Joseph Ratzinger was born in Marktl am Inn, diocese of Passau (Germany), on the 16th April 1927 (Holy Saturday) and was baptized on the same day. His father, a Police Commissioner, came from an ancient and poor family of farmers from Lower Bavaria.His mother was the daughter of artisans from Rimsting, on lake Chiemsee, and before getting married she worked as a cook in many hotels.
Joseph spent his infancy and adolescence in Traunstein, a little village near the Austrian border, 30 km from Salzburg. He himself has defined his upbringing as ‘Mozartian’, growing up in this setting where he received his Christian, human and cultural education. He lived a difficult adolescence but his faith and his familial upbringing helped him to face the harsh reality of the times, during which the Catholic Church was facing heavy hostility from the Nazi regime. The young Joseph was witness to the Nazis beating up a parish priest before mass. In that period he discovered the beauty and truth of the Christian faith; his family played a fundamental role in this side of his life, always providing him with good examples.
In the last months of the Second World War he joined the anti-aircraft military services. From 1946 to 1951 he studied philosophy and theology at The High Schoolof Philosophy and Technology in Freising and later at the University of Munich. He was ordained on 29th June 1951. The following year he started teaching at his former school in Freising. In 1953 he earned a doctorate in Theology; the title of his thesis was “The People and the House of God in St Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church”. Four years later, under the direction of the famous professor of fundamental theology Gottlieb Söhngen he obtained a university teaching qualification with a dissertation on “The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure”.
After teaching dogmatic and fundamental theology at The High School of Philosophy and Theology in Freising he taught in Bonn from 1959 to 1963, in Münster from 1963 to 1966 and in Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. In 1969 he became a professor of dogmatic theology and the history of dogma at the University of Regensburg where he was also vice-president.
From 1962 to 1965 he contributed to the Second Vatican Council as an expert and was also the theological consultant of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne.
He dedicated himself to intense research and had important roles in the German Episcopal conference and in the International Theological Commission. In 1972, together with Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and other important theologians, he founded the theological magazine “Communio”:
On the 25th March 1977 Pope Paul VI nominated him Archbishop of Munich and Freising and he received the Episcopal ordination on 28th May. He was the first diocesan priest in 80 years to assume the pastoral governance of the great Bavarian Archdiocese. He chose “collaborator of the truth” as his motto, giving the following explanation: “On the one hand I saw it as the link between my previous assignment as a professor and my new mission. Even if I used different approaches, I have always followed the truth and I have always been at its service. On the other hand I chose that motto because today the idea of truth is hidden, almost as something too great for mankind; but everything collapses if truth is missing.
Paul VI nominated him Cardinal with the Presbyterian title of "Santa Maria Consolatrice al Tiburtino", during the Consistory of 27th June of the same year.
In 1978 Cardinal Ratzinger participated in the Conclave of 25th and 26th August which elected John Paul I, who named him his Special Envoy to the 3rd International Mariological Congress, celebrated in Guayaquil (Ecuador) from 16th to 24th September. In October he participated in the Conclave that elected Pope John Paul II.
He was a lecturer of the 5th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of 1980 on the theme: “The mission of the Christian Family in the contemporary world”, and the Delegate President of the 6th Ordinary General Assembly of 1983 on “Reconciliation and Penance in the mission of the Church”.
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 25th November 1981. On 15th February 1982 he renounced to the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising. The Pope promoted him to the Order of Bishops and assigned him the Suburbicarian See of Velletri-Segni on 5th April 1993.
He was the President of the Preparatory Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presented the new Catechism to the Pope after six years of work (1986-1992). John Paul II, approved his election to Vice Dean of the Cardinal College by the Cardinals of the Order of Bishops on 6th November 1998, and he was also entrusted with the Suburbicarian See of Ostia on 30th November 2002.
He acted as the Pope’s special correspondent during the celebrations for the 12th centenary of the founding of the Diocese of Paderborn in Germany, which was celebrated on 3rd January 1999.
On 13th November 2000 he became honorary academic of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In the Roman Curia he was one of the members of the Council of the Secretariat of State for Relations with States; he was also member of the Congregations for: the Oriental Churches, the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Bishops, the Evangelization of Peoples, the Catholic Education, the Clergy and the Causes of the Saints. He was member of the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity, and for Culture; of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and of the Pontifical Commissions for Latin America, "Ecclesia Dei", for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law and for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches.
Among his most important publications are: "Introduction to Christianity", a collection of university lectures on the theme of Apostolic confession of faith published in 1968 and “Dogma and Preaching" (1973), an anthology of essays, homilies and reflections dedicated to the pastoral.
His speech to the Catholic Academy of Bavaria on “Why I am still in the Church” had a great impact; he said that “we are Christians if we live inside the Church and not far away”.
His publications increased in the following years and they became a point of reference for those interested in entering deeper into the study of theology. In 1985 he published his interview-book “Report on the faith” and in 1996 a book called “Salt of the Earth”. The volume “At the school of the Truth” was published for his 70th birthday, in which different authors present different aspects of his personality and his works.
He received many “honoris causa” doctorates from: the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, (Minnesota, USA) in 1984; the Catholic University of Lima in 1986; the Catholic University of Eichstätt in 1987; the Catholic University of Lublin in 1988; the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain) in 1998; the LUMSA University in Rome (Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta) in 1999; the Faculty of Theology of the University of Wrocław in Poland in 2000.
Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope on 19th April 2005 and he assumed the name Benedict XVI. On 11th February 2013 Benedict XVI announced his resignation to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. On that occasion he affirmed: “After having examined my conscience before God, I have reached the conclusion that, due to my old age, I am no longer strong enough to adequately perform the needs of the Petrine Ministry.” On the afternoon of 28th February, the Pope left the Vatican by helicopter and went to Castel Gandolfo. In his last public appearance, from the central loggia of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, he said: “I am a simple pilgrim who is beginning the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth”. At 8 p.m. on 28th February 2013 he became Pope emeritus.