Today is the sixth anniversary of the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to be the successor of Pope John Paul II. Here is a short clip from "Rome Reports" of that day six years ago, when Pope Benedict XVI first appeared before the crowd at Saint Peter's Square:
Here are some thoughts from then-Cardinal Ratzinger about the nature of the papacy, from God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 2002):
On the Pope and the Papacy:
Many people have the idea that the Church is an enormous apparatus of power.
Yes, but you must first of all see that these structures are supposed to be those of service. The pope is thus not the chief ruler–he calls himself, since Gregory the Great, "Servant of the servants of God"–but he ought, this is the way I usually put it, to be the guarantor of obedience, so that the Church cannot simply do as she likes. The pope himself cannot even say, I am the Church, or I am tradition, but he is, on the contrary, under constraint; he incarnates this constraint laid upon the Church. Whenever temptations arise in the Church to do things differently now, more comfortably, he has to ask, Can we do that at all?
The pope is thus not the instrument through which one could, so to speak, call a different Church into existence, but is a protective barrier against arbitrary action. To mention one example: We know from the New Testament that sacramental, consummated marriage is irreversible, indivisible. Now, there are movements who say the Pope could of course change that. No, that is what he cannot change. And in January 2000, in an important address to Roman judges, he declared that in response to this movement in favor of changing the indissolubility of marriage, he can only say that the Pope cannot do anything he wants, but he must on the contrary continually rekindle our sense of obedience; it is in this way, so to speak, that he has to continue the gesture of washing people’s feet
The papacy is one of the most fascinating institutions in history. Besides all the instances of greatness, the history of the popes certainly does include some dramatic and abysmal low points. Benedict IX, for example, reigned, even after being deposed, as the 145th pope, as well as the 147th and the 150th. He first mounted the throne of Peter when he was just twelve years old. Nonetheless, the Catholic Church holds fast, with no exceptions, to this office of the vicar of Christ upon earth.
Simply from a historical point of view, the papacy is indeed a quite marvelous phenomenon. It is the only monarchy, as people often put it, that has held out for over two thousand years, and this in itself is quite incomprehensible.
I would say that one of the mysteries that point to something greater is quite certainly the survival of the Jewish people. On the other hand, the endurance of the papacy is also something astonishing and thought provoking. You have already suggested, with one example, how much failure has been involved and how much damage the office has had to suffer, so that by all the rules of historical probability it should have collapsed on more than one occasion. I think it was Voltaire who said, now is the time when this Dalai Lama of Europe will finally disappear, and mankind will be freed from him. But, you see, it carried on. So that’s something that makes you feel: This is not the result of the competence of these people–many of them have done everything possible to run the thing into the ground–but there is another kind of power at work behind this. In fact, exactly the power that was promised to Peter. The powers of the underworld, of death, will not overcome the Church. ...
And this, from his first address, given on April 20, 2005 to the College of Cardinals:
Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32).
With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.
Theological dialogue is necessary; the investigation of the historical reasons for the decisions made in the past is also indispensable. But what is most urgently needed is that "purification of memory", so often recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose souls to accept the full truth of Christ. Each one of us must come before him, the supreme Judge of every living person, and render an account to him of all we have done or have failed to do to further the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples.
The current Successor of Peter is allowing himself to be called in the first person by this requirement and is prepared to do everything in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. Following the example of his Predecessors, he is fully determined to encourage every initiative that seems appropriate for promoting contacts and understanding with the representatives of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Indeed, on this occasion he sends them his most cordial greeting in Christ, the one Lord of us all.
6. I am thinking back at this time to the unforgettable experience seen by all of us on the occasion of the death and funeral of the late John Paul II. The Heads of Nations, people from every social class and especially young people gathered round his mortal remains, laid on the bare ground, in an unforgettable embrace of love and admiration. The whole world looked to him with trust. To many it seemed that this intense participation, amplified by the media to reach the very ends of the planet, was like a unanimous appeal for help addressed to the Pope by today's humanity which, upset by uncertainties and fears, was questioning itself on its future.
The Church of today must revive her awareness of the duty to repropose to the world the voice of the One who said: "I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life" (Jn 8: 12). In carrying out his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to make Christ's light shine out before the men and women of today: not his own light, but Christ's.
• Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
• Jesus of Nazareth (Part 2)
• Other Recent Books by Pope Benedict XVI
• All books by or about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
• Excerpts from books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
• Articles about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI