Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pope Benedict (N-1) and influenza

Much is being made (see, for example, the wikipedia entry) of the new pope's choice of professional name, Benedict XVI, particularly the allusion to the previous Benedict (XV):
. . . the previous Pope Benedict XV was seen as a conciliator who calmed the disputes between modernist and traditionalist factions with the Church, and the adoption of the name Benedict has been seen as a sign that Benedict XVI has similar goals. Additionally, Der Spiegel reports on an interview with Cardinal Meisner, usually regarded as close to Ratzinger, stating that he chose Benedict because of Benedict XV who "did much for peace in the world".


However, John Allen, the new pope's biographer and a longtime Vatican observer, told CNN on April 20, 2005, that the choice of name also appears to be a purposeful allusion to the fact that the previous holder of the name Benedict was shortlived in office. Ratzinger's brother has stated that he hoped that his aged brother would not be elected to the papacy due to the pressures of the office and the fact that in 1991, Cardinal Ratzinger suffered a brain hemorrhage. Given this history, Allen noted, "So I think he has a very keen sense that this may not be a very long pontificate and there's an awful lot to do."
I won't weigh in on theological matters, here, but can't resist making some historical observations about the previous Benedict, Giacomo della Chiesa, (November 21, 1854 – January 22, 1922), who was Pope from September 3, 1914 to 1922. della Chiesa succeeded Giuseppe Sarto (professional name, Saint Pius X), who himself was extremely conservative, condemning the "modernist" agenda of trying to assimilate "modern philosophers like Kant" into church doctrine. Both della Chiesa and Sarto were staunchly opposed to WWI (as Wojtila was opposed to the Iraq war) and both were strongly anti-Socialist, as was Wojtila (see the Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum - Appealing for Peace - 1 November 1914). So there are clear historical parallels.

A parallel we hope doesn't hold is that della Chiesa (Benedict XV) was pope during the 1918 - 1919 influenza pandemic and in fact died of influenza complicated by pneumonia at the age of 67 in 1922.