"I didn't see, I don't see any Great Pope or Great Monarch before an extremely great tribulation, horrifying, terrible and general for all Christendom. But before that time, twice there will be a short lived peace; two shaky, servile, doubtful popes" MélanieDefinition of Diarchy: government in which power is vested in two rulers or authorities.
Date of origin: 1825-35
Corriere della Sera, May 28, 2014
“Dear Brothers, I have convoked you […] also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God […]and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”
Completely unexpected, said in Latin in a low voice, those words were like a whip that went round the globe in just a few minutes. And also into countries where the majority is not Catholic and not even Christian, but where the historical uniqueness of the event was understood immediately. Let us not forget that - according to the recent words of the Protestant Obama, the Orthodox Putin and the Anglican Cameron - the Roman Pontiff would be today the highest moral authority on the planet.
To return to that February 11, 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, those who know the Catholic world are aware that we are still questioning and confronting each other [about it], even harshly.
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 within the confines of Vatican City, next to Saint Peter’s - meeting often – even if in private – with his successor, receiving guests and participating in ceremonies and canonizations like the ones recently of Roncalli and Wojtyla?
I must confess I asked myself similar questions - remaining perplexed.
A response to these questions comes now from a study by Stefano Violi, esteemed Professor of Canon Law at the Faculty of Theology in Bologna and Lugano. It is worth examining these many pages, since with Benedict’s decision, unknown and somewhat disconcerting scenarios have opened up for the Church. It is probable that the conclusions by Professor Violi will stir up debate among colleagues, seeing that this canon lawyer 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”.
So that we understand: firstly, all of the delirium from conspiracy hunters is to be abandoned, by taking Benedict seriously when he spoke of the growing burden of old age as the prime and only motive for his decision: “[…]strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me […] my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” However, studying 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. It is that which would be behind Benedict XVI’s words : “I do not return to private life […] I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.” “Enclosure” here would not be meant only in the sense of a geographical place, where one lives, but also a theological “place.”
Here then is the reason for his choice, unexpected and innovative, to have himself called “Pope Emeritus.” A bishop remains a bishop when age or sickness obliges him to leave the government of his diocese and so retires to pray for it. More so, for the Bishop of Rome, to whom the munus, the office, and the duties of Peter have been conferred once and for all, for all eternity, by the Holy Ghost, using the cardinals in conclave only as instruments. Here we have the reason for his decision to wear the white cassock, even though bereft of the signs of active government. Here is the reason for his will to stay near the relics of the Head of the Apostles, venerated in the great basilica.
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, with the renunciation of active service only and that it was “a solemn act of his magisterium” to cite the canon lawyer.
If it truly is so, so much the better for the Church: it is a gift that they are near each other even physically - one who directs and teaches and one who prays and suffers for everyone, but most of all to sustain his confrere in his everyday pontifical office.