This past week the Catholic Church has been abuzz with the announcement of the publication of a new book—From the Depths of Our Hearts—co-authored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. The book made a splash not just because Benedict, one of the most theologically and intellectually gifted Popes of the modern era, had published a book, but also because of its subject matter: clerical celibacy. In the book, Benedict and Sarah launch an impassioned defense of priestly celibacy. The timing is suggestive given that Pope Francis (the actual Pope, you’ll remember) has recently proposed that some married men be allowed to join the priesthood. The release of the book smacked of division and disagreement in the upper echelons of the Catholic Church. So much for the mutual respect of Netflix’s The Two Popes.
The intrigue only deepened when it emerged that Benedict, who by all reports is growing increasingly frail, did not author the book at all. Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the retired pope’s personal secretary, told the press corps that Benedict had asked Cardinal Sarah to remove his name from the book and signature from the introduction and conclusion. According to Gänswein, “The emeritus pope in fact knew that the cardinal was preparing a book and had sent a brief text on the priesthood authorizing him to make whatever use he wanted of it. But he did not approve any project for a book under the two names, nor had he seen or authorized the cover.” Gänswein’s summary of the situation was that this was all a big misunderstanding. Cardinal Sarah, for his part, defended himself against accusations of deception.
This wouldn’t be the first time that someone has published something under the name of an important religious figure. In the ancient world people would regularly compose letters, divine revelations, or entire Gospels, in the name of more important and illustrious church leaders. The practice is often known as “pseudepigraphy”—literally, “false writing”—and there are even examples of this kind of thing in the Bible. Benedict wouldn’t be the first Pope to have someone use his name to publicize their ideas. 1 and 2 Peter, the New Testament letters attributed to the Apostle Peter, are believed by the majority of scholars to have been written by someone else entirely.