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April 27, 2005


Loudon is a Fool

Ahhhhh. Not a smaller, devoted Church, but a littler, more convinced community. Now I get it.

Eric Giunta

I thought the same thing, London.

Seems like Tom at Disputations is just beating a dead horse, trying to find contoversy where there is none.

Mark C.

I do think that Cardinal Ratzinger's vision was one of a smaller, more devoted Church. Consider this quote from Salt of the Earth:

"Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups but nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world"

In God and the World he invoked "a Benedictine motto: Succisa virescit -- pruned, it grows again"

Or this recent speech to the Italian Senate about the future of Europe:

"We must agree with Toynbee that the destiny of a society always depends upon creative minorities. Christian believers should conceive of themselves as such a creative minority, and help Europe to recover the best of its heritage, and thus be at the service of all of humanity."

I personally don't find this vision to be pessimistic. The Church has always seen great periods of growth after periods of retrenchment and purification - the barbarian takeover of the Western Empire, leading to a retreat to Benedictine monasticism and eventual renewal in the Carolingan period; the loss of most of northern Europe to Protestantism leading to the Counter-Reformation and the great Jesuit (and other) missions; the French and other European revolutions leading to the 19th century ultramontanist revival.

Unlike John Paul II, Benedict XVI may not see the "new springtime" just around the corner. But he wants to prune the branches and plant hardy seeds that will withstand the winter of secularism because he knows that the spring will come in God's time, if not ours.


For those of us that aren't so quick to call anyone heretic or apostate, I think there is a sense of disappointment in the growing idea that Pope Benedict XVI will be "pruning" the branches for a hardier faith. In history when there were previous entrenchment and renewal periods, the "pruning" came from external threats--Barbarians, Ottoman empire, Protestantism--and now secularism and Pentecostalism. Was it ever brought about from within, as a great purge, like so many imagine (with thrill or dread) could happen now? If it were to be an internal downsizing, so to speak, are we really saying that the Pope would give up on anyone's chance for redemption?

Mark R

Now this makes sense. Blogosphere exegesis, beholden to apologetics and therefore highly polemical, gave the interpretation that of a meaner and leaner Church.
Our Holy Father is being descriptive and not prescriptive.


That's what I has suggested last week at some point, as well, here.


So: not weeding out the bad Catholics so that the whole Church can be a mustard seed, but a focus on creating mustard seeds within the Church to light the way for non-members of the Church and Catholics not in full communion alike.

Or am I reading it wrong? I have been known to project.


Tom has more the measure of what the man said. My objection has been with those who have let their own bias affect their opinion and reasoning about what Benedict clearly is saying about "intentional" Catholicism.

Authentic Christian enthusiasts have never called for advancing the harvest on the Lord's schedule. Authentic movements striving for greater holiness have followed their own charism, gathered a faithful, and gone off to live their intended life in the Church, but apart from the world.

If those who yearn for a more committed Catholicism want a leaner, meaner Church, by all means go off into the desert and find it. But don't presume you have the keys to the kingdom because of it.


I think you're correct, Maura.


I don't think we're talking about running people out of the Church. I think it's more likely those who hoped to see the church go in a different direction may just give up and go. Perhaps B-16 sees that not as a desired thing, but as in inevitable thing. I don't know.


"I think it's more likely those who hoped to see the church go in a different direction may just give up and go."

I think it's a hope, but an unfounded one. I'm not so sure it's very seemly for Catholics to talk about such things. Christ entrusted his disciples to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, not just to people we like or to people who will listen to us.

If bumbling over Humanae Vitae, clergy sex abuse, or the lack of decisive answers over such tragedies as World Wars haven't chased off most fence-sitters, I don't think neocon-spun musings from our pope will do the trick either.

As Maura says, the focus should be on lighting the way for the unchurched and the alienated. That might be unpleasant and messy for some to contemplate, but it is the apostolic call. More so than the country club approach.

Nguoi Dang Chay

Doesn't seem to me there's much in BenedictXVI's history to suggest that he's gonna start running people off. The only thing related to that -- dissidents leaving the Church -- coming from BXVI would seem to be if he (as is likely) loudly proclaims what is Catholic and what is not, and the dissidents felt hurt (poor babies) that the Church didn't accomodate their heresies, and left. But such people are notoriously reluctant to leave the Church even then.

Dorian Speed

Although I do find this discussion interesting, I'm wondering what difference it makes as regards our own behavior as Catholics. Will we be called to act differently depending upon what Benedict XVI envisions as the future of our faith? Doesn't our mission remain the same? I don't mean that question to be snide. Should we make different choices with our lives (our level of involvement in our parish versus the greater community, for instance) dependent upon whether we see ourselves as heading towards a "mustard seed" existence?

Should it affect how we catechize our children?

Kevin Miller

Loudon: Not "a community." "Communities." And that does make a difference.

Mark Shea


Yes, that's Tom. A publicity-hound like Al Sharpton.

I suggest everybody read his latest entry. He's basically saying that both the people on the Left (who are awaiting the Theologieeinsatzgruppenkommandos to break down the door and shoot them and their children in cold blood) and the Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] who are eagerly awaiting Purges and Show Trials are very likely going to have dashed expectations. Saying, "I foresee smaller and more intentional communities" is not the same as saying "I will stamp out the unholy vermin who infest our Church with their impurity!"

Loudon is a Fool

But aren't these both straw men, Mark? Polemicists might say them but even they don't believe them. I think both sides would agree that the idea of a more devoted Church means that people will be more devoted. But I think progressives and the orthodox have very different views on what this means. I would hope that the orthodoxy of the faithful presents the world with a radical choice, to love Christ or love self. That doesn't mean we need an auto-da-fe for the self-lovers, but it does require at least the acknowledgment that inordinate love of self is not compatible with love for Christ and the honest communication of that to the unconverted.

So we have on the one hand a man like Oscar Wilde. Who knows what the man struggled with internally. But he seemed to recognize that embracing Christ meant he couldn't embrace certain other things. He saw the choice and recognized that the need for conversion was on his part. On the other hand we might have a Catholic neo-con blogger plagued by similar demons who responds much more differently to the call and, instead of converting, decides that the Church must convert and will eventually come to him.

The orthodox don't want purges, but they do want the world to be presented with clear choices. Because modern men must make a choice. To coax the unconverted with anything but the unvarnished truth is fraudulent. And it does the uncoverted no good to convert to something that is not the full truth. Let the prots tell folks that calling "Lord, Lord" is sufficient. But we know better.

Mark Shea


I'm not 100% sure, but I *think* I could probably Google the web and, if I type fast, find you a dozen examples of people on both the Left and Right who believe (hyperbole aside) pretty much exactly what I describe. On the Left, just look Andrew Sullivan. The man is sure that The Crackdown is on the way. On the right, the blogosphere has been abuzz with people who are often doing a very good imitation (if it's not the real thing) of a gleeful desire to see "those people" leave the Church and not get hit on the butt by the door on the way out.

Is that all there is? No. Many on the Left have been capable of saying, "I dislike this Pope, but it's still the Church and I won't leave it." Likewise, many on the Right have staunchly resisted the temptation to Ratzenfreude (I've had my own interior battles, particularly after reading Matthew Fox's hilarious shriek of hysteria and Andrew Sullivan's panic attacks).

But the phenomenon is quite real.


I was wondering if I should interpret "small, more convinced communities" in the literal sense? Since St Benedict was the patriarch of western monasticism which helped spread Christianity throughout Europe, does 'small, convinced communities' mean monasteries, parishes, orders, individuals, or something else?

Chris Sullivan


I'd suggest "small, more convinced communities" means all sorts of apostolates working in the Church in various ways. Charismatic groups. Justice and Peace Groups. Legions of Mary. Opus Dei. Prayer groups. Meditation groups. Beatitutes communities. Taize. Monastries. Convents. etc. etc. All of those orthodox groups which form small, more convinced communities.

God Bless

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