I was reading Pope Benedict’s homily from the Mass of taking possession of the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome and was struck by one particular paragraph where he speaks of the teaching authority of the Pope and the college of bishops.
This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church. They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not like this. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism. [emphasis added]
A very interesting distinction. In a way it’s a response to both the critics who think he’s a hardliner, imposing a severe form of Catholicism upon them and to those who think that any pope could be elected who would water down the truths of faith, especially in the area of sexuality, which the press and pundits seem most fixated on. What he says is that the Pope is not like an Emperor, whose word is law, but whose word is built on a capricious will, so that a new emperor means a new law. Instead the Pope is simply a caretaker of the Word and the expressed Will of God. He does not rule over the Law, but the Law of God rules over him. He is its servant as we should also be. This also embodies one of the titles of the Holy Father, the Servant of the servants of God, because by being this guarantee, entrusted with this task by the Holy Spirit, he helps all Christians to know and understand.
The Pope is not the map to the buried treasure, nor is he the mapmaker. He is the protective laminate covering placed on the map by the Mapmaker, i.e. the Father, to protect it and the legend that interprets the Map, i.e. the Word/Christ, in conjunction with the Compass, i.e. the Holy Spirit, which points the way. I’m not sure if that’s a helpful anaology, but it works for me.