By Carl Bunderson
“It seems to me this might be for him, the most humble and obedient act of service that he can render in his own conscience,” Hahn, a professor of Biblical theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA Feb. 11.
“It's a profound reminder that the papacy is not an office of power, but one of service, and so, if anybody has had a sense of servant-hood, it is Pope Benedict.”
Hahn said that while the decision is a surprise, in retrospect, “we can see the clues.”
He recounted that a friend of his who taught in Rome for some fifty years “in December told a friend of mine and me that he knew, that he had heard, that within three months the Pope would resign.”
“In some ways I'm surprised at how surprised I am,” Hahn said. He pointed out that Pope Benedict had said in a 2010 interview with Peter Seewald that a Pope has “a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”
Of the 256 Bishops of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is the third to clearly resign, and the second to do so freely. The previous two were Gregory XII in 1415, who resigned to resolve the Western Schism, and Saint Celestine V in 1294.
Perhaps foreshadowing his decision to step down, Pope Benedict twice visited the relics of St. Celestine while he was Pope. In 2009, he prayed at the tomb and left his own pallium – an episcopal vestment worn over the shoulders – on top of it. And again in 2010, he visited the cathedral of Sulmona to visit the relics of St. Celestine and pray before him.
Hahn noted that he and his family prayed together as soon as they heard of the Pope's decision, but as he considered it, these visits to St. Celestine came to mind.
“I began thinking about it, and when I hearkened back to those two seemingly irrelevant, or unimportant stops...Celestine V has always been an interesting figure in my study of the papacy, and I went and looked at this, and began to realize that this has been on his mind for a long time.”
As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger two or three times submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II, Hahn noted.
“I'm sure the Holy Spirit will be steering the barque of Peter in a wonderful direction, but it is unsettling, because he is a father, and as we think of the Church as a family, there comes a time when a father becomes so old and infirm, that one of the most profound gestures of love might be to hand things over to the next one in line,” he observed.
“You can see this in Scripture too, David stepping down as king and appointing Solomon before he dies.”
Hahn reflected on the deep effect this decision is having on Catholics the world over.
“It's a hard thing to explain to outsiders, the mystery of a family bond that we all share, and how deeply we feel it. But here is a man who is a father figure to us all, and not just in a kind of symbolic way, but inasmuch as we are really united in a new birth, and the flesh and blood of the Eucharist, and this man, we know him to be our father, even more than our natural dads at one level.”
He contrasted the witnesses of Pope Benedict and his predecessor, saying both have something to offer the Church. “On the one hand, it was a profound thing for Blessed John Paul II to show us how to suffer and die.”
“On the other hand, here's a man who began when he was 78... so I think there's something magnanimous about this alternate direction that he's taking. It's not something that strikes a chord with me, there isn't a sliver of me saying, 'oh I'm glad he did it,' but I can see why, and I can see how, our Lord will use it.”
Hahn also discussed the profound thought of Pope Benedict.
“I was devouring this guy's stuff before I was even sure I was gonna become a Catholic. I like Balthasar, de Lubac, Congar, Danielou, and all the rest, but they couldn't hold a candle to this guy.”
Hahn recalled how he submitted the manuscript of his work “Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI” to an evangelical Protestant publishing house, expecting it to be turned down.
“But they didn't, and they picked it up enthusiastically. The editor in chief said, 'I had no idea that your Pope could make the Scriptures come alive, and the Scriptures saturate all of his theology.'”
Pope Benedict, Hahn said, is a man whose thinking, preaching and prayer are all “profoundly biblical.”