[After reading this post, please refer to my follow-up reflections.]
It seems like only yesterday that I was musing, in a most bemused fashion, about the appearance that the Church currently has two popes.
As a matter of fact, it was yesterday.
Happily, or rather, unhappily, enough, Rorate recently posted two translations of Italian articles that deal with the very same unheimlich topic.
Two popes are better than one! Lambs of God, who take away the sense of the world, have murmurs on us.
Care of Rorate, here are some highlights from Vittorio Messori’s 28 May article in Corriere della Sera:
The sides seem to be two: on the one hand there are the guardians of Tradition, for whom the “renunciation” (not demission, the Pope not having anyone on earth to present it to) even if it is foreseen in Canon Law, would be a sort of defection, almost as if Benedict XVI considered his office like that of a president of a multinational or a State. And so, it was necessary he retire to a private life because of declining age, for the sake of issues of efficiency; [he] refused, instead, the long public agony chosen by John Paul II. On the other hand, we have the side of those who are rejoicing: the renunciation would end the sacredness of the Pontiff – that mystical aura surrounding his person – and therefore [there would be] the conforming of the Bishop of Rome to the same norm of all bishops – desired by Paul VI; that is, the renunciation of the governing of a diocese and official appointments in the Roman Curia at the age of 75. …
In the background, though, there remained questions which seemed to have no answers: why did he not choose to call himself “Bishop Emeritus of Rome” (as the Civiltà Cattolica suggested) rather than “Pope Emeritus”? Why did he not renounce the white cassock, even if he took off the cape and the annulus piscatorius from his finger, the sign of his ruling authority? Why did he not withdraw into the silence of a cloistered monastery, instead of staying [at the center — EBB] within the confines of Vatican City…?
Stefano Violi, esteemed Professor of Canon Law at the Faculty of Theology in Bologna and Lugano … hypothesizes that Ratzinger’s act is profoundly innovative, and that there really are two living Popes: even if one of them by his own will, – to say it in a simplistic but not wrong way – in our view – “halved himself”. …
[S]tudying in-depth the very precise Latin with which Joseph Ratzinger accompanied his decision, the eyes of the canon lawyer discovered that it goes way beyond its few historical antecedents and also beyond the discipline foreseen for the “renunciation” in the present Code of the Church.
That is to say, we discover, that Benedict XVI did not intend to renounce the munus petrinus, nor the office, or the duties, i.e. which Christ Himself attributed to the Head of the Apostles and which has been passed on to his successors. The Pope intended to renounce only the ministerium, which is the exercise and concrete administration of that office. In the formula employed by Benedict, primarily, there is a distinction between the munus, the papal office, and the execution, that is the active exercise of the office itself: but the executio is twofold: there is the governmental aspect which is exercised agendo et loquendo – working and teaching; but there is also the spiritual aspect, no less important, which is exercised orando et patendo – praying and suffering. …
To cite Professor Violi: “Benedict XVI divested himself of all the power of government and command inherent in his office, without however, abandoning his service to the Church: this continues through the exercise of the spiritual dimension of the pontifical munus entrusted to him. This he did not intend renouncing. He renounced not his duties, which are irrevocable, but the concrete execution of them.” Is it perhaps for this that Francis seems not to be fond of calling himself “Pope” aware as he is of sharing the pontifical munus, at least in the spiritual dimension, with Benedict? …
Instead, what he has inherited entirely from Benedict, is the office of the Bishop of Rome. Is it for this reason, as everyone knows, this has been his favourite definition, from the very first words of greeting to the people after his election? So much so, that many surprised, asked themselves why he had never used the word “Pope” or “Pontiff” on such a solemn occasion, in front of the televisions of the entire world and spoke only about his role as the successor to the Roman Episcopate. …
Therefore: would the Church then for the first time, truly have two Popes, one reigning and one emeritus? It appears that this was the will of Joseph Ratzinger himself….
And now, once you recollect your jaw off the floor (or is it just me? You know how bat-like I can be…), here are some highlights from the 29 May piece by Antonio Socci in Libero:
[Messori notes that, according to Violi, Benedict] maintains “the munus, the papal office” which “is irrevocable”. He renounced only “its concrete exercise.” Which means that the Church would really have “two Popes” – a diarchy.
This revelation is truly sensational. It is a shame that it was already made and commented upon – many times, with plenty of argumentation – three months ago, here in the columns of “Libero” (four installments of my inquiry, starting on February 9).
Three months later, Messori and the “Corriere” presented all of it as if it were their own scoop (taking as a pretext one of the essays by a canon lawyer which came out recently)….
Having to explain why he had kept the title of “Pope Emeritus”, the name “His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and the white cassock, Ratzinger wrote verbatim: “at the moment of my renunciation there were no other clothes available.”
“La Stampa-Vatican Insider” thought such a surreal answer sounded just right. They were not even aware of the Pope’s sensational irony and how he had elegantly eluded them.
It is obvious in fact, that such an answer meant that the Pope could not or did not want to speak nor explain the reasons for that choice. …
In fact, two days after, February 28, the trusted Don Georg Gänswein, Ratzinger’s secretary, in an interview to “Avvenire” gave the real answer which Benedict could not or did not want to give in person. Here is how Don Georg explained why he had kept the title of Pope Emeritus: “He considers that this title corresponds to reality.”
Anyone can understand that this statement is of exceptional importance: it means that Ratzinger dresses like a Pope because “he is” Pope. …
Is everything just fine then? Is everybody happy? It is exactly the opposite. Messori in fact, as an “insider” – cannot ignore that this situation – as he outlines it – does not have any theological nor canonical foundation.
Through the Divine Constitution of the Church, in reality only one can be the Pope. And if it is as Messori says – Benedict XVI “did not intend to renounce the pontifical munus” which “is irrevocable” what kind of demission is his?
Dismissing the above as “sensational”, or as “gossip”, is the most understandable reaction–especially since this news probably strikes most people as typical “rad trad” hysteria. And yet even a leading cardinal of the bicephalous Church openly hinted at this perverse reality roughly only a month ago at the dual canonizations in Rome (cf. Cdl. Wuerl’s interview titled “Two popes, two saints“).
“Inherit the Wuerlwind” — Odd how Wuerl stutters and pauses at 0:57 when he tries to express the status of Benedict XVI. Maybe his sensus catholicus caught his tongue. Or does that kind of thing only happen to me?
And then at 2:09 Wuerl recalls his feelings “when Pope Francis … greeted Pope Benedict” at the canonization events. Wuerl goes on:
“There was another pope that all of us had an opportunity to work with over the years. There’s a personal tie with everyone of them: Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict, and of course now, Pope Francis. And there was a lot of emotion.”
Cdl. Wuerl had not the slightest qualms about admitting the compresence of two popes in the Church, so why should we? After all, if “the pope” is not necessarily a ruling vicar over the Church, but is instead a sort of spiritual ember within the Church, then maybe we can finally get rid of all that exclusivist, papal triumphalism and just admit that we Christians are on the same level playing ground. In a word, you might summarize this innovation as, “Popes must increase that the papacy may decrease.”
“There was a lot of emotion.”
After all, why have one pope when you can have two for the price of one? One shepherd, one flock—pffft! We live in days of hope, and it’s about time the Church learned how to imitate the most successful corporations. It’s all about delegation, consultation, and that good ol’ team spirit, baby.
So, while I would normally be inclined to reject the analysis in this post as crude and opportunistic (which it is), I admit that the last several months have broadened my sense of the possible in The One Church Which Christ Founded But Which The Second Vatican Conchshell Seems To Have Confounded. The most pertinent footage begins at 2:25, but the comments take on even more depth in connection with the footage that begins at 1:09.
Inverting the action of the blessings (from The People to The Pope); explaining reality not so much in terms of its center (the Vatican? the current pope?) but more so in terms of its peripheries (the diocese of Rome encircling the Vatican? the hidden, ancillary pope?); pointing at the Vatican to indicate where “the pope is”–it’s all typically mystifying verbiage from Francis, with a very peculiar undertone. Indeed, why should Francis emphasize his unique authority–his ecclesial centrality–when he conceives of himself merely as the Bishop of Rome performing one ‘half’ of the Petrine ministry, while Benedict is still performing its ‘peripheral’ functions? Following Vatican II, are we being led to believe that the Petrine chrism merely “subsists in” the executive office, and then surfaces in the ministerial emanations therefrom? Or, to stick even more closely to the thought of Pope Lesser himself, in the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, perhaps we are to understand that this papacy “is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same .” Likewise, to adapt the words in the instruction on the application of Summorum Pontificum, perhaps these popes are to be understood as
two usages of the one Roman [Pontiff], one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same [munus petrinum] of the Church. On account of its venerable and ancient use, the [pontifex] extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honor.
But I’m just spitballin’.
Oh, and please recall how Francis chose from the very start not to live in the Apostolic Palace, but instead, on the periphery of the Apostolic See, in the Domus Sanctae Martae (which is a hotel, for temporary residents, who have active passports for their native countries). By relocating to the periphery, maybe Francis knew something we didn’t, and was trying to signal something we couldn’t (or daren’t) see.
I fully grant that my relatively vast ignorance of canon law makes me easy prey for unwarranted conclusions and baseless fears, but I will not deny that the hypothetical bifurcation, mentioned in Messori’s article above, of the ‘official’ papal ministry and its “spiritual” powers strikes me as a fundamental Protestant error. As Pope Pius XII taught in Mystici Corporis Christi (29 June 1943), the terrestrial, suffering, visible, official Church is entirely one with the mystical, glorious, invisible, spiritual Church. “What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” and so on. The Protestant error is to posit a “true” spiritual communion in contrast to the legalistic, visible actions of the merely religiously active. What theological message is being sent if, apparently, the former (or, should I say, lesser?) pope himself introduced a bifurcation between the magisterial and ministerial execution of the papal office?
I honestly do not know, but the following passage from St. Robert Bellarmine, which I was shown today by a friend in a totally different context, struck me as oddly relevant:
One of the chief heretical tenets of the Anabaptists and of the Trinitarians of the present day is, that it is not lawful for Christians to exercise magisterial power, nor should body-guards, tribunals, judgments, the right of capital punishment, etc., be maintained among Christians. Ministers in Transylvania who denied the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the baptism of infants, proclaimed in 1568 at Alba Julia the differences between the true Christ and the false Christ, the seventh of which states that the false Christ has in his church kings, princes, magistrates, and military force, and that the true Christ can suffer no such things in His Church.
Apparently, Benedict XVI decided to remain the pope, but not to act out the role (sort of like keeping the keys without driving the car, I guess). Maybe he just wanted to enjoy the spiritual dimension of the papacy, without being encumbered by all that musty, neo-Pelagian monarchial responsibility. Seems legit. After all, who am I to judge?
Except, it’s not even clear what Benedict’s true motives were. His official renunciatio spoke only of his failing strength, whereas he subsequently cited a “mystical” compulsion as his motive for renouncing the papal ministerium. According to these juicy giblets from The Guardian (21 August 2013):
Zenit reported that Benedict has stuck to his plan to live a life of secluded prayer, receiving very few visitors at his house in the Vatican’s gardens, which enjoys views across Rome to the Apennine mountains beyond.
“During these meetings, the ex-pontiff does not comment, does not reveal secrets, does not make statements that could be understood as ‘the words of the other pope’, but is as reserved as he has always been,” wrote Zenit.
After concerns were raised that Benedict would exert undue influence at the Vatican as his successor struggled to find his feet, Francis’s popular approach and his shakeup of Vatican protocols have relegated Benedict to the sidelines [or, for those keeping score at home, to the peripheries].
Francis has even joked about the situation, saying in July: “The last time there were two or three popes, they didn’t talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!”
Having Benedict living in the Vatican, he added, “is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather – living at home [or, in the center]“.
Truly, we live in days of hope–when establishing who is “the true pope”, is not a spiritual exigency but a comedic release. The Chair of Peter is only big enough for one Christian rump, so, if we take Pope the Greater’s joke at face value, it’s as if Papa Francesco is sitting in Grandpa Benedict’s lap, while the Chair still remains occupied by that Teutonic rump we thought we knew so well. One way or another, one rump must trump the other rump.
Are you laughing yet? No? Are you sure you’re not a neo-Pelagian?
Here’s the thing, though.
We Catholics know that a particular man only enjoys the Petrine efficacy (executio) by virtue of occupying the Petrine office (munus). If, however, Benedict did not renounce the papal munus, how does he have any rights to the papal executio, even if we only focus on its spiritual dimension (orando et patendo)? How can he have rights to the spiritual executio but not to the teaching executio, since the entire point is that the munus entitles him to the full executio? Moreover, if Benedict did not renounce the papal munus, how can another man occupy it? How can two men occupy the same chair, and by what authority does one of them minister when the other could, in virtue of his office, reclaim the ministerium?
The mind boggles–but one thing that is certain is that we faithful Catholics must not, under any circumstances, cry fowl, nor betray even a hint of disquietude about this perfectly. normal. innovation. being wrought upon the very summit of the Church’s supernatural constitution. After all, it’s not like Pope the Lesser is actually teaching or–wait, what?
So much for that life of perpetual monasticism and obscurity.
Popes nowadays are pretty much shoe-ins for sainthood, so, like I keep saying, the more popes the better!
All kidding aside, we can be thankful that the Church already addressed issues like this, so rest assured that nothing is amiss with having two popes.
Here are some excerpts from the Constitutio Dogmatica Prima de Ecclesia Christi (cap. 2 and 3), issued at the First Vatican Council:
[T]he holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides, and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by him, and consecrated by his blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth therefore remains, and blessed Peter, abiding through the strength of the Rock in the power that he received, has not abandoned the direction of the Church. Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church—that is to say, the faithful throughout the world—should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received; that all being associated in the unity of that See whence the rights of communion spread to all, might grow together as members of one Head in the compact unity of the body. …
The Roman Church possesses a superiority of ordinary power over all other churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world, so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme pastor through the preservation of unity both of [spiritual?] communion and of profession of the same faith with the Roman Pontiff. This is the teaching of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate without loss of faith and of salvation. …
Further, from this supreme power possessed by the Roman Pontiff of governing the universal Church, it follows that he has the right of free communication with the pastors of the whole Church, and with their flocks, that these may be taught and ruled by him in the way of salvation. Wherefore we condemn and reject the opinions of those who hold that the communication between this supreme head and the pastors and their flocks can lawfully be impeded [i.e. that the munus does not entitle one to the execution of the ministerium]….
If, then, any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or [spiritual?] direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the [“halved?”] principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the churches, and over each and all the pastors and the faithful: let him be anathema.
If one were inclined to connect the dots and discern the signs of the times in a rigorous fashion, one might be forgiven for realizing that this all makes sense–if, that is, you accept certain extreme conditions. In a word, every shadow church needs a shadow pope, so if the latter is an open secret, maybe we can finally grant that the former is, too.