AFTER SEVEN YEARS OF SURPRISINGLY RICH PONTIFICATE
CARDINAL STANISŁAW NAGY
When in November 1991, after an unexpected death of Maria, a beloved sister and a good spirit at home, Cardinal Ratzinger’s health worsened, there was a rumour that it might be the end of the career of the ‘strong cardinal’, the right hand of the previous Pope John Paul II. The cardinal overcame the health crisis but also his eyesight started being weak, so in the lobby of the dangerously announced conclave he was to say that ‘he was too old’, when the expected conclave became a real reality of the succession after the great predecessor at the capital of the Holy See. And on 19 April 2005 he called himself a humble worker on God’s field. So, it might have seemed that the pontificate would not be imposing; whereas, after seven years of its time everything proves that after the great John Paul II the great Benedict XVI came. How did it happen? Here is the topic of this article.
A vigilant steersman of the sown law and order in the Church
Benedict XVI took over the Church formed by the Second Vatican Council and powerful pontificates following it: Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II. This heritage was valuable ....Although accepting the surprising name of Benedict, after the first General Audience (23 April), it might have seemed that the prominent personality would impose his own style on the papal throne. However, it happened differently: these seven years of the new pontificate were basically taking the same course as the pontificates of his direct predecessors. If we are to say about a kind of imitation, it concerns especially the great John Paul II. And, in this way, Benedict XVI who has participated in 23 pilgrimages outside Italy and 26 pilgrimages in Italy. He has also organised 2 Ordinary Synods of Bishops, an Extraordinary Synod in Africa and is also planning a synod at the end of the Year of Faith. Thinking about the work of the Pope Benedict XVI, we need to add Wednesday audiences and his speeches during ‘Angelus’ Prayer on Sundays and holidays. Finally, his pontificate includes the solemn blessing ‘Urbi et Orbi’ at Christmas and Easter, the liturgy of Holy Thursday and the Road of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday. In fact he resigned from his personal presidency over the beatifications (excluding the beatification of his great predecessor – Blessed John Paul II). There is much of it, and that is not all; a wide range of visits and meetings, lots of correspondences, regular contact with various members of Vatican and ecclesiastical administration, and, first of all, regular editions of important papal documents. All this gives the basis to name Benedict XVI a Titan of work.
A Titan of work
In the summary register, the pontificate of Benedict XVI has fruited with three encyclicals so far, as well as, three Exhortations, twelve documents motu proprio and six apostolic constitutions. There are also many speeches on the occasion of apostolic journeys and journeys throughout Italy, and finally the Worldly Youths’ Days. All this required a lot of work. To some extent, some of this work might have been done by suitable assistants; however, the basic part was done by the Pope Benedict XVI. It concerns especially basic documents such as encyclicals, Exhortations or motu proprio. Why is such a conclusion? It results from the style of writing and mentality of the Pope Ratzinger. A deeper analysis would be needed for these factors of the papal writing but there is not time for it. However, we can only read just one of these encyclicals and we will easily see hermetic and deep pen of him who is a great theologian.
A great theologian
Both one: great and another: theologian – have a special sense in reference to the Pope Benedict XVI. The greatness implies the exception and extraordinariness. The first is expressed in the engagement in work over the mystery of God from the early youth, till holding the post of the Head of the Church. The extraordinariness is an exceptionally wide field of action, a deepness of looking at the penetration of the truth about God, and finally, the cooperation with the leaders of the contemporary theology: (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Kasper, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner). And a great theologian? For, how fervently and broadly he understands the problem of Christ the incarnated God! It is not only a wide lecture of what God said about himself but also the fact that God undertook a dialogue with a man.
At this point a summary review of the imposing bibliography of the theological work of the Pope theologian should be done. However, I feel released from this task when facing the valuable book of Father Aidan Nicholas OP entitled ‘Thought of Benedict XVI’ (Salvador edition, Kraków 2005). The author does a thorough analysis of the theological work of the Pope, arranging it into an original schema. A clear calendar of the Pope Ratzinger is also in an interesting album of Leszek Sosnowski: ‘A land of Benedict XVI’ (White Raven, Krakow 2006). The magnificent river of publications also involves a sea of academic-theological articles, pronouncements and symposia in Europe and America. And all this is an unmistakeable stamp under the verdict of the theologian of great and exceptional measure who was the Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and at present the Pope Benedict XVI.
Papal teaching of Benedict XVI
In the quantity aspect this teaching is included mainly in encyclicals, Exhortations, apostolic constitutions and motu proprio. The key role on this level of the papal teaching is played by encyclicals and Exhortations. In this place some analysis in general outline of the rich content, especially encyclicals should be done, but this would lead this article to a length beyond the limits; therefore, we must confine to the common denominator of this papal teaching, including both encyclicals and Exhortations or, finally, allocutions. It seems that this common denominator of the teaching papal work of Benedict XVI is a definite, deeply supported ‘no’ towards the modern atheism but also towards the global social and economic disorder defined as the contemporary crisis. This first ‘no’ was included in a magnificent synthesis and diagnostics of sources of the contemporary atheism in the encyclical ‘Spe salvi’. The Pope does it on the base of perfect distinguishing between this ‘small’ and ‘big’ hope. The base of the second great and real hope is personal God, the only Creator of the world and the human being. A kind of completing the picture of the state of the contemporary atheism was included in the famous document – motu proprio ‘Ubicumque et semper’ – Always and everywhere, setting up the Papal Council for Developing New Evangelisation. The man of the contemporary times, burdened and confused by the progress of science and technology, loses the image of God and His mysteries and falls into a trap of self-admiration: ‘...when the man wants to be the only creator of his nature and destination, deprives himself of what is a fundament of all the things, and there is a desert inside him, and additionally, - self-destruction. The global social and economic disorder is uncovered by Benedict XVI in his third encyclical – ‘Caritas in veritate’. The source of the crisis is seen in greediness and willingness in becoming rich as well as benefits at any cost, with radical elimination of the common welfare. The Pope postulates the return to the virtue of abstinence towards material welfare and to reasonability in managing money.
Last significant initiatives
The exceptional dynamics of the not young Pope was proved by apostolic journeys to England, the aforementioned Papal Council for Developing New Evangelisation and initiatives of exceptional significance such as the Synod of African Bishops which took place in Rome and which was summarized by the Pope in the Exhortation ‘Afircae munus’, and given to Bishops of Africa during his journey to Benin. However, the exceptionally significant events of the last century of the seven-year-old pontificate are the Year of Faith announced in 2011 and the synod of bishops devoted to faith announced for 12 October 2012. It is a solemn celebration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. It is worth noting the fact that the content of the significant document – motu proprio ‘Porta fidei’ in other editions of the Catholic weekly ‘Sunday’ is presented to readers by Archbishop Józef Michalik who also points out to the Polish reference. On 4 March 2011 the Congregation of Faith Teaching edited a decree setting up the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in the days of 7 – 28 October, devoted to the issue of faith and new evangelisation. Finally, there is a time of summary of the seven-year-old pontificate of Benedict XVI, a prominent theologian and philosopher, despite of passing years and weakening strength of the fervent apostle of Europe, Asia and Africa. What is domineering here is his care about faith, but, first of all, he is a defender of lost faith which we must regain, as well as faith which we still have and which we must protect and strengthen.