When early rumors first started coming out of the 2005 papal conclave I was surprised to hear that Cardinal Martini was drawing sizeable support on the progressive side and that Cardinal Ratzinger was drawing heavy support on the conservative side. In the case of Martini, I was surprised because of his poor health and the fact that he was a Jesuit. In the case of Ratzinger, I was surprised because of all the baggage he carried in his past as head of the CDF. I’d thought that he was too much of a lightning rod to ever be elected pope. I’d thought that the cardinals would look for someone who would be able to heal the wide breach between the two sides, and that it was unlikely to be him.
By the time Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, I was no longer surprised, but I do confess that I was disappointed when I heard it announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s that he was going to take the name of Benedict. He didn’t choose John, Paul, or John Paul.., any of the names that would have suggested that he was as committed to the Second Vatican Council as was claimed by his most immediate predecessors. The name Benedict suggested a great leap backward over that Council to the far past. His appearance and early style suggested that he was also interested in bringing back the royal trappings of pomp, finery, and splendor associated with the papacy long ago, quite unlike the stolid, manly simplicity of John Paul II.
Most commentators suggested that the choice of the name Benedict was meant to hearken back to St. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of western monasticism, and a man given great credit for keeping the flame of hope alive for re-christianizing Europe. This is certainly the impression the commentators could have been forgiven for taking from having read (Ratzinger) Benedict’s critiques of western society for its relativism, loss of faith, and lack of appreciation for its Christian roots.
Is that impression correct? Is that really why he chose the name? Perhaps not entirely. Reportedly, he told Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, just before appearing on the balcony, that he would take the name Benedict because Pope Benedict XV tried to stop World War I, and he, the next Benedict, wanted to be a pope of peace.
What is the history of the name Benedict in the Church, and more specifically, who was Pope Benedict XV, this peacemaker who not only wanted to stop world War I, but a civil war and reign of terror raging within the Catholic Church itself?
Every heresy produces a counter-reaction, and sometimes the counter-reactions go too far in the opposite direction. The “Pian” popes (Pius IX and Pius X) of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were deeply concerned about the trends in western thought; Pius IX with liberalism and Pius X with the heresy of Modernism and both wrote vigorously against them in turn. In support of that effort, the most extreme opponents of Modernism described themselves as Integrists (or Integralists).
To the Integrist, all tradition supported all other tradition, and to question or change any of it was to call all of it into question. All of it was to stand together or fall together. There was a tendency on their part to confuse incidentals (accidents) with essentials. For example, if one papal encyclical or another had maintained that black vestments must be worn at funerals or that an organ was the only musical instrument that could be played during a Mass, these were lasting affirmations for all time with an aura of infallibility around them. To question them or to suggest change would be disloyal. As Gary wills put it:
To understand the Syllabus of Errors, and the mentality behind it, we need to look at a phenomenon that would be given a name under Pius X but was already present in Pius IX's circle - Integrism, or Integralism. This saw Catholicism as a systematic whole, each part connected with all other parts, and therefore all of equal weight. Criticize one part and you have denied the whole. Each outwork is as precious as the inner citadel. The Scholastic philosophy is as important as the Gospels, because it has perfected the defense of the Gospels' authority. The hierarchical state is as important as the monarchic papacy, since each supports the other. The ban on freedom of speech is as important as the creed, since the latter is endangered by indulgence of the former. As Pius put it in the encyclical accompanying the Syllabus (Quanta Cura): "If human arguments are always allowed free room for discussion, there will never be wanting men who will dare to resist the truth and to trust in the flowing speech of human wisdom; whereas we know, from the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, how carefully Christian faith and wisdom should avoid this most injurious babbling. ''
Those who took this position tended to see their opponents as their mirror image. They too are mounting a coordinated system, all parts of which are at enmity with the true faith, so all parts must be equally feared and rejected. What Pius was attempting in the long exercise of drawing up the Syllabus was to connect the many dots of this organized opposition. When they were properly connected, they would reveal the face of Antichrist, the church's vast and single foe. The face never came quite into focus, though Pius knew it was there. That is why he labored so energetically to draw and redraw the picture. But the sketch was clear enough for him to damn all parts of it with equal emphasis. As Quanta Cura put it: "Therefore, by our Apostolic Authority, we reprobate, proscribe, and condemn all the singular and evil opinions and doctrines severally mentioned in this letter, and will and command that they be thoroughly held by all children of the Catholic Church as reprobated, proscribed, and condemned."
When Pius X, died in 1914, Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa became Pope Benedict XV just as World War I began. He pled for peace, he pled for truces, he pled for reconciliation, all to little or no avail. The scandal of Europe’s Christians at each other’s throats was a heartache to him. As author Robert Blair Kaiser describes the last year of it, “it was a conflict in which American soldiers wearing St. Christopher medals were killing and being killed by German soldiers wearing belt buckles with the legend Gott Mit Uns (“God with Us”)”.
The body of this Litany to the Lamb of God In Time Of War was written about 1915 by or under the auspices of Pope Benedict XV during World War I.
Although he was uncompromising on Modernism as Pius was, Benedict also looked towards making peace in the Church. Here is an interesting post taken, interestingly enough, from L'Effort Camerounais (The Newspaper of the National Bishops Conference of Cameroon). It deals with the history of the name Bendedict, and I have lifted excerpts from the section that specifically describes Pope Benedict XV.
Finally, Benedict XV was elected the 256th Pontiff from September 3, 1914 to January 22, 1922, during the First World War. After the war, Benedict XV pleaded for reconciliation among the nations and gave general support to the League of Nations. On June 28, 1917, he promulgated the new code of Canon Law, whose revision had been initiated by his predecessor, Pius X. only two months after his election in 1903, Pius issued an encyclical in which he announced his determination to protect the Catholic clergy from “the snares of modern scientific thoughts.” What he was referring to was primarily the application of new techniques to the study of scriptures – techniques which revealed that the teachings of the Bible, including those of the New Testament, did not record events with the same kind of literal accuracy as modern historians do. This implied that even the Gospel narratives could not always be accepted at face level, which in turn suggested to some people that many of the Church’s dogmas might need to be revised in the light of a more accurate understanding of the evangelists’ true meaning. Thus the French priest, Alfred Loissy, denied that Christ had intended to institute sacraments or even to found a church. In July 1907, a decree entitled Lamentabili condemned a collection of 65 propositions grouped together under the heading of modernism – a most unfortunate choice of words, since it could easily be interpreted to mean that the Church was opposed in principles to all modern ideas. What Lamentabili particularly objected to was the assertion, expressed or implied, that the very concept of religious dogma is incompatible with the discoveries of modern scholarship. Two months later, in the encyclical Pascendi, Pius X ordered the establishment in each diocese, of a committee to guard against the spread of Modernist ideas. And in 1910, he ordered every Catholic bishop, priest, seminary professor, and religious superior in the world, to take an anti-modernist oath. Loissy and several others were excommunicated, and many scholars were forced to make formal abjurations of their teachings.
But the worst aspect of this anti-modernist crusade was that it set loose within the Church hundreds of what can only be described as intellectual vigilantes. The most notorious of these was Monsignor Umberto Benigni, an official of the Vatican secretariat of state, who created a clandestine international organisation dedicated to destroying the reputations of those whom it suspected of modernist tendencies but whose guilt could not be proved. Members of the organization, the Sodalitium Pianum, operated secretly and communicated with one another in code. They used the columns of local Catholic publications to vilify writers, professors and Churchmen who deviated in any way from the Sodalitium’s interpretation of Orthodoxy. And they transmitted excerpts from articles and speeches by people of whom it disapproved to Rome, where Benigni published them, along with defamatory commentaries in his own newspaper. The Sodalitium also channelled information to the Holy Office, the modern successor to the inquisition, which kept detailed secret dossiers on everyone even remotely suspected of having Modernist sympathies. Since it was never completely clear what the term “Modernism” actually referred to, the Sodalitium and the Holy Office were able to intimidate almost every Catholic engaged in scholarly pursuits. No one was burned alive by the Sodalitium, but its methods were in some respect, even more vicious than those of the medieval inquisition. Its victims, many of whom were not even aware that they were under suspicion, were dismissed from teaching posts, refused ecclesiastical promotions, and exposed to vicious and anonymous public calumnies. Since they had not been formally accused of anything, they found it impossible to clear their reputations. Even worse, perhaps, with the chilling effects which all of this had on Catholic intellectual life – especially in seminaries, where original research in philosophy, Church history and scripture practically ceased.
The existence and activities of the Sodalitium Pianum were finally brought to light during World War I, when the German army discovered some of its documents and a copy of its secret code in the Belgian city of Ghent. Pope Benedict XV, who succeeded Pius, ordered the group disbanded in 1921, bringing the worst features of this reign of terror to an end (cf. William A Herr, This our Church, The Thomas More Press, Chicago, 1986, P. 292 ff). On the missionary front, Benedict XV pursued a more creative course, urging in his encyclical, Maximum Illud (1919) that missionaries receive better spiritual and theological preparation and that missionary bishops form a native clergy as quickly as possible and never place the interests of their native countries ahead of the pastoral needs of the people they serve. Perhaps the most important and abidingly relevant achievement of his pontificate occurred within two months of his election. On November 1, 1914, he issued the first encyclical letter, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, in which he called a halt to the internecine warfare between the so-called integralist Catholics and progressive Catholics that had developed and intensified during the previous pontificate. The Pope insisted, without using the name intergralist, that the noun “Catholic” did not need a qualification by “fresh epithets”. In the end, he was a pope dedicated to healing and reconciliation. It thus seems that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had Benedict XV in mind, when he chose to be called Benedict XVI.
The article mentioned above makes reference to a certain Monsignor Umberto Benigni who had the ear of Pius X, and to his secretive organization, the Sodalitium Pianum. Here’s a charming tidbit from Monsignor Benigni, who kept alive the calumny of the ritual murder of Christian children by Jews:
"Either Judaism will be checked by something resembling (with adjustments to our time) the medieval legislation that checked their unquenchable instincts for oppression and exploitation or they will be subject to a reaction of popular fury that will make the night of Saint Bartholomew fade from memory.”
Here is additional material culled together on Benigni and his organization:
Msgr. Umberto Benigni and his Sodalitium Pianum, or Sodality of Pius V which went by the nom de guerre of La Sapiniére, or the Piney Woods. Benigni, with a passion for intrigue replete with code words (the reigning Pope Pius X was "Lady Micheline," and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Merry del Val, was "Miss Romey."), and in collusion with high figures in the Vatican, forms a network of collaborators to track down the least hints of subversion. No one is safe. Mercier is accused, as is the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris. Benigni will not be reined in by the Vatican until 1921 when documents, seized by the Germans in Belgium in 1915, finally surface in the press, and he will go on to work for Mussolini…
The term "modernist" was applied as a term of abuse to priests, bishops and even cardinals suspected of introducing modern critical thinking into church teaching: for example, the notion that the Bible might not be strictly, literally true, but in places metaphorical. The chief anti-modernist spy master was a neurotic prelate, Umberto Benigni, who had the ear of the then pope, Pius X. As a young man, Benigni had run three newspapers and a news service and was skilled in modern communications, which he developed into unprecedented systems of espionage. He persuaded thousands of seminarians, priests, monks, nuns and prelates to spy on each other and report back to his office in Rome. A chance word in a refectory, or being seen with a "suspect" book, might be enough to be "delated", or reported to Benigni's office in Rome. Dismissals were instant, but the charges and "witnesses" were kept a secret. Those who attempted to defend someone who had been delated were usually themselves punished. An English modernist, Father George Tyrrell, was even denied a Christian burial. In the last days of the campaign, Benigni became acutely paranoid and began charging cardinals in the Vatican with modernism. The campaign ended with the death of Pius X in 1914 and the arrival of a new pope, Benedict XV… the consequences of his plotting were far-reaching, discouraging new scholarship and any debate within the church for decades…
This repression casts a deep shadow over the development of Catholic theology. Even those who escape censure suffer from the limitations on what they can write. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, despite his traditional Dominican Thomist nurturing on the Summa and his loyalty to the church, must navigate carefully to safeguard his scriptural work and his École biblique. But he still suffered silencings, exile and refusals of permission to publish his Old Testament studies. Karl Rahner suggests that Romano Guardini was profoundly affected by his own brush with the anti-modernists, and thereafter might have carefully selected areas of theology to avoid.
"The church was eating her own children. The majority of those whom Pius and the men around him destroyed were loyal and faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church ... Seminaries were closed. Those that were allowed to remain open to teach the next generation of priests were carefully monitored. In one encyclical the pope declared that everyone who preached or taught in an official capacity had to take a special oath abjuring all errors of modernism. He further declared a general prohibition against the reading of newspapers by all seminarians and theological students, specifically adding that his rule also applied to the very best journals.” -- David Yallop
There are vestiges of this organization and its sympathizers that exist to this day. Please see this online magazine called Sodalitium as an example.
Although Benedict XV shut down this organization, the effects were long lasting, and the Integrists had friends and influence in the highest levels of the Curia for decades to come. It wasn’t until Vatican II that their power was somewhat broken. Many of the theologians whose work provided the backbone for the Council, such as Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and John Courtney Murray had been silenced at one time or another in their ecclesiastical careers, but found a measure of vindication.
I’ve had many dialogues and debates with extreme traditionalists on the web. I was always a member of the “continuity” camp in stressing that the bishops at Vatican II had been careful in building its documents upon references to previous councils like Trent and to the early Church Fathers and Sacred Scripture... The extreme traditionalists claimed that it was a revolution.
I have to say that in a way they have convinced me that it was a revolution. I do not agree with them, however, about the type of revolution it was. They mean it in the sense that the values and philosophy of the French Revolution were brought in to poison the Church. I mean it in the sense that for the first time in centuries, the bishops had the guts to stand up and act like bishops in their prophetic roles as servant leaders, and not like local branch managers. They stood up to the ossified curial mandarins in the papal court, and they had a pope who was on their side and was willing to hear them. Unfortunately, there remain elements in the Curia that have been fighting a rear-guard against it ever since.
There is a certain group that has named themselves after Pius X that makes this claim in their condemnation of Vatican II.
We are what you once were.
We believe what you once believed.
We worship as you once worshipped.
If you were right then, we are right now.
If we are wrong now, you were wrong then.
Not so. Their extremism was wrong then and it is wrong now. This was never mainstream Catholicism as practiced and lived out by the vast majority of religious and laity, but in the interest of fairness and equal time, here is their defense of Umberto Benigni.