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Benedict XVI, a wise and humble pope


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Rafael Domingo Oslé

Spruill Family Professor of Law and Religion at Emory University and Full Professor Álvaro d'Ors at the University of Navarra.

Benedict XVI, that humble, simple and homely Bavarian pope, of Benedictine heart and Augustinian intellect, lover of music and liturgy and of everything beautiful and good in this world, including beer, has died. Based in the Vatican since 1981, as treasurer of the Catholic faith, Ratzinger was the closest partner and the perfect complement to John Paul II, whom he succeeded in 2005, more at the wish of the cardinal electors than by his own will. 

His pontificate was full of lights, but it was also full of shadows. Among the lights were the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, which crossed his life like an arrow, his three excellent encyclicals, his fruitful magisterium against moral relativism and defiant secularism, the development of ecumenism, the promotion of interreligious dialogue, the defense of human rights and his firm cry of zero tolerance in the face of the scandal of sexual abuse. Benedict met with victims, modified ecclesiastical legislation, demanded cooperation with civil authorities and fought against the culture of cover-up that was rampant within the Church. But sexual abuse and the Vatileaks scandal, which revealed corruption at the heart of the Vatican, cast a shadow over his pontificate.

His Withdrawal in 2013 makes Benedict a singular figure in the history of the Church. If John Paul II ruled the Church ill for years, without stepping down from the Cross, as was said at the time, Benedict, on the other hand, when he resigned his pontificate, sustained the Church, that is, the Cross, with the priestly silence of his contemplative life. Two different but sublime ways of serving and living united to Jesus Christ. So much is so much, so much is so much.

I personally met Ratzinger at the University of Navarra in 1998, when he was still a cardinal. He spent a few days at the university campus in Pamplona, living among students, on the occasion of the doctorate honoris causa awarded to him by this academic institution. The depth of his thought and the simplicity of his life captivated my spirit as a young university professor. It was then that I began to read, or rather devour, Ratzinger's writings, which were later to be of great use in my work as a jurist. 

I saw in Ratzinger a sort of 21st century Francisco de Vitoria, who masterfully united theory and internship. I saw in his talks and seminars how Ratzinger grasped with great sagacity the unity of knowledge, the unity of truth and, in the end, the unity of reality. That is why Benedict was able to transcend and integrate so many limiting dualisms and to break down the false walls erected between faith and reason, tradition and renewal, Christianity and enlightenment, love and suffering, charisma and hierarchy, the positive and the natural, work and contemplation, the human and the divine. Yes, reality is simple, reality is one, because God is reality: "He is reality. The reality that supports all reality," Ratzinger emphasized in one of his last conversations(Letzte Gespräche p. 269).

Ratzinger's entire magisterium, as theologian, bishop, cardinal and pope, has been directed to the search for unity in the Truth, in line with his episcopal motto: servants of the truth(cooperatores veritatis)(3 John 8). For Benedict, this truth is found only in Jesus Christ: "Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life, and the Church, with all her inadequacies, is truly his body," he wrote in his spiritual testament. 

It is not surprising that the person of Jesus Christ has occupied Benedict's theological research for decades, culminating in one of his masterpieces: Jesus of Nazareth. He was moved to write it by an intense pastoral desire and the need to show the face of the Son of God, inseparably uniting the Jesus of history with the Christ of faith. The last section of the tenth chapter of the first volume is, in my opinion, the most successful. There we see Benedict XVI, philosopher, exegete, pastor, intellectual and theologian at the same time, unraveling with great success the meaning of the name of Christ as the one who is: "I am". 

Yes, Jesus Christ is the only person who can say always and at all times, in the present tense: I Am. Jesus Christ is not a nostalgic I am or a promising I am, but a loving I Am, who loves to the point of madness of a God who cannot and will not stop loving. This is the Jesus of Nazareth with whom Benedict XVI fell in love from childhood and with whom today and now, always in the present, he will have merged in an eternal embrace. May he rest in Love who spent his life sowing love.