Against relativism, Pope Benedict has shown the way
This article was published on The Commentator on February 11th, 2013. Link here.
Pope Benedict XVI surprised everyone this morning announcing he would resign on February 28. “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry”, he said in a statement published by The Vatican.
The announcement sent shockwaves throughout a world which has grown accustomed to the fact that virtually no leader merely resigns; where the act of understanding one’s strengths and abilities, and shortcomings therein, and then evaluating what is best for others, is often forgotten.
But what is even more important about Benedict XVI, the first Pope to resign in six centuries, with Gregory XII being the previous one, is not just his unexpected decision to step down, or the ground-breaking ecumenical work that he carried out during his short tenure to bring together all faiths, which I am sure will be analysed in detail in many newspapers and books.
What will be remembered of Benedict XVI is his extraordinary body of work as one of the main theologians of our time, one that will be the subject of study for years to come.
His three encyclicals “Deus Caritas Est”, “Spe Salvi” and “Caritas in Veritate” can be understood as a trilogy that covers the journey of man and his relationship with God in all aspects of modern life, from family and the relationship with fellow citizens to politics, business and economics.
The three encyclicals prove to be references to be consulted in many different occasions of any person’s life, Roman Catholic or not. These works reflect upon the issues that preoccupy us all, and do so in a clear and concise way that can be valuable to everyone.
In sum, it comprises the universal message of following the quest for holiness as “man’s perennial effort to reach God”.
His central idea of a relationship of friendship with Jesus Christ, a one-to-one dialogue in an open, frank and transparent way, is certainly ground-breaking. As important is his strong criticism of relativism and self-absorption. Benedict XVI sees dialogue as part of an eternal process of learning, not a useless torrent of unsubstantiated opinions.
It is about dialogue as a nurturing process for all involved, with God as a guiding friendly figure, within a process of sanctification in every-day life. These thoughts can be found in works like “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions”(2004) and “Holiness is Always in Season” (2011).
But Pope Benedict XVI’s crowning theological achievement was his monumental work on Jesus of Nazareth, a project he had conceived when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and that he called “an expression of his personal search for the face of the Lord”.
The trilogy, which includes ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (2007), ‘Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week’ (2011), and ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives’ (2012), does not aim to convince agnostics or enter into debates, it simply accounts every aspect of the life of Jesus Christ with devotion, love and admiration. Its success lies precisely in its lack of indoctrination.
By maintaining a distance from the main controversies, and mentioning the works of many experts in numerous different subjects, from art to linguistics, the books allow the reader to dive into the truly important messages of Jesus’ legacy.
What I have always found fascinating about Pope Benedict XVI’s work is that, despite being extremely profound and intense, it welcomes the reader to join him in a quest to search for God, where one does not feel like a subject or a pupil, but a friend.
I am sure that after all the hype, the Pope Benedict XVI we will remember is not the media personality we all think we know, but Joseph Ratzinger, one of the great theologians of our time.