Timothy Stanley: Why Benedict XVI Will Be Remembered for GenerationsRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: CNN, Benedict XVI, popes, Vatican, Timothy Stanley, papal resignations
Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."
(CNN) - Journalists have a habit of calling too many things "historic" - but on this occasion, the word is appropriate. The Roman Catholic Church is run like an elected monarchy, and popes are supposed to rule until death; no pope has stepped down since 1415.
Therefore, it almost feels like a concession to the modern world to read that Benedict XVI is retiring on grounds of ill health, as if he were a CEO rather than God's man on Earth. That's highly ironic considering that Benedict will be remembered as perhaps the most "conservative" pope since the 1950s - a leader who tried to assert theological principle over fashionable compromise.
The word "conservative" is actually misleading, and the monk who received me into the Catholic Church in 2006 - roughly a year after Benedict began his pontificate - would be appalled to read me using it. In Catholicism, there is no right or left but only orthodoxy and error. As such, Benedict would understand the more controversial stances that he took as pope not as "turning back the clock" but as asserting a living tradition that had become undervalued within the church. His success in this regard will be felt for generations to come....