When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope on April 19th, he took as his name, Benedict the Sixteenth. There has been much commentary since then on precisely why he made this choice, and what it might mean. One possibility is that the new pope wants to draw some parallels to the last pope to take this name, Benedict XV.
Born Giacomo della Chiesa, Benedict the 15th was in Italian, from Genoa. Educated in Rome at the Academia, he spent most of his career working in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. Eventually he was appointed the Holy See’s Secretary of State, and was named the Archbishop of Bologna in 1907. Four months after della Chiesa was made a cardinal, Pope Pius X died, and World War I began. Cardinal della Chiesa spoke forcefully of the Church’s role promoting peace, and easing the suffering of those harmed by the war. On September 3rd, 1914, he was elected pope, and took the name Benedict XV.
As pope he made several unsuccessful attempts to negotiate an end to the war, and wrote an encyclical pleading for international reconciliation. He also worked to moderate some the excesses of pope Pius X’s campaign against modernism. Benedict XV promulgated a new Code of Canon Law in 1917, and canonized French heroine Joan of Arc.
Although he was pope for only 8 years, Benedict XV was a moderating and reconciling influence in the Church, and worked to improve the Church’s relations with the rest of the modern world.