Benedict XVI and the “Benedict Option”

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Recent conversations with two friends have made me realize just how misunderstood Benedict XVI is. Both praised the late Pontiff for setting the example of “the Benedict Option” in his decision to resign, which upon further inquiry I understood as an explicit reference to Rod Dreher’s 2017 book by the same name. Only while speaking with the second friend did I realize that he was under the impression that the “Benedict” appearing in the title was Benedict XVI, not Saint Benedict of Nursia!

The irony is that despite his name, his withdrawal from public life, and his statements about the importance of small Christian communities, Pope Benedict would not have proposed the “Benedict option” as the only way forward for the Church – be it particular or universal – in the third millennium. Benedict was rather an ardent promoter of what I would call the “Pauline option” as evident in a magnificent series of catecheses examining the life and teaching of the Apostle from Tarsus spanning from July 2008 to February 2009.

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On several occasions, Benedict XVI characterized Saul’s encounter with the Risen One on the road to Damascus as paradigmatic for all Christians. The Apostle, Benedict taught, reminds us that, at its core, conversion is ultimately not “the result of a development of thought or reflection, but the fruit of divine intervention, an unforeseeable, divine grace” (General Audience, 25 October 2006). “What counts,” Benedict continued, “is to place Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by this encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word” (ibid.).

Inextricably bound to this personal encounter with the Risen Christ is the call to proclaim Him. “From the first moment,” Paul “understood that this is a reality that did not concern only the Jews or a certain group of men, but one that had a universal value and concerned everyone” (ibid.).

Pope Benedict XVI taught that to carry out this mission, Christians must realize that their very identity is characterized by a “restraint from seeking oneself by oneself but instead receiving oneself from Christ and giving oneself with Christ, thereby participating personally in the life of Christ himself to the point of identifying with him and sharing both his death and his life” (General Audience, 8 November 2006). This, Benedict emphasized, is the essence of faith, not a disembodied confession of abstract articles. 


Benedict XVI and the “Benedict Option”

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