Sunday, September 27, 2009

One Of The Smartest Popes In History

So says Joaquin Navarro-Valls, per CNA. This is pretty high praise. Get this, though:

Speaking about Benedict XVI, he said he considers him "the Pope with the largest and most brilliant personal bibliography in all of Church history. His conceptual wealth is fascinating. And I think people also outside the Catholic circles are aware of it. "

Wow. I'm not one to go overboard on superlatives, but I'm not sure how one can make comments like that lightly.

Not sure who I would put on the "smartest pope" pedestal. I know it's a BS concept, since most of us probably couldn't agree on what "smartest pope" would even mean. If we're just talking about book-learning type stuff, some of those guys in the Middle Ages were pretty smart. Boniface VIII comes to mind. Take into account that I would take Isidore of Seville as probably the smartest saint ever in this very poor and ill-defined contest.

Maybe a better label would be "best teaching pope." I think I've said before that I'd go with Leo XIII, but that is an admittedly biased call on my part.


Roisin said...

I agree with you on how we would even begin to define what "the smartest pope" would even mean! I don't think I could even begin to hazard a guess. From my own small perusal of Benedict XVI's writings, I can say that he is very much an intellectual pope, and I can definitely get down with that :)

Karl said...

Gregory the Great?

Leo the Great?

Anybody with "Great" in the title has to be pretty sharp.

Although, on a historical note, the big brains theologically speaking were in the Greek east. Popes historically have confirmed what others have thought up. Pope Benedict and John Paul II were exceptions, being original theologians in their own right.

Throwback said...

Leo would probably get some play for smartest. I'm not sure about Gregory. He's generally not viewed as "great" because of his theological brilliance. Not that I've ever seen, at least.

The point about theology in the East, especially in the Patristic age, is well taken. That, too, is part of the smartest pope problem. Sound orthodoxy is great, but if you aren't the one coming up with it, it doesn't register on the smart scale.

Just look at the 4 Great Doctors on either side. In the West, you've got Augustine, Jerome, Gregory, and Ambrose. The East has Basil, Gregory Nazienzen, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom.

If we're limiting smarts to skills as a theologian, I think most would consider the Eastern 4 to be higher up than any of the latter 3Westerners. Augustine would create some debate.