The Young Pope is back — well, sort of. The HBO series returns this January, but with a new leading man playing a new kind of spiritual leader. At the season’s onset, Sir John Brannox (John Malkovich) steps in for the comatose Pius XIII (Jude Law). Brannox is revered for his religious text The Middle Way, a book that suggests a centrist approach to Catholicism. Because some aspects of Paolo Sorrentino’s show are based on real life, the book could be loosely inspired by an actual text, too.
The likeliest bet might be the Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). Like the fictional Brannox, Ratzinger published his text before taking on the role of the Pope. Though Brannox probably has a different approach to the papacy than the more traditional Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity was revolutionary in a similar way to The Middle Way. That is because of its universal staying power: though Ratzinger’s book was published over 50 years ago, it is still considered relevant and of interest to both Christians and the non-religious, writes Church Life Journal.
The biggest idea that Introduction to Christianity suggests is that doubts are a natural component of faith. “The believer is always threatened with an uncertainty that in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him,” Ratzinger wrote.
Though Ratzinger was initially more liberal, he was scandalised by reform protests in the late 1960s, which led him to adopt a more conservative approach around the time Introduction to Christianity was published. In this way, Ratzinger was actually more similar to the fictional Pius XIII, who disrupted the Vatican by pushing for conservatism — but, as we hear Pius say in The Young Pope trailer, “[Brannox] has doubt. Doubt is a weapon.” If crises and questionings of faith are set to become themes in The New Pope, the series will definitely interact with Ratzinger’s ideas and teachings.
In contrast to Pius’ authoritative leadership style, Brannox will push for a moderate middle ground rooted in love and understanding, despite his painful past and the season’s inevitable slew of scandals. The New Pope is available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV from 13th January.