“I have often heard mention of a remark by Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, anticipating a “smaller, purer church”. I was reminded of the this remark last week as I was wrapping up my post on St. Julia of Corsica [here], and reflecting on the fact that we seem to need to suffer many smaller defeats on the way to enjoying Christ’s final victory over sin and death. I was curious to find out exactly what the future Pope said, and when and where he said it.
I found that the original statement came as the last of a series of radio addresses that Fr. Ratzinger, at that time a professor of Theology, delivered over the radio in Germany in 1969 [full text here]. His prophetic vision of a “smaller, purer Church” (someone else’s paraphrase, I think, because I don’t see that wording in the original text) was broadcast on Christmas day. It makes interesting reading 45 years later.
Fr. Ratzinger starts out saying that “The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and live from the pure fullness of their faith.” Ah yes, personal holiness: that sounds good. “It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods . . .” Hmmm, sounds like time for some self-examination. “nor will it issue”, he says
from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.”