This is a rather pious book, theologically accurate regarding the teaching of its author's church, at times somewhat devotional, but although written in a distinctly colloquial style it is very readable and informative regarding the life of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Pursell's account will prove a handy work of reference as there are useful footnotes, but he does not provide a bibliograpy or index. An ardent catholic and germanophile, he writes with enthusiasm for his chosen subject.
The Pope is a Bavarian, Bavaria is his heimat, that is where he belongs. He is at home with farmers, craftsmen, very ordinary people who live virtuous useful lives in a beautiful land of mountains and lakes, a land of good wine, beautiful women wearing dirndls, and tuneful folksongs. My favourite picture of him shows a cheerful man beginning to quaff a large stein of beer. He himself writes nostalgically of the smell of the pines and the somewhat at times discordant notes of the village bands when Corpus Christi is celebrated in each village with a procession often including the majority of the inhabitants.
His father was a village policeman, his mother the daughter of a baker who undertook domestic service to augment the family finances. Joseph is quoted as attesting to the anti-Nazi opinions of his father, and although one does not impugn his veracity, it would have been useful to have had some independent testimony, although in the nature of the case that would be difficult.Read more ›
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
An Insightful and Sensitive Portrait7 April 2008
Patricia L. Bailey
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr Brennan Pursell's Benedict of Bavaria is a warm, richly descriptive, and insightful portrait of Joseph Ratzinger, from his birth in his native Bavaria to his present day mission in the Chair of Peter.
If a biographer is a kind of portraitist in words, Pursell treats his subject with the deep respect, affinity, and understanding of the best of artists. As he readily shares in his Introduction, there is a personal connection at work, a sense of gratitude and indebtedness to one whose writings had such an impact on his own conversion from a "California hedonist" to a committed Catholic. Perhaps due to this sense of personal connection, Pursell does not paint Benedict just from the outside, as a stranger would do. He paints him also from the inside, from an acquaintance born of long hours of study and personal contact with the places and people of Ratzinger's homeland.
Ratzinger "from the inside" is a man who was shaped by the land, people, liturgies, and events of his upbringing, all of which Pursell captures with detail and colorful description in passages like this:
"This style of art and architecture is exuberant and dramatic, at once earthly and heavenly, joyous, uplifting, and yet violent, usually preferring the fulsome over the sparse. The baroque belongs in Bavaria. The color scheme is drawn from the wildflowers found in the mountains, valleys, and fertile flood plains: pale yellow from the primrose, clover, and marigold; the thistle's soft purple; pink from the alpine rose; liverwort's pale blue; white and yellow of the aster; and the soft orange of the Bocksbart and Klappertopf, names that sound too good to be translated. The azure blue of the Enzian is too strong of a color for a house's façade, but you find it sometimes in the Virgin's cloak, painted on a carved figurine. The stucco covered walls of the houses and churches seem to take their white, cream, yellow, pink, purple, and blue straight from the uncut fields."
But the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of Bavaria, along with the wonderful selection of personal anecdotes from those who knew Ratzinger at various times, are only the outer part of the story. Pursell also gives his readers a window into the written legacy of one of the world's greatest teachers, allowing Benedict to speak in his own words as the chronology unfolds.
At times, a specific event in the chronology opens up an opportunity to present the pope's thought on a specific theme. For example, a chapter on the holy Marian shrine of Altoetting gives Pursell the occasion to present some key insights from one of Benedict's most important books, The Spirit of the Liturgy. Throughout the chapter, teaching and description are woven together in a mutually enriching way that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. The Spirit of the Liturgy helps us to understand "from the inside" what Ratzinger experiences in his celebration of the Mass, and the description of Altoetting helps us to put ourselves in his shoes and experience all the sights and sounds of that holy place as it may have shaped him in his youth. This integrated approach helps us to gain a deeper understanding of the Pope as a person whose experiences and ideas shape each other, and whose heart and mind work very much together.
When presenting a portrait of a thinker such as Benedict, it is of utmost importance to be able to convey his ideas with maximum fidelity and clarity. Pursell's gift for explaining concepts in an accessible way makes for smooth reading and swift understanding. A natural teacher, he is capable of summing up the central thesis of each of Ratzinger's works in one or two paragraphs so that the reader feels equipped with an introductory knowledge of the essential points--and inspired to read more deeply. A judicious sprinkling of well-chosen quotes allows the reader to "hear" the voice of Benedict and get a firsthand sense of the depth, breadth, lucidity, and relevance of his thought.
Not everyone will like this biography, for one simple reason: it is tailored to Americans. As a good teacher would, Pursell illustrates some ideas with examples that apply specifically to American suburban culture, in order to show specific points where Ratzinger's perspective could enlarge our spiritual and cultural horizons. Americans will find these points helpful (and often pointedly humorous), but other English-speaking readers might find them less a propos. Still, these cultural applications are a faithful elucidation of Ratzinger's thought, and they make the message hit home in an effective way.
From start to finish, Benedict of Bavaria develops the portrait of a man who rightly deserves our admiration, respect, and esteem. Under Pursell's capable pen, Pope Benedict emerges as a great gift for our times, a beacon of truth, dialogue, openness, respect, and humility--a true man of God, faithful servant of the Church, and well-beloved son of Catholic Bavaria.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A truly intimate portrait18 April 2008
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Slowly though I have come to know more personally the man behind the words and have only grown to love him more over time. Though seeing the Pope on a more personal level is difficult since may of the books that address him cover mainly his career with some basic details of his life before going to Rome. I was quite happy to receive Benedict of Bavaria An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland recently and figured there was no better time to read it than during the Papal visit. This was exactly the book that I hoped it would be from its title.
The author Brennan Pursell is a convert to the faith and covers his own conversion in the first chapter of his book and his subsequent interest in Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. While the author is an American his wife is German and the book shows that he was quite able to give a perspective of the Pope and his connection to Bavaria to give you a fuller understanding of the man.
The majority of the book covers the time from Josef Ratzinger's birth to his time at Regensburg before going to rome to head the CDF. I am really glad that he spent so much time on this part of the Pope's life since this is the part that I am quite interested in since I have already read plenty on the later chapters of his life. The book is loaded with details and insights into how Catholic Bavaria influenced the Ratzinger family and the connection and pull it had on his life. It is no secret that the Pope desired to go back home and retire with his brother and had requested to retire a couple of times while acting as prefect of the CDF. Seeing the Pope through the lens of Bavaria is quite useful and I felt necessary in coming to a deeper understanding of the man of him as a person.
There were plenty of details I had not seen in print before and though while the book relies on what the Pope has written himself in Milestones and other places there is a good amount the author found through other sources. The book calls itself an intimate portrait and I found that to be true in showing the Pope's family life and his later life with his brother and sister. There are some great stories in this book and I especially loved details like the nicknames given to the two brothers while in seminary. The German nicknames translate roughly to Organ-Ratz and Book-Ratz and it doesn't take too much imagination to determine which of the brothers is Book-Ratz.
The last chapters of the book cover his years in the CDF and then finally as Pope while giving a good overview of the major milestones in what will shortly be three years of his pontificate. Again though what I enjoyed most was the little details that more showed Josef the man and it really it quite amazing that a person with such a great intellect has the humility to match it. It seems to me that these qualities are rarely matched in the same proportions. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Pope than a more sterile biography would give.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Intimate portrait5 May 2008
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This delightful, intimate portrait of our Pope is unique among the crop of "Benedict books" that have sprung up during the past three years. It places the Holy Father in the context of his hometown of Bavaria, a heavily Catholic region in the south of Germany. Writes Pursell, "When Americans think of everything good and fun about Germany -- oompah bands, Lederhosen, fine sausages, oversized pretzels, exquisite beer served in hefty glass mugs, fairy-tale castles, Alpine skiing, beautiful countryside, exquisite cars, and, of course, Oktoberfest -- they are thinking of Bavaria, whether they realize it or not." One of the hallmarks of this Pope's pontificate is his appreciation for the "cult" (i.e., religion) of culture; learning of the culture which shaped and formed him helps readers appreciate this connection too. If you are put off by books heavy on theology or doctrine, "Benedict of Bavaria" will not bowl you over. While it addresses these topics, it's more interested in showing you Benedict the man. We've been planning a trip to Rome for the fall of 2010; after reading this book, Bavaria may now be on the itinerary.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
this is the one to buy13 May 2008
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There have been a lot of stuffy biographies written on the Holy Father. This is not one of them. In fact, it's the only biographical peek at Pope Benedict you need to buy. This book is a charming look at his life and the land that made him. It's well written, fast paced and intelligent without being dull. Pass up all the others and snatch up this lovely, lovely little book.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Another one for admirers of His Holiness3 May 2008
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As someone who loves our Holy Father dearly and treasures him, I just had to have this book to add to my collection. I found that I'd already read much of the information, but for the few gems that were new it was definitely worth buying. For people who know little about Pope Benedict this book is a good starter pack. Brennan Pursell obviously loves the man and he is, indeed, very easy to love. He's not any of the things he's been called in the past and no one should listen to names like "Panzer Kardinal" etc. He was never an active member of the Hitler Youth - all of these things had to be trotted out when he was elected and should have been long forgotten now. Pope Benedict is a sensitive intellectual theologian who is adapting well to being the supreme pastor of us all. Brennan Pursell chronicles his life and work so far in such a way that anyone who didn't understand Benedict before reading the book, will now surely love him and want to read more.