IN PRAISE OF BENEDICT
There are many Benedicts. The name means "blest" or "blessed" (by God of course). There is St Benedict of Nursia (480 - 550), the patrician Italian who is considered to be the patriarch of Western monasticism. He wrote his famous Rule for men and women who wished to withdraw from secular society and live communal lives of prayer, study and manual labour. In the Dark Ages of Europe which followed upon the collapse of the Roman empire, monasteries became a civilizing influence, centres of peace in a violent world, places of agriculture, education, hospitality and medical care.
There is St Benedict Biscop (628 - 689), a patrician Brit who became a Benedictine monk in France and then founded monasteries back home in county Durham. He was famous for his learning and patronage of music and art. There is St Benedict Aniane of France (750 - 821) about whom similar things could be said.
There is St Benedict Labre (1748 - 1783), a holy tramp of no fixed abode who wandered about the famous shrines of Europe. It takes all sorts to build the communion of saints. There was a not dissimilar man in modern times, John Bradburne, who finally ended up in Zimbabwe living among lepers where he was martyred by Mugabe's freedom fighters. He too will be canonized one day ("Strange Vagabond of God" by John Dove SJ published by Gracewing).
Sixteen popes have been called Benedict. Number XV tried hard to be a peacemaker (Matthew 6,9). He attempted to stop the First World War before it began, he tried to end it sooner than it did, and afterwards he attempted to ensure there'd be no future wars. He might now be thought of as a "son of God" (Beatitude no. 6) but what can a mere clergyman do against bellicose politicians? So far as I know, Joseph Ratzinger has not told us why he adopted the name Benedict when he was elected pope. Perhaps he was thinking both of the civilizing and pacifying effect of St Benedict the Great, and of the eirenic attempts of Benedict XV? However, because he is orthodox and Biblical he came to be nicknamed the panzer cardinal or the rottweiler. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is courteous, gentle, modest, an excellent listener who can explain your own point of view better than you can yourself. If you are looking for somebody to tell your sins to, he's just the chap. He has written, "The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary, the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and His Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the church to obedience to Christ and to His Word".
He has had a powerful effect upon evangelical Protestants, Lutherans and Anglicans. He is responsible for an agreement with the Lutheran World Federation which says that whatever else might separate the two churches, the doctrine of justification by faith does not. He is responsible for an agreement with the Coptic Church of Egypt and its sister churches like the Armenian, which says that whatever else might separate their churches, the doctrines of Christ's divinity and humanity do not. He has tried hard for rapprochement with the Eastern Orthodox churches.
There is a lot of Thomist philosophy knocking about the RC church and the Vatican and many of us from the Anglican tradition are all at sea with it. Benedict once told a theologian at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "I am not a Thomist". But he is a Biblical scholar, and this is why so many Anglicans feel at home with him. Benedict knows and often quotes St Jerome who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ". Benedict has written, "The normative theologians are the authors of Holy Scripture. This statement is valid not only with regard to the objective written statements which they left behind but also with regard to their manner of speaking in which it is God Himself Who speaks". Benedict has written, "Leading men and women to God, to the God Who speaks in the Bible, is the supreme and fundamental priority of the church". There are three introductions to Benedict's thought:
The Thought of Benedict XVI by Aidan Nichols OP published in 1988 by Burns Oates. (I have written about this author in a previous "Update").
Ratzinger's Faith by Tracy Rowland published in 2008 by Oxford University Press. (She mentions the TAC and our desire for unity.)
Covenant and Communion: the Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott Hahn published in 2009 by Brazos Press. (This author is a former Presbyterian minister whose rapprochement with the Catholic church was presumably by way of Benedict's writings.)
There is a special place in the heart of the Ordinariate for Benedict. He welcomed us to communion while at the same time allowing us to be ourselves. When we hang up his photographs we do so with personal affection and deep gratitude. Benedict himself would say that Catholicism is not about Popes but about Christ. He might therefore prefer us to read his three slim volumes about his dear Lord and ours, "Jesus of Nazareth".
To Whom with His Father in the unity of Their Spirit be thanks for evermore.
Monsignor Robert Mercer CR