Phenomenology of the Pope Emeritus

A lot of initiatives are spreading around the presence-absence of Benedict XVI in order to rediscover his works and his prominent figure

Maria Giuseppina Buonanno


(21st april 2016) On 11th February 2013 Benedict XVI announced that he would resign from his pontificate. After almost eight years of pontificate, he said it with a calm voice but a deep feeling. Some days later, he met the parish priests of Rome for the traditional meeting at the beginning of the Lent period and he officially declared he wanted to live far from the footlights and resign from the Papacy on the following 28th February.

He said: “Although I am about to withdraw, I remain close to all of you in prayer, and I am sure that you too will be close to me, even if I am hidden from the world.”

And from that moment onward he is hidden from the world.


Phenomenology of the absence

The Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger, born on 16th April 1927, lives in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, in the Vatican City. He appeared in public only in a few occasions, when he was invited by Pope Francis (the last time was for the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, in order to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy).

But today his words are extremely powerful. His monastic retirement and his presence in the absence increase the interest towards his theological works, his teachings, his thoughts and his prominent figure. A lot of initiatives have been organized as, for example, the birth of Ratzinger’s Library in the Teutonic College, in the Vatican City, the publications about his works and his pontificate, a Master’s degree course about his doctrine and several national and international meetings.

In order to define the phenomenology of the “presence-absence” of the Pope, we must begin from the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Library, that was inaugurated in November 2015 and hosts more than one thousand books, translated in 37 foreign languages.

The great extent of Ratzinger’s theological and spiritual work consists in 102 books, of which 98 have been written before he was elected Pope, and 600 articles. The Biblioteca Romana will find new ways of knowledge, not only for scholars and theologians but also for the other readers.


A place for your soul

In his works, Ratzinger was able to speak to the heart. “He dealt with important topics as happiness and human love” Pietro Luca Azzaro affirmed. He is the responsible of the Library dedicated to the Pope, the translator of the Opera omnia from German language and he is professor of History of Europe at the Catholic University of Milan “Sacro Cuore”.

The Library was born to become a lively, generative place. It is not a museum or a book warehouse. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi reasserted it in his Lectio Magistralis during the inauguration ceremony of the Library (his lesson was published by the Vatican Publishing House and its title was “From the Bible to the Library – Benedict XVI and the Culture of the Word of God). Ravasi told the story of Hecateus, the historian who went from Greece to Egypt in order to visit the Ramesseum temple. Ramesses II was the pharaoh “who characterized the 13th century B.C”. Hecateus discovered an inscription on a portal and he translated it as “a place to cure the soul”. “What was this ‘home for the spirit’”? He gave an answer when he passed the door: it was the sacred Library of the pharaoh”, Ravasi explained.

The Library welcomes Ratzinger’s theological thoughts. It is not the result of an intellectual speculation, but it builds a relationship between man and God; it is a place of knowledge and a place for the soul, where people ask questions and find their answers.


When the Pope talked about love

The human dimension is developed in the first encyclical of Benedict XVI, whose title is Deus caritas est. It was published in January 2006.

The encyclical is the topic of the book Deus caritas est - Porta di misericordia, that will be presented on 26th April in the hall named after Benedict XVI at the Teutonic Cemetery (the book collects the proceedings of the International Symposium organized for the 10th anniversary of the apostolic letter).

The Symposium and the book are not commemorating or celebrating the anniversary, but they were conceived as a contribution to the new theological and pastoral perspectives of contemporary world.

The encyclical deals with the Christian meaning of love and gives light to an important topic of Ratzinger’s theological and philosophical analyses: human feelings, that are seen from the divine point of view.

“In my first Encyclical I wish to speak about the love God gives us and which we in turn must share with others” Ratzinger wrote in his introduction to the apostolic letter, in which he explained “the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man” and “the ecclesial exercise of the commandment of love for the others”.

He has also analysed love and agape, trying to find difference and unity in them.

And he wrote: “Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive”.


The pastoral of Joseph Ratzinger

To know the prominent figure and the doctrine of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger – trough his teachings and his works – is the main topic of the Master’s degree course “Joseph Ratzinger. Studies and spirituality”, attended by 100 students. It started in February and it will end in January 2017. It is not simply an academic curriculum, but it is made of hermeneutics and it has got an intellectual and spiritual dimension.

There are also forty research centres, cultural institutions, Italian and international universities with which the Ratzinger Foundation, born in 2010, has established a cooperation.

His experience as a university professor, his analytical skills and his faith in human reason made Ratzinger’s theological work “a pastoral of intelligence” with his personal traits.

“Ratzinger has a strange and admirable power and he loves to be surprised more than to surprise: he doesn’t show tenderness, but a calm gentleness and melancholy. As if he was able to touch the heart of a man” said Joaquin Navarro Valls, who has been the head of the Press Room of the Holy See for 22 years, in the book A passo d’uomo (published by Mondadori in 2009). In a few words he describes an intellectual and human pastoral.


The flame between Francis and Benedict

Ratzinger’s great spiritual heritage was emphasized by Pope Francis on 15th March 2013, in his first speech to the College of Cardinals after he was elected Pope. “Benedict XVI enriched and invigorated the Church during the years of his Pontificate by his teaching, his goodness, his leadership, his faith, his humility and his meekness. All this remains as a spiritual patrimony for us all. The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, found in him a wise and humble exponent, his gaze always firmly on Christ, the risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist.” Said Bergoglio. “We feel that Benedict XVI has kindled a flame deep within our hearts: a flame that will continue to burn because it will be fed by his prayers, which continue to sustain the Church on her spiritual and missionary path.”

The book Benedetto XVI - Un Papa totale, was inspired by the words of Pope Francis. It was written by Marco Mancini and published by Tau publishing house on February and it was dedicated to the pontificate of the Pope Emeritus, that started on 19th April 2005.

Ratzinger, in the book Per mezzo della fede, edited by the Jesuit Daniele Libanori and published by Edizioni San Paolo publishing house, dealt with the topic of mercy in the Christian message because it is the core of the Jubilee and Pope Francis really cares about it.

“His pastoral practice shows that he always speaks about God mercy” the Pope Emeritus stressed while he was talking about Bergoglio.

Mercy is also something that brings Ratzinger and Bergoglio together. Pope Francis chose Il nome di Dio è misericordia as the title of the interview-book edited with Andrea Tornielli and the same expression was used by Pope Benedict on 30th March 2008, during the day of the Divine Mercy.

On April 15th 2006, the Holy Saturday night, Pope Benedict’s voice resonated in the Vatican Basilica. “I live, but I am no longer I” said Ratzinger during the homily of Easter Vigil. And he explained that “this is the way of the Cross, the way that ‘crosses over’ a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.”

He had already explained the concept of “presence-absence”.

Ratzinger’s thoughts have got a new power today, if we listen to the whole message. Today his presence in the absence has got a revealing force.