Sunday 3 March 2013

If Benedict XVI was not the most intelligent head of state ever, who was?


Professor Father James Schall. who holds a chair in  political science  Georgetown University was asked in an interview recently,  "How do you think history will remember Pope Benedict XVI?" He answered:

It will remember him as the greatest and most learned intellect ever to occupy the Chair of Peter. No public official in our time has been anywhere near his intellectual equal. This disparity is itself the cause of much disorder, if we grant, as we must, that truth is the essence of intellect and indeed order. In reading Benedict, I have always been struck by how familiar he is not just with the Old and New Testaments (in their original languages) but with his constant referring to the Fathers of the Church, especially Augustine, and the intellectual popes like Gregory the Great and Leo the Great, and also Irenaeus, Basil, Maximius, Origen, Bonaventure, and I do not know them all. 

He knows German philosophy well, and always cites Plato. He is at home with all the Marxist philosophers. Indeed, in Spe Salvi, he cited two of the most famous ones as witness to the logical need of a resurrection of the body. Benedict is a member of one of the French academies. No one has really begun to do his homework on what this pope has thought his way through. The media and most universities are, basically, hopeless. I suspect his final opera omni in a critical German edition will equal in length that of Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure.

I also had assumed that Pope Benedict XVI was the most intelligent and most learned Pope in history, but my knowledge of papal history was too slight for me to be certain. 

When was there last as intelligent a head of state, I wonder. No-one comes to mind. I don't think Marcus Aurelius was as bright. I am sure Jefferson and Lenin were less clever nor do I think Alexander the Great had a first class mind (how Cambridge I am), despite being tutored by Aristotle.


  1. Elizabeth I of England comes to mind; fluent in many languages and a far-seeing monarch, but her one and only concern was England (and quite enough at that!)and not academic. Still, she left England a more secure and peaceful country than when she placed its ring upon her finger at the coronation.

    R. N. Wightman, Texas.

  2. Elizabeth I? Alex Clarke

  3. Very true. If only his words at Westminster hall had been heeded in the UK.

  4. Fr. Schall is always informative and challenging...Thank you! Nancy Dunham

  5. to Anonymous 6 MAR. 08:10: Ditto.

  6. I think Thomas Jefferson might edge him out. Does not mean he was a better man than Bennie, or even that good as head of state[ruinous embargos, foolish navy decisions, & not the bravest Gov. of VA], but it is just intelligence under discussion here. Or Mary I Tudor, despite later calumnies, clearly had brains to stay alive under her father and brother's regimes-she just showed bad judgement in choice of husband in Felipe II of Spain...who also was clearly brainy...he came up with the VAT centuries before anyone else, though the Dutch wisely revolted because of it. Daniel I. Radakovich

  7. How about Lenin, who unfortunately was unable to control the state he helped create. He didn't have a new idea but he was able to make it appeal to large numbers of people and convince them it would work. That could just be demagoguery, but he seemed to be able to understand the Big Picture (except that it's hard to control people who are only interested in their own advancement).
    Helen Martin

  8. Well, defining 'intelligence' is probably a prerequisite to answering this challenge, and it's not easy to find a generally accepted definition. Certainly, however, none of the definitions accept mere learning and erudition as sufficient. Nor is capacity for abstract thought enough without a superior talent for problem-solving.
    One might argue that the categories of 'head of state' and 'intelligent' are mutually exclusive, in that, to be highly successful within an organisational structure requires strong conformist tendencies - a willingness to toe the party line - which militate against intelligent thought.
    It seems to me this is particularly true of the Catholic Church, accepting whose medieval doctrines and questionable historical origins must require a determination to believe that precludes even thinking about alternative possibilities.
    And then there is the question of whether the RC Pope can seriously be considered a 'head of state' in any modern meaningful sense of the term.
    How about Hugo Chavez?
    Alan Scott