October 25, 2020

Quo Vadis?

Pope Benedict XVI wears a red hat as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the  VaticanBecause of the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he is resigning from the office of Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter, Jeff has asked me for my view of his theology, how that has affected the Church, and how the next pope’s theology might affect the Church.  There are very short answers to those questions:

(1) Pope Benedict’s theology: Love God and then do what you will.

(2) How has it affected the Church?  We’re still digesting this.  Check back with us in a decade or two.  Maybe a century would be better.  We’re still trying to wrap our heads around that “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself” thing.

(3) How will the theology of the next pope affect the Church?  Hey, if I knew for sure who the next pope would be, I would absolutely clean up at the bookies; Paddy Power is giving 7/2 on Cardinal Ouellet of Canada, but I can’t see a Canadian getting selected.  You could always have a punt on one of the Italians.  What I will stick my neck out and predict is that the next pope is very likely to be a Catholic.  I know – crazy, wild speculation on my part, but some serious newspapers agree with me!  Everyone is going to be reading the tealeaves to pick the next pope, but the one sure thing is today’s papabile is tomorrow’s still-a-cardinal.

If I left it there, this would be a very short piece (“Thank the Lord!” I hear you all cry).  I may expand on the above a little, but basically that’s what it boils down to, in my opinion.  First, however, a snippet of background on the title of this post.  It refers to the pious legend that St. Peter, while fleeing Rome to avoid his likely execution by the authorities, met Christ on the road outside the city.  He asked Him “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?) to which Jesus replied “To Rome, to be crucified again”.  Then Peter turned back, to meet his fate.

This, then, is the question we are all asking: where are we going from here?  Where is he going?  Where is the Church likely to go, under the new pope, whomever he may be?  That’s the one that will be most thrashed out over the next few weeks or however long it will take for the conclave to elect a new pope to be held.  The answer, if I can quote myself from what I wrote about Lent, has to be “We are going toward Calvary and on past that, toward the Resurrected Lord”.  There will be a lot of media conjecture along the lines of is this time for a pope from the Global South, a more liberal pope, will we see the ending of clerical celibacy, do they need someone with management skills, what would best appeal to the young unchurched Europeans or should they concentrate on the thriving but traditionally-minded African and South American churches, what about this, what about that: ignore it.  If we are going anywhere else other than towards Easter, then we are not going anywhere, we are wandering in the desert like the Israelites who went astray seeking the Promised Land.  God spare us, the Papacy is NOT about “management skills”!

Well, that’s the third question answered first.  “I don’t know.”  That one was easy.  Ah, but next come the harder ones: what is Benedict’s theology and what effect has this had on the Roman Catholic Church?  Since I’m working backward, let’s take that second one first.  What effect has it had on the church – I think we won’t know immediately.  It will take time to be assimilated and to develop.  He’s been pope for eight years, which isn’t that long a time or at least, it doesn’t feel like that long a time.

There isn’t an easy, soundbite-sized, bullet-point list that can be handily summarised in a news bulletin or newspaper column, and you can see the hint of frustration in trying to condense his papacy into something that can be labelled conveniently in how some have reacted to the news: a “lacklustre” papacy, a “bookish,” remote, conservative figure who had none of the superstar glamour and charisma of his predecessor.  An old, out-of-touch scholar who obstinately refused to get with the times and address the pressing issues of the day, or at least, what the media consider the pressing issues and by ‘deal with’, they mean ‘adopt the modern, secular, Western view of these topics.’  The notion that, for Benedict, the Church already has dealt with these issues and there is only the unalterable teaching to be reiterated apparently has never sunk in and, by the looks of things, still won’t anytime soon.

This naturally leads to the kinds of speculation about “What will the next Pope be like?” and all sorts of opinionating about how the Church ‘needs’ to elect someone from Latin America, or which of the cardinals is likely to be liberal on certain matters, or giving helpful hints about “what’s needed in a 21st-century pope”.  They’ve been doing it since the death of Blessed John XXIII soon after he called the Second Vatican Council and they’ll be doing it after the election of the new pope, whoever it will be.  This will be my fifth pope, counting from Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now to come Petrus Romanus, the Final Pope of St. Malachy’s prophecy, who will usher in the Anti-Christ and the arrival of alien serpent gods – ah, yeah, been reading the wrong sites recently, but if you fancy putting a bet on Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, there’s been some to-do about how it’s him!  He’s Petrus Romanus!  Has to be – he’s named Peter and he’s eligible to be the Pope of Rome!

Turning to more sane themes, what Pope Benedict has taught has been through his writings and, very importantly, his General Audiences which don’t get widely reported on in the general press but where he does a lot of teaching.  His trilogy “Jesus of Nazareth” is important, but that is not an exercise of the teaching office. It is (as he put it) the “expression of his personal search for the face of the Lord.”

Very quick definitions here: an Apostolic Constitution is the highest decree issued in modern times by popes, it sets out definitive teaching or promulgates a law, and is issued as a Papal Bull.  Next in importance is the Encylical, which treats a particular subject.  It is not always meant to be the last word on a topic, but it is always in line with the general teaching of the Church and when a pope issues one dealing with a controversy, then it is regarded as ending all debate as far as dissenting opinions go.  A motu proprio is a personal document issued by a pope, granting a favour, dealing with points of church law or giving instruction.  If we’re looking for Big Picture-type themes or threads in Benedict’s papacy, then the important documents are his three Encylicals, the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” and the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum.”

It is fair to say that “Summorum Pontificum” in 2007 rattled a lot of cages.  The popular notion of how the hierarchy works may be one of conservative, stodgy bishops laying down the law and ruling with a heavy hand over a laity straining at the leash to modernise, innovate or at the very least keep up with the Joneses in the megachurch next door.  It is just as likely to be the case that liberal bishops of a certain vintage (coughVaticanIIcough) are dragging a reluctant laity with them through forays into modern architecture of the kind that led Cardinal Arinze to say, in an address about the reverence due to the Eucharist, “In some of such churches, one could not tell where the tabernacle is.  Then one could in truth lament: ‘They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put Him’.”

“Summorum Pontificum” reminded everyone that the Tridentine Mass (to use the common term) had never been abrogated; that although the revised Mass of Paul VI is the normal form of the Roman Rite, if people wanted the older Mass they were entitled to have it.  It granted greater freedom to celebrate the Mass of 1962 and encouraged bishops to support those who wanted it and to set up means so that it could be celebrated.

To the progressives, this was just yet more evidence that he was a backwards-looking conservative who wanted to drag the Church back to the Bad Old Days.  To the ultra-traditionalist types, it still wasn’t good enough.  What it was – in my opinion – was a pastoral response to a legitimate demand and a restatement of what has been an assertion of Benedict’s papacy, that of continuity.

If “Summorum Pontificum” disgruntled many, the 2009 “Anglicanorum Coetibus” was a bombshell.  Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical relations in recent years had more or less bogged down in earnest, well-meaning but increasingly less-likely efforts to find common ground (particularly after the turmoils within the Anglican Communion over the ordination of women, women in the episcopacy, and human sexuality) and usually resulted in anodyne statements about further explorations to assist in moving towards full communion.  Then Benedict announced a plan to set up Personal Ordinariates for those Anglicans who wished to enter into full communion with Rome while keeping their Anglican patrimony.  This was said to be a response to requests from Anglicans and not an initiative by the pope, but that did not stop reactions ranging from accusations of sheep-stealing and “parking a tank on the lawn of Lambeth Palace,” not to mention the ever-popular “secret Vatican plotting,” to declarations that there would only be a few Anglicans and Episcopalians taking it up and their former churches would be better off without the likes of them, anyway, since they were homophobes and sexists who didn’t want women priests or equality for gay Christians.  There were certainly some within the ranks of the Church who weren’t too thrilled about it, either.

But again, this was another example of Benedict’s personal emphasis on unity and continuity.  It wasn’t done out of any animus or rivalry; he has a warm, friendly relationship of mutual respect with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.  For Benedict, these Anglican Christians had made an appeal to him as Universal Pastor and it was his duty to answer them, not put them off or discourage them.

And so we come at last to the first question – what is Pope Benedict XVI’s theology?  Well, as the man said, that’s a question above my pay grade.  What my opinion is, as to what his theology may encompass, is what I will try to give.

When he was elected, it was pretty much a shock.  The pundits were scratching their heads to come up with a reason why him, of all the candidates, and they figured that because of his age (78 at the time), he had been elected as a ‘caretaker’ pope, someone expected to have a short reign to give everyone a chance to settle down and select a real candidate while he quietly kept the throne warm and didn’t rock any boats.  One of the reasons there was so much surprise was because of his reputation: the Pope’s Rottweiler, Der Panzer-Kardinal, the enforcer of doctrinal orthodoxy, the poacher turned gamekeeper (the pre-Vatican II liberal who had moved rightwards and ossified into rigid conservatism) who crushed the Latin American movement of Liberation Theology; a stereotypical German scholar with his head in books and a passion for rules and regulations but no warmth of personality.  You may remember how every newspaper account of him mentioned that he had been Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then helpfully explained that this was formerly known as the Holy Office, or the Inquisition.

Some people were appalled at the idea that he had become pope, as they expected him to immediately start cracking the whip.  Some people were delighted for the very same reason.  As it turned out, there were no dissidents dragged off to the dungeons of the Holy Office, to the great disappointment of some, myself included.  I had to warm up to the idea that not issuing excommunications and declarations of being in schism was a good thing.

There was almost a sense that this was like the transformation of the Apostle John, from being one of the zealous Sons of Thunder to the old man whose only sermon was “Little children, love one another.” Yet this should not have come as a surprise to any who read his writings.  To digress for a moment, and paint in very broad brush strokes, there are two tendencies or currents in addressing theological questions: the Augustinian, which is associated with the mystical, and the Thomist, which is associated with the rational.  It would be wrong to say they represent faith versus reason, but think of Luther the Augustinian monk and how he characterises “Reason, the Devil’s greatest whore” (in the context of arguing against the incorporation of Aristotelian metaphysics in theology under the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas).  Turns out our German pope is an Augustinian (in a sense).  No wonder he has an appreciation of Martin Luther!

Not that he takes sides in the perennial cage-fight of Faith versus Reason (or Faith versus Science, as it more usually is nowadays).  For Benedict, faith and reason work together; we must beware equally of an uncritical fideism and an uncritical scientism: “In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the Logos, from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.”  However, he does quote St. Augustine extensively and is greatly influenced by him.

However, it was temptingly easy to draw further contrasts between Benedict and his predecessor in this as in other aspects of their respective papacies; the Augustinian Benedict versus the Thomist John Paul II, the theologian versus the philosopher.   That’s an over-simplification but I want to return to the three Encyclicals :

2005 – Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”)

2007 – Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”)

2009 – Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”)

The third encyclical was expected to be on faith, to complete the group on the three theological virtues, but as you can see, it wasn’t.  It’s now looking like we won’t get an encyclical on faith, as it remains unfinished at the moment (whether he will finish it in retirement is unknown).  What I want to focus on here is the first one – “God is Love”.

Now, that’s not new, strange or startling.  It’s the kind of thing we’ve heard umpteen times before, so many times that it just passes over our heads.  “Well, sure,” we say.  “Of course God is love.  What’s new there?”

Nothing, of course.  But what Benedict says over and over again (he constantly speaks of “friendship with Christ”) is that God is love, that our relationship with the Creator is one of love, that all our relationships are fundamentally those of love:

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

The doctrinal enforcer, the Grand Inquisitor, tells us that we do not believe in a system, we believe in a person.  That person is Christ.  Christ is God.  God is love:

“The divine power that Aristotle at the height of Greek philosophy sought to grasp through reflection, is indeed for every being an object of desire and of love —and as the object of love this divinity moves the world—but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love.  The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love.  His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her—but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race.  God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.”

To my mind, for Pope Benedict, the important things are these:

(1) Christ.  Christ is absolutely central.  Faith is not divorced from reason, but both are lifted up and only truly alive when they are not a set of rules or a perfectly-worked out theology, but an encounter with the Person of Christ in love.

(2) The Body of Christ.  This is both in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in the Mystic Body of Christ, which is the Church.

(3) Following on from those, our lives as Christians involve an individual relationship with Christ but one that is expressed in a corporate experience of belonging to the Church.  There is no “Jesus and me” but there most definitely is a “Jesus and me and me and you and us and them”.  The Communion of Saints is a living thing, that extends from the past into the future.

Humans live in a web of relationships; our families, our neighbours, our communities, our culture, our world and – most importantly – our church.  This web binds us together and binds us to God, since God is not outside or beyond but rather is a personal God who loves us, who stoops down to save us, who became one of us.

For Benedict, continuity is a vital part of our life within the Body.  Change is organic, but should be a pruning, not a wholesale slash-and-burn.  It is time to re-discover the heritage we have neglected, not because of an antiquarian interest in the liturgy but because the chain of experience reaches down from the past to us through the corporate existence of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.  And the wounds and separations within the Body are very grave matters, which is why the prayer of unity in John 17:20-21 is more than just a pious aspiration to be murmured at ecumenical gatherings before we all agree to go our separate ways: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

This is why he responded to the Anglicans with the Personal Ordinariate.  This is why he is interested in outreach to the Lutherans.  This is why he emphasized ties with the Eastern Churches and our common heritage.  This is why he supported the movement for reform prior to Vatican II, due to his pastoral experience as a priest in a German parish, where he saw that despite the external appearance of Christian life, people were in fact ‘cultural Christians’ and practical pagans; and also why he later supported the ‘reform of the reform’.  This is why he encouraged the New Evangelisation, including using the new media and going out into the world and the marketplace to do this, and got a Twitter account himself.  This is why he made overtures to the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

Because of his deep, foundational belief in the absolute necessity of the relationship with Christ for every one of us, and the binding together in mutual love and support which that entails.  There’s a good overview of his theology on Wikipedia, which I swear I didn’t crib all this from – I only saw it afterwards – but if I can make one thing clear to you all, I hope it is this: the focal point of Benedict’s theology is God’s love and grace and mercy and how we respond to that, not in a forensic or legalistic way, but in an encounter that changes and transforms us.

Well, that’s all I have to say.  Like the rest of the Catholic world, I’m still a bit shell-shocked by this announcement of his resignation.  Nobody quite knows what to do or what will happen next or what should be done, since it is so long (either seven hundred years, if you’re counting from Celestine V, or six hundred, if you’re counting from Gregory XII) since it last happened.  I have an odd feeling of being orphaned, which is silly because he’s not dead.  But it will be so strange to be going into Lent and facing into Easter without a Pope, and without this Pope.

May God send us a good and holy successor soon!  And may God bless and keep Pope Benedict, when he steps down and becomes Joseph Ratzinger once again.


  1. Well written and engaging, despite your caveats! Whoa, agreement from a Lutheran, what is this world coming to? Really resonated with the section on the important things. And I heartily echo the sentiment of the last line.

    • Thank you, MelisaB. I’d like to pick out something from Pope Benedict’s homily for yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service, which illustrates the points I was trying to make about his emphasis on a relationship with God that is one of love, and the necessity of the communal experience to develop and support this relationship:

      “The readings that have just been proclaimed offer us ideas which, by the grace of God, we are called to transform into a concrete attitude and behaviour during Lent. First of all the Church proposes the powerful appeal which the prophet Joel addresses to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (2.12). Please note the phrase “with all your heart,” which means from the very core of our thoughts and feelings, from the roots of our decisions, choices and actions, with a gesture of total and radical freedom. But is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy. The prophet says: “return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment” (v. 13). It is possible to return to the Lord, it is a ‘grace’, because it is the work of God and the fruit of faith that we entrust to His mercy. But this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that “rends the heart”. Once again the prophet proclaims these words from God: “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (v. 13). Today, in fact, many are ready to “rend their garments” over scandals and injustices – which are of course caused by others – but few seem willing to act according to their own “heart”, their own conscience and their own intentions, by allowing the Lord transform, renew and convert them.

      This “return to me with all your heart,” then, is a reminder that not only involves the individual but the entire community. Again we heard in the first reading: “Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation; Assemble the elderly; gather the children, even infants nursing at the breast; Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her bridal tent (vv.15-16). The community dimension is an essential element in faith and Christian life. Christ came “to gather the children of God who are scattered into one” (Jn 11:52). The “we” of the Church is the community in which Jesus brings us together (cf. Jn 12:32), faith is necessarily ecclesial. And it is important to remember and to live this during Lent: each person must be aware that the penitential journey cannot be faced alone, but together with many brothers and sisters in the Church.”

      It was very emotional, as this is his last time presiding over a public liturgy as pope. I watched it live online and I was wiping my eyes during the last ten minutes, myself 🙂

      News report to give a flavour of the reaction from here.

      • Thank you, MARTHA, for this exquisite comment. It puts into words some of my own feelings about the Lenten journey, and it has much in it that is very meaningful to me, particularly these words:

        “. . . is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy.”

        “. . . this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that “rends the heart”. ”

        God Bless!

  2. While he did not possess the “star quality” of his predecessor, with time future historians may see Pope Benedict’s theological impact on the Church as exceeding that of John Paul II. Because of his age at his election, it was a given that Benedict’s pontificate would be a short one. Many are not so surprised by his stepping down. He certainly hinted several times at exercising the option to leave before death. That he chose the time of Lent for the Cardinals’ deliberations was a brilliant decision.

    Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has a profound and powerful intellect; one I believe to be without equal today in Christian discourse. While his command of several languages is often noted, Benedict writes beautifully in them as well. As a Cardinal, he had an enormous impact on the development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and reading it, one is often conscious of the presence of his phrasing and organization. I dare say the next pope will not possess such and array of gifts.

    For the genuinely curious I commend reading one or more of the three encyclicals that Martha mentioned. They are easy to find at the Vatican website and elsewhere. After 40 years’ wandering in the evangelical wilderness, it was the first encyclical, “God is Love”, that became the catalyst for my eventual surrender to a decades-long call of Rome and led to my conversion to the Catholic Church. In this way, Pope Benedict will always be “my” pope.

    We have many problems in the Church. None were his causing. The consequences of the sins of the priests who violated young people will persist until the full story is told. And it will eventually be told. (Truth is funny about that.) The priest shortage robs millions of the full beauty and integrity of the faith. There is also an enormous amount of Catholic “inside baseball” to be deliberated and acted upon in the coming decades. The next pope needs our prayers to address these challenges.

    I, like others, have my preferences for the gift requirements for the next pope and the direction I’d like him to lead. But in spite of my shortcomings in that regard, I am full hope and confidence in the future and pray that in the soon to be convened conclave the Holy Spirit whispers loudly and that all of the Cardinals’ ears are open to hearing its voice.

    • Yes, I agree, Tom C…his “God is Love” encyclical was wonderful. He is a great writer. I have read his books Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection and Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and The Fathers of the Church: From Clement of Rome to Augustine of Hippo and I am waiting to receive from the library his Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

      I hope he can have a few good years to enjoy spending time with his family and doing whatever he likes to do.

    • Tom C, B16’s encyclicals were also very influential in my own decision to swim the Tiber… we’ve been greatly blessed by our “German Shepherd”!

  3. Beautiful, Martha. You exemplify the union of Augustinian and Thomist that Benedict stands for: you use your powerful intellect to write a love letter.

    He’s been a good pope.

    • Thank you, Damaris. but all the credit goes to two things: (1) the last two popes we’ve had, who arrived just in time for when I was old enough to start understanding in an adult way my religion, and who then provided me with plenty to think about and digest and (2) very much owing a debt of gratitude to all my non-Catholic fellow-Christians, when I got online and got curious and wandered into debates and discussions and questions about “Well, so what is it that Catholics do believe about (insert topic of controversy) anyway?”, and for teaching me more than the casual “Okay, Protestants don’t believe in (insert topic)” that would have been all I really knew about Protestantism (that’s the disadvantage of coming out of a monocultural backrground).

      Because I am incurably bossy (it goes with being The Eldest and A Big Sister), if I wanted to pitch into these discussions, I had to learn okay, what the heck it was we believed, anyway in a bit more depth than “Go to confession, go to Mass, say the Rosary”.

      Eternal gratitude for that! 🙂

      Also, Dante. I make a joke about it, but I do get all my theology out of “The Divine Comedy”. When you read the necessary explanatory notes provided by the editors and commentators on the various translations, who are not themselves Catholics and needn’t even be active believers or any kind of believer at all, they do lay out “This is what this doctrine is, this is what it means, here are the sources for its development, here are the Scriptural bases argued to support them”.

      Finally, my grandmother. Bedridden for twenty-five years with joints in her hips, knees, ankles, wrists and fingers locked by arthritis, she taught me to read and write (and when I was in Fourth Class and could not understand long division, she taught me that too) and most importantly, to say my prayers. From the age of seven to nine years, I remember kneeling down at her bedside while we said the rosary together, and I used to read to her from the little missal we had – I remember being fascinated by the extracts of the Epistles of St. Paul, because the language was so different from that of the Gospels.

      So between “The Cat in the Hat” and the Epistles of St. Paul, that’s how I learned to read! Probably accounts for my prose style, as well 😉

      • “So between ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and the Epistles of St. Paul, that’s how I learned to read! Probably accounts for my prose style, as well.”

        Cute, Martha!

        • I taught my children to read from ‘Peanuts’ comics . . . ‘Charlie Brown’, ‘Snoopy’, and the gang . . .

          and they have wonderfully quirky literary styles

          now I know how they got them 🙂

  4. http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/update/conclave/top_candidates.htm

    I read through this list of twenty possible contenders to be the next Pope. After selecting my top four guys (just based on that one page) I then read a little more about those four and I pick Walter Kasper, 72, Germany, as my favorite. The College of Cardinals may not want to pick two German guys in a row, though.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Is it wrong that I hope it’s the dude from the Ukraine so that the new Pope will have a ZZ Top beard? Eastern Christian clerics know how to sport facial hair!

      • Nope, that’s not wrong of you, Isaac! I am leaning towards a Pope that will be a little less conservative than Benedict, though I have to say that in his books he comes across as less conservative than the actual “rules” that govern the Roman Catholic Church.

    • Methinks this is a list from 2005… Cardinal Kasper is actually about to age out of the conclave; his 80th birthday is March 5th.

      • Oh, dear! Sorry about that. Thanks for pointing it out, Ryan M.

        • While the choice is far out of my control, but among many good possibilities I can’t help but to hope for Cardinal Sean, the Archbishop of Boston. A wonderful Godly man who is successfully navigating that diocese’s post scandal trauma. He has a beard, too!

          • Tom C, nice photo of Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley on the top part of the wikipedia page about him. He does have a nice beard!

          • Tom C, you’re a man after my own heart… Here in the Archdiocese of Boston, we absolutely adore our Cardinal. I’m a teacher at a Catholic school, and I’ve seen Cardinal Sean celebrate Mass in front of thousands, and I’ve seen him celebrate it for 50 middle school kids participating in a world missions day… There was no difference: he didnt act phony in front of the crowd, and he didn’t just phone it in with the kids. He’s as genuine a pastor and as humble a Christ follower as I’ve ever encountered.

  5. Incredible, Miss Martha. There are so many quotable points here, but I must say that “If we are going anywhere else other than towards Easter, then we are not going anywhere…” holds a message not only for the College of Cardinals, but for the Church as a whole. I’ll be re-reading and digesting your thoughts over the course of the day today, and perhaps follow them with a nice Irish coffee with a few spoonfuls of Jameson’s, just to promote a healthy constitution, you know.

  6. Martha….thank you as ever for your detailed and engaging writings about our Church….I lack your depth of knowledge and gift of the pen (well, keyboard…?)

    It saddens and amused me that the secular press continues to call for the new Pontiff to change essential doctrine, especially those surrounding human sexuality and its expressions. They do not seem to understand that NO one can change the Word of God to suit a set of “modern” sensibilities. I fear it is like trying to explain the nuances of cricket or baseball to someone who has never seen the game, its rulebook, and who thinks it is wrong to have one team win and another lose. So many liberals cannot wrap their heads around immutable rules that come from an ultimate authority…it is a paradigm that makes less sense to many of them than string theory in physics.

    Of course, they also don’t get that all of the laws and rules stem from a Father who loves us beyond measure and wants the best for us…..

    And finally…”neener-neener-neener”….I have two more Popes than you! Blessed John 23 and Pius VII—-but to be fair, I was brand new to the world the same year the latter died!

  7. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

    He’s bang on!! That dude rocks!

    I actually liked PBXVI.

    Thanks Martha. Well done sista.


  8. I don’t actually have any negative feelings toward B16. For the entirety of his papacy, I have been non-Catholic, so that probably has something to do with it. The only real nit I would have to pick is that he did away with the formal act of defection in a motu proprio in 2009. Something that major probably should have had an encyclical with some supporting ecclesiology behind it.

    Not that many every took the church up on it, but some did and it was usually done so their parents could attend their non-Catholic wedding with peace of mind. Being a Catholic (whether one is lapsed, cold or indifferent) requires getting married with the Church’s blessing (either a priest to witness or a dispensation from form). This can set up a nasty conflict for a parent who is a faithful Catholic and wants to attend the wedding of their now non-Catholic child. Defecting meant the parent could attend the wedding because their child was no longer Catholic and no longer subject to the rules.

    Of course, it was really ever a problem with parents on the scrupulous side of things anyway.

  9. Wonderful!

    He should have opened their Communion railings to us, though. It’s great to talk a good game…it’s another thing to act and make peace with your Christian brother.

    By the way, our Communion railings ARE open to Catholics.

    • Steve, it is the issue of the True Presence and Transubstantian that causes this disparity. We have different beliefs about what the Eucharist/Communion ARE—and there lies the rub.

      • Pattie,

        We too, believe in the real presence of Christ in the Supper.

        We just don’t have the guts to say that we KNOW how.

        And we don’t let our differences keep you away from our altar.

        But since you guys ALONE know the truth…it looks like you’ll continue to keep us away from His Supper.

        • Hubris would have been a better word than “guts”.

          The fact is that none of us really know ‘how’…and it does not matter.

          • I am sorry that you feel that way, Steve. All I can add is that the Catholic church has been doing the same thing Christ commanded for two thousand years….and she did not start any divisions within Christ-followers.


          • Exactly, Pattie.

            Maybe it’s time to lose a bit of that pride (not you – the R. Church) that keeps other Christians away from the Communion railing.

          • Really Pattie? Not the Filioque? Yeah, that didn’t create division.

          • Sorry, gentleman, but I am not going to go down this road; I’m just not that good as an apologist. God speaks to us in different ways, and I am not going to discount your faith. I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

        • Margaret Catherine says

          Steve, 1,600 years ago the Church pronounced on how Christ could be fully God and fully man. Should we not have done that, and left the Incarnation an utter mystery? Honest question – because if you accept the former, that Christ is one Person with two natures, true God and true man as said in the Creed, then why protest when the Eucharist is defined to roughly the same degree?

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    God spare us, the Papacy is NOT about “management skills”!

    You want a church run by “management skills”, there’s lotsa seeker-sensitive Celebrity Megachurches for that.

    • We’ve had CEO-type popes before. They’re generally the ones excoriated in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 🙂

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In his Divine Comedy, Didn’t Dante Aligheri put one Pope (Peter) in Heaven, one in Purgatory, and all the rest in Hell?

  11. Martha,
    It seems far too often we are so tied up in clinically disecting someone’s thoughts and actions that we tend to obscure the beauty that is right there in front of us. Thank you for reminding us of the beauty that is Benedict. And on Valentine’s day besides. You do realize you have written a love letter for this humble and Christ focused man?

    Thank you. My day is lighter.

  12. Beautifully written, Martha!

    Having already had the chance to read the major works from his papacy (the encyclicals, the “Jesus of Nazareth” trilogy, etc.), I’ve been going back to works written earlier in Papa Ratzi’s career (such as “Spirit of the Liturgy”…) I’m struck not only be the depth and clarity of his writing, but also the remarkable consistency over the decades. His Augustinean vision has held steady since he wrote his habilitation thesis in the 1950s.

    I personally think that the narrative his critics have written about him–the Vatican II liberal takes a sharp turn rightward as he advances through the hierarchy– shows a lack of understanding of the man, and of the age of history he’s lived through. He has always been a disciple of the “nouvelle theologie” of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, which sought to be radically Christocentric, radically patristic, and radically biblical. This was a wild, wooly, liberal theology in the 1950s, when rigid Neo-Thomism ruled the day in Catholic theological circles (Ratzinger was almost denied his degree by more conservative professors). By the 1970s, “nouvelle” was considered quaint and conservative by an academy dominated by the “aggiornamento” crowd.

    In other words, I think its fair to say that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” have changed, but Papa Ratzi has stayed the course…

  13. Steve,
    By logical extension, it would appear that you are then “in communion” with the Papacy. Strange that we are not hearing more about Lutheran Rite Catholics 🙂

  14. For MARTHA:
    you mentioned the Pope’s theology: ” Love God and then do what you will.”
    and I thought you might like to see this:


    • Thank you, Christiane. That’s it exactly. We hear of St. Augustine on justification, on predestination, on Original Sin (and he gets a lot of flack for introducing the notion into Western Christianity and making us all hung up on sex and guilt and depravity and what have you), but we don’t hear about this – Love God, and then do what thou wilt.

      That’s Benedict’s Augustine 🙂

  15. This is an excellent piece, Martha, thanks.

    I also like to think of Benedict XVI as a catechetical pope. Week after week, he used his Wednesday audiences to teach more about the Catholic faith. Several of these addresses have been compiled into books, such as those on the Apostles and on the Church Fathers, and constitute very rich material for learning and reflecting. Even better, it’s all freely available on the Vatican website. I’m not sure if previous popes have used their audiences for this purpose, but I don’t think they emphasized it as much as B16 (as a side note, it seems that, even in his Ratzinger days, he decried the level of catechization of the faithful, and sought to improve it).

  16. Martha, thanks for this glowing essay. Being a Protestant, I suppose I’m in the same boat as some liberal Catholics, who wish Benedict had done more of this or more of that, or “modernized” the church on some matters of gender and sexuality. I’m a bit too Lutheran in my theology, and probably not willing to submit fully on some matters of discipline, to swim the Tiber, and some little part of me keeps wishing the ground between the continents we all inhabit would shift a little closer together so that greater fellowship would be a possibility.

    But — all that aside — I’ve also been deeply impressed with Benedict. This may be because I am an academic by training, or maybe I just really like Germans, or perhaps there is the faintest echo of something familiar to me in Benedict’s Augustinian outlook. But in any case, I picked up a little book of homilies by him, and then his trilogy on the gospels, and I have to say they were very stirring. The life of Christ books were the most wonderful blend of scholarly reflection and prayer; it felt like Benedict looking for the face of Christ, but never setting aside the scholar’s pen in doing so. Transfixing. Its the sort of thing one reads with a bit of tremble!

  17. Well, considering the Catholic Church recently gave up slavery, I suppose the way they are going is the right way. Its just a shame they are so far behind the rest of us. Who knows.. one day they might realise that raping children is a bigger problem than telling the police that you know someone is raping children.

    I won’t hold my breath though.

    • Wow Donalbain, looks like the Catholic Church has a problem. You’re insights are just so darn refreshing.

      So inspiring to see someone keep the hammer down on the pain. Let’s all stay together on this and make sure there’s no chance for healing. Waddya say?

      • Not really sure how a Christian justifies hate toward other Christians….

        “and they will know they are Christians by their ……..hate? ” Don’t think so.

        • Amen, sister, amen.
          Blessings to you and for Benedict.
          (oh ya, that’s what this thread was originally about wasn’t it)

        • Not a Christian. I feel no moral compulsion to love someone who participated in a world wide cover up of child abuse. As I said in another thread, its just a shame he will be retiring to a monastery rather than a cell in the Hague.