The Cult of Action

In his book, Faith and the Future Joseph Ratzinger mentioned,
“We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous.”

What is meant by this?

Could this* “cult of action in political prayer” be a one-sided tendency towards making “*what we do in “church” somehow translate into how we treat other people who are “different” than us” ?

Give us some more of the surrounding text or context if you can. From the short quotation, I would guess he was discussing political vs. personal involvement, and it might be related to the idea that we should take personal responsibility for certain matters, and not delegate or subcontract them to the government or other organizations (like charities). I haven’t read the book, so my speculation about what he said could be entirely wrong.

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.

Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are!

How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself.

What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death.


Thanks for that. After reading the article you cited, I think I was on the wrong track, but perhaps heading in the right direction.

The phrase “in political prayers” I think refers back to “celebrates.” We might rearrange it as “We have no need of a Church that celebrates, in political prayers, the cult of action,” not that that makes it much easier to understand.

I found a fuller transcript here…

… which delves deeper into the history of the Church in Europe. In the shorter article you cited, most of this history lesson was edited out, which is unfortunate because it might make it easier to understand Ratzinger’s point.

So far I have only skimmed it – I will read it all tonight – but so far I see that Ratzinger is criticizing the tendency of the Church to operate at the social or political level, rather than at the personal level. I’ll have more for you later, I hope.

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Thank you!

I read it as the self destructive nature of Church thought that removes God from as much as possible, or forgets Him even a little, in exchange for political action or relevance. Shelve the God talk only a little so we can work with secularists, atheists, other faiths, etc. to achieve some goal or “action” that is utterly secondary and meaningless compared to the Churches primary goal, the salvation of souls. While the Church can and must take a stand on moral issues of our time, when social justice becomes some great end, over and above the gospel, we become lue the Anglicans, whose prelates deny the very core of the gospel, or the unitarians, who “see God in all faiths.”
I dunno, I’m probably wrong. I always want the Pope Emeritus to agree with me so maybe I’m torturing the text.

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Okay, I have caught up on that reading now.

I apologize, by the way, for several typographical errors in that transcript; the word “of” seems to be missing in several (about 10) places.

Father Ratzinger draws some parallels between the period shortly after the Second Vatican Council and the Enlightenment period in Europe in the late 1700s. Some people sought to align the Church with ideas, fashionable then as now, like liberty, equality, reason, and progress.

There is certainly a place for these ideas, but they can be misused. A good idea can become disfigured by a too-narrow application. In the world today, our devotion to personal liberty kills millions of unborn human beings, equality means a man can say he is a woman, reason is reduced to matters which are tangible, and progress favors those who can afford it.

Anyway, getting back to Fr. Ratzinger’s speech, he is saying that the Church will become irrelevant if it turns away from the fundamentals of Christianity, most importantly faith in God who so loved us that he gave his Son so that we might have eternal life. If the Church has a social or political mission, it must be built upon and always centered on that foundation of faith, hope, and love.

In your original post, you mentioned how we treat other people who are different than us. Fr. Ratzinger would probably say that we should recognize the dignity of every human being, and treat each one as a beloved child of God. There is certainly no problem with the Church taking the fundamental principle of the dignity and worth of every human person, and applying it to today’s concerns about inequality and prejudice.

No, I think you have it right. At least that’s how I’m reading Fr. Ratzinger on this.

So having cleared this up lets us this as an example:

Lets pray that what we do here (at this Mass) has some lasting power that we don’t just leave and go out there and act like we’re crazy, anxious, fearful, angry. Might the Bread of Life be able to be carried out into the world and could that give us the strength to base our lives in the things that last, like acts of love. So if you do believe that the fact that Christ was born on the earth and through this epiphany that he was meant for everybody to meet, for everybody to come to know and everybody to know of God’s Love then here’s the task- What’s your plan of action? What’s your plan of action to give witness to the power of the presence of Christ? I hope we take this seriously so that religion isn’t just about sentimentality.
This isn’t what Ratzinger is against is it? Or Could this be a reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and religion-less Christianity, he is such an inspiration to us all!

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