Tale of Two Papacies: Benedict XVI vs John XXIII.

by Anura Guruge

Pope Benedict XVI versus Pope John XXIII two papacies Anura Guruge

Originally Posted on my ‘Popes-and-Papacy‘ blog on August 19, 2010 (i.e., 7-years ago).

Pope Benedict XVI (#266) turned 83 on April 16, 2010.

Three days later, i.e., April 19, was his fifth anniversary as pope.

He was the fifth oldest of the popes, since 1400, when elected. He is already the tenth oldest pope, albeit, as of 1400. There were three, post 1400 popes, who died shortly after turning 83. Thus, come mid-July 2010 he could be the seventh oldest. [Dates prior to 1400 are unavailable or unreliable.]

His mentor, John Paul II (#265), who died at 84, is currently the sixth oldest.

Bl. John XXIII (#262) became pope when he was 76. He was the sixth oldest to be elected since 1400.

John XXIII was pope for 1,679 days [4 years and 7 months].

Benedict XVI on his fifth anniversary had been pope for 1,826 days.

Bl. John XXIII, An Object Lesson In Vision, Drive & Efficacy
By all accounts Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli had no inclination that he may become pope until a few days prior to the start of the 1958 conclave. That he had bought a return railway ticket when he left Venice for Rome is well documented. It is also noted that he told some people in Rome to meet with him once he was back in Venice. He had left his walking shoes at the ‘Domus Mariae’ [the headquarters of the Women’s Catholic Action in Rome], his assigned quarters prior to the conclave, when he entered the Apostolic Palace for the conclave. It is documented that he sent his personal secretary Guido Gusso to pick up these shoes before he made his first public appearance on the central balcony of St. Peter’s.

However, once pope, John XXIII was driven.


  • 89 days into his papacy announced his intentions to convene Vatican II, the first ecumenical council since Vatican I, 90 years earlier. Vatican II changed the complexion of the modern Church.
  • 48 days into his papacy he held his first cardinal creating consistory. He created 23 cardinals so that the College was 74 strong. At a stroke he had overridden Sixtus V’s (#228) edict that had limited the size of the College to 70 – way back in 1586.
  • Increased the size of the College to 90 – a 29% increase above the limit set by Sixtus V.
  • Held 5 cardinal creating consistories, and created 52 cardinals – holding a consistory, on average every 298 days.
  • 1,444 days into his papacy he open Vatican II with at least 2,000 bishops in attendance.
  • Altered the jus optionis precedence rules as to whether the senior most cardinal could ask to be made a Cardinal Bishop. He also issued a motu proprio in 1962 confirming that the titles of the Cardinal Bishops were strictly titular.

The bottom line is that Bl. John XXIII’s pontificate was shorter than of the current pope. But, he didn’t waste any time. He had a vision and an agenda.

<< To be continued. You can draw your conclusions in the meantime. >>

Benedict XV (#259) was pope for 7 years and 4 months between 1914 and 1922. That is the next milestone for this pope. Other than for the unfortunately fleeting 33-day papacy of John Paul I (#264) ‘recent’ popes have enjoyed ‘long’ pontificates. Other than for that of John Paul I, John XXIII’s was the shortest in the twentieth century. After that it was that of Benedict XV. St. Pius X (#258) reigned for 11 years. That is the next longest.

One cannot equate popes to other mortals! Popes enjoy a unique standing on earth. I personally, and I could be wrong, don’t think popes worry too much about their legacy. That they were pope is all that matters. The same applies to credibility. They are only concerned about their credibility with the ONLY ONE, supposedly, that can judge them. So, it is futile to say that John XXIII’s achievements during his 1,679 day pontificate casts a shadow over that of Benedict XVI. But, it is something to think about.

Related posts:
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by Anura Guruge

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