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Benedict XVI

Under that high and insolent dome

Thursday, 21 July, 2016 0 Comments

There’s a lot of history in the baroque wrinkles of Kloster Schäftlarn, the Bavarian Benedictine abbey where monks continue a tradition that stretches back 1,500 years to what Saint Benedict of Nursia started at Subiaco in 529. According to legend, the Benedictine motto is Ora est labora, which would mean “Pray equals work.”; the actual motto, however, is Ora et labora, meaning “Pray and work.” Daily life in the monastery is governed by The Rule of Saint Benedict, which emphasizes prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal. The result is a legacy of enduring value.

Kloster Schäftlarn

“This was my conversion to the baroque. Here under that high and insolent dome, under those tricky ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones was indeed a life-giving spring.” — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


Has the nimbus been tarnished?

Thursday, 28 February, 2013 1 Comment

There is a nimbus about the Papacy, bound up with the history of the office that makes it unlike anything else on Earth. That being the case, one could view the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign as very damaging to the ancient aura he inherited. By doing something as normal as what’s being termed “retiring” he is making the mysterious very mortal. And therein lies a danger. The other-worldliness of the Papacy, its claim to divine selection, has enabled the Catholic Church to act as a bulwark against secularization in all its forms, be it the evil of communism or the sterility of consumerism. And when some new cultish belief system like warmism emerges, the historical example of the Vatican helps puts it in perspective and in its place. If the Papacy is to be “humanized”, will the forces and the fanaticisms that it has traditionally neutralized feel emboldened to stake their claim for legitimacy, now that they feel a mere man stands in their way?


Sede vacante

Thursday, 28 February, 2013 0 Comments

“From a distance, the skullcaps of a knot of cardinals looked like fuchsias,” writes Christopher Howse in the Telegraph. Getting into his stride, he adds: “The people spilt out of the Vatican state, with concentrations like iron filings round screens in the Via della Conciliazione that runs towards the kaolin-grey Tiber. The silence that fell during readings from Scripture was like walking from a noisy pub into an empty street.” One of the finest pieces written about yesterday’s events in Rome is titled “In The world bids farewell to Pope Benedict XVI.”

Christopher Howse brings his readers back to 2005 and the Mass at the opening of the conclave that elected the then-Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope: “Buildings do not last, or books. After a certain time, more or less long, all this disappears,” said the celebrant. And that’s what will happen tonight when Pope Benedict XVI retires from public life. The chair of Peter will be empty. Sede vacante. That, the Latin scholar Howse points out is the Latin ablative absolute for “the chair being empty.” Now is not a moment for grief, however:

“But I think we should not underestimate the hard-bitten ability of Catholics to distinguish between the holiness of the Church and the sinfulness of its members. Jesus Christ, they were taught from childhood, is the head of the Church, not the Pope. There may be crises in the Church, but the Church is not in crisis. It is growing.”

Sede Vacante


The Most Successful Institution

Monday, 25 February, 2013 0 Comments

“The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable.”

So wrote Thomas Babington Macaulay, one of Britain’s greatest historians, in an 1840 review of Leopold von Ranke’s History of the Popes. Macaulay continued:

“The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour.”

And he finished the review, titled “The Roman Catholic Church as the Most Successful Institution that Has Ever Existed“, with a glorious flourish:

She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

Macaulay understood the value of taking the long view. Sic transit gloria mundi he would have warned His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien.


Conclave watch: Italian job or Asian pivot

Tuesday, 19 February, 2013 1 Comment

After seeing the last two pontificates going to a Pole and a German, the Italians are said to be eager to see one of their own wearing the Ring of the Fisherman. The Ring of the Fisherman In all discussions, three names dominate: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, and Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan. Of the three, Cardinal Scola, 71, is said to have the most impressive CV. If, however, someone younger is needed, Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of Venice, is waiting in the wings, He’ll be 60 in May, but the problem is that he’s not a cardinal. Of course, nothing prohibits the election of someone who is not part of the Sacred College, but tradition is central to the rites of the Catholic Church.

If youth is an issue, and Benedict XVI has certainly put the matter of age into play by way of his renunciation of the Papacy, conclave historians will note that Karol Wojtyla was a mere 58 when he became John Paul II. That being the case, it may well be worth keeping an eye in the coming weeks on a young cardinal who has enhanced his theological credibility by helping to author the huge history of Vatican Council II. As well, his doctrinally correct pastoral work is said to be pleasing to Benedict XVI and his simple lifestyle and outreach to the poor have impressed the faithful. Step forward, archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Backgrounder: He’s 56 and he’s got 118,000 likes on Facebook. More importantly, he’s from the Philippines, which is the only Asian nation with a Catholic majority. Rome would like to see that state of affairs change in our life time and just as the USA is said to be pivoting towards Asia, the Vatican is aware that the Pacific and not the Atlantic will be the decisive ocean in the 21st century. Cardinal Tagle might just be the person to lead the new wave of evangelization, about which we’ll have more here on Friday.


The Pope’s heart

Wednesday, 13 February, 2013 0 Comments

According to people who know about these things, congestive heart failure leads to serious loss of energy because the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. A knock-on effect is that mental capacity starts to be impacted. Congestive heart failure was one of the ailments that affected Franklin D. Roosevelt and towards the end of his presidency it robbed him of vitality in debate.

The papal heart Yesterday’s revelation that Pope Benedict XVI had been fitted with a pacemaker focused attention on his declining health, and his brother had this to say to the BBC: “When he got to the second half of his 80s, he felt that his age was showing and that he was gradually losing the abilities he may have had and that it takes to fulfil this office properly.” That’s worth pondering because as we now know, many Popes have served the final part of their papacy with some sort of dementia. Benedict XVI will be one of the Popes who will not do that. And by virtue of being alive, compos mentis and in the ‘hood, so to speak, he’ll exert a significant influence over the selection of his successor. In this way, his decision to renounce his office acquires a new dimension of wisdom.


Germany is glad to see the back of Benedict

Tuesday, 12 February, 2013 0 Comments

Pope Benedict resigns

A sigh of relief swept across much of Germany when the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation became public yesterday. His papacy was marked by a drumbeat of criticism that displayed contempt for his office and willful ignorance of the pontifical role. It was clear from the outset that Benedict was going to dedicate himself to correcting the theological aberrations that had developed since the Second Vatican Council, while reminding the 1.2 billion faithful that the heritage of the Catholic Church extends far further into the past than 1962, the year the Second Vatican Council was convened. Both of these goals enraged the elites that manufacture popular consent in Germany because they wanted a green, feminist, socialist, post-religious Pope who would conform to their warped interpretation of the world. They didn’t get what they wished for in April 2005, and they most certainly will not like what’s coming in March 2013.


Lance Armstrong: corrupt optima pessima

Friday, 18 January, 2013 0 Comments

Latin “In English you say ‘the corruption of the best one is horrible’; in Latin, three words suffice: ‘corrupt optima pessima‘. It is a language which helps to think with precision and sobriety. And it has produced an exceptional heritage of science, knowledge and faith.” So spoke Roberto Spataro, secretary of the Pontifical Academy for Latin Studies, which Pope Benedict XVI founded last year.

Latin is back in the news because of @pontifex_ln, which now has 3,000 followers. In the four weeks since he began tweeting in seven other languages the Pope has gathered more than 2.5 million followers and counting. But isn’t Latin, with all its lentitudo, just a tad sluggish for our hyper times? Not at all says Manlio Simonetti, professor in Christian history. He told L’Osservatore Romano, the “semi-official” newspaper of the Holy See: “Latin… is very well suited to the brevity necessary on new social networks, even more so than English.”

Speaking of L’Osservatore Romano, it began the year with an article titled, “How a tweet from the Pope originates“. Tweet-like snippet: “The appointed departments of the Secretariat of State prepare a text which the Pope then must approve.”

@lancearmstrong, meanwhile, has 3,895,000 followers.


@Pontifex tweets

Wednesday, 12 December, 2012 0 Comments


Anticipating @Pope

Monday, 3 December, 2012 0 Comments

Pope Benedict XVI will launch his personal Twitter account later this morning at the Vatican. Among those present for the big moment will be Revered Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office and Claire Díaz-Ortiz, who heads social innovation at Twitter. And the papal Twitter handle? In June last year, the Pope launched the new site www.news.va by sending a tweet from @news_va_en. He wrote, “Dear friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.” That signature has led some to believe that @BenedictusPPXVI will be the name for the 85-year-old Pontiff’s account, although @Pope would be very fitting.

UPDATE: #HabemusPapam…. @Pontifex


“Non si può seguire Gesù da soli”

Sunday, 1 July, 2012

Who knows what this pilgrim at the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in mid-June was praying for? Health, perhaps. Better weather, possibly. An Italian victory in Euro 2012? Tonight, in Kiev, Italy play Spain in the final of the championship and for the Italian coach, Cesare Prandelli, the tournament has been a triumph of faith. […]

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