In His Own Footsteps

Benedict XVI: From Professor to Pontiff

It has been a year since Pope Benedict XVI first appeared in a white cassock above St. Peter’s Square, and four months since he issued his first encyclical, Deus caritas est. Reading that encyclical, like seeing him above the crowds, I was reminded of the last time I saw him in person. He was Professor Joseph Ratzinger then, standing behind a lectern, dressed in a dark suit and tie. It was the winter semester of 1968/69, my first at the University of Tübingen and his last. His lectures were on the theology of the church. In another course, his colleague, Hans Küng, was lecturing on the narrower topic of infallibility.

The new pope has intrigued, and to some extent, baffled many. Much, for example, has been written about 1968 as marking a turning point in Ratzinger’s life and thinking. Why did he leave a major university long celebrated for theological faculty (and wrangling!) for the fledgling University of Regensburg? Was it the peaceful charm of his native Bavaria or the lure of a less disruptive student body?

Student unrest at Tübingen in 1968 shouldn’t be confused with the violent protests that took place in Paris and Chicago that year, and theology students who attended Ratzinger’s lectures hardly resembled the young Maoists who...

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About the Author

Ronald Modras is a professor of theological studies at St. Louis University. His most recent book is Ignatian Humanism: A Dynamic Spirituality for the 21st Century (Loyola Press).