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German cardinal warns that adapting to ‘spirit of the age’ would make Church useless

A Church that adapts to the spirit of her time loses her 'prophetic mandate and mission' and 'would be of no use anymore': Cardinal Rainer Woelki
Tue Jan 7, 2020 - 1:17 pm EST
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Cardinal Rainer Woelki.

January 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, warned Catholics in a homily yesterday that the Church adapting to the spirit of the age (zeitgeist) would make her lose her “prophetic mandate and mission” and would render her “of no use anymore.” 

Cardinal Woelki made his remarks in a January 6 homily he delivered on the occasion of the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. He warned the Church against adapting herself to the world and reminded his hearers that the Three Wise Men – as well as the builders of his own Cologne cathedral, who had placed a star atop of its crossing tower – were intending “solely and exclusively to seek and to proclaim Christ as the Light of this world.” 

Man, according to this German prelate, needs this “Light” in order to “find his way,” especially “in our time, in which the orientation towards the true salvation has become difficult, due to the confusing pluralism of offers of salvation.”

“Even in the Church,” he continued, this orientation seems to have gotten lost, since a polyphonic choir of opinions, personal views, and interests seeks to relativize and adapt to the world God's Revelation and the Church's faith.” 

However, such a faith according to the zeitgeist, according to Cardinal Woelki, loses her being a “compelling alternative” to those other offers that are being presented to us anyway “day by day.”

“He who does not have an orientation,” explained Woelki, “loses direction. And he who loses the direction, loses the life; he becomes irrelevant,” is not anymore an “alternative that is to be taken seriously.”

Referring back to the star that has been placed atop of the crossing tower of the Cologne Cathedral in reference to the shrine of the Three Wise Men that is to be found in this cathedral, Cardinal Woelki told his hearers that this star, in contrast to the spirit of our time, “gives us the direction, just as the Star of Bethlehem had done it earlier.” This star “points to the Light, in which alone is to be found salvation,” according to the German cardinal. 

“The Child in the manger is that Salvation,” he concluded. “And wherever this Child is being welcomed, the life of a man receives direction and orientation. Then life becomes salvation.”

Cardinal Woelki also pointed back to the “whole faith of the Church, as it is being proclaimed and lived in an unabridged manner and as it has been laid down by the Apostles and as the Church has borne witness to it and has preserved it over time.” That faith, he explained, helps us that we do not follow erroneous lights.

The prelate went on to say that this true faith “contains truth that transcends time and that preserves the Church and the Gospel which has been entrusted to her lest she adapt to the spirit, to the views and opinions, and to the feelings of a certain time period.” 

Here, one might well remember that there was another time period in German history where many Catholics were tempted to adapt to the “spirit of the times,” which was then called National-Socialist. During the two family synods, another German-speaking cardinal – Cardinal Kurt Koch – had made that explicit reference.

At the time, two leading German bishops – actually the same leaders that are quite influential in today's discussions in Germany: Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Franz-Josef Bishop Bode – had proposed that the Church listen more to the “life realities” of our time and therefore admit “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion.

In 2015, the Swiss Cardinal Koch commented on these claims, as follows:

Let us think of the 'German Christians' during the time of National Socialism, when, next to the Holy Scripture, they also raised up the Nation and the Race as sources of revelation, against which the Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934) [which had rejected the submission of the Protestant churches to the State] protested. We have to differentiate very carefully here and listen with sensitivity to the signs of the times – and to the spirit that reveals itself in these signs: which ones are signs of the Gospel, which ones are not?

Cardinal Woelki also seems to make an indirect reference to the time of the Third Reich when he stated in his homily that such a Church which adapts herself to the spirit of her time would lose her “prophetic mandate and mission,” adding that “such an adapted and assimilated Church  [“gleichgeschaltete Kirche”] would be of no use anymore.” 

The word gleichschaltung is often being used with reference to Hitler's politics during the Third Reich which aimed at controlling all aspects of public life in Germany.

Finally, Cardinal Woelki then returned once more to the main topic in his homily, namely, that the seekers of the star in Bethlehem find in Bethlehem the Light, God's Son, “in which alone is to be found all salvation and life.”


  catholic, germany, rainer woelki, star of bethlehem, zeitgeist

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