Friday, April 08, 2005

Pope Did NOT Consider Resigning; Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong Yet Again

After reading in the news media for the past 24 hours that the Pope had once considered resigning in 2000, I re-read the part of his spiritual testament where he supposedly indicated such a consideration. An Associated Press article reports:

In the final entry, he appeared to consider stepping aside. "Now, in the year during which my age reaches 80 years, it is necessary to ask if it is not the time to repeat the words of the biblical Simeon, 'Nunc Dimittis.'" The reference is to the passage, "Now Master you may let your servant go."

Taken out of context, certainly it looks like the Pope is considering resignation as he writes this in March 2000. The Latin "Nunc dimittis" translates into English as "now you are dismissing" and does indeed refer to Simeon saying, "Now Master you may let your servant go," as the AP reports. The UK's Daily Mirror strips out mention of the biblical Simeon, assuming that it has no deeper meaning, and instead simply says:

He wrote: "I have to ask myself if it is not the time to say it's over."

But is the Pope really considering "dismissing" himself from the office of Supreme Pontiff? Is he contemplating whether his time as Pope might be over? Or has his spiritual testament been misinterpreted?

Putting this excerpt from his testament back into the original context, these questions cannot be answered so readily. Recall in chapter two of St. Luke's Gospel that Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until seeing the Messiah. Later, when Jesus is brought before him in the temple, Simeon proclaims, "Nunc dimittis." The full Canticle of Simeon to which John Paul II refers in his spiritual testament follows:

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel. (Lk 2:29-32)

It is crucial for us to remember, however, that this canticle is preceded by mention of when Simeon's death will come. In my opinion, this is how John Paul II wanted us to read this part of his testament: the Latin phrase becomes related to Simeon's death and so too should become related to his own. When the Pope refers to "Nunc dimittis," he is not considering being "dismissed," as the literal translation would lead one to believe. Rather, he is contemplating how near he may be to death.

After all, as surrounding text supports, he recalls that he is already 80 years old and has lived through a "difficult century," in which he was nearly assassinated. These events made him realize more than ever, that his life and death are truly in the Hands of God. Finally, he concludes this thought with, "I ask him to call me back when He Himself wishes."

Admittedly, the Pope's language is ambiguous and no interpretation can be certain; therefore, it does not call for the sensational headlines we've seen lately in the newspapers to the effect of "Pope considered resigning." Simply put, Popes do not resign. While canon law provides for a Pope to step down if necessary, no Pope has willingly resigned since Celestine V did so in the 13th century. To me, the Pope's recollection of the biblical Simeon is a celebration of the former's longevity in the face of peril, not a consideration of resignation. If he is contemplating anything, it is his own life and death and how near he may be to the latter. Humbly, the Pope acknowledges that it is not up to him to decide when his Papacy, or life, ends, but rather that God alone must decide his fate.


Andy H said...

Gr8 post, Jimbo.

Immortalis said...

I might not have said Celestine V "willingly" stepped down. ;) But, I think you have it right. The MSM always seems so quick to think itself correct and seems to work to indoctrinate its opinion however little it thinks it out. ;)

My understanding of this section of the Testament: Understanding his frailty, the Pope is looking back on his life and legacy and he realizes that he has been largely successful in his mission -- namely, helping to end the cold war without massive and tragic loss of life. He says to the Lord, "I have done your work and I am ready. You may now take back your servant."

The Holy Father should not remove himself. His election is ordained and supported by the Holy Spirit; the decision to end his reign should be God's alone. I think John Paul felt this way and would not have resigned, but only turn in his cloth when God called.

Ben E. said...

Thanks for the clear, correct version of this little section of the Pope's will. I, too thought it was strange to take the phrase as a resignation intent. Good job on the blog.

Jimbo said...

Immortalis, very well put. Thanks for the support. Ben E., thanks to you for you kind words.

John Trungove said...

Actually, "Time" magazine did include both Wojtyla and Cardinal Cordeiro as potential outsiders with a chance of election before the conclave in 1978. Check the "Time" archives for verification.

Andy H said...


Thanks for that. I didn't know he was on any lists.

EKS511 said...

I was surprised when the media interpreted it that way. I thought it was pretty clear he was talking about when he would die.

P.S. When I want the latest info on the pope or the conclave I always come here not to a news site. Keep up the great work.

Jimbo said...

Thanks, EKS! :)

Anonymous said...

I have just read this, but am very pleased as I have been going round making this point for days! I think that the fact that the Pope then talks about how his life had been providentially extended after the assassination attempt only backs up your argument.
An exellent blog!

BrikFace said...

Glad to see someone finally take it to the MSM on this. I don't even think it's ambiguous: he is clealy stating his readiness to die now that he has ushered in the Jubilee. The only ambiguity to me is whether he was simply saying "I'm ready" or he was actively wishing death to come swiftly. I tend to think the latter. Very moving. He must have been soo ill, a lot of incessant pain. Poor guy went on like that for four more years.