would have supported a Romero and Guttierez. It is not so much orthodoxy that will be helped as it would the true gospel.

Ascertaining whether or not Ratzinger/Benedict ever used the phrase "smaller but purer church" does not settle all questions having to do with the phrase, but the scholar in me--I once taught at a university--thinks it not an illegitimate query, and not least in order to know what the present Pope, if he used the phrase or said something like it, meant and, whether it fairly describes the program of his pontificate and whether it is rightly invoked by those who wish to take him as the guide for their own, more circumscribed, programs.

Weve been referred to the set of interviews gathered as Salt of the Earth, pp. 15-16. Here Ratzinger was asked about his failure to bring about a broad movement against the currents of our time and a general change in mentality. He responded that he never imagined he could redirect the rudder of history. And if our Lord himself ends up on the Cross, one sees that Gods ways do not lead immediately to measurable successes. He then alludes to Jesus parables about the mustard seed, the yeast, which told the disciples that statistics is not one of Gods measurements. He went on:In spite of that, something essential and crucial happens with the mustard seeds and the leaven, even though you cant see it now. In that sense, I think we have to disregard quantitative measures of success. After all, were not a business operation that can look at the numbers to measure whether our policy has been successful and whether were selling more and more. Rather, were performing a service, and in the end, when weve done our job, we put it in the Lords hands. On the other hand, that doesnt mean the everything is totally in vain. In fact, there are stirrings of faith among young people on every continent.Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Churchs history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the worldthat let God in. I see that there is once more a great deal of activity of this kind.... There are certainly no mass conversions to Christianity, no reversal of the historical paradigm, no about-face. But there are powerful ways in which faith is present, inspiring people again and giving them dynamism and joy. In other words, there is a presence of faith that means something for the world.This strikes me as prognosis more than program. It reminds me of Karl Rahners assessment of the Churchs situation at the beginning of the 1970's as one of transition from a Church sustained by a homogeneously Christian society and almost identical with it, from a peoples Church [Volkskirche], to a Church made up of those who have struggled against their environment in order to reach a personally clearly and explicitly responsible decision of faith. This will be the Church of the future or there will be no Church at all (The Shape of the Church to Come, p. 24). The next chapter in this provocative little book is entitled Church of the Little Flock, and it begins with the prediction: We are the beginning of the little flock. I say the beginning because, without being really deeply disturbed in my faith, I am sure that in the next decades the German Church will decline quite considerably numerically, at least in relation to the total population, and in social influence (p. 30). Rahner then goes on to urge that a Church thus diminished in size and influence not become a ghetto or a sect.

Interesting question. The phrase is quoted so often and has been for so long, that I assumed Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict really said it. But maybe it was McCloskey.http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/05/02/050502ta_talk_kramer (Jane Kramer puts "purer" in quotation marks, but there's no source.)http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/puzzling-pope-0 (Greeley puts "smaller and purer Church" in quotations marks in his review of Gibson's book.)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Navone (No quotation marks around Navone's answer.)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7619740/ (Russert on Meet the Press in 2005 said McCloskey predicted "almost a smaller and purer church".)

I think what the pope said matters, of course. But I think as traditions develop in living ways, unless he himself clearly rules out the "smaller purer church" model, it's going to be very hard to combat it practically.

Just weighing in now, with some comments I'd sent to Father Komonchak in an email...But the passage cited above I think captures well Benedict's sense of the saving remnant/mustard seed/leaven/creative minority...I am certain I never found the smaller but purer phrase directly attributed to Ratzinger, and I believe (hope) I made that clear in the book, even as I believe the concept is one he embraces and is an important one in reading him. He also speaks frequently of the mustard seed parable as appropriate to this wintertime of the faith (as opposed to John Pauls springtime), and of Toynbees idea of creative minorities preserving and carrying culture forward through dark times. Ratzinger also spoke of his comfort with different levels or degrees of association in the church, that is, those who are faithful and entrusted with responsibility and authority, and those who he said, understandably, would find themselves on the fringes, though still attached by baptism or whatever. The smaller but purer motif is usually used in a critical way to suggest that it is a goal he is actively working toward, and I believe that can be argued in a limited sense, though to the extent most would see it. He doesnt necessarily want a smaller church, but he simply sees that as a reality, in his rather fatalistic view of things, and he sees the saving remnant as the best hope for the church. I also believe he sees it as easier to control. Hes uncomfortable with the messyness of the church, especially these days. Anyway, thats my analysis/bias. As with many things regarding Ratzinger, I agree with him in many respects, and I like the Rahner citation from Father K. I do think the faith, in places like Europe mainly, and perhaps eventually here in North America, will be preserved and transmitted most effectively by small communities I think of Bose and Taize, e.g., rather than the Latin Mass types, however (though B16 likes Taize well enough). And I think it is often creative minorities who keep things going. But he is too eager in my mind to write off seeds of renewal in non-traditional places, and faith found outside the church parameters. And his view that we are living in a parallel secular version of the Nazi regime he grew up under seems over the top and too much like a desire for a do-over for him. The Nazi-era lesson of Ratzingers that Father K cites is valid, but the flip side of that, which Ratzinger has never really explained, is that many of his heroes von Faulhaber, Pius XII acted in defense of those institutions, too. Its interesting. And I think pinning the blame too much on the self-protective institutional culture is problematic. Church institutions can be heroic universities and such. And as cardinal and pope, Benedict has been quick to defend the churchs institutional prerogatives, such as crucifixes in classrooms. One last thing, I think Ratzinger is very much a cultural Catholic (as well as a genuine Catholic, I suppose I should add), hence his alliances with culturally conservative atheists and agnostics, Marcello Pera and Oriana Fallaci et al. But he tends to universalize his own European/Bavarian world, which, given the Catholic straits in Germany, would give one a dim view of the present and future, and which also ignores the enormous growth elsewhere in the Catholic world.The question of numbers and growth are esepcially problematic for papalists, as there often seems to be a desire to adopt the persecuted minority view of the lone voice in the wilderness, in which being small in numbers connotes greatness of purpose and righteousness. But then those same folks play up and even overhype numbers as evidence of their champion's power and righteousness. It seems they want it both ways. I think those two motifs, martyrdom and the missionary impulse, are often in tension. Anyway, that's my story. Smaller but purer -- like Cathy said, it's the separation of church and state of the Ratzinger revolution!

PS: As Gerelyn noted, it was Ratzinger's fans who often trumpeted the exact "smaller but purer" phrase. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, especially if its fans are running the show.

I thought Cathy's analogy was quite germane.Claire's cite of Rahner in the "lukewarm Catholic" thread below helps raise the nub of the problem, viz. is BXVI, in blessin ghis curial led Church in its policy moving it more to the 'mustard seed' or the sect or ghetto?Those in drift, including myself, think the latter far more probable.

If Benedict spoke of a smaller but purer church, he would not have done so first in English, I would think. He might have used Italian or German, no?

In a column that comes up on Google, Timothy Garton Ash used the phrase "klein aber rein," but whether this was his or Ratzinger's is not clear.

"In both cases, merely pointing out that the original words do not compel such a development (and all interpretation involves some form of development at least specification) isnt sufficient to combat the difficulty."True - not sufficient, but necessary, if we desire to understand what was originally said and meant.

"Smaller" is an objective condition. "Purer" is in the eye of the beholder. I do not concede that a smaller church will be purer.

The analogy with the the phrase "wall of separation of Church and State" is apt in this sense that those who are indifferent to the question whether it is found in the Constitution miss an opportunity to contribute to the public debate and to clarify it by pointing out that the phrase is not constitutionally normative but represents already a particular way of interpreting the actual words of the First Amendment. Something similar appears to be occurring with the phrase often attributed (mistakenly, it appears) to Ratzinger/Benedict.

I'm sympathetic to those who yearn for a deeper, more intentional commitment to faith. The reason why I think nothing positive about the smaller/purer meme is that it strikes me as narcissism and gnosticism in a rather convenient marriage devoid of personal sacrifice. The desert tradition began with people dissatisfied with the Church at peace with Empire. Their solution wasn't to shut down their catechumenates and eject the lukewarm masses, but to go to the wilderness and find God. When I see evidence of the smaller/purer crowd aligning with sacrifice, personal reform, and metanoia, I'll be ready to listen. Until then, this is just class warfare transferred to a pseudo-religious mentality.Another possibly unfair bit tacked to the B16 legacy. I don't think he meant what his followers have picked up, but we're probably past the point of plausible deniability for him.

Whatever the source, the "smaller but purer" approach seems to clash with efforts being made to bring lapsed Catholics back home, to convince young people that there is a place in the church for them, and so forth ... the effort to "meet people where they are," as it is often put. A lot of people work very hard at these ministries.

I've used the phrase "smaller but purer church" and attributed it to B16 quite often in my blogging and conversation. In light of Joseph Komonchak's query, I'm going to try to avoid such attribution in the future unless/until any further information might reveal otherwise.In the meantime in the world of blogging, it is not at all unusual to see self-described "orthodox" Catholics invite their liberal/progressive adversaries out of the Church of Rome. During the years immediately after Vatican II, was it the liberals/progressives who might have suggested to conservative Catholic complainers that they leave the church? I don't know. What we are witnessing, however, is exodus from the institutional Catholic Church in the U.S. But for the influx of Hispanics, we'd be seeing actual decrease in numbers. People leave for many different reasons, as the Pew Survey data indicate. I've no doubt in my mind, however, that departures from "the fold" are largely due to the pontificates of JPII and now B16. Anyway, returning to the "smaller but purer" language, as I've written here or elsewhere, it's the "purer" part that gives me heartburn. I don't see genuine Christian witness in the behaviors of Burke, Nienstedt, and other likeminded hierarchs. O, well...

I have no problem with the concept of a smaller, purer church, as I understand the concept. I imagine many who would view themselves as on the outside looking in, if the church were "smaller", have a problem with the concept, but then why would you want to join a club that stands for things you don't sufficiently believe in?Assuming smaller (not purer) is the offending word, I interpret the concept of a smaller church in the sense that evangelism does not consist of bending to the world, to increase the size the church. Evangelism consists of a confidence and faith that the church's message does not need to be, indeed cannot be, diluted for the Word to thrive. We went the dilution route in the 1970's in our seminaries--how did that work out?It's not the people that would be purer, it's the message. The people will follow.

Four and a half hours is probably not enough time to establish firmly that the Pope didn't himself use the phrase, so I'll wait a couple of days. An interesting further point. When I google the topic, I don't find any references to the phrase as associated with Ratzinger earlier than his election as Pope, when there is a flurry of them, many (perhaps most) of them appearing to echo the comment attributed to David Gibson above. David: Could it be that you are, singlehandedly, responsible for this association?

I thought it was before Benedict's election that the phrase was mentioned a lot. Around the time when there was a lot of talk about Ecclesia Dei and reconciling with the SPPX, etc.Googling "latin mass smaller purer" brings up weird stuff, including a claim by a poster "Bernard" on this site -- http://tiny.cc/02n89 -- that Ratzinger was interviewed by Arroyo in 2003 and talked about Smaller numbers, I think. but from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world". He gives no link. (Scroll down two-thirds.)

What Garton Ash said was "klein aber fein," and I have corrected this above. It means "small but excellent," with one translation offered suggesting "small is beautiful!" The issue is likely to turn on a couple of things: What is meant by purity here? It is a Beatitude after all: "Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God," and Kierkegaard sought the Christians of his age to go beyond merely nominal or cultural Catholicism when he wrote a book entitled Purity of Heart is to Will one Thing, and perhaps we could agree that seeking to will the one great thing, that is, the will of God, would be a good thing for the Church, that is, for us, to pursue.Then, of course, one would think it the role of Church leaders not to make the Church smaller but to make it purer, in the sense just described. A question: Does making the Church purer inevitably make it smaller? Certainly, as Barbara points out above, making it smaller does not necessary make it purer.

Also see page 222 of Salt of The Earth.

"Ascertaining whether or not Ratzinger/Benedict ever used the phrase smaller but purer church . . ."JAK --Given the exegetic nature of this thread, maybe we should note that sometimes Ratzinger is said to have said "smaller and purer church" and sometimes as "smaller but purer church". Depending on context and whether or not the reports which we are considering were verbatim, there might be a very large difference in his intended meaning. Consider these possibilities: In the first century the Church was smaller and purer.In the first century, when Christians were persecuted, there was a smaller but purer Church.In the 21st century the Church will be smaller and purer.Already in the 20th century, the Church was smaller but purer.Also note that "smaller and purer" has a very different connotation from "small and pure". Consider"She was smaller and purer than her competitors.She was small and pure. (as if small is a necessary condition of pure)(Yes, this is linguistic analysis at its most boring, but sometimes it sheds some light or makes us ask further questions.) I do wonder if Ratzinger ever used either of the phrases and what he meant by it or them.

I do not know if/where the pope used the phrase but there is a benign way to understand the sentiment. When Karl Raner made the often quoted observation that the Christian of the future would either be a mystic or not a Christian at all he was making a point that the culture might not support traditional faith - that one would either have an experience of faith or one would not survive as a Christian. The article of Peer Steinfels on the dissafection of so many Catholics in this country is a variation of the theme.

Ann: That's my question, too. So far there's no evidence that he used either phrase. Kevin: Thank you for the reference. Here is what is said there: "The Church, too, as we have already said, will assume different forms. She will be less identified with the great societies, more a minority Church, she will live in small, vital circles of really convinced believers who live their faith. But precisely in this way she will, biblically speaking, become the salt of the earth again."This is similar to what Rahner was saying and reminds me also of what Congar said about the inner Christian life that will be required once all the social and cultural supports for the faith are gone. We discussed this in the thread entitled "Christians without Backbones" below.I tried the phrase "smaller but purer" on Lexis-Nexis and found there examples of the use of the phrase with regard to splits in political parties, among Communists, etc. One reference to Benedict occurs after his election."A smaller and purer church" also appears with reference to splits within the Anglican community.

Making the rounds is some (Catholic) e-mails is the comment : latest hierarchical rationalization: smaller is better."I'd be bemused if the issue wasn't so sad and divisive.The comment was accompanied by a large phote of the Minnesota Bishop of "lukewarm" fame.But he and other bishops continue to be supported by BXVI and there's little or no drift engagement no matter what Benedict said or is thought to have said.So, if we are moving towards a smaller (and purer?) Church, does the buck stop at Benedict's door?

I googled "Ratzinger smaller, purer" and came up with a Business Week interview with Scott Appleby after Ratzinger's election as pope. Appleby is quoted as saying, "it's true Pope Benedict XVI prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church as he has spoken of before, we could see a withering of certain Catholic institutions because they're not considered fully Catholic. This might include Catholic colleges, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions."Interesting that he includes "leaner" among the adjectives. That can have quite a different meaning from "purer" and from "smaller". I wonder which sayings of Ratzinger Prof. Appleby had in mind. Given the "leaner" he might have been thinking of the Curia and of allowing more collegiality our in the sticks.One thing is certain, I think, Ratzinger/Benedict has not been consistent in all of his views, and maybe he never was. Or maybe there are truly two Ratzingers. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_18/b3931074_mz054.htm

I believe the sentiment for "smaller but purer" comes from Glaube und ZukunftHere is an excerpt I have found on the Wir sind Kirche site:Die Kirche der Zukunft "wird klein werden ... Sie wird viele der Bauten nicht mehr fllen knnen ... Sie wird auch gewi neue Formen des Amtes kennen und bewhrte Christen, die im Beruf stehen, zu Priestern weihen" (J. Ratzinger, Glaube u. Zukunft, Mnchen 1970, 123).The Church of the future will be small...She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings...She will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs. I have found other excerpt that suggest a purer Church, but they are in English, supposedly translated from the same book. I have not been able to find a full German copy online to verify the translation:As a small community, she will demand much more from the initiative of each of her members and she will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will raise up to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs. In many smaller communities, respectively in social groups with some affinity, the normal care of souls will take place in this way .... There will be an interiorized Church, which neither takes advantage of its political mandate nor flirts with the left or the right. This will be achieved with effort because the process of crystallization and clarification will demand great exertion. It will make her poor and a Church of the little people .... All this will require time. The process will be slow and painful .... From this interiorized and simplified Church, a great force will pour out. The men of an [artificially] planned world will feel unspeakably isolated. When God will seem to have totally disappeared for them, they will experience a complete and horrible poverty. And then they will discover the small community of those who believe as something entirely new ....

Many years ago I remember reading an interview with Ratzinger when he spoke of a time when the Church would be made up of a faithful remnant. I do not remember the phrase smaller and purer, although that could have been part of the phrase. Certainly the intent of the statement was to say that there were some in the Church who were not as faithful as they should be. This phrase was quickly picked up by the right to suggest that Ratzinger was speaking about them. However, I've often used the phrase myself to call Catholics to an intensity of faith. Unfortunately, I do not remember the source of the phrase, but I know that it exists. Perhaps a search for Ratzinger and "faithful remnant" would reveal the source.

Without slighting the interesting comments on smaller-purer-leaner, etc., Barbara is surely right that "smaller" does not entail "purer." And may I add that I can't see any reason that I shouldn't hope and pray for a larger Church and oppose any actions that would make it unnecessarily difficult for people to join or to stay in the Church.And by the way, doesn't some of the talk mentioned above on this thread about pure and or lean sound like military talk for what characteristics are desirable for an organization to defeat its enemies or competitors? What's Christian about such talk? The gospels surely give lots of support to talking and thinking like this. Yes, I know and appreciate that there is some tough talk in the Scriptures. But that tough talk is always in service of a loving call extended widely to all sorts of people in all sorts of spiritual need.

If (and I emphasize if) the Pope is inclined to tolerate a smaller Church because he thinks its purer, then I for one am scandalized. The Lord didn't tell his disciples to be satisfied with a few converts, He said to preach to all nations, and I assume that meant the good and the bad, the pure and the impure everywhere. But that requires learning their languages, and learning their languages requires understanding their experiences which give weight to their languages. I don't think the Pope is inclined to do that.(In fact, it looks like the enormously great understanding of language that has been accomplished since the mid-19th century has passed him and the whole curial culture by. If they understood how language works they wouldn't put their feet in their mouths with such regularity. But I digress.)

I came accross this translation from a 1969 radio address that Ratzinger gave, at the time i thought it might be the source of this "smaller and purer church" that he is often credited to have argued for. Similar to the Salt and Light remarks, it seems more descriptive than proscriptive: "From todays crisis, a church will emerge tomorrow that will have lost a great deal. She will be small and to a large extent she will have to start from the beginning. She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings created in her period of great splendor. Because of the smaller number of her followers she will lose many of her privileges in society. Contrary to what has happened until now, she will present herself much more as a community of volunteers, she will demand much more from the initiative of each of her members and she will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will raise up to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs It will make her poor and a church of the little people all this will require time. The process will be slow and painful."

errata - Salt of the Earth, not Salt and Light!

Bernard --Interesting perhaps that both you and I simultaneously sent a similar message -- I gather that you and I must have both been young uns' under the same great archbishop (Rummell) and that might account for our similar views. I can't imagine Archb. Rummell (who was German-born!) talking with any degree of satisfaction about some hypothetical smaller, purer Church. He wanted those schools, and he wanted them open to everyone.Yes, folks, there is such a thing as a great bishop.

Alan: Thanks for the reference. The work has been translated and published in English as Faith and the Future, and the pertinent passages are in the last chapter, entitled "What will the Church Look Like in 2000." Ratzinger's description, published in 1970, is very similar to that of Rahner, published in 1972. That he predicts that the Church will be smaller is very clear, but I don't find the word "purer" in the chapter. He does speak of "a more spiritualized Church," of "a more spiritualized and simplified Church." Rahner thinks that the Church of the future will be "a Church of real spirituality," which he appears to contrast to "the kind of sloth and pettiness that is prevalent among Christians today," to "our impoverished spirituality in the German Church today." "The Church then must remain the Church of mystery and of the evangelical joy of redeemed freedom."Ann: I don't think his view has ever been the one that scandalizes you. I don't think he has ever proposed that we not address all of humanity, or that we aim at becoming smaller. He predicted that we would become smaller, in size and in influence.

Oops -- I misquoted Prof. Appleby -- I didn't include a crucial 'If". It should have been:"IF (emphasis mine) it's true Pope Benedict XVI prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church as he has spoken of before, we could see a withering of certain Catholic institutions because they're not considered fully Catholic. This might include Catholic colleges, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions."

JAK --I didn't mean that he thought such a Church would be good. I just think that he is satisfied to *tolerate* such a Church, even for a long period of time. Such an attitude, I think, does not present the confidence in the grace of God that is always always there for changing us sinners. In other words, I think he is much too pessimistic. I've always thought of him as too Lutheran/Calvinistic, with their too negative view of human nature, and these ideas confirm it. The "purer" members of such a church sound too much like the elect to me.Maybe I'm just objecting to his sort of very negative mindset, which really isn't a matter of faith but of individual psychology. Of course, given the history of Germany during his lifetime, it's perhaps no wonder he thinks so ill of human nature. But most people are not Nazis.

I think "eine kleinere aber reinere Kirche" has a nice ring to it.

Whether the Pope is too pessimistic about the future I suppose will be settled in the future. He certainly has not adopted an "Oh my, let's just let it happen" attitude, but has urged one and all in the Church to preach the Gospel and to call all people to believe in it. Those early predictions, shared by Karl Rahner, were not exhortations to passive resignation in the face of human resistance to grace, but an effort at analysis, with the assumption, yes, that bigger is not necessarily better, and smaller is not necessarily worse--a view that many Catholics have a good deal of difficulty accepting. Jacques Maritain got inito trouble when he proposed that the Church rely on "the poor means of the Gospel" to fulfill its role in society and culture rather than on the institutional, financial, and coercive support of the State.And, please, let us all recognize that, so far, no one has cited a text of his that speaks of a "smaller but purer Church."

I think it is critical to this discussion to ask "smaller where?" Because numerically, we are headed to a 1.3 billion member church by 2025 so absolutely numerically small just isn't in the cards for Catholics anytime soon. No Christian group has ever, in history, had to deal with such numbers.1) But smaller in Europe? In terms of stature, influence, cultural impact, state-church relationships, attendance - sure. European Christendom is well and truly dead. But then, the entire population of Europe is declining as well. The whole "smaller" discussion is a reflection of the anxieties and debates of western Catholics, who do have something to be anxious about.2) Will European/western Catholicism be a much smaller part of the global Catholicism? Yes, absolutely. We are already a minority of about 35% and will soon only amount to 30% of global Catholicism. 3) Will the Catholic Church, as a whole, comprise a smaller percentage of global Christianity? Yes - The Catholic Church grew rapidly through the 19th and 20th centuries until our high point in 1970 when Catholics made up 53.9% of all Christians. Our global footprint has been slowly declining ever since. Right now, we are just about 50% of all Christians. By 2025, we'll have slipped below half to about 48.8%. What we are witnessing in our lifetime is the gradual Protestantization of global Christianity. In 1900, Catholics and Orthodox together made up nearly 3/4 of all Christians on the planet. Today, RC/O make up about 60% and the heirs of the Reformation about 40%. By 2050, Protestants and their spiritual children like the new waves of Independents and renewalists will probably make up more than half of all Christians. Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are growing much more slowly than the world's population while Independent and renewalist Christians are growing at twice he rate of the world's population. To put it simply, they are evangelizing with great passion, creativity, and a sense of mission and we aren't. 4) But will the Catholics of Africa, Asia, and South American experience the 21st century as a time of a "smaller" Church? That is very unlikely. Their 21st century is going to be very different from that of European Catholics. 5) Honestly, we can't deal effectively with the numbers we have now. Not only have 32% of cradle Catholics in the US jettisoned that religious identity altogether, an additional 38% of those who have kept it seldom or never cross the threshold of our parishes anyway. Only about 30% of those raised Catholic in this country "practice" (that is, show up at Mass at least once a month.) Only about 15.6% of those raised Catholic are at Mass on a given weekend. Which is also roughly the percentage of millennial Catholics at Mass on a given weekend. For western Catholicism to go through a time of relative (this is only relative - I used to be a Quaker and there were only 300,000 of us in the whole world and we didn't spend our time worrying about it!) decline in numbers will be disturbing and disorienting but may well force us to re-focus on the essentials which eventually leads to a new cycle of growth. But I would agree that the Pope is only being descriptive, rather than prescriptive in recognizing these trends in the west. For the Pope to have recognized this so early (documents from the late 60's are being quoted) is quite remarkable. The unhappy souls who go around gleefully predicting empty suburban parishes or anticipating the imminent death of all baby boomers are crazy and I tell them so. Such an attitude is so plainly contrary to the heart of God. But we are called to recognize the signs of the times in which we live.

Out of death comes new life.I hope we are witnessing the death throes of the pre-Vatican II institutional church.All the pope's lackeys and all the pope's men, one hopes, will be unable to put ol' Humpty Dumpty back together again.

My big problem with the Pope is not his pessimism about the future, it's his apparent pessimism and insufficient engagement with the *present*. He seems to think that his first task is to reclaim the Church in Europe (where the gigantic losses began not a generation ago but centuries ago). How has he gone about it? Largely by talking to the Jews and Protestants, not the seculars. But the European Jews were all but eradicated by the Nazis, and they are no threat to Christian belief, while the Protestants themselves are in a state of decline. So how much does that advance his project? Not very much. I say: so what if he got an agreement with the Lutherans. Luther was then, this is now. Why isn't he talking to the secularists? I can see several reasons. First, today the university culture of practically all of Europe is secularist, and the secularists probably *don't want* to talk to *him*. And why should they want to? The educated class sees the history of the Church as one of repression, sometimes lying in the face of evidence (see Galileo) , plus exaggeration, and now of cover-ups of what is embarassing to the clergy. The secularists don't trust the churchmen to be honest, i.e., serious. Only the Pope and his minions can correct that image by showing that they are not generally liars. Second, possibly he doesn't talk to the seculars because he doesn't speak their language or know their existential concerns. That is probably because he hasn't had either a secular experience, except the German army which was not a typical European life, nor a secular education. Not having had either of those, he doesn't understand that the accusations of the seculars against the Church are too often well founded, plus he doesn't understand that for many seculars their rejection of the faith/dogma is based on ignorance or existential angst -- Darwin, for instance, didn't just cast off Christianity without a look back. He needs to take modern science and philosophy AFTER Kant very, very seriously to understand why they think that being a Catholic is being either ignorant, gullible, irrational, hypocritical, or a dolt. Yes, there are fine scientists, e.g., Dawkins, who take as their project the destruction of religion and all supersition. But there are fine scientists who don't. Why doesn't he give more attention to them? Yes, there are now some (new) scientific commissions at the Vatican, and happily they invite non-believing scientists to participate in some discussions. But does the Pope attend? I've never read that he does. (Too busy doing what is "important'?) He is himself an extremely brilliant man. He needs to use those brains talking to his equals who do so much to confuse and lead the faithful astray.Until he or others reach out seriously to the secular intellectual leaders who influence the wider culture so greatly, the Church will only continue to get smaller.

Oops -- I neglected to make a point:The Pope sees preaching the Gospel as his solution to the attrition. (Actually, much of the Gospel is already accepted by the secularists.) But given the reputation of the Church among intellectuals and now in the popular culture there is the job of explaining with obvious humility (if Rome can manage it) that the scandalous history of churchmen is not identical with the Church. Rome must admit that it was wrong about more than Galileo (which took them 500 years to get around to doing). It cannot go back to the age of the martyrs and start over. That world does not exist any more.

Ann: I think that Pope Benedict has made more of an effort to talk to secularists than any pope in the last century or two. Almost any visit he makes includes an address to representatives of the local cultural elite; he's engaged philosophers such as Jrgen Habermas in public debate; etc. He's not as ignorant as you make him out to be. And he understands the Council to have aimed at preventing all the scandals of the Church's history, or of its present sinfulness, from obscuring the great scandal that is the confrontation with the Cross.I don't know what you could possibly mean when you say that "much of the Gospel is already accepted by the secularists." But perhaps you have a very broad notion of the "secularists"--or perhaps of the Gospel. The core of the Gospel, of course, is the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. This does not seem to me very prominent in the mental world of most of the secularists I'm acquainted with.

Joe, I'm just checking back in, and a few thoughts:One, I'm not sure what the purpose of this thread is, with its rather obsessive focus on a single particular phrase. This strike me as losing the forest for the trees. I certainly did not invent the "smaller but purer" paraphrase, as it was in circulation for years regarding Ratzinger, though may have been given greater prominence and hence sourcing after his election. I was certainly one of those commenting on his papacy quite a bit, especially since he had effectively silenced (purified?!) commentators like Tom Reese. It's understandable, in light of Ratzinger's writings and comments over the years, that the phrase "smaller but purer" would be associated with him, as it does reflect an important element of his thinking. The meaning, as I explained above and at greater length in my book, is the important thing. I think you try to get at that, Joe, when you try to associate Ratzinger's views on this with Rahner's. I think you are mistaken there, because I believe they meant two different things, and they are/were such different people -- "on different theological planets," as Ratzinger described their differences. They ended on quite a bitter note. Ratzinger also took quite a more pessimistic view of the church's season (winter versus spring) than did John Paul II, something Ratzinger made a point of noting, publicly and privately.That is the problem with taking a legalistic point of view in trying to make something uncomfortable go away. We can both cite our support for the "separation of church and state," but we can mean different things by it, and one of us could even be referring to the Establishment clause, for example. The context and thought behind of a concept need to be considered when trying to draw a full portrait. Arguing that because Ratzinger did not himself use the phrase, in English, "smaller but purer" does not mean that he does not hold a view associated with that prospect, and in a different way that Rahner (and myself, I dare say) would take it to mean. There have been many good citations in this thread, but one has to see what they add up to, along with gauging Ratzinger's actions as pope, to make a judgment of whether they resonate with the "saving remnant" motif so often attributed to him, and of which he has spoken.

JAK --The teachings of Jesus include those about God and the relation between man and God and His teachings about man relative to man. Many secularists (and by that I mean people who think that the world is all there is) already accept His teachings about man relative to man -- His ethics. Even those who fault the Christian dogmas and even religious belief itself do not fault Jesus as a person, and, indeed, consider HIm to be among the greatest. So those teachings are not much of a problem, except for some specifications of the general teachings, such as birth control and abortion. (By the way, Peter Singer has a lot more in common with the Church than is commonly thought.) As to engaging with the secularists, that should include above all engaging with the philosophers. But that has not been a priority of Benedict much less the other popes, though Benedict might be better than most in that respect. The Vatican has had many conferences on science and its relationship to religion, and conferences, etc., on the arts, and commissions on social issues, but have any of the conferences or institutes or any sorts of meetings been with the secular philosophers? In recent years, any way, it has been the philosophers who have had the greatest secular influence on the West and Europe in particular, not the the artists or scientists as was the case in the past. If there were such meetings with philosophers, did Benedict attend?In recent weeks he initiated a new dicastery to deal with secularism. But will that involve engaging with the contemporary philosophers themselves? Anybody know? You say, "And he understands the Council to have aimed at preventing all the scandals of the Churchs history, or of its present sinfulness, from obscuring the great scandal that is the confrontation with the Cross."Not clear what you mean by that. My plea was not for preventing future scandals, but for admitting past ones. Yes, the the Vatican has apologized about Galileo. But it took centuries.

Mr. Gibson, I find it difficult to see how you can describe the author of "God is Love", "Saved by Hope" and "Charity in Truth" as a pessimistic! Ratzinger is certainly a realist, but a pessimist does not speak with the joy, beauty and freedom that the current pope does. I am concerned by some of your characterizations here and in previous writings. Is it possible that you are perceiving him through your own ideological lens, rather than as an objective observer?Comments such as: "especially since he had effectively silenced (purified?!) commentators like Tom Reese." add to the feeling that you are not always basing your opinions on just the facts.In light of the question that began this discussion, I would hope that you would use greater care with your frequent analysis of the Pope, especially since you are often quoted by other sources (as we see here) when matters of the church and pope are deemed newsworthy.With due respect, I suggest that you (and perhaps Ms. Oliver) reread the Pope's recent letter to seminarians and then try to maintain the views that you express here. Peace!

David: The purpose of this thread, I thought, was quite clear: to determine whether Ratzinger/Benedict has ever used the phrase smaller but purer. That others and I continue to pursue the question need not, then, be considered an obsessive focus or as representing a legalistic point of view. The question is as legitimate as the one with which you seem concerned, viz., whether in your book you ever say that he used the phrase.I find it odd that if the phrase was, as you claim, in circulation for years regarding Ratzinger, there seem to be no instances available by means of the common search-engines. In your earlier post, you said that the important thing is not so much the phrase but the concept or meaning it carries. It strikes me that the phrase is not used with the same sense by all who invoke it. I was led to start the thread by the appearance of the phrase on the thread below about lukewarm Catholics, where it seemed to be used mainly as shorthand for the agenda being pursued by Pope Benedict and by some other Church leaders. I thought, and think, that a first step in simple clarification of several questions is whether the Pope has proposed the phrase. If so, then we could investigate what he meant by it; if not, then we could turn to the question whether it adequately or accurately sums up his agenda.You are mainly (only?) interested in this second question. You find it natural that the phrase is associated with Ratzinger/Benedict since it does reflect an important element of his thinking. You seem to take it as analogous to his sense of the saving remnant/mustard seed/leaven/creative minority. The first three of these images are, of course, biblical, the fourth derived from Toynbee. They have been, and are, commonly used as descriptions of a group that is a minority (even a tiny one) in the world and yet has a redemptive role: the remnant of Israel received the Messaih; the tiny mustard seed grows into a broad tree, a little bit of yeast leavens a great deal of flour. A preacher today will naturally read the biblical images as appropriate to the minority-situation of the Church today, and may well hold out the hope that what the parables promise will be fulfilled: that the tiny seed will become a broad and welcoming tree (an aspect that the Pope emphasizes), that the yeast of the Gospel may yet again leaven a whole society or culture. These parables, it needs to be said, are hopeful images. I dont think it a stretch to appeal in this connection to Toynbees creative minorities as people who respond actively to cultural crises and challenges and help forge a new civilization.Im not at all convinced that smaller but purer adequately or accurately conveys all this, and certainly not when the phrase is interpreted, as is not uncommon, as implying a desire, even an agenda, that the Church be not only purer but smaller. Texts suggested on the thread seem to me to describe what the Pope thinks has been happening and is likely to continue to happen: a decline of the Church both in numbers and in influence. I referred in this connection to Rahner, as also to Congar, because they, too, thought that the Church was witnessing the collapse of traditional social, political, and cultural supports, and this represented a radically new situation, one that could not be effectively addressed by relying on former attitudes, habits, and institutions and that requires in particular a freely chosen and deep level of Christian faith, hope and love. In that respect, all three theologians resembled each other, whatever differences in other respects there may have been among them. (Rahner and Ratzinger even used the winter-metaphor although they certainly disagreed on what was causing the chill!)So I dont think the question I raised should be dismissed as obsessive legalism, but as a first step in trying to determine if the Pope has used the phrase. As I said, other questions arise after that one is settled.

Pages

Share

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.