Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013 is looking to be a pivotal event in the history of the Roman Catholic Church–not only because it was the first papal resignation in centuries, but because of the very different path his successor, Pope Francis, is laying out. This spring, Stanford University Press published a translation of a work by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days, that addresses the resignation. The title sounds apocalyptic; but the publisher’s description, below, indicates the book is a meditation on the difference between legitimacy and legality:
In 2013, Benedict XVI became only the second pope in the history of the Catholic Church to resign from office. In this brief but illuminating study, Giorgio Agamben argues that Benedict’s gesture, far from being solely a matter of internal ecclesiastical politics, is exemplary in an age when the question of legitimacy has been virtually left aside in favor of a narrow focus on legality. This reflection on the recent history of the Church opens out into an analysis of one of the earliest documents of Christianity: the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which stages a dramatic confrontation between the “man of lawlessness” and the enigmatic katechon, the power that holds back the end of days. In Agamben’s hands, this infamously obscure passage reveals the theological dynamics of history that continue to inform Western culture to this day.