“It’s nothing business, it’s strictly personal”: The Psychic Powers of Pope Emeritus
Edmund J. Mazza, PhD
Only one is Pope…because of his psychic powers.
No, Ann Barnhardt’s favorite historian hasn’t taken leave of his senses—or his Catholic faith. By “psychic,” I mean the powers of the soul [psyche in Greek].
What makes us human, or rather, what makes us God-like is our use of the soul’s faculties of reason and free will. Animals lack both and precisely for this reason, can neither “sin” nor accumulate “merit” (as we can after Baptism).
Our reason presents us with knowledge and our will chooses in the face of this knowledge. Or to cut to the chase: the mind of a pope presents him with knowledge and his will chooses in the face of this knowledge. A pope knows about the Papacy and chooses to do something about it based on this knowledge, like say resigning, for instance.
This is what Pope Benedict told journalist Peter Seewald about his resignation in the 2017 book, Benedict XVI, Last Testament: “The Pope is no superman…If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function…the follower of Peter is not merely bound to a function; the office enters into your very being.”[i] (Emphasis mine)
Benedict comes to the realization that he is not Superman—he is an old man. He shall, therefore, step down from the physical duties of the bishop of Rome, but his understanding of the Papacy is that it can never be relinquished in its spiritual aspects. He views it not essentially as a juridical office like the US Presidency or the Chief Executive Officership of a business enterprise, but as an ONGOING EVENT WHICH CHANGES THE ONTOLOGICAL NATURE OF THE PERSON.
At Lourdes, the Virgin Mary did not say “I am she who was immaculately conceived by God’s power.” She declared rather: “I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.”[ii] (And let us not forget that Benedict deliberately chose February 11th, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to make his “Declaration” to the world.) Or to use Benedict’s phrase, “the office enters into your very being.” He “remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on…” For Benedict, “it’s nothing business, it’s strictly personal”:
the sedes [Chair of Peter is] a cross and thus proves the Vicar [of Christ] to be a representative. He abides [exists] in obedience and thus in personal responsibility for Christ; professing the Lord’s death and Resurrection is his whole commission and personal responsibility, in which the common profession of the Church is depicted as personally ‘‘binding’’ through the one who is bound . . . . This personal liability…forms the heart of the doctrine of papal primacy…[iii]
In April 2005, Joseph Ratzinger took on the awesome, ontological, personal responsibility of the Papacy: the Episcopacy of Rome and the Vicarship of Christ. Nearly eight years later, however, the pontiff felt that his 85-year-old stamina no longer permitted him to continue the “functional” duties of “words and deeds.” He will step down from them, but he will remain in the spiritual “suffering and prayer.” He says all this quite plainly in his official “Declaratio” of February 11, 2013:
my strengths, owing to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry because of its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.[iv]
vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum. Bene conscius hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando.[v] (Emphasis mine)
Benedict admits his physical strengths no longer allow him to adequately wield the Petrine ministry [munus Petrinum], this ministry [munus] is essentially spiritual in nature, but nevertheless, humanly speaking, must be functionally administered in words and deeds, he therefore concludes:
well aware [reason] of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom [free will] I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from February 28, 2013, at 8 p.m., the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant…
bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commisso renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet… (Emphasis mine)
Did you catch the anomaly? You probably did not, if you only read the English.
In the first quote from the Declaratio which we reproduced above, Benedict uses “munus Petrinum” to describe the essential spiritual nature of the “Petrine ministry;” he is able to fulfill this “munus” through suffering and prayer but is no longer able to do so through words and deeds. In the second and concluding quote from his Declaratio, he declares that he renounces the “ministry of Bishop of Rome,” stating in Latin: “ministerio Episcopi Romae.”
Why, may we ask, did he suddenly replace “munus” with “ministerio”? Why abandon the consistency of his narration? Likewise, why abruptly change from speaking of the “Petrine” ministry or “munus Petrinum,” to “ministerio Episcopi Romae,” “Bishop of Rome” instead?
Actually, Benedict is being consistent.
He told Seewald that “he remains within the responsibility he took on…the office enters into your very being.” Accordingly, in his Declaratio, he never renounces the essentially spiritual munus Petrinum.
Likewise, he told Seewald that due to weakness of age he stepped down from the functional aspects—and so he did renounce the “ministerio” of Bishop of Rome.
Let us now return to our discussion of psychic powers.
In February 2013 Benedict saw the munus Petrinum as an essentially spiritual, invisible, ontological, PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY he accepted back in 2005.[vi] This one thing or munus consists of active and contemplative “ministerii” Acting on this knowledge, he chose to renounce the “active” ministry “ministerio” of the Bishop of Rome, but not the Petrine munus or office itself, which by its nature enters into your very being and thus is incapable of renunciation. And this is what Benedict confirmed a few short weeks later at his last General Audience:
Here, allow me to go back once again to 19 April 2005. The real gravity of the decision [to accept the Papacy] was also due to the fact that from that moment on I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always – anyone who accepts the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to everyone, to the whole Church…The “always” is also a “for ever” –My decision to resign the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences, and so on. I am not abandoning the cross, but remaining in a new way at the side of the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter. (Emphasis mine)
In Benedict’s mind, he was only resigning the active exercise of the ministry of Bishop of Rome, not the spiritual essence of the munus Petrinum: “in the service of prayer I remain…in the enclosure of St. Peter.” Ontologically, as a PERSON he is to be found “remaining…at the side of the crucified Lord” for the sake of “the whole Church.” Or as he once put it: “This personal liability, which forms the heart of the doctrine of papal primacy, is therefore not opposed to the theology of the Cross or contrary to humilitas christiana but rather follows from it.” Or again, as he reiterates to Seewald, he REMAINS “connected to the suffering Lord as well, in the stillness of silence, in the grandeur and intensity of praying for the entire Church. So this step is not flight, not an attempt to escape, but in fact another way of remaining faithful in my service.”
But was what was subjectively in Benedict’s mind an accurate or erroneous understanding of the objective reality of the munus Petrinum? If one’s will acts on an erroneous appraisal presented to it by one’s reason, the WILL DOES NOT CHOOSE FREELY. Mistakes of this kind are most frequent in attempts at marriage. Marriage is an objective state of being that does not come into existence except from a free act of the will, which as we have seen, is dependent upon an accurate understanding on the part of reason:
error invalidates the act if it is an error concerning the substance of the act…Error affects consent, for the will in an act of consent elects an object presented to it by the mind. If the mind is in error, the object is imperfectly or incorrectly presented and choice made upon such a premise is not always the same choice that would have been made if the object were correctly known.[vii] (Emphasis mine)
Genesis chapter 29 is an illustrative example of such a “substantial error.” Jacob wishes to marry Rachel. (So in love is he that he labors seven years for her father.) At last, under cover of darkness, her sister Leia is introduced to the bridal chamber instead. Even though they engage in the marital embrace that night, they are not actually married, because his reason was operating on the erroneous assumption that he was choosing Rachel, not Leia. (As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, it was only Jacob’s subsequent choice the next day to accept her, despite the fact, that she wasn’t Rachel, that ultimately made the marriage valid.)[viii]
In the case of Pope Benedict, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If his notion of the munus Petrinum was erroneous, then his resignation was invalid. Canon 188 of the New Code of Canon Law (1983) states explicitly that “a resignation made out of…substantial error” is invalid.[ix] This would mean Benedict is still the Head of the Catholic Church and that Jorge Bergoglio is “Antipope Francis.”
Furthermore, it must be noted that for years-on-end critics of those who hold that Benedict is pope have accused them (among other things) of “not being trained canon lawyers.” Others have argued that Canon 188 does not matter anyway because the Pope as Supreme Legislator is “above canon law.” Still other prominent critics argue that because all the cardinals and 99% of the bishops of the Church have “peacefully accepted” Francis as pope, Benedict’s resignation AUTOMATICALLY MUST HAVE BEEN VALID.
The plain facts of the matter are these. If the mind presents an erroneous idea to the will and the will acts on it, that act is invalid by the very fabric of realty itself—not because canon law says so. And it doesn’t take a canon lawyer to determine whether or not the idea of the person was likely accurate or erroneous when said person has been obliging enough to make official speeches and book-length interviews for eight years. The pope might be above canon law (I’ve heard it both ways)—but he is certainly not above natural law, which is man’s participation in God’s Eternal Law, under which heading substantial error falls. Lastly, the silent acquiescence of the shepherds of the Conciliar Church to Bergoglio’s abysmal regime hardly has the power to bend the nature of ontological reality either.
In the end, the question comes down to Pope Benedict’s psyche, his understanding of the munus Petrinum. Can a man resign the active functions, yet remain “in the enclosure of St. Peter”? If you want to know how deep that rabbit hole might go, you will have to read Part Two.
[i] Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI, Last Testament: In His Own Words, (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2017).
[ii] “relativity toward the other constitutes the human person. The human person is the event or being of relativity.” Joseph Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person,” Communio, No. 19 (Fall 1992), 452.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of Papal Household, Benedict’s long-time personal secretary:
“And I, too, a firsthand witness of the spectacular and unexpected step of Benedict XVI, I must admit that what always comes to mind is the well-known and brilliant axiom with which, in the Middle Ages, John Duns Scotus justified the divine decree for the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: “Decuit, potuit, fecit.”
That is to say: it was fitting, because it was reasonable. God could do it, therefore he did it. I apply the axiom to the decision to resign in the following way: it was fitting, because Benedict XVI was aware that he lacked the necessary strength for the extremely onerous office. He could do it, because he had already thoroughly thought through, from a theological point of view, the possibility of popes emeritus for the future. So he did it.”
From Diane Montagna, “Complete English Text: Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s ‘Expanded Petrine Office’ Speech,” May 30, 2016 at Aleteia.org as cited in Robert Moynihan, “One Pope, One Petrine Ministry” at https://insidethevatican.com/magazine/lead-story/one-pope-one-petrine-ministry-response-archbishop-georg-gansweins-recent-remarks-benedict-francis/
[iii] Joseph Ratzinger, October 1977, during the symposium “On the Nature and Commission of the Petrine Ministry” marking the 80th birthday of Pope Paul VI; Cf. “The Primacy of the Pope and the unity of the People of God,” published as “Der Primat des Papstes und die Einheit des Gottesvolkes” in a book Ratzinger edited, Dienst an der Einheit (Service to Unity); it has also been republished in books by Ignatius Press and in Communio Spring 2014.
[iv] “Full text of the resignation speech of Pope Benedict XVI” https://www.dw.com/en/full-text-of-the-resignation-speech-of-pope-benedict-xvi/a-16591358
[v] “Declaratio” [official Vatican Latin translation] at http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2013/february/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130211_declaratio.html
[vi] “The key word in that statement is munus petrinum, translated — as happens most of the time — with ‘Petrine ministry.’ And yet, munus, in Latin, has a multiplicity of meanings: it can mean service, duty, guide or gift, even prodigy. Before and after his resignation, Benedict understood and understands his task as participation in such a “Petrine ministry.” [i.e. munus] He has left the papal throne and yet, with the step made on February 11, 2013, he has not at all abandoned this ministry. Instead, he has complemented the personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, as a quasi-shared ministry (als einen quasi gemeinsamen Dienst)…”
[vii] William F Cahill, “Fraud and Error in the Canon Law of Marriage,” The Catholic Lawyer, April 1955, Vol. 1, No. 2.
[ix] “Substantial error is a mistaken judgment which affects the essential elements of resignation…either the cause or motivation for resignation or the nature of resignation and its consequences.” John P. Beal et al., eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2000), p. 221-222.