The decision by Pope Benedict XVI to resign has been hailed as courageous.
Non-believers will not understand the context of this assessment, while staunch Catholics will question his judgment.
Elected by the divine will of God to a position which carries an enormous burden of responsibility, the papacy is as much about service to God and the church as it is about personal suffering.
This is not a grand office full of privilege but one of faith, prayer and commitment to fulfil the mission of the church.
Being the leader of a worldwide congregation of more than one billion people Pope Benedict has discharged his responsibilities to the best of his ability, with humility, love and unwilting faith.
With the rigours of office taking its toll, Pope Benedict has elected to make a decision few before him ever considered or refused to make.
His decision to resign has earned him praise and criticism. Those who understand and have empathy for his personal predicament classify his decision as courageous. Those who believe the Holy Father must serve out his responsibilities under God at any cost will argue he has fallen short of his mortal duties.
What can’t be argued against, however, is Pope Benedict’s honesty and in this context, his wisdom.
In his statement to the church’s cardinals he acknowledged that “his ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering”.
But the most important parts of his brief statement were his admission that “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary – strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
Pope Benedict also asked his Brothers for forgiveness for all his defects. These are the words of a man who understands the church’s challenges today and tomorrow.
Having watched as Pope John Paul II struggled as a disabled man to fulfil his obligations, Pope Benedict has sent a message to the church and the cardinals that being of sound body and mind are essential to fulfil the responsibilities of Pontiff.
By allowing a younger successor to take charge, he will have set a precedent for others to follow and in doing so will ensure the church is guided by strong and capable leadership into the future.
This will be his legacy.