A short history of the Popes named Benedict
I was curious as to the symbolic meaning of the term Benedict, and the following is the result of my research. It would appear that the meaning of 'Benedict' is further consolidation and centralization of power in the office of the Papacy, a continuation of the right wing extremism and authoritarianism characteristic of the previous Pope, and perhaps even an implied threat against any more Priests out there who might be involved in sexual scandals
A short history of the Popes named Benedict
I was curious as to the symbolic meaning of the term Benedict, and the following is the result of my research. It would appear that the meaning of 'Benedict' is further consolidation and centralization of power in the office of the Papacy, a continuation of the right wing extremism and authoritarianism characteristic of the previous Pope, and perhaps even an implied threat against any more Priests out there who might be involved in sexual scandals.
There really isn't much to be said for Pope's named 'Benedict', the majority of them being rapists, murderers, and drunks, in the tradition that characterized the Papacy up until the time of reformation. Given the sordid reputations of Pope's named Benedict, this leads one to conclude that the inspiration for Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of a name could only have been Benedict XIV, whose policies on Papal authority bear a notable similarity to the policies of the previosu Pope, John Paul II. Certainly no one would want to be associated with or named after any of the other Pope's called 'Benedict', as you can tell by considering the following short biography of a collection of rascals.
Pope Benedict V, who ruled in the 10th century, after getting himself into trouble over the rape of a young girl, absconded with the entire fortune of the Vatican, and was later referred to as 'the most sinful of all the monsters'. When he turned up in Rome once again years later, he was apparently stabbed to death (one hundred times) by the angry husband of one of his female lovers, and then a furious mob dragged his corpse through the streets of Rome before finally they tossed it into a latrine. Not long after followed Benedict VII, who was also murdered by a furious husband. These two Benedicts were just a couple of a long line of murderers, thieves, and swindlers who in turn occupied the office of Pope throughout the latter half of the first millennium. Cardinal Baronius, who lived in the sixteenth century, wrote a justifiably famous history of the papacy of this period (the 'Ecclesiastical Annals'), and wrote of these early Popes, that they were 'cunning in all forms of wickedness' and that they used the Chair of Saint Peter to enrich 'their minions and paramours.' He drew the conclusion that the history of the papacy justified the following the statement he made, which was that 'the chief lesson of these times is that the Church can get along very well without Popes,' not having had Popes for so many centuries, and having somehow survived having what passed for Popes for well over a thousand years.
What these early Popes certainly proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that celibacy was never part of the Christian tradition. The alleged 'First Pope', Peter was a married man, as were all the other apostles, the only celibate in that early group being Paul. IN the 11th century pope Gregory VII laid down the rule that in the future no one could become a priest without pledging themselves to a lifetime of celibacy. Previous to this time, married men, who had been married before becoming priests, remained married, while it was the custom to expect unmarried men who became priests to remain unmarried. The purpose of Gregory's rule was to protect church property. The priesthood had evolved into an hereditary institution, with son's inheriting the priesthood of their fathers, as well as inheriting much property which Gregory thought should rightfully belong to the church, and in keeping with this attitude, he required new priests to produce inventories of all possessions and goods which would then have to be accounted for upon the death of the priest, excluding the possibility of such goods becoming an inheritance of the priests family, and this was further ensured by making sure that priests never had families in the first place.
Gregory had been preceded as Pope by the notorious Benedict IX, who became Pope at age eleven, and having reached puberty at a very early age, or perhaps having not bothered to wait for puberty, had already developed a reputation as being the most sexually libertine of all the Popes who had preceded him before he had reached his midteens, gaining the reputation of 'a demon from hell in the disguise of a Priest'. Attempts were made to murder him while he was saying Mass, and he was twice sent packing by an armed force under charges of plunder and murder, the second time during his early twenties, only to return once again in a couple of months to pick up where he left off. After accepting a bribe of the entire donations of the church of England as a pension, Benedict was finally convinced to resign as Pope, and went off to pursue wine, women, and song in his castle on his country estate, leaving Rome, we are told, to the great jubilation of the crowds celebrating his departure. Life away from the power center of Rome proved disagreeable to Benedict, who upon the death of a following Pope, took the opportunity to resume the throne for a little less than a year. He was soon enough replaced by Damasus II, who did not live long, having been poisoned, it was said at the time, by Benedict.
It seems unlikely the Cardinal Ratzinger was inspired to take the name of 'Benedict' by the illustrious history of his predecessors who did so much to make the name 'Benedict' among the more notorious names for a Pope (although, as bad as they were, the name of Borgia is still remembered as the very worst of the Popes by most people). With that being the case it would seem that Ratzinger must have been inspired by one of the later examples of a Pope Benedict. Now it could not have been Benedict XV, who is remembered as a bit of a dullard who did not accomplish much, other than warming the seat of Peter's chair. Therefore one could assume that his role model must have been Benedict XIV, since the rest of them were not much in the way of role models, nor were they someone that anyone would want to be associated with and certainly not a strongly right wing and reactionary catholic like Cardinal Ratzinger.
Two things that distinguish Benedict XIV are his stands on Papal authority, which later in the 19thcentury would be formalized by Pius and become the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, as well as his strict and severe punishments meted out to priests were found to be involved in secret sexual hanky panky. Benedicts attitude toward Papal authority bear a striking similarity to the attitudes of the previous Pope John Paul. According to Benedict XIV, "the Pope is principal priest in the whole Church, who can take any local church from the jurisdiction of its Bishop whenever he wishes." This perfectly describes the conduct of the previous Pope, who pulled the rug out from under Bishops and Cardinals as he saw fit, even forcing some to resign, and then, in the violation of the established principle of collegiality (by which Bishops of each country typically have input into the choice of their own cardinals), the previous Pope simply ran rough shod over bishops and cardinals, with the result being that he has stacked the deck with cardinals who hold to extreme right wing views, such as his own, even going so far as to impose reactionary Cardinals to oversee the most liberal parishes. The result of the policies of Pope John Paul II were that in a little less than a decade catholic observance and attendance at mass had declined by a dramatic fifty per cent in America and Europe, and the slide is ongoing and looks set to continue into the future, with the Vatican now in the hands of the reactionaries.
As the critical emergency of the shortage of priests continues to worsen, and Catholicism continues its decline, the rise of reactionary Catholicism can only result in the ruinous collapse of the church, which history will show was the true legacy of the previous Pope, who was a Pope of the counter reformation, and the result of a backlash against the reforms of Vatican II (history repeating itself, reform followed by counter reformation and reaction). If history is any indicator, reaction is always a disastrous failure, and no institution can survive on reaction alone. They change, or they die. It would appear that in choosing the name 'Benedict' the Cardinal is sending out a signal that it will be business as usual as far as the doctrine of the authority of the Pope is concerned, which means more reaction, and further decline and ongoing collapse.
A few words in defense of 'tradition'It is said that the reactionaries are 'defending tradition', but the truth of the matter is that the reactionaries are defending custom as well as the interests of a powerful elite in an entrenched social institution. The truth of the matter is easy to see, in that reactionaries are not 'defending tradition', far from it, but are actually continuing an ancient struggle to destroy tradition, and so therefore it can be said that the only 'tradition' they are seeking to preserve is the tradition of their own powerful clique.
We know that Peter was married, and so were the other apostles, or so 'tradition' tells us, and so therefore the backwards reaction which attempts to impose 11th century rules about celibacy upon the church, with the argument being that this is somehow a 'tradition' that is being 'protected' so as to preserve what reactionaries like to call 'original truth', is revealed just by a cursory examination to be a falsehood.
Similarly, tradition, in the form of the writings of what are called 'the New Testament' describe female Bishops, and even female 'apostles', which at the time was the highest office in the church. At the same time, these documents also describe the brutal oppression of women, forbidding them to talk to anyone other than their husbands, doing that at home, and they are also barred from teaching or preaching, which would have made it impossible to become a bishop or an apostle. But then certainly the 'New Testament', like the rest of the Bible is not ideologically consistent, and so therefore in this case the reactionaries can claim to be 'supporting tradition' just by quoting what are obviously the writings of previous generations of reactionaries, who hated the idea of women apostles almost as much as the previous Pope, and thus wrote about it. This 'tradition' of reaction can be supported if one just ignores the inconvenient writings of reformists, who were also writing at the time, and then just maintain the charade that reaction is all that is available. Either that, or one can do as the Catholic Church did, when Jerome was assigned the task of translating the Bible into the official Latin Vulgate, and in the process he changed the names of those female apostles and church elders to male names, so that no one would know, and thus reactionaries could have the field to themselves for a few centuries. That can no longer be done, so the only option is to just ignore those writings that are inconvenient and then attempt to bully everyone else into silence. If we are frank, then we will acknowledge that this bullying was the modus operandi of the previous Pope John Paul, and given Ratzinger's choice of the name 'Benedict', this reactionary bullying is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
For this who are under the illusion that the previous Pope was some kind of 'liberal' I feel that the following page really says it all, and might refresh the memories of those who have forgotten just how bitterly unpopular this Pope John Paul really was, and just how much damage his right wing reaction has done over the last three decades...
Visiting a synagogue and a mosque, issuing a few statements about Iraq and Palestine, opposition to capital punishment as an isolated issue--Sorry, but these and some other (mainly symbolic) "proofs" of John Paul's "humanity" and his "apostolate of peace" ring very, very hollow to this American Catholic who has had his tradition and his Church wrenched from him by an Eastern European rightwing fanatic in Pope's clothes. Full article...
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