An audience of almost a thousand responded in Munich on June 4, 1970, to an invitation from the Catholic Academy in Bavaria to an evening lecture by Professor Joseph Ratzinger, then Ordinarius for Dogmatics at the University of Regensburg. Evidently the topic, “Why I Am Still in the Church Today”, had squarely addressed a problem that occupied the minds of many people. The second speech for the defense in the series “Christian Life and Church” was given on June 11, 1970, with a similarly great response, by the theologian Dr. Hans Urs von Balthasar from Basel (Switzerland) with the title “Why I Am Still a Christian Today”.

Today there are many and conflicting reasons not to be in the Church any more. The people who feel driven today to turn their backs on the Church are not only the ones who have become alienated from the Church’s faith or who regard the Church as too old-fashioned, too medieval, too hostile to the world and life, but also those who loved the historical form of the Church, her worship, her timelessness, and the reflection of the eternal in her. It seems to them that the Church is in the process of betraying what is most characteristic of her, that she is selling herself to current fashion and thus losing her soul: they are disappointed like a lover who has to experience the betrayal of a great love and must seriously consider turning his back on her.

Conversely, however, there are also quite conflicting reasons to stay in the Church: the ones who remain are not only those who steadfastly adhere to their faith in her mission or those who are unwilling to sever their ties to a dear old habit (even though they make little use of that habit). Also remaining in the Church today, quite emphatically, are those who reject her entire historical character and passionately fight against the meaning that her officials try to give to her or uphold. Although they want to do away with what the Church was and is, they are determined not to be ousted, so that they can make of her what, in their opinion, she is supposed to become.

Preliminary Reflection on
the Situation of the Church

All this, however, produces a veritable Tower of Babel within the Church: not only are the reasons pro and con mixed up in the strangest ways, but now it hardly seems possible to reach any agreement. Above all, mistrust is on parade, because being in the Church has lost its clear meaning and in the resulting ambiguity no one dares to trust the other’s honesty. Romano Guardini’s hopeful assessment, written in 1921, seems to have turned into its opposite. “A momentous process has begun: the Church is awakening in souls.” Today, it seems that the saying should read the other way around: indeed, a momentous process is taking place—the Church is being extinguished in souls and is collapsing in communities. In the midst of a world that is striving for unity, the Church is crumbling into nationalistic resentment, the denunciation of anything foreign and the glorification of what is one’s own. Between the managers of worldliness and the reactionaries who cling all too much to externals and to what merely has been, between a disregard for tradition and positivistic building upon the letter of the law, there seems to be no middle ground—public opinion implacably assigns each to his place; it needs clear labels and cannot be bothered about nuances: Anyone who is not for progress is against it; one has to be either a conservative or a progressive. Of course the reality, thank God, is different: quietly and almost voicelessly, between those extremes there are, even today, simple believers, who even in this hour of confusion carry out the real task of the Church: worship and the patience of everyday life, nourished by the Word of God. But they do not fit into the desired picture, and so they remain for the most part silent—this true Church, while not invisible, is nevertheless hidden deep beneath the human additives.

This gives us a preliminary hint about the background for the question that arises today: Why do I still stay in the Church? If we are to answer it meaningfully, we must first analyze in greater depth this background, which because of that little word “today” is directly concerned with our topic, and we must now go beyond identifying the situation to inquire into the reasons for it.

How could this remarkable Tower of Babel situation come about just when we were hoping to have a new Pentecost? How was it possible that at the very moment when the Council seemed to have gathered in the mature harvest from the awakening of the last decades, the result was suddenly a frightening emptiness instead of a wealth of fulfillment? How could it happen that this great new movement aimed at unity should produce disintegration? I would like to try, first, to answer with a comparison, which at the same time can reveal the task before us and, thereby, suggest the reasons that, despite all that is negative, continue to make an affirmative possible. It seems that in our efforts to understand the Church—which finally at the Council became an active struggle over her, a concrete project of working on the Church—we got so close to this same Church that now we no longer manage to perceive the whole. We can no longer see the city for the houses, the forest for the trees. This situation, into which science has so often led us with regard to reality, seems to have come about now with respect to the Church as well. We see the particular detail with such excessive precision that it becomes impossible for us to perceive the whole. And just as in science, so too here: the gain in exactitude means a loss of truth. However indisputably correct everything is that the microscope shows us when we look at a piece of a tree under it, it can still, at the same time, conceal the truth if it causes us to forget that the particular detail is not just the particular but has its existence within the whole, which cannot be put under the microscope and yet is true, truer than the isolated detail.

Let us say things now without metaphor. The contemporary perspective has further modified our view of the Church: in practice, we see the Church now exclusively under the aspect of feasibility, what we can make out of her. The intensive effort for reform in the Church finally caused everything else to be forgotten; to us today she is only a structure that we can change, which confronts us with the question of what we ought to change so as to make her “more efficient” for whatever purposes the individual may have in mind. In the popular mind-set, the idea of reform has to a great extent degenerated into this way of framing the question and thus has been robbed of its essence. For reform, in the original sense, is a spiritual process, quite closely related to conversion and in this sense part of the core of Christianity: only through conversion does one become a Christian; this is true for the individual throughout his lifetime, and this is true for the Church throughout all of history. She, too, as Church, lives on the fact that she is converted again and again to the Lord and turns away from her stubborn insistence on what is her own, on mere habit, which, although comforting, can so easily be contrary to the truth. But when reform is separated from this context, from the drudgery of conversion, and salvation is now expected solely from change in other people, from ever new forms and ever new adaptations to the age, then many useful things may still happen, but overall it becomes a caricature of itself. Strictly speaking, such reform can affect only the unimportant, secondary things in the Church; no wonder the Church herself in the end appears to be of secondary importance! If we reflect on that, then we also understand the paradox that seems to have resulted from present-day efforts of renewal: the effort to loosen up rigid structures, to correct forms of ecclesiastical ministry that date back to the Middle Ages or, even more, to the era of absolutism, and to free the Church from such accretions for the sake of a simpler service in the spirit of the Gospel—this effort has in fact led to an overemphasis on the official element in the Church that is almost unprecedented in history. Granted, the institutions and offices in the Church are being criticized more radically today than ever before, but they are also absorbing our attention more exclusively than they did formerly: quite a few people suppose that the Church today consists of those things alone. The question about the Church is then exhausted in the fight over her institutions; people do not want such an elaborate apparatus to go unused, yet they find it largely impractical for the new purposes that are assigned to it.

Behind this another point, the crucial one, becomes visible: the crisis of faith, which is the actual nucleus of the process. With regard to her sociological radius, the Church still extends far beyond the circle of actual believers, and through this institutionalized untruth she has become profoundly alienated from her true nature. The heavy publicity surrounding the Council and the apparent possibility of a rapprochement between belief and unbelief (which the news coverage almost inevitably feigned) radicalized this alienation to the extreme: the applause for the Council came partly from those who had no intention whatsoever of becoming believers themselves, as Christian tradition understands it, but rather greeted the “progress” that the Church was making toward their own stance as a corroboration of their way. At the same time, of course, the faith was in an exciting state of ferment within the Church, too. The problem of historical mediation causes the old Creed to enter into an indistinct twilight in which the outlines of things blur; the claims of the natural sciences, and still more of what is considered to be the modern world view, do their part to aggravate this process. The boundaries between interpretation and denial become increasingly unrecognizable, right at the heart of the matter: What does “risen again from the dead” really mean? Who is believing, who is interpreting, who is denying? And in all the debate about the limits of interpretation, the face of God is noticeably disappearing. “The death of God” is a very real process, which today extends deep into the interior of the Church. God is dying in Christendom, so it seems. For when resurrection becomes an experience of a commission perceived in outmoded imagery, then God is not at work. Is he at work at all? That is the question that immediately follows. But who wants to be so reactionary as to insist on a realistic “he is risen”? Thus what one person necessarily considers unbelief is progress to another, and what was hitherto unthinkable becomes normal: that men who long ago abandoned the Church’s Creed should in good conscience regard themselves as the truly progressive Christians. For them, however, the only standard by which to measure the Church is the expediency with which she functions; of course the question remains as to what is expedient and for what purpose the whole thing is actually supposed to function. For social criticism, for developmental aid, for revolution? Or for community celebrations? In any case, one must start over from the ground up, because the Church was not originally made for all that, and besides, in her present form she is probably not really capable of functioning like that, either. So the uneasiness among believers and unbelievers increases. The property right that unbelief has acquired in the Church makes the situation seem increasingly intolerable to both groups; above all, through these developments, the reform program has tragically drifted into an odd ambiguity for which many people no longer see any solution.

Now naturally one can say: But that is not the whole situation that we are facing. Indeed, there have also been so many positive developments in recent years that simply cannot be ignored—the new accessibility of the liturgy, the heightened awareness of social problems, better understanding among separated Christians, the dismantling of many fears that had sprung from a false faith in the letter of the law, and much more. That is true and it should not be belittled. But it is not characteristic of the “prevailing weather system” in the Church today (if I may put it that way). On the contrary, all this, too, has meanwhile been drawn into the twilight that has resulted from the blurring of the boundaries between belief and unbelief. Only initially did the result of this blurring seem to be liberating. Today it is clear that, despite all the existing signs of hope, this process has produced, not a modern Church, but one that is deeply divided and doubtful all around. Let us put it quite bluntly: The First Vatican Council had described the Church as “signum levatum in nationes” (a signal flag raised for the nations), as the great eschatological banner visible from afar that summons and unites mankind. She is (the 1870 Council said) that “ensign” or standard for which Isaiah hoped (11:12), visible from afar, which everyone can recognize and which unambiguously shows the way to all: with her miraculous propagation, her sublime sanctity, her fruitfulness in every good work, and her unshakable stability, she is the real miracle of Christianity, its constant authentication in the sight of history, replacing all other signs and wonders.[2] Today all this seems to have turned into the opposite: not marvelous propagation, but a parochial, stagnant club that was incapable of surpassing in earnest the limits of the European or the medieval mind; not sublime sanctity, but, rather, a compendium of all human offenses, defiled and humiliated by a history that has not missed a single scandal, from the burning of heretics to witch hunts, from the persecution of Jews and the enslavement of consciences to self-dogmatization and resistance to scientific evidence, so that anyone who belongs to this history can only cover his head in shame; and finally, not stability, but, rather, being swept along by all the currents of history, by colonialism and nationalism, and now in the process of coming to terms with Marxism and, if possible, largely identifying herself with it. . . . Thus the Church appears to be, not a sign summoning us to faith, but, rather, the chief obstacle to accepting it.

If there is to be a true theology of the Church now, it seems that it can only consist of taking away her theological attributes and regarding and discussing her as something purely political. The Church herself seems to be no longer a reality of the faith but a quite accidental, even if perhaps indispensable, organization of believers, which ought to be restructured as quickly as possible according to the latest findings of sociology. Trust is good, but verification is better—after all the disappointments, this is now the slogan with regard to ecclesial office. The sacramental principle is no longer intelligible; democratic checks and balances seem now to be the only reliable alternative:[3] even the Holy Spirit, after all, is much too intangible. Anyone who is not afraid to look at the past knows, of course, that the humiliations of history were based precisely on following this path: man managed to seize power and considered his accomplishments to be the only real thing.

An Image for the Nature of the Church

A Church that is viewed only in political terms, contrary to her entire history and her distinctive nature, makes no sense, and a merely political decision to remain in the Church is dishonest, even if it chants the slogan of honesty. But then, given the present situation, how can one justify staying in the Church? To put it differently: The decision in favor of the Church must be a spiritual decision, if it is to have any meaning—but how can such a spiritual decision be justified? Once again I would like to give a preliminary answer in a comparison, while referring back to the statement offered initially to describe the situation. We had said that in tampering with the Church we have come so close to her that our perception of the whole is gone. We can enlarge on this thought by applying an image that the Church Fathers found in their symbolic meditation on the Church and the world. They explained that in the arrangement of the cosmos, the moon is an image for what the Church is in the arrangement of salvation in the spiritual-intellectual universe. Here primeval symbolism from the history of religion is adopted (although the Fathers did not talk about a “theology of religions”, they put it into practice), in which the moon, being a symbol of both fruitfulness and frailty, a symbol of death and transience as well as a symbol of hope for rebirth and resurrection, was an image of human existence, “pathetic and comforting at the same time”.[4] Lunar and terrestrial symbolism fuse in many respects. The moon, in both its transience and its rebirth, represents the world of men, the earthly world, the world that is characterized by receptivity and neediness, that receives its fruitfulness from somewhere else: from the sun. Thus lunar symbolism simultaneously is a symbol for man, for humanity as represented in woman: receptive and fruitful due to the power of what is received.

The application of the moon symbolism to the Church by the Fathers proceeded mainly from two points of departure: from the connection between moon and woman (mother) and from the viewpoint that the light of the moon is borrowed light, the light of helios, without which the moon would be mere darkness; it shines, yet its light is not its own light but, rather, the light of another.[5] It is darkness and brightness at the same time. The moon itself is darkness, but it bestows brightness that comes from another heavenly body whose light it transmits. Precisely therein, however, it represents the Church, which shines, even though she herself is dark: she is not bright because of her own light, but, rather, she receives light from the true Helios, Christ, so that she, although herself only earthly stone (like the moon, which, after all, is just another earth), nevertheless can give light in the night of our exile from God: “The moon tells of the mystery of Christ.”[6]

One should not force symbols; they are valuable precisely because of their figurative nature, which eludes logical schematization. Nevertheless, in the age of the lunar voyage, an extension of the comparison comes to mind, in which the specific features of our situation (with regard to the reality “Church”, also) can be made visible through this juxtaposition of physical and symbolic thinking. The traveler to the moon or the moon probe discovers the moon only as rocks, desert, sand, mountains, but not as light. And, in fact, in and of itself, it is nothing more, only desert, sand, and rocks. And yet it is also light—not in itself, but from another source and to another purpose—and it remains so even in the age of space travel. It is what it itself is not. The other thing that is not its own is nevertheless its reality, also—as what is “not its own”. There is a truth of physics, and there is a truth of poetry, of symbols, and neither cancels the other out. And now I ask: Is this not a very exact image of the Church? Someone who drives over her and extracts samples with a moon probe can discover only desert, sand, and rocks, the human frailties of man and his history with its deserts, its dust, and its heights. That is hers. And yet it is not the essential thing about her. The decisive thing is that she, although only sand and stone herself, nevertheless is light from the Lord, from someone else: what is not hers is what is truly and properly hers; indeed, her nature lies in the fact that she herself does not count, but, rather, what counts about her is what she is not, that she exists only so as to be dispossessed of herself—the fact that she has a light that she is not and solely on account of which she nevertheless is. She is “moon”—mysterium lunae—and thus she matters to the believer, because in precisely this way she is the place of a lasting spiritual decision.

Because the state of affairs touched on in this image seems to me to be crucial, I would like to clarify it by means of another observation before I try to translate it from the language of imagery into objective statements. After the liturgy was translated into German [ad experimentum, as part of the liturgical movement] before the recent [postconciliar] reform, I repeatedly had linguistic scruples about one passage that came from the same context and symptomatically illustrates once more just what we have been talking about. The Suscipiat in German prays that the Lord might accept the sacrifice “zum Segen fur uns und Seine ganze heilige Kirche” (as a blessing for us and for all His holy Church). Again and again I found myself saying, “and for all our holy Church”. The whole problem we are discussing lies revealed in this linguistic scruple, and it makes evident the whole shift we have experienced. His Church has been replaced by our Church and, thus, by many churches, since everyone has his own. The churches have become our undertakings, of which we are either proud or ashamed; many little private properties stand in a row, genuine “our” churches, which we ourselves make, which are our work and property, and which we try to refashion or preserve accordingly. Behind “our church” or even “your church”, “his Church” has disappeared from view. But that is the only one that matters, and if she no longer exists, “our” church should resign too. Church as ours and ours alone is a pointless game in a sandbox.

But with that we have already given in principle the answer to the question about which I was asked to speak: I am in the Church because I believe that now as ever and irrevocably through us, “his Church” lives behind “our church” and that I can stand by him only if I stand by and stay in his Church. I am in the Church because, despite everything, I believe that she is at the deepest level not our but precisely “his” Church.

To put it quite concretely: It is the Church that, despite all the human foibles of the people in her, gives us Jesus Christ, and only through her can we receive him as a living, authoritative reality that summons and endows me here and now. Henri de Lubac formulated this state of affairs as follows:

Even those who scarcely know her or misunderstand her, do they realize that if they still receive Christ it is to the Church they owe it?. . . Jesus lives for us. But without the visible continuity of the Church, the desert sands would have long since swallowed up, if not perhaps his name and memory, certainly the influence of his gospel and faith in his divinity. . . . “Without the Church, Christ evaporates or is fragmented or cancels himself out.” And without Christ what would man be?[7]

This elementary acknowledgment has to be made at the start: Whatever infidelity there is or may be in the Church, however true it is that she constantly needs to be measured anew by Jesus Christ, still there is ultimately no opposition between Christ and Church. It is through the Church that he remains alive despite the distance of history, that he speaks to us today, is with us today as master and Lord, as our brother who unites us all as brethren. And because the Church, and she alone, gives us Jesus Christ, causes him to be alive and present in the world, gives birth to him again in every age in the faith and prayer of the people, she gives mankind a light, a support, and a standard without which mankind would be unimaginable. Anyone who wants to find the presence of Jesus Christ in mankind cannot find it contrary to the Church but only in her.

With that we have already made the next point. I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian in the first place. For one cannot believe alone. One can believe only as a fellow believer. Faith is by its very nature a force for unification. Its primordial image is the story of Pentecost, the miracle of understanding among people who by their origins and history are foreign to one another. Faith is ecclesial, or it is not faith. Furthermore: Just as one cannot believe alone but only as a fellow believer, neither can one believe on the basis of one’s own authority and ingenuity, but only when there is an authorization to believe that is not within my power and does not come from me but, rather, goes before me. A faith of one’s own devising is an oxymoron. For a self-made faith would only vouch for and be able to say what I already am and know anyway; it could not go beyond the boundary of my ego. Hence a self-made Church, a faith community that creates itself, that exists by its own graces, is also an oxymoron. Although faith demands communion, it is the sort of communion that has authority and takes the lead, not the sort that is my own creation, the instrument of my own wishes.

The whole matter can also be formulated in terms of a more historical aspect: Either this Jesus was more than a man, so that he had an inherent authority that was more than the product of his own arbitrary will, or he was not. In other words, either an authority proceeded from him that extends and lasts through the ages, or else he left no such authority behind. In the latter case, I have to rely on my own reconstructions, and then he is nothing more than any other great founding figure that one makes present by reflection. But if he is more than that, then he does not depend on my reconstructions; then the authority that he left behind is valid even today.

Let us return to the crucial point: being Christian is possible only in Church. Not close by. And let us not hesitate to ask once more, quite soberly, the melodramatic question: Where would the world be without Christ? Without a God who speaks and knows man and whom man can therefore know? Nowadays the attempt to construct such a world is carried on with such grim obstinacy that we know quite precisely what the answer is: an absurd experiment. An experiment without any standard. However much Christianity may have failed in practice during its history (and it has failed again and again appallingly), the standards of justice and love have nevertheless emanated from the good news preserved in the Church, even against her will, often in spite of her, and yet never without the quiet power of what has been deposited in her.

In other words: I remain in the Church because I view the faith—which can be practiced only in her and ultimately not against her—as a necessity for man, indeed for the world, which lives on that faith even when it does not share it. For if there is no more God—and a silent God is no God—then there is no longer any truth that is accessible to the world and to man. In a world without truth, however, one cannot keep on living; even if we suppose that we can do without truth, we still feed on the quiet hope that it has not yet really disappeared, just as the light of the sun could remain for a while after the sun came to an end, momentarily disguising the worldwide night that had started.

We could express the same thing again differently from another perspective: I remain in the Church because only the Church’s faith saves man. That sounds very traditional, dogmatic, and unreal, but it is meant quite soberly and realistically. In our world of compulsions and frustrations, the longing for salvation has reawakened with hurricane force. The efforts of Freud and C. G. Jung are just attempts to give redemption to the unredeemed. Marcuse, Adorno, and Habermas continue in their own way, from different starting points, to seek and proclaim salvation. In the background stands Marx, and his question, too, is the question of salvation. The more liberated, enlightened, and powerful man becomes, the more the longing for salvation gnaws at him, the less free he finds himself. The common element in the efforts of Marx, Freud, and Marcuse is that they look for salvation by striving for a world that is delivered from suffering, sickness, and need. A world free of dominion, suffering, and injustice has become the great slogan of our generation; the stormy protests of the young are aimed at this promise, and the resentments of the old rage against the fact that it has not yet been fulfilled, that there still is dominion, injustice, and suffering. To fight against suffering and injustice in the world is indeed a thoroughly Christian impulse. But the notion that one can produce a world without suffering through social reform, through the abolition of government and the legal order, and the desire to achieve that here and now are symptoms of false doctrine, of a profound misunderstanding of human nature. Inequality of ownership and power, to tell the truth, are not the only causes of suffering in this world. And suffering is not just the burden that man should throw off: someone who tries to do that must flee into the illusory world of drugs so as to destroy himself in earnest and arrive at reality through the conflict. Only by suffering himself and by becoming free of the tyranny of egotism through suffering does man find himself, his truth, his joy, his happiness. We are deceived to think that it is possible to become a human being without conquering oneself, without the patience of renunciation and the toil of overcoming oneself; we are fooled to think there is no need for the hardness of persevering in what has been undertaken for enduring patiently the tension between what man ought to be and what he is in fact: this is the very essence of the crisis of the hour. Take away a man’s hardship and lead him astray into the fool’s paradise of his dreams, and he loses what is distinctively his: himself. A human being in fact is saved in no other way but through the cross, through acceptance of his own passion and that of the world, which in God’s Passion became the site of liberating meaning. Only in that way, in this acceptance, does a man become free. All offers that promise it at less expense will fail and prove to be deceptive. The hope of Christianity, the prospect of faith is ultimately based quite simply on the fact that it tells the truth. The prospect of faith is the prospect of truth, which can be obscured and trampled upon, but cannot perish.

We come to our final point. A man always sees only as much as he loves. Certainly there is also the clear-sightedness of denial and hatred. But they can see only what is suited to them: the negative. They can thereby preserve love from a blindness in which it overlooks its own limitations and risks. But they cannot build up. Without a certain measure of love, one finds nothing. Someone who does not get involved at least for a while in the experiment of faith, in the experiment of becoming affirmatively involved with the Church, who does not take the risk of looking with the eyes of love, is only exasperating himself. The venture of love is the prerequisite for faith. If it is ventured, then one does not have to hide from the dark areas in the Church. But one discovers that they are not the only thing after all. One discovers that alongside the Church history of scandals there is another Church history that has proved to be fruitful throughout the centuries in great figures such as Augustine, Francis of Assisi, the Dominican priest Las Casas, who fought passionately for the Indians, Vincent de Paul, and John XXIII. He finds that the Church has brought forth in history a gleaming path that cannot be ignored. And the beauty that has sprung up in response to her message and is still manifest to us today in incomparable works of art becomes for him a witness to the truth: something that could express itself in that way cannot be mere darkness. The beauty of the great cathedrals, the beauty of the music that has developed within the context of the faith, the dignity of the Church’s liturgy, and in general the reality of festive celebration, which one cannot make for oneself but can only receive,[8] the elaboration of the seasons in the liturgical year, in which then and now, time and eternity interpenetrate—all that is in my view no insignificant accident. Beauty is the radiance of truth, Thomas Aquinas once said, and one might add that the distortion of the beautiful is the self-irony of lost truth. The lasting impression that the Christian faith was able to make upon history testifies to it, to the truth that stands behind it.

There is another point that I do not want to omit, even though it seems to lead us into the realm of subjectivity. Even today, if you keep your eyes open, you can still meet people who are a living witness to the liberating power of the Christian faith. And there is nothing wrong with being and remaining a Christian, too, on account of the people who modeled Christianity for us and through their lives made it worth believing and loving. After all, it is an illusion when a person tries to make himself into a sort of transcendental subject in whom only that which is not accidental has any validity. Certainly there is a duty then to reflect on such experiences, to test their reliability, to purify them and comply with them anew. But even then, in this necessary process of making them objective, is it not a respectable proof of Christianity that it has made men human by uniting them with God? Is not the most subjective element here at the same time something completely objective for which we do not have to apologize to anyone?

One more remark at the conclusion. When we speak, as we have done here, about the fact one cannot see anything without love, that one must therefore also learn to love the Church in order to recognize her, many people today become uneasy: Is love not the opposite of criticism? And in the final analysis, is it not the subterfuge of the ruling powers that are trying to divert criticism and maintain the status quo for their own benefit? Do we serve mankind by reassuring it and putting a good face on the present situation, or do we serve it by standing up for it constantly against entrenched injustice and oppressive social structures? Those are very far-reaching questions that cannot be examined here in detail. But one thing ought to be clear: real love is neither static nor uncritical. If there is any possibility at all of changing another person for the better, then it is only by loving him and by slowly helping him to change from what he is into what he can be. Should it be any different with the Church? Just look at recent history: in the liturgical and theological renewal during the first half of the twentieth century, a real reform developed that brought about positive change; that was possible only because there were watchful individuals who, with the gift of discernment, loved the Church “critically” and were willing to suffer for her. If nothing succeeds any more today, maybe it is because all of us are all too intent on merely proving ourselves right. Staying in a Church that we actually have to make first in order for her to be worth staying in is just not worthwhile; it is self-contradictory. Staying in the Church because she is worth having around; because she is worth loving and transforming ever anew through love so that she transcends herself and becomes more fully herself—that is the path that the responsibility of faith shows us even today.

Excerpt from Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades, 2012, Ignatius Press.


[1] Given the parameters of a lecture and the special nature of the theme assigned to me, it goes without saying that it was not possible to attempt a comprehensive presentation of the objective reasons for being in the Church. I had to be content with fitting together, as though in a mosaic, a few remarks about a decision that is ultimately my own personal responsibility, which nonetheless can perhaps make evident in their own way something of an objective law.

[2] Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 32nd ed. (Freiburg, 1963), nos. 3013f.

[3] There may be some justification for such a demand, and to a large extent it may be quite compatible with the sacramentally defined form of Church leadership; this point is developed, with the necessary distinctions, in J. Ratzinger and H. Maier, Demokratie in der Kirche (Limburg, 1970).

[4] M. Eliade, Die Religionen und das Heilige (Salzburg, 1954), 215; see in general the whole chapter in that book entitled “Mond und Mondmystik”, 180-216.

[5] See H. Rahner, Griechische Mythen in christlicher Deutung (Darmstadt, 1957), 200-224; H. Rahner, Symbole der Kirche (Salzburg, 1964), 89-173. He makes the interesting remark that in antiquity natural science thoroughly discussed the question of whether the moon has its own light or some other. Most of the Church Fathers subscribed to the latter theory, which had become the predominant one, and attributed symbolic theological value to it (see esp. p. 100).

[6] Ambrose, Exameron IV 8, 23 CSEL 32, 1, p. 137, ll. 27f.; H. Rahner, Griechische Mythen, 201.

[7] H. de Lubac, Geheimnis aus der wir leben (Einsiedeln, 1967), 20f.; cf. 18ff.

[8] On this subject, see especially J. Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, trans. Alexander Dru (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998).