Monday, December 15, 2008

Peter Seewald's "Pope Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait"

Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait
by Peter Seewald. Ignatius Press (October 30 2008).

SAN FRANCISCO, December 15, 2008 – Almost four years after Joseph Ratzinger’s election to the papacy, many people are still trying to understand who Benedict XVI really is.

Though most would agree the Church has a Pope who is among the most significant of Europe’s intellectuals, German journalist Peter Seewald unveils a rendering of Benedict which recounts little-known details about him in the newly released Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait (260 pp., Ignatius).

“Joseph Ratzinger is a born teacher,” says Seewald of his subject. “But he did not want to become pope. Even after the conclave [in 2005], on the loggia of St. Peter’s, his face showed the traces of an inner struggle. And he probably felt like crying, so disturbingly moved was he by the condescension of the great God who entrusted him … with the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.”

For the first time, Seewald paints the vivid and complex picture of the world’s new Pope taken from his many interview encounters with then-Joseph Ratzinger over the past 16 years. Describing intensive face-to-face encounters with the Pope in great detail, Seewald draws an engaging portrait of this brilliant theologian and pastor. That story changed Seewald’s own life – he abandoned atheism and returned to his Catholic faith.

A man of contradiction

Seewald describes the new pope as unassuming, yet decisive. Slight and strong at the same time. Unobtrusive and preeminent, a weak voice that is loud. An intellectual, yet completely down-to-earth. A man of reason who is pious. Intellectually brilliant – but of childlike simplicity.

He does not fit any of the clichés,” says Seewald.

Against all media and secular predictions – and even of some within the Church – Benedict XVI has given new life to the Church, despite its recent and unprecedented crises. He attracts crowds even greater than those of his predecessor, John Paul II.

After all, says Seewald, “a pope is not a politician. There is no next election for him, but only the Last Judgment.

‘What is it like to sit opposite a man like Joseph Ratzinger?’

In this new provocative biography, Seewald examines “what it is like to sit opposite a man like Joseph Ratzinger for many hours, alone in a monastery, and discuss things with him, asking a thousand questions.” He shows how he came to know the Pope personally, “… as a great man for patience, as a spiritual master who can give answers.”

Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait looks at the recent papal transition, but also at Ratzinger’s entire life – his family, childhood, youth and priesthood, companions and opponents, and how journalists have been accustomed to covering him.

Significant ‘change’

“This man from Bavaria, contrary to all the projections dumped onto his shoulders, is a revolutionary of the Christian type,” says Seewald. He calls the new Pope ‘an inconvenient man who can seize on the spirit of the times, who warns people against the aberrations of modern life.” Seeking what is lost and saving it is the constant element of his life, notes Seewald.

The Pope himself says, according to Seewald, “Anyone who really wants change needs a change in his consciousness and his personal behavior – anything else is insignificant.”

Seewald sees the new pope “as the most powerful German at the beginning of the third millennium.” He says Benedict may offer a new opportunity for Europe’s change and especially for that of his homeland. The Pope has fearlessly given his life to God and to the world for the good of the Christ’s mission – even as he assumed the Papacy at the age of 78.

“Anyone who has come to Christ seeking what is comfortable has indeed come to the wrong address,” says Pope Benedict – as quoted by Seewald in the book.

From Pope Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait Press Release -- Ignatius Press.



  • Shelf Life, by Michael Potemra. National Review, Jan 26, 2009.