• Benedict XVI: A Life, Volume One

  • Volume One: Youth in Nazi Germany to the Second Vatican Council, 1927–1965
  • By: Peter Seewald
  • Narrated by: Jim Meskimen
  • Length: 19 hrs and 44 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (85 ratings)

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Benedict XVI: A Life, Volume One

By: Peter Seewald
Narrated by: Jim Meskimen
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Publisher's Summary

The long-awaited and authoritative biography of Pope Benedict XVI, a giant of the Catholic Church

Benedict XVI: A Life offers insight into the young life and rise through the Church’s ranks of a man who would become a hero and a lightning rod for Catholics the world over. Based on countless hours of interviews in Rome with Benedict himself, this much-anticipated two-volume biography is the definitive record of the life of Joseph Ratzinger and the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. 

This first volume follows the early life of the future pope, from his days growing up in Germany and his conscription into the Hitler Youth during World War II to his career as an academic theologian and eventual Archbishop of Munich. The second volume, set to be published in 2021, will cover his move to Rome under Pope John Paul II, his ascension to the papacy, and his controversial retirement and news-making statements under his successor, Pope Francis I. 

This necessary companion to Benedict’s own memoir, Last Testament, is the fullest account to date of the life of a radical Catholic leader who has continued to make news while cloistered in retirement in the Vatican gardens. 

©2020 Peter Seewald (P)2020 Blackstone Publishing

What listeners say about Benedict XVI: A Life, Volume One

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Okay for some purposes

I would not recommend this book to one who is not already well-informed about traditional Catholic theology and Church History. The book is evidently written for a liberal audience (theologically and politically liberal), and its main goal seems to be to prove Benedict/Ratzinger's credentials as a liberal/progressive theologian and to show how much he was not an antisemite.

The author himself surprisingly seemed almost totally ignorant of traditional Catholic theology. Here is just one example: "The Eucharist was about a mysterious transformation, being changed by a self-giving God, through which the Christian could become incorporated into the life of Christ. An incomparable treasure of the Catholic faith, which had to be defended throughout all ages.” In actual Catholic theology of the Eucharist, it is NOT a "mysterious transformation," but a transubstantiation. To call it a transformation is either a grossly improper and careless way of speaking or heretical. This is not just an isolated slip of the pen. The book shows no knowledge of the traditional Catholic faith. This makes the book very dangerous for readers who admire Pope Benedict/Ratzinger and may end up thinking like his biographer.

I have no problem with biographers having an opinion about historical events, but they should make an effort to present both sides of controversies in such a way that readers can understand where both sides are coming from. The "conservative" theologians, who criticized the nouvelle theologie and modernism, are continually presented in a gross caricature and their actual arguments are never sympathetically presented. All of their criticisms are dismissed as stemming from fear, a failure to accept the inevitable, ambition, authoritarianism, or simple stupidity, etc.

With that said, if you are well catechized in Catholic theology (e.g., you know what the Council of Trent and the first Vatican Council taught about grace, the sacraments, justification, etc.), then this is a very useful book. It gives summaries of many of Ratzinger's key early writings, which show beyond any doubt that he was indeed a liberal/progressive theologian. The extent this is true is often shocking. It does a good job of showing the intellectual and cultural background that shaped Ratzinger's thought: the solemn and beautiful liturgy/piety of his upbringing; youth under Nazi propaganda and oppression; reading lots of vaguely spiritual, but not Catholic novels and poetry; being educated by modernist theologians in the chaos after the war; etc.

The book also gives a concise history of Vatican II with an understandably strong emphasis on Ratzinger's own perspective on and role within events. As the book shows, Ratzinger "defined" the Council by means of a "coup" orchestrated by a circle of progressive theologians and a few sympathetic bishops (Seewald's own words).

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Understand Ratzinger

This was an amazing book that not only shows the first part of the history of one of the greatest men in the last century, but reveals the depth of his brilliance, influence. and holiness! He brilliantly balances reform and orthodoxy at the same time! I can't wait to read part 2. Highly recommended for anyone trying to understand this amazing man, the difficulties of his early life, and his influence on the church.

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Be Sure to read Vol II and AmazonReview384

Benedict’s early life is very interesting, but the most informative part of this book, even if it gives short shrift to the harm that was done by modernist theologians during and after Vatican II, is the end of the book. Ratzinger played with fire and eventually realized it, and even fought it, though he seemed very timid with the hose. Be sure to read the second volume of the series. World War II caused many terrible consequences. One of the worst was the “reverse Darwinism” that left fewer brave/good and more cowardly/bent men in positions of influence to rebuild the world subsequently. God save us.

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interesting life

Ratzinger was a surprising force in Vatican 2. well written and told.. stories of WWII were great.

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Compelling Narrative for a Brilliant Life

Thorough and insightful look into the life ofJoseph Ratzinger. It tells the story with great historical depth and context. I would recommend for anyone win like to get to know the Catholic Church in a proper understanding of the second Vatican council.

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  • Martin L. Meenagh
  • 07-22-22

A thorough and engaging study of the early years

Josef Ratzinger has one of the greatest minds in Church history, and is one of the great European 'intellectuals'. Volume one is an admirable portrait of the man and his thought, and was highly enjoyable on audio.

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  • Dunbur
  • 07-21-22

Poor choice of narrator

An overly dramatic Californian accent does nothing for this otherwise interesting biography. The tone destroys the text. It’s written by a German journalist. Is there no German narrator who could deliver a gram of authenticity to the text?

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  • Philip Fellows
  • 06-14-22

Wonderful

An extraordinary insight into a compelling and significant life. It is thorough, engaging and entertainingly read. Thoroughly recommended.

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  • Neil Brett
  • 12-28-21

How the Putsch at the Council came about

An important analysis which helps us understand why the Church is in such a crisis now. An historical approach, which is what the Pope Emeritus would advocate himself! Seewald makes Ratzinger the central force at the 2nd Vatican Council. His assessment of Ratzinger's weaknesses is summarised in the last minutes/pages of the book. I expect that this will be expanded in future volumes for our understanding of today's issues.

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  • Stephen Callaghan
  • 11-10-21

An encounter with the real Benedict XVI

Wonderful book, providing a vivid and engaging portrait of the man who became Benedict XVI. Great to find out about the true story of a man of God so much misunderstood and misportrayed by the media of our time.

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  • ubelluri
  • 04-27-21

The narrator cannot pronounce German!

This is an excellent bio, however the audiobook is ruined by the fact that the narrator is mispronouncing almost every German word (and there are many in this book, including names of people and places and titles of books).