Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th Pope in the Vatican’s history, the oldest person ever elected into the position… And he’s retiring.
On the 28 February 2013 his reign as Pope ended. So is this news? Well, the simple answer is yes; for one thing he’s the Pope, the head of one of the largest (not to mention richest) religious denominations in the world, and for another, he’s only the second man since 1415 to have resigned from the post rather than died in it.
Now this same Pope (now a Pope Emeritus) was criticised in 2010 for his words concerning the increasingly secular nature of British life. So here’s the question: was he right?
…life changes and so can traditions…
Britain is undoubtedly a nation built on tradition; our politics, our media and especially our religion all have a long history of customs and conducts, and all of these things, whether minimal or massive have played some part in the crafting of modern British society. When Henry VIII separated from Rome in the 16th century he changed the face of British life; when Oliver Cromwell separated state from sovereign in the 17th century he changed the face of British life; and when Darwin published his Theory of Evolution in the 19th century he changed the face of British life. Needless to say, life changes and so can traditions.
In 2001, the National Census listed the population of English citizens identifying themselves as Christian as 71.7%, by 2011 this number had dropped to 59.4%. So what’s happening? The most common argument is that people just identify themselves in this way, they say they are Christian but they don’t practise the faith. Similarly, many argue a belief in a higher power but disagree with the doctrine or rules of specific faiths. So perhaps the 21st century is seeing a rise in the British agnostic population? Is atheism on the rise? The answer can only really be uncertain; in a digital age we’re exposed to everything; the internet and TV, films and books are constantly readily available to sway us in one way or the other so at the end of the day it’s down to the individual, we have the ability to learn and choose for ourselves and so that is what we should do. This may seem like a lazy, or even blasé summary but when everything’s considered and weighted this is all we can really say: the worth of a piece of news, just as the worth of faith, is different from person to person.
…power, influence and pressure…
In his position as Pope a successor can expect a number of things: he is the head of a religious denomination so he can expect power, he is a national figure of religious celebrity so he can expect influence, and he is a dictator of Catholic direction so he can expect pressure. These things: power, influence and pressure, can be expected without question, the only variable here is the manner with which they are met. It is not yet certain which member of the College of Cardinals will wear the mantle and it is not yet certain what kind of legacy Pope Benedict has left behind; so, for the time being, we can only speculate.
To me, the importance of this story is not coming from a religious place, rather its coming from a place of curiosity. Pope Benedict XVI has already found his way into the history books, so what can we expect to happen next? Who will pass through the scarlet curtains and what will he bring to the world? Those are the questions that interest me.
…a nation built around religious doctrine…
The Vatican is tradition incarnate – a nation built around religious doctrine – a corner of Rome designated as Holy; and so together the world will watch as traditions dating back as far the Roman Empire unfold. Perhaps the question is not: who cares? But instead perhaps the question is: why should we?