I’m reading the Italian edition of Pope Benedict’s book-long interview with German journalist Peter Seewald. I’m jumping around a bit and I ran across an interesting section. Here is my on the fly translation from the Italian (not from the German original):
SEEWALD: Do you see yourself as the last Pope of the old world or the first of the new?
BENEDICT: I would say both.
SEEWALD: As a bridge, a kind of connecting element between the two worlds?
BENEDICT: I don’t belong to the old world anymore, but the new one in reality hasn’t yet begun.
SEEWALD: The election of Pope Francis is perhaps an exterior sign of a epochal turning point? With his does a new era begin definitively?
BENEDICT: The temporal divisions were always decisive a posteriori: only in a second time is it established that here began the Middle Ages or there began the modern era. Only a posteriori is it seen how movements developed. For this reason I won’t hazard a like affirmation now. Nevertheless, it is evident that the Church has been abandoning more and more the old traditional structures of European life and, hence, changes appearance and lives new forms. It’s clear above all that the dechristianization of Europe progresses, that the Christian element is vanishing more and more from the fabric of society. Consequently, the Church must find a new form of presence, must change its way of presenting itself. There are epochal upheavals underway, but one doesn’t yet know to what point it can be said with precision that one or the other begins.
SEEWALD: You know the prophecy of Malachy, that in the Middle Ages compiled a list of future pontiffs, foreseeing also the end of the world, or at least the end of the Church. According to such a list the papacy would terminate with your pontificate. And if you were effectively the last to represent the figure of the Pope as we have known up to now?
BENEDICT: Anything is possible. This prophecy was probably born in circles around Philip Neri. In that time Protestants sustained that the papacy was finished, and he wanted only to demonstrate, with a very long list of Popes, that, instead, that was not the case. It is not for this reason, however, that one must conclude that it will in fact end. Rather, that his list wasn’t long enough!
Seewald deftly worked up to the Malachy question, didn’t he?
In any event, I found Benedict’s answer quite interesting. He wouldn’t be pinned down, but he suspects that he a kind of liminal figure, if not a bridge. Bridge has additional connotations, of course, when talking about the papacy.
I was interested to read his diagnosis of the Church and of Europe, especially in light of his earlier thoughts about the identity of Europe, the Christian Catholic dimension which made Europe Europe. He seems resigned to the fact that Europe is gone. Indeed, he seems resigned to the fact that what the Church was, in Europe, is gone.
As I read this, however, a little bell chimed in my head way back in my memory palace. I went hunting to find where it was ringing.
I think I found it in the prophecies of Garabandal. Conchita seems to have received a message that
“After His Holiness Paul VI, there will be only two more popes before the end of the present period (el fin de los tiempos) which is not the end of the world. The Blessed Virgin told me so, but I do not know what that means.”
So, if we count the Pope everyone forgets to remember, John Paul I of the 33 days, then John Paul II was the last Pope before “el fin de los tiempos”. Not being a native speaker of the Spanish of tiny villages of Northern Spain in the 60’s and 70’s before TV homogenized everything, I want to be a little cautious about what “el fin de los tiempos” means. I think that Spanish handles possessives a little differently than Italian does, and because Italian dominates my ear, I tread carefully. Spanish speakers of Spanish might help me out here, but I have a strong inclination to render “fin del los tiempos” as “the end of an era”, not just “the end of times”, in some apocalyptic sense.
If I am right, and I welcome some Spanish Spanish speakers to jump in, this “fin del los tiempos” sounds rather like what Benedict says to Seewald.
A couple more thoughts.
First, Benedict’s name-sake, St. Joseph, was also a liminal figure, standing astride the two covenants, old and new. He, too, was a “humble laborer”, and, in the pages of Scripture at least, pretty quiet, but decisive when he was directed from above. He tried to keep his family safe.
Second, another liminal figure would be St. John the Baptist. I can’t help but think of Benedict’s great attachment to the work of St. Augustine, who has a profound explanation of the figure of the Baptist in relation to Christ, as the forerunner to the Word. Augustine’s exploration of Voice and Word is amazing.
Third, St. Benedict himself is a liminal figure in late antiquity, standing between the classical age and the medieval period. His influence in the development of Christendom and Europe itself was foundational.
Furthermore, Summorum Pontificum remains of immense importance. Is some ways it may be the most important contribution of the pontificate because it concerns the starting point and the ending point of all initiatives … all successful initiatives … in the Church, worship, liturgical worship, of God. The knock-on effects are slowly accumulating. But of these things I have written extensively elsewhere.
In any event, I found this passage in the new book to be interesting.