I've not yet posted anything about the astonishing resignation of Pope Benedict. I was fortunate enough to be in Rome when he was elected and will greatly miss his thoughtful and reflective teaching. I very much regret the fact that most of the faithful in Ireland haven't really seen the real Benedict - a gentle and prayerful shepherd who proposes a vision of life and culture radically grounded in the life and person of Jesus Christ, an understanding of things shaped by the great thinkers of our Christian tradition.
I've had a number of conversations about recent events over the past couple of days and have surprised a number of people with my personal enthusiasm for Pope Benedict, both as a thinker and as a human being. I spent a number of years in Rome when he was head of the CDF and saw the start of his pontificate at close quarters as I finished my theological formation there and was ordained priest.
For many, he will be dismissed as a 'conservative' thinker in a world where the word 'conservative' is a pejorative term. However, this 'conservative' is the one who set aside almost 6 centuries of precedent by resigning the Petrine ministry. More attentive commentators have described him as 'radical' - that is 'rooted' in the Christian tradition in a way that manifested itself in an extraordinary inventiveness. His use of the 'Ordinariate' structure to welcome Anglicans and the Anglican tradition into full Communion was innovative. His decision to write three popular books about Jesus of Nazareth as a private theologian whilst Pope was unprecedented.
And then there is his commitment to the 'New Evangelization'. In the early days of the Pontificate, I remember being told by a fairly knowledgeable priest that we'd see less talk about the 'New Evangelization'. That, he told me, was John Paul's pet project and Benedict would drop this particular piece of jargon. On this point, my friend was mistaken. Benedict himself established the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization - a new Vatican office with special responsibility for this project and proposed the 'Courtyard of the Gentiles' - a forum for friendly discussion between Christian and secular thinkers. None of this made headlines, of course, but it's significant nonetheless. Despite the fact that his distinctively Augustinian thought is caricatured as pessimistic, Pope Benedict has shown himself to be very committed to the idea of a shared rationality affording the space for profitable dialogue between believers and non-believers. (One need only look at Cardinal Ratzinger's public conversation with Jurgen Habermas as an example of this commitment.)
Theologically, Benedict is radically (I use that word for a reason) committed to the Second Vatican Council. The Council itself was inspired by the mid-20th century flourishing of biblical, patristic and liturgical scholarship that re-invigorated the Church's self-understanding. The reforms of the Council were to be rooted in a re-discovery of the riches of her own tradition and a creative engagement with modernity. One of the great tragedies of the post-conciliar era has been the neglect of these treasures of the Church - the scriptures, the Fathers, the liturgical tradition - in our engagement with the culture. Benedict - true to the intention of the Council - insists that we must be grounded in the scriptures, the Fathers and the liturgy, if we as Christians are to engage productively and creatively with modern and post-modern thought. Only those with a superficial knowledge (or with an axe to grind) of Benedict's thought will dismiss this as just being thoughtless conservatism. Indeed, it's often amusing/depressing to see some Lutheran & Jewish thinkers engage more enthusiastically with the thought of Ratzinger than his Catholic critics do.
I could write more - and I'm very aware of not having touched on many of the big issues that have dominated the public assessment of Pope Benedict. However, I will miss our professor-Pope and wish that the world knew him better.