The world lost a theological and spiritual giant today. It’s not too much to say that with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI this year, the West lost something of itself. The West has lost a living connection to another world, the world of its Christian patrimony.
I have an obituary and reflection on Benedict’s life that will be published over at Mere Orthodoxy, I believe on Monday. In the meantime, I want to point you to a fascinating conversation between then Cardinal Ratzinger and the late Johann Christoph Arnold, elder of the Bruderhof Communities. The conversation launches from a discussion of Anabaptist martyrs who died at the hands of Catholic authorities. Ratzinger’s comments on the danger of relying on worldly power to do the Lord’s work seem especially relevant in our day:
What is truly moving in these stories is the depth of faith [of these men], their being deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death. We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the church was so closely linked with the powers of the world that she was able to deliver other Christians to be executed because of their beliefs. This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again, and how much the church must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accept the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ, not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing ourselves, a way that the world will always oppose, a way that will always lead to some form of martyrdom. I believe it is very important for us not to adopt worldly standards but to be ready to take upon ourselves the opposition of the world and to learn that his truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, and that this is truth’s most trustworthy sign. I believe this is the point at which we all have to learn anew, the only point through which he can truly lead us together.
A joy that is stronger than death. Truth expressed in love. Looking to Christ. These are some of the lessons the whole church learned from the late pope.