Benedict XVI is now the seventh oldest Pope since reliable records began being collected in the year 1400, according to a U.S. statistician. In the words of Pope Benedict himself, however, age is not as important as wisdom.
Anura Guruge, an IBM information systems expert, IT adviser and obvious fan of papal history, presented a table offering a ranked list of the oldest known Popes on his site www.popes-and-papacy.com on Monday. On that very day, Benedict XVI passed into the seventh slot on his list, just behind John Paul II who died at 84 years old.
Not all Popes in history are considered in the study, explains Guruge on the site, because dates logged in records before the year 1400 "are either unreliable or unavailable and as such are impractical for meaningful analysis."
According to his information, at the age of 83, Benedict XVI is currently seventh on the list of most aged Popes, but should he remain at the helm of the See of Peter until 2015, he will overtake Clement XII, currently in second place after living to 87. Topping the list of oldest Popes in the last six centuries is Leo XIII, who died at 93 years old in 1903.
An earlier entry on the same site reports that, since 1400, Joseph Ratzinger was the fifth oldest Pope on his election date and more advanced in age at that time than any other Pontiff in the 274 years prior. He had only just turned 78 years old three days before his election.
Guruge's table also features the number of years each of the oldest 11 Popes reigned and the percentage of their lives they spent as the Successor of Peter.
Vatican Radio, in a Wednesday article that picked up the story, commented on the latter as a "curious" statistic which points to "a deeper reflection, if we look at it on a different level."
"It suggests a spiritual characteristic proper to the Petrine ministry" that is tied to the value of longevity, about which the Holy See's radio station pointed out, Pope Benedict himself made an observation in a Nov. 2008 homily remembering deceased cardinals and bishops.
Reflecting on a passage from the Book of Wisdom, Benedict XVI said, "True, honorable old age is not just an advanced age, but wisdom and a pure existence, without malice ... The world reputes that he who lives a long life is fortunate, but God, more than at age, looks at the rectitude of the heart. The world gives credit to the 'wise' and to the 'learned,' while God prefers the 'little ones'.
"God," asserted the Pope at the time, "is the true wisdom that does not age, he is the genuine richness that does not spoil, he is the happiness to which the heart of every man aspires profoundly."