The modernization of the monarchies

One of the strongest traditions of the monarchical institutions has been the steadfast view that a monarch reigns until death, unless exceptional political circumstances have forced the incumbent out prematurely. The only traditional exception to this rule has been the Dutch monarchy, whose reigning queens during the 20th century have not hesitated to take a step back and go into retirement when their successor has been deemed ready to take over. But that has been the quirky exception to the rule.

Now, in the 21st century, however that age-old monarchical taboo however seem to be regarded more and more as an anachronism in today’s world. In a sweep that started with the – actually even more unprecedented – stepping down of pope Benedict XVI and then continued with the abdications of both the Dutch queen Beatrix as well as the Belgian king Albert II and, latest, Juan Carlos I of Spain, it seems like a new precedent is forming. In the modern monarchy it seems the head of state are now seen as entitled to retirement. Or deemed unproblematic enough to have around as a retiree. Because it must also be noted that the other side of the coin with abdicated monarchs is that you will in such circumstances have an ex-monarch who theoretically can remain an influential power voice and a voice that is no longer as bound by convention and position. Such a person could theoretically be a problematic political problem, all depending on his or hers personal ability to slip into the new and in many ways undefined role given. With the diminishing actual political power of the monarchs in today’s European states that could be a lesser problem, but nevertheless it is still to be seen during coming years if this new tradition of handing over the crown “in advance” will prove to be a beneficial move or not for these very archaic institutions. For now, it seems to be functioning.

Can pope Francis make a change?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Source: Vatican.va)

Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected stepping down from his office made way for the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope Francis. A new pope from a new part of the World and with a new, never before used papal name, apparently taken out of reverence for one of the most well-known and saintliest Saints of the church.

The Swedish writer Göran Hägg made a note in his book about the popes throughout history that the 20th Century popes seemed to fall into a pattern of alternating jovial pastoral men with more teological academical ones and the current election seems to follow neatly in that pattern. The newly elected pope Francis is much more like late John Paul II than his immediate predecessor Benedict XVI. Once again the Roman Catholic Church has at its helm a man that is following a pastoral call.

Iohannes Paulus II in Memoriam

Originally written in June 2005

With the death of pope Johannes Paulus II (John Paul II) the Roman Catholic church have lost one of their most important voices in a long time. Not because he was the pope, but because he was Johannes Paulus II, the Pope.

As one of the oldest institutions still functioning on this planet, the Roman Catholic chuch is not standing and falling with one man, but Johannes Paulus II came during his 27-year long pontificate to become closely related to the church as a whole, and with his charisma and affection on people, he became more than just another pope in the long line of ecclestical heads of the church.

When Karel Wojtyla in 1978 was elected the first non-Italian pope in almost 500 years, it was a small revolution already at that point, but the young – in papal terms – pope set out to get a place in history as more than that. As the “travelling pope” he became a diplomat of the grace of god.

The Vatican City State may be the smallest sovereign state in terms of physical territory, but is – when administered correctly – a veritable superpower, and one of a different kind than the others. And – as it would show during Johannes Paulus II’s pontificate – a superpower which could challenge even one of the most rigid political system and in the end win against it. When a Polish pope came home to his native Poland, not even the powerful communist rulers could do much to prevent it. Perhaps ironically, the deeds the late pope will be most remembered and revered of is not so much the religious ones, but the political ones, at least if you count the world as a whole. His funeral was in a way the final evidence that Karel Wojtyla had transcended even the church of which he was the leader. Johannes Paulus II wasn’t revered by everyone for his conservative stance as the leader of the Roman Catholic church, but as a political statesman few could argue his greatness, no matter their religious affiliation.

The election of Joseph cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy as Benedictus XVI is the election of another kind of man. After the charismatic, deeply popular and personal Johannes Paulus II the conclave have gone for what seems to be a more academic, and certainly less charismatic person to follow in his footsteps. Which maybe is just as well, since most likely no one would be able to measure up against the Polish pope who most likely will be remembered as a great spiritual leader, but also as a great statesman by people far beyond the natural realms of the Roman Catholic church.