3/1/2013--Yesterday was Pope Benedict’s last day as Pope. Benedict was never really understood. Among many people in the West, Benedict was seen as conservative and doctrinally harsh. But the truth is that was Benedict, alone among recent popes who was able to engage secularity. It is impossible to imagine anyone but Benedict debating Jurgen Habermas concerning the role of religion in Western society. And it was Benedict who gave a theological justification for tolerance among all the religions. It was Benedict who wrote that the Christian could not decide that the path to salvation lay only in Christianity. That was for God to say, not a human being.
Benedict wrote two very accessible works during his time as Pope. These were his two books about Jesus. Benedict stated that he did not write these books out of the teaching authority of the papacy. He wrote them, as it were, as a scholar. I don’t know any Catholics who actually read these two books. But if the church has any hope to a future, these books will become part of the curriculum for young people to understand the Gospels.
And it was Benedict who dared to call Islam to account for its anti-rational stance toward God. All that is remembered now from that event is the controversy that his remarks created. But Benedict was presenting a serious theological challenge to Islam. As I mentioned above, it was not Benedict’s purpose to contrast Islam’s view of God with that of Christianity. Rather he challenged Islam on its own terms to deal with God as a rational being. Not as a willful tyrant. Benedict’s way, rather than the way of military confrontation, is the path toward a pacific Islam.
So I for one say farewell to Benedict’s papacy with great sadness. And with tremendous admiration. Benedict was a man who did not need to be Pope. But we needed him to be Pope.