Pope Benedict XVI's coat of arms
All day today, as I’ve been reading news and opinion pieces
on the Holy Father’s resignation and listening to the commentary of various
(informed and uninformed) pundits, my thoughts keep coming back to a bear.
Specifically, the bear featured on Pope Benedict XVI’s
papal coat of arms, known as St. Corbinian’s Bear.
The bear figures in a legend about St. Corbinian, an 8th-century
bishop of Freising, in Bavaria. The story goes that, while Corbinian travelled
along a road to Rome, a bear jumped out of a wood and killed Corbinian’s
pack-horse. The saintly bishop reprimanded the bear and forced him to carry his
pack the rest of the way to Rome. The bear has remained a traditional symbol of
the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, and was featured on Joseph Ratzinger’s
episcopal coat of arms as head of that archdiocese, prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, and finally pope.
While it would make sense that Ratzinger would have an
affinity for his Rome-bound episcopal predecessor, it is actually the bear with
whom he identifies. In his autobiography Milestones,
Memoirs: 1927-1977, Ratzinger says, “The bear with the pack, which replaced the horse or, more probably,
St. Corbinian’s mule, becoming, against his will, his pack animal, was that
not, and is it not an image of what I should be and of what I am?”
The image of Corbinian's bear took on an additional significance when Ratzinger was summoned to Rome to serve as head of the CDF, and even greater significance when he was elected pope.
is particularly poignant today, because at the end of the legendonce the beast
has discharged his obligations and accompanied Corbinian to Romethe bear is set
picks up on this theme over
at Real Clear Religion:
When the retiring Pope Benedict XVI tells this story,
he compares himself not to the saint but to the bear. And sometimes he laments
that once his predecessor John Paul II dragged him to Rome, he did not allow
him his freedom. Ratzinger tried to resign and return to Germany to teach
theology a few times. His pope wouldn't allow it.
came the papal conclave following John Paul II's death in 2005. Cardinal
Ratzinger gave a speech that railed against as many secular ideologies as he
could think of and called for cleansing the church of the accumulated
"filth" of its recent sex scandals. The speech was reviled by
liberals and was thought to be a sort of warning to his fellow cardinals: Do
not elect me pope. Yet when the smoke cleared over St. Peter's Square, there he
And now, citing his failing health, Benedict has
stunned much of the world by announcing his resignation from the papacy. This
makes him one of the few popes to abdicate his throne and the first in 600
years to do so. The Bishop of Rome has finally decided to give the bear back
Read the whole piece here