Before becoming Pope, Benedict XVI once dreamed he would become the archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church, a prelate recently appointed to that post has revealed.

In an interview in the Aug. 10 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès — who was appointed as librarian of the Apostolic Library and archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives on June 26 — said the Pope made the disclosure to the archbishop when he entrusted him with the post.

"He told me that before he became Pope he had a dream: It was to go to the library as librarian and archivist," the French Dominican archbishop recounted. "It was a dream, he told me, that he would now want to see realized through me. He did not say how. My task now is to try to figure out how I can realize it."

The disclosure is understandable, given the Holy Father’s love of books, how he treasures his own personal library and his skill in teaching the faith. "When you look at the wealth and power of the Pope’s catecheses — such as his Wednesday audiences or homilies, not to mention his highest discourses, such as those in Regensburg, in London or the Federal Parliament of Germany — you cannot imagine that this man, so gifted for catechesis, has not thought about a direct connection with the library," Archbishop Bruguès said.

When asked what the nature of that connection is, the archbishop replied: "I asked myself this question, and I told myself: It must be like the keel of the ship, which is not seen. In fact, few people are able to see it. So it is with the library: There are few, apart from specialists … who understand the amount of work that takes place in the library and archives."

"It is really these institutions that allow the barque of the Church to stay afloat and move forward," he continued. "If it were not for the keel, the ship would be subjected to doctrinal winds of any nature or fashions. It is this keel which gives depth to the catechetical work of the Church and her teaching."

Archbishop Bruguès also described the Apostolic Library and the Vatican Secret Archives as "jewels in the crown of the Church," as they prevent people from losing their historical memory, exposing themselves to dangerous amnesia, and watching the possibility for progress slip farther away, he said.

"I believe that memory is fundamental for constructing a solid basis for the future," the former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education said. "And it is even more important," he continued, "if the memory to which we are referring is that of the Church." 

The Vatican Library contains a treasure trove of about 1.6 million volumes and 80,000 ancient manuscripts and incunabula (early books, especially printed before 1501). The manuscripts, among others, are stored digitally in the FITS format (Flexible Images Transport System) — a format used by NASA that was designed to store images taken by satellites and orbital telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope. The library also preserves the texts of the invaluable Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible.

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.