Commitment to the Church and Personal Freedom-by Karl Rahner
Grace in Freedom
by Karl Rahner
Institutional Spirituality of the Church and Personal Piety
Today the consciousness of the Church’s theoretical and practical faith certainly undergoes a necessary change which should in itself be welcomed. For the institutional forms, often supported by non-theological factors, which have favoured an almost unquestioning popular religious practice, are losing much of their inner force. Thus a truly personal faith is demanded much more decisively than formerly. No doubt this change gives the Christian faith the chance to be realized in absolute freedom, which corresponds indeed to its inmost nature; but, on the other hand, the dangers inherent in it ought not to be under- estimated. To speak of a “Church of the congregation” (Gemeindekirche), as distinct from the established Church (Volkskirche), is not unobjectionable. One danger at least is that of a onesidedly “personalistic” conception of the faith which neglects the institutional forms of the Church’s life. The following considerations attempt to make a modest contribution to the solution of this problem.
Every existing form of piety presented to my choice, as it were, from outside, may be considered under the aspect of the externally inflicted law. It matters comparatively little whether this is strictly a commandment of God or the Church, or only a custom, a tradition or suchlike. All these things agree in this that they confront me with something which is already there, that they at least appear to limit my spirituality which is obviously the most intimate realization of my freedom. Now if personal freedom is basically a unique gift of God, what we call spirituality must have an inner connection with it. Hence the institutional norms of the Church and the freedom which is realized most decisively in the spiritual life cannot be in complete mutual harmony from the beginning.
Freedom Related to the Situation
First of all it must be stated that in Catholicism there is certainly something like a will to the law, even within the sphere of piety. However, as a social being man lives necessarily in community, and though he is the subject of radical freedom, he is yet not its abstract subject, confronted, as it were, with the variety of its indifferent possibilities. Even where we act in our innermost being, claiming the ultimate freedom of committing ourselves we act always within a preexisting sphere. We are given a certain time which is not of our choice, we have inherited a certain psychological makeup, or we are placed within a definite historical situation. Hence freedom cannot ultimately consist in retiring into a sphere not affected by all these given conditions, nor can it be realized in mere opposition to them. I can only protest against what exists, not for example, against the government of a Herod III or Herod IV. In other words, whether we protest or revolt — and even revolution can be necessary, indeed it can be the sacred duty of a Christian in certain circumstances — we are always still imprisoned within our own concrete situation. The essence of freedom, therefore, may also consist in accepting given conditions in order slowly to change them. Thus — however the philosophers of history from the Stoics to Nietzsch may explain it — there must be such a thing as amor fati in its proper sense in which freedom finds its innermost essence. This may also be rightly applied to the social an historical ecclesial conditions of Christian piety insofar a this is realized in freedom.
The Norm as Freedom’s Way to Itself
Moreover, we are not simply free but must become so. That truth -which is mine and which comes wholly from within is not yet simply what I have only accepted in the formal freedom of Yes or No. I am only on the way to this my actual truth and it is the work of a lifetime to find and accept myself in freedom. For I suppress much of my actual truth, I do not want to admit it; I am perhaps in an ultimate attitude of protest without noticing it; despite all my talk about the love of one’s neighbour I may even be the greatest egoist without realizing it. All I am meant to become may perhaps appear to me as rigid legalism. I can therefore achieve my true freedom only by a change in my given personality which delivers it from the selfishness in which it is imprisoned. And this may be applied also to the piety which appears as legalistic. Hence even in the realm of piety there must be a will to the law.
All those fastings laws, religious customs, devotions (which I may perhaps hate) and whatever else belongs to parish life and hits me as “law” is not necessarily wrong only because I reject it in a protest which is very problematical. Perhaps I may not even have understood some of these things, perhaps they are simply demanded by love for the others, for the Church, which means a certain member of the Church at a certain point of time.
What we should like to emphasize is this: There is a right institutional and legal piety which rightly makes demands on us in the ecclesiastical regulations about the liturgy, fasting, Sunday Mass, etc. It is by no means clear that only that form of the Mass is most marvellous and personally most authentic which disregards all the precepts of the Church including those of the Second Vatican Council. This is no vindication of Christian freedom, however strongly some people may believe it to be.
Christian Spirituality as Permanently Dependent on its Own History
The whole heritage of the Christian tradition of spirituality belongs, of course, also to this institutional material which is offered as a possibility or even as a demand. Why should we replace a two thousand year old Christian practice of meditation and asceticism by what we have read somewhere about Zen Buddhism and Yoga? It is certainly a rewarding task to synthesize Eastern and Christian piety and asceticism. But it is surely naive to esteem a priori psychotherapy and the practices of Yoga more highly than the traditional Christian devotions. If a person does not understand or like the rosary, for example, he is perfectly free, as a Christian, not to say it; yet for me it is a very wonderful thing, and it is my own private experience that it is said also by people of whom one would not believe it. There are, of course, also many literary treasures of spirituality, for example even today we may well recommend reading St. Augustine) St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila or any well-edited selection of mystical texts. Certainly, modern critical exegesis is necessary and valuable. But the light of God and the Holy Spirit were active in the Church long before biblical criticism. A true theologian ought to prove his education also by planning òwithin five or ten years to acquire an idea of the history of spirituality by reading Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, the great medieval mystics, Francis de Sales or Berulle and Charles de Foucauld, to mention only a few names. A true piety which respects the “law” might well be occupied also in this way.
The Free Acceptance of a Spiritual Order
We must, moreover, consider what I should like to call self-appointed institutional piety. Spirituality is impossible òwithout a certain order, and this applies to lay people as òwell as to nuns and Jesuits brought up on the Ignatian Exercises. True spirituality does not consist in pious feel- ings, because we are perhaps just now in love or have some sorrow. This is at best a foretaste of the real thing, which must bear fruit in a truly personal decision affecting the whole life. This means, to use a provocative expression, that there must be a certain system In the spiritual life. It may be quite modest, corresponding to the daily life of the individual, and can be very different for the parish priest or the layman from what it is in a religious house. It may also be quite different from the spiritual system of the Third. Orders or the Mariari Congregations. The details do not matter, what is important is that there can be no vigorous spirituality without discipline, without a certain hardness against oneself, without a plan, without making demands on oneself also in the religious sphere and if one does not feel like it at the moment. Every Buddhist monk would laugh at us if we thought these things were unnecessary for the serious practice of spirituality. It would be the same as if somebody wanted to become a professional pianist without practising ten hours each day for six or eight years. How far we shall advance depends on God and our own life. But even though we may have to endure a spiritual odyssey and may meet many unexpected obstacles, we ought to make a little more progress than those who have merely been indoctrinated with a little external Christianity which expressed itself merely in a bored attendance at Sunday Mass, perhaps an Easter confession and the receiving of the last sacraments.
Evidently intellectuals are no better men only because they are educated; this shows itself especially in the case of theologians, no matter whether they are priests or laymen, who have chosen theology and spirituality as their profession or even as their intellectual hobby. Surely, even outside the sphere of theoretical reflection we ought to achieve a little more than a Christian life that is content with observing the rules. But actually we intellectuals, too, have not progressed much further in our faith. Indeed, we are perhaps in greater danger, because we think that our theorizing is the same as a true Christian life of prayer, faith, self-denial and humility. Moreover, we may be less truly Christian than the so-called “simple Catholics” of the Christian “people”, if only because the intellectual is normally better off than they and can therefore avoid more easily the difficulties and hardships of life. Take, for example, a mother of seven who must work hard to bring up her family. I am less worried that she might miss the true meaning of Christianity than I am in my own case. If we remain mere amateurs in the actual Christian life, if we have not in some way accepted to obey a law within the context of Christian freedom and self-restraint, then we are no more than miserable bunglers even if we do not carry too much real ballast of historical piety.
The Obligation through the Personal Call Over and Above the Law
On the other hand, however, it must be said that Just because of its special character spirituality must be left much freedom to realize itself in an individual way which cannot be commanded and institutionalized. This goes without saying because there is a true individual ethics; this means that the adequate and total call the individual receives from God does not only consist in the sum of the general Christian moral and religious norms. We may even say that spirituality begins only when all this has been fulfilled. Certainly the new element cannot simply be separated from one’s ordinary life, but by fulfilling the precepts of the catechism and the commandments of the Church and being in this sense a good Christian, we have not yet adequately responded to God’s call to our concrete and unique person. There are Christians who are aware of God’s call in the choice of their profession, their marriage partner and similar decisions — but they are few. This is not meant to advocate an integralism of piety according to which one is a good Christian only if all one’s actions are reflected and integrated into theoretical norms; it does not mean that all realized freedom must be passed as it were through the filter of reflection in order to be responsible action. This is certainly not the case. Nevertheless, there is an individual ethics, that is a completely personal and unique responsibility for our life, the direction it takes and even more so for what we do in it. The good Samaritan who cared for the man who had fallen among the robbers did not say: let the police do that, or, let the priest take care of him, for he has more time than I, and if they don’t do it, why should I? But it is precisely I who may not run away from this obligation, which is part of my life. Perhaps the priest has passed him by for a very good reason; perhaps it was high time for him to take a service, and he could not keep his congregation waiting, for that was more important! Perhaps he escaped damnation because of his stupidity or his narrow religious outlook; but the other man had to pick up the wounded man. Thus there are innumerable things in life which are asked from me and from nobody else, so that I cannot hide behind an anonymous crowd, public opinion or other obligations. From this individual ethics which has nothing to do with a wrongly understood situation ethics personal piety receives a character which far surpasses the generally necessary legal aspect of spirituality.
Seeking New Forms of Spirituality
We are today in a very difficult transition period with regard to earlier forms and ideals of spirituality. How can we still be genuinely devout without practicing a stale piety that is no longer relevant to modern life, how can we do more than live on the periphery of the Church? How can one combine being a reasonable and lively, I won’t even say a happy human being with being a genuinely pious Christian in such a way that both are at least approximately one? For we cannot ask for more than that, since everybody lives somehow in a pluralistic way. For in this transition period, when Christianity and the Church must adapt themselves to quite a new way of life, theologians can only make very abstract suggestions. Thus the contemporary Christian, especially the intellectual and even more the theologian, has the duty to seek and find anew the patterns for the spiritual life of today and tomorrow. Neither Pope nor bishop nor priest can dispense him of this duty which may cost him immense effort and sacrifice.
This does not, of course, mean simply abandoning the old formulae which are rightly or often also wrongly declared obsolete, and just living irresponsibly from day to day. We may, for example, say theoretically: There must certainly be something like “meditation” in the life of the genuine Christian; but it is not so simple to say what this means in practice, and I would not presume to proffer effective recipes. Men are different; traditions which are still alive in one place may be impossible to preserve in another, etc. But no one can pretend to neglect the question altogether because at the moment no reason- able solutions have emerged. I cannot say, for example, whether the pilgrimage of the French students from Paris to Chartres corresponds to the mentality of modern man. There are so many things in Christian devotion including the liturgy and its paraliturgical elements which still exist, and with which one may not experiment merely because the traditional forms of worship wrongly seem to be boring. Of course, there must beexperiments, but they must contain the elements of a certain progress. A teacher of religion, for example, must foster in the young people the central Christian experience; hence he ought to be able to help them through his own religious practice without asking them to invent anew everything belonging to the Christian life, which leads to nothing anyhow in ninety- five per cent of the cases.
Self-Criticism as Regulating the Claim to Freedom
One should not be called “conservative” in the bad sense if one also speaks of the limits of freedom in this connection. In my opinion the best proof of an authentic synthesis between Christian freedom and a serious affirmation also of an external law is a critical attitude to oneself. There are enough reasons for criticizing existing customs, and this criticism is also to be expressed. But it is strange how convinced we are that our own opinion must be right though we admit theoretically that others are on the average not much more stupid than we are and also by and large want to do the right thing. But in practice we often forget this simple fact which no reasonable person will deny, if we claim complete freedom for ourselves, whereas the love of peace and unity should make us more cautious and humble. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans has some very relevant things to say on this subject.
Fundamentally we may say this: there is no law against the man who truly has faith, hope and love and who genuinely loves his neighbour and can surrender himself. In this love, it seems to me, law and freedom merge into the freedom of God’s grace.
Abridged version of a lecture to lay theology students of the University of Munich, 31 January 1967, first published in Christophorus; 13, no. 1 (1968), pp. 23 — 28.
The Prayer of the Individual and the Liturgy of the Church
So far the Second Vatican Council has been the only Ecumenical Council to discuss the liturgy. In the history of the liturgy and the liturgical movement this is certainly a highwater mark that can hardly be surpassed. The principles of the liturgy are no longer merely lived; they are reflected in theology and liturgical law. So it looks at least as if these principles could, indeed, still be applied in a practice which corresponds to the changing historical situation, but that they could no more be essentially surpassed. This is an event within the Church which has certainly not yet been sufficiently considered.
But this highwater mark occurred in a historical situation which invited the anxious question whether we were not at the peak of a historical process which could only be followed by a decline. For the triumph of the liturgy at Vatican II took place just when the question arose whether man was still capable of worship and liturgy, whether the “demythologization” of Christianity ought not to be accompanied by a “desacralization”, and whether Christianity ought not to cease to be a religion at all. At the very time of its triumph the liturgy has been most radically called in question. At times it may even seem as if the official sanction of a greater liturgical freedom and renewal is already being used to bring about an almost suicidal desacralization. Thus we may finally be left with a liturgy which expresses only secularized human interrelationships until these, too, have become superfluous. This is the strange situation in which the liturgy celebrates its triumph in the Church of the Second Vatican Council: while proclaiming itself officially as the centre of the Church it is at the same time profoundly threatened. This, of course, is only one element of a greater and more comprehensive danger, which is the danger of losing the personal relation to God in prayer altogether. Indeed we may say, perhaps a little exaggeratedly but not without reason, the liturgy such as it is actually performed today — though, we hope, against its own ultimate principles — this liturgy itself increases this greater danger, because it often has a harmful influence on the private prayer of individuals and groups. This may be disputed with regard to the principles of an authentic theology of the liturgy, but hardly as regards everyday practice.
There is, however, also a theoretical problem. For ever since Pius Xll’s Mediator Dei and also at the Second Vatican Council the liturgical prayer has been given such priority over the private prayer of individuals and groups that — despite papal warnings — one is easily tempted to think that private prayer is more or less superfluous, especially if we are as involved in our liturgical prayer as we ought to be. Here we should like to discuss this misunderstanding of the official declarations about such a preference for liturgical prayer, even though we cannot exhaust the subject. But the following observations may, perhaps, be of some little use to diminish a “liturgical triumphalism” which does not seem at all fitting in the present spiritual situation. *The author is here taking up a theme he has already treated in a more scholastic manner in the essay Some Theses on Prayer ‘in the Name of the Church Theological Investigations, V (1966), pp. 419-38. See this essay for particular details connected with this problem.
When speaking about the relation between liturgical and “private” prayer we should not forget that there is also a private prayer of groups (for example a family rosary or a devotion approved by the bishop) which may itself approach in various degrees to liturgical prayer, even to being virtually identical with it, so that there is only a verbal difference between the two. But here we will not discuss such differences or agreements.
First of all it must be said that according to the explicit teaching of the Church which is also expressed by Vatican 2.
a) There is a prayer of individuals and groups which is not liturgical prayer in the strict sense of the word.
b) The Sacred Liturgy has in a certain sense a higher dignity than the non-liturgical “pious exercises”.
c) The higher dignity of liturgical prayer does not abolish the necessity and duty of private non-liturgical prayer. Such non-liturgical prayers are highly recommended if they conform to the spirit and law of the Church and especially if they are according to the mandate of the Apostolic See.
We shall not prove these statements by earlier doctrinal pronouncements, but confine ourselves to the teaching of Vatican II. Without producing an exact definition of the concept of liturgy this is contained especially in articles 12 — 13 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which clearly express the three principles given above (on the third cf. also the final sentence of art. 7). Here a distinction is made between the vita spiritualis and the Liturgiae òparticipatio as one of its parts. According to the whole context of arts. 12-13 the pia populi christiani exercitia, together with the episcopally approved devotions (sacra Ecclesiarum particularium exercitia) belong to this “spiritual life”. The family prayer named in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (art. II) should also be mentioned in this context. Of all these pious exercises it is said, however, that they are far surpassed by the actual liturgy (longe antecellere) by virtue of its nature. *For the texts quoted see, for example, J. A. Jungmann’s commentary on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in H. Vorgrimler, ed Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 1 (1967), pp. 16 — 17. The commentary indicates that the Constitution on the Liturgy has not clarified certain important points. No unambiguous definition of “liturgy” has been attempted, and because of this it is not clear why episcopally instituted and controlled devotions (or, for example, the rite of the Corpus Christi procession) are not to be regarded as liturgy, as this text presupposes rather than teaches or states explicitly. Therefore the boundary between liturgy and private communal prayer is not very clear either, since this, where commended and directed, makes a fluid transition into episcopally controlled devotion. But we shall take the clause formulated under a) above as given, and shall inquire only as to its more precise meaning and its (limited) religious consequences.
These declarations of the magisterium do not solve, but rather pose the problem of the nature of non-liturgical common prayer and its relation to liturgical prayer proper, and this for many reasons of which only one will here be discussed more extensively.
We are not going to describe and discuss the concept of liturgy in the documents of Vatican II. For it is not so simple as it may appear to some, and the problem has actually not been unanimously solved by theologians. At the Council no actual definition of the liturgy has been worked out; this task was left to the theologians. For between the worship of the official Church which must certainly be called liturgy (the celebration of the Eucharist) and the private prayer of the individual which can certainly not be called liturgy, there is a no-man’s land of transitional forms; and thus every definition of liturgical prayer depends to some extent on an arbitrary terminology rather than on the thing itself.
Hence, if it is said that “the liturgy far surpasses all other acts of piety”, it is not at all clear whether this applies for certain to each individual pious exercise that is supposed to belong to the liturgy (for example a way of the cross made in common within a religious community). But, according to the declarations of the magisterium, the expression longe antecellere certainly applies only to the liturgy as a whole (i.e. together with the celebration of the Eucharist), not to any individual liturgical exercise as opposed to any non-liturgical prayer. We will here not discuss in detail in what sense and with what reservations the liturgy is to be called the first and neces- sary source of the Christian life and spirit (Decree on Priestly Formation, Optatam Totius, art. 16 Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, art. 6), of grace (Constitution on the Liturgy, art. 10) and the summit to which all the action of the Church is directed (ibid., art. 10), and how all other Christian activity and prayer has its origin and goal in the liturgy. Such statements have to be interpreted with a certain discretion. For despite the interconnection of all the elements we must distinguish between the one saving act of Christ which is made present in the liturgy (though its efficacy is not restricted to this presence) and the external sacramental action as such. The statement on the central importance of the liturgy cannot be equally applied to both elements in isolation from each other. If it is primarily applied to the first element, it is a positive, but not an exclusive statement, since the saving power and importance of the redemptive work of Christ (as the worship of God and the sanctification of man) affect man not only through their cultic presentation in the liturgy. For it cannot, for example, be gainsaid that according to the whole Christian tradition martyrdom is the highest form of sharing in the Passion of Christ, that it cannot be surpassed by any other event
in the Christian life and that it is the highest self-realization of the Church. For the Eucharist (like martyrdom!) makes present the unique paschal mystery of Christ; but it adds something to it only insofar as it is the act of the Church, hence existentially, in faith, hope and love, the act of those who celebrate the liturgy themselves. But this act is at least as much present in martyrdom, even more so than in the Eucharist, because it is “guaranteed” to be actually there. For it can surely not be seriously denied that, according to Mt 25, a man may encounter Christ in his neighbour more truly and decisively as his Saviour than in a eucharistic communion which, despite the Real Presence and its sacramental efficacy ex opere operate is but the sign and the means of that union with Christ in the Holy Spirit which happens in the difficulties of our daily life even unto our “dying in the Lord”.
Here we cannot pursue these and other far-reaching considerations. We shall limit ourselves to a theological discussion of the declaration of the Second Vatican Council (cf. also Pius Xll’s Mediator Dei) according to which the liturgy “far surpasses” all private prayer. One of the reasons for this preference Is evidently the fact that the liturgy is performed “in the name of the Church” (cf. art. 98) while this cannot be said of private prayer. This seems to me the point at which private prayer is most threatened by an all too easy misunderstanding of the present teaching on the liturgy. In our discussion we shall ask first what theological statements can be made on the subject of private prayer, examining afterwards if liturgical prayer (as distinct from the Eucharist and the administration of the sacraments with which we are not here concerned) can be preferred to it at all, and if so, what such a preference means for the practice of the Christian life.
For the private prayer of the Christian, whether of the individual or of a group, is no merely “private” affair with which the Church has nothing to do. For such prayer, too, is the prayer of those who have been justified and are filled with God’s grace. This prayer, too, is made in the Holy Spirit who assists our weakness and says Abba — Father with us. This prayer, too, is prayer of the baptized who are fortified by the Spirit, of men and women filled with grace and incorporated in the mystical Body of Christ. For the spirit of Christ is the ground of prayer, and all love of one’s neighbour is related to God and Jesus Christ, hence where two or three are gathered together in his name (Mt 18:20) the Lord is in the midst of them. Now, as the Holy Spirit is the ground of prayer, and as every Christian is sacramentally and socially destined to the worship of God by baptism and confirmation, therefore every justified person has an essential relation to the Church, hence the Christian’s private prayer, too, especially when it is made in common, has an inner relation to this Church. It is an act of the Church in a true sense, even if not expressly commissioned by the authorities of the Church.
It would be wrong to assume that an act of the Church can be performed only on the basis of an “official” commission by the authority of the Church beyond that of baptism. For if this were the case, the sanctity and fruitful use of the grace that is given to individual Christians could not be attributed to the Church herself. But this is definitely done(cf. D 1794). The Church herself is sancta Ecclesia not only because of the objective holiness of her members. The act of the magisterium is not the same as the act of the Church, but the act of the magisterium is a certain species of the acts which are performed by the individual members of the Church and constitute the action of the Church in a true sense. If it can be said that the Church is a sinful Church because of the sins of her members (cf. Decree on Ecumenism, arts. 3 and 4), even though this sin contradicts her own nature and spirit, then we must attribute ecclesial importance even more to the good, inspired acts, hence also to all the prayers, of her members. If there is a “treasury of the Church” (D 550-2,757,1541; Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina) which consists actually in the active union with God of all justified Christians, then this, too, makes it clear that all acts of those justified in the Holy Spirit constitute the very life of the Church, hence that the action of the Church is not the same as the action of her official representatives or what is done explicitly in their name. This is implied also in the promise of Jesus (Mt 18:20); for how could an ecclesial character be denied to a group in whose midst is the Lord? If such a group is truly gathered together in the name of Jesus it represents the Church, especially if it prays in a way expressly recommended by the hierarchy.
But what, then, does it mean that the liturgical prayer far surpasses the private (even the common) prayer of Catholic Christians, as the Constitution on the Liturgy says (art. 12), repeating declarations of Pius XII? Why is it privileged?
Perhaps we may first mention that normally, if somebody praises or recommends something, he does not at the same time think of something else that might also deserve special mention. Indeed, he may easily use a one-sided and emphatic expression which ought not to be overestimated. This must certainly be kept in mind when evaluating the longe antecellere of the Constitution on the Liturgy. A telling instance of such an exaggeration is Pius Xl’s state- ment that devotion to the Sacred Heart is summa totius religionis, the sum of all religion. One can certainly make sense of this, but it must also be said that what makes this devotion the sum of all religion is the whole of Christianity, which is indeed present in it, but not only in it, and thus the statement may be considered to be true. Nevertheless, what distinguishes it from other forms of Christian devotion is not that it is the sum of all religion, hence it may be misunderstood by less cautious readers.
The same is true of the assertion that the liturgy is the source and goal of Christianity. This sentence is true in one sense, for the centre and origin of Christianity, God’s gracious self-communication in the crucified and risen Christ, is indeed present in the liturgy. But taken in an exclusive sense the statement would be false; for this self-communication does not take place only in the sacraments and the liturgy. But the longe antecellere refers only to this and is therefore justified in a certain sense, but not absolutely.
Nor should we forget a modern trend which has already been mentioned. There is nowadays, among both Protestant and Catholic theologians, a fairly strong tendency towards “desacralization”, which means in the last analysis reducing the Christian life to mere secular neighbourliness. This tendency is wrong, for the worship of God in spirit and in truth has its place at the very centre of the Christian existence; hence it is all the more important not to aggravate
this tendency unwittingly by emphasizing the narrowly cultic and liturgical elements in the Christian life to such an extent that the cry for desacralization becomes the inevitable extreme reaction against it. Where this tendency claims support from the New Testament this is justified only in so far as the difference between the cultic worship of God in a temple as a “sacred”
place, at sacred times, through sacred persons as distinct from a profane, “unholy” people, and the adoration of God in spirit and in truth is not, indeed abolished, but radically relativized. There is also something else. Modern ecclesiology, sanctioned by Vatican II, does not start its description of the nature of the Church, like Bellarmin, with its social organization, but with the people of God, the mystical Body of Christ, primarily constituted by the unity of the justified in the Holy Spirit, the community of the redeemed, as distinct from their organization in a “society”. Only from there does this ecclesiology arrive at the social organization of this holy community of the people of God, an organization which is certainly necessary and conforming to the will of Christ, but nevertheless secondary. Thus it becomes clear that the liturgy of this Church does not only consist in the external ceremonial, but that it must be credited also with all the interior grace and glory that belongs to a Church which is more than a mere legal organization. On the other hand, however, it also becomes evident that the official order of prayer of the Church as a society must also be the prayer of the Church as the people of God in the Holy Spirit. In other words, liturgical prayer is based on the spiritual power of prayer inherent in the people of God as the body of Christ. A liturgical order of prayer exists because prayer as such exists, the former does not create the latter, but on the contrary presupposes it, in the same way as sacraments exist only because there is grace which precedes both ontologically and historically its social (though efficacious) expression in the sacraments. We do not deny that liturgical and private prayer depend on one another, but because of the very nature of the Church it must be said that private prayer, especially if made in common, has a priority over official liturgical prayer whose ground and centre it remains. All this must not be forgotten if the longe antecellere of the Constitution on the Liturgy is to be rightly understood.
Now what is the advantage of liturgical over private prayer, if this advantage is reduced to its proper proportion?
We would stress again that, in order to keep the question within manageable limits, we here compare only liturgical and private prayer, hence leave aside the Eucharist as sacrifice and sacrament as well as the sacraments in general. To say it quite simply: the advantage of liturgical over private prayer is small. For the true dignity of Christian prayer is common to both and cannot be surpassed: both are the prayer of the holy people of God, both take place within the Body of Christ and in his presence, both are supported by the Holy Spirit. The nature and general dignity of all prayer are not enhanced by the official authorization of the Church, at least not through the addition of another, superior value. Such an authorization only includes this prayer in the social and official dimension of the Church, thus regulating it and giving it a certain guarantee that it actually corresponds to its own nature and to that of the Church and encouraging a certain frequency and regularity. Thus no values are attributed to liturgical prayer which, by themselves and in abstracto, might not also be conceded to private prayer. It is useful and valuable, but mainly as a service, and this is subordinate to the real essence of all (common) prayer. This applies especially to those “private” prayers which are nevertheless recommended and regulated by the Church such as the rosary, approved litanies, prayers enriched with indulgences, episcopally approved devotions and so forth. It also applies particularly to “private” prayer made in common. Members of the Church are always authorized to do this, even sacramentally through baptism and confirmation. Wherever a baptized Christian in the state of grace approaches God in prayer, also when praying to the Father in heaven in his secret chamber or in “the domestic sanctuary of the Church” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, art. 2) together with other members of his family, he prays as a member of the Body of Christ, living its life, receiving from it and giving to it.
Hence non-liturgical prayer may well in certain cases be holier and of greater value for the Church than liturgical prayer. This indisputable fact should not be too easily passed over with the famous scholastic distinction that this happens per accidens (accidentally). For this “accident” is ordered by God who does, indeed, partly involve us in the institutional Church and her worship, but not altogether. For he gives his grace according to his good pleasure, both in the liturgy and outside it, and hence allows us to experience it where it is most easily and authentically accessible. Who would deny, for example, that the prayer of a martyr in his lonely prison cell before his execution, in which he unites himself completely with the death of Christ has greater dignity and validity before God and for his Church than many liturgical prayers? As long as a person preserves his external union with the Church by fulfilling his duties, he may well himself decide in Christian freedom whether he prays better, that is to say with greater faith, hope and love at home or at a liturgical celebration. The practice of the religious Orders and Congregations, too, shows that the freedom of the children of God obtains in this sphere. For there are those that have hardly any liturgical community prayers apart from the common celebration of the Eucharist, while otherwise everyone prays by himself. Moreover, if the Constitution on the Liturgy emphasizes that we ought to “pray without ceasing”, this can hardly apply only to liturgical prayer, especially in the case of the laity, who would not have sufficient time for this; and so it may be concluded that in our daily life private and liturgical prayer need certainly not compete with each other.
Of course, the real threat to personal “private” prayer does not come from the liturgy, even though an indiscreet and ultimately untheological recommendation of liturgical prayer is an additional danger. The real danger affecting both liturgical and private prayer is the apparent or real lack of religious experience, of the courageous belief that we may prayerfully invoke the profound mystery of our existence and in doing so not only project ourselves and our needs. This would involve the special question of the meaning and possibility of the prayer of petition. All this cannot be discussed here. We can only say once more that liturgical prayer must not be understood in such a way as to prejudice private prayer, because in this case liturgical prayer, too, would be threatened.
First published in H. Schlier, E. von Severns, J. Sudbrack and A. Pereira, eds., Strukturen christlicher Existenz: Beitrage zur Erneuerung des geistlichen Lebens (Festgabe in honour of Fritz Wulf SJ) (1968), pp. 189 — 98.
Democracy in the Church?
The question mark in the title ought really to follow each of the nouns. For this heading does not only pose the difficult question whether democracy is possible and desirable or perhaps in a certain measure even present in the Church, but also raises that other problem of what democracy is in itself, without reference to the Church, and what makes it desirable. It goes without saying that we cannot answer this second question here, though we are well aware of the fact that the problem of democracy in the Church depends in large measure on the answer which we cannot provide to this other question. Hence our discussion will necessarily suffer from this defect. The difficulties of all countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain show that democracy in its proper sense is not guaranteed simply by the general suffrage of a so-called representative democracy. Much that is anything but true democracy may hide behind the fagade of representative democracy; on the other hand, a society which is not democratically constituted in the normal sense of the word may sometimes achieve what a democracy aims at. But, as has been said, lack of space forbids a discussion of the essence of democracy, its possibilities and its dangers. We only presuppose it to be that form of society which grants its members the greatest possible freedom and participation in its life and decisions, in accordance with their intellectual, cultural and social condition.
I shall first discuss some principles concerning the question: Democracy in the Church? In a longer second section something will then be said on the concrete possibilities oi a greater democratization of the Roman Catholic Church in accordance with her own doctrines.
In the first section three points will be discussed: First, the basic relationship between democracy and the Church, secondly a fundamental difference between applying the concept of democracy to secular society and applying it to the Church, and thirdly that despite this radical differ- ence the question about democracy in the Church may yet be posed.
There is an inner basic relationship between what is meant or realized by democracy and the Catholic Church. This results from the fact that the Church is a community of those who freely believe and freely unite for the profession of faith and for worship. Taken as a society, the Church is based purely on the free faith of her members. Certainly, similar to secular society the Church, too, rests on certain presuppositions which are not produced by the free decision of her members and their free association as such, but are the very conditions of her existence, namely human nature, the saving will of God, redemption through Jesus Christ, the general call of all men to the Church and the resulting “duty” to belong to her. But all this does not alter the fact that the responsible adult (leaving out of account infant baptism and its consequences) belongs to the Church only by his free decision and that she can claim him only on this condition. Members of a secular society may belong to it through compulsion, and then the question arises how they may be guaranteed as large a sphere of freedom and as free and active a cooperation as possible. Thus in the state all democratic elements are meant to counteract compulsory membership, while in the Church free association is not only an end but actually a presupposition. Hence the ultimate meaning and end of all democracy is the very precondition of the Church. This, of course, does not mean that there; is, avoidably as well as unavoidably, much that is “undemocratic” in the Church, if for no other reason than that the baptized children must slowly be led by the Church to a free and responsible decision of personal faith without which no adult can be a member of the Church in the fullest sense. Nevertheless, there is a basic difference between the state which presup- poses and practices compulsory membership and the Church, in which the membership of responsible adults is constituted only by the free act of faith. This alone is an element of freedom and democracy in the fundamental essence of the Church which does not, indeed, render the question of democracy in the Church superfluous, but which makes it much less vital, as is also the case in other free associations.
The inner relationship between democracy (or that which it is meant to guarantee) and the Church is ev- idenced also by the essential charismatic element in the nature of the Church. For all democratic institutions in a state are meant to secure the necessary freedom for indi- viduals and groups to produce free initiatives and decisions outside the sphere of social manipulation and planning. In the Church the charismatic elements correspond to these unplanned activities for which a democratic constitution must leave room. True, the constitution of the Church does not provide an absolute guarantee that these charismatic elements which are given her by the freely acting Spirit of God are always accorded the necessary freedom for their development. In individual cases the exact opposite may happen: the institution may hinder and suppress the charismatic elements, in the words of Scripture, it may extinguish the spirit. Nevertheless, two points must be made:
First, the Church acknowledges this charismatic element as an essential factor of her own nature. She does not mean to be a totalitarian religious society whose life and decisions are all ruled by the orders of a central authority. However much the Church may emphasize institution and authority, she does not want at all to be an authoritarian or totalitarian system. Hierarchy and institution are only part of the Church, not ultimate and essential constituents destined to manipulate her history and spirit in totalitarian fashion. For the ministry of the Church is from the very beginning a service of the free charisma, of the discernment of spirits, a service of the unity and loving community of the many charisms which the one autonomous Spirit of God gives to his Church. A democracy may take many constitutional forms; perhaps it may best be defined negatively as a people’s constitution by which any totalitarian manipulation of men is rejected and prevented. In this fundamental sense the Church may be called a democracy because she definitely recognizes the free charismatic element that cannot be institutionalized as one of her essential traits. Secondly, if we believe in God’s eschatological promise to the Church of Christ we must be convinced that his Spirit will preserve the institutional Church both at the decisive moment and indefinitely from suppressing or manipulating its charismatic elements. True, such belief can also be a dangerous temptation not to take totalitarian tendencies in the Church sufficiently seriously. Nevertheless it is justified and contains the hope that the very danger inherent in this belief will not become overwhelming. Despite bitter individual disappointments this faith has not been fundamentally denied, for the free charismatic elements in the Church always find an outlet and make use also of her institutional factors. These charisms may well be called the democratic aspects of the Church, especially as it is evident from dogmatic ecclesiology as well as from church history that this freely working Spirit can be active not only in the official ministry of the Church but also in every individual of the demos, that is to say of the people of God. A relationship between democracy properly understood and the Church can also be deduced from a feature of the Church which at first sight would seem to be undemocratic. By divine and therefore immutable right the Church has a ministry that is represented by individual persons. This must be realized despite all collegial structures formed by the unity of the collegial presbyterium with its diocesan bishop. There are certain functions in the Church, for example the primatial powers of a local bishop, which must be per- formed by the individual and cannot be delegated to a group, so that the individual minister would only execute the latter’s decision.
At first glance this characteristic of the Catholic Church may seem very undemocratic. But it is actually a guarantee of true democracy not only in name but in fact. For such personalism (if it may be so called) does not exclude a “democratic” election of these ministers and does not, in principle, prejudice a cooperation in their decisions by the whole people of God or individual groups. On the other hand such personalism iuris divini, which despite its importance cannot here be proved theologically, is a principle of resistance against the well-known dangers and shortcomings of democracy in large societies where self-government by the people, for example, by plebiscite is no longer possible and the representation which takes its place be- comes more and moe autonomous. In such democracies there is a real danger that no one knows any more who makes the decision and is ultimately responsible for it, hence to whom the member of such a society must apply to make his views effectively heard. In a society, however, in which the individual official cannot hide behind an anonymous institution, but where one can appeal to an individual conscience, to a person who is ultimately responsible, where one can still distinguish between cause and effect, basic reason and mere symptom, in such a society the true purpose of democracy is fulfilled. For democracy wants all the members of a society to cooperate freely in its activities and decisions, and this is easier in a society such as has just been described than in one where the individual no longer knows where responsibility lies and feels himself merely as a cog in a machine.
Having thus discussed a basic relationship between democracy and the Church, we must now draw attention to a fundamental difference between democracy in the Church and in a secular society. This difference forbids us simply to apply all the democratic patterns and demands of a secular society to the Church. For according to Catholic ecclesiology the fundamental constitution of the Church is of divine right and hence immutable. This principle is valid even though in the beginning this constitution was only “lived” unreflectingly. It began to develop in apostolic times and entered the Church’s consciousness only slowly in the process of doctrinal development. This is evident from the fact that even today the Church has no written constitution such as most modern states possess. The Church has an immutable basic constitution given in the divine revelation of Jesus Christ, and this is not subject to the will of the people. Now it might be said that insofar as the modern constitution of a state claims the respect of the citizens, it also presupposes certain fundamental human rights, the principles of the natural law and so forth, hence that it, too, has a basis which does not depend on the will of the citizens. Thus the relation between a democratic constitution and the preconditions of its positive law would be analogous to that between the human and variable canon law and the divine structures of the Church.
But this analogy ought not to obscure the essential difference between the constitution of the Church and that of the state. In the Church certain very concrete constitutional structures which might very well be different are of divine right, and this is not so in secular societies. Secular society gives itself its constitution, while this is not the case in the Church. For the constitution of the Church has been given to her by God in Jesus Christ, including also elements that belong to historical conditions. It may be asked whether such elements of divine right which derive from the revelation in Jesus Christ can be called “constitution” in the modern sense of the word, or whether this term should be applied only to the whole amalgam of divine and human right which forms the con- stitution of the Church. This is an interesting and not unimportant question, but it is after all only concerned with terminology and hence irrelevant in this context. For it does not change the fundamental fact that not everything in the Roman-Catholic Church is left to the democratic will of the Christian people, including its ministers. This limits the question of democracy in the Church at least in a formal sense. For in a material sense nothing has yet been decided negatively about a democratic structure of the Church, just as little as in the case of a secular constitution which forbids the destruction of the democratic system and thus limits the possible will of the citizens. In practice, however, this means that the primacy of the Pope, for example, defined by the First Vatican Council, is not, in its truly democratic nature (which does not mean in a certain historical form!) subject to the will of the people or even of the college of bishops if this should differ from the will of the Pope and would want to change the constitution.
This leads us to another aspect which shows the fundamental difference between democracy in the Church and democracy in a secular society. We have already mentioned that in the Church, unlike in secular society, there exists no compulsory membership of responsible adults, and that this is, indeed, impossible because it would contradict the nature of the Church as a community of a faith of whose very essence it is that it must be free. This implies that a man who definitely contradicts the dogmatic faith of the Church can no longer be her member in the full sense of the word. If any members of the Church including also individual bishops were to demand that the Church should alter her constitution in a way contradicting her dogmatically defined self-understanding, such movement in favour of change would actually no longer take place within the Church but outside, for those demanding such a change could no longer belong to the Church in the full sense of a visible society. True, such demands are sometimes made by Catholics, who nevertheless do not -want to leave the Church and may continue to take an active part in her life. But this changes nothing in the Church’s own understanding of her given basic constitution which limits certain democratic tendencies.
It might, of course, be asked what would happen if a large majority of Catholics, possibly supported by some bishops, would nevertheless begin to dispute the Church’s own conception of herself and attempt to remove hitherto dogmatically compulsory structures, as has actually happened earlier in the history of the Church. We can only answer that such an attempt at a “democratic” revolution from below against the dogmatic, and not only the canonically binding constitution of the Church will always remain a danger.
Hence it must be emphasized that the Roman Catholic Church exists only where her irreversible (even though historically developing) dogmatic conception is preserved. It is part of the hope of the Christian faith that there will always be a believing people, though not necessarily in- creasing in number, and that the Church as the sacrament of the salvation of the world will continue in existence. According to this indestructible hope the Spirit of the Church will always provide sufficiently for a faithful people as his body and thus prevent a revolution against the constitution of the Church that would destroy her.
Another element of Catholic ecclesiology makes clear the fundamental difference between democracy in the Church and in secular society. We will not here discuss difficult questions of a Christian philosophy about society and state, especially not in how far a representative of power in the secular state receives his authority not simply from the electorate. In any case, it must be said that a minister of the Church does not receive his powers simply from the Church people whose will he executes, but that he preaches the gospel, administers the sacraments and shares in the government of the Church because he is sent by Christ. This is yet another difference between a secular democratic society and the Church, which prevents us from simply applying the pattern of the former to the Church. This different origin of the Church’s authority does not, of course, exclude, but rather implies that her ministry is possible only within the sanctified people of the redeemed and that it does not confront them from outside. The fact that this authority comes from Christ in no way contradicts a democratic manner of appointing its ministers, nor does it contradict the fact that their decisions are determined by the nature of man as well as by the gospel in such a way that they are not without relation to the will of the Christian people.
Despite the difference between secular and ecclesial democracy the question of democracy in the Church Is nevertheless very relevant. For grace and its historical appearance in the concrete Church contain what we call nature as an element within themselves. Now human nature demands democracy at least from a certain historical phase of man’s development onwards, hence it cannot be a matter of indifference to the Church, which consists of persons making legitimate demands for freedom and active cooperation, at least in the present state of her development. The Church, being a community of faith, must always correspond to the actual state of man’s historical development. Moreover, only very little in the constitution of the Church is really of immutable divine law, and this law itself will inevitably exist in concrete historical forms which are not simply unchangeable. The papal primacy, for example, is of divine right, but this does not mean that the legal and administrative forms in which this primacy appears today share in its permanence. If we really take seriously the genuine historicity of man and also of the Church we cannot even adequately distinguish between their essence and their historical and accidental manifestations. Nor can we predict under what forms this permanent nature will appear in the course of history. This is left to the future, so that democratic tendencies may well contribute to the changed appearance of a permanent being. Thus the question: Democracy in the Church? implies an evernew historical synthesis between the constant nature of the Church and her concrete historical appearance, between ins divinum and ins humanum, between human and divine characteristics. A Catholic Christian and theologian will know that there is not only a history of the consciousness of faith, but also a history of dogma, hence that he possesses what is permanent in his faith and his Church only in history and not outside it, and he will therefore have no reason to be afraid of a development of the Church’s constitutional law. He can certainly not reject as illegitimate a dynamic of history originating in a democratic will which affect the future history of his Church.
In the second section of our considerations we should like to make several points explaining the possibility of a “democratic” development of the Church without, however, claiming completeness.
We are not concerned in this context with brotherliness, freedom, spiritual tolerance or the view of every ministry in the Church as a mere service of the people of God. All this is to be presupposed. But we want to discuss social structures and institutions which would enable the people of God that has come of age not only as citizens but as Christians to take an active part in the life and decisions of the Church.
Insofar as such structures and institutions are of legal character they may, of course) be regarded as merely human and thus mutable, not necessary laws, because they did not always exist but have been — or have still to be — established. Nevertheless it must also be emphasized that such law is not left to the arbitrary will of the authorities only because it exists by custom or by a legal act and is therefore of human, not divine right. The Christian people suspect, and not always without reason, that because the Church’s human law must be established by the authorities it is actually subject to the arbitrariness of the ministry and hence not really a law that would give the people a well-established position over against the decisions of the Pope or the entire episcopate.
In principle this suspicious attitude to the human law of the Church is unjustified. In a certain historical situation even the so-called human law of the Church may be required by an absolute moral demand or even by ins divinum. At a certain moment of history a special temporary form of the permanent nature of the Church as the community of free faith, hope and love may, indeed, become absolutely essential. In fact innumerable legal statutes and decisions would have been possible in the abstract, yet were never realized because they were not in harmony with the concrete situation of Church people. On the other hand, many structures and institutions have continued even against a possible opposition by individual authorities, though they were only of human law. If, therefore, we discuss future human structures and institutions of the Church which would make possible a more active participation of the laity in the decisions of ecclesiastical authorities, such efforts should not be discredited in advance by saying that they would remain in any case subject to the good pleasure of the hierarchy. Not everything that is legally possible can also be realized in practice. The Church authorities are prevented from carrying out whatever is within their moral and legal competence by concrete situations and by the mentality of Catholics who will thus have more room for cooperation, even where this is not strictly defined. We will now suggest a few institutions and structures that may help to bring about a true democratization of the Church.
Some such structures and institutions are already in process of development, even though only tentatively and slowly. I am thinking of parish councils, lay advisory committees and similar institutions which aim at giving the laity greater responsibility and cooperation in the decision- making of the Church. It is essential that despite the special authority of the episcopal office, such lay organizations should be given a genuine right of participation, and also that they should be truly representative of the laity. Of course, such a legally guaranteed cooperation and truly representative selection of the laity will give rise to many problems which cannot be discussed here. For in the Church many things have to be done differently from the way in which they are done in secular democratic societies. For it can hardly be imagined that in the Church parties will come between the lay committees and the individual Christians which will enable the latter to form an opinion on ecclesiastical matters and to select their representatives accordingly. But if this seems unsuitable in the case of the Church (though it might be given some thought), the election of lay representatives beyond the small groups of the parish is a difficult question, especially as the Catholic associations no longer have a function similar to that of the political parties in appointing such represent- ative bodies. Appointment by higher authority is also ruled out, because it might prejudice true lay representation, and so it is not easy to say how such representative bodies should be formed on the diocesan and national levels. The method of forming the higher body from representatives of those immediately below it does not seem very suitable either. Thus there are still many unsolved questions in the matter of lay representation.
Then there is the fundamental problem how such a body of lay representatives can be formed and can act in such a way that it remains within the framework of the divine constitution of the Church and her dogma, while also developing its own initiative and a justified critical function with regard to ecclesiastical authority. True, the right relation between the hierarchical ministry and the laity can never be completely regulated by institutional and legal methods, but involves also an element of human freedom as well as of the spirit of the Church. Nevertheless, this should not prevent us from creating a sound dialogical relationship between hierarchy and laity also by giving the latter institutional rights. We have only made a beginning in solving these problems, and it needs courage and mutual confidence between hierarchy and laity if we are to make progress. If, on the contrary, both were to mistrust each other, each side regarding the other as hostile to its own rights, then the democratization of the Church through the creation of lay bodies could only result in strife and schism, or at most in a bureaucracy occupied only with itself. Both sides must have courage to practise Christian love and hope, they must be prepared to believe that each wants to help the other.
Another way of a possible democratization of the Church without prejudice to its divine constitution probably be- longs to a rather distant future, if it should once more be realized at all. I mean something like an election of the ministers of the Church by the Christian people themselves. This is by no means incompatible with the basic constitution of the Church iuris divini. For this had been possible in the early Church and exists even today at least in very rudimentary form in the institution of the so-called patronates and in certain rights of the congregations in some Swiss cantons regarding the appointment of their parish priests. Hence an influence of the laity on the “designation” of ministers, for example of parish priests and bishops, is not in principle opposed to the constitution of the Church, because such cooperation does not prevent the authority of these ministers from being rooted in Christ and his always hierarchical Church, rather than in the accidental number of electors. Besides, for such election to be valid it must always take place in implied or express agreement with the entire ministry, represented by all the bishops under the Pope. On the other hand, these conditions do not exclude in principle a true election iuris humani, from below.
We would not, however, assert that a true “democratization” of the Church would exist automatically and certainly if parish priests or bishops were elected by the people, and this election could no longer be the sole right of the authorities. Leaving aside the fact that unsuitable ministers might also be elected democratically and that it is also possible for the people to influence the appointment of ministers without this being laid down by law, the ques- tion arises how this election is to be effected. The size of modern dioceses and probably also of most parishes makes an election by plebiscite almost impossible, especially as the majority of the people really cannot know whether a certain candidate possesses the necessary qualifications for his office. But if an election by plebiscite is ruled out, we are again faced with the question which body of electors would represent the actual people. This question leads to another, namely which among all those who give their religion as R. C. should cooperate in appointing the electoral bodies. For many nominal Catholics may not live a Christian life at all and may be quite uninterested in the Church, but might nevertheless claim their right to vote for electoral bodies precisely in order to work against the interests of the Church. Surely such Catholics ought not to have such a vote.
Thus it is understandable that the idea of giving the laity a say in the election of ministers is not meant for the near future. If, as seems probable, the Church becomes increasingly a community of committed Christians rather than a Church of the people, conditions will probably come into being which will make such an election easier, perhaps even natural.
There is perhaps another possibility of a future genuine democratization of the Church. For she may recognize small groups of Christians which develop independently of the territorial principle as Christian communities with the same institutional stability and rights that have so far been accorded only to the parishes. For up to now the individual Christian has established a social relation with the Church more or less exclusively through the territorial parish, which is an administrative section of the diocese. But if the diaspora situation of the Church increases and becomes more obvious, it may become impossible to appoint a parish priest to every parish. In this case the Church may not only tolerate the free formation of Christian communities apart from the territorial principle, but may even consider it desirable. Such groups, created from below, may well gain proper institutional stability. Now, if we be allowed an imaginative look into the future, such communities might in certain circumstances choose an “elder” (presbyter) from their midst who would then become their priestly president through sacramental ordination by the bishop. Such a priest would, of course, have to possess the necessary qualifications of a Christian way of life and theological knowledge, but he would not have to be seminary-educated. In such a community the democratization of the Church on this level would have solved itself.
This, too, is probably an image of future conditions which may not even be very happy, but which cannot be rejected as mere fantasy. The more deeply the Church enters into the diaspora situation, the more necessary such a future may become, in which the responsible cooperation of the whole laity which will then still exist becomes an absolute necessity. Then many problems of the so-called democratization of the Church will probably solve themselves, because then the laymen will no longer see the ministry only as a given entity but as something that he him- self wills and that is supported by his own free obedience of faith in the Church. Such a freely accepted authority would no longer have problems of “democratization”.
Such a development would cause the unfortunate antagonism between hierarchy and people to disappear and to be replaced by a healthy polarity between the two. Such a new relationship could be practised first and most easily by those Christian communities which will probably come into existence from below and will be authorized by the hierarchy.
We should like to draw attention also to another aspect of meaningful democratization of the Church. Pius XII had already- emphasized the necessity of a public opinion in the Church. But this cannot exist if one conceives it as a unanimous applause for whatever the ecclesiastical authorities decide or desire. Certainly, a public opinion in and of the Church must remain within the framework of the one compulsory profession of faith and also of a general readiness to obey the authorities. This, however, does not mean that there cannot be serious differences of theologi- cal opinion within the Church, nor that a Christian could never refuse to obey a certain particular order of a minister of the Church because his conscience considers it as incompatible with justice or charity, despite the minister’s good faith. We must get used to such disagreements within the Church. We must learn that the unity of the faith and the will to obedience and love are not abolished by certain tensions. Both sides must get used to this: the authorities which must not imagine that peace and quiet are the foremost necessity, and the laity who must not think that revolution and rebellion against authority and arbitrary theological opinions are ideal attitudes only because there may be theological differences and cases of disobedience. Once a certain pluralism in the Church and in her public opinion has been understood and practised, a fair democratic attitude will become easier for both sides.
Text of a lecture in Freiburg im Breisgau, 3 May 1968, first published in Stimmen der Zeit 182 (1968), pp. 1 — 15
Theology’s New Relation to the Church
Theology finds its own nature and becomes truly interesting only when it is not the personal theology of an individual theologian, but when it is “ecclesial” theology. For theology must always remain within the Church’s reflection on the Word of God. I am, of course, well aware that there are many other and much more relevant subjects for a theologian than the relation of his work to the Church (Kirchlichkeit), and that he can present himself only somewhat indirectly and perhaps not without misunderstandings in this way. Nevertheless, this subject makes sense. It is new probably only in this sense that today this problem has become more urgent, even though it has recurred again and again in Church history ever since gnosticism.
I will begin this theme with a very modest and subjective discussion. I presuppose, of course, that there is such a thing as theology and that it is meaningful. Whether theology can be called a science is of no fundamental importance; it depends on what one means by science, a question that cannot be answered by any single science. Hence we will here simply presuppose thattheology in general and Christian theology in particular is possible and meaningful.
First of all, one’s own opinion as distinct from that of others does not seem to be particularly important. I know, of course, that in trying to arrive at the subject itself, which is not simply the same as my opinion of it, I cannot bypass this opinion. For the subject concerned will always be part of my experience, from which I cannot escape and for which I am intellectually responsible to myself as well as to others, which only I can turn into the law of my life. Thus the subject itself cannot be found outside one’s own opinion as such, because a person can never escape from himself; but this does not mean that what interests me in this opinion is the appearance of my own subjectivity. What draws my attention is the subject itself and the common traits which appear in it. Even subjectivity is interesting only insofar as it is also a medium or is silently received by the person as something objective and carried throughout his own history. To say it more simply and exactly, my starting point is always to consider myself in principle not more clever and more honest than others. True, in a particular case I do claim the right to be more objective, farseeing and wiser than a certain other person whose opinion I encounter, but I do this only because I attribute reason and honesty to all men, at least in principle, and hence also to myself, not because I prefer my own subjective opinions. I am convinced that I must always be very critical and distrustful of my own opinions, because it is more dif- ficult to be objective about oneself than about others, and so the danger of deceiving oneself is greater than that of being deceived by the opinion of others.
Of course, such a position presupposes the conviction that the object and its communicability are not hopelessly denied us, and that if we can possess the common object at all, we can do so only subjectively.
But if we start with this position which appears when- ever we begin to speak to each other, then it goes without saying that in principle the opinion of another must be as important to me as my own. Indeed, truth will become truly my own precisely when my subjectivity is living in constant mutual give and take with others and their truth. A truth which were exclusively my own would be the hell of absolute loneliness in which the subject would be condemned to nothing but its own society. The truth which the subject truly gives itself by freeing it from mere solipsistic subjectivity, this truth exists only in permanent dialogue. And this, again, can take place only if we
trust that we do not simply and ultimately disagree but that we are seeking in common a truth which we already possess in common in our life, even if we do not yet know it in the notional reflection without which we could not speak to each other at all. A mysterious deeper unity is presupposed even by the most violent controversy, which we may not avoid merely for a quiet life. If such a unity did not exist a dialogue could not begin at all, because there would be no common ground between the partners from which to carry it on.
This applies generally to the truth which concerns man as such and hence transcends simple statements of particular facts which are the subject of the empirical sciences. This applies particularly to the ultimate truth which man wants to find or to receive, whether we call it the truth of religion or the truth of faith or anything else. In this sphere, which embraces everything else and cannot itself be again integrated into a higher order, truth can less than elsewhere be that merely subjective truth of a solipsistic individualism. Weltanschanung, to use such an inexact term, can least of all be some agglomeration of personal ideas. For it concerns man as a whole, and he exists only in genuine intercommunication with others. Man finds himself only by opening and entrusting himself to others and hence his self-interpretation which, if correct, is religion or at least some form of belief, can also happen only in the risk of this intercommunication. If a man wanted to have a completely private religion and had not yet succeeded in making others share his own opinion, this religion would necessarily be something quite arbitrary which should be uninteresting even to himself. But if this truth can only exist in open communication with others, it also necessarily involves what is good in others, however incapable of being assimilated this may appear at first sight. Nor should it be forgotten that if this intercommunication is accepted as it really is, it must necessarily include also an institutional and social element. For otherwise such intercommunication would finally remain in the purely private sphere, left to the good pleasure of the individual. Without any institutional factors the other person would exist for me only in so far as I permitted it, so that I would still regard him only as an element of my own subjectivity.
Where truth concerns the whole man it has necessarily to do with the institutional, as far as this, taken in a very wide sense of the word, represents that reality through which the other has a true importance for myself even before being accepted by the arbitrary decision of the individual. This truth makes demands on me though its institutional nature has not been decreed by me. But it can be- come my own solely if I not only tolerate it even though under protest, but also accept it and integrate it into my own freedom and decision. Nevertheless, the truth which must be whole and authentic for myself must also appear as that of the others, and it is truly free and not subject to being manipulated by my fancy only if it is institutional in the wider sense, so that it is actually, and not only ideally, independent of me. What has so far been said is no more than a certain formal and transcendental condition for the essential ecclesiality of theology. Its actual ecclesiality has not yet been reached, for this has, of course, other material qualities which have to be more exactly brought out by theology itself. To do this we should have to speak of the “grace” of faith as the grace of the most radical intercommunication among men which is derived from God; we should have to speak of the Christ event as God’s eschatologically unsurpassable and victorious self-communication to the world, and finally of the death and resurrection of Christ; we should also have to say more exactly what is the meaning of the Church as the community of those
who confess this eschatological historical appearance of God’s absolute self-communication to the world. But this we cannot, of course, do here. We confine ourselves to the starting point for an understanding of the ecclesiality of theology such as has just been mentioned. In our context this means that for the individual theologian there must be a concrete and independently acting
authority to which he accords a truly determining influence on his theological thought and with which he carries on a constant dialogue, so that his thought will not become a mere monologue round his own ideas. For a Catholic it almost goes without saying that the written word of Scripture cannot be the partner in this dialogue. For a book must be interpreted historically, and in our case also existentially. But both the course and the result of this interpretation presented to the reader will still be only the opinion of the interpreter for which he will once more be held accountable by the book itself in an ideal, though certainly not in a real sense. A book may become the occasion of a monologue, but not of a dialogue. It is read, but it does not speak by itself. It may have an irreplaceable function in a dialogue, but it cannot carry it on. It can be an essential means for the Church’s part in the dialogue but it cannot be a partner in it. If in this connection we would only refer to the testimony of the Spirit who speaks in and through Scripture, this would indeed be correct and would be acknowledged also in Catholic theology; but we would not yet have reached the question where the dialogue touches the human dimension as such. The active institutional side of this theological dialogue can certainly not replace the Spirit. But this Spirit, together with Scripture, can become an active opposing partner of one’s own theological opinion only if he works in the institutional community which we call Church.
Nor does the discussion of theologians by itself constitute this authentic dialogical situation. It is, indeed, the forum of necessary controversy, of ever renewed doubting, of ever-new discussion of new situations within which the message of Christianity must be considered, but it is not the forum of decision, of the profession of faith rather than of theological questioning. Perhaps we ought here to express something more clearly that has so far remained implicit. For though theology as such may constantly discuss and question the confession of the Church, it remains nevertheless bound by it. Theology meditates on this confession, but it does not create it from the discussion which it represents. What theology always seeks it has always also already found; for the whole truth of man as opposed to partial questions and answers must always already be given if it is always to be questioned and found. For Christian theology this always given truth which theology questions and on which it reflects is present in the confession of the Church. In this dialogue of theology the institutional Church is the active and properly constituted partner. Her confession is not only question but also answer, so much so that the answer very often calls forth the question. In union with this confession the institutional Church becomes the active partner in her dialogue with the theologian, and this confession is situated in history, it is no rigid formula which can only be repeated monotonously. But where this confession is believed in with absolute conviction it cannot be revised but remains valid also for the future. Hence this confession with which the Church confronts the theologian must always be considered anew; it remains, and it changes in order to remain.
Basing ourselves on these brief and imperfectly described initial positions we would now say something more definite about the ecclesiality of Catholic theology such as it is seen by a contemporary theologian.
Catholic theology, too, is not only the repetition and scholastic analysis of what the magisterium of the institutional Church has proclaimed to be her confession, even though not all of it is equally binding. Theology has also a certain critical function with regard to the magisterium; it always questions what this teaching actually means. It confronts the doctrine of the Church with all the new questions and insights produced by the changing historical situation of the human spirit. Hence theology is an essential condition of the developing history of the Church’s faith and creed. This is the case particularly as regards Catholic theology, since the Catholic faith implies the conviction of aplurality of human knowledge which is important also for this faith, a pluralism which is not simply administered by the Church. For secular knowledge may be of a kind either to
make demands on the faith or to threaten it, though it is not within the competence of the Church’s authority. In such cases theology has the duty to represent such knowledge to the Church and to enter into a dialogue with her. For theology speaks not only from but also to the Church; thus despite its essential ecclesiality which it can never give up without being annihilated, theology has a true dialogical relation to the Church and her confession.
If, therefore, a theologian is to do his duty, despite his eccleslality he will also be critical of the Church, he will produce creative controversy in order to reconcile what is as yet unreconciled. The theologian does not only represent the Church’s confession before the world, he also represents the world and its constant movement of knowledge and action before the Church. Hence, precisely because he practices an ecclesial theology, he cannot always simply avoid conflicts with the Church’s magisterium. He must want to be troublesome to the Church, because he represents that unrest and constant revolution by which the permanent confession of the Church always renews itself. This should really go without saying when the Church finds herself in a pluralism of knowledge which is religiously and philosophically relevant but not given by revelation, or, if we may call it thus, in a gnoseologically concupiscent situation, even though the nature of the conflicts possible in this situation cannot be exactly defined. Besides, it should be clear that a genuine conflict does not exist at all if there is an absolute rejection of the Church as a partner in a dialogue.
A more detailed discussion of this aspect of the theologian’s dialogue with his Church cannot be attempted within the confines of this book. It goes without saying that such a conflict situation changes considerably accord- ing to the measure in which the faith itself is engaged in the ecclesiastical teaching with which the theologian is confronted. But according also to the Catholic understanding of theology, the theologian has sometimes the right and the duty to state his dissent from a teaching of the magisterium which does not absolutely engage the Church. In such a case he must present his view in a way that does justice to the ecclesial importance of his opinion, to the continuation of his dialogue with the magisterium und also to his respect for the latter’s teaching. Here, of course, we cannot discuss all the rules given by fundamental theology for treating such discrepancies between theologians and magisterium. Such rules may, indeed, easily be accused of being merely legalistic. But if an opinion is admittedly important and the unity of a society unthinkable without truth and a binding ethos, such conflicts cannot be eliminated by declaring that the society is not concerned with an individual opinion at all. Or if this were done, one’s own insight would be reduced to mere interiority and arbitrary fancy; thoughts would indeed be free, but in a sphere quite divorced from social reality. Hence in the Church as else- where we cannot do without rules which guide any conflict that has not yet been resolved in favour of one party in such a way that the dialogue between the opposing sides is not made impossible. In order to avoid misunderstandings it may be said in passing that such rules must be different in a society like the state of which one is a compulsory member, from those obtaining in a voluntary society like the Church, to which one need not belong. In the first case such rules must grant more freedom and take into account more violent conflicts while nevertheless supporting the dialogue, for the members of such a society are not free to leave it. In the second case, however, as for example in the Church, a person may retain the freedom of his conviction by leaving and by breaking off the dialogue within the Church.
Thus, despite the basic ecclesiality of theology there does exist a conflict-ridden dialogue between theologians and the institutional Church with her confession and her magisterium. But this dialogue can and should be sustained within the Church, and according to the Catholic faith it can remain in the Church. Nevertheless, it is possible that a theologian may be wrongly convinced that he contradicts absolutely a tenet definitely taught by the Church as absolutely binding, so that the dialogue becomes one that is carried on between the Church and an outsider, though he is officially still a member of the Church and does not want to leave her on his own account.
Leaving aside this quite possible case, we may say that the dialogue between a theologian and the magisterium is an intra-ecclesial one, and the doctrine of this theologian an ecclesial doctrine only if he respects and accepts as binding that teaching which the Church considers inseparable from her faith and proclaims with absolute engagement. But a theologian may not accept this presupposition from the beginning, or he may try to eliminate it implicitly or explicitly by demand- ing that the Church should revise her faith or her idea of herself according to his theological opinion or that she should accept the latter as of equal right. In this case the dialogue between the Church and the theologian would — whether admittedly or not — have been replaced by a theological monologue in which the theologian produces and admits only his own opinion. The Church must be an authentic partner in a dialogue, independent of the opinion of an individual theologian; but this she can be only if she is not a formal and abstract entity capable of being changed by individual thought into just anything. I cannot talk seriously to an independent partner who would make absolutely everything a matter of choice and discussion, without any settled fundamental conviction whatsoever. In a certain sense all true discussion presupposes something that is indisputable even if this indisputable is itself discussed, as happens in metaphysics and theology. The extent of what is not open to discussion may vary considerably according to the different partners; it may, in certain cases, even be reduced to the conviction that men must talk to each other fairly and honestly. But this does not change the fundamental principle that every discussion has a theological and existential basis which is presupposed even when it is itself being discussed, and that the partner in the discussion may determine his own presuppositions, provided only that he expresses them clearly and communicates them to the other partner.
The dogma of the Church is the presupposition of any intraecclesial dialogue between the Church and the theologian. True, one may reject this dogma and refuse to talk to the Church in these circumstances. But without it an intra-ecclesial dialogue is impossible, because there would be no truly independent partner. For in this case a person would want to conduct a Christian theological dialogue while arrogating to himself the right to determine what is Christian. But this would mean a monologue, or else a dialogue such as exists (or should exist) among all men, and which presupposes no definable foundations. So the outcome is either a Christian monologue or a merely human dialogue. Hence an ecclesial theology presupposes the acceptance of the dogma of the Church, and a true dialogue with a partner independent of oneself exists only when the
Church is allowed to determine what she retains as her dogma. This, however, is not meant to deny that this dialogue must be concerned with the Church’s dogma itself. For this is situated in history, in which it always receives new forms and must be restated according to the needs of the time, indeed, it retains its permanence only through this change, if it is not to degenerate into an unintelligible formula. As has been said before, one necessary form of this change is precisely the dialogue between the Church and the theologian as the representative of new questions and horizons in which the permanent dogma of the Church must appear. But, to say it once again: This dialogue is conducted in the hope of an ever new reconciliation be- tween the individual and the collective consciousness; nevertheless, it may easily- be replaced by a theological monologue unless the theologian accepts the indisputable faith of the Church also as his own condition for this dialogue. True, he must always adapt the alien elements if they are to become his own faith, but he accepts them only if he has the courage to give them power over himself.
Perhaps I have spoken only of the old ecclesiality of theology, though my subject was the new one. But just this ancient ecclesiality seems always new to me, even in the sober and often dreary daily run of ecclesiastical theology. Despite all he sees and hears, the truly Catholic theologian will always experience the dependence of Catholic theology on the Church as the sheet-anchor outside his own subjectivity though grasped by it, which alone enables him to overcome that dangerous alienation through which one is imprisoned in one’s own individuality. This cannot be understood by someone to whom his own opinion always seems to be more important and true than that of another or of a community, and who thinks that he can achieve the full development of his personality only in opposition to a community. But this attitude is not mine, nor is it the attitude of Catholic theology. Nor do I think that such an attitude has a genuine future. I know that one must be very careful about predicting what the future may hold. But I think nevertheless that the attitude I have sketched and which is incompatible with an ecclesial Catholic theology is only the last attack on the ecclesiality of theology; it is actually the attitude of a late European individualism which, in the longer view, is already moribund.
True, the Church must also defend a permanent element in modern individualism which has been gained by terrible suffering, namely freedom of conscience. This freedom must also be proclaimed when it turns against the Church, and this not only in a spirit of civil tolerance inflicted on the Church from outside, but through the Church’s own understanding of herself. It seems that we are approaching a more highly socialized civilization which yet cannot be without a common ethos if it is not to degenerate into a materialistic technocracy. Now leaving the Church out of account for the moment, such a future society will be faced with the question how it can ask all its members to subscribe to such an ethos without replacing (or at least endangering) the freedom of the individual by an enforced ideology and indoctrination. It must further be asked how such a society can have a truth that makes free without leaving man in a void in which neither he nor society can live. This question will confront society when it has used up the traditional ethos. Indeed, ecclesial theology has always asked and tried to answer this question, at least when this theology has been personally responsible without emancipating itself from the Church and her faith. Future generations will again pose the question of truth as an element of society, hence the old question of the ecclesiality of Christian truth is still a new question.
Text of a lecture in Munster, 14 May 1968, first published in Geist und Leben 41 (1968), pp. 205
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