John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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History lesson

I'm disappointed, of course, that the new pope didn't choose one of the names I suggested a couple of weeks ago, but Benedict XVI is, all things considered, a good name. If nothing else, it's kind of nice to have a pope who is named neither John nor Paul. We haven't had one of those since 1958.

Anyway, when I heard the name of the new Pope, I got to thinking about his predecessor, Benedict XV. So I—what else—I looked him up.

Benedict XV served from September 1914 through January 1922. He was elected pope shortly after the outbreak of World War I, and much of his papacy was devoted, in one way or another, to the war. He was, unsurprisingly, a staunch pacifist (the motto of the Benedictine order of monks, founded by St. Benedict of Nursia, is pax, or "peace") and throughout the war he made many appeals for peace, culminating in his Papal Peace proposal of August 1917, which called for a cessation of hostilities, arms reductions, freedom of the seas, and international arbitration. Only Austria was willing to accept the proposal; the U.S. thought it too early to be discussing peace, and the European parties all believed the Pope to be biased in favor of the other side. Resentment over this perceived bias led to the Vatican being excluded from the 1919 Paris peace talks.

In addition to his efforts to bring an end to the war, Benedict XV undertook various humanitarian efforts aimed at alleviating the suffering of those affected by the war. He founded a Vatican missing persons bureau to reestablish contact between prisoners of war and their families. He successfully appealed to the government of Switzerland to accept ill soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, which was rampant. (Similarly, prior to being elected Pope, he helped establish relief agencies and worked as a nurse during a cholera epidemic that broke out in Spain while he served there as secretary to the Papal Nuncio.) He personally appointed clerics to visit and extend papal blessings to the sick and wounded. Indeed, his charitable efforts were so extensive and so generous that when he died, the Vatican had to borrow to have him buried.

Once the war ended, Benedict XV worked diligently to restore diplomatic relations that had been disrupted by the war, and was fairly successful. At the beginning of his reign, the Vatican had formal diplomatic relations with 14 nations; by the time of his death, that number had nearly doubled, to 26.

Prior to becoming pope, Benedict XV (then known as Giacomo della Chiesa) was a firm opponent of Modernism, but at the same time he urged moderation in dealing with proponents of Modernism. Upon assuming the papal throne, he again spoke out strongly against modern philosophical systems, but worked behind the scenes to calm the excesses of the campaign against Modernist scholars by the ultra-right Integralist movement.

So if Benedict XVI follows in the footsteps of Benedict XV, we can expect to see a Pope who is an ardent internationalist, is committed to world peace and other humanitarian causes, and is firmly opposed to Modernism but tolerant toward Modernists. We could do a lot worse.

One more random fact about Popes Benedict XV and XVI. Benedict XV had been a Cardinal for less than four months before being elected Pope. Conversely, Benedict XVI had served as Cardinal for 28 years, longer than all but two members of the Conclave that elected him. Heh, "Cardinal Sin."


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