Writing for Fox News, John Moody observes that Pope Benedict XVI was not Pope John Paul II. This seems, for Moody, to be the hermeneutical key in which the entirety of Benedicts papacy should be assessed. Only at the end of his op-ed does Moody note a distinctive contribution of Pope Benedict to the life of the Church, and it is precisely in his resignation.
John Paul II indeed was the right pope for his time, a shining light and a beaming smile, as the face with which Catholicism would enter the digital age. For all Benedicts forays into digital media, the travels and persona of John Paul II expressed, more than anything his successor would ever do, the spirit of aggiornamento that the Church has been striving to find ever since the Second Vatican Council.
But aggiornamento cannot exist in a vacuum. If it is a bringing up to date (typified by John Pauls personalist stripe of thought), a sort of hermeneutic of reform, it must be balanced by a ressourcement , by a return to the sources. The hermeneutic thereby becomes the now-famous Benedictine phrase, the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.
Benedicts ressourcement was typified by the extended catecheses he gave on ancient and medieval Christian thinkers in a (sadly underappreciated) effort to bring to our attention the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition. It is typified by his liturgical reforms with Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus ; the former opens more widely a more traditional mode of worship, and both together recall the liturgical variation and diversity of the medieval era. It is typified by his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est , which evokes the great ecclesial tradition of commentary on the Song of Songs, and which takes as an interlocutor Platos Symposium , one of the classical texts which gave rise to the Neoplatonic strains which so deeply influenced the theologians of the Church.
Even the controversial moments of Benedicts papacy have been shot through by this spirit of ressourcement ; the infamous misunderstanding of the Regensburg address comes from Benedicts reference to an obscure medieval Byzantine text.
No, Pope Benedict is not Pope John Paul , and thanks be to God! The Church needs a variety of different tones in which to speak, and Benedicts pontificate, with its deep sense of ressourcement , has been a complement to the ebullience of Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council, an ebullience which was good in itself, but needed a certain groundedness.
There is another way in which Benedict has not been John Paul II. Our previous Holy Father made only small steps towards taking responsibility, in the person of the Church, for the great evils of the sex abuse crisis, and that in the midst of a great mass of apologies which typified his pontificate. Benedict responded to the sex scandals more deliberately.
Benedict, in his days as a cardinal at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had seen the evil of child abuse far more closely than most of us could bear, and made of this his one great apology which outweighed the smaller ones he made along the way, an apology truly made with sackcloth, ashes, and gnashing of teeth. He wept, and his voice broke as he met with the victims of the great sin of the modern Church, and he decried the evil with a stronger voice than any of us would have hoped to hear from the Apostolic See.
No, Mr. Moody. Benedict XVI has not been John Paul II. He has been Benedict XVI, and for that, we can never thank him enough. He will always be our Holy Father, in heart, even if not in office. Viva il Papa.
Joshua Gonnerman lives in Washington, D.C., where he is a doctoral student in historical theology at the Catholic University of America
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