Benedict XVI was the 265th man to lead the Catholic Church and the 16th to assume the papal name “Benedict.”
This article will focus on his personal life, time with the church and notable aspects of his papacy to make it easier for students to learn and retain.
Early Life, World War II and Education.
Joseph Ratzinger was the third of Joseph Sr. and Maria Ratzinger’s three children. After a visit from Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, when he was only five years old, Joseph was so enthralled with Cardinal Faulhaber’s attire that he decided he wanted to become a cardinal.
Joseph’s childhood was plagued with harassment due to his family’s anti-Nazi politics; this became worse upon turning 14 years old and being drafted into the Hitler Youth. Joseph did his best to become as unproductive as he could.
A few years later, while studying in seminary, Joseph was drafted into the Luftwaffenhelfer, anti-aircraft sector and was subsequently placed within the German infantry. During his time with the infantry, he spent several months interned at a P.O.W. camp. before the war was over.
In November of 1945, Jospeh and Georg Ratzinger both enrolled into Traunstein’s Saint Michael Seminary, then Munich’s Ducal Georgianum within the Ludwig Maximilian University.
Career with the Church.
On June 29th, 1951, both Ratzinger boys were ordained by Cardinal Faulhaber. Two years later, Joseph would begin writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. in 1958, one year after completing his dissertation, he became a professor at Freising College.
A year later, Joseph would transfer to the University of Bonn. 1963 would see him change institutions again, moving to the University of Münster.
He also served Vatican II as a peritus, a theological consultant, to Cologne’s Cardinal Frings. Ratzinger was seen as a reformer who cooperated with other theologians. Ratzinger was also fond of Karl Rahner, a well-regarded academic, reform theologian.
1966 would see Ratzinger become the University of Tübingen’s chair in dogmatic theology. In “Introduction to Christianity,” a book he wrote in 1968, Ratzinger stated that the pope must hear all sides of a Church issue before deciding upon a course of action but downplayed the central nature of the position.
This point in his life is also when he moved away from Marxism and the politics of Tübingen. As rioting broke out in the spring of 1968, Ratzinger interpreted the chaos and tumult as a consequence of departing from Catholic doctrine. Despite being a reformist, he was perceived as conservative as liberal ideas began to soak into the Church.
1969 would see him return to his homeland of Bavaria, specifically the University of Regensburg. Three years later, he would co-found Communio, a theological journal that has since become the most prominent journal for contemporary Catholic theology.
Until becoming pope, Ratzinger was the journal’s most prominent contributor. Ratzinger served as the University’s vice president from 1976 until 1977.
March 24, 1977 saw Ratzinger’s appointment to Archibishop of Munich and Freising. On June 27th, Paul VI named him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino. During the Papal Conclave of 2005, Ratzinger was one of 14 cardinals appointed by Paul VI and one of three under age 80.
November 25, 1981 would see Ratzinger become the Prefect of the Roman Inquisition. 12 years later, in 1993, he would become Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, vice-dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998 and then its dean four years later.
In 1997, at the age of 70, he requested Pope John Paul II to allow him to leave his position as Prefect in order to become an archivist for the Vatican; John Paul II declined.
- Benedict XVI chose his name in honor of the previous Benedict, a pope who fastidiously clung to maintaining and restoring peace during World War I.
- His sermons frequently addressed what friendship with Jesus Christ involved.
- He loathed the growing preference for relativism in faith, where nothing was deemed to be the definitive source. He referred to this trend as the “Dictatorship of Relativism.”
- During a discussion one day before John Paul II’s death, Benedict XVI stated that Christianity was the “Religion of Logos.” Logos is the Greek word for intelligence, logic, meaning, and word.
This was likely a reflection on his pervasive career as an academic and writer and an acknowledgment of Christianity’s influence on the Renaissance.
- He became Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI upon retirement.
Quick Facts About Pope Benedict XVI.
- He was born in Marktl, Germany on April 16, 1927.
- Prior to taking his papal name, he was known as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.
- Unlike most of the popes covered in these guides, “Pope Emeritus” Benedict XVI is still alive at the time of this writing.
- His papacy began on April 19th, 2005.
- In a refreshing change of pace for most of these study guides, Benedict XVI’s papacy ended due to retirement, instead of death, on February 28, 2013.
- Pope Francis took over for the papacy with Benedict XVI’s retirement.
Six Interesting Facts About Pope Benedict XVI.
- Upon becoming pope, he created the @Pontifex Twitter account. After he retired, his tweets were deleted and the account eventually passed on to Pope Francis.
- He was the first pope to retire in nearly six centuries and the first to retire of his own volition since 1294, with Celestine V.
- Upon the moment of his ordination, he recounted a story that a lark flew from the altar and ominously sang a pleasing tune.
- His papal motto was “Cooperators of the Truth,” taken from 3 John 8.
- He published over 60 books.
- He was the oldest man to become pope since Clement XII.