Since the election of Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, there have been several biographies or works reviewing his life and thought published. More have yet to come out, and here is one by an English priest, Fr. Laurence Paul Hemming, who is the dean of Research at Heythrop College, University of London. The book has four parts: the events of the election of Pope Benedict, a biography section, Pope Benedict’s theology and what we might expect as Pope Benedict’s pontificate progresses. The middle of the book holds several black-and-white photos, and Hemming ends the book with a bibliography of Pope Benedict’s works.
Hemming relates how Benedict dealt with Liberation Theology, his relations with other theologians like Kung, Rahner, von Balthasar, Congar, Guardini, and others. He discusses how some people have gone too far left of what the Vatican II Council Fathers had in mind. He points out Pope Benedict’s criticism of those who went too far with experimentation with the liturgy; he does not want extremes in the liturgy either to the right or left. He does not agree with the ultra-conservatives who oppose Vatican II to the point of creating a schism, and he does not agree with the ultra-liberals who would like to mix Marxism with Christianity or some other liberal stance like gay marriage. Hemming includes Pope Benedict’s motto - “Fellow worker for the truth” - in his subtitle, because that really reflects how Pope Benedict sees himself. This was true when he was Archbishop of Munich and then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it is especially true now that he is pope.
Hemming criticizes John Allen, Jr.’s book Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger (2005), which is a repackaging of Allen’s 2000 biography entitled Cardinal Ratzinger: the Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith. This book should not be confused with his newer biography, Rise of Benedict XVI, which was published this year. This one, surprisingly, is much more open-minded toward Pope Benedict, maybe because Allen sees him in a different way now. Hemming criticizes other opponents of the Pope, too.
Hemming is the author of Heidegger’s Atheism (2002) and the forthcoming Postmodernity’s Transcending: Devaluing God (2005). He also edited Restoring Faith in Reason (2003) and Radical Orthodoxy? (2000). He also co-edited Divinising Experience (2003).
Hemming shows that Benedict’s thought has had an important contribution to the theology and teachings of the Catholic Church, especially when he collaborated with Pope John Paul II. Benedict is a bright light that cannot be put under a bushel basket, and Hemming’s book is a good introduction to Pope Benedict’s life and thought. That it was written by a non-American provides a different cultural view to Pope Benedict XVI. The book is intended for the general reading public.