Pope Benedict XVI addresses the College of Cardinals at the Vatican Feb. 28, the final day of his papacy. (CNS pho to/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Benedict XVI’s resignation and the end of his pontificate are still sending
shock waves throughout the world, Catholic World Report
spoke with a senior theologian, Don
Nicola Bux, among the closest collaborators of Benedict XVI, especially
regarding liturgical matters, as he is
a consultor to the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.
Don Nicola Bux, a
priest of the Archdiocese of Bari, has studied and taught in Jerusalem and Rome.
Professor of Eastern liturgy and theology of the sacraments in the Puglia
Theological Faculty, he is consultant for the international theological journal
Communio. Benedict XVI
appointed him peritus
(theological expert) at the synods of bishops on the Eucharist in 2005 and of
the Middle East five years later.
authored numerous essays and ten books, already translated in many other
languages. Among his books is Benedict
XVI's Reform: The Liturgy Between Innovation and Tradition (Ignatius Press, 2012).
Don Nicola Bux
met Joseph Ratzinger in mid-1980s, when Cardinal Ratzinger had just arrived in
Rome from Munich of Bavaria to assume duty as the new of Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “In that time I participated in the
Spiritual Exercises that Ratzinger held for the priests of Communion and
Liberation'', Don Bux recalls.
CWR: What is
your opinion about the decision made by Benedict XVI?
Fr. Bux: First of all,
this gesture must be seen in the perspective of faith, and not from an earthly
viewpoint, which always tends to manipulate the Church. There have been various
interpretations of the gesture: from the secularization of the papacy to a
revolutionized ecclesiastical power, from the democratization of authority to
the wounds inflicted on the body of the Church, even by exchanging a request
for pardon for one of its defects, or with the questioning of papal
infallibility. But did the abandonment of Benedict IX, Celestine V and Gregory XII produce all
this? Ratzinger himself has investigated in his studies how the Petrine primacy
has a martyrological dimension: the responsibility of the Bishop of Rome is by
all means personal and may not be diluted into episcopal collegiality, although it is always
interacting with it. And it’s impressive that Benedict XVI decreed the
canonization date (May 12, 2013) of the Martyrs of Otranto for their heroic
witnessing to the faith by shedding their blood precisely in the same
consistory of the very same date, February 11th, when he announced
CWR: Is the
responsibility you are talking about related to the “consciousness” which Pope
Beneidict often referred to especially in his battles against contemporary
Fr. Bux: Yes. “Responsibility” in this sense is
meant as a personal response to the Lord. There is an insurmountable limit of
consciousness, and not only for believers, but for all men. Do you remember the
Talking Cricket? Pinocchio could also pretend that he was not there and throw a
hammer at it, but it continued to speak. Benedict XVI has also explored this
theme by reminding of “The praise of consciousness” by Blessed John Henry
Newman, who in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk proposes a toast to the
conscience and the Pope
The Petrine ministry, in the end, is the ultimate emergency appeal to the
conscience of every man. In his speech in Latin announcing his decision to the
world, the Holy Father clearly says: “I have repeatedly asked my conscience before God.”
Compared to contemporary relativism that prompts consciousness into doing what
one wants, for us it is the capacity to distinguish between good and evil, true
and false. It is the “voice of God”. It’s the only defense to preserve the
dignity of the person in his/her relationship with the world.
CWR: The Pope asked
his conscience at length and, therefore, with great spiritual suffering. Is it
for this reason that you speak of “martyrological dimension” of the Petrine
Fr. Bux: Yes. The
Petrine ministry has an inner martyrological dimension that enables one to
incessantly ask whether, in conscience, what one is and what is being done are
adequate to what are the inner aspects of the ministry of the Roman Pontiff.
Such daily exercise can actually become martyrdom.
This is real “martyrdom”. Let me be clear, the task of asking oneself is for
every human being. The father of the family must ask whether he is behaving
himself for the good of his family. Just imagine what it is like for a
Successor to Peter! And then there is something else you would have to realize
Fr. Bux: I firmly
believe that what really matters in the realism of this Pope is for the
(Petrine) ministry not to be regarded as personal property, but to be seen as a
“service” to which he was called, for which he considers himself a “worthless
servant”, just as Jesus himself said. What really matters is the apostolic succession that is always
guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.
The Pope, any Pope, is but a “ring” in the “chain”of the apostolic succession
from Peter to the end of time, when the Lord will be back. Bearing this in
mind, then we may very well understand that the Lord is constantly watching
over this succession.
CWR: Benedict is elderly and physically worn
out. To what extent has his physical condition weighed on his decision?
Fr. Bux: It did weigh.
It’s true that one’s physical well-being has never been a benchmark for the
government of the Church. John Paul II did show that to us. But as health
decreases, also his capabilities to govern the Church are on the wane. Such
government, albeit being a task of the Pope, would be wielded by others close
to him. Had the Holy Father reasoned so, he would not have abided by the
realism he has always shown.
CWR: You mean that asking
his conscience before God was a way of asking whether and how Benedict XVI was
still able to adequately govern the Church, especially in the face of the
relativism he has fought?
Fr. Bux: Relativism
has generated a lot of confusion, even in the Church in terms of doctrine and
pastoral. In my opinion, the renunciation [of the papal office] by the Pope
could be construed as an act of government, an invitation to reflect on our
divisions, as mentioned in his homily on Ashes Sunday, and the confusion caused
by non-Catholic ideas in theology. He made, as we may say, one step back. A
step back made for the Church to make two steps forward.
Essentially, he thought of the good of the Church, as indeed said on Monday,
February 11th, and not of himself.
Fr. Bux: Stay hidden
from the world, as the Lord after Ascension, is a way to be even more present
to the Church. He is and will remain Benedict XVI in Church history, albeit
having decided to renounce wielding his munus (= office) to death.
CWR: There are those, like
people close to Karol Wojtyla, that have seen this resignation as a “descent
from the Cross”.
Fr. Bux: You saw the
photo that went around the world, didn’t you? That of the dome of St. Peter
with a lightning in the background? There were those who even said it was a
sign of God's wrath for the act of the Holy Father. And if we should interpret
it as a sign directed to us all? In much the same way as the earthquake and the
darkness on Golgotha that were
not directed to the Son of God, but to the men who had not recognized Him as
CWR: There are
those who said that the resignation of the Pope was a gesture of humility.
Fr. Bux: We need to
understand “humility” in the etymological sense of the term that comes from humus, ground. Humble is the person who is well
anchored to the ground, in short, a realist. We are all called to be humble. In
the final stage of many pontificates, the murmuring that the Pope no longer
governs and it’s his entourage doing so instead, has been widely circulated. Therefore, Benedict XVI has
renounced his ministry as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church in full
conscience and freedom for the good of the Catholic Church when he realised he
was no longer in a position to fully exercise his mandate.
CWR: What do
you mean for reform of the Church?
Fr. Bux: The concept
of reform is not to be understood in the Protestant way or in political terms,
but in its etymological sense of “reshape”, get into shape. Today this means
correcting the deformations of the liturgy in the Church that, as the Holy
Father has time and again noted, have hardly become bearable, also at moral
level ... and in this sense the gesture of the Pope is an act of effective
CWR: To govern the Church today: what does
Fr. Bux: It means to
overcome her internal divisions caused mostly by conflicts, also virulent ones,
with regard to post-conciliar interpretations of Vatican II. Benedict XVI delivered
clear messages in the direction of continuity in the relationship between
tradition and innovation, a message that may not in any way be rejected.
The appeal to Catholics is for them to close ranks and overcome one-sidedness
CWR: Benedict XVI has done a lot for the unity of the church. He cancelled
the excommunication on the Fraternity St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel
Lefebvre, which however has yet to be readmitted into full communion with the
Fr. Bux: We must
continue on this path. Again, the Holy Father was very, very patient in seeking
unity: a final destination that is built day by day. He has been and remains an
example of patient charity toward all, as the Apostle says, and also for the
future Pope. Until one flock is formed under one shepherd.