As Pope John Paul II's chief doctrinal officer and key advisor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005. He is one of the most revered prelates, scholars, theologians, teachers and Catholic authors of our time—having spoken on everything from sexual consumerism, private revelation and the "crisis of faith," to human rights, roles of men and women today, marriage, the priesthood, and the future of the world.

Ratzinger was born in Germany (Bavaria) on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, and baptized that same day. He has said of his early baptism, "To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery…".

His father worked as a rural policeman, which kept his family continually moving from town to town. In his memoirs about his early life (prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Munich), Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 1999), the future Pope depicts his family life as quite happy. Family and Church were, for him, inseparable—and he clearly saw Hitler and the Third Reich as the enemy to both. He has said of his father, "…He saw that a victory of Hitler would not be a victory for Germany but a victory of the Antichrist…".

Following his father's retirement while Joseph Ratzinger was a teenager, the younger Ratzinger initiated study of classical languages, and in 1939, entered the minor seminary in Traunstein. In 1943 while still in seminary, he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. (Though he was opposed to the Nazis, he was forced to join at a young age.) Ratzinger then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigors of military duty. As the Allied front drew closer to his post in 1945, he escaped from the Nazis and returned to his family's home in Traunstein, just as American troops established their headquarters in the Ratzinger household. As a German soldier, he was put in a POW camp but was released a few months later at the end of the War in summer 1945. He re-entered the seminary, along with his brother Georg, in November of that year.

Ratzinger and his brother Georg were ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1951, in the Cathedral of Freising on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

He received his doctorate in theology in 1953 from the University of Munich. Beginning in 1959, he taught theology at the University of Bonn.

Ratzinger became more widely known when, during the Second Vatican Council and at the age of 35, he was appointed chief theological advisor for the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings, for the four-year duration of the Council. After continuing his teaching at several German universities, Ratzinger was appointed by Pope Paul VI in March 1977 as Archbishop of Munich and Freising. In June 1977, he was elevated to Cardinal.

Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome in November 1981, and named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and President of the International Theological Commission. He has published several best-selling books which clarify faith practice and Catholic doctrine for today's Catholic and Christian: The Ratzinger Report (1985); Salt of the Earth (1996); The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000); God and the World (2002), God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (2003), Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (2004), and Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church As Communion(2005).

Additionally, he worked with some 40 collaborators and over a thousand bishops to produce the 900+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church. He then co-authored Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church with former student Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn.

Ratzinger worked more closely with Pope John Paul II than perhaps anyone else. On Tuesdays, Ratzinger and members of the Congregation would meet with the Pope for an hour-and-a-half lunch meeting. Then Ratzinger would meet alone with the late Pope every Friday evening to discuss critical problems facing the Church and the deliberations of the Congregation. "Then the Pope decides," Ratzinger said about those meetings.

Ratzinger wielded spiritual influence and worldwide respect even from those who didn't hold to the Catholic faith. As papal biographer for John Paul II, George Weigel, has said, "…not even his [Ratzinger's] implacable enemies ever questioned Joseph Ratzinger's erudition: his encyclopedic knowledge of theology; his command of biblical, patristic, scholastic, and contemporary sources; his elegance as a thinker and writer."

On April 19th, 2005: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to be the 265th pope. He took the name Benedict XVI, after St. Benedict of Nursia, the patron of Europe.

As Pope, Benedict has gained a reputation for challenging the world, both Christian and non-Christian, to self-examination. His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), explicated the true meaning of Love, a remedy to the popular concept of love that in recent years has become distorted into something almost meaningless. His second encyclical. Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope), brings a fresh call to the virtue of Hope. A third encyclical will be released soon, and is to be on the Church’s social teachings.

In addition to his encyclicals, Pope Benedict XVI has also published a series of private reflections on Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was released in 2007, and has become a worldwide bestseller. The Pope also took up this theme of the life of Christ and His Church in his general audiences, which have been collected in the volume Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church.

In September of 2006, Pope Benedict delivered his now famous Regensburg Address, examining the relationship between faith and reason. Part of the talk touched on Islam, and due to misrepresentation in the media, sparked a series of riots in Muslim-majority countries. Dismayed by this, the Pope sought to clarify his words at his next Angelus prayer at the Vatican: “At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.” The Pope has since opened a dialogue with Islamic leaders, scholars and clerics.

In July of 2007, the Pope issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, a document freeing the use of the liturgy according the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII. While retaining the Mass of Paul VI as the normative form of the Roman Rite, the older form, sometimes called the Tridentine Rite, was named the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, with bishops urged to be generous in their support for those attracted to this liturgy.

In an interview with ZENIT news service, Ignatius Press president Mark Brumley said, "Although Ratzinger the prefect is distinguishable from Ratzinger the theologian, we are blessed in Pope Benedict XVI with a theologian and pastor who has thought and prayed long and hard about Jesus Christ, the Church and her mission to the world. He will, I believe, continue the twofold task of Vatican II -- renewing the inner life of the Church and reinvigorating the Church's mission in the world. He is committed to a renewal of biblical studies and a deepening of ordinary Catholics' appreciation of and participation in the sacred liturgy.

"He staunchly proclaims the universal call to holiness of Vatican II," added Brumley. "He understands the importance of dialogue among Christians and dialogue with world religions and seekers, while he upholds the integrity of Catholic faith and insists on a renewed missionary drive to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world."

Books by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger published by Ignatius Press:

- Behold the Pierced One
- Called to Communion
- Christ Our Joy
- Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures
- Church, Ecumenism & Politics
- Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year
- Creation and Evolution
- The Dialectics of Secularization
- Europe: Today and Tomorrow
- The Feast of Faith
- God and the World
- God is Love
- God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life
- God's Revolution
- The God of Jesus Christ
- Gospel, Catechism and Catechesis
- Images of Hope
- Introduction to Christianity
- Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church
- Joseph and Chico
- Joseph Ratzinger: Life in the Church and Living Theology
- Many Religions, One Covenant
- Meaning of Christian Brotherhood
- Milestones: 1927-1977
- New Outpourings of the Spirit
- Nature and Mission of Theology
- On Conscience
- Principles of Christian Morality (co-author)
- Principles of Catholic Theology
- The Ratzinger Report
- Salt of the Earth
- The Spirit of the Liturgy
- Saved In Hope
- Seek That Which is Above
Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions
- Values in a Time of Upheaval
- What it Means to Be Christian