Tag Archives: Benedict XVI

Were You Made for Greatness or for God?

One of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s most often quoted lines is this:

 “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” (Sources: 1 2 3)

It’s a good line, but did he ever really say it? Well, I’ve been doing some digging to try and track down this line (Others have tried too). To me, it looks like he never actually said it. However, he said a couple things that were close. In a visit with German pilgrims in the first month of his pontificate, back in April, 2005, Benedict said:

“Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number. Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life.” Source

The original German reads,

“Wer Bequemlichkeit will, der ist bei ihm allerdings an der falschen Adresse. Aber er zeigt uns den Weg zum Großen, zum Guten, zum richtigen Menschenleben.”

The main difference here is that Benedict is saying that he’s saying that Jesus is showing the way to great things, away from the false temptations of comfort. Here the focus is on Him, not on us.

This next quote, from the same speech is the closest thing:

 “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”

Original German: “Bequem sind die Wege des Herrn nicht, aber wir sind ja auch nicht für die Bequemlichkeit, sondern für das Große, für das Gute geschaffen.

The first key word in the German is “Bequemlichkeit,” which can be translated as “convenience, comfort, ease.” The second key word is “Große,” which is hard to translate. It is a substantival adjective in the neuter singular, so we could translate we were made “for the great, for the good.” The Vatican translators opted for “great things.” Since translation is always an art including interpretation, we could even render it “you were made to do great things.” It seems to me that the “famous quote” is really an alternate translation/expansion/interpretation of this last example.

But wait! Maybe Benedict said something somewhere else that sounds like his famous quote, non-quote. In fact, he did. In his Encylical, Spe Salvi, he says, “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched” (sec. 33). Here the official Latin reads, “magnam realitatem,” which could more literally be rendered “a great reality.”

What’s the point of all this translational nit-picking?

The point is that when we read, especially when we read something authoritative, it is very easy for us to import our pre-conceived notions into what we’re reading. Benedict’s point is simple enough—that a life of ease and convenience, a selfish life of me-pleasing, is not what God has for us. Instead, God offers something so much better—something great, in fact. But he is not saying that we were all made to be rich, famous, powerful and “great” in a worldly sense–as would be suggested from a typical use of “greatness.” In fact, notice that in each of the quotes, Benedict is pointing not to human attributes (like “being great”), but to the destiny to which God invites us, the magnam realitatem, He Himself. The great thing we’re made for is God.

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Why Benedict XVI Will Serve One Year Later Into Life than John Paul II

My post on the “math” behind Pope Benedict’s resignation has garnered some attention, so I wanted to speculate as to why Benedict might have set it up this way. If you haven’t read my previous post, the basic gist is that Benedict will serve the Church exactly 365 days longer than John Paul II–not that Benedict’s pontificate will be longer (JPII reigned for almost 27 years, but B16 will reign for almost 8), but that he will be exactly one year older when he abdicates than John Paul was when he died.

My speculations are as follows:

1. Benedict wants to honor the legacy of John Paul II. Many people were calling for John Paul’s resignation in the last few years of his pontificate, arguing that his ill health and frailty made him incapable of serving as pope. But John Paul stuck it out to the end and really became an example for eldercare and the morality of late-in-life health choices, namely that the dignity of the human person must be preserved and no steps should be taken to hasten death. Benedict, while having a different perspective than John Paul (see #3 below), wants to honor John Paul’s witness and serve the Church late into his life. By serving exactly 365 days longer, he nods to John Paul’s legacy and the example he gave to us.

2. John Paul II’s former personal secretary, Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, has made comments criticizing Benedict XVI’s abdication as “coming down from the cross.” (Newsmax story here) I think this is exactly the kind of criticism that Benedict was hoping to circumvent (at least in the history books) by the timing of his resignation. The counter could always be: I served the Church even later into my life than John Paul–by a year!

3. Benedict wants to honor John Paul, while at the same time disagreeing with him. In 2002, he reportedly made comments that it would be “very wise” for a pope to resign if he was incapacitated by ill health.

4. Cardinal Ratzinger submitted his original resignation to John Paul II in Spring 2002 on his 75th birthday. Now, just before his 86th birthday, he’ll have served the Church 11 years past the mandatory retirement age for bishops of 75. (Just another interesting note–Benedict will not be participating in the conclave to elect the new pope, but even if he did he would be unable to vote, being past his 80th birthday.)

5. Perhaps Benedict wanted to abdicate before the canonization of John Paul II, so as not to give the impression that he was granting sainthood for the sake of an old friend. The miracle needed for John Paul II’s canonization is in the hands of the Congregation for the causes of saints (Vatican Insider).

6. Lastly, I think that Benedict wants to set a precedent for future popes. He believes the Church needs energetic leadership and that ill health late in life can preclude a man from bringing this kind of leadership to the task of governing the Church. Benedict, perhaps, is suggesting to future popes that if their old age or ill health prevents them from doing the pope’s job well that they too should abdicate and allow a younger man to fulfill the role.

 

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Pope Benedict XVI Resigns – What does Dante have to do with it?

Pope St. Celestine V

Pope St. Celestine V

Everyone is still shocked by the announcement made by the Pope today that he will resign, effective February 28, just 17 days from now. There are many commentators opining on the why’s and wherefores, but perhaps the most interesting strain in the commentary has to do with the last pope who resigned, St. Celestine V. Scott Hahn made an interesting post in which he mentions Pope Benedict’s two trips to pray by the tomb and relics (respectively) of Celestine V–notably the Pope left his pallium on Celestine’s tomb on April 29, 2009. (Interestingly, as Rocco Palmo notes, this pallium was the one with which Benedict was originally vested. The pope “retired” it from use and went to a smaller size of pallium. More here: Fr. Z, NLM)

St. Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294 after reigning for a mere six months. (Technically, the last Pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415, but his situation was complicated by the Avignon papacy dispute.) St. Celestine was a Benedictine monk and hermit, who actually founded an order. He was famous for his ascetical practices. He was not a cardinal at the time of his election, but did send a letter to the conclave, which upon reading it, promptly elected him, even though he was 80 years old. It reminds me of Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily at the funeral of John Paul II in which he spoke against the dictatorship of relativism and described what the new Pope should be like. Apparently, anyone who tries to tell the cardinals how to go about the business of the Conclave becomes an immediate candidate!

Now, on to Dante! In his Inferno, Canto III, lines 58-63 (in Dorothy Sayers’ translation) we read:

And when I’d noted here and there a shade
Whose face I knew, I saw and recognized
The coward spirit of the man who made

The great refusal; and that proof sufficed;
Here was that rabble, here without a doubt,
Whom God and whom His enemies despised.

Now, Celestine is found in Hell’s “vestibule” here with the futile, who run around after meaningless banners, goaded by hornets. They are at the very “top” so to speak, of Dante’s Hell. Dante’s condemnation of Celestine V was rooted in the problematic reign of his successor, Boniface VIII, who imprisoned his predecessor. Apparently, Dante felt that Celestine should have embraced the office and out of cowardice or a faint heart, he abdicated, which led to very bad things in the reign of the next pope. Celestine died in a fetid jail cell. Interestingly, later on, Pope Clement V undid Dante’s literary condemnation and officially canonized Celestine V.

Later on, in the Inferno, Canto XXVII, lines 103-105, the character Guido is recounting Pope Boniface VIII’s words thusly:

Thou knowest I have the power to open or shut
The gates of Heaven, for those High Keys are twain,
    The Keys my predecessor cherished not.

Again here, Dante is condemning Pope Celestine V for his resignation of the papacy.

So, why would Benedict XVI identify with Celestine V?

  1. Both Celestine and Benedict practice Benedictine spirituality–Celestine as a hermit/monk and Benedict as an oblate (although I have had a hard time confirming that Ratzinger/Benedict is an oblate). Also, Benedict took on the name of St. Benedict and Benedict XV.
  2. Both hoped to retire from public life–Celestine as a hermit, Benedict to a quiet retirement with his brother in Germany.
  3. Both were elected very late in life–Celestine at 80 and Benedict at 78.
  4. Both saw themselves perhaps as short-term popes–Celestine for 6 months, Benedict now for 8 years.
  5. Both resigned–Celestine in 1294, Benedict in 2013.

I am glad, though, that Benedict XVI is able to trust in the Church’s wisdom in canonizing Celestine V rather than in the literary “wisdom” of Dante. In many things, Catholic thinkers and writers have deferred to Dante, but his judgment of Celestine V proved incorrect and may be shaped more by the travails of his era than by the actual facts of Celestine’s life. At this moment, it is best for all of us to pray for the conclave and the Holy Father’s sucessor. May the Holy Spirit guide the cardinals’ votes. St. Celestine V, pray for us!

Links on this topic:
Robert Moynihan, article
Robert Moynihan, lecture
Taylor Marshall
Mosaics

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Scripture and the Synod on the New Evangelization

I was pleased that the final propositions of the recently concluded Synod on the New Evangelization included something about Scripture. The first mention is in Proposition 9 where the Synod fathers recommend the composition of an instructional book for training evangelists. They propose that this book contain, “Systematic teaching on the kerygma in Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic Church.” The “kerygma” is a favorite word of the synod and it refers to the core message of the Gospel, the essential truth about the life of Jesus that ought to be proclaimed whenever the Gospel is proclaimed.

The synod’s Proposition 11 is all about Scripture:

Proposition 11 : NEW EVANGELIZATION AND THE PRAYERFUL READING OF SACRED SCRIPTURE
God has communicated himself to us in his Word made flesh. This divine Word, heard and celebrated in the Liturgy of the Church, particularly in the Eucharist, strengthens interiorly the faithful and renders them capable of authentic evangelical witness in daily life. The Synod Fathers desire that the divine word “be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity” (Verbum Domini, 1).
The gate to Sacred Scripture should be open to all believers. In the context of the New Evangelization every opportunity for the study of Sacred Scripture should be made available. The Scripture should permeate homilies, catechesis and every effort to pass on the faith. 
In consideration of the necessity of familiarity with the Word of God for the New Evangelization and for the spiritual growth of the faithful, the Synod encourages dioceses, parishes, small Christian communities to continue serious study of the Bible and Lectio Divina, the — the prayerful reading of the Scriptures (cf. Dei Verbum, 21-22).

These guidelines from the synod fathers are not necessarily surprising. Rather, they re-emphasize themes from recent magisterial documents on the Bible, explicitly citing Dei Verbum (of Vatican II fame) and Verbum Domini (the most recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation penned by Benedict XVI). The proposition highlights the connection between the “Word made flesh” and the Bible itself, emphasizing their identity and difference. The “divine Word” is the Scripture, yes, more so it is Jesus himself. In the context of the New Evangelization, the synod teaches here that Scripture strengthens the faithful and is an essential component in spiritual growth. Also, they emphasize the centrality of Scripture to the teaching and preaching that goes on in the life of the Church. And, just as if they were intending to warm a CatholicBibleStudent’s heart, they insist twice that study, and even serious study of Sacred Scripture should be part and parcel of what the Church does in her daily life and in promotion of the New Evangelization. The mention of “small Christian communities” is interesting. The phrase shows up here and in Proposition 42. I think it refers to any kind of small group that meets within a parish or movement, but I wonder if it is inspired by the kinds of ideas in a book by Stephen Clark called Building Christian CommunitiesThere’s a bit more about Catholic Small Chrisitian Communities on CatholicCulture.org. Lastly, the synod fathers recommend the prayerful reading of Scripture, Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina has been a consistent theme over the past few years in magisterial documents, most notably in in Verbum Domini. I hope that Catholics are able to take it to heart. I think though that since there is not an agreed upon structure for it apart from monastic traditions that it will be hard for most lay Catholics to practice. Some clear instructions on how to do it would be helpful. All in all, I’m happy the synod took time to talk about Scripture in its final propositions. We’ll see how much of this makes it into Benedict’s next post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

 

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The Symphony of Revelation in Verbum Domini

In Verbum Domini, the Pope provides a quick summary of the theology of revelation:

In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of “the word of God”. They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: “a polyphonic hymn”.[17] The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God’s self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, “became flesh” (Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression “word of God” here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit “he has spoken through the prophets”.[18] God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”.[19] Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.[20] (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, sec. 7)

It is funny to me how we use the term “word of God” with so many different meanings. What connects them all is that each meaning somehow denotes God’s revelation. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the word of God. Even creation is the word of God. I’d like to set the whole thing up as an equation:

The Word of God = Creation + The Bible + Jesus + Salvation History + Apostolic Preaching + Tradition

But I do not think it is quite that simple. Somehow, each element listed can be said to be the Word of God, not just a “part” of the word of God. They are all interrelated and yet not one of them is perfectly complete without the others. I mean, for example, Jesus stands outside of creation and yet is part of creation through his incarnation. Tradition somehow encompasses the Bible and yet is distinct from it. The Apostolic preaching included biblical material, especially from the Old Testament, but it also proclaimed the resurrection of Christ before the New Testament was in written form. Salvation history is recorded in the Bible and yet extends beyond the reach of the Bible. Jesus is the culmination of Salvation History and yet the story extends beyond him into his effects on the whole world. All the elements of the Word of God, of God’s revelation to man are essential, interrelated and overlapping. Rightly do the Synod Fathers declare the word of God to be a “symphony.”



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Finally, Pope Releases Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Bible; SBL blogging

Ok, so the Pope finally released his document on the Bible,Verbum Domini. It was posted on the Vatican website on Thursday, November 11. So…you may have thought I was asleep at the wheel since I have been watching for this. But…I’ve been doing a lot like eating turkey and going to the SBL conference. More on that in a bit.

Anyway, I plan to go through the document here on the blog and comment on different sections. For now, here are my initial thoughts:  The document is very long–much longer than is typical for this kind of document. There is nothing in the document that is surprising or ground-breaking. It is pretty much a faithful elaboration on the Synod’s earlier documents, especially the Propositions. It is a restatement of many important  Catholic positions on the Bible and all things biblical. It also deals with how the Bible ought to function in the life of the Church in all its aspects. I think it will be a valuable touchstone in the years to come, but not a sea-change document. I’ll post more thoughts as they come to me.

Ah…and about that Society of Biblical Literature conference.  I went to the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. At the meeting, I attended a session on “biblioblogging,” with presentations by some of the major academic Bible bloggers. It was very interesting and inspiring. It made me feel that I am not alone in the world of blogging about the Bible and re-invigorated me for this blog. Most of the presenters posted their papers on their blogs before delivering them at the meeting. I felt a little weird–yet kind of cool–sitting there reading Jim Davila’s paper on my Android while he spoke. It was also nice to be able to put a face with a name for a lot of Bible bloggers out there.

Here’s what the session looked like:

Theme: The Past, Present, and Future of Blogging and Online Publication

The room was packed–far beyond what I anticipated. Unfortunately, there were very few women. It was a great collection of Bible scholars and computers nerds all together in one place. I would encourage you to read some of the papers that were presented, which I have linked to above. Or perhaps you’ll find some other interesting posts at their authors’ blogs.

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