On this, the first anniversary on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Peter Kwasniewski at the New Liturgical Movement blog has written a homage to the sorely missed Pope emeritus.
He notes “Through his own unappealable decision and at a time appointed by himself, Pope Benedict XVI had ceased to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. The past year has been, to say the least, a dramatic and tempestuous one, in which I have often wondered exactly what providential role the nearly eight-year pontificate of Benedict XVI was meant to have in the life of the Church—and what role it is meant to continue to have, through the rich teaching and inspiring example this pontificate left us, and through the enormous energies for reform it has unleashed throughout the Church”.
He goes on to mention that “In company with Pope Benedict, we observed the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—a Council in which he vigorously took part, a Council whose legacy he later witnessed being manipulated or forgotten as the “virtual” or “media” Council and its antinomian “spirit” took the upper hand, and finally, a Council that he rightly demanded must be read in a “hermeneutic of continuity” with everything that had come before or had been clarified since. All of this suggests that Pope Benedict was passionately concerned with rectifying something, or many things, that had gone desperately wrong in the past five decades. One way of understanding what has happened over this half-century is to think about the delicate balance between ad intra and ad extra concerns, which are two sides of the same coin. The Church has her own life, one could say—a liturgical, sacramental, spiritual, intellectual life, defined by the confluence of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium—and this life must be tended, nurtured, guarded, deepened. But simultaneously the Church always has a calling to go outwards into the world of unbelief, to preach to it, convert it, sanctify it, confront its errors and wrestle with its problems. It seems to me that the noble intention of Blessed John XXIII, a very traditional Pope in many ways, was to bring the treasures of the Church’s inner life to bear on modernity and the modern world. To this end he convened the Roman Synod and, more fatefully, the Second Vatican Council. He wanted the Catholic Church to send forth God’s light and truth, to intensify an apostolic activity that, under Pius XII, was already flourishing”.
He concludes, “Hence, after forty years of wandering in the desert, the pontificate of Benedict XVI seemed, and truly was, a watershed moment, a breath of fresh air—a realization that it was time to attend to the state of our soul, to put our own house in order, to renew our liturgy from its deepest sources, and to learn once again what exactly is the Good News we are supposed to be sharing in the New Evangelization. This pontificate began to undo, in a systematic way, the amnesia and the intoxication. In addition to its burgeoning fruits in the daily life of the Church, Summorum Pontificum stands forever as a symbol of the effort to bring about meaningful change by recalling the faithful to a tradition, spirituality, and way of life that are not in flux, as, indeed, its symbolic date—the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the new millennium—plainly announced. In God’s Providence, it was a short pontificate, but the teaching and legislation of those eight years will, as the new century moves on, prove to be either the mustard-seed of an authentic renewal or the prophetic condemnation of a failed one. In any case, it is our privilege, through no merits of our own, to embrace with gratitude, humility, and zeal the traditional Catholic identity, the fragrant living memory of God’s gifts, that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has done so much to protect and promote, and to let these seeds bear fruit in our own lives. There is no more any one of us can do, and yet this is enough. For God can take the few loaves and fishes we have, and multiply them endlessly. When one thinks of the greatness of the task Pope Benedict entrusted to us—the task of authentic renewal from the very sources of faith and in continuity with tradition—and when we contemplate how much work and suffering faces us as we strive to put into practice the profound teaching on the sacred liturgy Our Lord has given us through this great pope, we might be tempted to grow weary of the fight and fall away from it, especially in a time when so many in the Church seem to be running away from the dawning light back into the stygian darkness of the seventies”.
Thomas Reese meanwhile looks at his own relationship with Ratzinger/Benedict, “Whenever a reporter asks me about Benedict, I first acknowledge that I have some history with him. One of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s last actions as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was to tell the Jesuit superior general that I needed to be replaced as editor of America magazine, so I cannot claim to be an indifferent observer. Perhaps this is another reason I did not meet my deadline. This was a painful period in my life, so I warn reporters (and readers) that my own experience can bias my views. The temptation with any pope, even Francis, is to see him as black or white, all bad or all good. Nothing is that simple, especially a human being”.
Reese adds that “There is much to praise in the papacy of Pope Benedict. If for no other reason, he will be remembered for centuries as the pope who was not afraid to resign when he felt it was best for the church. Such humility, courage and trust in the Spirit are not easy virtues when everyone around you is telling you that you are indispensable. The resignation caused former supporters to turn on him and former critics to praise him. John L. Allen Jr. reports in The Boston Globe that Antonio Socci, a high-profile Italian conservative, has floated the question of whether Benedict’s resignation was actually valid under church law. This kind of talk is very dangerous and could lead to schism, but they will get no support from Benedict for such nonsense. Likewise, those who feared Benedict would try to run things from behind the scenes have been proved paranoid”.
He goes on to write that “As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was the first Vatican official to take seriously the sexual abuse crisis. He was not perfect, but he listened to American bishops and learned faster than anyone else in Rome, including Pope John Paul II. He supported a zero-tolerance policy on abuse and threw hundreds of priests out of the priesthood for abusing minors. Pope Benedict also started the reform of Vatican finances, which is now beginning to bear fruit under Pope Francis. It was Benedict who finally said, “Enough,” and demanded that the Vatican observe the standards set by Moneyval, the European agency that deals with money laundering. Up until Benedict, the Vatican always argued that it was unique and could not be judged by outsiders. Now Vatican finances are periodically reviewed by Moneyval, which publishes its reports for everyone to see. All of the subsequent financial reforms have flowed from this decision by Benedict. Benedict must also be praised for the clarity of his writing. His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was universally praised for its explanation of the different types of love. The second part was an excellent guide for the ministry of charity in the church. In it, he described the ministry of charity as equally important as the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the sacraments. He stressed the importance of both professional and spiritual formation for those working with the poor. Sadly, the media were so focused on what he had to say about abortion, gays and condoms that what he had to say on other issues was ignored. People forget that he, like John Paul, was opposed to both Gulf Wars, and they proved wiser than all the policy wonks in Washington”.
Reese continues, “He was no fan of libertarian capitalism. He went further in saying that government has a role in the redistribution of wealth. Not even liberal Democrats say things like that. On economic issues, Benedict was to the left of President Barack Obama; he was even to the left of Nancy Pelosi. In fact, Benedict’s views on the relationship between religion and politics were quite sophisticated, as articulated at Westminster Hall in London and at the German Parliament, the Bundestag in Berlin. He was not a single-issue ideologue, and he recognized the role of prudence in political decision-making. Pope Benedict’s strength and weaknesses came from his background as a German professor, which was his life before Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich in 1977*. His was the life of the mind where clarity of thought was prized. As a German professor, he was used to lecturing students who took down his words, memorized them and gave them back in exams. As a professor, he used technical language that might mean one thing in the classroom but something completely different on the street. Thus, he could say most Protestant churches were not true churches because he had defined “church” as a Christian community with a legitimate episcopacy. He could also use a word like “disordered,” which for him had philosophical meaning while on the street it would be interpreted as a psychological term”.
He closes, “To explain the Christian message to people of the 21st century will require the same kind of creativity shown by Augustine and Aquinas. We cannot simply quote them; we must imitate them. Augustine took the best thought of his age, Neoplatonism, and used it to explain Christianity to his time. Aquinas took the rediscovered Aristotle to explain Christianity to his generation. Theologians must be free to do the same today. Remember, Aquinas had his books burned by the archbishop of Paris. In his first Easter homily as pope, Benedict said the risen Christ is the next step in human evolution. I wish he had developed that thought, but that is a way of thinking that would be attractive to people today. To simply call Pope Benedict a conservative is a way of avoiding thoughtful analysis of a complex character. He gave and continues to give much to the church. He should be respected and honored for that while being clear-eyed about his limitations”.