American Catholic leaders are acclaiming the life and work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose scholarly writings emphasized the unity of faith and reason and, most fundamentally, the primary truth of the Catholic faith, which teaches God is Love.
Benedict, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, died Saturday at the age of 95. He became pope in April 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, and served until his resignation in February 2013.
Catholic leaders in the United States are hailing Benedict not only as one of the greatest teachers and theological scholars of our time, but as a “holy priest” who, above all things, taught the foundation of the message of Jesus Christ – that God is Love.
Order Mourns the Death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: In his statement on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s death, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly calls the late pontiff’s teachings “a theological treasury and profound testimony to Jesus Christ and His Church.”https://t.co/134ZajTcCZ pic.twitter.com/NbqjKl0939
— Knights of Columbus (@KofC) December 31, 2022
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly observed in comments sent to The Star News Network that, along with Benedict’s legacy of all his “encyclicals, books, homilies and other writings” that “form a theological treasury and profound testimony to Jesus Christ and His Church,” is his very first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, translated God Is Love, which, Kelly noted, “remains a guiding light for the world — and for the Knights of Columbus specifically, since one of our founding principles is charity, and our global charitable work is at the heart of our activity as Knights.”
Benedict introduced his first encyclical by quoting from the First Letter of John:
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is lying in state at the Vatican until his funeral on Jan. 5. This is the Catholic Church’s traditional prayer for the dead. May he rest in the peace and eternal joy of the Lord. pic.twitter.com/3lp8jyT7f0
— EWTN News (@EWTNews) January 2, 2023
“He was unique in that his time as pope came not as the zenith of a long ecclesiastical career but as a kind of punctuation mark to a life and ministry as one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Catholic Church and one of the greatest minds of the 20th century,” reflected Matthew Bunson, a Benedict scholar and executive director of EWTN News. “He was also unique in being so at ease with himself and his own humble commitment to service that he could succeed a pope who was a colossus in Catholic history, a saint, and one of only four popes honored as ‘the Great.’”
Bunson said Benedict “saw himself as someone who gave his life in pursuit of the truth but who also cooperated with the truth rather than imposing his own views, his own ‘truth,’ on the Church”:
Seen that way, Benedict was a defender of Truth, a role he embraced as a priest, theologian, bishop, Cardinal, and finally as Pope. His pontificate was marked by a profound understanding of the challenges to the Church in the face of growing ideological aggression, not least from an increasingly secular Western mindset, both within and outside the Church. He famously warned about the “dictatorship of relativism” in a homily just before the conclave in 2005 that elected him pope.
“Attacked by progressives – especially progressive Catholics – as the ‘Panzer Cardinal’ and ‘God’s Rottweiler,’ Benedict was, in fact a fearless but gentle defender of the Faith,” Bunson noted. “Similarly, his record on the clergy sexual abuse crisis has been misrepresented by those who seek to discredit his extraordinary legacy.”
Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, stressed in remarks sent to The Star News Network that Benedict’s “soft spoken and humble” demeanor was the outward sign of a papacy “marked first and foremost by love for the Church.”
“Though he was sometimes referred to as ‘God’s rottweiler’ because of his fierce dedication to theological truth, his papacy was quite literally bookended in love,” McGuire noted. “His first and last encyclicals were devoted to the theme of Christian love. Though soft spoken and humble, he was fearless.”
Adding that Benedict “was the first pope to tackle many of the serious challenges that plagued the church in the modern era and undertake needed reforms,” McGuire said he “will be forever remembered as a spiritual father whose gentle strength reminds us of Christ himself.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, who runs the Conscience Project and is a fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, described Pope Benedict as “one of the supreme champions of religious freedom in the 21st century”:
He spoke explicitly and with real horror about the worldwide epidemic of attacks on believers, most of whom are Christians. As he explained, “to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.” During his pontificate, Pope Benedict welcomed home believers separated from the Church by historic divisions. He was an exemplary model of Christian virtue.
Dr. James M. Patterson, associate professor of politics at Ave Maria University and scholar at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, expanded on Benedict’s legacy of teaching Catholics how to express their faith in the public square:
In his political thought, Pope Benedict XVI articulated how best to keep Church and state separate but related realms of human life. For him, the events of the twentieth century evinced that old model of Christendom was not merely gone but undesirable. Instead, Benedict preached that the “Church must exert herself with all her vigor so that in her there may shine forth the moral truth that she offers to the state and that ought to become evident to the citizens of the state.” In essence, we citizens govern ourselves in a secular government but one nevertheless ordered to the moral ends the Church teaches us to pursue.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue also acknowledged Pope Benedict’s great “courage” in the face of the anti-Catholic media:
In 2006, he sparked much controversy for his comments on Islam. In his address at Regensburg University, he said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
“Unfortunately, most of the media did not emphasize that he twice said, ‘I quote,’” Donohue explained. “He was referring to a remark made by a 14th century Byzantine emperor.”
“Cardinal Ratzinger’s point was that faith and reason must exist together, and just as the universities must be criticized for promoting radical skepticism—reason without faith—there are those who purport to be followers of religion who promote faith without reason,” he elaborated. “Both are unacceptable.”
The Catholic League president noted as well Pope Benedict’s warnings about the “doctrine of relativism,” the idea that what is “right” and “wrong” is up to individual definitions, with no moral absolutes.
Donohue, author of The Truth About Clergy Sexual Abuse: Clarifying the Facts and the Causes, pointed to Benedict’s fierce charge against the clergy sexual abuse scandal, noting that in his Good Friday homily in 2005, just before he assumed his duties as pope, Ratzinger asserted, “How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!”
“When historians look back at the Catholic Church’s handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, they will note that neither Benedict’s predecessor, St. John Paul II, nor his successor, Francis, did as much to stop it as he did,” Donohue said. “His actions were as pivotal as were his words. He made it clear that men with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ should not become priests. He was very aware of the ‘homosexual cliques’ and the ‘homosexual subculture’ within the Church.”
“It was his courageous comments on the scandal, caused largely by homosexual priests, that earned him the ire of secularists outside the Church and dissenters within,” Donohue added.
"Everything in this world will pass away. In eternity only Love will remain." —Pope Benedict XVI
From "An Invitation to Faith: An A to Z Primer on the Thought of Pope Benedict XVI" (https://t.co/idK469VUAE) pic.twitter.com/sEDe5ef5JB
— Ignatius Press (@IgnatiusPress) December 31, 2022
Ignatius Press, the primary English-language publisher of the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and its authors also reacted to his passing.
“Benedict XVI was a major figure in Church history and world history,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press. “He was one of the great theologians and churchmen of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Along with Pope John Paul II, he served the Lord and his people mightily by helping the Catholic Church faithfully embrace reform in continuity, rather than either radical rupture or an uncritical return to the past.”
“He was a major force for evangelical fidelity and engagement with the modern world,” Brumley added. “He was a man of God, a disciple of Jesus, and bearer of the Holy Spirit, who helped keep us on the right path. Thanks be to God for Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.”
And Robert Royal, president of the Faith & Reason Institute, acknowledged Benedict’s passing “marks the end of a monumental life that changed the Church — and the world — and will continue to do so for many years to come.”
“In his brilliance, imagination, humility and steady faith, he resembled the Church Fathers, whom he loved and studied and brought to bear on our troubled age,” Royal observed. “He belongs in their company and should be named a Doctor of the Church. God grant him the eternal reward that he so richly merits.”
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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI” by Elvir Tabaković. CC BY-SA 4.0.