When I first saw a couple of years ago on Miss Ann Barnhardt’s blog that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had written a letter given his ‘apostolic blessing’ at the end of a letter, I think to Cardinal Brandmüller, I wondered if it might have been a slip of the pen, or of the memory, on his part.  Had he just forgotten for a moment that he wasn’t pope any more?  But more recently, the same intrepid bloggeress (why not?) has reproduced the letter from Benedict which Cardinal Sarah was forced to publish to defend his own integrity in the wake of the brouhaha over the celibacy book.  Once again, Bishop Ratzinger gives his apostolic blessing – to the Cardinal Prefect of a major dicastery, no less.

Now, it is one thing for him to have retained the papal white and even the title of ‘Your Holiness’.  These things are purely ceremonial, and although one might think them ill-judged, they can be seen as doing honour to the papal office by doing honour to the one who once bore it.  I believe among the Americans it is customary to use the title ‘Mr President’ not only of their current leading man but also of anyone who has ever held this position.  But the right to give the apostolic blessing implies a real power to call down graces from heaven.  One only has it if one is the pope.

Being a pope emeritus is like being a window cleaner or an air-traffic controller; that is, it is a way of not being the pope.  Did Benedict XVI think it would be a way of still being the pope?  Unfortunately, this is where what one must respectfully call the woolliness of his thinking does not help.  He has spoken of ‘remaining within the enclosure of St Peter’, and (in speaking to his friend Seewald) of remaining within the reality of the papacy, or some such phrase (don’t quote me on this, as I don’t have the text to hand – you can find it in the book called The Last Testament).  And worst of all, there are Abp. Ganswein’s ridiculous words, not disavowed, about an expanded Petrine ministry, with contemplative and active members.

I do not know what Benedict XVI thought he was doing.  And even if he had erroneous ideas, they would not have necessarily invalidated his abdication.  The canonists tell us that one can be wrong even about an essential property of an act and yet still posit it validly – for example, about the indissolubility of marriage.  The question is to what extent an error has determined an action.  As one commentator says: “The substance of an act does not encompass all its elements, or even all of its essential elements, but only those which must be explicitly intended for the act to exist” (Canon Law Society of America, AD 2000, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Lawcanon 1096, page 1304).  He is talking about marriage; one might suppose that in the case of abdicating the papacy, such an act requires knowing at least that one cannot thereafter exercise jurisdiction (including acts of teaching) over the whole Church. And he did say in his farewell speech that he would ‘no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church’.

But all the same, those apostolic blessings…  I do not agree with Miss Barnhardt’s belief that one can conclude that the abdication was invalid.  But at least someone should ask him why he thinks he has the right to give them.

Just as I was going along full of kindly thoughts, and had turned into the sign of (I think it was) the ‘Sun’ to drink wine and leave them my benediction–

LECTOR. Why your benediction?

AUCTOR. Who else can give benedictions if people cannot when they are on pilgrimage? Learn that there are three avenues by which blessing can be bestowed, and three kinds of men who can bestow it.

(1) There is the good man, whose goodness makes him of himself a giver of blessings. His power is not conferred or of office, but is inhaerens persona; part of the stuff of his mind. This kind can confer the solemn benediction, or Benedictio major, if they choose; but besides this their every kind thought, word, or action is a Benedictio generalis and even their frowns, curses, angry looks and irritable gestures may be called Benedictiones minores vel incerti. I believe I am within the definitions.  I avoid heresy. All this is sound theology. I do not smell of the faggot.  And this kind of Benedictory Power is the fount or type or natural origin, as it were, of all others.

(2) There is the Official of Religion who, in the exercise of his office–

LECTOR. For Heaven’s sake–

AUCTOR. Who began it? You protested my power to give benediction, and I must now prove it at length; otherwise I should fall under the accusation of lesser Simony–that is, the false assumption of particular powers. Well, then, there is the Official who ex officio, and when he makes it quite clear that it is qua sponsus and not sicut ut ipse, can give formal benediction. This power belongs certainly to all Bishops, mitred Abbots, and Archimandrates; to Patriarchs of course, and a fortiori to the Pope.  In Rome they will have it that Monsignores also can so bless, and I have heard it debated whether or no the same were not true in some rustic way of parish priests. However this may be, all their power proceeds, not from themselves, but from the accumulation of goodness left as a deposit by the multitudes of exceptionally good men who have lived in times past, and who have now no use for it.

(3) Thirdly–and this is my point–any one, good or bad, official or non-official, who is for the moment engaged in an opus faustum can act certainly as a conductor or medium, and the influence of what he is touching or doing passes to you from him. This is admitted by every one who worships trees, wells, and stones; and indeed it stands to reason, for it is but a branch of the well-known Sanctificatio ex loco, opere, tactu vel conditione.’ I will admit that this power is but vague, slight, tenuous, and dissipatory, still there it is: though of course its poor effect is to that of the Benedictio major what a cat’s-paw in the Solent is to a north-east snorter on Lindsey Deeps.

I am sorry to have been at such length, but it is necessary to have these things thrashed out once for all   (from ‘The Path to Rome’).

Perhaps the most troubling thing in the modern Roman missal is the introduction to the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, which reads in the most recent translation, ‘Let us pray also for the Jewish people, to whom the Lord our God spoke first, that he may grant them to advance in love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant‘ (in sui foederis fidelitate proficere).

To ‘advance’ in something implies that one already has that thing. So the prayer implies that the Jewish people is already living in faithfulness to God’s covenant, but that it could be doing so more. But which covenant is it meant to be living in accordance with? Not the Mosaic covenant, since that doesn’t exist any more as a contract between God and man: it came to an end on the first Good Friday. Nor the Abrahamic covenant, since that is based on the faith in the promised Mediator, which they – alas – do not yet have. The same could be said of the Noahic and Davidic covenants.

The best I can do to save the orthodoxy of the prayer is to say that it should be taken materialiter: although the Jews are not in a covenant relation with God, since there is now only the new and eternal covenant, which has superseded all previous covenants, they are performing some of the outward actions which belong to the various covenants, e.g. circumcision or reading the Torah.

Still, as it stands the prayer is surely intolerably ambiguous. Since Pope Benedict XVI has said that the two forms of the Roman rite should enrich each other, without specifying how, perhaps celebrants of the modern liturgy should feel free to borrow a prayer pro Iudaeis from their elder brothers, the traditionalists…