Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI the German Pope of the Modern Era
A supreme pontiff of great nobility and the ultimate priestly qualities
Elected Supreme Pontiff in April 2005, Joseph Ratzinger had a short reign as he retired gracefully in 2013 eight years later. Brought up in Germany, he became a key Cardinal in the Vatican in the long period of office of Saint John Paul II, our Polish Pope, spanning the 1980’s and 1990’s. These two High Priests of Catholicism had both been old enough to more than remember the nightmare of World War II yet they did not have to undergo the trauma of entering the Camps as inmates. How do we define this German Priest from Bavaria ordained in 1951 aged 24 years?
I know little of Germany or Germans save in terms of the history of the two World Wars, Bismarck, Frederick the Great and German 20th Century political history 1918-1939. Ratzinger undeniably was born into this German nation in 1927 shortly to become militarised. I believe he lives to this day in the Vatican City, a Sovereign State of its own, surrounded by the Italian Republic which itself arose out of WWII in 1945. The Italians dispensed with their King Umberto at the end of that War, but they have always revered the Papacy and the Bishops of Rome down the ages, and even now.
I am no nearer defining precisely the essence of Joseph Ratzinger whom I have never met, but I did follow his Papal visit to Scotland and England. If I was asked to define his priesthood I would say he exemplifies true holiness from his youth and childhood. He did not need to change as so many of us should do and only some carry out. Clearly he keenly desired the priesthood which he attained young. His devotion to Roman Catholicism shone through in his formation years.
Later he was a priest of theology and a teacher of Catholicism. Hence his very precise elocution, pronunciation and wording, and his love of Blessed John H. Newman (Cardinal) and that man’s writings. It was the great Pastor Pope, Blessed Paul VI who elevated Ratzinger to the Cardinalate in 1977 and thus made possible his transfer to Rome from Germany in 1981 by direction of John Paul II (Saint).
Ratzinger the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005). I am no theologian. My subject was known for his preparedness to wield the rapier – for this German Cardinal his German roots and training as a priest came out in the various prelates, academics and clerics he disciplined some less high ranking than others. In an age of modernism where this disciplining on theological grounds of priests is thought non u Cardinal Ratzinger did not put the clock back but demonstrated vision, courage and real assiduity. The Roman Catholic Church knew where she stood in the 1980’s and 1990’s thanks to this Bavarian Cardinal and her Polish Pope. Roman Catholicism in the 21st Century would do well to keep Cardinal Ratzinger’s disciplinary measures in mind in years to come. Without the Magisterium at the centre, the Catholic Church is insipid and defenceless.
5. Newman and Pope Benedict XVI
Yes, this Pope beatified Newman during his active reign at Coventry and made no secret of his deep personal and spiritual interaction with Blessed John H. Newman’s mentality. Why was Pope Benedict so keen to associate himself with Newman? I believe Newman the Priest and Man is greater than Newman the Cardinal and theologian. Likewise the hidden man and priest in the retiring Ratzinger is of greater importance than his ecclesiastical offices and trappings. Newman’s claim to fame as an Anglican and Catholic priest was in challenging accepted theology. Ratzinger’s claim to be noticed was his theological purity and refusal to tolerate wishful thinking. They both deserved their achievement in those fields of modern theology. Our Benedict XVI has rightly derived great moral support from Newman the Blessed – a priest after his own heart.
Clearly, Joseph Ratzinger prefers to end his days like Newman as a priest of our Catholic Church in quietly offering up the sacrifice of the Mass in the seclusion of the Vatican City. Maybe his retirement was influenced by the Blessed John Henry Newman whose own sunset years were 1882-90 in his 80’s. Newman had completed his last major theological work “The Grammar of Assent” in the previous decade. Both these very senior ecclesiastics had the humility and modesty to stand down when the moment came. Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, as he now is was destined to join the Roman Catholic priesthood from a very early age and by his own determination and willpower. His single minded fervour is apparent in all his priestly career as is his utter submission to Christ the Bridegroom of our Holy Mother Church. A priest of the old school yes, but still the Vicar of Christ, I maintain, when he was the sole heir to the petrine office.