Benedict XVI: A life: Volume 1 by Peter Seewald (Bloomsbury, £30 (£27); 978-1-4729-7919-3).
“By any reckoning, the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI was extraordinary, with moments of high drama. Not the least of these was his resignation from office in February 2013, the first papal resignation in 500 years. But who is Joseph Ratzinger? In this definitive biography, based on meticulous historical research and many hours of taped interviews with his subject, Peter Seewald shows the exceptional circumstances in which the exceptionally talented son of a Bavarian policeman became the first German pope for 950 years. In this first volume, covering the years 1927-1965, we witness Joseph Ratzinger’s early days, living above his father's police station. Ratzinger came to adulthood through the years of National Socialism. Though hostile to the rise of Hitler, his family knew well about Dachau and Ratzinger himself was conscripted into the Hitler Youth. Joseph Ratzinger proved to be a man of exceptional intellectual gifts and by the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) he was already noted as one of the outstanding intellects present and was nominated a ‘peritus’ or theological expert. This was also the time of the start of his friendship with the Swiss theologian Hans Kung who was to become his nemesis. Of his predecessor, Pope Francis has said: ‘Pope Benedict was a great Pope, great for the penetration of his intelligence, great for his important contribution to theology, great for his love of the Church and human beings, great for his virtues and faith.’ Even in this first volume, we begin to understand how this came to be true.”
Perspectives on Paul, edited by Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza (Baker Academic, £21.99 (£19.79); 978-1-54096-075-7).
“This five-views work brings together an all-star line-up of Pauline scholars to offer a constructive, interdenominational, up-to-date conversation on key issues of Pauline theology. The editors begin with an informative recent history of biblical tradition related to the perspectives on Paul. John M. G. Barclay, A. Andrew Das, James D. G. Dunn, Brant Pitre, and Magnus Zetterholm then discuss how to interpret Paul’s writings and theology, especially the apostle’s view of salvation. The book concludes with an assessment of the perspectives from a pastoral point of view by Dennis Edwards.”
A History of the Church Through Its Buildings by Allan Doig (OUP, £30 (£27); 978-0-19-957536-7).
“The History of the Church through its Buildings takes the reader to meet people who lived through momentous religious changes in the very spaces where the story of the Church took shape. Buildings are about people, the people who conceived, designed, financed, and used them. Their stories become embedded in the very fabric itself, and as the fabric is changed through time in response to changing use, relationships, and beliefs, the architecture becomes the standing history of passing waves of humanity. This process takes on special significance in churches, where the arrangement of the space places members of the community in relationship with one another for the performance of the church’s rites and ceremonies. Moreover, architectural forms and building materials can be used to establish relationships with other buildings in other places and other times. Co-ordinated systems of signs, symbols, and images proclaim beliefs and doctrine, and in a wider sense carry extended narratives of the people and their faith. Looking at the history of the church through its buildings allows us to establish a tangible connection to the lives of the people involved in some of the key moments and movements that shaped that history, and perhaps even a degree of intimacy with them. Standing in the same place where the worshippers of the past preached and taught, or in a space they built as a memorial, touching the stone they placed, or marking their final resting-place, holding a keepsake they treasured or seeing a relic they venerated, probably comes as close to a shared experience with these people as it is possible to come. Perhaps for a fleeting moment at such times their faces may come more clearly into focus.”
Selected by Aude Pasquier, of the Church House Bookshop, which operates the Church Times Bookshop.