Benedict XVI - Namesakes

St. Benedict of Nursia

Founder of western monasticism, born at Nursia, c. 480; died at Monte Cassino, 543. The only authentic life of Benedict of Nursia is that contained in the second book of St. Gregory's "Dialogues". It is rather a character sketch than a biography and consists, for the most part, of a number of miraculous incidents, which, although they illustrate the life of the saint, give little help towards a chronological account of his career. St. Gregory's authorities for all that he relates were the saint's own disciples, viz. Constantinus, who succeeded him as Abbot of Monte Cassino; and Honoratus, who was Abbot of Subiaco when St. Gregory wrote his Dialogues.

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, a small town near Spoleto, and a tradition, which St. Bede accepts, makes him a twin with his sister Scholastica. His boyhood was spent in Rome, where he lived with his parents and attended the schools until he had reached his higher studies. Then "giving over his books, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with a mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose; and in this sort he departed [from Rome], instructed with learned ignorance and furnished with unlearned wisdom" (Dial. St. Greg., II, Introd. in Migne, P.L. LXVI). There is much difference of opinion as to Benedict's age at the time. It has been very generally stated as fourteen, but a careful examination of St. Gregory's narrative makes it impossible to suppose him younger than nineteen or twenty. He was old enough to be in the midst of his literary studies, to understand the real meaning and worth of the dissolute and licentious lives of his companions, and to have been deeply affected himself by the love of a woman (Ibid. II, 2). He was capable of weighing all these things in comparison with the life taught in the Gospels, and chose the latter, He was at the beginning of life, and he had at his disposal the means to a career as a Roman noble; clearly he was not a child, As St. Gregory expresses it, "he was in the world and was free to enjoy the advantages which the world offers, but drew back his foot which he had, as it were, already set forth in the world" (ibid., Introd.). If we accept the date 480 for his birth, we may fix the date of his abandoning the schools and quitting home at about A.D. 500.

Pope Benedict XV

Giacomo della Chiesa was born, 21 November 1854, to a noble family in Pegli, Italy. He studied law at the Royal University of Genoa and theology at Rome's Gregorian University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1878, and earned a doctorate in sacred theology in 1879. Giacomo entered the papal diplomatic service in 1882, serving as secretary to the nuncio to Spain until 1887, and as secretary to the Vatican Secretary of State until 1901, when he was made undersecretary.  

In 1907, he was ordained Archbishop of Bologna, and in May 1914 he was made a Cardinal, just three months before the death of Pius X and the beginning of World War I. He was elected to succeed Pius X, probably because of his diplomatic experience. As father to all Catholics, Benedict XV favored neither side in the war. But his policy of neutrality was misinterpreted by both sides, each regarding him as siding with the other. He pressed for a Christmas truce in 1914 to ward off the “suicide of Europe,” but was ignored. In 1917, he tried to broker a peace plan, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He was able, however, to arrange the exchange of disabled prisoners through neutral countries, and to have the sick and wounded sent to neutral countries for treatment and recuperation. Through his intercession, deported Belgians were allowed to return home, and he donated money to relieve those suffering the effects of the war throughout Europe. After the war, in 1919, he asked for a Vatican role in the Paris Peace Conference, but was turned down. He pleaded with the victorious Allies to lift the blockade against Germany, because of the suffering it caused to women and children, and he took up a Church-wide collection to buy food. For human solidarity, he favored the founding of the League of Nations, though the Vatican itself was excluded from membership.  

Among his other actions as Pope, Benedict XV promulgated what was then the first unified Code of Canon Law in 1917, though he gave the credit to Pius X, his predecessor. He tried to improve relations with the anticlerical Republican government of France. And he emphasized the training of native priests in the mission territories of the Third World. He was friendly toward the Orthodox Churches, founding the Oriental Institute and the Congregation for Eastern Rites. He paved the way to two future pontificates, recognizing the abilities of Achille Ratti (Pius XI), whom he sent as his representative to Poland, and then promoted to Archbishop of Milan, and of Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII), whom he put in charge of the prisoner-of-war work at the Vatican, and then sent as nuncio to Munich. In 1920 he canonized three Saints, Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, Joan of Arc, and Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Pope Benedict XV died of influenza, January 22, 1922. Among his last words were "We offer our life to God on behalf of the peace of the World.

Significant Documents of Pope Benedict XV:

Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, Appealing for Peace, 1 November 1914

Humani Generis Redemptionem, On Preaching the Word of God, 15 June 1917

Quod Iam Diu, On the Future Peace Conference, 1 December 1918

In Hac Tanta: On Saint Boniface, 14 May 1919

Paterno Iam Diu, On the Children of Central Europe, 24 November 1919

Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherriumum, On Peace and Christian Reconciliation, 23 May 1920

Spiritus Paraclitus, On Saint Jerome, 15 September 1920

Principi Apostolorum Petro, On Saint Ephrem the Syrian, 5 October 1920

Annus Iam Plenus, On Children of Central Europe, 1 December 1920

Sacra Propediem, On the Third Order of Saint Francis, 6 January 1921

In Praeclara Summorum, On Dante, 30 April 1921

Fausto Appetente Die, On Saint Dominic, 29 June 1921