Pope Benedict XVI
On February 11, 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would resign at 8pm on February 28, 2013. Benedict cited his deteriorating mental and physical health as the reason for his resignation. He felt that he could no longer meet the exhausting demands of the office. He is the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to go voluntarily since Pope Celestine V in 1294. This will be the first time in six centuries that the Catholic Church will have a reigning and retired Pope at the same time. The Pope will devote himself to a life of prayer at the monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican Gardens.
A papal conclave will meet after Benedict’s resignation and select a new Pope before Easter. (Easter Sunday is March 31, 2013.)
Benedict XVI was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 in Bavaria, Germany. He grew up in a modest home with his older brother and sister. His father Joseph came from a farming family and worked as a policeman. His mother Maria was the daughter of artisans and worked as a cook before marrying.
When he was five years old Ratzinger and other children met the visiting Cardinal Archbishop of Munich. He was impressed by the cardinal’s attire and decided that he also wanted to be a cardinal.
Young Joseph grew up in the small village of Traunstein near the Austrian border. In 1941, at the age of fourteen, Ratzinger was conscripted into the Hitler Youth. He despised the organization and refused to attend any of its meetings. His fourteen year old cousin suffered from Down’s syndrome and was murdered by the Nazis in accordance with National Socialist eugenics policies.
In 1943, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps and then trained in the infantry. When allied troops approached his unit in 1945 he fled to his family’s home. He was briefly interned in a POW camp and released in the summer of 1945. He then returned to the seminary.
In the late 1940’s he studied philosophy and theology in the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising and at the University of Munich.
Ratzinger was ordained as a priest in Freising on June 29, 1951. A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising. In the early 1950’s he obtained his doctorate in theology and eventually qualified for University teaching with his dissertation on “The Theology of History of St. Bonaventure”.
He lectured on dogmatic and fundamental theology in Freising and in the 1960’s taught at Bonn, Münster and Tübingen. He held the Chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at Regensburg and eventually became Vice-President of the University.
In his 1968 book Introduction to Christianity, he said the Pope had a duty to hear various opinions before making decisions on important issues. He also distanced himself from the Marxist leanings and activities of the 1960’s student movement. Ratzinger increasingly saw such activities as a departure from traditional Catholic beliefs. His views become steadily more at odds with a rampant liberalism.
He returned to the University of Regensburg in 1969 and founded the journal Communio with several others in 1972. This journal became an important insight into contemporary Catholic thought.
On March 25, 1977, Pope Paul VI named Benedict Archbishop of Munich and Freising. On 28 May he received episcopal ordination and chose “Cooperators of truth” as his motto.
In 1981, he moved to Rome where he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith an important element of the Roman Curia. He was Dean of the College of Cardinals from 2002 to his election as Pope. He was also one of John Paul II’s closest allies and presided over his funeral in 2005.
In 1997 at the age of 70 Ratzinger asked permission to leave the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library. John Paul II refused the request.
On April 19, 2005 Ratzinger was elected Pope on the second day of the papal conclave after four ballots. He is the 265th Pope and serves as both the Sovereign of Vatican City and head of the Catholic Church. He was elected at the age of 78, the oldest to be elected since Pope Clement XII.
Ratzinger wanted to retire and remarked that "At a certain point, I prayed to God 'please don't do this to me'...Evidently, this time He didn't listen to me."
After his election Pope Benedict XVI gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing and said: “Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with insufficient instruments comforts me and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you.”
Ratzinger chose the name Benedict which means blessed in Latin in honor of both Pope Benedict XV and Saint Benedict of Nursia. (Pope Benedict XV was Pope during World War I and St. Benedict of Nursia was the founder of the Benedictine monasteries.) He is the ninth German Pope and speaks English, French, Italian, Latin, German and Spanish. He belongs to several scientific academies and plays the piano. His favorite composer is Mozart of which he remarked, “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence." Pope Benedict is also a cat lover. He was known to look after stray cats in his neighborhood.
Benedict XVI has advocated a return to fundamental Christian values and denounced the increasing secularization spreading throughout the world particularly in the West. He has taken a strong stand against relativism and believes that its denial of objective and moral truth is the greatest challenge facing the modern era. He has also revived the Tridentine Mass and traditional papal clothing earning the nickname the “Pope of aesthetics”. Ratzinger has reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine on topics such as birth control, abortion and homosexuality.
In May 2005, Benedict XVI began the beatification process for Pope John Paul II. Usually five years must pass after someone’s death for this to occur, but the waiting period was waived due to exceptional circumstances.
Pope Benedict reduced the Roman Curia by merging four existing councils into two in March of 2006. In May 2007, the Interreligious Dialogue became a separate body again under a different President. In 2010 the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization was created.
Pope Benedict XVI has written three encyclicals including Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”) and Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”).
In his first encyclical, the Pope stated that a human being created in the image of God is able to practice love and to give himself to God and others by receiving and experiencing God's love. The second encyclical released in November 2007 discussed the virtue of hope. The third encyclical released in June 2009 discussed social justice and called for ethics in business and economics.
“Friendship with Jesus Christ" is a key element in Benedict’s faith. He once remarked that,
"We are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God, speaking to him as to a friend, the only One who can make the world both good and happy. That is all we have to do is put ourselves at his disposal, is an extremely important message. It is a message that helps to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time, the claim that after the Big Bang, God withdrew from history."
In June 2005 Pope Benedict continued his discussion on relativism remarking that: “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ego.”
Benedict argued that a “dictatorship of relativism” challenged the power of reason to know the truth. This has lead to many of the economic, religious and political pathologies of the 20th century. He further stated that, “Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism.”
Reaffirming traditional Catholic doctrine in June 2005, Benedict made the following remarks on same sex marriage and abortion:
“The various forms of the dissolution of matrimony today, like free unions, trial marriages and going up to pseudo-matrimonies by people of the same sex are rather expressions of an anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom of man...from here it becomes all the more clear how contrary it is to human love, to the profound vocation of man and woman, to systematically close their union to the gift of life and even worse to suppress or tamper with the life that is born.”
In his address on the “Crisis of Culture” in the West, Benedict stated the following:
“From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos, as the religion according to reason. It has always defined men, all men without distinction, as creatures and images of God, proclaiming for them the same dignity. In this connection, the Enlightenment is of Christian origin and it is no accident that it was born precisely and exclusively in the realm of the Christian faith. It was and is the merit of the Enlightenment to have again proposed these original values of Christianity and of having given back to reason its own voice. Today, this should be precisely Christianity's philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational and reason is not other than a 'sub-product' on occasion even harmful of its development—or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal. 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.”
Benedict also emphasized that "Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way."
Benedict XVI has also been a sharp critic of excessive consumerism particularly among the young. "Adolescents, youths and even children are easy victims of the corruption of love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, draw them into the dead-end streets of consumerism."
In an effort to keep up with the times and reach a larger audience, the Vatican announced Benedict had joined Twitter under the handle @Pontifex. His first tweet was "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."
Often overshadowed by his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict XVI has had a remarkable and influential impact on the Church providing invaluable insights that will shape and guide the Catholic faith for years to come.