The Nunc Dimittis of Benedict XVI
Mar Joseph Kallarangatt*
Reflection on the decision of the Pope emeritus
In the act of His Holiness Benedict XVI's renunciation of the ministry of Bishop of Rome, we see a continuity with John the Baptist: "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30). His renunciation is a nunc dimittis. He teaches us to be detached and to be of pure heart; he teaches us how to face with serenity the difficult moments in life. Like Simeon bearing Christ in his arms and heart His Holiness Benedict also prays Christ to let him depart in peace (Lk 2:29).
As an authority of St Augustine, His Holiness Benedict XVI has digested the dictum of St Augustine: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt [When the Word of God increases, the words of men fail]. He is convinced that silence, contemplation and prayer are the best means for the new evangelization. The words of Origen are very dear to the Pope emeritus: accendat ardor proximos [May your zeal ignite the zeal of your neighbour]. By this renunciation, the Benedict XVI has actually ignited us all. He has shown himself to be closer to the inextinguishable fire, to be a 'Benedictine'.
He chose the name Benedict to emphasize the importance of the holy monk's rule of life centred on the principle that Christi) nihil omnino praeponatur [nothing must come before Christ]. St Benedict is sometimes called the master of humility and his rule has become a classic on humility. His Holiness Benedict has followed his namesake in letter and spirit. It was in the light of the Benedictine spirit 'Mens nostra concordat voci nostrae' [let our minds coincide with our words], that Pope Benedict announced his renunciation.
It is definitely the case that the Pope emeritus is fully aware that he is setting a new precedent. Rather than resorting to theories of intrigue we should let him speak for himself. Benedict XVI's carefully drafted renunciation letter expresses his current state of mind. Benedict XVI acknowledges his waning physical strength and, at the same time, humbly acknowledges the courageous path chosen by his predecessor, that of suffering to continue his mission to his last breath. Yet, he sees that "in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary .
The renunciation of Benedict XVI is also a commentary on the documents of Vatican II from 'within'. Vatican II was held in a time of transition to the democratic type of administration in the secular fields. But the Church is more than a democratic society. It is a communion and it is governed in a collegial spirit. The decision to step down is a courageous, spiritual act. From his part it is an act of humility and conscience. But because of the communion aspect of the Church it is actually we who are humbled by this ecclesial and personal act. What is characteristic of this renunciation is the typical German ethos. He has a vision which we cannot fully understand now. Actually by his renunciation the Pope emeritus teaches the world the spirituality and asceticism of the cross. He wants to remain in a new way near to the crucified Lord. He retreats from the crowd and turns versus crucem (towards the cross). It is a 'death' unto 'glory'. What his predecessor did was also courageous. They both arrived at different decisions through the same drive and commitment for the good of the Church. What is central to papacy is now increasingly clear. The Pope is servus servorum Dei.
By his renunciation Benedict XVI actually clings to the knees of Jesus as Peter did. The exit and the entry of a Pontiff are only two of the high points in the history of the Church. What is pivotal is the uninterrupted flow of tradition typified by the Roman Pontiff. By withdrawing from papacy Benedict brought it into the limelight. Christianity became a hot topic in secular media. His act of renunciation thus has become a mode of new evangelization.
And so, Pope Benedict enters into silence. Silence is the symbol of the world to come. His life in the monastery will be a continuous protection for the Church and the world like a lightening arrester. Now the words of the Psalmist are fulfilled in the life of His Holiness Benedict XVI: "There is no word or sound; no voice is heard; yet their report goes forth unto all the earth, their message to the ends of the earth" (Ps 19: 4, 5).
*Bishop of Palai; Head of the Office for Doctrine of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India
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6 March 2013, page 10
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