Tips for a Resigned Pontiff
On February 11, 2013, Benedictus PP. XVI, a.k.a. Pope Benedictus XVI, also once known as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, announced that effective February 28, 2013, he was stepping down as Roman Pontiff (not abdication, resignation or renuntiatio). Pope Benedictus XVI was the 265th (or maybe 266th? or maybe 267th?) Bishop of Rome, perhaps the nineth pope to resign, not counting conditional resignation (important if you think you might get caught by Nazis.) Now normally, the comings and goings of the College of Cardinals would not stir me to write a blog post, especially not a blog post written in advice column style (so often used to convey certitude in the face of overwhelming selection bias.) But, you see, I was once a pontiff. Indeed according to Google for one brief period in 2004, I was once the top search result for this word. (Take that Beattles!)
Which is all to say, I thought it might be a good time to offer some advice to Pope Benedictus XVI for his life after leaving the papacy.
Tip 1 It’s time to get serious about how your identity shapes your ego. You were once the leader of one billion souls, God’s main man on the ground, infallible and all that, but now you’re going to be living a humble monk’s life in a Vatican monastery. No longer infallible. No longer the leader of a billion souls (tweeter to 1.5 million.) You may think that your ego is separated from your job, but in my own transition from pseudo professor blogger to software developer it was quite a shock to no longer be able to rely on the accumulated status symbols that my job title carried along with it. In my case this meant no longer being introduced at parties as a “theoretical physicist doing quantum stuff.” In your case, people aren’t going to be kissing your ring any more (oh yeah, and you’ll have to give the ring up too!) My advice? I’d go for some Zen koans: Joshu’s dog and Zuigan Calls His Own Master would be a good place to start.
Tip 2 You’re not going to get to travel all around the world anymore. Tip: volunteer to pick up people from the airport! Or visit an air museum where they will let you sit in airplane seats. Bonus tip: I find the air museum seats a really good way to fall asleep as well (If you can’t empathize with this, I would suggest you try getting up for way too many 6am flights, and you too will learn to fall asleep on contact with the too tight armrests of airline seats.)
Tip 3 It’s going to be tough to keep up with your past life’s passion. When you got into the flow during your papal years, I’m sure there was no one able to compete with you for your knowledge and understanding of how to guide your flock forward. But now you are going to have to dedicate your time to your own solitary monastic life. You may think that this transition will not be abrupt, that you can slowly ween yourself from the papacy, but in my experience you’re not going to have the time to, say, give advice to the next Pope. Which is not to say that you have to give up you mission: you will just to choose what battles you’d like to carry forward. For me, it was self study of shortest vector in a lattice problems. For you, well I’m sure there is a suitable equivalent.
Tip 5 People are still going to look to you for expertise in your past life, but the slow creeping pace of entropy will gradually strip you of your knowledge of the secrets to the universe, and you’ll have to tell them that you don’t know. You’re just going to have to live with the accumulated slippage of your brain from the most up to date theology of our day. You can try to keep up, of course, though I’m not sure of what the equivalent of the arXiv is, but you’re just going to have to live with a new world where you say “I don’t know.” I recommend testing those words out every morning: “I don’t know.” “Nescio.” “Nescio.” “Nescio.”
The end of an era, pope. There is life afterwards, beyond an event horizon. Enjoy the transition, just hope that the black hole firewall ideas are wrong.