The Church Will Become Small

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

Source: Catholic Education Resource Center | Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.


  1. I am reminded of what then Cardinal Ratzinger said in an interview in 2003…

    Raymond: … Talk for a moment about the New Springtime. The Pope has talked a great deal about the New Springtime and you, yourself have laid out your own ideas. Your vision is a little different from some. Some see the numbers growing and everybody believing and dancing hand-in-hand (the Cardinal chuckles) into the millennium. You see a different picture. Tell us what that picture involves. How do you see this springtime evolving?

    Cardinal: As I do not exclude even this dancing hand-in-hand, but this is only one moment. And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities… But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

    Raymond: But, smaller numbers? In the macro?

    Cardinal: Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world… And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, “Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow.”

    … … …

    Raymond: My final question, what do you see, your Eminence, as the great danger and the great hope in the Church today?

    Cardinal: I see the great danger is that we would be only a social association and not founded in the faith of the Lord. For the first moment, it seems important that only what we are doing and the faith appears not so important. But if the faith disappears, all the other things are discomposed, as we have seen. So, I think there is a danger at this time with all these activities and external visions is to underestimate the importance of faith and to lose the faith, even a Church where the faith would not be so essential.

    Raymond: Right.

    Cardinal: So, the great hope is that the Lord, is we’ll see a new presence of the Lord. We can see that the sacramental presence of the Lord in the Eucharist is an essential gift for us and give us also the possibility to love the others and to work for the others. I think the new presence of the Eucharistic Christ and the new love for Christ and Christ present in the Eucharist is the most encouraging element of our time.

    EWTN interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. First aired on 5 September 2003.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    I heard the newly ordained Bishop Anthony give a sermon this Sunday. It was just the way a sermon is supposed to be: rock bottom simple, good delivery, concrete explanations of what the Gospel reading of the day really means, no jargon, no Orthodox triumphalism, personable, and confident.

    “This is really good,” I thought listening to it. What happened next surprised me. The congregation burst into spontaneous applause. It was heartfelt and vigorous. I’ve been to plenty of talks where the speaker got a polite opera clap. This was different.

    Recover this and we might have a chance.

    • Geo Michalopulos says

      Fr, was this sermon recorded? we need to find out. and fast.


    • What do you mean by Orthodox triumphalism? I hear it thrown around a lot and I don’t know what it means, given that we just celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy a week ago.

      I am glad your bishop’s sermon was good, father. I too love simplicity. I enjoy it when my priest simply reminds us, for instance, of the seriousness of our lives, our need to repent, the dangers of sin (and not simply the sins against political correctness), the beauty of virtue, etc.

      I plan to write a good post soon on my own humble little blog on why America will not become Orthodox. I plan to outline the fact that between the nominalism of most of the laity and the bad formation of the clergy in the soundness of a thoroughly patristic mindset, that our sickly parishes for the most part seem devoid of the ascetical-spiritual modus vivendi, of “tserkovlenie,” and because of this we aren’t really living up to the rich inheritance that the fathers gave us.

      We have beardless, lisping priests who “deconstruct” the Gospel just like the Roman Catholics, and/or who buy in to the Schmemann-dorffian version of Orthodoxy– one that is incorrect and lifeless. Many of our parishes have little to no Eucharistic discipline (which is, I suspect the real eastern analogy to western adoration– that is, we are called to prepare by fasting, confession, rules of prayer and forgiveness of others, under the guidance of our spiritual father, of course.) Many of our parishes have one 45-minute vespers a week on Saturday, and an hour and a half Liturgy on Sunday, and that’s it. Rather unsurprisingly, no monastics to speak of either– unprecedented in the history of Orthodoxy. How will such a Church stand the test of persecutions?

      My point: I think our Church already IS small, and will continue to lack real visibility and significance because the version of Orthodoxy that prevails here is sickly and anemic, disorganized and unhealthy.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        Isaac post your link so others can find your blog. Nice blog BTW, and posting the link here will help drive traffic to it. I noticed you linked to the Russell Kirk Center. Here’s an article you might want to consider posting down the road: Russell Kirk, “Civilization without Religion?“.

        What do I mean by “Orthodox triumphalism”? I mean when form supersedes function — when knowledge of, say, the Fathers’ writings supersedes the concrete encounter with the Risen Christ that they actually wrote about. It is not much different than what you are saying, although bearded, non-lisping priest can exhibit the same hollow chest (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis) as any non-bearded and lisping one. It really depends on what stuff the man is made of, or at least what he has become in and through Christ.

    • Bill Congdon says

      Fr. Hans, I know you went to hear Faust at the Met when we were at seminary. And I know Thomas Hampson sang in that production and got deafening applause after his first-act aria. So where do you get the idea that applause at the opera is tepid? 🙂

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        Bill good points and the opera was great. My first opera in real life actually and I could see why people fall in love with it.

        So where does the idea of an opera clap come from? The movies probably, you know, the prim socialite — maybe even a social x-ray although today the arms are toned and not just thin — wistfully clapping four fingers into the inner palm. It’s a stereotype I know, but even stereotypes contain some truth.

        You’re right though. The applause that evening was thunderous. I knew I had witnessed something great.

        • Bill Congdon says

          Aw, I was just teasin’ ya. I knew what you meant. And you’re right about the social x-rays and socialites. Lots of folks go to the symphony and the opera just because it’s the thing to do in some well-to-do circles, not because they love the music. (This has been true for centuries, BTW.) It’s frustrating to those of us with developed ears. On the other hand, their money frequently makes the performance possible.

          James Morris sang Mephistopheles in that production of Faust. One of contemporary opera’s greatest basses, and I remember how impressed you were (and I was too) by his “diabolical” air.

  3. They don’t see that many Christian groups are growing, just not them. Will they look within to realize what it is they do that’s causing the shrink? Hmm.. let’s see…. Why is it the church is ‘losing her prosperity’ as he writes? What a puzzle. Seems mysterious in the article. Maybe looking at the size of the larger payments? Sure. There’s a start. Maybe looking at the people not so happy with where the money they thought was going to God instead is overseen by… well… them? No. Let’s not go there. Let’s be content to let ‘the church’ shrink, perhaps seem wise by predicting it, presiding over it. What does the Gospel of the fellows who were given to use the borrowed talents suggest is wise? Do that?

    The world has changed, there are no longer working age widowers. Restore the proven married to the synods, make the bishop actually dean of a cathedral with real people.

    They never were ‘distant rock stars’ except very recently as lifespan, particularly female lifespan has increased so much.

    Let’s face it, what sort of decisions can you expect from folk whose last memory of family life was when they left for college — 30, 40, 50 years ago??

    One protests about humility… time to have some and notice preserving a rule made centuries after the Gospel that changed what the Gospel called for when the world has changed is not the church. The pruning shears are being applied, will the leadership notice?

  4. I don’t see the expansion of Mormonism and Pentecostalism as the expansion of Christianity. More like the expansion of post-Christian gnostic sects.

    A small and dedicated Church beats a massive and nominal Church so shrinking into something that will stand apart from the larger culture will be a good thing.

    And yes it is true that the CC leadership has done all kinds of things to cause people to flee it. And yes I agree that married bishops should be a part of this smaller Church, in Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

    • Issac, let’s take a view from ‘30,000’ feet about the expansion of those groups you mention. Dial the clock back. There are and were many Orthodox people in upstate New York, the home of Mormonism. What if the leadership then saw its mission to open the door? Leave Mormon theology to the side for a minute and look at the people who are attracted to it. To me they are impressive in their dedication and aspirations. If our doors were really open and not about foreign national identity, but instead the content of our faith is absolutely exactly what they were looking for, a better fit. Their bishops live among them, their top decision makers in communities know family life from the inside, not as students. They all derive their daily bread from doing as St. Paul and ‘making tents’. As a result they have more money than ‘God’ as it were.

      If we were really about what our faith has to say there is serious reason to doubt that those looking for what Mormonism offered wouldn’t have found a better home right where they were — with us. I daresay those looking for high standards in personal discipline need not look outside the doors of the Orthodox for time tested guidance and exercises like fastings and spiritual attainment goals and so on. Those folk value community and if there’s one thing we have — that’s high on the list. But, our leadership has its gaze firmly nailed down over seas. They missed it.

      And we hear the distant never married in Rome wrong their hands about shrink and lament but not to the point of doing anything useful about it. Shrink? Did you notice that it was organized varied Christian groups in Iowa that caused a presidential candidate who campaigned by being driven around by relatives in a pickup truck to win over another who out spent him many many fold?

      What do those we term ‘Evangelicals’ want? Honest attention to detail and walking the talk. Those in our world all wrapped up in the theology mostly because it protects their job and not because of its inner merits like to think and talk about the finer mental points being ‘what they are all about’ but the reality is most of everyone involved has quite a lot to be getting along with to manage the basics every day to stress alot about finer points. And really at the heart of our faith what is it upheld almost above everything else? The getting the basics right every day.

      • Geo Michalopulos says

        Harry, much of what you say is correct, you just lost me at the last. The problem with the shrinkage of the Church is not because of “ordained young/never married” priests and bishops, but because the Church conformed itself to the world. Read then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s words again. Plus, it’s inevitvable that the Church should shrink, otherwise the anti-Christ cannot rise. The sifting is important.

        As for the Mormon hierarchy, much of what you say is true. They are good, decent, upstanding and moral family men. But make no mistake, the homosexual lobby is not done with them yet. We could have said the same thing about Episcopalian bishops in the US. And now look: an institutional joke of a church. Don’t underestimate the power of Satan and his henchmen in the various gay cabals.

        • Really I don’t think it’s about ‘cabals’ at all. More like frogs in a pot with very slowly rising water temp. Very Very slowly. Bit by bit, decade by decade, fewer and fewer working age widowers. It hit the RCC’s harder than us because our parish clergy remains mostly married. We have the same scandals they do in those similarly situated, we haven’t created a distant omnipotent protector like they’ve done…. yet….

          You know, every Christian group thinks they’ve got it mostly correct. After all, who’d stay in any group where you thought they’ve got it wrong? However notice that it is those in the modern era with mostly ordained young never married leadership that are really shrinking fast. I’m pretty sure if Christ wanted his church run in that way He’d have mentioned it. In fact we see what is mentioned is not what we do, and we shrink and feign surprise and the end times are upon us. Maybe the church being not more than those collected in a relationship to a person first and a roster of theological tenants by way of description– that person is telling us correct theology does not trump leadership distortions.

          • P.S. The whole ‘end times’ thing, remember Noah and the flood. Our job is to make these times good. When the end comes is not for us to predict and lay down to wait for. Notice many in the Gospel thought the end times were going to be before 100ad. … got involved in ‘not marrying as a good thing, after all why bother’. Let’s not be like the folk gathering in the field at the day the guru of the week says will be the last one, or when some group that ran about in leather skirts calendar runs out.

            • Harry,

              Can I safely assume you are not actually arguing that Mormonism is Christianity? All the positive elements of Mormonism are largely irrelevant to answering that question. At the heart of Mormonism is the striving of individuals to become beings who will be worshiped some day. That should be all the difference we need to hear to completely dismiss the religion as something not Christian.

              • Issac, you can take your answer from the qualification in my initial quote on the subject above ‘Leave Mormon theology to the side for a minute and….”

  5. Wesley J. Smith says

    The key quote: “Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely.” We already see that, and people seek to fill the empty spot with passion-inspired activities and imposed public policies that are destructive to individuals, families, and society.

    • Well said. This corresponds, it seems to me, to the widespread pursuit of heightened experiences (what were once -and still – called passions). An increasingly synthetic world will only accelerate the desperate grasping for anything to fill the awful desolation that results from the absence of any genuine experience of communion. The hope is that it will eventually lead to a “bottoming out,” and a search for what is Real – for God, and genuine Communion. When one can experience Communion, little else is needed; without it, nothing else is adequate.

  6. The Holy Scriptures is definitively clear about the “radical remnant,” the few that will be saved, be it from Noah and the Flood to Sodom and Gomorrah to the Lord Himself mentioning that wide is the path that leads to destruction but narrow is the way to eternal life. This is not now a justification for doing nothing and being “the best kept secret,” but it gives those truly doing His will the calm reassurance that this is what is to take place all in the Lord’s time. I loved Father Peck’s 2008 article on the “radical remnant.” This reminds me of of our elite U.S. military units, the Navy Seals, Special Forces, and Delta Force. Small but effective fighting forces.

    • Alexis, sometimes I read folks who not only use these texts as a ‘justification for doing nothing’ as you write, but these folks think they are doing a good thing by not doing everything they can, but worse. They do this thinking to force horrors sooner rather than later to ‘make God’ step in at a time of their choosing (like, you know, a week from Tuesday). These folk tend to favor conspiracy theories but sort of in the very odd way a person who likes setting fires themselves likes to talk about fire trucks zooming down the road.

      However history is quite quite clear that the only thing that happens when folk choose to relax, when folk choose to allow preventable misdoing in their sight, when folk choose to increase the likelihood of horrors (to someone else, somewhere else) through inaction or by way of gaining unearned benefits through exploitation, what happens is — horrors. Takes the phrase ‘God will not be mocked’ to a whole new level.

      • I really appreciate your input, Harry. It’s really frustrating to see hierarchs being moral cowards, for they have the power and influence to speak up and out about the basic meat-and-potatoes issues in the Manhattan Declaration and make a dent for the Lord. However, they are too comfortable being lukewarm – administrators and politicians – rather than fiery foot soldiers for Christ. It’s nauseating. So what’s a peon like me supposed to do, right?

        • Michael Bauman says

          Alexis, we peons are supposed to tend the crops in front of us by taking care of the people around us and our own heart. If we do not, we are little different from the bishops.

        • Harry Coin says

          Alexis, here again we see an artifact of the ‘glass house’ situation so many of our hierarchs live in. The moment they start to weigh in on issues surrounding marriage, folk who disagree will ask ‘and how does it come to pass you are in a position to know what you are talking about?” I’m not so sure ‘moral cowards’ is fair in that if they weigh in then they’ll become the targets of those who disagree. And in the rough and tumble of politics those who disagree ‘go negative’. Now, you know, folks in the church sort of pull their punches on bishop, ah, foibles. But if they ‘stand up’ well it can all change.

          Now if we had our clergy who years back would be bishops on the basis his wife died young (as so many, many sadly did) and he was in charge of a few parishes in a town, and not a distant rock star that shows up, gives a nice speech (one hopes) and off he goes, well that life by example carries a lot more weight with people. Indeed we see other Christian groups situated in that way making big differences in daily civil life on the basis not of their direct political activity but because of the considered, unforced, assent and consent of the members.

          Furthermore I am not a big fan of legislating those aspects of morality that have no impact on those who do not consent. Laws should define the outer boundaries of tolerable behavior, virtue has to be chosen to be real.

  7. cynthia curran says

    Personality, I will take Mormon Mitt Romeny over Liberal Protestant Barrack Obama since as stated before Mormons are generally better in their morally. Also, Rev Wright’s history is terrible, Jews in Jesus day were not African blacks as a whole. I think that only the Kingdom of Meroe( modern Sudan) that traded with Rome was really a black country even Egypt which had a lot of Jews and Greeks and some Romans at the time couldn’t be considered a black African country. Also, the Rome and US comparisions are weak even today the US is different from Rome. Rome was a preindustrical society and the main influence of Rome on the US was to have a government to weaken power to not end up with the emperorship of Rome. The Roman Republic was more the model of the Founding Fathers not the Empire which makes Rev Wright history the all more worst..

  8. cynthia curran says

    I think that’s another good to vote against Obama bad ancient and medieval history. Obama believes that Islam just took off and doesn’t think that since Islam conquered the Persians and the Byzantines that it had advanced since some of the Persia and Byzantine empires were the wealthiest regions of the 7th century. Obama belittles the christian east and west. The west it takes centuries to redevelop. Its Islam is a greater civilzation than Christianity which is not hard to believe from a liberal protestant not just politcally either.

Speak Your Mind