For “Ghetto Catholicism?” Not Hardly.


Karl Rahner, by Letizia Manico Cremer. Source.


The thoughts I share with you now were originally published in 1961, and in English in 1963. Yet today, to this humble reader at least, they seem prophetic. Taken from the first chapter of the first volume of the title you see below, Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, explains why in the Post Christian world of today, opting for the ghettoization of the Church is a non-starter.

Instead, he argues we should embrace the fact that we are a disapora people, because frankly, we have always been called to be so. For as the cross was Our Lord’s “sign of contradiction,” so too is the Church called to be the same, as it was in the beginning, briefly ceased to be in the Middle Ages, and is now again resuming this holy, and necessary, calling. “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

As I’ve mentioned before, we are called to be salt, light, and yeast. We are not called to be the new pharisees of the Catholic Ghetto. Fr. Karl helps me to see why below. My comments are in bold italics.

from Mission and Grace: A Theological Interpretation of the Position of Christians in the Modern World

My thesis is thus: Insofar as our outlook is really based on today, and looking towards tomorrow, the present situation of Christians can be characterized as that of a diaspora, and this signifies in terms of the history of salvation, a “must”, from which we may draw conclusions about our behavior as Christians…

How about a quickie refresher on the definition of diaspora? Go with 2) a & b here.

What, after all, does a person do if he sees the diaspora situation coming and thinks of it as something which simply and absolutely must not be? He makes himself a closed circle, an artificial situation inside which looks as if the inward and outward diaspora isn’t one; he makes a ghetto. This, I think, is the theological starting point for an approach to the ghetto idea.

The old Jewish ghetto was the natural expression of an idea, such that Orthodox Judaism was ultimately bound to produce it within itself; the idea, namely, of being the one and only Chosen People, wholly autonomous, as of right, in every respect, including secular matters, and of all other nations as not only not belonging in practice to this earthly, social community of the elect and saved, but as not in any sense called to it, not an object towards which there is a missionary duty.

But we are called to be missionary people. To be ambassadors for Christ, as a well known, inspired writer exhorts us to be. Fr. Karl makes it clear here,

But a Christian cannot regard his Church as autonomous in secular, cultural, and social matters; his Church is not a theocracy in worldly affairs; nor can he look upon non-Christians as not called; nor can he with inopportune and inordinate means aim to get rid of the “must” with which the history of salvation presents him, namely, that there are now non-Christians in amongst the Christians or real Christians in amongst the non-Christians. His life has to be open to the non-Christians.

Hmmm. There’s that word “theocracy” again. Not a good idea. Fr. Karl explains why,

If he encapsulates himself in a ghetto, whether in order to defend himself, or to leave the world to judgement of wrath as the fate which it deserves, or with the feeling that it has nothing of any value or importance to offer him anyway, he is falling back into the Old Testament. But this is our temptation, this ghetto idea. For a certain type of deeply convinced, rather tense, militant Catholic at a fairly low (petty-bourgeois) cultural level, the idea of entrenching oneself in a ghetto is rather alluring; it is even religiously alluring: it looks like seeking only the Kingdom of God.

Nice trick, that. Jon Stewart, of the very secular Comedy Channel news spoof “the Daily Show,” recently shared some words (language alert!) about how strident tactics wind up backfiring. Roll clip.

Now back to Fr. Karl, with my editing and emphasis.

Here we are, all together, and we can behave as though there were nothing in the world but Christians. The ghetto policy consists in thinking of the Church not only as the autonomous community of salvation (which she is) but as an autonomous society in every field. So a Christian has to consider [a Catholic poet being] greater than Goethe, and have no opinion of any magazine except [Catholic magazines]; any statesman who makes his Easter duties is a great statesman, any other is automatically a bit suspect; Christian-Democratic parties are always right, Socialists always wrong, and what a pity there isn’t a Catholic party.

The insistence, for the sake of the ghetto, on integrating everything into an ecclesiastical framework naturally means that the clergy have to be in control of everything. This results in anti-clerical feeling, which is not always an effect of malice and hatred for God. The interior structure of the ghetto conforms, inevitably, to the style of that period which it is, in make-believe, preserving; its human types are those sociological, intellectual, and cultural types which belong to the period and feel comfortable in the ghetto; in our case, the petty-bourgeois, in contrast to the worker of today, or the man of tomorrows atomic age.

It is no wonder, then, if people outside identify Christianity with the ghetto, and have no desire to get inside it; it is the sheer grace of God if anyone ever manages to recognize the Church as the house of God, all cluttered up as she is with pseudo-Gothic décor, and other kinds of reactionary petty-bourgeois stuff.

You can say that again! How, then, do we get beyond this “ghetto” mindset while not falling into the error of relativism?

We may be preserved from this danger, which has become a reality only too often during the last few centuries, by a clear-sighted and courageous recognition of the fact that the diaspora situation of [the Church] is a “must” in the history of salvation, with which it is right to come to terms in many aspects of our practical conduct.

You know, Christ never promised us a rose garden. Those “two greatest commandments” need to be not just pondered, but applied. All the while keeping these thoughts in mind,

Mankind is at its best when it is most free. This will be clear if we grasp the principle of liberty. We must recall that the basic principle is freedom of choice, which saying many have on their lips but few in their minds. —Dante Alighieri

The Catholic Church must be a clear beacon of hope, and a contrarian “choice” for the world today. I believe she is, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered to become Catholic.

Update: Music for Mondays selections inspired by this post.

Update II: I couldn’t have said this better myself.

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  • Censor Librorum

    You get your guidance from Rahner, of all people? Heaven help us! What on earth was Doktor Rahner so worried about? Against whom were these remarks directed? When St Benedict retired from the shambles of civilization to Monte Cassino to form his Society was he guilty of ghettoizing? When the Medieval Catholics made their epic journeys to the Holy Land were they being too "insular?" When the late Medieval missionaries spread out to every corner of the globe were they hiding their lamps under a bushel? Rahner is (was) a deadly snake in the grass. His aim was the destruction not only of the "ghetto" but of the visible Church Herself. His call to "diaspora" is really a thinly disguised assault on the hierarchical and visible government of the Church–and an allusion to the lamentable state of the Chosen People, whose religion has been center-less since the Temple's destruction in AD 70. This is *not* the situation of the Church, thanks be to God!

  • Frank

    Sure, CL, I get my "guidance" from one dead Jesuit. Only. That's laughable, as is your calling him a "deadly snake in the grass." He wasn't "calling" the Church to a diaspora, but merely recognizing where it was headed in Europe, if not the world.He states before the section I quoted,We cannot cease to be missionary; we have to want the number of Christians to increase, to want their influence, their importance, the concrete realization of a Christian spirit in public affairs and social institutions to grow; we have to try to diminish the contrary of these things. But despite all this, our growing diaspora situation is something to be expected, something foretold, something we can count on and which need not cause us any inner conflict or missionary defeatism.And after the section I quoted, he further adds this,Have we the courage to break away from bureaucracy, office hours, routine, impersonal, non-functional organizational clutter and clerical machinery—and just do pastoral work?If a man can find in us another man, a real Christian, with a heart, someone who cares about him and is really delivering the message of God's mercy towards us sinners, then more is happening than if we hear the impressive and unmistakable hum of bureaucratic machinery. Let us get away from the tyranny of statistics. For the next hundred years, they are always going to be against us, if we ever let them speak out of turn…An apostolate on the offensive, not exhausting itself in desperate efforts to save what is beyond salvage (the Church considered as identical with everybody in a given area) need have no fear of being fruitless in the long run.

  • Frank

    And further on, at the conclusion of this introductory chapter, Fr. Karl states flatly that,Anticlericalism, whether tacit, automatic and non-violent or—as it sometimes is, even today, partly through our own fault—actively provoked, will collapse, by and large, when it becomes clear everywhere that the Church desires only faith in God and love for Him, and these only as the unforced decision of the human heart, not to be induced by any other means.And he lays it all on the line with the call to martyrdom, which surely no mere "snake in the grass" would do.Of course, for all this we need faith in eternal life; a faith so strong that it is ready to purchase eternal life by the witness of earthly death.But instead, he calmly points out,the idea of directing one's life here according to this faith, in such fashion that anyone who does not share it is bound to think one mad—that's not for us. So we try by every means and with dubious zeal to demonstrate that Christianity is also the best and most reliable recipe for a happy life in this world, forgetting that the only way in which this can be so is precisely by not caring whether it is so or not.Even this hyperthrophied care for the things of this world arises from the ghetto-mentality, the refusal to admit that we are living in diaspora: we want to find some aspect of Christianity which will make it presentable everywhere. And the consequence of this is that there are Catholics who are Catholics by culture, by politics, by civic morals, but are not, and do not want to be Catholics by faith. But in the diaspora situation, only he can endure to the end who truly believes in eternal live and in the promises of God.Food for thought, that.

  • Frank

    From todays Reading from Deuteronomy 10, bold is my emphasis.Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens,belong to the LORD, your God,as well as the earth and everything on it.Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to themas to choose you, their descendants,in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done.Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked.For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods,the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome,who has no favorites, accepts no bribes;who executes justice for the orphan and the widow,and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him.So you too must befriend the alien,for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.After all, our father was a wandering Aramean.

  • Censor Librorum

    None of your posts presents a reply to the point of my post, which was that the Church's history is full of examples of Her members going out into the world (as a sort of diaspora), even when on the surface they appear to "retreat" into monasteries, as in the case of St Benedict.Rahner was a problem for decades.Here is an article from November 1962, in which we see Cardinal Ottaviani trying to have Rahner kicked out of Rome. Of course, TIME magazine snidely assumes that the Cardinal is wrong and that Rahner is a plucky young(ish) hero, but that only confirms the danger Rahner presented. When TIME sings the praises of a Catholic cleric, no further inquisition is needed before sentence is passed.

  • Censor Librorum

    PS: I find it funny that you have to approve every comment. You must not be expecting many.

  • Frank

    The Church Militant is , was, and still remains, a missionary Church. But the laity cannot "retreat" into monasteries and still be "the laity." And yet the laity still has the missionary call, as Rahner advocates in what little I have read of him so far.As for the comment approval process, past experience has unfortunately shown the necessity of such measures. Thanks for stopping in.

  • Censor Librorum
  • Frank

    And to round this out for readers, another link with further background on Fr. Karl. "We see through a glass, and darkly…"

  • Kevin O’Brien

    Censor Librorum, first, approving comments is a way to keep spam and porn links off your blog. For a long time I wasn't vetting any of my blog's comments and I was getting a ton of links to Chinese porn sites in the comboxes.But to the issue at hand: living a monastic life is not retreating to the ghetto. The ghetto mentality is the idea that your own life or circle of friends is sufficient unto you and that the Church's mission is defensive, not offensive. St. Benedict was not establishing ghettos – he was establishing havens from which by prayer and evangelization the decadent heathen culture could be engaged and renewed – outposts or oases, not ghettos.A while back I blogged on the Catholic ghetto mentality and how it harms the arts:

  • suburbanbanshee

    The problem wasn't the diagnosis Rahner made; it was the treatment he prescribed. Like a typical post WWII, incipient hippie intellectual, he thought that the way to conquer the enemies on the outside was to go out there naked and good-intentioned and suck up whatever punishment was given you as some kind of guru wisdom. As opposed to going out there armed, armored, prepared and and with a definite strategy — as of course St. Ignatius of Loyola advocated. But just because the Sixties crowd messed up the treatment about as much as they could possibly manage it, that doesn't mean the patient wasn't sick in the first place. It means we didn't pay enough attention to the Good Physician's medical advice. And He does prescribe that we go out and spread the Gospel, no doubt about it.

  • Frank

    I want Kevin's troup to come to my town! Another thought provoking post, and I thank you for sharing it. I'll even make it hot. Who knows? This may even prompt Censor Librorum to write their first blog post. :)

  • Censor Librorum

    Thanks Kevin. I know, however, that most blog hosts (such as this one) are quite good at filtering out spam and obscene comments. I still question the necessity to screen every comment before allowing it through.On St Benedict you are illustrating my point exactly. He was not establishing ghettos.So, my original question remains: At whom were Fr Rahner's remarks aimed? The Church's history is filled with missionary zeal. She, on the one hand, guards the Faith (as St Benedict did) and, on the other hand, She spreads that Faith far and wide. What is *new* in what Rahner is urging?I think (though I cannot begin to make the case here) that the record shows Rahner's determination to make the Church more like the *world* She is supposed to convert—exactly the *opposite* strategy Benedict took, which involved maintaining "oases" (as you put it) from which to evangelize. Lest my point be missed, I repeat: Are not Benedict's "oases" exactly the "ghettos" that Rahner deprecates? Might not Rahner have urged Benedict and his monks (most of whom were laymen just like us) to go out and "engage" the decadents? to "meet them where they are" etc?As one bishop put it: Mary crushes the serpent's head; Eve "dialogued" with it.

  • Kevin O’Brien

    Censor, I understand your sensitivity to the liberal heresy of Activism, the mistake of thinking that nothing's being done unless we busybodies are out there doing stuff, a heresy which denigrates the more important activity of contemplation and prayer – I get that, and I agree with you on that. Activism is not the answer.But by the same token I can't point out to you who Rahner's talking about if you haven't simply seen it by looking around you. The devout Catholics I know tend to become the "pharisees in the ghetto" as Frank puts it. We build Catholic bubbles around ourselves and our families in order to avoid the infection of secularism and in doing so we cut ourselves off from the work we're called to do (even the contemplative work we're called to do). It's a natural and defensive reaction, but it's not our vocation.Look at EWTN for instance. I love the Network. I have said elsewhere that I believe it has saved the Catholic Church in America. But it's insular and it plays to the ghetto. It does not attempt to engage the secular world or even the muddled middle who go to the suburban parishes; it builds up the base and that's a good thing – but the people who need to watch EWTN aren't the ones who are watching it. EWTN has naturally become what it is because the hard core Catholics who love it give money to keep it that way, and that "way" is more defensive than offensive. It has done untold good, but the next step for Catholic media is the step out of the boat toward Jesus walking on the water. Hunkering down in the boat is not the thing to do, scared though we might be by the storm raging around us.And whether you're right about Rahner in general, we have an obligation to answer the argument he's making here, which is a very good one. As you point out we are not simply to form committees and dialogue with Satan; but the world is not Satan and your neighbor is not Satan, and no dialogue can exist if we sit on the Truth and if we sinners don't take the Truth to our sinful neighbors. We need our fortresses and our havens; the contemplative life is a higher calling than the active life; but the brutal fallen messed up world needs to be loved and evangelized by us, so that He might redeem it.

  • Frank

    I would add that "holing up" and "turning" on each other, like the pharisees of old, is not going to prevent us from enduring persecution. It didn't work for the pharisees when they were under the Roman occupation, and it isn't going to work now.

  • Frank

    but the world is not Satan and your neighbor is not Satan, and no dialogue can exist if we sit on the Truth and if we sinners don't take the Truth to our sinful neighbors.Amen Kevin, Amen!

  • Anonymous

    K.Rahner>>>>It is no wonder, then, if people outside identify Christianity with the ghetto, and have no desire to get inside it; it is the sheer grace of God if anyone ever manages to recognize the Church as the house of God, all cluttered up as she is with pseudo-Gothic décor, and other kinds of reactionary petty-bourgeois stuff.<<<<<Frank!Did Karl Rahner bring you into the Church by dissing his grandparents with thinly disguised contempt? I doubt it! Weren't you instead drawn by the Catholic Church's continuous witness to World going back to Jesus Christ Himself? Were you not drawn by the Church's timelessnes–where the past is not even past–? Human beings, being body and soul, need to see some testimony to this timelessness. Rahner's idea of modern architecture for churches has resulted in wide-scale wreckification and uglification wouldn't you agree?kneeling

  • Frank

    Howdy "kc," long time no see! Actually, I've yet to read anything that Fr. Karl has written that advocates "wide-scale wreckification and uglification" of church buildings. From what I gather, he was a theologian, not an architect. You may find I mention something along those lines in a later post.Thanks for stopping in!

  • Anonymous

    >>>Actually, I've yet to read anything that Fr. Karl has written that advocates "wide-scale wreckification and uglification" of church buildings<<<<Frank!Rahner's statement quoted above 'pseudo-Gothic' 'petty bourgeois' drips with hatred for what you or I or any non-rahnerite would normally associate with a beautiful Catholic church. Arching ceilings to remind us of heaven, lifelike statues of Saints to remind of us their humanity as well as their holiness, Bell towers to remind the Faithful of and pay tribute to the Wonder which occurs in each Catholic church every day, gruesome yet beautiful Crucifixes, etc.Since the time Rahner wrote (and his subsequent reign over catholic architects and liturgists), there has been a destruction of beautiful Catholic Churches- carried on by Rahner's disciples- which rivals anything done by atheist regimes. Are you not aware of this, or just indifferent to it?k.c.

  • Frank

    Both, perhaps. I do plead ignorance, most assuredly, and of not having complete and perfect knowledge of all that has gone on in the history of Mother Church. None of us have that.And though I wouldn't quite call it "indifference," I also plead guilty to not working up a lather over things that a) may have already occurred and b) that I have absolutely no control over. I am, after all, just a little ol' layman. For example, the Diocese of Orange County in Southern CA is attempting to purchase the property formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral. They have not sought my input on this matter, thankfully, nor have they sought my input on vast and sundry other matters that do not concern me. This gives me time to teach my son how to drive a stick shift, my family how to pray, and the time to help my children study the scriptures, and other things that do concern a Catholic husband and father about the Faith. None of which, I assure you, includes the mentality of what Rahner describes as a ghetto.I think Mark Shea says it better than I do here.

  • Chris

    “Look at EWTN for instance. I love the Network. I have said elsewhere that I believe it has saved the Catholic Church in America. But it’s insular and it plays to the ghetto.”
    I respectfully disagree. By its very existence it is reaching out and engaging the secualr world. It is on sirius radio, cable, am stations and shortwave. Don’t see how that can be defined as a “ghetto” mentality.