A Length of Our Time

At 93 years, he’s come to be physically fragile, feeble, and hardly audible. Life in Mater Ecclesiae includes daily Mass, walks in the Vatican gardens, also even prayer. This peaceful setting starkly contrasts the noisy world that has frequently misunderstood and misrepresented his ideas and lifestyle. Nonetheless, the very first Pope Emeritus since Celestine V in the 13th century includes a clear head that’s patiently awaiting, not for death, but instead eternal life.

Joseph Ratzinger is a warrior who everybody –regardless of Catholic or not–must admire for his intellect. There is not much doubt the Ratzinger–and later Pope Benedict XVI–is arguably still among the most influential members of the 20th century. The first volume of two has been printed in English (together with the second allegedly slated to be published in autumn ), already standing in 512 pages. The German edition, printed in early 2020 in one volume (and which is the subject of this review), consists of 1,100 pages, and explains Ratzinger’s whole life life in terrific detail.

Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, a small village close to the popular pilgrimage city Altötting, on Holy Saturday of 1927. Almost everyone in southern Germany was then, and Catholicism seeped into each neighborhood convention, festival, also social life at large. Inside this world encompassed by religion, kids did not dream of getting soccer stars, however priests and nuns. Instead of Christmas toys, they looked forward to unwrapping their very initial missals or even Bibles which they used in”practicing bulk” at home. This planet, among Church, rural lifestyle, and also the Bavarian Alps, is that the planet that shaped Ratzinger’s youth and of which he dreamt of during his lifetime.

Much of this beauty would soon be ruined. Since Germany appeared to the evil of Nazism, most Catholics found themselves in a bind on if to support Hitler’s regime. Most did not –like the Church itself–along with the Ratzinger family certainly did not either. Indeed, the family moved a few times to more rural regions to avoid the looming monitoring of the Nazi government. The regime clamped down on religious pursuits. Later on, both Joseph and his brother Georg were drafted into the war effort, though Joseph escaped the fantastic battlefields. Nonetheless, the evil of fascism would affect his thinking for the remainder of his lifetime, actually traumatized by revolutions and by totalitarian plans to fully remake society top notch and to silence language and faith.

After World War II, Ratzinger’s most formative years in theology were spent studying in Freising and Munich, in which professors took notice of his own intellectual and theological genius along with his eloquent, vibrant, and moving speech in articulating his arguments, a characteristic that could accompany him throughout his lifetime. Most importantly, in those early years Ratzinger developed two significant topics of the future works: the Church as the”Mystical Body of Christ” motivated by St. Augustine, along with also a focus on eschatology, motivated by St. Bonaventura. The latter subject emphasizes the need for contemporary man, who had become too absorbed in material and earthly pleasures while fearful of thinking about the inevitability of death, to refocus to the transcendental and eternal life.

Ratzinger quickly climbed to theological stardom in Germany. His high point in his own life as a intellectual–that the life he always had desired and cherished the many –came as a consultant to Cardinal Frings of Cologne in the Second Vatican Council.

For Ratzinger, the years after World War II was a disillusioning sight for all German Catholicism. Germans just did not appear to be actively Catholic anymore. They had lost awareness about what they believed and, thereby, lost touch with the Church. Ratzinger was disheartened that he warned of the New Pagans from within.Before Vatican IIthat he left two key observations: first, that there was a very real likelihood that Christianity would become a minority position in today’s world. And second, that the Church was in urgent need of reform to confront this fact. It ought to reinvent itself–by going back to the basics of the religion and studying the early Church fathers. Just by being able to proudly declare the unchanged and standard religion in new ways could Catholics be in a position to sustain that the Church in a liberal world.

Ratzinger’s character during the Council was subject to much disagreement. For liberal, reformist voices like Hans Küng, Ratzinger was one of theirs–before he betrayed them in the years after the Council. Traditionalists would concur with them, saying that Ratzinger was liberal during the Council and that he would become more conventional later in life since he came to realize and regret what abysmal procedures he and his zealous young coworkers had caused. Admirers of both Ratzinger and proponents of both Vatican II have instead maintained that Ratzinger did not alter his remarks, but that the Council was interpreted. Consequently, it became Ratzinger’s life-long task to market the correct interpretation of the Council: an overview of individual liberty and dignity, a reconciliation with liberalism, and also an introduction of the Church to the Earth, by going out into the world with”hope and joy,” not a siphoned into modernists and a secularization of the Church.

It is clear the Ratzinger at least became more secure since the Council came to a conclusion, surmising that it might be misinterpreted. Therefore, Ratzinger–next to fellow Councilmen like Wojtyla, Balthasar, and de Lubac–became a warning voice to adhere to what the Council documents said as opposed to using them as an opportunity to weed from the Church of each convention, which many others, especially in Germany, have achieved to this day.

This biography makes abundantly clear is that Pope Benedict XVI is certainly a figure worth studying.  It is telling for people in the world that Ratzinger never wavered in his view that the Council was the right path, that faith could revitalize itself in a bottom-up procedure –after some hard days –in a contemporary world that had lost touch with God. Ratzinger has also always maintained that Catholicism could live with liberalism, which provided that liberalism respects its Judeo-Christian fundamentals, liberalism would be a blessing to both individual liberty and dignity as well as the Church. Pope Benedict never abandoned his position in favor of ultra-traditionalism, gave up Vatican II’s teachings, or misrepresented the views of various liberal thinkers the way they frequently violate his own words.

After Ratzinger had been a professor in Regensburg from 1969 to 1977, he believed that he might, for the remainder of his lifetime, stay in Pentling, a small city close-by where he bought his own home, and just teach and write. Rather, he became the new Archbishop of Munich in 1977, and was then ordered to Rome in 1981 with his friend Wojtyla to eventually become the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As becomes evident again and again in Seewald’s biography, Ratzinger might have preferred to live a contemplative lifestyle in Bavaria. God had different plans. The recent and popular Netflix film The Two Popes ignores this, instead depicting Pope Benedict as a guy addicted to electricity. Just as much as anything else has encouraged a false picture of Ratzinger.

His and John Paul II’s dedicated friendship for over a quarter century made them an inseparable duo. Ratzinger requested Wojtyla to replace him with somebody else on many occasions–every time that the Pope needed him to stay. When his friend expired in 2005, Ratzinger planned to finally head back home–that the flight tickets were already booked, to not be used: April 19, 2005, he became the new Pope.

It was not only that Jesus loves usthat”God is Love” was the maxim that Pope Benedict brought to light in the opinion of millions. This love, this agape that we should all strive for in life after Christ’s case, was in the middle of the very first of the three encyclicals Deus Caritas Est..

In among the most unexpectedly controversial moments of the papacy–that the Regensburg address in 2006–he lasted warning that the contemporary world was slithering into a”dictatorship of relativism.” Just a reconciliation of religion and reason — which are not opposed but needing another–and also a reorientation to the Logos, an idea that had dominated Western culture for millennia, from the Israelites and Ancient Greek philosophers to the Christians, could avoid disaster. He cautioned European leaders to not forget this Western tradition, the future of Europe needs to be based on Christian principles, upon the protection of life from conception to death, and a commitment to individual liberty and free will.

Seewald’s biography includes, naturally, many stories of all of these phases of Ratzinger’s lifetime, such as a brand new ten-page meeting with the Pope in which he admits that he has prepared a last testament to the planet which is published after his departure.

The book sadly suffers from issues without the lengthy read could have been more enjoyable. Too frequently, Seewald goes off-topic: during Ratzinger’s kids years, there are several sections in which Ratzinger isn’t even cited. The chapters on the Second Vatican Council are really interesting and well written, but suffer with constant digressions on events around the world. All these digressions add little more than disruptions to the story.

The worst instance of this comes from the second half of the book–or what will be the second forthcoming volume in English–in which Seewald frequently goes off on tangents of the unfair treatment of Ratzinger in the German press, list a single sensationalist media headline after another, frequently for many pages. That the newspapers Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung feature prominently here–two newspapers Seewald worked for in the past–which makes these passages look more like a personal vendetta. After again, Ratzinger disappears occasionally. These distracting passages give the reader the feeling that the book could be hundreds of pages shorter without giving info regarding its protagonist.

However, this isn’t to say that the book isn’t well written, largely engaging, enlightening, and may go down as the definitive biography of Pope Benedict. All this is true. In which the biography is focused on its own true subject, the lifetime of Ratzinger, it is an excellent and intriguing read.

This biography makes abundantly clear is that Pope Benedict XVI is certainly a figure worth studying.  Joseph Ratzinger is among those defining styles of the 20th century, among the most influential Churchmen in Catholic history, and as we look back at him and the times he lived through–the neighboring metropolitan lands, and the evil of fascism, the post-war sexual revolution, the evil of communism throughout his work with John Paul II, along with the crises of contemporary society–we could see him as a prophet of our time. And he is definitely a powerful defender of the faith.

And contemplating his work spans over every area of life beyond the Church, it is likewise not simply enjoyable for Catholics to participate with him. Anyone who cherishes and admires, like Pope Benedict, the great, the true, and also the beautiful, should start engaging with Joseph Ratzinger’s work.