12 January 2022, The Tablet

Benedict XVI - defender of the faith

Benedict XVI - defender of the faith

Benedict XVI pictured in 2011
Photo:CNS/Paul Haring


A new biography, which portrays Pope Emeritus Benedict as a reluctant pope, set on rescuing the Church from a hostile modern age, fails to capture the complex, original quality of his thinking

There have been many biographies of popes while still popes but, until Peter Seewald’s two-volume Benedict XVI: A Life, never before one of a still-living retired pope. If he is still with us, in mid March, Joseph Ratzinger will have spent nine years as Emeritus Bishop of Rome, as Francis correctly referred to him on the night of his election.

I was fascinated to know how Seewald would handle this remarkable, final chapter in the second volume of his Benedict biog­raphy. How has it worked out? How have the two Popes connected, related? What is it like for Benedict, looking back at his pontificate in the light of what came next?

Only that final chapter never comes. In Part One, Seewald follows Fr Ratzinger from celebrity professor in Tübingen in 1966 through to his 1977 appointment as Archbishop of Munich; Part Two covers his long tenure as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until his election as Pope in 2005. Part Three is the pontificate, ending with the famous resignation in February 2013, at which point – but for some answers to a few “final questions” that dispose of charges that he is interfering in Francis’ pontificate –Seewald slams on the brakes.

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