Word just came in that our scholar pope is resigning. Old age. First Holy Father to give up the reins since the early fifteenth century. A holy Cincinnatus, as it were. His last day of office is the end of this month.
According to Sky News:
The 85-year-old German’s resignation letter said: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
Now if you’re not Catholic you probably don’t care, but you should. Benedict XVI was the natural traditionalist successor to Blessed John Paul II, where by “traditionalist” I mean one who resists Modernity. Leaving aside a youthful flirtation, Benedict devoted his life to showing us the excesses of Modernity, its flawed philosophy of pragmatism that “anything goes”, its tyranny of relativism.
Benedict steered the Church back to The Road. He put in place quite a number of Bishops and Cardinals who were to his mind of thinking. Or rather, who he thought were to his mind. Appointing a Cardinal is a little like nominating a Supreme Court Justice. Fellow looks solid on paper, but the office and its multitudinous contacts with the new world changes him. Americans, New Yorkers especially, thought for example Timothy Dolan, whose track record made him appear a smaller (or rather, larger—in bulk) version of His Holiness when he was appointed, did not turn out quite as many hoped. Predictions are rarely perfect.
Nevertheless, a great many of the Pope’s moves pointed the Church in the opposite direction of the world. He promoted men—yes, men—who thought the old ways not only worth preserving, but considered they were the only way period, both on philosophical and theological grounds.
There is a growing separation (schism is perhaps too strong a word) in the Western Church, which Benedict saw clearly, between those who say, “Forward” and “Change we can believe in” for the sake of change. Between those who are content with foundations and with those to whom stasis is anathema. One side wants women priests because, well because there aren’t any women priests; they want modifications to teachings on sexuality from one-man-one-woman until death do them part to (again) anything goes; these are activists who see the primary function of the Church to help the State grow, grow, grow so that the “poor” can be managed. These people are opposed by those who see the Church’s eternal purpose as saving souls.
Joseph Ratzinger, once boss of the Inquisition, i.e. the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sided with eternity in his voluminous writings. It was those writings (in part) which led him, not very enthusiastically (he was always worried about his age) to the papacy, put there by men who were anxious that the legacy of John Paul II not be tarnished.
Let me recommend some of these writings—Benedict wrote unceasingly and well. You’ve all heard of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy; the last entry The Infancy Narratives coming out around Christmas. But I want you, especially if you’re yet an atheist, to read Introduction to Christianity, a primer of theology (not philosophy; the book takes certain things for granted, such as God’s existence).
The book is an “introduction” in the same sense as a volume entitled Introduction to Quantum Mechanics is: it is not easy going; real work is required of the reader. I recommend it because you can see the source and reasons for some of the (what may be to you) odd things Christians believe.
And then there’s Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. This book answers Pontius Pilate’s question—the question. He also fills in the rejoinder to, “Why Christianity?”
Whoever the new pope will be, it probably won’t be American. Might be too much power concentrated in one country (we already have a dear leader). The real question is whether the replacement will also be a traditionalist, or a man more aligned to pleasing the world.
I just heard the news thirty minutes ago, so there are bound to be mistakes in this post. Look to this space for updates as they occur to me.
Update Pope and the Big Bang.