As one of the resident Catholic Christians at What’s Wrong, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer up a few comments about the unexpected retirement announcement of Pope Benedict XVI. If you have any interest at all in who the next Pope might be, the best place to start thinking about the possible candidates is this blog post from Michael Brendan Dougherty (complete with odds!)
Some other thoughts from around the web can be found at National Review Online (NRO), where they had a mini-symposium on the subject; Crisis Magazine, where Sean Fitzpatrick has some wise thoughts about Benedict’s old fashioned “radicalism”; First Things, where Rusty Reno, Joshua Gonnerman, and Russell Moore all have brief, interesting things to say about the Pope and his legacy; and even “PJ Media” where the Jewish writer David Goldman (i.e. Spengler) weighs in with some interesting thoughts.
However, it was a brief post earlier at NRO’s The Corner, that I thought captured why Benedict’s legacy will be important to the Church (and the world) for years to come. Samuel Gregg, whose day job is Research Director at the Acton Institute, wrote the following:
But we need to remember that Benedict XVI is arguably the most intellectual pope to sit in Peter’s Chair for centuries—even more so than his saintly predecessor, who was certainly no slouch in the world of ideas. And if there is one single thing that stands out in Benedict’s papacy, it’s this: his laser-like focus on the root-cause of the intellectual crisis that explains not only Western culture’s present wallowing in facile relativism that’s on full display in the content-free rhetoric of your average EU politician, but also the trauma that explains the violence and rage that continues to shake the Islamic world and which Islam seems incapable of resolving on its own terms.
And that problem is one of reason. As Benedict spelt out in four key addresses that repay careful re-reading—the famous 2006 Regensburg lecture, his 2008 address to the French intellectual world, his speech to the Bundestag in 2011, and his remarks to the world of British politics in 2010 in Westminster Hall (the site, not coincidentally, of St Thomas More’s show-trial in 1535)—man, especially Western man, has lost confidence in reason’s power to know more-than-empirical truth.
But a pope’s job isn’t to tell people what they want to hear. Instead it’s to teach them that Jesus Christ who is Caritas is also the God who is Logos: the divine reason who loves us so much that he wants to save us from our hubris, and who has imprinted his reason upon our very nature to help us know and freely choose the true and the good.
That phrase, “who has imprinted his (i.e. God’s) reason upon our very nature to help us know and freely choose the true and the good” particularly struck me – partially because I’m in the process of reading one of our former contributor’s famous defenses of the ability of “nature’s reason” to understand and know God and partially because I’m also reading one of the Pope’s famous books of theology on Jesus; and even in this book, in which Benedict sort of takes for granted the ideas that God exists and has revealed himself through the Gospel, he can’t help sneaking in this theme:
It seems to me that this is the place to say something, based upon the New Testament, about the salvation of those who do not know Christ. The prevailing view today is that everyone should live by the religion—or perhaps by the atheism—in which he happens to find himself already. This, it is said, is the path of salvation for him. Such a view presupposes a strange picture of God and a strange idea of man and of the right way for man to live. Let us try to clarify this by asking a few practical questions. Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes because he has conscientiously fulfilled the duties of blood vengeance? Because he has vigorously fought for and in “holy war”? Or because he has performed certain animal sacrifices? Or because he has practiced ritual ablutions and other observances? Because he has declared his opinions and wishes to be norms of conscience and so made himself the criterion? No, God demands the opposite: that we become inwardly attentive to his quiet exhortation, which is present in us and which tears us away from what is merely habitual and puts us on the road to truth. To “hunger and thirst for righteousness”—that is the path that lies open to everyone; that is the way that finds its destination in Jesus Christ.
[page 92 in Chapter 4 on the Beatitudes]
Here is to all of those who might be led on the road to truth by Benedict, even the writers at the New York Times, who saw fit to say of the retiring Pope the following: "“Pope Benedict’s well-known stands included the assertion that Catholicism is “true”.”