Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013. It is a rare move. The idea of ‘the Pope’ is he represents an unbroken link back to the apostle Peter the first of all the popes. Christ personally said of Peter ‘on this rock I build my church’ and from there the popes have claimed their power ever since.
It is a long line of unprecedented power
The size and extent of the Catholic Church are mind-boggling. With 1.2 million followers it is the world’s largest single religion. There is no corner of the globe where Catholicism has not reached. It has been in existence for 2,000 years give or take and throughout all of that time it has rarely been without controversy.
Questioning the church is a relatively recent event
Throughout history the church went unquestioned, or at least to put that a different way, it demanded obedience. For those who went against the church, there was the ultimate deterrent of excommunication.
Excommunication from the church meant a person’s immortal soul was in peril and while that carried a strong belief it was a massive deterrent.
Over time the church proved time and again it was all too human and so the tendency to question arose. But usually, it was in a quest to find an alternative route to the same God.
In addition to excommunication, the Popes had one other ‘trick’ up their sleeves. When speaking ex-cathedra (literally from the seat) Popes are deemed to be infallible. Not surprisingly modern Popes tend to be careful then so speak.
An ex-cathedra statement, however, was the Pope speaking supposedly direct from Christ and the world is therefore dogma.
Stepping down is curious
With this level of power and with this tradition to step down is an odd thing to do. In the entire history of the papacy, it has happened twice. John Paull II supposedly created an instrument of resignation but never actually did resign even when his battle with Parkinson’s was piteously obvious.
For his successor to step down after a relatively short period, Benedict was pope for only 8 years, is odd of itself. To step down without being explicit as to why is to open up a can of worms.
Benedict has always refused to speak on why he resigned or his thoughts on his successor. But he has not stopped wearing the white papal robes or the red shoes he so obviously loves. He lives in quiet seclusion in the grounds of the Vatican where he can be seen walking in the garden on summer days.
He remains enigmatic in his silence, but around him, conspiracies fly.
One of the theories is he saw this coming and tried to dodge the bullet. It is an unattractive theory. If a man has a direct line to Christ, shouldn’t he show some backbone? It places Pope Francis in an invidious position. The story will end soon. Benedict himself noted earlier this year he is on ‘a pilgrimage toward Home.’