He was only to be an interim pope; a placeholder. That’s what was said of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger upon his election to the papacy in 2005. Instead, over the course of eight short years, he left an indelible mark as a leader of thought and unity. His greatest legacy will probably be his theological scholarship. But a close second will be his attempts to bring Catholics together, integrating the Latin Tridentine Mass, reaching out to the Eastern Orthodox, and even opening a dialogue with the Society of Pius X. He was famously taciturn, but expanded the Church’s ministry and started the first papal Twitter account. He was a dogmatic traditionalist, but inspired many with the openness and suppleness of his thought.
What to expect in the coming days? There will be plenty of speculation over Benedict’s legacy (“seen as both conservative and contentious,” clucked the New York Times, evidently after surveying two of its lifestyle editors). Horse-race journalism, dormant since Obama was reelected, will reemerge to breathe heavily about the coming Conclave. St. Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes will shorten many sleep cycles (Benedict is the last pope predicted before Peter the Roman takes over and, as Malachy puts it rather flippantly, “The End”).
But for today, let’s content ourselves with remembering Pope Benedict XVI, a good man and the first to abdicate voluntarily since Celestine V. This young Catholic, who was unsure what to expect when the John Paul II era ended, will be forever grateful for his leadership.