From 20:00hrs Feb 28: “His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop-Emeritus of Rome”

So, there you have it. After 8:00pm Rome time on February 28, Benedict XVI will

1) still be addressed by the honorific he held before his retirement, ie. “Your Holiness”
2) retain the name he took at his election, ie. “Benedict XVI”
3) have the status of “Bishop-emeritus of Rome”.

All these points require just a few comments:

1) Retaining the honorific is sensible. Retired bishops are still “My Lord” and retired archbishops are still “Your Grace” (or, outside the British Empire: “Your Excellency”). In fact, I think that even where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate in favour of her son, she would still be called “Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II”. I wonder if this has any bearing on the colour of the soutane that His Holiness will wear after February 28…?

2) Retaining the name “Benedict XVI” is also important. A name is not the same thing as an office. A name is a personal identity. Joseph Ratzinger’s personal identity changed for all time when he took a new name on April 19, 2005. Sandro Magister had an interesting column a few days back from some critics of the abdication. In particular, “the philosopher and theologian Enrico Maria Radaelli” said:

“Not considering these facts is in my view a murderous blow to dogma. Resigning means losing the universal name of Peter and going back to the private being of Simon, but this cannot be, because the name of Peter, of Cephas, of Rock, is given on a divine plane to a man who, in receiving it, no longer makes only himself, but ‘makes Church.’ Without counting the fact that since the self-removed pope cannot in reality resign, the incoming pope, despite himself, will be nothing but an antipope. And reigning will be he, the antipope, not the true pope.”

I would submit that Radaelli needs to check his philosophy a bit closer, and his theology too. While in many parallel cases, a new name is taken when a person enters a new office, the office and the name are not the same thing. The office can be held by another person, the name can never be held by another. The name is personal, the office is not. Peter cannot go back to Simon, nor can Benedict XVI go back to being Joseph Ratzinger. But this is not the same thing as a pope ceasing to be pope. And for the sticklers, I will point out that Peter did not become “the first pope” that day in Caesarea Philippi – such an office could not theologically come into being until the Church herself came into being at Pentecost, nor could it historically come into being before the Church of Rome was established. Both happened after the name change.

3) And, since (as John Paul II famously said) “there is no place in the Church for an emeritus pope”, Benedict XVI will have the status of “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”, not “Pope Emeritus”. This too is a good distinction. There is only one pope, and no such thing as a “retired pope”. We should, however, distinguish the office of the Papacy from the office of the Bishop of Rome, even though this office is held by the same person. (It is an interesting question whether or not we could ever imagine a time when the Petrine Ministry might be given to a bishop who is not also the Bishop of the Church of Rome – but I think not, given that the Petrine Ministry in early centuries grew out of the pre-eminence of the Church of Rome among all the churches.) Thus “Bishop Emeritus of Rome” is just right.

Mind you, I did have one other naughty thought with regard to how the retired Benedict XVI could be styled. You may recall the odd removal from the Vatican Yearbook at the start of Benedict’s papacy of the papal title “Patriarch of the West”. Since this title is no longer in use by the Pope, maybe it could be given to the “Bishop Emeritus of Rome”?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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11 Responses to From 20:00hrs Feb 28: “His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Bishop-Emeritus of Rome”

  1. Joshua says:

    I still feel so very sad about this.

    Obviously, I am not the Pope (who is judged of none on earth), and from all reports he has been besieged by every conceivable difficulty, from his own frailty and failing health to the infamously intractable Curia and its filth-ridden factions. (A friend of mine once commented on those two legendary Curial officials, Monsignors Salami and Grotti, who between them, owing to their insane rivalry and constant intriguing against each other and all they work with and for, are actually responsible for most of the problems of the Church. It now turns out that Salami and Grotti are real people, not just metaphors…)

    Yet… yet… I wonder if, given his aged frame, our beloved Holy Father may not be so long for this world; and in the scheme of things is having the Conclave in March 2013 rather than, say, May 2014, of real benefit? – since as many have commented, the abdication of Benedict XVI may constitute an unwelcome and potentially destabilizing precedent for future Popes.

    Perhaps we ought think on St Celestine V, to whom evidently Benedict XVI has a very great devotion! Recall that the then Cardinal Ratzinger had yearned to retire to Bavaria and his books, but John Paul II kept him on; recall the famous bear of St Corbinian, portrayed on Benedict’s coat of arms, who was dragooned into serving a saint when he just wanted to slink off: Celestine felt himself to have been dragged into a ministry beyond him, and manipulated by forces far from pure in their own motives – is Pope Benedict as usual more candid than we give him credit for in so publicly testifying to his own self-identification with Celestine, as for instance by leaving his own Papal pallium on the glorious relics of that most humble and put-upon saint? Is the Pope not admitting that he himself, the gentle theologian and pray-er that he is, is not suited to, and perhaps has not adequately fulfilled, all the demands of the present-day Papacy, not least the depressingly urgent task of scouring out the Augean stables of the Roman Curia?

    Benedict XVI will in a real sense be a “prisoner of the Vatican” from the time of his abdication until his death, unable for not merely spiritual but also political reasons to come forth. “Your hands will be bound and you will be led where you would rather not go” – as said by Someone long ago to Peter – comes to mind. The Cross is inescapable.

    I can think only to render the Collect (EF) from the Mass and Office of St Celestine V, so apt it is:

    O God, Who hast raised blessed Peter Celestine to the height of the supreme Pontificate, and Who taught him to prefer humility: mercifully grant, by his example to despise all the things of the world, and so deserve happily to attain to the rewards promised to the humble. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    • Gareth says:

      The decision still makes no logical sense.

      If the Pope felt his life on this earth was coming to an end in the next 12-24 months, why did he just not simply let nature take its course??

      John Paul II, Paul XI and Pius XII were all close to totally bed-ridden in their final years but kept on fighting the good fight.

      • Schütz says:

        Maybe the “good fight” is today a life and death struggle requiring something more than ever in the past. None of the men you cite lived to be the age if the present pontiff. Papa B said”one should not run away – BUT…” I think we need to allow that he knows himself better than we do. And we need to accept that for validity a popes abdication need be accepted by no one – least of all you or me, Gareth.

        • Peregrinus says:

          What David said.

          At the present moment in history we have the confluence of two trends; a highly centralising papacy, which I think is more immediately powerful and more “hands-on” with respect to local churches than it has ever been, and advances in medical science which mean that, for more and more people (at least in the developed world) senescence is going to be prolonged.

          This combination would be a recipe for a powerful and unaccountable curia, and if the news of the last few days suggests anything, it suggests that that would be really bad idea. And I don’t think that we should see these reports – assuming they’re true – as an aberration, unlikely to be repeated. It’s a truism that power tends to corrupt, and power exercised in secret, unaccountable power, tends particularly to corruption. For better or worse, we’ve saddled ourselves with a curial system which tends to foster ambition, careerism and ultimately corruption, and we shouldn’t act all surprised if those tendencies manifest themselves from time to time.

          I think we’ve reached a point in history where it’s right that popes should be prepared to consider resignation . A pope who can’t act doesn’t fulfil the petrine ministry so much as impede it. But even before a pope gets to the point of being unable to act, he should be asking himself whether he has the capacity to act as the needs of the church require. It may be that Benedict has decided that, through a combination of declining health and strength and the particular aptitudes that he has or doesn’t have, what the church needs is an opportunity for the Spirit to guide it to choose a pontiff who can meet the needs of the time, and his resignation creates that opportunity.

          This means, of course, that resignation will always be on the agenda, at least as a possibility, for all future popes. But I think that’s inevitable, given the factors I point to above.

        • Gareth says:

          Umm, a Papal abdication may need to be accepted by no-one but the Pope, after all, does have a superior whom he must obey: Jesus Christ Our Lord.

          The effects of such a decision are staggering. It’s a decision that affects every Catholic, and even every person on earth. He is the Vicar of Christ. His prayers and actions (through participation in the High Priesthood of Christ) win graces for the world.

          Did I really accept the Pope resigned due to ‘bad health’ when no vicar of Christ upon earth has ever given such a ridiculous reason.

          Notice no medical reason was really given.

          The real reason, only God knows and only time will tell the truth.

  2. “We should, however, distinguish the office of the Papacy from the office of the Bishop of Rome, even though this office is held by the same person. (It is an interesting question whether or not we could ever imagine a time when the Petrine Ministry might be given to a bishop who is not also the Bishop of the Church of Rome – but I think not, given that the Petrine Ministry in early centuries grew out of the pre-eminence of the Church of Rome among all the churches.)”

    The distinction is merely a logical one, not a real one. In Tradition and The Church (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, U.S.A., 2005), Msgr. George Agius (D.D., J.C.D.) deals with precisely that point, and the point you raise in the subsequent parenthesis, in the course of enumerating twelve elements of the constitution of the Church. This is where he treats of the tenth:

    “The See, or Capital, of Christendom, is Rome. Whoever is elected Bishop of Rome is at the same time the Head of the Uni-versal Church. These, however, are not two powers—of the Episcopate and of the Primacy—but one power. They are distinguished only in name (vi termini—”in the power of the term”), not in substance (non in re ipsa—”not in the thing itself”). When Peter appointed others as bish-ops in other parts of the world—particularly Evodius to succeed him in Antioch—they did not succeed him in his authority of the Apostolate and of the Primacy. Peter him-self continued to rule these Churches, applying to them the supreme authority of the Apostolate and of the Pri-macy. The fact that Peter lived and died in Rome demon-strates that, as his authority must continue until the Consummation of the World, the Church must have a sta-ble See. The whole Church would suffer from an uncer-tain and changeable Principal See. It has always been well impressed on the Catholic world that the Capital of Chris-tendom could not be changed, even by the Church author-ities. Its establishment was the transmitted and fundamental power of Peter, according to the instructions of the Lord. The whole of antiquity recognized without any contro-versy that the Successor of Peter in Rome, not only suc-ceeded him in the Episcopate, but also in the Primacy. All Peter’s contemporaries knew what he had in mind; they knew it without any Church decree. This is itelf a Tradition, and one of the first importance. The Churches [throughout the world] would never have acknowledged Peter’s successor in the See of Rome as Head of the [Uni-versal] Church without a previous declaration from the Prince of the Apostles on this vital point. The authority of the Bishop of Rome and the Ruler of the Universal Church was one and the same. It is this identity that secured and secures that whosoever succeeds Peter in Rome succeeds him also in the Primacy.”
    [n-dashes (where a word spanned two lines) and interpolations in the original,
    pp. 16-17]

    This was also settled in the Syllabus of Errors, and it’s been talked about at this blog in the past.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Um. Agius is a dated source. His work was published in 1928; the 2005 edition is a reprint, I think. He infers a declaration by Peter that his successor as Bishop of Rome should also succeed him in the pontifical primacy, but the fact is that we have no direct evidence of such a declaration, and I don’t think many contemporary ecclesiologists would go along with Agius’s willingness to infer it. And of course such a declaration is not necessary; the successor of Peter could have been (and I think is more likely to have been) confirmed and validated not by the testament of Peter, as it were, but by the recognition of his brother bishops.

      And yet Agius’s conclusion is, I think, correct. There’s plenty of challenge to, and dispute about, the [i]nature[/i] of the primacy and patriarchy of the Bishop of Rome, but the notion that the primacy attaches to the see is universally accepted (and indeed applied elsewhere; several other sees claim their own primacy). The episcopal structure of the church and the apostolic succession are intrinsically linked, and primacy is an aspect of the apostolic succession.

      If, God forbid, Rome were to vanish beneath the seas in some earth-shattering cataclysm so that there no longer was any (particular) church of Rome and therefore there could be no bishop of it, then I suppose the church would have to reconsider how the petrine ministry would be located and exercised in the church. But short of something like that, I think it’s inconceivable that the successor of Peter could be any other than the Bishop of Rome.

      • Stephen K says:

        Surely, Peregrinus, the primacy of Rome stemmed from the fact that it was the imperial capital and not because of anything Peter or the first apostles did? And I imagine that by the time Constantinople became the capital of the empire, a custom was in place and an ecclesiastical economy had been settled. Is this right? What do your sources say?

        • Peregrinus says:

          Well, the two things are linked, obviously. If St Peter went to Rome to head up the church there, it was because Rome was an important place and its church was an important church. And I think it’s generally true of the of the great patriarchal sees – Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople – that (a) they all claim succession from a leading apostle (Peter, Peter, Mark, James, Andrew respectively) and (b) they were all, in secular terms, major cities. And we see this especially in the case of Constantinople (formerly Byzantium), which had a long-standing claimed foundation by Andrew, but which didn’t become the seat of a patriarchate until the fourth, because it wasn’t a major city until then. Likewise Jerusalem was all but destroyed early in Christian history; a remnant church survived but it didn’t become a patriarchal see until the city had recovered some of its secular significance in the fifth century.

          But, in the end, the reason these cities are patriarchates is neither the apostolic link that each of them claims – other cities claim apostolic links as well – nor their size and wealth – there were other large and wealthy cities. What makes them patriarchates is the fact that they’re recognised as patriarchates by other bishops. The decision to recognise them may well have been influenced by the apostolic links and the secular importance (I’m pretty sure it was, in fact) but it’s the recognition which is the key factor.

          It was the church that decided that the successor to Peter’s ministry and status would be his successor as pastor of the Roman church. It didn’t have to be that way; it could have been some blood relative of his, or someone nominated by him before his death, or someone chosen by the bishops of leading churches. But with bishops in general coming to be understood as the heirs to the apostolic ministry, and with the church of Rome’s link to Peter and possession of the burial-place of Peter, the linking of Peter’s apostolic primacy to the bishop of Rome must have seemed natural.

        • Schütz says:

          Well, Stephen, while Perry is of course right – there is a connection between Rome as the imperial city and as the seat of Peter (namely that Peter – and Paul – both went there because it was the capital of the Empire), the fact that it was the capital had zilch to do with its primacy in the Church. That was entirely due to the fact that the tombs of both “chief apostles”, Peter and Paul, were there. The very earliest sources – the writings of the Fathers such as St Clement and St Ignatius of Antioch – are bountiful witness to this. There has been a great deal of work done on this matter by the official Catholic/Orthodox dialogue. The real centre of the Church was in the East, even East of Jerusalem, in early years, and (as the book of Revelation shows) there was actually a strong polemic against the City of Rome in the early church – for obvious reasons. It was the CHURCH, not the City, which held primacy (nb. in early days, this primacy was of the Church of Rome, not specifically of its Bishop, though of course, it was his jurisdiction).

          There has recently been an excellent series on the early history and development of the Primacy in the journal Ecumenical Trends. Unfortunately this journal is not available on the Internet, but I have copies of the articles I could send you if you are interested. Here is the reference for one of them: Daniel Hamilton, “The Roman Primacy: The First Five Hundred Years,” Ecumenical Trends 39 (July/August, 2010):

          • Stephen K says:

            Thanks, David. Interestingly, I have a book by a Barry Till “The Churches Search for Unity” (1972) and he writes – along the lines you’ve stated – “From the beginning of the second century the bishops of Rome exercised a certain moral authority in the church at large. This was partly because of the prestige of the double apostolic foundation of the Roman church – Petrine and Pauline”. Then he adds immediately: “it was also partly due to the fact that authority would naturally accrue to the church of the capital of the world, especially as, since all roads led to Rome, the church there acquired the experience of dealing with so many of the problems that arose.” This seems to accord with what you say.

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