News media last week reported on Pope Benedict’s decision to live out the remaining years of his life as a monk. Given his status as a major-league theologian in the Roman Catholic Church (even before he was chosen to be Pope), this is not surprising. But on a blogsite devoted to spiritual formation, his decision should not be overlooked.
It has always been the church’s conviction that depth of prayer makes the best theologians. Evagrius Ponticus gave us the first definition of a theologian: a theologian is one who prays.
Across the centuries of Christianity, it has been the monks who have best combined prayer and theology. St. Augustine, St.Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther lived monastic lives. John Wesley was significantly shaped by the Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, and Gregory of Nazianzus), all of whom lived as monks. This is only a small sampling of those who produced theology for the church in relation to deep prayer. Many of the Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church (men and women) lived as monks or nuns.
Pope Benedict would know all that, and his decision to become a monk as an emeritus pope is a sign of his understanding…and…his desire to live in concert with it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar has said that theology is “practiced best on bent knee.” We can only appreciate and applaud Pope Benedict’s decision to live a monastic life in the years to come. He will become one of the church’s best theologians by doing so, and his prayers will further enrich the Body of Christ.
As we give thanks for his insight and commitment, let us pray God to give us theologians in our time whose knees are bent before their books are written.