Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New seed

So, the pope has resigned or, as it was announced to me by an unofficial herald, ‘The pope has quit!’ A bit hard to believe at first hearing. Popes are not supposed to quit. They don’t resign. They don’t retire. Theirs is a job for life. How can they quit? They’re said to be ‘infallible,’ at least when speaking ex cathedra. I wonder, was he speaking from the chair of Peter, or just standing somewhere?

They say, this hasn’t happened in almost six hundred years. Well, I think, actually, it has probably never happened. At least, not like this. Popes have been forcibly removed from office, and often jailed. The pope that they usually refer to as having resigned, Celestine the Fifth, did so after five months, and also issued a decree saying it was legal for a pope to resign. How convenient.

The truth about Celestine is, he was happily monked and hermited, and shouldn’t have been dragged to the papal throne in the first place. He had every right to resign. Nobody should be pushed around like that, not even by the Church. Another pope who resigned was actually probably never pope in the first place. There were two, then three, popes at the same time. That’s Church politics gone wild.

Popes don’t resign. It used to be, kings and queens don’t resign either. These used to be sacred persons, anointed to be for us for life. Two queens of the Netherlands have resigned, and now a third one has announced she will retire too. Not Elizabeth, the Queen, though. If she keeps the faith she promised at her coronation, she may be the last. The last real queen, maybe the last Christian one.

But Benedict the Sixteenth is resigning, for health reasons. The Church has guaranteed that any pope, no matter how sick, or how weak, has her support to continue to the end. So, yes, he is really doing something new and unexpected, but everyone will put the best face on it they can. Who knows the real reasons? Conspiracy theorists and end of the world Malachites can have a field day.

But maybe, just maybe, this pope is letting us see a light that has gone on in his brain. The Church is a holy republic, a commonwealth, with an elected monarch, not unlike the former Kingdom of Poland. The supreme ruler is elected, yes, but for life. What if, in step with the times, or at least a little late, a mere two hundred years, the Church might become a real republic, with a pope elected for a term?

Yes, term limits for popes. It seems to have worked with presidents in some of the countries that have them, and it hasn’t diminished the authority and prestige of their office. Why couldn’t the papacy, since the pope is no mere ‘bishop of Rome’ but a kind of universal bishop, be filled by election, with limits of seven years per pope, elected in middle age, and then released to resume his former ministry?

This may not be as far-fetched as it seems, and it might be a bargaining chip for Rome in its efforts to rejoin the other ancient patriarchates in a united, historic Church. Perhaps Benedict may have seeded the ground in a more fruitful way than any pope before him. Of course, the seed has to be dropped into good soil, and not on pavement, because fowl in plenty still seek to fill their bellies.

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