Archbishop of Canterbury hails Pope Benedict as ‘one of the greatest theologians of his age’

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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has hailed Pope Benedict XVI as “one of the greatest theologians of his age”.

In a statement, he said the former pontiff “saw many profound changes in the church and in the world”. 

“He lived through the Nazi regime in Germany and served briefly in the Second World War,” he said.

“As a younger theologian and priest he witnessed first-hand the discussions of the Second Vatican Council. As a professor and then as an Archbishop he lived in a divided Germany but saw too the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of his homeland.

“Pope Benedict was one of the greatest theologians of his age – committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (L) talks with Pope Benedict XVI during an audience in the Morning Drawing Room at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Britain, 16 September 2010. EPA/DAVID CHESKIN / POOL

The archbishop went on to say that in 2013, the pope took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy.

“In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all,” he added.

“In his retirement in Rome he has led a life of prayer and now he has gone to the eternal rest granted by the Father.”

Pope Benedict XVI was a “great theologian” whose UK visit in 2010 was an “historic moment” for both Catholics and non-Catholics, Prime Minster Rishi Sunak has said.

Paying tribute to the former pontiff, Mr Sunak said his thoughts were with Catholic people in the UK and around the world today.

Pope Benedict XVI was the first Pope to make a state visit to the UK back in 2010.

He was invited by the late Queen Elizabeth II to meet dignitaries and celebrated masses for thousands of people.

It was also the first visit to the UK by a pontiff since John Paul II in 1982 which had been on a pastoral basis and did not follow an official invitation from the UK government.

The body of former Pope Benedict XVI will lie in state from Monday in St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican has said.

A statement from the Vatican read: “As of Monday morning, 2 January 2023, the body of the Pope Emeritus will be in Saint Peter’s Basilica so the faithful can bid farewell.”

Before being elected pope in 2005, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He held the powerful role for 24 years, earning the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” for his strictly conservative theological views.

The French and Italian leaders have offered their own comments following the death of the former pope.

In a tweet, French President Emmanuel Macron salutes the late Catholic leader’s work to create a “more brotherly world”. He did this with “soul and intelligence”, Macron adds.

Benedict XVI was a “giant of faith and reason”, adds Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in her own message. She says the former pope spoke to people’s “hearts and minds” – and will continue to do so.

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