At first I was not very fond of him. I knew little about him and only gained my impression from media coverage. Over time my impression began to change.
Now, after reading his memoirs Milestones placed between 1927 and 1977 I have found him even more admirable a man. Admittedly, one can make themself look as they wish in their own autobiography or memoir. But I think it's a more difficult task - perhaps not impossible - to fake diction and tone in a body of work over a long haul. Both of those things work in conjunction in expressing our inner core personality.
His diction and tone reveals a refined man from a significant academic background.
A gentleman in his 50's or 60's admonished his daughter for giving up the Church by saying you can't change things except from within the inside. By his own words he regards himself as subversive, and so far as I can tell he regards himself as more enlightened than Joseph Ratzinger or anyone formally educated in Western theology. From a few comments he has made, he comes across to me as wanting to lead the Church into a more pagan, nature worshiping, social justice foremost focused organization. Apparently, he does not want to become Episcopalian but thinks it his right to deprive more traditional Catholics of their religious inheritance.
Anyways... here are just a few excerpts from Ratzinger's memoir. He is himself a prolific author.
My first concern was to determine the theme for my habilitation. Gottlieb Sohngen decided that, now that my work in patristic theology was concluded, I should turn to the Middle Ages. Since I had done work on Bonaventure, whose theology had occupied Sohngen rather intensely. And since the dissertation had dealt with an ecclesiological theme, I was now to turn to the other great thematic area of fundamental theology...In the meantime, the question of the house was coming to a head. My father was now seventy-eight years old and my mother seventy-one, so for my parrnts the original idyllic situation in Hufschlag was becoming more arduous... the moment seemed to have arrived to look for a new solution. Since my habilitation appeared assured and the house on Domberg still awaited new tenants, it seemed to all of us that the right thing to do was to bring Father and Mother to Freising... The move took place on November 17, a very foggy day whose melancholy affected my dear parents in the hour of farewell that meant leaving behind not only a place but a part of their life. But they had set out with courage and vigor. Barely had the movers arrived when Mother put on her apron to lend a hand, and by evening she was already at the stove preparing the first meal.Eventually, he reworked his thesis and his habilitation was approved by the appropriate academic committee. Apparently in German universities a "habilitation" is required to hold a chair, and the process of obtaining one is rigorous and includes writing a large book usually, as well defending your thesis in a debate, and I think you have to go through a one hour or more oral interrogation by an academic committee.None of us suspected at this time what stormy clouds hung over me... Schmaus called me aside for a brief private conversation, during which he told me very directly and without emotion that he had to reject my habilitation thesis because it did not meet the pertinent scholarly standards... What was to become of my parents, who in good faith had come to me in Freising, if now I had to leave the college because of my failure? And all of my future plans likewise collapse, since these, too, were all contingent on my being a professor of theology.
Apparently, he developed a number of friendships with great Lutheran scholars and benefited in intellectual growth from those friendships and discussions.
Across the faculties, too, friendships soon began to form that were important for my development. I will mention only the Indologist Paul Hacker, whose universal talent I could only admire. He had trained as a specialist in Slavic studies, was a master of Indian languages (Indians came to him to study Sanskrit and Hindi), but was also unusually accomplished in Latin and Greek. Since in Bonn the history of religion was also taught within the general area of fundamental theology, the friendship that soon developed between us was particularly profitable to me. His studies in the history of religion were significant because of the high level of their subtle linguistic analysis as well as because of their penetration of the subject matter.
When I met him, Hacker was a practicing Lutheran but also a man who was always searching. His search led him to Indology, but his explorations into the intellectual and spiritual universe of India had brought him back again to Christianity. Now he was plunging deep into the works of Luther as well as those of the Church Fathers. His passionate temperment knew no bounds, and so, for example, he would spend whole nights with one or more bottles of red wine in conversation with the Fathers of Luther. His road then led him into the Catholic Church, belonging at first to the faction critical of Rome.When on July 24, 1976, the news of the sudden death of the archbishop of Munich, Julius Cardinal Dopfner, was broadcast, all of us were shocked. Rumors at once began circulating that I was among the candidates to succeed him. I did not take them seriously, because my limitations with regard to health were well-known as my inability in matters of governance and administration. I knew I was called to the scholar's life and never considered anything else. Academic offices - I was now dean again and vice-president of the university - remained within the realm of the functions that a professor must assume and were very far removed from the responsibilities of a bishop.Thus, I still did not think it was anything serious when Del Mestri, the apostolic nuncio, visited me in Regensburg under some pretext. We chatted about insignificant matters, and finally he pressed a letter into my hand, telling me to read it and think it over at home. It contained my appointment as archbishop of Munich and Freising. I was allowed to consult my confessor on the matter. So I went to Professor Auer, who had very realistic knowledge of my limitations, both theological and human. I surely expected him to advise me to decline. But to my great surprise he said without much reflection: "You must accept." I went back to the nuncio and explained my reservations; but in the end, with him as my witness, I hesitantly wrote my acceptance on the stationary of the hotel where he was stayingThe joy of the day was something really different from the approval of a particular person, whose qualification still had to be demonstrated. It was joy over the fact that this office, this service, was again present in a person who does not act and live for himself but for Him and therefore for all.