A reader sends in a link to the above Firing Line episode (June 12, 1969), in which Billy Graham says the following (go to the 22:00 mark):
I think the Christians are going to have to get back to the early Church, of realizing that we’re living in the middle of a hostile secularism and paganism that has enveloped our country. And that we’re going to have to come to small groups, and live dedicated, disciplined lives, and that we might even suffer persecution.
Man, that’s something. Billy Graham was advocating for the basic Benedict Option when I was only two years old. He saw it all coming.
You know who else saw it coming in 1969? Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who prophesied:
The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. 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; nor will it issue 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. 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. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She 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, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. 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 all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. 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 — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. 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. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.
Two Christian giants who spoke to millions foresaw the ultimate crisis through which we’re now living.
Along these lines, you might have seen last week the piece that the prominent Vaticanist Sandro Magister wrote about the Benedict Option, and how it has become a matter of “global import” — in particular given the attacks certain liberal Catholics in Pope Francis’s circle have made on it.
Magister publishes a follow-up in the form of a letter and short piece by Leonardo Lugaresi, a scholar of the early Church who teaches at the University of Bologna. Prof. Lugaresi says that those who say the Ben Op is a return to the ghetto are wrong:
The “Benedict Option” overcomes the risk of becoming a self-ghettoization if – as I believe is in the author’s mind – it is armed with this strong “critical capacity,” which is the opposite of closure, and on the contrary is the true form of dialogue with the world that Christians, explicitly called be Christ to be the leaven, salt, and light of the world, can and must conduct.
In further remarks, Prof. Lugaresi writes:
So then, during the course of the first three centuries Christians did not do any of the things that we have just said:
1) they did not assimilate, because if a full and complete assimilation of Christianity into Hellenism had truly taken place, we today would not be here talking about it as a reality still existing and clearly distinct from the Greco-Roman cultural legacy;
2) they did not separate and close themselves off in a world apart, and did not take on the logic of the sect (at least when it comes to “mainstream” Christianity: there have been sectarian tendencies, but these have always taken, in fact, the way of new formations, which, significantly, have exercised their separatist criticism above all toward the “big Church” that has compromised with the world);
3) much less did they dream of, let alone plan, an exit, a secession, from the Roman world.
Of course, starting at the end of the 3rd century, with monasticism there would be in the ecclesial experience a form of estrangement from the “polis” and of choosing the “desert,” which would seem to present itself as this third option. This, however, concerns an élite group of individuals and is a critical self-distancing rather than an abandonment of the city. The monk indeed leaves the urban social context, but maintains with it a relationship that is very close and incisive, because he holds onto a relationship with other Christians who “remain in the world” and makes his anchoritic existence a parameter of judgment for all those who continue to live in the urban space.
There exists, however, a fourth modality of relationship that a minority group can have with the world that surrounds and “besieges” it, and it is that of entering with it into a strongly critical relationship and of exercising – including by virtue of its own capacity to maintain solidity and consistency of behaviors with respect to the judgments thus elaborated – a cultural influence on society, which in the long run can come to the point of bringing the general order into crisis.
The fundamental question that we should ask ourselves, therefore, is not: “How did the Christians conquer the Roman empire?” but rather: “How did they live as Christians in a completely non-Christian world,” that is, perceived by them as foreign and hostile to Christ?