by Antonio Socci
Originally published by the Libero Quotidiano: May 4, 2020
Authorized English translation by Giuseppe Pellegrino
Reprinted with permission of the translator
Like the Biblical prophets and the great popes of history, Benedict XVI is both hated by the powers of this world and loved by simple Catholic people. And every time that he comes out of his hermitage to speak the truth, he illuminates the darkness of the present situation of humanity and the Church. He is the object of furious attacks – which have been going on ever since his election as pope – that have now come to the point of the distortion of his words and his moral lynching.
This week great controversy has broken out over the anticipation of the release of Ratzinger’s biography written by Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI. Ein Leben, which is being published in German and will appear in Italian [and English] this fall.
In the book, the Pope Emeritus responds to various questions and explains, for example, his dramatic and enigmatic statement in his homily given at the inauguration of his pontificate [on April 24, 2005]: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”
It is a phrase that has taken on enormous significance since February 11, 2013, when Benedict XVI announced his stepping back. What was he alluding to with those words? Is this where we should try to find the reason for his “resignation”? Was he forced to step aside in such a way that it makes that resignation invalid?
And so Pope Benedict, responding to these questions, invites us to reflect on “how much fear can strike a pope.” Many observers – especially after his stepping back – thought that it had to do with the unfortunate episode of Vatileaks, “but the true threat to the Church and thus to the Petrine ministry,” the Pontiff explains, “does not consist in these things but rather in the world dictatorship of apparently humanistic ideologies that oppose anyone who does not conform to the established social consensus. Even one hundred years ago, everyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual marriage. Today those who oppose it are excommunicated from society. Things are similar for abortion and the production of human beings in laboratories. Modern society is formulating an antichristic faith, which you cannot oppose without being punished with excommunication from that society. And thus it is more than natural to have fear of this spiritual power of the Antichrist, and it really takes the prayer of an entire diocese, indeed of the universal Church, to oppose and resist it.”
In these few lines, Ratzinger – as always – manages to condense extraordinary reflections that merit our deep consideration and reflection.
Of course, the Repubblica immediately tried to distort Benedict’s words, reducing his comments to a rant against “abortion” and “gay marriage,” thereby giving the nod to the entire media establishment and unleashing an onslaught on social media against the pope, who has once again been covered in mud. Ironically, by doing this the champions of one-way tolerance immediately proved the truth of Benedict XVI’s words: anyone who does not fall in line with the mainstream is declared to be anathema.
But the Ratzingerian reflection is much more profound. In perfect continuity with the Magisterium of Paul VI and John Paul II, Benedict XVI has spoken once again to denounce the dominant modern ideology that not only is anti-Christian but is also dramatically opposed to human life.
Like Montini and Wojtyla, Ratzinger captures the apocalyptic connotation of the present moment, in particular that of the “dictatorship of relativism” which opposed him during his pontificate and that today holds power, since it is also widespread within the Church.
Benedict XVI is not afraid to speak of the Antichrist, causing many critics who believe they are enlightened and progressive to rise up against him, but ironically by doing so they simply display their ignorance of the many books and philosophical and theological debate on this topic. There are actually many non-Catholic thinkers who have addressed the theme of the Antichrist in recent years. The Marxist philosopher Mario Tronti said in 2013 after the “resignation” that the pontificate of Joseph Ratzinger was “an heroic attempt hold back the post-modern form of the Antichrist.”
Similarly dramatic reflections have been made by Massimo Cacciari (I refer to them in my new book Il Dio Mercato, la Chiesa e l’Anticristo [The God of the Market, the Church, and the Antichrist]). Among other things, Cacciari declares: “We could speculate that Ratzinger resigned because he was no longer able to hold back the antichristic powers within the Church herself.” But now “the Church finds herself facing, for the first time, the true essence of the Antichrist.” Cacciari also published a more philosophical reflection in 2013, Il Potere che frena [The Power that Restrains]. The essay by Giorgio Agamben is also valuable: Il mistero del male (Benedetto XVI e la fine dei tempi) [The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and The End Times].
In light of Benedict XVI’s words – “And thus it is more than natural to have fear of this spiritual power of the Antichrist” – we could well be led to believe that he had to flee “before the wolves,” which would render his “resignation” invalid.
But what sort of “resignation” did he make? As he explained on February 27, 2013, he remains pope “forever” and he preserves his papal name and title.
In my book, The Secret of Benedict XVI (Angelico Press, 2019), I demonstrated that, due to the enormity of the Enemy who was facing him – and since he felt his strength diminishing – Benedict XVI humbly made “a step to the side” in order to make space for someone whom he could assist by his prayer and counsel in the task of being the Kathécon (“the one who restrains” cf. 2 Thess 2:6-7). Thus was opened a new and unprecedented era of “collegiality” in the papacy – unprecedented because it is apocalyptic.
But then the cardinals chose the man who had opposed Ratzinger in 2005, who is now the pope beloved by the worldly powers. And so today Benedict XVI finds himself called mysteriously to a task that only God knows. He remains on a mission from God.