Trusting the Church: A Lecture (1970) [16]
reprinted with permission from LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture vol. 23, no. 4 (Fall 2020): 123 to 147.
by Ida Friederike Görres
translated by Jennifer S. Bryson

Delivered in Badenweiler, Germany, on April 17, 1970. [17]

Talking about this topic publicly requires overcoming more inhibitions than just stage fright. This stems from respect for the topic and respect for the listeners, from a concern of not doing them both justice.

The subject matter this evening is a particular challenge: not because of the audience, but because of our era and our own heart and mind. After all, who dares to ask the question: “Do you trust the Church? Do you yourself trust the Church?” And not with short-term caution, for example: “Do you still trust? still today?”—but entirely and in general, yesterday, today, and until death—who dares to ask this if not a person who has affirmed the question himself with a pure yes? But how difficult it is to justify such a yes.

The fact that I come before you with this does not serve, of course, as a personal outpouring in the style of well-known pious groups from Oxford or Geneva. How did I get here and, especially, how did you get here? I can refer to Newman, who is said to have commented: “Sharing mere private views, which I think no one else holds but me, makes me feel like a juggler who entertains people with his leaps at the market.”[18] Rather, I think with the following that I speak on behalf of many who remain silent or are at a loss for words, but not as a criticism of their attitude, least of all in our overly loud, verbose time. Many years ago a theologian said to me: “Faith makes mute, unbelief makes eloquent,” which is certainly often, if not always true, like the way love also makes some mute, while seduction usually requires a well-trained eloquence. And it is precisely in our current ecclesiastical confusion that many serious, deeply engaged people only know how to reply against the overwhelming theological opinion with concerned silence. This in no way indicates that they have no ideas or that they would lack responses. Newman has a whole book showing how much genuine faith there is which has reasons, but which is not reflected in and certainly not empowered through words.

It is on behalf of such people that I would now like to speak to you.

Much of the criticism is certainly incomplete and, even when justified, for many it is unsatisfying. During the whole painstaking reflection on this ahead of time, I kept seeing the image of a huge ball of mercury, slipping away from any grasp. Because it is a single whole that we have to talk about and it is one; it is one thing with immense variety and complexity, and a whole that cannot be sliced up and presented piece by piece. (At least not by me.) Each selection is arbitrary and lacks important information, every fragment is only understandable against a well thought out background.

So, trusting the Church: today, in the turmoil, in the confusion, in the dissolving of clear boundaries, in the shouting of demands and claims, in the wavering of principles, in the extinguishing of ancient lights, in the breaking down of walls, in the drying up of the old wells. Trusting the Church as if this crisis might be a fever, but a healing-deliverance at the same time.

Doesn’t every act of trusting, consciously or unconsciously, presuppose something solid, something strong and powerful? Something that assuredly, protectively, and reliably enables us to partake?

But what is still firm and tranquil today in the Church, in Christianity, in our faith? What does not waver and wobble? What is not being challenged from the outside and, most harshly, from the inside by theologians, by priests?

Doesn’t this apply even to the most basic principles?—Let’s just pick a few:

The Ten Commandments: The grim anecdote comes to mind, which Ortega y Gasset told fifty years ago, of the gypsy, who, when asked about her knowledge, dodges the question: “I wanted to learn [the Commandments], I heard rumormongering, I heard they would be done away with, I let them be!”[19] That’s how far we’ve come. It is said that the new catechism presents only ten words to schoolchildren—impeccably philological, isn’t it, according to the Decalogue—but by no means compulsory: nice ideal concepts, ethical dreamy aspirations, but that’s not how reality is.

The Creed: each and every part is contested. It is treated as cumbersome. It is cleverly and eruditely negated—it is deleted or “re-interpreted.” God the Creator and Incarnation, the God Man, born of the Virgin Mary, our salvation through His Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, the Second Coming, the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, her birth from the Spirit, her completion at the end of time, eternal life in heaven and hell, and the new earth.

Everything is denied, rejected, ridiculed—not by officially godless people, but by consecrated priests, by theologians, preachers, pastors appointed to preach.

The Sacraments? Misunderstanding and magic is most of what we believed: of Baptism, especially Baptism of children through water and Word and Spirit, of the Real Presence, the consecration of the Eucharist, of Ordination, which priests themselves passionately deny, rejecting the rite as a farce; what are Confirmation and Anoint- ing of the Sick when the laying on of hands and anointing are also just magical remnants from various forms of paganism? Confession: for the first time in some dioceses this year children were led to first communion without this; when a child asked, “And what do I do with my sins?” the pastor replied, “I don’t care about your sins”; this is exactly the same answer that a relative of mine received when, getting married late in life, he wanted to make a general confession before the wedding. As if until now we had confessed in order to share some interesting gossip for the curiosity of the priests! Marriage is to be “reformed” so that it can be revoked, with the possibility of repetition, and in marriage, practices are to be permitted which every form of paganism, pre- and post-Christian, has cooked up but which are an abomination to the Hindus and pious Jews. The state of holy orders loses its foundation and its roots when the concept of the Evangelical counsels is lost along with the sense of sacrifice and virginity. Monks run away on all sides, abbots marry—and, more incomprehensible than these events: the highest authority in Rome also legalizes such conditions.

Angels and devils have been abolished with laughter, veneration of saints is so taboo that one has to bring the pious Reformed pastor Walter Nigg from Zurich to Germany if an anniversary calls for a lecture, as if no priest among us had the knowledge or courage for such a topic.

With the belief in the Eucharist, of course, building tents for the presence of Christ among us, “houses of God,” loses any meaning that would go beyond the parish hall, which is consequently required to be a “multi-purpose building,” for political discussion and with all the comforts for chatting, smoking, and even dancing, as a student chaplain recently explicitly and literally called for. Logically, of course, the cemeteries, the fields of God, too—what embarrassingly magical words!—must be liquidated and the corpses handed over to the trash removal without any big to do. In this regard there is still some inconsistency.

It is not only small groups of intellectuals who are hacking at the roots as well as the branches of the tree of faith. They have gotten down into the smallest “Catholic” publications, church bulletins, and women’s group newsletters, eager to be henchmen who, with their combined strength, distance themselves from the old-fashioned, idiotic stupidity of previous beliefs.

Whom should we trust? A theology that continually explains its own bankruptcy via leading speakers; an interpretation of revelation that turns it into a rather unimportant science destroying its own foundations, rejects tradition, dissolves the Bible, denies the highest magisterium and, finally, as the capstone of their wisdom, invents absolute blasphemy, unutterable by any Jew, Muslim, or Gentile, which one can only quote to report on and say with physical reluctance: “God is dead.” (But their unfortunately endless production fills the shelves of Christian bookstores very profitably.)

Which theologian can one read carefully and without reservations, without being so on edge it hurts, holding one’s breath tensely? And when you are happy and thankful—do you know what he will say tomorrow?

Every twist, every excess seems conceivable, seems possible. For the noblest as well as for the basest motives. Yes, even for the noblest, because the burning zeal to understand even the erring brother compels some to go not only two miles instead of just one, but up to and over the limit; because some, who want to throw off tradition and faith, are willing to offer not only their coat as well as their cloak, but they also are willing to tear off their skin as a sign of fraternal solidarity to satisfy them. Only God can judge what is happening here. Personally, this may be enough for some to be holy. But the calamity of the frustration for the little people, the confusion into which they plunge, is at the same time enormous.

Whom should we trust? A morality that willingly and complacently adapts to all the developments of everyday behavior, justifying everything if possible, that fears nothing as much as a distinct separation of good and evil, as much as a clear “non licet” [i.e. “not allowed”], conforming anxiously to the zeitgeist, attentive to the approval of the greatest number.

Whom should we trust? A liturgical reform, which comes from the highest, legitimate authorities of the Church, undoubtedly from the best intention of the supporters, who have indeed given us some beautiful, precious, fruitful innovations—nevertheless frighteningly shot through by tendencies clearly of foreign origin, too willing to make compromises and concessions to certain cliques and their followers, which, in hard-to-comprehend accommodations to overt as well as subtle demands, gradually cut through many fine, unnoticed roots that anchored general worship in the hearts of the people and nourished Catholic piety: fasting and feast days, customs and traditions, oral prayers and gestures of prayer, the mourning of Good Friday, the expression of the compassion of the Church with the human pain of separation in the use of black of the liturgy of the dead (not the annual commemorations!), the sustained familiar recurrence of the annual readings, the rhythm of which was still one of the few living harmonies with the Protestant church, like the Kyrie with the Eastern one. (And this is in the ecumenical age!) Lots of small, petty interventions, strange unimportant ones, which dismantle an irreplaceable, gradually matured habit of prayer, literally spoil the worship service for countless believers.

Whom should we trust?

“Ministers” who vehemently no longer want to be priests, who deny the name itself as a pagan relic, who only want to be functionaries, nothing different from the layperson, functionaries with a right to resign, on a part-time basis, as a side job. Clerics, whose self-diminishment and desertion disgusts even outsiders, clerics who constantly explain to us out loud what their service is NOT worth to them, the importance of which they measure against subjective “happiness” claims, who fear nothing so much as to be recognized as a Catholic priest, assiduously hiding this affiliation, and who no longer want to acknowledge their status as such; clerics whom one would be embarrassed to ask for their blessing?

We are so used to everything, so hardened, that nothing surprises us anymore. If we don’t hear for a while from friends who are a married couple, we don’t usually worry and ask ourselves the question: “Do they still live together? Aren’t they already divorced and remarried?” But I have to confess: if I don’t hear from a chaplain friend for half a year, I get worried: “Is he still with us? Did he get married in the end?”

The elderly painfully remember the years of the Third Reich, the war—the situation of constant rumors, the shocking revelations— “Have you heard?” At that time there was talk of the fallen and the arrested, today of those who have fallen away, been seduced, done a U-turn; then bombs and devastation, today scandal and abominations in the sanctuary. Yes, really, abominations—and today as it was then: if one rejected something too extreme, too drastic as if it must be just a tendentious tale, it turned out to be true afterwards: the story of the religion teacher who told children to bring their rosaries, little images of saints, and religious medals to school, and then commanded them to burn all of them; the report from the Dutch pastor who married two homosexual men in church; from the Sunday sermon in which the words “Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, but a poor devil like us; this is the truth” were said.

In the Third Reich, external persecution united believers firmly and faithfully. The new confusion divides families, monasteries, homes, old circles of friends. People are isolated and feel abandoned in their parish, more so than they ever did before in the unbelieving environment of their workplace. Many letters, many conversations bear witness to this.

Whom should we trust?

Even where we find unshaken loyalty to the whole faith of the Church and its pastors: isn’t the milieu, the situation, there often even more problematic?

Our Confiteor cannot be honest and thorough enough. Do you not understand from the bottom of your soul that a lot of young people who are honest seekers would not even think of looking for the living reality of God here? Don’t people understand that the thousandfold impulses to disappointment, indignation, flight, or resignation, are in fact a reaction to the many spectacles: everything the world in its schadenfreude has always criticized about the pious—dreariness and stubbornness, boundless blindness to the pressing needs, resentment, stagnation, severity, and dishonesty? How few are really affected by the movement of the Spirit, how much shadow play, sloganeering, and patching together fake exteriors there is!

Do we have even one monastery with the radiance of Taizé? Do we have even one publication of clear distinctive character, of niveau, fire, and heft, which meets the unbelievable cheek of penetrating unbelief with calm, fearless, and engaging superiority?

Whom can we trust?

Our bishops are, thank God, without exception honorable, irreproachable men. But do you have the impression that they are up to the situation, even superior to it? Even with the best will the answer is no—you can feel a painful, pitiful helplessness and that they are at a loss. Of course, we cannot demand strategic ingenuity as proof of proficiency in the pastoral office—but how longingly we look for at least one who passes from hesitant defense to enlightened, enlightening initiative! If power means being able to protect, preserve, prevent—actually enforce commandments and prohibitions—then the ecclesiastical authorities were far from being so powerless. The behavior of the rebellious clergy, even those who disobey calmly, shows this most clearly. No school class behaves like this with a teacher who actually has authority, who doesn’t just deputize it.

And our Holy Father—I choose this lofty name on purpose, which expresses the longing of all mankind, especially in an era of fatherlessness—he too is an honorable and venerable person, but he is truly overloaded beyond the limits of what is humanly possible. He simply cannot conduct himself properly continuously and everywhere, no one could—he too is bound to swerve and get sidetracked. And every sign of his weakness is immediately trumpeted around the world with tremendous glee. (I do not mean, by the way, the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which I on the contrary consider to be a great prophetic act; only posterity will do it justice—but here too the message was mingled with such hapless phrases that it opened itself to cheap criticism, factually honest as well as infamous.) Even with him we always have to fear and hope and pray that he will not make disastrous mistakes that do more harm than good.

Where is there a prophet in Israel?

If we consider the almost absolute trust that the fully committed, reverent, grateful, and obedient people of faith have been accustomed to give to the Church and especially to its priests, only then can one measure the disaster which shock, poisoning, and ostracism in the depths of the soul has brought to these people.

Because this attitude was by no means just a form of stupidity, a result of stuck-in-the-mud naivety, infantility, servility in the face of feudalistic-paternalistic authority, threats of the hereafter, and the way that whole ignorant belittling gibberish goes. Certainly, such did exist, as a matter of course and inevitable incidental factors. But those who despised these people completely failed to discern the heart of the matter. It was something vast and unique. It was the last manifestation in that realm we know of the great ancient trust in the world, the harmony of the individual with his comprehensive divinely ordained order, the grace-enabled transposition of pagan trust in the cosmos into the new creation. The attempt in the name of enlightenment, ameliorating Catholic backwardness, maturity of the laity, and so on to not shine light on this unspeakably deep, happiness-generating, mysterious anchor but rather to smash it with an ax and hammer is an assassination attempt on a most precious legacy of the world. It is a form of outright soul-murder and not only to individuals, it is a spiritual genocide.

Is it any wonder when the worst, creeping fear sometimes invades even people of the best intention, in quiet hours, in the silence of sleepless nights: What if they might be right? There are so many, such smart people among them, in such high, responsible positions, priests and lay people! Can I alone be right against this throng of opposing witnesses? Against this immense flood, which is bursting forth out of the mass media—not least of all in Church radio and in printed works with ecclesial imprimatur and financed by the hierarchy? What am I to do, a poor individual, against a power that even the bishops seem to tremble at and tiptoe around?

What if the rebels really were to own the future? What if this process, which seems to us like destruction and betrayal, were actually God’s will and to resist it were impious and an act of petty faith? What if—an agonizing thought in the midnight hours—what if I were tied to a great but inexorably dying body, through merely emotionally stirring, but ultimately subjective, unreasonable inhibitions, habits, prejudices, antiquated piety, wrongly grounded loyalty? What if the people from whom we received faith and guidance were themselves blind guides for the blind?

Are we living on a leaky ship sinking inch by inch, from which not only the rats but also the sensible, sober people jump off just in time?

Who provides an answer for us in such hours? Whom else can we ask?

Only the Church herself.

Only the great, the whole, the long-lived, immortal on earth, the one that is identical with her own beginning, that is also identical with her Lord in a manner befitting her alone. Because, in spite of all the fashionable concerns about this terrifyingly weighty discourse of older theology, she is nevertheless the “continually living Christ” who speaks and responds to us in the Church as the place of His grace, as His custodian. The recipient of that rock-solid trust of our fathers is still the same one.

The Church: the word, of course, is used in its old full sense, which means not only the temporal segment of the Catholics living today. It is not a system, an idea, an ideology, a structure, a society, but the tremendous living establishment, which has existed since the apostles until today, fulfilling her history from century to century, growing, unfolding, struggling, ailing, recovering, living out her destiny and maturing toward the return of the Lord.

The strangest creation of God, so unique in kind, so large, so contradictory, so colorful that no single person can take stock of her and figure her out, and certainly no outsider can ever take her all in, let alone understand her and judge her. Only she herself can do this, comprehending herself in faith, endlessly considering herself in her faithful theology, looking at herself through her mystics, loving herself in her children. Only the believer as the cell of this body, embedded, suffused with her life-process of knowledge, faith, love, participates also in her consciousness and in the spirit in which she understands herself.

Her secret and what can be vexing about her (as with her Lord: “Blessed is he who is not vexed by me!”[20]) reside in her twofold nature. In terms of her empirical visibility, concreteness, and conceivability, she, like any worldly phenomenon, is subject to the observation and analysis of history, sociology, religious studies, philosophy, and psychology, and their findings are correct in many ways. At the same time she is what faith and its theology know and proclaim about her from the beginning: the People of God, body of Christ, vine, city of God, yes bride: each of the visual names, symbols of inexhaustible depth of interpretation, tries in alternating cycles to stammer out the unspeakable aspect of her “second nature.”

Unacceptable to the critical intellect. For certain. The critical intellect reaffirms that every day. As for Christians, however, if they take their faith seriously, it is not unlikely that they have to accept something analogous, albeit in a lesser version, about themselves every day.

That I am the person I am: the empirical individual, object of all the natural sciences, object also of psychology and psychoanalysis, suffering object of history and civilization, social structures, a product of ancestry, milieu, and education, on top of all the influences of the present, the decadence, the flow of suggestions in a hundred forms, conscious of my personal destiny and character, its advantages and disadvantages, its limitations, hindrances, and my failures in the middle of this. The sum of all these statements has so much that is uplifting and valuable, so much that is shameful, unappetizing, de-pressing—what a concoction!

So that’s me, that’s you, that’s each of us in unpredictable variations. And at the same time I am supposed to believe—and I do believe: I am created in the image and likeness of God, known, want- ed, loved from eternity, formed by His hands, a continuation in the whole endless stream of my heritage, every hair of my head counted. I am a brother or sister of Christ, redeemed by His blood, co-heir and aspirant to glory. I am on the way to eternal bliss—yes, the new taboos are also good for something, rarely heard words unfold their unbearable force again: oriented to eternal bliss in the perfect unity of God, in the physical resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth.

And I am supposed to believe that about myself—and everything that is seething around me? This is, however, a lot to swallow for those who are attentive and who view themselves and their loved ones even a little critically.

For those who accept this message, the double nature of the Church can be quite clear. Even in today’s situation.

What is more self-evident than that there is ALWAYS an abyss gaping between the first and second basic condition of the Church? Because there has to be a gap, because the distance between mission and realization is too great, between the one who reveals Himself and the manifestation that proclaims Him.

Always, in every era, the earthly Church at the same time contradicts her “other,” actual nature. She is always in need of reform. Her best children, the saints, are always unhappy with her and cry out in love and suffering for repentance and penance.

For me, Church history is the great book of consolation. It really is not just a lavish “Chronique scandaleuse,” a Chronicle of Scandal, for ravenous agitators. Today, more than ever, it is necessary for us to be able to see through the torrent of events and even put them halfway in perspective and weigh them. The outright ignorance of an unbelievable number of otherwise educated Christians in this area counts as one of the calamities.

The darkest chapters are exactly the ones we should know—not just the boring Renaissance vices. No, we should know the great heresy battles of the early Church, the Viking and Saracen assaults at the beginning of the Middle Ages, which almost choked Christendom, barely awakened, in blood and ashes. We should know the age of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the era of secularization, which at the time of our great-grandparents simply swept away a large portion of the German pastoral care centers and educational institutions. We also have to unlearn confusing the “calm” times of the Church with good, and the agitated with bad.

It was Innocent III, of all people, the man who distributed the crowns of Europe from the vertiginous summit of the papacy, who saw the Church sway and crumble in a dream until a dark little stranger supported it with his shoulder—whom he then recognized in Francis. At the time of Romanticism, which was also an era of secularization, but today is misunderstood by many as a Catholic heyday, Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the body of the Lord hanging on a pole—blackened, mangled, mutilated. She saw crowds, among them priests and bishops, who zealously carried away the Church of St. Peter, stone by stone, and built an “Anti-Church” with the help of demons.[21]

Times of ascent and decay perpetually alternate—early spring, naked, bleak, but bursting with buds, alternates with sterile, visually stunning autumn splendor. Time and again ripeness changes into apparent death, and this breaks open into new life. The Church IS the Phoenix.

Today, it seems to me, two opposite, but often eerily similar currents are tangled up: renewal and revolution. The two-sided nature of this, this tremendous ambiguity, is the peculiarity and the particular danger of our hour.

The key term for renewal is: the Council. This is incorrect, by the way, or let’s say shallow and superficial if one sets it as the absolute beginning. Because in fact, it was itself the fruit and result of a re-birth movement that was strong yet scattered widely among many small points of tension that grew out of invisible factors (“all beginnings are invisible,” says Teilhard de Chardin) since about the First World War. Over a half century, brooks grew and flowed together into this basin. The Council raised, confirmed, legitimized, and radiated ideas, impulses, premonitions, and approaches, as well as ready-made formations developed over many generations, to the awareness of the whole Church.

Just at this moment, after that long, arduous, patient preparation, the second stage of the great, indeed Spirit-led rebirth—this is how the small charismatic circles always understood them!—that is, the second phase of general realization should, properly speaking must, follow. That was the tremendous, intoxicating hope of the sixties, crystallized around the shining figure of John XXIII.

And exactly here is where the counter-play, the adversary, intrudes.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the great charismatic missionary, said to me a few years ago: “That the Devil would try so hard to distort the meaning of the Council, to turn it upside down, suggests that it must have been a big deal.”

Because it is becoming clearer and clearer that there is now a movement alongside, within the renewal, a movement that is not concerned with purification, strengthening, development, rebirth, but rather with the downfall of the Church, with her replacement by an alien new structure. This truly genuine revolution uses all means of political upheaval—that is, so far with the finer means, since it is not yet openly in power. They work with “psychic artillery”: with suggestion, surprise, infiltration, and as a fifth column with an ex- tensive strategy, occupying key positions in mass media and using sophisticated disguises. Friedrich Heer, who ought to know, calls the method they use “nicodemic” (why actually? poor faithful Nicode- mus!). That is to say they use the vocabulary of conventional theory while line by line attributing alien meanings.

It seems to me that the characteristic of this revolution is that unbelievers and the ignorant lead the “reform” of the church—and with great success.

Well now, this is quite strange.

The mark of previous waves of renewal in the Church was surely that they originated from piety, from repentance, that is, from an inner change oriented towards God. Sometimes they were started by saints. Sometimes by Christians of more humble calling but who aligned with the spirit and model of the saints. Even with all their shortcomings and failures: the baseline of such movements nevertheless showed that in those people the Church herself converted in repentance from corruption, sliding, or sleep. There was no talk first of rights and claims, of relief and more comfortable ways, but of willingness to bow to the Gospel and its demands, of joyful submission even to the strictness of the commandments of God, of bitter purification in love and humility, in renunciation and obedience to be able to live up to the mission and rediscover the neglected legacy.

I cannot discern these features in the guise of today’s revolt. Of course, there have always been unbelievers in the Church—probably in large numbers, one suspects also among priests. We know this well from some periods—for example, the High Enlightenment— from others it can be conjectured. As is well known, there is conscious theoretical and repressed but practical unbelief. I use the word “unbelieving” here with no moral judgment. In thousands of very different fates hide the innocent, the guilty, and every shade in between. I simply mean those who, for whatever reason, deny belief in or obedience to the Church, or both, and who place themselves internally or externally (or again, both) outside of her. Whether as lukewarm Catholics or as “non-practicing” Catholics, in the jargon of the pious, they were still in the parish registers, and they did so whether they called themselves free-thinkers, free-spirits, or liberals—there were certainly priests among them. Still, the last thing they wanted was to attract attention.

In spite of all their differences, they had one distinguishing feature in common and it characterized them: total disinterest in the whole of the Church’s internal affairs and inner life, in dogmas and liturgy (if they knew there was such a thing), in piety as well as in religious organizations. Volunteering for such things seemed simply unspeakably boring, bourgeois, tasteless, narrow-minded; any attraction to such subjects seemed to them tactless and impossible.

They didn’t want to have anything to do with all this, and they stuck by that. And that was lucky. Because it did not occur to them even in their sleep to interfere in Church matters and tell us how we should run them.

But this is exactly what they are doing today and with vigor. It’s a strange spectacle: a number (an army or just a leadership corps?) of people who really only believe in the alternative religion of the zeitgeist, that is, in progress, science, moral autonomy, and a future paradise resulting from all three, rush upon the Church to remodel everything they find in her according to their dimensions, goals, and desires. And they want to dictate to and rule over all the other believers.

In Christianity they find some very useful material for their undertaking, next to a huge pile of ballast—as they assess it. With un- inhibited energy and great intelligence, they begin to carve up some things, recast other things, and to dissolve the rest. And properly so—because they are least of all dumb. They recognized a splendid vehicle in the major reform that set into motion and they know how to use it. To do this, they provide themselves with the necessary, thorough information in all areas—a completely new, uncanny kind of religious and theological interest.

They have many types and layers of fellow travelers and tools. On occasion the ignorant; they too have always been in abundance in the Church. This includes both the faithful, who believed in the whole and were content with it—not a bad way, by the way—and others who were indifferent to everything because they knew nothing, and vice versa. Both types behaved passively, leaving thinking and doing to those who were better equipped or simply appointed. Among us today, this layer still has a special historical imprint.

Remember the last thirty years: National Socialism with its monopoly on schools, media, culture, especially youth; evacuation and cities reduced to rubble, shipping children to the countryside, compulsory participation in the Hitler Youth, mandatory labor, anti-aircraft helpers, and so on; the complete standstill of almost all forms of advanced religious education, religious instruction reduced to a minimum, the constant change of school and teacher, and non-stop manipulation by propaganda. Afterwards came debris, refugee misery, the struggle for existence of their parents’ generation. The likes of this does not leave younger generations without a trace. As for those who were not among the innermost circles of pious believers at the time, who did not later come to church through personal conversion, somehow the newly consolidated conditions also brought masses flowing back, carried along by the current, into the Church structure, without catching up on lost foundations, without personal conviction. As previously in politics. It is clear that these people are the ones most vulnerable to the mass media. A great many remained dyed in the wool from the ideological imprint of their childhood and youth, including in what they had repressed—at least with a tremendous inclination for distrust, suspicion, criticism, and dissatisfaction with Church and religion.

Naturally, one could say, the majority of this type would probably be among the uninterested who prefer to deal with anything other than religion and what is related to it. But today under the all-encompassing honorary title, “laity,” an active participation is imposed on them—on people from both currents!—something they would never have sought out. They are forcefully—from both sides!—talked into believing that they understand everything, even better than the experts, that they have a say in evaluating and judging even the most difficult and complicated matters. Their most random impressions and reactions are researched as extremely interesting and important and are supposed to provide norms and corrections for the established situation. It’s actually grotesque. Isn’t it clear that they provide the real revolutionaries with just what they need, namely gullible supporters?

There are other factors. Every revolution has to base itself on the groups of those who are dissatisfied. They are, of course, abundant in the Church, including among the clergy. I have already touched on the reasons. They can be multiplied endlessly, the good and the bad, from misunderstanding and from clear insight, out of actual negative experiences and in the spirit of going along with the crowd.

There is the urgent unrest of those who are truly religiously moved and religiously gifted. There is the dull, irritated resentment of those who believe that Church authorities prevent them from fulfilling their personal happiness—for example, in marriage, ambition, or other private interests. Everyone will pay attention when someone promises to be responsive to their complaints, quickly to stop what bothers them, to fulfill their wishes.

Here everything is mixed in. There may be many who would have dedicated themselves to genuine renewal with enthusiasm if they had encountered it. Or they were deceived. The frontlines of those who sought both to preserve and renew appeared to them—rightly or wrongly!—too lukewarm, too dawdling, too willing to compromise, too petty, too careful. How very understandable in so many situations! They throw themselves in the arms of those who promise them direct action and rapid radical change, who appeal to the jam-packed explosive forces of the youth. This is how the corrupters reach out to many—to useful people with more passion than discretion, more anger than patience, perhaps also more desire for validation and assertiveness than willingness to accept their integration into the Church and sacrifice themselves. There are also those who are just naive, willing to trust, easy to deceive—all of whom, in character and vocation, genuinely belonged to the Church’s actual rebirth movement and are severely missed among us.

I see the treacherous, the grueling aspect of our situation in the fact that the two fundamentally contradictory currents seem to intersect, overlap, get tangled up, even seem to merge in aggrandized speech and writing—often on the same page, even in the same person! So much so that a clear distinction at first glance and in all areas is simply not possible. Oh, how much we need to pray for discernment of spirits, just to hang in there day after day. We certainly notice not always directly at play. The lines of approach—for defense as well as for offense—are often lengthy and convoluted. Also, a house does not only consist of its foundation and a person does not only consist of his skeleton. Both can still be intact while the dissolution, the disfigurement, has already progressed considerably. And how un- manageable is the potential diversity in development of often inconspicuous points of departure! How imperceptible are built-in timed fuses and creeping infections!

Perhaps—probably—this terrible opaqueness also plays a role in the often-strange attitude of our hierarchy during this “soft upsurge.” (I say: “also”—and plays “along”!) One never knows. Does it have to do with the Lord’s words about leaving the weeds until the harvest, about leaving the dimly burning wick and bent reed? Or is it an expression of uncertainty and indecision, a tactical retreat, a fearful attempt at compromise—or even unconscious infiltration of some officially rejected ideology?

With a slight horror one often thinks of Ernst Jünger’s remark: “The irresistible power of a metaphysical attack, is that the attacked person himself chooses the means of his downfall and does so apparently voluntarily.”[22]

A rather dark image. And what about that which is holy coming out of the crisis?

I believe in this. I believe with confidence and trust in the indestructible future of the old and new, the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. Now we are simply being put to the test whether we take the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount seriously and that the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

The prognoses are of course very bad, according to human judgment. Seduction and decay have by no means reached their full velocity; many dragon teeth have only just been inserted. The defense is mostly as weak as the anti-aircraft guns in our cities were when faced with a huge squadron of bombers. Based on calculations, we would probably need to pack up soon.

How are things looking with our young priests, for example—in number and quality? What can we expect? How about our theology departments? As with the relevant literature—one doesn’t want to call it “Catholic” anymore. Thank God I have nothing to do with school and teaching, but sampling and assessments—praise and acclaim as well as horrified warnings—about the new catechism and its additions can prepare us for a rather dark harvest. A generation of those who are essentially skeptics, grumblers, as well as arrogant and irreverent meddlers appears to be involved.

I can very well imagine that tomorrow will be pitch-black. For example, to start with the smaller issues, I can imagine that old churches will in fact be transformed into mere museums and new ones will be built with bars and dance programs. Home-Masses— sorry, Eucharistic celebrations—with champagne breakfast at the same table are already in vogue—exactly what Paul, greatly displeased, did away with.

I can imagine that the appearance of the Church, deprived of all the beautiful traditions, the liturgical spaces, vestments, vessels, customs, places of pilgrimage, most of the monasteries and other “magical remains,” will resemble an ugly, hewn willow stump. The City on the Hill will be reduced to the ruins of the city wall, devoid of its shining light that once irresistibly attracted so many seekers from afar. I can also imagine that in some areas, after some time, the Catholic Church will only continue by vegetating as a shabby variation of the neighboring Protestant Church. It won’t even be like the solid state-church or an authentic living sect, but only as a slavish copy of figures gutted and in decay. I can imagine a widely denied but practically implemented schism, connected to Rome only by insincere verbal threads—and unfortunately without a clean cut through the Gordian knot from there [i.e. from Rome].

I also know that in view of these (and other) conditions, some people who are to be taken seriously consider apocalyptic fulfillment to have come and they prepare for the end of all things, not just Germany or Europe or the white race. What can I say? I can understand this even if I don’t share this opinion. We’ve long since deserved this. However, Philipp Dessauer used to say: “The last day has many dress rehearsals.” And we have been told that it will surprise us.

As I said: I can imagine the darkest development and also, I expect it.

But I by no means believe, first, that it must happen, and second, that it will come to stay. Isn’t world history already full of great surprises, despite the cleverest predictions? Isn’t it full of sudden reversals, wonderful rescues, incomprehensible victories of small groups of fighters against unlikely odds? In no way has God always been with the strongest cannons. Think of Salamis and the fall of the Persian fleet, the mysterious retreat of the Mongols in the middle of their victory at Walstatt, the strange fates in the struggle of the West with the Turks—at the gates of Vienna, in Corfu—and the tiny, almost invisible origins of world-threatening powers like the Nazis and Bolsheviks out of ridiculed, weak groups. Good and evil make the strangest leaps—even in the most profane realms of military power, politics, and economics. How can one then think accurately to predict the fate of the spiritual struggle—in which, as we know, not only flesh and blood are involved, but very different powers and forces—on both sides!

To start with the simplest aspect: as for those of us who believe we are on the right side by God’s grace and the people we trust— do we all come from “ideal religious backgrounds”? Probably only a small portion. Think how many of us come from lukewarm to un- believing families, are converts, grew up under annoying priests, with miserable religious instruction, more than inadequate pastoral care, dreadful sermons, neglected or even twisted liturgy, uptight religious education at home or in boarding schools attached to religious orders. And after our conversions and renewals, think what else did we run into, what kind of dead ends. Think how often we had to break out of unbearable situations, how often were we peeled down to the skin—and this on top of everything else. Did we fall from God’s hand for even a moment? Didn’t He send us His angels at the crossroad–even in strange disguises–or the raven with bread? Didn’t He strike open a spring out of sand and stone in the desert? How could He deny His Church what He does for us gnats, does every day?

I believe in God’s faithfulness.

And I just don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will abandon His own Pentecost-like flare-up, the great promise of the Council, to poisoning and distortion—unless it were to happen through our own out-sized fault if we were to surrender prematurely.

I trust the Church’s tremendous powers of regeneration—they will be awakened when the need is at its greatest. Precisely because she is a poor bride in misery now, she is more at the mercy of His grace than ever.

I trust in her invisible allies, in the community of the saints in the old sense, in which we living are only a tiny part, embedded in the old image of the “three-story” Church: we the struggling, pilgrim Church between the suffering, where there is purification, and the triumphant (yes, in spite of the foolish narrowing of this forbidden word!), the Church of Heaven, perfected in the victory of Christ. With them in mind, not only the solitary Christian facing the pressure of external persecution, but also the one almost despondent in the internal pressure of isolation, I can answer with Thomas More as he did when his judges, alluding to their numerical advantage, urged him to conform: “From among the holy bishops I can oppose any of your hundred. For this one council or parliament (and God knows what kind it is!), there are all the councils over a thousand years. This is why I am not obliged to conform my conscience to the council (synod) of a single country.”[23]

I believe and trust that even the ugliest and worst manifestations of this revolution represent phases of a necessary self-cleansing of the Church body and at the same time a well-deserved judgment. As Anne Catherine Emmerich already said about her nightmarish visions of apostasy and betrayal in the Church, “It is good that there are such people. They drive the matter forward, and finally it erupts. And then good and evil part ways.” The invaders may have a role similar to that of the Assyrians and Babylonians in obstinate Israel. And at revolutionary tribunals, alongside the innocents, real guilt is called out.

Even more, I trust the suffering in the Church. There is immense suffering, silent and down to the base. Above all, the suffering among the many, many good, faithful priests, who hardly appear in the press and on television, but who, with the commitment of their lives, known only to those close to them, are consumed for those entrusted to them, even if they themselves are externally the weaker ones and have to watch the debauchery defenselessly. Their bitter suffering, which goes as far as physical and mental breakdowns, is not in vain. It is invisible martyr blood. It sprouts the seeds that grow in the winter night.

I believe in the praying Church made up of laity and priests, the forbearing, the atoning Church. These are all terms that have become alien or ridiculous to many, yet they are the dormant powers among the people of Christendom. They are currently the anvil under the hammer, but their defenselessness is not a weakness. “[Everyone seems to think that being the hammer is more praiseworthy and more desirable than being the anvil, but] this is not part of what it takes to endure the endless, recurring blows. The greatest force is only inwards and used only as a counter-pressure to ward off extreme unpleasantness,”[24] said Goethe somewhere.

I believe in the hidden saints—there are certainly many—who participate today in Christ’s concealment of Holy Saturday. Well, unfortunately we see few of the impressive figures on which the weak faith would so much like to lean. Yet it seems that those who are called today are not in the form of the towering lighthouse shining into the distance, but rather the heating system, sunk in the basement, unnoticed yet preserving life.

But I also believe that some visible messengers of God may be closer than we suspect. I believe in the many pure and good hearts among the youth who are concerned with what is real, who hunger and thirst for justice, who bide their time critically and are maturing gradually. God already knows them. He will call them at their hour. Didn’t Augustine even say, when his church was almost empty because of a circus festival: “Who knows how many future bishops are now sitting in the stands at the circus and applauding the gladiators!”[25]

Maybe their grandchildren—out of generational contrariety!— will have had enough of trampling and rejection and will extract great discoveries from that which is defamed and withheld from them today.

They will receive the immortal seeds of life from the holy inheritance in their own way, and in their way, different from ours, bear them to bring forth many fruits. Whether we older people experience this is really a matter of minor importance.

We must be satisfied with the knowledge that the City on the Hill is still there behind the fog that makes it invisible to many, and that the enemies can often smash only the backdrop sets and artificial images. We must be able to wait through snowmelt and flood, and even starless nights knowing that stars are more enduring than clouds. What is up to us is to plead without ceasing for discernment and love, for justice and patience—and for unshakable love for the Church. Because only the lover discerns. And what people who do not love her, maybe secretly hate her, tell us about her need not frighten us. But we also have to pray for the inner freedom to let go of much that is beloved and precious to us if doing so is really necessary for the renovation and peace of the city of God. Because God not only takes away bad and worthless things, but very often also precious things.

You’re the one who gently shatters down upon us what we build
so that we may see Heaven:
this is why I don’t complain.[26]


We must always pray from now on to defend the courage that has been entrusted to us, to defend that which is holy tenaciously, bravely, stubbornly, and at all costs. Because even in worldly history those wonderful rescues and victories did not happen to the cowardly and idle ones, but really only those engaged in the highest or lowest moments of struggle. This courage must grow with darkness and threat. A great saying has come down to us from King Alfred of England, a contemporary of Charlemagne, who said under the Danish onslaught when the barbarians flooded his homeland and forced him back into the last free corner: “Tougher the spirit, bolder the hearts, stronger the courage when power diminishes!” And I wholeheartedly believe in the theology of moon symbolism, the strangely prophetic theology of Origen, which Hugo Rahner has once again made accessible to us: The Church is the moon, the splendor of which is tarnished by our sins and fades to seemingly total darkness. But in the darkest hour Christ, the sun, touches her anew and fills her again with increasing light.


16. Ida Friederike Görres, “Vertrauen zur Kirche,” in Im Winter wächst das Brot: Sechs Versuche über die Kirche (Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Johannes Verlag, 1970), 103–31.

17. In a letter dated April 4, 1970, to Fr. Paulus Gordon, OSB, Görres described her preparation for this lecture:

I recklessly agreed to give a lecture in Badenweiler on April 17: “Trusting the Church”!!!! With this, I’m getting myself into hot water!! This is like a Tunic of Nessus that doesn’t leave one a minute’s rest. Today on the 4th, I have no idea what I’m going to say in 13 days. But it is actually quite amusing to have to reflexively conquer the deepest, sustaining foundation in oneself, from which one actually lives. Because I know that this is THERE, precisely because I live from it and any tribulations only go to the reflexive and conscious level, thick as swarms of hornets sometimes, but still ONLY in the foreground, they never reach the foundational reason for existence—thank God. But this rather eludes expression, articulation. The desire to force oneself into this level is almost too much. At any rate, I myself am curious to see what the result will be.

Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, ed, Wirklich die neue Phönixgestalt? – Ida Frieder ike Görres über Kirche und Konzil: Unbekannte Briefe 1962 – 1971 an Paulus Gordon (Heiligenkreuz, Austria: Be & Be Verlag, 2015), 456–57. (Special thanks to Dr. Gerl-Falkovitz for bringing this reference to my attention. —Translator.)

18. This appears to be spurious. I have not been able to find such a reference in the works of St. John Henry Newman. —Translator.
19. The context of this anecdote:

"The gypsy in the story went to confession, but the cautious priest asked him if he knew the commandments of the law of God. To which the gypsy replied: “Well, Father, it’s this way: I was going to learn them, but I heard talk that they were going to do away with them.’ Is not this the situation in the world at present? The rumour is running round that the commandments of the law of Europe are no longer in force, and in view of this, men and peoples are taking the opportunity of living without imperatives.”"

José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 1932), 135. Accessed at: MassesJoseOrtega YGasset/Philosophy+-+ The+Revolt+of+the+Masses+- +Ortega+y+Gasset+Jose_djvu.txt

20. Luke7:23.
21. See Anne Catherine Emmerich, Schöpfung und Heilsgeschichte. Geheimnisse des alten Bundes. Visionen. 8. September 1774—9. Februar 1824 Selig gesprochen am 3. Oktober 2004 Entnommen aus den Aufzeichnungen des Clemens von Brentano, ed. Josef Stocker (Vienna, Austria: Mediatrix-Verlag, 2013), 7, 76, and 81.
22. This appears to be a paraphrase, not a direct quote, from Ernst Jünger’s “The Worker” (1932) available at

23. This is a paraphrase from St. Thomas More’s Speech at His Trial, 1535, from this passage:

If the number of bishops and universities should be so material as your lordship seems to think, then I see little cause, my lord, why that should make any change in my conscience. For I have no doubt that, though not in this realm, but of all those well learned bishops and virtuous men that are yet alive throughout Christendom, they are not fewer who are of my mind therein. But if I should speak of those who are already dead, of whom many are now holy saints in heaven, I am very sure it is the far greater part of them who, all the while they lived, thought in this case the way that I think now. And therefore am I not bound, my lord, to conform my conscience to the council of one realm against the General Council of Christendom. Gerard B. Wegemer, Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage (New York: Scepter Publishers, 1995), 216.

24. From a discussion between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer, April 1806. woldemar-von-biedermann-gesprache_3.html. “Hammer zu sein scheint Jedem rühmlicher und wünschenswerther, als Ambos, und doch was gehört nicht dazu, diese unendlichen, immer wiederkehrenden Schläge auszuhalten.”

25. This appears to be a loose paraphrase of the story St. Augustine tells in Book 7 of The Confessions about his friend Alypius who used to squander time at the circus in Carthage but then later, to the surprise of St. Augustine, became a Catholic priest.

26. Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857), from the poem “Ergebung” (i.e. “Submission”).


Auf Deutsch

The original German text of this lecture, "Vertrauen zur Kirche," was published in the book Im Winter wächst das Brot. This book contains a collection of essays written by Ida Friederike Görres near the end of her life. Im Winter wächst das Brot is available from the Johannes Verlag.(1970, 8th edition 2002).

Im Winter cover.jpeg