Archive for Pope Benedict XVI
The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation (or retirement or abdication and so on) has been heralded as a promising move of epic proportions for the church. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly that this is likely to be, as the historical theologian Joseph Komonchak and others have asserted, what Benedict XVI is best known for in terms of the historical record of his papacy. There are, despite the “secular” media’s desire for scandal and political motivation, undertones of humility and courage that ground the pope’s decision. And this has been, I believe, a very good idea.
However, this is not to suggest that this decision and accompanying awkwardness of something not exercised in over six centuries is without its problematic actions. This week’s announcement that Benedict XVI, who will step down from his office as Bishop of Rome and Roman Pontiff tomorrow at 8:00pm Rome Time, has selected to be called “Roman Pontiff Emeritus” or “Pope Emeritus,” continue to wear his distinctive white cassock (distinctive, of course, unless you are a member of the Norbertine Order of the Canons Regular of Prémontré), and bear the papal name “Benedict,” is really a “bad idea.”
This is a bad idea in large part because there cannot be two popes and, regardless of what Benedict XVI tomorrow wishes to be called, he and the rest of the world will know, at least intellectually, that he is not the pope. The term pope is problematic here because what the term pope really refers to is the Bishop of Rome who, by virtue of his primacy within the college of bishops, bears a number of other titles (Roman Pontiff, Servant of the Servants of God, [formerly] Patriarch of the West, etc.). The papacy is an office and not a person as my friend and theologian Brian Flanagan astutely reminded us a few weeks back.
If it walks like a pope, dresses like a pope, bears the same name as a pope, and has the term “pope” or “pontiff” in its title: it’s probably (going to be perceived to be) a POPE! And hence the “bad idea.”
In principle this shouldn’t make a difference, but in our age of soundbites, constant media images, and minimal public attention span, what looks and sounds like a pope will be treated like a “second pope.” Benedict XVI, I think, should at least — in our visual age — look different from the pope in dress and appearance (and taking off your shoulder cape which, I should add from what I imagine my TOR and OFM Conv. friends can affirm, only gets in the way already. Try washing a dish or reaching for something in a cabinet with a shoulder-length cape always in your way. I think that is simply a pragmatic move, not all that symbolic).
It is quite likely that Benedict XVI in his decision to make the swearing of allegiance to the new pope by the College of Cardinals a more public event he has intended to make his participation in this action a definitive moment of acknowledgement about who the one and only Bishop of Rome or Pope really is. But I really don’t think it will be enough.
Time will tell and we shall see how this plays out. It is now just a little more than 24-hours until one of the most historic events of the second Christian millennia gets underway.
UPDATE: This is a short article on this topic well-worth reading from VaticanInsider.
On NPR this weekend a lengthy story was aired about the current state of the Roman Catholic Church, its global demographics, and some of the challenges that appear to face the next pope. While not all aspects of the story are exactly correct, a typical effect of popular media’s attempt to report on such a unique confluence of factors in the church, it is an interesting story and worth checking out. Among those interviewed was Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, DC, and the bishop who ordained me last May.
I have long appreciated the intelligence and wit of Gary Wills. As a historian of some prominence — he’s won the Pulitzer and holds a PhD in classics — and a literary critic whose work has regularly appeared in the New York Review of Books and other significant publications, I have admired his skilled assessment of texts and tradition. As an avowed Roman Catholic, Jesuit educated from youth and through college at St. Louis University, I’ve also appreciated Wills’s attempts to explore his own faith and its tradition through small books on the Gospels, the Letters of St. Paul, Augustine, and other subjects, including an older text that offers something of an apologia for his continued Catholic faith. His training in classics and his familiarity with the original Greek of the New Testament and Latin of Augustine offered the public intellectual insight into these materials that others might not have.
One wonders with someone whose interests are so polymathic just when does he reach the limits of his reasonably expected competence. When does he cross the boundary of well-researched personal inquiry and reflection into the territory of ignoratio?
I will make a bold claim that his recent New York Times op-ed contribution, “New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope,” marks just such a border crossing.
I should begin these comments by stating that his sentiment, namely the frustration he exhibits about seemingly archaic systems of power and structure in church leadership, is actually quite reasonable and I suppose very sincere in his case. Critical though he may be, at other times Wills (like E. J. Dionne and other public commentators who maintain their Roman Catholic identity in a public way) has time and again reflected his disappointment with what he understands to be the church, while struggling to be a faithful Christian. Such public witness, especially as an academic and intellectual figure in whose circles such proclivities might be easily dismissed, is truly admirable.
Nevertheless, if what Wills was saying had more to do with explicit theological discourse, he’d be committing what is classically understood as heresy. Heresy, of course, doesn’t mean the opposite of orthodox doctrine or even some ideological position along the continuum of heterodox thought. Heresy is holding part of the truth as the whole truth. The easiest examples to recall have to do with Christological heresies: believing that Jesus Christ is human is not heretical. The Council of Chalcedon affirms as much. But, believe that Jesus Christ is only human is a heresy.
Analogously, much of what wills says in his op-ed piece is true. However, his lack of appreciation for the complexities and nuances about which he speaks borders on the incomprehensible or irrelevant. Again, not because his motives are false (he has, I believe, good intentions), but because he doesn’t actually understand — it would seem from his writing — that about which he is speaking.
To due justice to the subjects Wills names in passing and with a sense of flip cynicism would take more space and time than I have here in this post (you’re welcome, I promise not to write 4,000+ words here and keep it short). Perhaps a few examples will highlight the deeply problematic assertions that Wills advocates by way of partial truth interpreted according to Wills’s armchair-theological perspective.
Take the theme of papal monarchical status and the question of infallibility. Yes, even to this day the pope is a sovereign head of state. The Holy See — geographically constituted by “Vatican City” — is its own internationally recognized sovereign state with diplomatic rights, centuries of international treaties known as Concordats, and so on. While the Christendom model of monarchical papacy Wills readily admits no longer exists, historians might argue that the model he caricatures never, in fact, existed. Yes, the pope at various times over the course of nearly two millennia has exercised a certain temporal influence that is perhaps less visible in modern history. However, to refer to the pope as a monarch simply because that is how, as a single person with such metanymnic significance for a church that is made up of over a billion persons, he appears to someone on the street does not account for a great deal of theological and canonical factors left untouched by Wills’s rant.
For example, the very condition for the possibility of Benedict XVI’s resignation from his office is the fact that his is not a monarch in the same sense that Wills suggests. What it means to talk about “the pope” is simply another way to talk about one bishop who happens to be the Ordinary of the Diocese of Rome, and therefore is granted primacy as first among equals (much to the reasonable chagrin of the Orthodox Churches who understandably resent the dismissal of their primates by the Latin Church). Such is the case canonically too. The only difference between the Bishop of Rome resigning and the Bishop of New York is that, technically, there is no one to whom the first among equals tenders one’s resignation. Instead, as we saw on Monday, the Bishop of Rome does so in sound mind in the presence of his colleagues — the other bishops represented by the College of Cardinals in consistory.
Wills’s simplistic understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility is likewise misleading. He’s better than most to acknowledge, somewhat too briefly, that not everything a pope says is infallible. However, that’s a huge detail: it has only been invoked twice in history and done so within the very particular confines of a very limited exercise of magisterial office. Wills would do well to read some of Francis Sullivan, SJ’s classic work on the theology of magisterial authority or Richard Gaillardetz’s primer, By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, The Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful (Liturgical Press, 2003). The complex factors that converge to describe what this charism of infallibility actually means are too detailed to present here in this already lengthy post. However, the point to note is that Wills ties this highly technical (and widely misunderstood!) theological and canonical teaching to the monarchical authority of the papacy. It’s not that simple.
His clear lack of the moral teaching of the church and the, again to overuse the word, “complexities” of what something like Paul VI’s Humane Vitae present and rely upon, seriously shades his vision and confuses — at least as he expresses it — some sort of unilateral authority with the teaching office of the church, which varies in degree, something unacknowledged by Wills.
This is not to suggest that Wills is incorrect with his stats from the United States. I have no reason to doubt the overwhelming numbers of those who have not “received” the teaching of Humane Vitae in practice, but I do doubt whether or not the church (which is the Body of Christ = all the baptized) has “received” the point of the teaching. It is for moral theologians and bishops to hash out the role of medication, prophylactics, and the like vis-a-vis the teaching about authentic exercise of human sexuality in its (1) openness to life and (2) unitive dimension. These distinctions about what is actually being taught in the encyclical, whether one agrees or disagrees with the practical proscription, remain absent from this sort of critique.
If you want to challenge these teachings, and they are not without reasonable and grounded critique, then go through the trouble of doing your homework.
On a final note of highlight, the line near the end of his piece, “The claim of priests and popes to be the sole conduits of grace is a remnant of the era of papal monarchy,” is simply and utterly incorrect. Any priest (or any pope for that matter) who would make such a claim is doing so apart from the church. There is no ground to suggest that the church teaches that priests, or any particular person or group of persons, are the “sole conduits of grace.” In almost every instance, from St. Paul through Augustine to Martin Luther and to Karl Rahner and beyond, grace is always and everywhere understood in the first case as referring to the Holy Spirit.
It is perhaps this single line in all of Wills’s op-ed reflecting that betrays his truly inadequate sense of theology. It is an understandable conjecture, the kind to be expected of a pre-Second Vatican Council popular piety. For someone who pontificates (pun intended) about the ills of the church, the lack of theological nuance or broader appreciation for the history of the tradition is unsettling. While I haven’t yet read his new book on the priesthood, I have a sense that I will be disappointed given the shallowness of this op-ed’s theological reflection.
If it makes Gary Wills feel any better, I too would have lost hope in the pope and church that he describes. But as a baptized Catholic, a religious, a priest, and someone with more formal theological training than anyone knows what to do with, I don’t recognize the church about which Wills speaks. I do recognize a deeply flawed community of the baptized with a mixed history reflecting our human finitude. But I still have hope.
Photo: New York Review of Books
In what is described as the ‘penultimate’ public audience of Pope Benedict XVI, on this the morning of Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father talked about Lent and also mentioned American Dorothy Day, citing her autobiography. Here is the full text.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter, it is a time of particular commitment in our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in the Bible. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty were also the days of the Prophet Elijah’s journey to reach the Mount of God, Horeb; as well as the time that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this Catechesis I would like to dwell on this moment of earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read of in the Gospel this Sunday.
First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdrew to, is the place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and is placed in front of the fundamental questions of life, where he is pushed to towards the essentials in life and for this very reason it becomes easier for him to find God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there is tempted to leave the path indicated by God the Father to follow other easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). So he takes on our temptations and carries our misery, to conquer evil and open up the path to God, the path of conversion.
In reflecting on the temptations Jesus is subjected to in the desert we are invited, each one of us, to respond to one fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil offers to change a stone into bread to sate Jesus’ hunger. Jesus replies that the man also lives by bread but not by bread alone: without a response to the hunger for truth, hunger for God, man can not be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second, the devil offers Jesus the path of power: he leads him up on high and gives him dominion over the world, but this is not the path of God: Jesus clearly understands that it is not earthly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, humility, love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third, the devil suggests Jesus throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and be saved by God through his angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God, but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the core of the three temptations that Jesus is subjected to? It is the proposal to exploit God, to use Him for his own interests, for his own glory and success. So, in essence, to put himself in the place of God, removing Him from his own existence and making him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask: what is the role God in my life? Is He the Lord or am I?
Overcoming the temptation to place God in submission to oneself and one’s own interests or to put Him in a corner and converting oneself to the proper order of priorities, giving God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undergo. “Conversion”, an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means following Jesus in so that his Gospel is a real life guide, it means allowing God transform us, no longer thinking that we are the only protagonists of our existence, recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, His love, and that only by “losing” our life in Him can we truly have it. This means making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.
The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one’s faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one’s life.
The major conversions like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or St. Augustine, are an example and stimulus, but also in our time when the sense of the sacred is eclipsed, God’s grace is at work and works wonders in life of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem engulfed by secularization, as was the case for the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After acompletely agnostic education, to the point he felt an outright hostility towards religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky came to exclaim: “No, you can not live without God”, and to change his life completely, so much so he became a monk.
I also think the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she found Him looking deep inside herself and wrote: “There is a well very deep inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I can reach Him, more often He is covered by stone and sand: then God is buried. We must dig Him up again “(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she finds God in the middle of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied woman, transfigured by faith, becomes a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: “I live in constant intimacy with God.”
The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: “I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!”. The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: “It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer … “. God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.
In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, moved away from the faith for years and then rediscovered Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me”(3, 20). Our inner person must prepare to be visited by God, and for this reason we should allow ourselves be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.
In this time of Lent, in the Year of the faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes. The alternative between being wrapped up in our egoism and being open to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives to the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption seen only in material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give primacy in our lives. Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become most important.
Text via Vatican Radio translation.
Amid all the media hype and need to find out esoteric Christian historical and canonical information on short notice yesterday following Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will resign from his office as Bishop of Rome on February 28, 2013, there was an understandable amount of confusion about if and when something like this had happened before. Can a pope resign? The correct answer, as most news organizations and commentators quickly discovered, is “yes, a pope can indeed resign.” As I wrote here yesterday, this has always been on the books, but was something that hasn’t been realized in several centuries.
The next question was: “Who was the last pope to do this?” And herein lies the trickier questions, the source of some foundering on the part of journalists and commentators the world over. Some said that Pope Gregory XII (d. 1417), who technically “resigned” in 1415, was the last pope to execute this papal option. He was, sort of. This is what makes the historical record a bit tricky.
Gregory XII resigned as part of the final action to help reunite a divided medieval church during what is known as the Avignon Papacy or the “Western Schism” (1378-1417). Without getting into all the details, suffice it to say that there were, during this period, two “popes” elected by a divided college of cardinals — one in Avignon, France, the other in Rome (and, to make things more complicated, from 1409-1415, there was a third “pope” in Pisa, Italy). For nearly half-a-century the church in Europe had been divided by the political affiliations forged between various sovereign rulers and the respective popes of Avignon and Rome.
When Angelo Correr was elected pope in Rome on November 30, 1406, efforts were already underway to reunite the divided church. Theologian Richard McBrien explains in his book Lives of the Popes (1997) that the soon-to-be Gregory XII had made certain vows upon his elevation to the papacy. McBrien writes:
Along with the other cardinals, the new pope had sworn during the conclave that, if elected, (1) he would abdicate — on the condition that the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, would also abdicate; that (2) he would, in any case, not create any new cardinals, except to maintain numerical parity with the Avignon cardinals; and that (3) e would within three months enter into negotiations with his avignon rival about scheduling a meeting between the two of them.
You can see where I’m going with this. Pope Gregory XII did indeed resign, but he didn’t do so of his own volition or by personal discernment. When he was elected in 1406 he, and any of the cardinals that might have been elected in his stead, had already vowed to resign if reuniting with the Avignon line of cardinals and antipope were possible. And it was.
At the Council of Constance (1414-1418) the Pisa antipope, John XXIII (yes, same name name as the legitimate pope who called the Second Vatican Council) was deposed, the two groups of the college of cardinals (Avignon and Rome) were united, the Avignon pope Benedict XIII was declared a heretic and Gregory XII resigned, as promised. The reunited college of cardinals then elected Martin V (d. 1431), who effectively marked the end of the “Western Schism.”
So the question remains: “Was Gregory XII the last pope to resign?” Again, sort of. He did technically resign, but under conditions very unlike what Pope Benedict XVI has experienced. Benedict XVI has made this decision after long, prayerful discernment and under absolutely not external pressure — he was required to profess as much in his announcement so as to mark the legitimacy of his resignation. Gregory XII had sworn, prior to being “crowned” pope, that he would resign; in other words, it was a condition of his ascendency to the papacy.
This is why one might reasonably argue that the last pope to resign of his own free will was Celestine V (d. 1296) who resigned his office after only serving as pope for a few months in 1294. He was a man who was elected to be pope as a political “compromise candidate” during a contentious period in the church leadership, marred by family rivalries and the like. Pietro del Murrone, who would become Celestine V, was known as a simple but holy man, who lived as a prayerful hermit under the Rule of St. Benedict.
The papacy was vacant for twenty-seven months when Celestine V was finally made pope, a position that he clearly did not seek nor desire. After just a few months in office (there is debate about whether it was five or four months having to do with conflicts in the official Vatican record of this short pontificate), Celestine V abdicated his office after personal discernment and of his own free will.
McBrien describes a situation not unlike that the world witnessed yesterday with Pope Benedict XVI. “On December 13, , in full consistory, Celestine V read out the formula of abdication.” He then took off his papal insignia and urged the cardinals to move immediately to select his successor.
While Gregory XII might technically have been the last pope to resign from office, the way in which he did so are very different from what Benedict XVI is doing now. In this way, Celestine V is really the last pope to have resigned of his own free will, after prayerful discernment, and according to his conscience.
This also appears over at America Magazine
No, a Pope does not have to die to leave office (I’ve been getting that question a lot this morning). Over at America magazine’s blog, In All Things, I’ve highlighted some of the canonical grounding for this decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign from office and the reasons why it has unfolded the way it has.
For those who are interested, perhaps the best-known example of a pope resigning was in 1294 when Pope Celestine V (d. 1296) resigned from his office. Benedict XVI is the first in several centuries. According to the Code of Canon Law (CIC) this right of the Roman Pontiff falls under Canon 332, no. 2, which reads: “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” This helps to explain the timing of the Pope’s decision, which is an act that can only take place when he is still of sound mind and body.
As for the delivery of this news to the cardinals in attendance this morning, some canon law scholars believe this is essential in assuring the legitimacy of the resignation. According to canonist Knut Walf, “The resignation from office of the pope must be sufficiently manifested and requires no acceptance ‘by anyone.’ The recipient of the ‘manifestation’ is not specified. Some commentators are of the opinion that the college of cardinals or its dean as the competent electoral body must be informed of the resignation” (New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, eds. J. Beal, J. Coriden, and T. Green  p. 438). Needless to say, this is a very important announcement of great historical significance.
The process here is not unlike the retirement of any other bishop (don’t forget, the Pope is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome, as Canon 331 refers to him: “The bishop of the Roman Church”), with the caveat that the Pope does not answer to anyone, so there is no “technical” recipient of his resignation. All other bishops resign to him.