February 11th, 2013

Benedict XVI wind

Theological Notebook: The Announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's Retirement

[From Facebook:]

A few initial impressions of Pope Benedict XVI's/Joseph Ratzinger's announcement of his imminent retirement:

I'm not entirely surprised. He'd dropped hints in this direction before, and it struck me that his papacy – so much the "teaching papacy" of a professor – had the possibility of being capped by such an act, since the sheer legal fact that a pope *could* resign was generally not enough to make such an act acceptable or likely in the culture surrounding the papacy. To have someone whose Vatican credibility was high, like Ratzinger, take this further move toward providing a precedent for the modern papacy seemed, therefore, more likely to me, in an "only Nixon could go to China" way.

Nicole Winfield's AP story about the move is weighed down at the end by horrible "failed conservative" lines of analysis or sensationalism (citing his presiding over the ongoing sex abuse scandals and what she seems to think was a communications gaffe in Regensberg). Instead, as a minor league ecclesiologist myself, I'm inclined to call this one as a modest and successful papacy ending on a high note, as Benedict restructures an aspect of the papacy by act, rather than by legislation. He's teaching the Church something different than John Paul II did by his long and courageous (but different) facing of his own decline and death.

Benedict's was not as spectacular a papacy as John Paul II's, with that one's epic battle with European Communism, in particular. Unlike philosopher Wojtyla, this was more clearly the reign of a theology professor, and to my mind has been a pretty successful one, moreso than people are recognizing, as they either fixate on the situations that Ratzinger inherited, or on the larger-than-life impact of Wojtyla's personality. I would look instead at the content of Benedict's teaching, in his clear articulation of Christianity in a modern/postmodern Western context. The real action is there, and I think that it can have a long impact as it is absorbed – however indirectly such things are absorbed – into the thinking of the Church, via pastors, teachers, readers and seekers of every sort.

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