Who will complete the trifecta?

If the next pope does finish the encyclical on faith, there is reason to think that his predecessor will be happy to have left it incomplete.

A major papal document whose production bridged the transition between the two pontificates could serve as a reassuring sign of continuity after Pope Benedict's practically unprecedented move. At the same time, since the next pope would undoubtedly stamp the encyclical with his distinctive priorities and style, it would exemplify Pope Benedict's ideal of reform as "innovation in continuity" with church tradition. 

Pope Benedict has been careful throughout his pontificate to distinguish his personal writings from his papal documents, by publishing his bestselling series of "Jesus of Nazareth" books under the name Joseph Ratzinger. The knowledge that the next encyclical was the work of more than one pope would further underscore its impersonal character and reinforce the idea, which Pope Benedict has conveyed so dramatically through his resignation, that the papacy is an office distinct from any individual who might hold it.

Only three days before he announced he would step down, the outgoing pope said something that has acquired a more personal meaning in light of that historic event. Commenting on the First Letter of Peter to an audience of seminarians, Pope Benedict noted internal evidence that the apostle and first pope was not the epistle's sole author. 

"He does not write alone, an isolated individual, he writes with the help of the church," Pope Benedict said. "Peter does not speak as an individual, he speaks 'ex persona Ecclesiae,' he speaks as a man of the church ... He does not want to say only his word, but truly carries in himself the waters of the faith, the waters of all the church, and precisely this way gives fertility, gives fecundity and is a personal witness who opens himself to the Lord."

-from CNS

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