Benedict XVI As Katechon
Good morning from Budapest, where I am preparing to head to the airport to go to Rome for Benedict XVI's funeral. I will be in the crowd in St. Peter's Square, praying with the faithful. Before I leave, I want to draw attention to an extraordinary little book published in English in 2019, and available on Kindle and in paperback: The Secret of Benedict XVI: Is He Still Pope?, by Antonio Socci.
You might look at the title and think this is a pamphlet by one of the so-called "Benevecantists" -- that is, that sect of Catholic traditionalists who believed that BXVI was the "real" pope, not Francis, and that he never really resigned. It's not that kind of book. It's more subtle than that, and presents an argument worth taking seriously. In a sense, that argument says this: That in a mysterious sense, Benedict retained the spiritual (as distinct from administrative and legal) power of the papacy, and that his prayerful presence served as a kind of katechon -- a restraining force -- holding back a déluge of chaos and evil for the world.
The term "katechon" is used once in the New Testament, by St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, which begins like this:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness [the Antichrist -- RD] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Let me summarize Socci's argument. To be clear, I don't necessarily endorse it, but I am thinking about it today. I am an Orthodox Christian, and as such, cannot go as far as the Catholic Socci does. Yet even as an Orthodox, I recognize that there is some deep and unbreakable connection between the Orthodox churches and the Church of Rome. Many Orthodox believe the Roman Catholic Church to be wholly invalid. I don't hold that view. I believe her sacraments are valid, and that despite the Great Schism, that God can and does work through her, somehow. I don't share the Catholic Church's view of herself, but nor do I believe that there is nothing there from an Orthodox point of view. I hope and pray for a reunion of the ancient churches, even as I deeply doubt it is possible before the Second Coming, given the many theological innovations of Rome over the centuries, especially in the twentieth century. I just want to make that clear. Nevertheless, what happens in the Catholic Church, the world's largest, one with apostolic roots, is of spiritual importance for all the world's Christians, in my view. Attention must be paid.
Christian theological- political thought has always held that the greatest threat to the Church is to be found not in persecutions as such, but in the world’s persecuting hatred that works by demolishing the Faith from within the Church, through apostasy from the truth. It is not by chance that the Church teaches — basing itself on Sacred Scripture — that the Anti-christ will manifest himself precisely as a “religious deception” that will be the greatest historical incarnation of this constant threat to faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this well in number 675:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
Socci discusses liberalization and globalization, and the emergence of the post-Christian (indeed in many meaningful ways anti-Christian) order. It is an order led by the United States and its handmaiden, the European Union:
Thus, the pontificate of Benedict XVI became an obstacle. The idea gathered strength of transforming the Church into the image of one of the (dying) Protestant denominations of Northern Europe, all in support of a German-dominated European Union—along with the Maastricht treaty and the Euro — as a pillar of market globalization, all in alignment with the new Obamian ideology.
By "Obamian ideology," he mostly means global cultural liberalization (e.g., the spread of gay marriage and gender ideology), and the advance of a highly ideological American model of liberal democracy as the only one Washington and its European allies will tolerate. Socci polemically attaches this to the Clinton and Obama era, but it seems clear to me that George W. Bush's administration was essentially playing from the same script. Socci again:
IT WAS STILL 2007 (THUS SHORTLY PRIOR TO THE Obama/Clinton era) when Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, considered the tragic effects of de-Christianization for humanity. Ratzinger did so in an unusual way, typical of the great intellectual that he is, by using a quotation from Immanuel Kant, in order to make a universal appeal to reason. I would like to return to that passage:
In 1794, in the text Das Ende aller Dinge (“The End of All Things”), a changed image appears. Now Kant considers the possibility that, as well as the natural end of all things, there may be another that is against nature, a perverse end. He writes in this connection: “If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love . . . then the prevailing mode in human thought would be rejection and opposition to it; and the Anti-christ . . . would begin his—albeit short—regime (presumably based on fear and self-interest); but then, because Christianity, though destined to be the world religion, would not in fact be favoured by destiny to become so, then, in a moral respect, this could lead to the (perverted) end of all things.”
The pope thus indicated a series of elements to keep in mind: apostasy in the Church, hatred of the Faith by the world, the Antichrist, and “the (perverted) end of all things.” A theological-political picture that evidently ought to be applied to the present time, because — in effect — our time is the first epoch in all of history in which men (or better, the powers of the world) truly have the possibility of enacting “the (perverted) end of all things,” and also to do it in just a few moments. A power that may be defined as “Antichristic.
How interesting. I had never read Spe Salvi. That a Roman pope would quote from the Enlightenment thinker par excellence to make a point about the eclipse of Reason as a precursor to the Last Days is utterly remarkable.
Socci recalls BXVI's warm relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, and points out that the Moscow Patriarchate even published Benedict's work, seeing in him a Christian brother who, as a senior Russian Orthodox figure at the time (Met. Hilarion Alfeyev) wrote in the introduction, has always opposed the modernistic revaluation of all values, and who has defended the sacredness of the Liturgy against modernizers. It is painful to read today, in light of the (indefensible!) Russian invasion of Ukraine, Socci's recollection in 2019 of the ways the West, led by the US, worked to isolate post-Cold War Russia, even to the point of trying to bring itself, via Ukraine, to Russia's very borders. None of this is to justify Putin's invasion, which cannot be justified, but neither does the immorality of that invasion obviate the fact that the West, via its Color Revolution and other means, threatened Russia. Socci -- who, again, wrote this book years ago -- seems to have been somewhat sentimental about Vladimir Putin's supposed religiosity. Nevertheless, I agree with Mearsheimer that the West's hands are not clean with regard to this hideous war begun by Russia.
In any case, Socci recalls in detail how Washington openly conspired with elements in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to provoke a schism in Ukraine, thereby hoping to weaken Russia. This is not a matter of conspiracy theory. It happened in plain sight. Socci also talks about how neoliberal Washington and NATO nations worked to promote democratic regime change in Arab nations, except for those Gulf monarchies allied to the US, and necessary for its access to oil.
However, it must also be said — above all, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and of communism in Europe — that in the new American imperial perspective, the banner of human rights and freedom has often been abused, in an instrumental and intermittent way, to impose American interest and the strategies and agenda of the United States government.
Yes, absolutely. You should see things from the perspective of Central Europe, where I now live. Washington works tirelessly to weaken the moral conservatism of these countries. Again, this isn't a matter of some hidden conspiracy. It happens in the open. Back in 2015, the Obama State Department colluded with George Soros to translate Saul Alinsky's Rules For Radicals into the Macedonian language, publish it, and widely distribute it in that country, to overthrow the conservative, pro-life, pro-Orthodox government. I wrote about it at the time; you can read more here.
I had forgotten about this:
There was a certain amount of clamor in the United States in October 2016 when documents and emails published by WikiLeaks revealed the effort made by the Democratic entourage of Hillary Clinton to create a sort of “revolution” in the Catholic Church at the time when it was still guided by Benedict XVI. Its objective was to shift the Church away from its “non- negotiable principles” and from doctrinal orthodoxy towards “progressive” themes, even up to a doctrinal opening to new sexual customs, contraception, and abortion. The Catholic Herald of October 12, 2016 ran the headline “Clinton Campaign Chief Helped Start Catholic Organizations to Create ‘Revolution’ in the Church.”
From that Catholic Herald piece:
John Podesta, head of Clinton’s campaign, says he helped to found two Catholic organisations to press for change in the Church.
In emails from 2012 released by Wikileaks and alleged to be by Podesta, he responds to an email from Barack Obama’s friend and former boss, Sandy Newman, about an “opening for a Catholic Spring”.
Newman suggests that “Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church.” Newman refers to this as planting the “seeds of a revolution”.
Podesta replies: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) was founded by Tom Periello in 2005. Its chairman is Fred Rotondaro. Both Rotondaro and Periello are senior fellows at the Centre for American Progress, founded by Podesta.
Rotondaro has called for the ordination of women, saying: “I have never seen any rational reason why a woman could not be a priest.” In the same article he says that “Gay sex comes from God”, and asks whether “any practicing Catholic under age 80” agrees with the Church’s teaching on contraception.
Critics have described CACG as a “Trojan Horse” for those who would undermine Church teaching. But its connections to senior figures in the Democrat party, and its intent to change the Church, have not previously been so clear.
Back to Socci:
Also in 2016, Andrea Mainardi noted that, among others, “an important donor financing this cause is the philanthropist George Soros,” fervent supporter of liberal and global themes opposed to Catholicism. Mainardi made a list of the funding provided by Soros’s foundation to progressive Catholic organizations and then wrote: Soros himself, we know from another group of WikiLeaks documents published last summer, donated $650,000 for the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the United States. ...
Riccardo Cascioli, in the La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana journal, also emphasized the importance of these revelations: The financier George Soros has made consistent contributions to Catholic organizations in order to “change the priorities of the American Catholic Church” from the themes of life and family to those of social justice. . . . The great occasion for this to happen was given in the [September 2015] visit of the pope to the United States, and Soros’s foundation aimed explicitly at using the good rapport between PICO and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, one of the chief counselors of Pope Francis, to “engage” the pope on themes of social justice.
It is here that I must insert an image from Rome, taken yesterday. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, Soros's arch-enemy, went with his Catholic wife (he's Calvinist) to pay respects to Pope Benedict. This is clarifying:
The world of Pope Francis, George Soros, and the American and European ruling classes, is a world that Benedict XVI resisted. It is no wonder that Viktor Orban went to pray before Benedict's body lying in state.
The middle part of Socci's book examines the question of whether or not Benedict really resigned. Again, it's not a question of whether or not Francis is a false pope. Socci is clear that Francis was truly the pope when Benedict was alive (and is certainly the pope today). Socci's concern is whether or not Benedict can be -- or rather, in light of Benedict's passing, could have been -- thought of as in some sense still in possession of papal authority. This is not a question that much interests me, as a non-Catholic. What's is interesting, though, is Socci's conclusion that Benedict in some sense retained a share in the spiritual power of the papacy, through which he acted as a katechon. And what is also interesting are Socci's speculations as to why Benedict did this. I won't quote all of Socci's citations of Benedict quotes, but I will say that Socci's case is fairly strong, in my view. He writes:
Most probably, the unspeakable secret behind the pope emeritus’s choice to resign is something entirely different: it is exquisitely spiritual.
The supreme royalty of Christ is revealed in his stripping himself of his divinity, even to the ultimate selfemptying of the Cross. His Vicar on earth felt himself personally called to the imitation of Christ: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8) The obedience of the Son in emptying himself (kenosis) is simultaneously the supreme salvific act of the Redeemer. The obedience shown in emptying himself — offering himself — is the same to which the pope has been called for a mission that is in the mystery of God.
In other words, Socci speculates that Benedict -- who publicly said that he made his resignation decision after being told in prayer by God to do so -- undertook this humiliating and painful course in imitation of Christ. He surrendered all legal power within the Catholic Church, as its absolute monarch, to make a sacrifice of himself for mystical reasons. Socci:
Perhaps one day we will know something more of the extraordinary action of containment that Benedict XVI has carried out — thanks to the authority that everyone recognizes in him—in resisting the “revolutionary” initiatives within the Church, in order to avert the tragedy of the apostasy of the Church and of schism. One may think of his rapport with Papa Bergoglio by recalling the legend of the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky. The silence and the sweet, helpless gaze of Christ “disarms” — with his own presence, “with a smile of infinite compassion” — the threatening power of the Cardinal of Seville, one of the “Jesuits” who did not believe in the liberating power of the grace of God, but rather in his own power and that of men enslaved by clerical power:
“Oh, we will allow them to sin, too; they are weak and powerless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin. We will tell them that every sin will be redeemed if it is committed with our permission. . . .”
Uneasy, the Grand Inquisitor scrutinizes the face of Christ and hisses at him: “Do you look at me with sweetness and do you not even consider me worthy of your resentment?” But Jesus came to save him also, because he loved him too, and he responded to him with a kiss. It may well be the same silent presence of Benedict XVI that until now has averted the most serious doctrinal rifts, because — as long as he is alive — any false doctrine would be able to be delegitimized by one single word from him spoken before the eyes of the Christian people.
Naturally, it is an extreme possibility, to which the pope emeritus presumably would resort only in the case of a most serious and irreparable doctrinal error (for example, on the Eucharist) that would risk actuating a schism. But it is the simple possibility of this, the simple “presence” of Benedict XVI, that stops the revolutionaries. Who would ever have thought the eremitical silence of an old pope would have such a power of interdiction?
Well, we shall soon see this theory tested, won't we? Anyway, Socci points out that the lesson of the Grand Inquisitor parable may be seen also in Benedict's great refusal: "The truth is enclosed in these words of [Benedict]: “'It is not power that redeems us, but love.'"
What is most alarming in Socci, in terms of Benedict-as-katechon, are these, written years before the current war between Russia and Ukraine (which serves as a proxy for the West):
These words perhaps clarify the choice and the present mission of Benedict XVI. Only God knows if and how much his “sacrifice” and his intercession, since 2013, has slowed or stopped the countdown [to Apocalypse -- RD]. These are things kept in the book of heaven, and for the world it is idiocy to believe that the prayer and intercession of a pope could have such an impact on history, such a superhuman power. So let’s simply look at the demonstrable facts: today a conflict between NATO and Russia is seen to be much more unlikely than it was in the years of Obama/ Clinton (the “world war in pieces” is for the moment more distant). There is, however, something that—for believers— explains the value and strength of the great exorcism of the world represented by the prayer and sacrifice of Benedict XVI: it is Fatima.
"For the moment" -- the moment has passed. It passed when Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces into Ukraine. It passed when Washington responded by turning Ukraine into its proxy, and pouring weaponry into it. Today's Times headline: "Putin Prepares Russians For A Long Fight Ahead". It may yet be that the alleged message of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 -- that if the world does not repent, God will use Russia to punish it -- may soon come true. Writing, of course, years before the current war, Socci rejoices in the apparent beginning or Russia's re-conversion to Christianity, and the peace this might bring. Lord, have mercy.
The last part of the book focuses on the alleged prophecies of St. Malachy, a medieval primate of Ireland, who supposedly received a vision of all the popes until the end of days, all given under mysterious titles. You'll want to check out Socci's book for the intricacies of his discussion here, but he essentially claims that Malachy's list of popes, which ends with Benedict XVI, and then claims that a figure called "Petrus Romanus" (Peter the Roman) will lead the church in its final battle, could be a reference to the strange decade of two popes. It could be, he says, a prophecy of the end of the papacy, or at least an end to the papacy as we know it. Socci here refers to a 2016 EWTN interview with Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict's personal secretary:
At a certain point, the interviewer made reference to the Prophecy of Malachy, according to which Benedict XVI would be the final pope. The response of Monsignor Gänswein was surprising: “Indeed, when looking at the prophecy, and considering how there was always a sound reference to popes mentioned in history—that gives me the shivers.” It’s true, he explained, that Catholics are not obliged to believe in this text; however, “speaking from historical experience, we must say: ‘Yes, it is a warning bell.’”
These are unexpected words that make us reflect. But even more surprising was the response of Benedict XVI when the same question was placed to him by Peter Seewald in his Last Testament, the book that, as we have seen, was published when Ratzinger was already pope emeritus. Seewald asked Benedict:
You are acquainted with the Prophecy of Malachy, who in the Middle Ages foresaw, with a list of future popes, an end of time, or at least an end of the Church. According to this list, the papacy would end with your pontificate. Is that an issue for you, whether it can actually be that at least you are the last of a series of popes, as we have known the office so far?
The response of Ratzinger leaves us astonished: “Everything is possible.” And then he immediately added: “This prophecy probably arose in the circles around Philip Neri.” First of all, he calls it “prophecy,” then — surprisingly — he links it to a great saint and mystic of the Church, gifted with many charisms: Saint Philip Neri. And then he gives the distinct impression of actually deepening the argument and of holding it possible that he is — in some way — “the last pope.” He
concludes with a lightening joke: “But you don’t have to conclude that it really ceases then. Rather that his list was not long enough.”
Nevertheless, his first answer can only leave us astounded. Thus, could Benedict XVI be the last pope, or at least — according to the version of the interviewer— the last one to exercise the papacy as we have known it for two thousand years? Another passage of the book leads in this direction. “Do you see yourself as the last pope of an old era,” Seewald asks, “or the first pope of a new era?” And the response: “I would say both.” Then Benedict XVI adds: “I don’t belong to the old world any more, but the new world isn’t really here yet.” And here the interviewer poses the question about Papa Bergoglio, that is, whether his election is “the exterior sign of an epochal shift” and whether “with him there definitively begins a new era.” At this point Benedict XVI surprises us once again: “One always recognizes the divisions of eras only later. . . . Only in retrospect does one see how the movements [of history] proceeded. For this reason, I would not now hazard a similar affirmation.” Then he speaks of the de-Christianization of Europe and concludes: “Seismic upheavals are now underway. But we do not yet know at which precise point we can say that there begins one, and there another.”
In his magnificent essay remembering Benedict XVI, and meditating on the meaning of his life, the Irish Catholic journalist John Waters said:
In his announcement of his resignation, Pope Benedict gave his critics and their mendacious narrative their definitive answer, demonstrating in the most dramatic way that his life as pope had been lived in service — not power — and that all the time he had been in the hands of Another. In his gesture of surrender, this most radical of men reminded us that the ultimate radicalism does not reside in the human being who exhibits it, but in the transcendent and eternal ‘radicalism’ of the Creator of all things and the Redeemer who entered history to save mankind.
I am thrown back by Socci and Waters to the book I read while traveling last month to the holy sites of the Book of Revelation, in modern Turkey. In Wright's little commentary Revelation For Everyone, the Anglican bishop dwells on the mystery in that most mysterious book, and how it portrays Christ -- "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5) -- as also the conquering Lamb of God. Jesus is both in Revelation:
There have been, down the years, plenty of lion-Christians. Yes, they think, Jesus died for us; but now God’s will is to be done in the lion-like fashion, through brute force and violence, to make the world come into line, to enforce God’s will. No, replies John; think of the lion, yes, but gaze at the lamb.
Wright goes on to say that there is a reason why, in the Revelation narrative, the powers of Hell are given a time to do their very worst, during the reign of Antichrist:
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And there we will find that the dark powers of evil are given their head. Things have to be exposed before they can be dealt with. Things have to come to the light before the surgeon can perform the operation. Ancient memories of guilt and sorrow must be raked up, however painfully, before they can be prayed through and healed. Revelation is, as it were, a cosmic version of the tough pastoral struggle over the deeply wounded soul. The soul of the world is aware of immediate problems and pains; but unless we look deeper, to the ancient patterns of conquest, violence, oppression and death itself we shall not begin to understand what needs to be done if the world is to be healed, really healed rather than merely patched together for a few more years.
For too long, over the last century at least, mainline Western churches have healed the wounds of the human race lightly, declaring ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace except at the superficial level. We have been unwilling to look below the surface and see the dark forces at work. But if God’s new creation is to be brought to birth, the deepest ills of the old one must be exposed, allowed to come out, and be dealt with.
John is facing a similar problem with the little communities to whom he is sending this book. They are about to face a nightmare. Persecution is on the way, and they must be ready for it. What he is offering them here is part of his continuing vision; and it’s a vision not of nice dreams in his head, but of the heavenly reality which is the absolute, utter truth against which the nightmare must be measured. This, he says, is the ultimate reality of the situation, and you must hold on to it for dear life as you plunge back into the nightmare. The reality is that the creator God and the lamb have already won the victory, the victory which means that those who follow the lamb are rescued from harm. The reality is that the people who claim the lamb’s protection may well have to come through a time of great suffering, but they will then find themselves in the true reality, in God’s throne room, worshipping and serving him day and night with great, abundant and exuberant joy.
What are we to conclude? Here is a possibility (only that!): Benedict XVI knew somehow that the Last Days are at hand -- and that the power of satanic evil could only be resisted at this point not by the Lion strategy -- through worldly power -- but through the example of the sacrificial Lamb. He offered himself and his papacy as a kind of sacrifice for the spiritual good of the world, to give Christians time to prepare for what is to come. This might be why he allowed his secretary, Monsignor Gänswein, to appear in Rome on September 11, 2018, and give a speech that was a ringing endorsement of my book The Benedict Option, which urges believers to come together in small communities, rooted in faith, to build countercultural Christian resistance to the currents of the post-Christian world. If Socci is correct, then Benedict's prayerful presence acted as a spiritual force that held back the worst. As C.S. Lewis has written, a single stone can direct the course of an entire river.
Now that Benedict has gone, what can we expect? Whatever is to come, "think of the lion, yes, but gaze at the lamb."