Joseph Alois Ratzinger
Dates and Places:
April 16, 1927 (Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany)-?
Dates of Reign:
April 19, 2005-February 28, 2013
John Paul II
- Benedict XVI is the oldest man to have been elected pope in almost 300 years; Pope Clement XII (1730–40) was also 78 years old at the time of his election.
- He is the first German pope in almost 500 years; the last was Pope Adrian VI (1522–23).
Joseph Ratzinger was born on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany, and was baptized the same day. He began his seminary studies as a teenager, during World War II. Drafted into the German army during the war, he deserted his post. In November 1945, after the war ended, he and his older brother Georg reentered the seminary and both were ordained on the same day—June 29, 1951—in Munich.
A devoted follower, both intellectually and spiritually, of St. Augustine of Hippo, Father Ratzinger taught at the University of Bonn, the University of Münster, the University of Tübingen, and finally the University of Regensburg, in his native Bavaria.
Father Ratzinger was a theological consultant at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and, as pope, Benedict XVI has defended the teachings of council against those who speak of the "spirit of Vatican II." On March 24, 1977, he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising (Germany), and, three months later, he was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, who had presided over the Second Vatican Council.
Four years later, on November 25, 1981, Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office charged with safeguarding the doctrine of the Church. He remained in this office until his election as the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005, in a papal conclave held after the death of John Paul II on April 2. He was installed as pope on April 24, 2005.
Pope Benedict has stated that he chose his papal name to honor both Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, and Pope Benedict XV, who, as pope during World War I, worked tirelessly to end the war. Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI has been a great voice for peace in the conflicts in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
Because of his age, Pope Benedict is often regarded as a transitional pope, but he clearly desires to make his mark. In the first two years of his pontificate, he has been extraordinarily productive, releasing a major encyclical, Deus caritas est (2005); an apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis (2007), on the Holy Eucharist; and the first volume of a projected three-volume work on the life of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. He has made Christian unity, particularly with the Eastern Orthodox, a central theme of his pontificate, and he has made efforts to reach out to traditional Catholics, such as the schismatic Society of Saint Pius X.