April 16 is the 94th birthday of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who famously requested at his 2013 retirement that he be referred to simply as “Father Benedict.”
April 19 is the 16th anniversary of his election to the papacy.
To celebrate the former pontiff’s birthday, we bring you a reading, and watching, list of just some of Ratzinger’s Greatest Hits.
Dictatorship of Relativism
At his last public homily before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned famously about:
a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.
The phrase became associated with the intellectual and pastoral project of Benedict’s entire papacy, which he outlined in the same homily:
We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
The April 19, 2005 announcement of Benedict XVI’s election to the papacy.
Cardinal Ratzinger goes to Washington
Pope Benedict XVI at the White House in 2008:
Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one's deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.
Or watch it:
In September 2006, Benedict gave a scholarly speech at the University of Regensburg that drew protests from Muslim religious and political leaders in Europe, especially for a quote about Muhammad which Benedict cited, and they found offensive.
Benedict, academic and not intending to stoke controversy, apologized, and engaged in dialogue with Islamic leaders in the years after. But in the wake of the controversy, the genius of the “Regensburg address” is often missed. It is worth reading:
While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.
‘The power of the Spirit’
God’s love can only unleash its power when it is allowed to change us from within. We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires. That is why prayer is so important: daily prayer, private prayer in the quiet of our hearts and before the Blessed Sacrament, and liturgical prayer in the heart of the Church. Prayer is pure receptivity to God’s grace, love in action, communion with the Spirit who dwells within us, leading us, through Jesus, in the Church, to our heavenly Father.
Benedict in Parliament
The fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.
Westminster Hall, United Kingdom, September 17, 2010. Read the whole speech here.
‘How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news’
At Catholic University of America in 2008, Benedict XVI on the nature of Catholic education, a subject dear to his heart:
And you can listen to him tickle the ivories here:
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report said that April 19 would be the 26th anniversary of Benedict's election to the papacy, rather than the 16th. We regret our inability to complete simple mathematic computations. It's Friday.