VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In a spiritual will written in 2006 and released by the Vatican on Saturday (Dec. 31), Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI thanked his family and friends, but chiefly God, for standing by him during his long life and career in the church.
Benedict, known for his theological efforts to reconcile faith and reason, offered his last thoughts to the Catholic faithful, urging them to hold on to their faith despite social and philosophical opposition.
“Remain firm in the faith! Don’t be confused!” wrote Benedict, in the testament dated August 29, 2006, a year and four months into his papacy.
Benedict died at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery at 9:34 a.m. on Saturday. He had lived at the monastery inside the Vatican since stepping down as pontiff in 2013, the first pope to do so in more than 600 years.
While science and history can sometimes “offer irrefutable results in contrast with the Catholic faith,” Benedict wrote, his 60 years of experience in theology proved that such theories have often failed to stand the test of time.
“I have lived the transformations of the natural sciences since ancient times and I have been able to see how, on the contrary, apparent certainties against faith have vanished, proving to be not science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently due to science,” he wrote.
Benedict insisted that faith has benefited from a dialogue with science and from understanding its limitations.
He also countered political philosophies that proposed alternate views of the world. “With the passing of each generation I have seen theses that seemed unshakeable crumble, proving to be mere hypotheses,” he added, pointing to the failures of liberal, existential and Marxist ideologies. “I have seen, and I continue to see, how the reasonableness of faith has emerged and is emerging again from the tangle of hypotheses,” he said.
Benedict thanked God in the will for guiding him, especially during troubled times. “In retrospect, I see and understand that even the dark and tiring stretches of this journey were for my salvation and that it was precisely in them that He guided me well,” he wrote.
He thanked his parents, “who gave me life in a difficult time,” and his siblings for sustaining him through the years. He expressed heartfelt gratitude for the friends, teachers and students he encountered through the years.
Benedict addressed his homeland of Germany directly, asking that “our land remain a land of faith and I pray, dear compatriots: do not let yourselves be drawn away from the faith.”
The number of practicing Catholics in Germany has dropped precipitously in recent years, in part due to growing secularism and the emergence of clerical sexual abuse scandals. In 2018 an independent report revealed more than 36,000 cases of abuse by clergy in Germany in the course of the preceding 68 years.
The report inspired bishops to embark on a process known as the “Synodal Path” to address the scandals. The exercise has revealed growing demands by the German faithful to increase accountability and transparency in the church but also to promote the role of lay people, especially women.
A January report found that bishops in the southern German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, including Ratzinger, failed to punish clergy and laypeople who committed sexual abuse between 1945 and 2019. Benedict denied any wrongdoing when the report was published.
“To anyone whom I have harmed in some way, I sincerely ask forgiveness,” Benedict wrote in his spiritual will. The pope specifically mentioned his time in Rome, his “second homeland,” and the happy times spent in the Eternal City.
His closing words were of impassioned faith. “Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life — and the Church with all its shortcomings, is truly His body. Finally, I humbly ask: Pray for me, so that the Lord, despite all my sins and insufficiencies, welcomes me into the eternal dwellings,” he wrote.
Benedict’s body will lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica from Monday until Thursday, when a “simple and sober” funeral mass will be celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, in accordance with Benedict’s wishes. A small ceremony will follow in which he will be placed in the grottoes under the basilica where popes are laid to rest.