In 50 brief chapters, originally delivered as public audiences to the faithful in St Peter's Square, Benedict XVI offers absorbing, perceptive, and often edifying sketches of some of Christianity's greatest thinkers and writers. The historical circumstances and theological ideas of each are explained.
The book is divided in four parts: The Apostolic Fathers: Witnesses from the first generations after the New Testament; The Patristic Theologians: From councils and controversies, from Origen to Augustine; Early Medieval Thinkers: The beginnings of scholastic and monastic theologies; Later Medieval Thinkers: The flowering of Christian theology in the high Middle Ages.
Benedict discusses the most notable theologians from East and West, along with figures whose primary witness was as ascetics, poets, mystics, and a number of popes, politicians, and missionaries. The historical circumstances and theological ideas of each is explained with the clarity of an experienced teacher. Benedict always has an eye to their deepest religious convictions and struggles as well as to their present importance to the church and Christian life today.
Pope Benedict XVI (Latin: Benedictus PP. XVI; Italian: Benedetto XVI; German: Benedikt XVI; born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on 16 April 1927) is the 265th and reigning Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and, as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State. He was elected on 19 April 2005 in a papal conclave, celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on 24 April 2005, and took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on 7 May 2005. Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship. He succeeded Pope John Paul II.
Benedict XVI is theologically conservative and his teaching and prolific writings defend traditional Catholic doctrine and values. He served as a professor at various German universities and was a theological consultant at the Second Vatican Council before becoming Archbishop of Munich and Freising and later a cardinal. At the time of his election as Pope, Benedict had been Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (curial heads lose their positions upon the death of a pope) and was Dean of the College of Cardinals.
During his papacy, Benedict XVI has emphasized what he sees as a need for Europe to return to fundamental Christian values in response to increasing de-Christianisation and secularisation in many developed countries. For this reason, he proclaims relativism's denial of objective truth and more particularly, the denial of moral truths as the central problem of the 21st century. He teaches the importance for the Catholic Church and for humanity of contemplating God's salvific love and has reaffirmed the "importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."
Pope Benedict was also the founder and patron of the Ratzinger Foundation, a charitable organisation, which makes money from the sale of books and essays written by the Pope, in order to fund scholarships and bursaries for students across the world.