Review: Benedict of Bavaria

Disclaimer: This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Benedict of Bavaria. They are also a great source for baptism gifts or First Holy Communion gifts.

Benedict of Bavaria by Brennan Pursell

I knew little about Josef Ratzinger, once labeled the “Panzer Cardinal” and “the Pope’s Rottweiler”, and now known as Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzinger was Blessed JP the Great’s head of the Congregation for the Faith, the Vatican office that ensures that Catholics throughout the world know, understand, and evangelize what the Church teaches. But having just finished Benedict from Bavaria, Benedict is oh so much more than what I originally thought!

Written by Bavarian travel-expert and European history professor (DeSales University), Brennan Pursell, this book takes the reader on a journey through Pope Benedict’s birth, youth, professorship, and into his pontificate. Throughout the journey, the reader is introduced to the places (and therefore, the people and customs) who formed Pope Benedict into the man he is today. From growing up in the shadow of Alotting (a Marian shrine site) to his high school years in Traunstein and his shift from university to seminary in 1939, a move he attributed to Hitler’s regime:

We were told very loudly that in the new Germany “there will not be any more priests, there will be no more consecrated life…” But actually hearing these voices, I understood that in confronting the brutality of this system, this inhuan face, that there is a need for priests, precisely as a contrast to this antihuman culture. [pg 57]

The book continues on to the post-WWII Germany and Fr. Ratzinger’s life in Freising and Munich, and his later appointment as Professor of Fundamental Theology and Dogma in Freising. This was 1958, when Germany was was healing from Nazism and the loss of the religious liberties during the fascist regime. Ratzinger was offered a highly desired professorship at the University of Bonn … physically far from his Bavarian home and family but with the ability to come home to Bavaria and his homeland (or heimat, a word which really means much more than homeland; it’s a word that means where his heart and soul and mores and customs originated).

Twenty-three years after his first appointment as professor of Fundamental Theology and Dogma, a newly elected pope would seek out this academically gifted priest (now Cardinal Ratzinger) to join his curia as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Although Ratzinger was in this position for longer than any other prefect (after having tried to “retire” at least twice), his heart was never far from his Bavarian heimat where his parents and brother still lived.

The book finishes with Pope Benedict’s current location and vocation: in the Vatican as the leader of the world’s Catholics. Pope Benedict described the elevation to St. Peter’s Chair as “the guillotine falling”, but he also knew it as a call from God for him to continue to sacrifice his retirement to Bavaria for love of the Church.

Pursell’s book is a lovingly written protrayal of the places that have made Pope Benedict XVI who he is. Pursell has a very personal link to the Pope’s heimat: Pursell came into the Catholic Church at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria (an area where he also met his wife, a Bavarian pianist). He leads tours to this area of Germany, an area that formed the Pope more than any other location Ratzinger’s vocation have taken him.

This is an excellent biography of a man for whom little has been written. Pursell’s book is part travelogue, part biography, and part faith journey; I highly recommend it!

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