In the first five years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI reinforced the essentials of Catholicism. His three encyclicals (Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi and Caritas in Veritate) explain fundamental tenets of the faith and how we are to live it, to put it into action, in this very imperfect world of ours.

His book on Jesus Christ and his weekly catechesis on the apostles, Church fathers, and great teachers and saints, tell the story of the Church through its founders and leading members across the centuries. The Pope is a great scholar and teacher, sharing all that he can with the world.

When it comes to administration, he has shown complete dedication to the priorities he articulated when he became the 265th successor to St. Peter, particularly his commitment to the Second Vatican Council. Although constantly accused of leading a reactionary conspiracy to roll back the reforms of the council, he has not violated a letter of the documents, but rather attempted to mollify some of the lingering problems of implementation. He has nothing against the ordinary form of the Mass as reformed in 1970. He celebrates it every day in his chapel.

He liberally lifted restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal) for priests and laity. He promotes but does not demand universal adherence to older forms of devotion, such as kneeling for reception of Communion and Eucharistic adoration, despite the outcry of those who for whatever reason detest them. His argument that the two forms are actually the same Roman rite will win the day when his critics see that prayer in Latin causes neither injury nor schism.

In the great ecumenical project Benedict has forged ahead on the path of reconciliation, especially with those churches and groups that have the most in common with the Catholic Church, above all the Orthodox, Anglo-Catholics, and the Society of St. Pius X. Rather than trying to build up a reactionary column within the ranks of the Church, he has simply built the first bridges where the chasm appears shortest. While he and his advisers have certainly made mistakes, especially missing the deranged opinions of a certain bishop, the project on the whole is completely defensible.

Despite his years, he has maintained the same pace of travel as his predecessor, using the opportunities to preach the fundamentals of Christianity, that God is love, that in hope we are saved, that life is sacred, as is marriage and family, and that Christians should strive for unity on God’s terms, not ours. The Pope has condemned the vile behavior of perverted priests in no uncertain terms and urged openness, reconciliation and healing for all involved. No world leader proclaims the vital importance of truth more than he does. Without it, we are all lost.

That he has had problems with the secular media and the entertainment industry in general says more about the spirit of the times than about him. The Church survives these passing problems. Those supporting the dictatorship of fascism attacked her, those supporting the dictatorship of communism did the same, and now we have those seeking a dictatorship of relativism. They will pass away, too, and the next will come. Benedict XVI knows how to stick to the essentials.

Brennan Pursell is the author of Benedict of Bavaria (Circle Press, 2008).

About This Series

Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of what a Pope is. On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.

The untold story right now in the media is how much God has worked through Pope Benedict XVI in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago.

As the media tries in vain to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal on him, those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these tributes tell why.

We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.

—  The Editors