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The long-awaited and authoritative biography of Pope Benedict XVI, a giant of the Catholic Church
Benedict XVI: A Life offers insight into the young life and rise through the Church’s ranks of a man who would become a hero and a lightning rod for Catholics the world over. Based on countless hours of interviews in Rome with Benedict himself, this much-anticipated two-volume biography is the definitive record of the life of Joseph Ratzinger and the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
This first volume follows the early life of the future pope, from his days growing up in Germany and his conscription into the Hitler Youth during World War II to his career as an academic theologian and eventual Archbishop of Munich. The second volume, set to be published in 2021, will cover his move to Rome under Pope John Paul II, his ascension to the papacy, and his controversial retirement and news-making statements under his successor, Pope Francis I.
This necessary companion to Benedict’s own memoir, Last Testament, is the fullest account to date of the life of a radical Catholic leader who has continued to make news while cloistered in retirement in the Vatican gardens.
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Okay for some purposes
I would not recommend this book to one who is not already well-informed about traditional Catholic theology and Church History. The book is evidently written for a liberal audience (theologically and politically liberal), and its main goal seems to be to prove Benedict/Ratzinger's credentials as a liberal/progressive theologian and to show how much he was not an antisemite.
The author himself surprisingly seemed almost totally ignorant of traditional Catholic theology. Here is just one example: "The Eucharist was about a mysterious transformation, being changed by a self-giving God, through which the Christian could become incorporated into the life of Christ. An incomparable treasure of the Catholic faith, which had to be defended throughout all ages.” In actual Catholic theology of the Eucharist, it is NOT a "mysterious transformation," but a transubstantiation. To call it a transformation is either a grossly improper and careless way of speaking or heretical. This is not just an isolated slip of the pen. The book shows no knowledge of the traditional Catholic faith. This makes the book very dangerous for readers who admire Pope Benedict/Ratzinger and may end up thinking like his biographer.
I have no problem with biographers having an opinion about historical events, but they should make an effort to present both sides of controversies in such a way that readers can understand where both sides are coming from. The "conservative" theologians, who criticized the nouvelle theologie and modernism, are continually presented in a gross caricature and their actual arguments are never sympathetically presented. All of their criticisms are dismissed as stemming from fear, a failure to accept the inevitable, ambition, authoritarianism, or simple stupidity, etc.
With that said, if you are well catechized in Catholic theology (e.g., you know what the Council of Trent and the first Vatican Council taught about grace, the sacraments, justification, etc.), then this is a very useful book. It gives summaries of many of Ratzinger's key early writings, which show beyond any doubt that he was indeed a liberal/progressive theologian. The extent this is true is often shocking. It does a good job of showing the intellectual and cultural background that shaped Ratzinger's thought: the solemn and beautiful liturgy/piety of his upbringing; youth under Nazi propaganda and oppression; reading lots of vaguely spiritual, but not Catholic novels and poetry; being educated by modernist theologians in the chaos after the war; etc.
The book also gives a concise history of Vatican II with an understandably strong emphasis on Ratzinger's own perspective on and role within events. As the book shows, Ratzinger "defined" the Council by means of a "coup" orchestrated by a circle of progressive theologians and a few sympathetic bishops (Seewald's own words).
The narrator cannot pronounce German!
This is an excellent bio, however the audiobook is ruined by the fact that the narrator is mispronouncing almost every German word (and there are many in this book, including names of people and places and titles of books).