Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

Well, the Electors may not have surprised anyone else, but they surprised me. I had thought that one of the Europeans would be a compromise choice later on in the balloting--third or fourth day, and either Schoenborn or one of the Italians. The best shot seemed to me one of the very promising third-worlders. I wonder what they had in mind?

--They elected the smartest man in the room: a formidable theologian, who would have left his mark, no matter what.

--They elected the oldest man in the room, or pretty close. We saw with John XXIII that the man with little to lose is not necessarily the most cautious.

--They elected a peer of John Paul II. Benedict was one of two cardinals at the conclave who had been among the electors in 1978.

--They elected a consummate European, of a very sophisticated, even subtle, cast of mind. Benedict seems to be a very highly "cultured" person in the most formal sense of that word. I heard this evening that he is a musician, an accomplished classical pianist who loves Mozart.

--Continuing that thought, they probably could not have elected a Pope with a personality that contrasted more with that of his predecessor. Not shy, but very "academic," a grandfatherly type. He seems to be the type who may have "mentored" other members of the hierarchy with discretion and a certain warmth.

--In intellectual style, also very different. A neo-scholastic theologian as opposed to a phenomenological philosopher. Read anything by either man: the difference in approach is immediately apparent.

--Did they Electors choose St. Benedict or Benedict XV? The former was the bold founder of monasteries, the great medieval foundations that rescued not only the faith but also civilization itself from Europe's bearded invaders. The latter was, according to one historian, "a frail, reserved aristocrat" who inherited a Church inspired by a strong Pope Pius X but somewhat angered by the Modernist controversies. Yet Benedict XV also engaged his world by writing what would become the pioneering missionary charter of his century, and by suffering with the Church through World War I. He spent himself in charitable efforts to ease the plight of a huge refugee problem and to bring the nations to the negotiating table, unsuccessfully. He was a fascinating and complex character.

We can only wait, watch and learn what prompting of the Spirit moved the Cardinals in Cardinal Ratzinger's direction.

No comments: