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Posts Tagged ‘Benedict XVI’

Popes Francis and Benedict welbyThis week gone, two men have been raised, with vivid ceremonial, to the leadership of their respective branches of the
Christian faith.   In Rome, an investiture; in Canterbury an enthronement. In both cases, traditional procedures,
stirring imagery, heads of state present, and media frenzy. There are resemblances here.  In some interesting and revealing ways, I suggest, the two men thus honoured are rather like each other.

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Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI

As far as I can tell, popes have always been able to resign if they wanted.  From the later Middle Ages onward, none did so; till now.  Why this should be so takes only a moment’s thought.

Up till the Reformation and beyond, popes ruled in a world of absolute power, in which rulers were forever calibrating their magnificence and heft against each other.  The popes saw themselves as supreme overlords who like Gregory VII could summon emperors or, like Julius II appear on the battlefield or remodel Rome.  Who would ever give up such power?

Pius IX and his five immediate successors let the papacy curdle into pietistic irrelevance and concealed its waning power and influence beneath a phaoronic gloss of confidence.  When Harold Macmillan met Pius XII in 1944 he described him as at once tremendous and pathetic.  None of this sextet would have considered resignation for a moment.  So we have grown accustomed to the idea that, on principle, popes go on till death and die in office.  Now we know they don’t have to.

Now we live in a world where executives and heads of state and government lose their jobs under pressure.  The system cannot afford passengers, or so we are told.  Thus it seems only right that an 85-year-old chairman of the board, with a pacemaker and accumulating infirmities, should chuck it in.

Benedict XVI has not been a good pope, but nothing becomes him more than his willingness to stand aside a let a younger, fitter, bolder man take his place and brace the church against its multiplying challenges.  Who will it be?

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adoration-of-the-magi-1The Pope’s recent contribution to the demythologisation of Christmas strikes me as being merely the latest in the church’s never-ending campaign to get us to pay more religious attention to Easter and less to the Nativity event.  (more…)

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Pius XI

A Sunday afternoon’s triviality about all the Popes since before the First World War seems to show that whilst any one of them is on the Throne of St Peter, no fewer than six of his immediate successors are all already living.  This holds true for the three consecutive ones, Pius X (died 1914), Benedict XV (died 1922) and Pius XI (died 1939), who reigned in the first years of the twentieth century. (more…)

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Scripture

Change is a constant, we like to say.  Everything changes over time, even religion.  But not everyone agrees.  One of the great fault-lines in both Christianity and Judaism lies between those who have no problem with the idea that religions evolve and those others who emphatically disagree.  The two sides often misunderstand each other and so, fuelled by category error, the debate becomes ever more heated and less clear. (more…)

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A favourite writer of mine is that turbulent priest Richard Holloway, ‘controversial’ former Bishop of Edinburgh, so I am glad to see that he has published his autobiography, recently sympathetically reviewed by Andrew Motion.  I look forward to reading it, partly in the hope that it will shed light on a phenomenon that I have wondered about for some time. (more…)

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Learning about modern theology is like being a member of Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1911-1912.  You slog across unfamiliar terrain until at last you reach your destination, only to find that another explorer has already got there and planted his flag to mark the spot.  In writing, with some care, my recent posts musing about why we still worship, I have come across a book that not only says all that I wanted to share but also quotes liberally from a host of other thinkers who over the years have ‘got there’, and planted their flags.  She does all this better than I ever could.  I am happy to recommend the book and thereby bring my present thread to a premature but willing close. (more…)

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