A lesson in humility for the Church

A merciless irony of history. There is a risk that we will remember only one thing about Benedict XVI: his departure. With his “renunciation” in February 2013, the German pope had taken everyone by surprise.

Jan 13, 2023

By Isabelle de Gaulmyn
A merciless irony of history. There is a risk that we will remember only one thing about Benedict XVI: his departure. With his “renunciation” in February 2013, the German pope had taken everyone by surprise. Above all, he made a quasi-revolutionary gesture, unthinkable until now for a pope: the successor of Peter, the vicar of Christ, does not resign! But Benedict XVI did.

This rather shy man, not very inclined to media stunts, was able to take his leave in a particularly spectacular way. However, we should not have been surprised by his resignation. It was part of the logic of his pontificate. All we had to do was listen to him, which we didn’t do enough of.

That evening in April 2005, in St Peter’s Square, we should have paid more attention to his first words: “I am a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.” “Humble worker”: a quite distant quote from the famous “do not be afraid” of his predecessor! One would like to see it as a figure of speech, a Gospel quotation repeated for the occasion. It was not. All his life as Pope, Benedict XVI considered himself as the “humble worker”, one there only to be at the service of the Church and therefore of Christ. And it is in this sense that his resignation must be understood.

A more humble papacy
Strange pope: bringing out the oldest liturgical trappings, those that, for many Catholics, remind us of the time when the Church dominated with its “superbness”, and at the same time taking so much care to remind us of his own weaknesses, to minimise his role.

Certainly, this pope neither had the strength of John Paul II, nor the popularity of Francis. Frail, introverted, he seemed to be crushed between his predecessor and his successor. However, these eight years have undoubtedly left a greater mark on the history of the Church than the memory they leave in the media.

First of all, because this pope gave a great lesson in humility to the whole Church. Everything in his attitude, how he often recalled the rightful place of the successor of Peter, his willingness above all not to put himself at the centre of the Church, proposed another mode of papacy, more modest, and less absolute than his predecessor. And also, less personal than his successor Francis who is so willing to play the game.

A poor manager – the Vatileaks affair has heavily tarnished the image of his pontificate outside the Church — Pope Benedict drew the outlines of a humbler papacy, more human in essence. It should make us Catholics reflect in this era when the idols in which we have believed are falling one after the other.

We should have listened to this man who was haunted by the failures of his century but refused to see the triumph of a society without God — where liberal individualism and the most savage capitalism reign — as the only solution to the tragic excesses of the great totalitarian ideologies. In a disoriented world, prone to what he called “relativism”, which no longer knows which values to hold on to, Benedict XVI proposed an original path, which has been too quickly caricatured: a return to Tradition. For Ratzinger never wanted to turn back the clock, nor to freeze the Catholic world in an immobile thought.

Illnesses and weaknesses of the Church
For him, tradition must be renewed, alive, inspired. It is the possibility of drawing on the memory of Scripture to understand the present and better respond to the challenges of the future. Perhaps, in our 21st century, threatened with extinction (a result of the disasters we ourselves have helped to bring about), we will one day remember this old man in white who invited us to draw from our past the resources to free ourselves from the present.

We thought this pope was concerned with defending the Church as a besieged fortress. Another false idea! Never has this pope been more sensitive and lucid about the illnesses and weaknesses that plague the institution. The prestigious theologian felt it was also his duty to tackle what is perhaps the worst aspect of the history of the Catholic Church in the last fifty years, the scandal of sexual abuses by some priests.

In this respect, Benedict XVI has taken the opposite view from his predecessor, and also from the men of his generation, who have often minimised the extent of the crisis. During his trips to the United States and then to Malta, he humbly asked for forgiveness for the sins committed by priests in the Catholic Church.

For this Augustinian, who was fundamentally pessimistic about human nature, one cannot separate the glorious Church from its own flaws and failings: the dark side is an integral part of the Church. As he said in 2010 in Portugal, “the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside but from within”. It is this same radicality that explains, in the end, his gesture of resignation.

Faced with a Curia that, completely forgetting its own legitimacy, obstinately pursued the preservation of its privileges and temporal power, Benedict XVI chose to use spiritual power. In this sense, the resignation of Benedict XVI was intended to prepare the pontificate of Francis for a necessary renewal, by doing the work of Truth.

Applying for himself what he said of his master, St Augustine: “He did not feel he had a vocation to pastoral life but realised later that God was calling him to be a pastor among others and thus to offer people the gift of the truth.” (Audience of January 9, 2008). --LCI, (https:// international.la-croix.com/

Total Comments:0