Pope Benedict XVI

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[addendum: the articles referenced below are not online, at least not for now]

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is perhaps the smartest man alive–I really do think so–a man of vast learning, astonishing erudition, and impressive intellectual discipline.

Only recently I read his long essay on Christianity and politics, and found myself just thrilled by its level of understanding and grasp of history. Not that politics should be the first concern, but he knows and understands the state, sees Christianity as separate from the state, condemns the role the state has played in diminishing the impact of faith on the world, and believes in the right to resist. On Church and State relations, he is genuine liberal in the late 19th century sense.

Politics aside, he is a theologian first who understands non-Catholic faiths better than they understand themselves. I can recall many years ago reading his long essay on eschatology and realizing that had I ran across this 5 years earlier I would have saved myself countless hours slogging through large but lesser treatises on the topic.

Another hugely important issue for him will be liturgy: he is a liturgical conservative who has written that rock music under any guise belongs not at Christian worship. Not that this man breaths fire: not at all. He has always struck me as very gentle and soft spoken. I don’t know why, but I also have an image of him in my mind as a somewhat sad person, burdened in some way too.

I don’t think any of this can fully account for why American Catholic left-liberals have such an intense hatred of this man who works they cannot have read. For many years, they’ve said his name with disdain and sneers. It must have something to do with his role as head of the Holy Office early in JP2’s papacy, but I really don’t know. That he was elected Pope is very revealing of just how much influence the Americans have: this is one case where those who pay the piper have not called the tune. In the coming days, these people will say many absurd things about the new Pope.

Once the dust clears, my guess is that Benedict XVI will put a high priority on liturgical renewal (the good kind) but will otherwise govern the Church as a liberal (again, the good kind) and a man of peace. This is not Pius IX 2.0, nor John Paul II 2.0. That he took a preconciliar name is important, and also that the name is Benedict: See Benedict the XV’s Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum on the war that destroyed the world of liberty (1914):

On every side the dread phantom of war holds sway: there is scarce room for another thought in the minds of men. The combatants are the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth; what wonder, then, if, well provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. Who would imagine as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven? Yet, while with numberless troops the furious battle is engaged, the sad cohorts of war, sorrow and distress swoop down upon every city and every home; day by day the mighty number of widows and orphans increases, and with the interruption of communications, trade is at a standstill; agriculture is abandoned; the arts are reduced to inactivity; the wealthy are in difficulties; the poor are reduced to abject misery; all are in distress.

Moved by these great evils, we thought it our duty, at the very outset of our Supreme Pontificate, to recall the last words of our Predecessor of illustrious and holy memory, and by repeating them once more to begin our own Apostolic Ministry; and we implored Kings and rulers to consider the floods of tears and of blood already poured out, and to hasten to restore to the nations the blessings of peace. God grant by His mercy and blessing, that the glad tidings the Angels brought at the birth of the divine Redeemer of mankind may soon echo forth as we His Vicar enter upon His Work: “on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:14). We implore those in whose hands are placed the fortunes of nations to hearken to Our voice. Surely there are other ways and means whereby violated rights can be rectified. Let them be tried honestly and with good will, and let arms meanwhile be laid aside. It is impelled with love of them and of all mankind, without any personal interest whatever, that We utter these words. Let them not allow these words of a friend and of a father to be uttered in vain.

12:59 pm on April 19, 2005