Benedict XVI: last Pope of old era or first of the next?

popebenedictpopejohnpaulcommunionI’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.


US Hardcover – HERE
UK Hardcover – HERE
US Paperback – HERE 
UK Paperback  – not yet

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  1. Elizium23 says:

    IMHO, the eras are clearly delineated thus: Pope Francis is the first Pope ordained after Vatican II. QED.

    [Ordained to the priesthood, yes. Benedict is the first to be consecrated bishop. So…. I’m not sure about this point.]

  2. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Although this is a movingly written and thought-provoking piece (especially as the upheavals in the world are quite scary), Garabandal has been described as “The Most Dangerous False Apparition in the World”:

    Also I believe I saw a video that showed children “dancing” in the air at Garabandal, supposedly with the help of unseen “angels”. The children’s motions were contorted, and the video was very disturbing.

    Please tread with caution as to this purported apparition.

    Also, I am surprised that B-16 would entertain the so-called Prophecy of St. Malachi as legitimate; that in and of itself is worth a post of its own! [I don’t think that that is what Benedict did.]

  3. GregH says:

    The more I read what Pope Benedict the more I think he is one of the most brilliant popes we have had since St Peter.

  4. Polycarpio says:

    “El fin de los tiempos” is an apocalyptic phrase that usually denotes “the end of the ages,” or the “end times.”

    Isn’t the sober realism by Benedict about the loss of Europe entirely consistent with his previous pronouncements, such as during his visit to England, when he said that the Church should not be seeking comfort in numbers, but in its fidelity and so forth?

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Here could be the new age: some think the future of the Church is in Asia and in Africa. We see very orthodox, strong bishops in Africa, and, as St. Francis Xavier noted, if the Church had enough missionaries, China could be converted.

    The end of Christianity in the West is not, obviously, the end of Christianity in the world. And the Church, which will be manifested in some way on earth until Christ comes again, could be stronger in Asia and Africa in this new age.

    Just a few thoughts…

  6. aliceinstpaul says:

    It doesn’t take a Christian to notice the end of Christianity in Europe. Oriana Fallaci was quite clear about Eurabia 15 years ago. And Benedict with her.

    The transition has already happened. The only remaining options are either complete Muslim conquest in western Europe or civil war. To spend your life, limb, treasure, and soul to fight you’d have to have something to dight FOR, and the entire purpose of the EU project was to prevent the peoples of Europe from ever again having something to fight for.

    Even if a few do, a civil war will not return the continent to Christianity. They are empty.

    But far more clearly, all the “right-thinking” folks will be going to mosques and their wives will wear hijabs.

    The question is whether the US goes with it. The knife edge is narrow. One way is sure death. Is the other better? Because US exportation of culture is ending, too. So things will be dangerous and radical for a while, at best. It is a new age. The age of the empire of the English speaking peoples, a cultural empire, of which we are still, historically speaking, part, is ending. What comes? We do not know.

    I met several people recently who believe Trump is having/may have had a conversion. I hadn’t considered it. Perhaps as much as we are praying for the defeat of Hillary, we must also pray for the conversion of Donald J. Trump.

  7. excalibur says:

    Our Lady of Fatima mentioned nations disappearing, or annihilated, now we may be seeing what she meant by that. Losing their Catholic identity. We see more clearly now, perhaps?

    Anyone who believes that the consecration of Russia has been done need only look at the state of the Church in Europe. Please pray for the consecration of Russia.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.


  8. stephen c says:

    I suspect Pope Benedict is actually not all that un-optimistic – Italian is hard for me to read, so I can’t show the quotes right now. But if you look at the family sizes of traditional Catholics (and Orthodox) in Europe, and work out the numbers of future Christians that those consistently large families produce, and if you add in the inevitable number of future converts, there will be as many Christians in Europe 100 years hence as there have ever been. (Yes, there are a lot less now than there were 50 years ago, and that is sad, but we are humans, and we have no choice, for the moment, but to live in anything besides worldly history, and worldly history moves in cycles. That is the basic Augustinian and, I think, correct description of our shared pre-apocalyptic reality. There have been no sinless generations and no generation before us would have had a right to complain even if faced with the unpleasant and dystopian challenges we face – we just need to rely on our favorite patron saints and ultimately on God). There will be a lot of Mormons in the world, too, 100 years from now, unless their current pro-choice trends continue (and I sincerely hope those trends do not continue, for the record – the unborn need all the friends they can get – it is just as much, if not more, their world as ours, after all).
    (Sorry about all the parentheses . Anyway, let’s pray for the Mormons and ask them to pray for us, in this our hour of need).

  9. Orlando says:

    Father “el fin de los tiempos” literally means the end of the times “as we know “. It’s an informal saying that to the Spanish speaker denotes an understanding or commonality that this is the end of our time. Makes sense?

  10. Thank you for that quote from Garabandal – adds context to Benedict’s words.

    “There are epochal upheavals underway” reminds me that Benedict has read the Third Secret and sees the current situation in context of what may be coming.
    Father Malachi Martin, who had also read the one-page Third Secret, said that its message was so terrifying that should people become aware of it, the confessionals would be jammed.

    –and unity publishing, although it did an excellent expose of Medjugorje, highlighting what the bishops there said, the site presents confused and misleading conclusions on Garabandal. Garabandal was never condemned. The children were told not to disseminate the messages [which they and the entire town obeyed]. One diocesan bishop declared that no message went against Faith or Morals. Additionally, the previous bishop was supportive of the apparitions and was visiting the town, saying Mass in the church. At this point there is no prohibition posted on the Diocesan website.
    Not trying to open a rabbit hole. Just want to keep Father from getting blasted because he mentioned Garabandal.

  11. LouLou says:

    Russia WAS consecrated! Please I am so tired of hearing this. As for ‘nations will be annihilated’, this is taken to mean all those people who would have made up nations in their numbers if they had not been aborted / or if they had been conceived instead of contracepted.

    Also, Garabandel has not been approved… still.

  12. Polycarpio says:

    Europe has forfeited its “Christian inheritance” and, with Muslims believing their hour is at hand, an “Islamic conquest” may be in Europe’s future. Therefore, Europeans should turn to God and plead like Moses in last Sunday’s reading, “Lord, give us another chance!” Oh, don’t take it from me: these were the words of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn last Sunday, as reported by CNA.

  13. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I would translate “el fin de los tiempos” as “the end of days” or the end of the world. In Catholic preaching, it is an apocalyptic phrase equivalent to the Parousia, or the “eschaton.” It does not signify to me, the end of an epoch or period of history, but the cessation of time itself.

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  15. ldunne says:

    Garabandal, . . . really? Has this been declared authentic by the Church — even at the local level?

  16. HighMass says:

    Last Pope of the old era or not, every day I Lament Benedict not siting in the Chair of St. Peter, I cannot find the words that I feel in my heart and soul for this Holy Man, always wonder what great things he would have done if he was still Pope. I LOVE ST.J.P. II, but also LOVE BENEDICT

    I too thought when Francis was elected, well the pre-Vatican II priests are fewer and fewer. Hopefully the Popes to come will be in line with Pope Benedict, Miss you Santita

  17. PostCatholic says:

    Fin del los tiempos is literally, “the end of the times.” I think you applied a correct understanding to your translation, but Spanish is an additional rather than native language for me.

    I think Papa Ratzinger is a very interesting and too-often misunderstood figure. I’m sure his legacy will undergo many reappraisals. Speaking as a non-Catholic but interested party, I see his cardinalatial and papal career as the conclusion and final direction for the work of Vatican II, and Francis as being the first pope whose reign will be entirely post-conciliar. Is that a fair thought?

  18. jameeka says:

    The interview sounds fascinating so far—maybe you can translate the whole thing into English for us prior to November, Fr Z.

    This discussion about limina and bridges reminds me of what Pope Benedict said when Summorum Pontificum first came out, that it would help the Church reconcile Herself with Her past. Benedict has built at least the underpinnings of a bridge between the Church’s past and her future, with SP. The future influences the present.
    Interesting times!

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    My answer is that he is neither. This is not how I read history. The era shifted back in 1958.

    The Chicken

  20. robtbrown says:

    Post Catholic says,

    I think Papa Ratzinger is a very interesting and too-often misunderstood figure. I’m sure his legacy will undergo many reappraisals. Speaking as a non-Catholic but interested party, I see his cardinalatial and papal career as the conclusion and final direction for the work of Vatican II, and Francis as being the first pope whose reign will be entirely post-conciliar. Is that a fair thought?

    It’s fair, but I’m not sure it’s right.

    IMHO, Cardinal Ratzinger’s contribution was greater than BXVI’s. As pope he did two very important things: Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus. I wonder whether if JPII had done them, Cardinal Ratzinger would have removed himself as a candidate in the conclave.

    Francis is a Jesuit, and as such he is relying on an approach to Catholic life that bears the marks of the individualism of Jesuit spirituality that goes back hundreds of years. It is evident in Amoris Laetitia. Before and after Vat II the emphasis was a return to the Ecclesial aspect of Catholic life rather than the individualistic. Unfortunately, more than a few liberals interpreted Ecclesial as Communal, thus the inane clapping and hugging at mass.

    I do agree, however, that there were efforts by JPII and BXVI to re-orient attitudes toward VatII, and I don’t see that tendency in Francis.

    Re the individualism of Jesuit spirituality: Jesuit life has no Common Office, no Community mass, and the Exercises are done individually.

  21. robtbrown says:

    The Masked Chicken says:

    My answer is that he is neither. This is not how I read history. The era shifted back in 1958.

    The shift was earlier–between the two World Wars.

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    robtbrown wrote:

    “The shift was earlier–between the two World Wars.”

    I could agree with that. The shift was more underground at that point, however, I think.

    As for the ecclesial vs. individualistic approach, I think one can go even more specific because it is not so much that ecclesial was re-interpreted as communal, but exemplar was re-interpreted as statistical – you can generate a picture of a church by a line drawing or as a point cloud. Back before Vatican II, ecclesiology was a nice line drawing, but after Vatican II it was a point cloud. Before Vatican II, the Church was painted with a fine brush; after Vatican II, it was pointillism.

    The Chicken

  23. Elizium23 says:

    My point was chiefly liturgical: ordained a priest well after the Mass revisions had been surging from the desk of +Bugnini, +Bergoglio’s experience with the Vetus Ordo would be relegated to his childhood. [Some of people’s strongest religious inclinations are formed in childhood.]

    Let us not forget, also, +Ratzinger’s status as a peritus in the Council, [This is misleading. You put + by Ratzinger (I rather dislike that abbreviation) as it Ratzinger were a bishop at the time of the Council. He was not. Nor was Bugnini.] and +Bergoglio’s conspicuous absence, [Again, the +, which is misleading. So is the word “conspicuous. Why would Bergoglio’s absence from the Council be “conspicuous” when he wasn’t expected to be there?] which would make the former an authority on What Truly Went Down, and seems to leave the latter as a product of the dreaded Spirit of Vatican II that your father always warned you about. [My father did not warn me about Vatican II.]

  24. GregB says:

    In the Old Testament the prophets predicted the coming of Christ and the issuing of a new covenant. The Jews were given plenty of advanced notice. The New Covenant was instituted by the Son of God, a full member of the Holy Trinity. The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to remain with the Church until the end of time. In the New Testament I only remember warnings of anti-Christs, false prophets, and corrupters of the Word of God.
    The progressive wing of the modern Church is looking more and more like the House of Eli.

  25. Y2Y says:

    “The progressive wing of the modern Church is looking more and more like the House of Eli.”

    Or the Sons of Iscariot. They certainly merit the same fate.

  26. robtbrown says:

    MC says:

    robtbrown wrote:

    “The shift was earlier–between the two World Wars.”

    I could agree with that. The shift was more underground at that point, however, I think.

    By shift in theology I am not not referring to conclusions that undermine doctrine.

    The individualistic approach was suitable to the Jesuit life and all the other Apostolic Orders founded after the Council of Trent.

    I was not speaking about Ecclesiology, which is an approach to theology that bases everything on the authority of Rome.

  27. Kerry says:

    T.S. Eliot’s ‘Thoughts After Lambeth’ ends with these sentences: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.” (Read it at The Imaginative Conservative.)
    And for great talks about Lambeth, watch Rev. Eric Bergman’s videos at The Institute of Catholic Culture. (He is Catholic priest via the Anglican Church and the ordinariate.)
    Perhaps ‘el fin de los tiempos’ is the end of “a civilized, but non-Christian mentality”.
    Masked Gallus, why 1958?

    [For TS Eliot]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    1958 was the death of Pope Pius XII, who, in his famous encyclical, Humani Generis (1950), which was a document, “CONCERNING SOME FALSE OPINIONS THREATENING TO UNDERMINE THE FOUNDATIONS OF CATHOLIC DOCTRINE,” wrote:

    “6. Such fictitious tenets of evolution which repudiate all that is absolute, firm and immutable, have paved the way for the new erroneous philosophy which, rivaling idealism, immanentism and pragmatism, has assumed the name of existentialism, since it concerns itself only with existence of individual things and neglects all consideration of their immutable essences.”

    “11. Another danger is perceived which is all the more serious because it is more concealed beneath the mask of virtue. There are many who, deploring disagreement among men and intellectual confusion, through an imprudent zeal for souls, are urged by a great and ardent desire to do away with the barrier that divides good and honest men; these advocate an “eirenism” according to which, by setting aside the questions which divide men, they aim not only at joining forces to repel the attacks of atheism, but also at reconciling things opposed to one another in the field of dogma. And as in former times some questioned whether the traditional apologetics of the Church did not constitute an obstacle rather than a help to the winning of souls for Christ, so today some are presumptive enough to question seriously whether theology and theological methods, such as with the approval of ecclesiastical authority are found in our schools, should not only be perfected, but also completely reformed, in order to promote the more efficacious propagation of the kingdom of Christ everywhere throughout the world among men of every culture and religious opinion.”

    Essentially, Pope Pius XII rejected many of the things that, suddenly, flourished in the wake of Vatican II. He saw this coming. He did everything except make an Ex Cathedra pronouncement against La Nouvelle Theologie, which would form the theological basis for so many of the disruptions of Vatican II. He is the last pope to definitively embrace St. Thomas Aquinas as the exemplar and guide of Catholic theology.

    After him, everything changed.

    The Chicken

  29. Mike says:

    I hate to detract anything from Eliot (not that it’s possible, from a lit point of view) but he was in agreement with the Anglican green-light on contraception. Sadly.

  30. slainewe says:

    @Masked Chicken

    Very interesting post. Thank you.

    I find it significant that 1958 marked the last time a pope (John XXIII) accepted Coronation. (I do not count Paul VI because he rejected the Tiara the same year he accepted it.) Then John Paul I refused Coronation, but retained the Tiara in his Coat-of-Arms. John Paul II followed suit. Then Benedict not only rejected Coronation but replaced the Tiara with a miter in his Coat-of-Arms. He could be seen as the first “mitered pope.” (After the tradition of Hungary calling Joseph II their “hatted king” because he refused coronation.) Francis followed suit in his Coat-of-Arms.

    This diminishing of the Tiara corresponds with the diminishing of the Church’s temporal power to propagate the Kingdom of Christ. When the temporal power of the papacy returns, I expect the pope associated with it to accept Coronation and return the Tiara to his Head and Coat-of-Arms. Then we may well look back at Benedict and Francis, our two fully “mitered popes,” as a bridge to the next era of crowned popes? Like John the Baptist, they accepted diminishment of their temporal authority, until the “increasement” of temporal power that will take place in Christ with the new era of popes?

    Interesting aside: perhaps it is no big deal when a “mitered pope” retires? After all, how can one “abdicate” if he was never crowned?

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