Following the announcement of the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Saturday at the age of 95, we look back at his long life and its main highlights with the following official biography.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, was born at Marktl am Inn, Diocese of Passau (Germany) on 16 April 1927 (Holy Saturday) and was baptized on the same day.
His father, a Police Commissioner, belonged to an old family of farmers from Lower Bavaria with modest economic resources. His mother was the daughter of artisans from Resting on the shore of Lake Chiem. Before marrying, she worked as a cook in several hotels.
Joseph spent his childhood and adolescence in Traunstein, a small village near the Austrian border, thirty kilometers from Salzburg. In this environment, which he has defined as “Mozartian”, he received his Christian, cultural and human formation.
His youthful years were not easy. His faith and the education received at home prepared him for the harsh experience of those years during which the Nazi regime pursued a hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church. The young Joseph saw how some Nazis beat the Parish Priest before the celebration of Mass.
It was precise during that complex situation that he discovered the beauty and truth of faith in Christ; fundamental to this was his family’s attitude, who always gave a clear witness of goodness and hope, rooted in a convinced attachment to the Church.
He was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps until September 1944.
From 1946 to 1951, he studied philosophy and theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology of Freising and the University of Munich.
He received his priestly ordination on 29 June 1951. A year later he began teaching at the Higher School of Freising.
In 1953, he obtained his doctorate in theology with a thesis entitled “People and House of God in St Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church”.
Four years later, under the direction of the renowned professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen, he qualified for University teaching with a dissertation on: “The Theology of History in St Bonaventure”.
After teaching dogmatic and fundamental theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising, he went on to teach at Bonn, from 1959 to 1963; at Münster from 1963 to 1966; and at Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. During this last year, he held the Chair of dogmatics and history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he was also Vice-President of the University.
From 1962 to 1965, he made a notable contribution to Vatican II as an “expert”, being present at the Council as a theological consultant of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.
His intense scientific activity led him to important positions at the service of the German Bishops’ Conference and the International Theological Commission.
In 1972, together with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and other important theologians, he initiated the theological journal Communio.
Bishop and Cardinal
On 25 March 1977, Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising. On 28 May of the same year, he received episcopal ordination. He was the first diocesan priest in 80 years to take on the pastoral governance of the great Bavarian Archdiocese.
He chose as his episcopal motto: “Cooperators of the truth”. He explained why:
On the one hand, I saw it as the relationship between my previous task as a professor and my new mission. Despite different approaches, what was involved, and continued to be so, was following the truth and being at its service. On the other hand, I chose that motto because in today’s world the theme of truth is omitted almost entirely, as something too great for man, and yet everything collapses if the truth is missing.
Paul VI made him a Cardinal with the priestly title of “Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino”, during the Consistory of 27 June 1977.
In 1978, he took part in the Conclave of 25 and 26 August which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the III International Mariological Congress, celebrated in Guayaquil (Ecuador) from 16 to 24 September. In October of the same year, he took part in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.
He was Relator of the V Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which took place in 1980 on the theme: “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”, and was Delegate President of the VI Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on “Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today”.
John Paul II named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the International Theological Commission on 25 November 1981. On 15 February 1982, he resigned from the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.
The Holy Father elevated him to the Order of Bishops assigning to him the Suburbicarian See of Velletri-Segni on 5 April 1993.
He was President of the Preparatory Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which after six years of work (1986-1992), presented the new Catechism to the Holy Father.
On 6 November 1998, the Holy Father approved the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals, submitted by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops. On 30 November 2002, Pope John Paul II approved his election as Dean; together with this office, he was entrusted with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia.
In 1999, he was the Special Papal Envoy for the Celebration of the XII Centenary of the foundation of the Diocese of Paderborn, Germany, which took place on 3 January.
In the Roman Curia he was a member of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; the Congregations for the Oriental Churches, Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Bishops, the Evangelization of Peoples, Catholic Education, Clergy and the Causes of the Saints; the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity and Culture; the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, “Ecclesia Dei”, the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, and the Revision of the Code of Canons of Oriental Churches.
Since 13 November 2000, he was an Honorary Academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
Among his many publications, special mention should be made of his Introduction to Christianity, a compilation of University lectures on the Apostolic Creed, published in 1968; and Dogma and Preaching (1973), an anthology of essays, sermons, and reflections dedicated to pastoral arguments.
His address to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on “Why I am still in the Church” had a wide resonance; in it, he stated with his usual clarity: “one can only be a Christian in the Church, not beside the Church”.
His many publications are spread out over several years and constitute a point of reference for many people, especially for those interested in entering deeper into the study of theology. In 1985, he published his interview book on the situation of the faith (The Ratzinger Report), and in 1996 Salt of the Earth. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, the volume At the School of Truth was published, containing articles by several authors on different aspects of his personality and production.
He received numerous honorary doctorates: in 1984 from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, (Minnesota, USA); in 1986 from the Catholic University of Lima (Peru); in 1987 from the Catholic University of Eichstätt (Germany); in 1988 from the Catholic University of Lublin (Poland); in 1998 from the University of Navarre (Pamplona, Spain); in 1999 from the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta) of Rome and in 2000 from the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wrocław in Poland.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected on 19 April 2005 as the 265th Pope.
He was the oldest person to be elected Pope since 1730, and had been a Cardinal for a longer period than any Pope since 1724.
On 11 February 2013, during the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Vote on several Causes for Canonization, Benedict announced his decision to resign from the Petrine ministry with these words:
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strengths 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 recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”
His pontificate came to an end on 28 February 2013.
After his resignation took effect, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lived in the Vatican in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery until his death.
Credit: Vatican News