Pope Benedict To Resign

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 How long do Pope’s serve (statistics!).

Update Pope and the Big Bang.

Categories: Culture, Philosophy

30 replies »

  1. This is sad news and is likely to set an unfortunate precedent. Upon his (non-)Coronation, he asked that we pray for him that he not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us redouble our efforts as it appears we failed the first time.

  2. When pursuing TRUTH the implicit understanding includes “THE WHOLE TRUTH.”

    Toward that end it helps to recognize that a theological entity such as the R. Catholic Church has two distinct, and sometimes mutually-exclusive, parts: 1) theological Doctrine, and 2) the administration of the Institution. The first (theology & doctrine) applies to religious beliefs & values defining the religion, the second is organizational–management & administration of the sort business school case studies examine.

    Conflating/merging the two is a grave error. Perhaps theoretically these are two intertwined to separate, but in practice they are very very distinct.

    Case in point: Child abuse/pedophilia is resoundingly prohibited by the Doctrine, however, the Institution actively worked to facilitate this very abuse by moving the abusers from victims to new churches where they could, and did, start afresh…and perpetuate this repeatedly and for a very long time. Rationalizations for this repeatedly ignored the empirical knowledge that such abusers do not reform or stop abusing, except in very rare few & far between cases. What we know–and we know & not just suspect or have circumstantial evidence–about the current pope is that he has facilitated the abuse–he certainly did not do anything to curtail it or admonish the perpetuators. Example:

    That evil people hide under the cloak of respectability (e.g. as priests, teachers, etc.–gravitating to so-called “helping professions”) is repeatedly observed; Eric Fromm, M. Scott Peck (e.g. “People of the Lie”), Sam Vaknin, and others have repeatedly pointed this out. Thus, that the R. Catholic Church should find itself infested with some of these types of people is hardly surprising, nor ought it be a reason to become opposed to that institution (or its doctrine)….however….when that institution acts in a manner that facilitates the evil within (regardless of the motives), that is another story. Evil is defined by its action; scapegoating rather than taking responsibility is a telltale sign of narcissistic (“evil”) behavior; for example:

    Arguably, for all the good one might note came from this latest pope, the bad more than compensates.

    When a favorite subject is involved, it’s the rare person that acknowledges the good with the bad; people typically self-delude and selectively focus only on the aspects they like and ignore the rest. This latest essay is an example of such selective ignorance–pretence that all was well when all wasn’t.

  3. When people in The Netherlands turned away from the Catholic Faith in the sixties, it was not because of some American President’s campaign slogan half a century later. It was because of the Church’s own actions during the years before that. Things like pressing Catholic married women to be baby factories, so there would be more Catholics than Protestants.

    And at the same time, people left Protestant faiths behind too. Because of Protestant ministers pressing married Protestant women to be baby factories, so there would be more Protestants than Catholics.

    Everybody got so fed up with Religions running people’s lives they gave them the finger. And with the introduction of the Welfare State, they could afford to.

  4. Too many people believe they are irreplacable and don’t have the wisdom to leave before they become the subject of jokes. Obviously Pope Bemedict is not one of those people. BTW, what does a retired Pope do? Play golf, write books, paint, go on the lecture circuit? Is there an old Popes home somewhere?

  5. Sander van der Wal,

    What is it with your love of straw men?

    When Mr. Briggs says “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.” he is referring to those who are working to change the church from within, not talking about reasons why anyone left the church.

  6. I’m still ticked at him for declaring Catholics have to believe that Earth’s sun exists as the unmoving center of the universe. The theological basis is absurd and it certainly does not work as a mathematical hypothesis to explain observed phenomena. Otherwise he seems to have been a reasonable holder of the office, but I will not forgive him for rejecting science and theology to adopt the absurd theory of the universe revolving around an unmoving sun.

  7. max,

    not that it really matters but what observed phenomenon has occurred that cannot be explained by the Sun occupying the center of the Universe? Granted it’s not the simplest model but, in general, it’s no less valid than, say, the egocentric system each of us operates from every day. In fact, our limb control is entirely in egocentric coordinates.

  8. Sander van der Wal,

    “People left the the kind of Church Pope Benedict was trying to restore.”

    True, but not relevant to anything in the article, therefore it is a straw man argument.

  9. Sander van der Wal,

    Additionally, you specifically called out the reference to the Obama change we can hope for quote as not being related to why people left. The problem is that the article doesn’t use it as a reason people left. There for your criticism of the quote in that context is completely and totally irrelevant.

  10. The funny thing is that Québec has never be so close to have one of its own elected Pope, while at the same time being unreligious, which is different then atheism.

    Although, Quebecers love Céline Dion, very few have forgiven/forgotten the Pope JP 2 for authorizing a second religious marriage to her husband. Something that would never be authorized to commoners.

    This is an example of the double standard of the Church which emptied the churches of Québec in the 60s.

  11. Whoa: “Benedict XVI …one who resists Modernity. … Benedict devoted his life to showing us the excesses of Modernity, its flawed philosophy of pragmatism that “anything goes”, its tyranny of relativism.”

    NOT SO FAST BRIGGS–Consider that the Pope is INFALLIBLE…and as such the new Pope, whoever he (presumably a “he”) is might just change some things in a manner not to your liking…in a manner contrary to your philosophical extrapolations.

    Given that he’s INFALLIBLE he will, therefore, be correct & the new rules, or new interpreations of what is scientifically correct (there’s precedent there too!) will be true & beyond dispute.

    Think about that.

  12. Ken,

    Two points about the infallibility doctrine.

    1) The Pope is only infallible when speaking for the church on matters of faith.

    2) The infallibility doctrine is relatively recent, it only dates back to early 2nd millennium.

  13. A small point, but according to modern physics Earth is at the exact center of the observable universe

  14. It will be interesting to see the list of candidates. An American pope is out of the question. Odds, I suppose, favor a European, and by no means necessarily a Caucasian. I hope for an Asian or Latin American pope, a man with spine. Pope Benedict is a serious intellectual, a man of considerable gravitas. On this front, his shoes will be almost impossible to fill. As to his conservatism, the Church would be well-served if such a candidate gets the nod. A religion, if it wants to call itself a religion, can move only so far in the direction of, say, Universalist Unitarianism before it becomes a declawed parody of itself.

    I know I am not addressing the sorry story of Church sex scandals, and the alleged role these may have played in Pope Benedict’s decision to step down. I simply have no accurate information. And I am not going to believe what I read in the papers.

  15. bob sykes,

    1). Duh, it’s the point from which we are doing the observing.

    2). The universe is infinite. Because it is infinite any arbitrarily chosen point can be accurately described as it’s center. Everywhere is the center of the universe. 🙂

  16. DAV:

    One quick and dirty argument which calls into question the Sun as the unmoving center of the universe:

    While the Sun (or the Earth or any other location) could conceivably be the center of the universe no body with mass can be the unmoving center of the universe. Unless the Earth’s sun does not obey the laws of gravity as we know them, the sun is the not even the unmoving center of the solar system, but instead moves around the true center (the barycenter of the solar system). Within a system of moving masses, the barycenter is only motionless if all the masses maintain the same positions relative to each other, which is certainly not compatible with observations as easy to make as the moon’s motion relative to the Earth. If the sun is unaffected by the gravity of the bodies making up the universe then we have to scrap our understanding of how gravity works. To abuse a quote attributed to Galileo, the Sun may be the center of the universe, if so nonetheless it moves.

  17. Matt, the universe doesn’t have to be infinite to have no center. Hoyle’s model of curved space allows a finite universe with no center, for example.

  18. Max,

    It may be possible for finite universe to not have a center.


    1) No evidence that the universe is finite. The further out we become able to look the more universe we find.

    2) The issue with a genuinely infinite universe is not that it doesn’t have a center. It does, it’s just that the center is everywhere. An infinite universe extends infinitely in all direction from all points.

  19. max,

    You have said The theological basis is absurd and it certainly does not work as a mathematical hypothesis to explain observed phenomena. and I asked you for one observed phenomenon and you replied with an unobservable mathematical concept.

    Besides, motion (or lack of motion) in relation to what? Who said the barycenter has to be the origin of the coordinate system?

    Got something better?

  20. About MORAL RELATIVISM and this Pope being alleged, here, of not engaging in that…ba humbug. Consider one C.H.’s observations:

    “Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics.) Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)”

    Complete paper, wiht links to supporting documents, at:

  21. Dav,

    Max’s claims about the barycenter are worse than even you suggest. According to Lief Svalgaard a solar physicist and frequent commenter on solar issues on it is the barrycenter that moves, not the sun. So not only is he claiming a mathematical unobservable, his claim about it is wrong.

  22. Matt,

    motion can only exist in relation between somethings. In one sense, max is right. If the barycenter is considered to be the origin, then everything else moves around it. In another sense, Lief is right. It depends upon your coordinate system and which is often chosen more for convenience than a statement of reality. In spacecraft control, for instance, it is convenient to think of the spacecraft as inertial and all motion occurs elsewhere (a form of egocentricity). Most ephemerides assume the Earth is the inertial reference.

  23. Dav,

    The barycenter is an abstract construct and has no mass so it can’t be used as a point of inertial reference. Lief Svalgaard provides strong reasoning why use of the barycenter as a reference point for the motions of ANY of the planetary bodies is utter nonsense. Not having the time or inclination to run the calculations myself I will take Dr Svalgaard’s well presented and reasoned arguments over Max’s bald assertions.

  24. The barycenter is an abstract construct and has no mass so it can’t be used as a point of inertial reference

    Sure you can. The origin is just a viewpoint. Technically speaking, you also need to define 3 axes as well. Despite Leif’s protests, the barycenter (also sometimes called the center of gravity) is used on Earth for rotating bodies.

  25. Dav,

    Leif’s argument is that nothing in the solar system moves relative to the barycenter. Everything moves relative to the sun because that’s where most of the mass is. The barycenter which has no mass can’t affect the movement of anything. Relative to all the other bodies in the solar system the sun is stationary and the barycenter moves.

  26. Matt,

    Well, there you have it. The origin selected is usually the most convenient. For Leif heliocentricity is the order of the day. For others, maybe not so much.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve had too much exposure to system engineering but words like better and best only have meaning when solving a given problem. If I want to point my backyard telescope at Vega then I need the azimuth and elevation at the moment I point the telescope. Those are coordinates in what can only be described as the most convenient system. However, if my telescope is in orbit, my most convenient system is likely quite different.

    So for pointing a telescope which one is “best”? Which one is more valid? Both of them fit the respective requirements but neither of them is useful out of context.

    The coordinate system can be based anywhere deemed most convenient. Leif can argue for his viewpoint but it would be just plain arrogant (dare I say egocentric) on his part to assume he knows the requirements of everyone else.

    (The same also can be said of people who claim X, Y or Z is the best of anything).

  27. 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.

    “One side”? Who are these people? What a strange, judgmental & broad-brush thing to say. It’s strange because none of the above descriptions fit the three sincere Catholics of my family who’d not mind having women priests… not because what you’ve assumed. We used to attend campus Catholic ministry. A women “
    “lectern” played an important role. We loved her. After she left, the atmosphere was no longer the same. No wish to modify the teaching on sexuality of the church, whatever it is. No “anything goes.” Not activists. No mixing of Church and State. Sincere Catholics live a life for enteral salvation regardless of their positions on women priests and gay marriage. It’s “love” that draws them to the religion.

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