The mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church (March 15, 2006 to June 2008)

Church, Presence of Christ Among Men
"The Individualist Jesus Is a Fantasy"  (March 15, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the catechesis on the psalms and canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, I would like to dedicate the next Wednesday encounters to the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, considering it from the experience of the apostles in the light of the mission entrusted to them.

The Church has been built on the foundation of the apostles as a community of faith, hope and love. Through the apostles, we reach all the way back to Jesus.

The Church was initially established when some fishermen from Galilee met Jesus; they allowed themselves to be won over by his gaze, his voice and his strong and warm invitation, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19).

My beloved predecessor, John Paul II, at the beginning of the third millennium, proposed to the Church the contemplation of Christ's face (cf. "Novo Millennio Ineunte," No. 16ff). Moving in this direction, in the catechesis I begin today, I would like to show that precisely the light of that Face is reflected in the face of the Church (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 1), despite the limitations and the shadows of our fragile and sinful humanity.

After Mary, the pure reflection of the light of Christ, the apostles, through their word and testimony, hand on to us the truth of Christ. Their mission is not isolated. It is framed within the mystery of communion and involves all of God's People and is brought about in stages from the old to the new covenant.

In this sense, we must say that we completely distort Jesus' message when we separate it from the context of the faith and hope of the chosen people. As did John the Baptist, his immediate precursor, Jesus principally addresses all of Israel (cf. Matthew 15:24), in order to "unite it" in the eschatological time that arrived with his coming.

And as happened with John, Jesus' preaching is at one and the same time a call of grace and a sign of contradiction and judgment of all of God's people. Therefore, from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of Nazareth tends to unite and purify the People of God. Although his preaching is always a call to personal conversion, in reality it continually tends to build the People of God which he came to gather together and save.

For this reason, the individualistic interpretation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom as proposed by liberal theology is unilateral and unfounded. Summarized by the great liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack in his conferences entitled "What is Christianity?" he said, "The Kingdom of God comes in the degree in which it comes to specific men, finds an opening into the soul and is accepted by them. The Kingdom of God is the 'lordship' of God, that is to say, the dominion of the Holy God in each different heart" (Third Conference, 100ff).

Actually, this individualism of liberal theology is accentuated particularly in modern times. In the perspective of biblical tradition and in the realm of Judaism in which Jesus' work is classified despite all of its novelty, it remains evident that the entire mission of the Son made flesh has a communitarian finality: He came precisely to gather together a scattered humanity, he came precisely to gather together the People of God.

An evident sign of the Nazarene's intention to gather together the community of the covenant in order to manifest in it the fulfillment of the promises made to the forefathers, who always speak of summoning, unification and unity, is the institution of the Twelve. We have heard the Gospel of the institution of the Twelve.

I now reread the central passage: "He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons: He appointed the twelve ……" (Mark 3:13-16; cf. Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16).

In the place of the revelation, "the mountain," with an initiative that manifests absolute awareness and determination, Jesus constitutes the Twelve so that they might be witnesses and heralds with him of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. There is no room for doubt concerning the historical character of this call, not only because of the antiquity and multiplicity of testimonies but also because of the simple fact that the name of the Apostle Judas, the traitor, appears despite the difficulties that including his name could imply for the incipient community.

The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implied in the new initiative of founding the holy people again. After the downfall of the system of the 12 tribes, Israel awaited the reconstruction of this system as a sign of the arrival of the eschatological time (this can be read in the conclusion of the Book of Ezekiel 37:15-19; 39:23-29; 40-48).

By choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with him and making them sharers in the same mission of announcing the Kingdom with words and deeds (cf. Mark 6:7-13; Matthew 10:5-8; Luke 9:1-6; 6:13), Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived; the time for rebuilding God's people, the people of the 12 tribes, which is now converted into a universal people, his Church.

By their mere existence, the Twelve -- called from different backgrounds -- have become a summons to all Israel to conversion and to allow themselves to be reunited in a new covenant, full and perfect accomplishment of the old. By entrusting to them the task of celebrating his memorial in the Supper, before his passion, Jesus shows that he wanted to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the commandment of being a sign and instrument of the eschatological assembly begun by him.

In a certain sense, we could say that the Last Supper is precisely the act of founding his Church, because he gives himself and in this way creates a new community, a community united in the communion with himself. From this perspective, it is understood that the Risen One grants them, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the power to forgive sins (John 20:23). The Twelve Apostles are in this way the most evident sign of Jesus' will over the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: They are inseparable, despite the sins of the people who make up the Church.

Therefore, there is no way to reconcile Christ's intentions with the slogan that was fashionable a few years ago, "Christ yes, the Church no." The individualist Jesus is a fantasy. We cannot find Jesus without the reality that he created and through which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God, made man and his Church, there is a profound, inseparable continuity, in virtue of which Christ is present today in his people.

He is always our contemporary -- our contemporary in the Church built upon the foundation of the Apostles. He is alive in the succession of the Apostles. And his presence in the community, in which he himself always gives himself, is the reason for our joy. Yes, Christ is with us, the Kingdom of God is coming.


Apostles as Witnesses and Envoys of Christ
"Witnesses of a Person" (March 22, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church as a structure "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (2:20). In [the Book of] Revelation, the role of the apostles, and more specifically of the Twelve, is clarified with the eschatological perspective of the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as a city whose wall has "twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (21:14). The Gospels coincide in narrating that the call of the apostles marked the first steps of Jesus' ministry, after the baptism received by the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.

According to Mark's (1:16-20) and Matthew's (4:18-22) accounts, the Lake of Galilee is the scene of the call of the first apostles. Jesus had just begun to preach the Kingdom of God, when his gaze turned to two pairs of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. They were fishermen, dedicated to their daily work. They lowered their nets and repaired them. However, another catch was awaiting them. Jesus calls them with determination and they follow him with promptness: Henceforth they will be "fishers of men" (cf. Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19).

Although he follows the same tradition, Luke gives a more elaborate account (5:1-11). He shows the journey of faith of the first disciples, specifying that the invitation to follow comes to them after having heard Jesus' first sermon, and after having experienced his first miraculous signs. In particular, the miraculous catch constitutes the immediate context and offers the symbol of the mission of fishers of men that was entrusted to them. The destiny of these "called" henceforth will be profoundly linked to Jesus'. An apostle is someone who is sent, but even before that, he is an "expert" on Jesus.

This aspect is emphasized by the Evangelist John from Jesus' first meeting with the future apostles. Here the scene is different. The meeting takes place on the banks of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples, who like Jesus came from Galilee to live the experience of the baptism administered by John, illuminates their spiritual world. They were men awaiting the Kingdom of God, desirous of knowing the Messiah, whose coming was announced as something imminent.

It was enough that John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:36) for them to want a personal meeting with the Teacher. Jesus' conversation with his two first future apostles is very expressive. To the question: "What do you seek?" they replied with another question: "'Rabbi' -- which means Teacher -- 'where are you staying?'" Jesus' response is an invitation: "Come and see" (cf. John 1:38-39). Come so that you can see.

Thus, the apostles' adventure began as a gathering of persons who open to one another reciprocally. A direct knowledge of the Teacher began for the disciples. They saw where he lived and began to know him. They would not have to be heralds of an idea, but witnesses of a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to "be" with Jesus (cf. Mark 3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him. With this foundation, evangelization is no more than a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (cf. 1 John 13).

To whom will the apostles be sent? In the Gospel, Jesus seems to restrict their mission to Israel: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). At the same time, he seems to circumscribe the mission entrusted to the Twelve: "Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, 'Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (Matthew 10:5). A certain criticism of rationalist inspiration saw in these expressions the lack of a universal consciousness of the Nazarene.

In fact, they must be understood in the light of their special relationship with Israel, community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of salvation. According to the messianic expectation, the divine promises, made immediately to Israel, would reach their fulfillment when God himself, through his Chosen One, would gather his people as a shepherd does his flock: "I will save my sheep so that they may no longer be despoiled. …… I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David. …… And my servant David shall be prince among them" ([cf.] Ezekiel 34:22-24).

Jesus is the eschatological shepherd, who gathers the lost sheep of the house of Israel and goes out in search of them, because he knows and loves them (cf. Luke 15:4-7 and Matthew 18:12-14; cf. also the figure of the Good Shepherd in John 10:11 and following). Through this "gathering," the Kingdom of God is proclaimed to all nations. "Thus I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see the judgment I have executed and the hand I have laid upon them" (Ezekiel 39:21). And Jesus follows precisely this prophetic profile. The first step is the "gathering" of Israel, so that all nations called to gather in communion with the Lord may live and believe.

In this way, the Twelve, called to participate in the same mission of Jesus, cooperate with the Shepherd of the last times, also addressing above all the lost sheep of the house of Israel, namely, the people of the promise, whose gathering is sign of the salvation for all nations, the beginning of the universalization of the Covenant. Far from contradicting the universal opening of the Nazarene's messianic action, the restriction from the beginning of his mission and of that of the Twelve is an effective prophetic sign.

After the passion and resurrection of Christ, this sign was clarified: The universal character of the mission of the apostles would become explicit. Christ would send the apostles "into all the world" (Mark 16:15) and to "all nations" (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47) "and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And this mission continues. The Lord's commandment to gather the nations in the unity of his love always continues. This is our hope and this is also our commandment: to contribute to that universality, to this true unity in the richness of cultures, in communion with our true Lord Jesus Christ.


The Gift of "Communion"
"It Makes Us Come Out of Our Solitudes"  (March 29, 2006)

The Pope reflected on "The Gift of 'Communion'" in the context of his ongoing catechesis on the mystery of the relationship between Jesus and the Church.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Through the apostolic ministry, the Church, community assembled by the Son of God made flesh, will live throughout time, building and nourishing communion in Christ and in the Spirit, to which all are called and in which they can experience the salvation given by the Father. The Twelve Apostles -- as the third successor of Peter, Pope Clement, said at the end of the first century -- took care to provide their successors (cf. 1 Clement 42, 4) so that the mission entrusted to them would continue after their death. Throughout the centuries, the Church, structured under the leadership of legitimate pastors, has continued to live in the world as mystery of communion, in which in a certain sense, the Trinitarian communion itself is reflected, the mystery of God himself.

The Apostle Paul already mentions this supreme Trinitarian source when he wishes his Christians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:13). These words, probably an echo of the worship of the nascent Church, highlights how the free gift of the Father's love in Jesus Christ is realized and expressed in the communion wrought by the Holy Spirit.

This interpretation, based on the immediate relationship established in the text between the three genitives ("the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit"), presents "communion" as specific gift of the Spirit, fruit of the love given by God the Father and of the grace offered by the Lord Jesus.

Moreover, the context, characterized by the emphasis on fraternal communion, leads us to see in the "koinonia" of the Holy Spirit not only "participation" in divine life in an almost individual way, as if each one was on his own, but also logically "communion" among believers, which the Spirit himself infuses as its author and principal agent (cf. Philippians 2:1).

It might be affirmed that grace, love and communion, referred respectively to Christ, to the Father and to the Spirit, are different aspects of the one divine action for our salvation, action that creates the Church and that makes of the Church -- as St. Cyprian said in the third century -- "a throng gathered together by the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" ("De Oratione Dominica," 23: PL 4, 536, quoted in "Lumen Gentium," 4).

The idea of communion as participation in the Trinitarian life is illuminated with particular intensity in John's Gospel, where the communion of love that unites the Son with the Father and with men is at the same time the model and source of fraternal union, which must unite disciples among themselves: "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12; cf. 13:34). "That they also may be in us" (John 17:21,22), hence, communion of people with the Trinitarian God and communion of people among themselves. During the time of the earthly pilgrimage, through communion with the Son, the disciple can already participate in his divine life and in that of the Father: "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

This life of communion with God and among ourselves is the very end of the object of the proclamation of the Gospel, the object of conversion to Christianity: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3). Therefore, this double communion with God and among ourselves is inseparable.

Wherever communion with God is destroyed, which is communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the root and source of communion among ourselves is also destroyed. And wherever communion among ourselves is not lived, communion with the Trinitarian God cannot be alive and true, as we have heard.

Let us now take a further step. Communion -- fruit of the Holy Spirit -- is nourished by the Eucharistic bread (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) and is expressed in fraternal relations, in a sort of anticipation of the future world. In the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us, unites us to himself, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit and among ourselves, and this network of unity that embraces the world is an anticipation of the future world in our time.

Given that it is anticipation of the future, communion is a gift which also has very real consequences; it makes us come out of our solitudes, of our own narrow-mindedness, and allows us to participate in the love that unites us to God and among ourselves. To understand the grandeur of this gift, suffice it to think of the divisions and conflicts that afflict relations between individuals, groups and entire nations. And if the gift of unity in the Holy Spirit is lacking, humanity's division is inevitable.

"Communion" is truly good news, the remedy the Lord has given us against the loneliness that threatens all today, the precious gift that makes us feel accepted and loved in God, in the unity of his People, gathered together in the name of the Trinity; it is the light that makes the Church shine as a sign raised among the nations: "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1:6-7).

The Church thus presents herself, despite all the human frailties that are part of her historical features, as a wondrous creation of love, constituted to make Christ close to every man and woman who truly wishes to encounter him, until the end of times. And in the Church the Lord continues to be our contemporary. Scripture is not something of the past. The Lord does not speak in the past, but speaks in the present, he speaks to us today, gives us light, shows us the way of life, gives us fellowship and in this way prepares us and opens us to the light.


The Service to Communion
"Church Is Totally of the Spirit, But It Has a Structure"  (April 5, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the new series of catecheses, which we began a few weeks ago, we wish to consider the origins of the Church to understand Jesus' original plan and in this way understand what is essential in the Church, which endures with the passing of time. We also want to understand the reason for our being in the Church and how we must commit ourselves to live it at the beginning of a new Christian millennium.

Reflecting on the early Church, we can discover two aspects: The first aspect is forcefully underlined by St, Irenaeus of Lyon, martyr and great theologian of the end of the second century, the first to leave us, in a certain sense, a systematic theology.

St. Irenaeus writes: "Where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace, as the Spirit is truth" ("Adversus Haereses," III, 24, 1: PG 7, 966). Therefore, there is a profound relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit edifies the Church and gives it truth and, as St. Paul says, infuses love in the hearts of believers (cf. Romans 5:5).

But, in addition, there is a second aspect. This profound relationship with the Spirit does not eliminate our humanity, with all its weakness and, in this way, the community of disciples experienced from the beginning not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace of truth and love, but also trial, made up above all by the contrast between the truths of faith and the resulting lacerations of communion.

Just as a communion of love has existed from the beginning and will exist until the end (cf. 1 John 1:1ff), so, sadly, from the beginning division has also erupted. We must not be surprised by the fact that it exists also today: "They went out from us," says the First Letter of John, "but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us" (2:19).

Therefore, the danger always exists, in the vicissitudes of the world and also in the weaknesses of the Church, of losing the faith and thus, of also losing love and fraternity. Therefore, it is a specific duty of those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her, to recognize this danger also and to accept that communion is not possible with those who do not abide in the doctrine of salvation (cf. 2 John 9-11).

That the early Church was clearly aware of these possible tensions in the living of communion is shown very well in the First Letter of John. There is no other voice in the New Testament that is raised so forcefully to underline the reality of the duty of fraternal love among Christians, but that same voice addresses with drastic severity adversaries, who have been members of the community but no longer are.

The Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood above all as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his own. Christian fraternity is born from the fact of being children of the same Father by the Spirit of truth: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). But, to live in unity and peace, the family of the children of God needs someone who will keep them in the truth and guide them with wise and authoritative discernment: This is what the ministry of the apostles is called to do.

And here we come to an important point. The Church is totally of the Spirit, but it has a structure, the apostolic succession, which has the responsibility to guarantee the Church's permanence in the truth given by Christ, from which the capacity to love also proceeds. The first summary of the Acts of the Apostles expresses with great effectiveness the convergence of these values in the life of the early Church: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship ('koinonia'), to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

Communion is born from faith aroused by the apostolic preaching, it is nourished from the breaking of bread and prayer, and is expressed in fraternal charity and service. We are before the description of the communion of the early Church in the richness of her internal dynamisms and her visible expressions: The gift of communion is kept and promoted in particular by the apostolic ministry, which in turn is a gift for the whole community.

The apostles and their successors therefore are custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of faith given to the Church, and they are also the ministers of charity: two aspects that go together. They must always think of the inseparable character of this double service, which in fact is the same: truth and charity, revealed and given by the Lord Jesus. In this connection, they carry out above all a service of love: the charity they must live and promote cannot be separated from the truth they keep and transmit.

Truth and love are two sides of the same gift, which proceeds from God and which, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is kept in the Church and comes to us in our present [time]! Through the service of the apostles and their successors we also receive the love of the Triune God to communicate the truth that makes us free (cf. John 8, 32)! All this which we see in the early Church leads us to pray for the successors of the apostles, for all bishops, and for the Successors of Peter so that they will really be custodians of truth and at the same time of charity, so that they will really be apostles of Christ, so that their light, the light of truth and charity will never be extinguished in the Church and the world.


Role of Church Tradition: Communion in Time
"Communion Embraces All Times and All Generations" (April 26, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Thank you for your affection! In the new series of catechesis initiated a short time ago, we tried to understand the original design of the Church desired by the Lord to comprehend better our participation, our Christian life, in the great communion of the Church. Until now we have understood that ecclesial communion is aroused and sustained by the Holy Spirit, guarded and promoted by the apostolic ministry. And this communion, which we call Church, does not extend only to all believers of a certain historical moment, but embraces also all times and all generations. Therefore, we find ourselves before a double universality: the synchronic universality -- we are united with believers in all parts of the world -- and the universality called diachronic, that is, all times belong to us: Believers of the past and of the future form with us only one and great communion.

The Spirit appears as the guarantor of the active presence of mystery in history, who assures its realization through the centuries. Thanks to the Paraclete, the experience of the Risen One, made by the apostolic community in the origins of the Church, will always be able to be lived by successive generations, in the measure that it is transmitted and actualized in faith, in worship and in the communion of the People of God, pilgrim in time. And, in this way, we, now, in Eastertide, live the encounter with the Risen One not only as something of the past, but in the present communion of the faith, of the liturgy, of the life of the Church.

The Church's apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the goods of salvation, which makes of the Christian community the permanent actualization, with the force of the Spirit, of the original communion. It is called thus because it was born from the testimony of the apostles and of the community of the disciples in the early years, was given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the writings of the New Testament, and in the sacramental life, in the life of faith, and the Church makes constant reference to it -- to this Tradition that is the always present reality of the gift of Jesus -- as its foundation and norm through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.

In his historical life, Jesus limited his mission to the House of Israel, but he already made it understood that the gift was destined not only for the people of Israel, but for the whole world and for all times. The Risen One then entrusted, explicitly to the apostles (cf. Luke 6:13) the task to make disciples of all nations, guaranteeing his presence and help until the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:19ff).

The universality of salvation calls for, among other things, that the Easter memorial be celebrated in history without interruption until Christ's glorious return (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). Who will actualize the salvific presence of the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the apostles, heads of the eschatological Israel (cf. Matthew 19:28) -- and of the whole life of the people of the New Covenant? The answer is clear: the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles -- continuing with the plan of Luke's Gospel -- present the mutual understanding between the Spirit, those sent by Christ, and the community gathered by them.

Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the apostles and their successors can realize in time the mission received through the Risen One: "You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you" (Luke 24:48-49). "But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). And this promise, initially incredible, was already realized in the time of the apostles: "We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32).

Therefore, it is the same Spirit who, through the imposition of hands and the prayer of the apostles, consecrates and sends the new missionaries of the Gospel (for example, in Acts 13:3ff and 1 Timothy 4:14). It is interesting to observe that, whereas in some passages it is said that Paul establishes the presbyters in the Churches (cf. Acts 14:23), in others it is affirmed that it is the Holy Spirit who constitutes the pastors of the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).

In this way, the action of the Spirit and of Paul is profoundly fused. In the hour of solemn decisions for the life of the Church, the Spirit is present to guide her. This presence-guide of the Holy Spirit was experienced particularly in the Council of Jerusalem, in whose conclusive words resounded the affirmation: "It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us" (Acts 15:28); the Church grows and walks "in the fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31).

This permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in his people, realized by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church through the apostolic ministry and fraternal communion, is what is understood by the term Tradition in the theological sense: It is not the mere material transmission of what was given at the beginning to the apostles, but the efficacious presence of the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, which accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community gathered by him.

Tradition is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate pastors in the course of history, a communion that the Holy Spirit nurtures assuring the nexus between the experience of the apostolic faith, lived in the original community of the disciples, and the present experience of Christ in his Church.

In other words, Tradition is the organic continuity of the Church, holy temple of God the Father, built on the foundation of the Spirit: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Thanks to Tradition, guaranteed by the ministry of the apostles and their successors, the water of life that flowed from the side of Christ and his saving blood comes to the women and men of all times. In this way, Tradition is the permanent presence of the Saviour who comes to meet, redeem and sanctify us in the Spirit through the ministry of his Church for the glory of the Father.

Concluding and summarizing, we can therefore say that Tradition is not the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things. Tradition is the living river that unites us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are always present, the great river that leads us to the port of eternity. In this living river, the word of the Lord that we heard at the beginning from the lips of the reader: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" is fulfilled again (Matthew 28:20).


More on Apostolic Tradition
"The Living Gospel, Proclaimed in its Integrity"  (May 3, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this catechesis we wish to understand a little more what the Church is. Last time we reflected on the topic of apostolic Tradition. We have seen that it is not a collection of things or words, like a box of dead things. Tradition is the river of new life that proceeds from the origins, from Christ to us, and makes us participate in God's history with humanity. This topic of Tradition is so important that I would like to reflect on it again today. In fact, it is of great importance for the life of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council stated in this connection that Tradition is apostolic above all in its origins: "In his gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what he had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts" (dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," No. 7).

The Council continues to point out that "This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing."

Leaders of the eschatological Israel -- they were also 12, like the tribes of the Chosen People -- the apostles continued the "meeting" begun by the Lord and they did so above all by faithfully transmitting the gift received, the Good News of the Kingdom that came to men with Jesus Christ. Their number not only expresses continuity with the holy root, the Israel of the 12 tribes, but also the universal destiny of their ministry, which brings salvation to the ends of the earth. It is expressed by the symbolic value that numbers have in the Semitic world: 12 results from the multiplication of 3, a perfect number, times 4, a number that makes reference to the four cardinal points, therefore, the whole world.

The community, born from the Gospel proclamation, feels called by the word of the first who experienced the Lord and who were sent by him. It knows that it can count on the guidance of the Twelve, as well as that of those who later are associated as successors in the ministry of the Word and in the service of communion.

Therefore, the community feels committed to transmit to others the "joyful news" of the actual presence of the Lord and of his paschal mystery, which operates in the Spirit. This is underlined in some passages of the letters of St. Paul: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" (1 Corinthians 15:3). And this is important.

As is known, St. Paul, originally called by Christ with a personal vocation, is an authentic apostle and yet, also in his case, what counts fundamentally is fidelity to what he has received. He did not want to "invent" a new, so to speak, "Pauline" Christianity. Therefore, he insists: "I deliver to you what I also received." He transmitted the initial gift that comes from the Lord, as it is truth that saves. Later, toward the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy: "guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (2 Timothy 1:14).

It is also shown with efficacy by this ancient testimony of the Christian faith, written by Tertullian around the year 200: "After first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, and rounding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They [the apostles] then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches" ("De praescriptione Haereticorum," 20: PL: 2, 32).

The Second Vatican Council comments: "Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase of faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes" ("Dei Verbum," No. 8). The Church transmits all that she is and all that she believes; she transmits it in worship, in life, in doctrine.

Tradition is, therefore, the living Gospel, proclaimed by the apostles in its integrity, in virtue of the plentitude of her unique and unrepeatable experience: By her work, faith is communicated to others, until it reaches us, until the end of the world. Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit that acts in the history of the Church through the mediation of the Apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience of the origins.

It is what Pope St. Clement of Rome explained toward the end of the first century: "The Apostles," he wrote, "proclaimed the Gospel to us sent by the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, comes from God, the Apostles from Christ: Both proceed in an orderly way from the will of God. Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that disputes would arise around the episcopal function. Therefore, foreseeing the future perfectly, they established the chosen ones and ordered them that at their death other men of proven virtue assume their service" [Ad Corinthios," 42.44: PG 1, 292.296].

This chain of service continues to our day; it will continue until the end of the world. In fact, the mission entrusted by Jesus to the apostles has been transmitted by them to their successors. Beyond the experience of personal contact with Christ, unique and unrepeatable, the apostles transmitted to their successors the solemn sending to the world received from the Master. The word apostle comes in fact from the Greek term "apostellein," which means to send.

The apostolic sending -- as the text of Matthew 28:19 and following shows -- "implies a pastoral service ('make disciples of all nations') a liturgical service ('baptizing them'), and a prophetic service ('teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you') guaranteeing closeness to the Lord until the end of the ages (I am with you always until the end of time')."

Thus, though in a manner different from the apostles, we also have an authentic and personal experience of the presence of the Risen Lord. Thanks to the apostolic ministry, Christ himself comes to one who is called to the faith, overcoming the distance of the ages and offering himself, living and working, today in the Church and the world.

This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not separated from us by 2,000 years of distance, but is really present among us and gives us Truth, gives us Light and makes us live and find the Way to the future.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

In today's catechesis, we continue our reflections on the Church's apostolic Tradition. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, God willed that everything he had revealed in Christ for our salvation should remain in its entirety and be transmitted to all generations.

The Twelve Apostles were chosen and sent forth to proclaim the Gospel and the living presence of the Risen Lord in his Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they and their associates handed on, by their preaching, example and institutions, and by the inspired Scriptures, all that they themselves had received from Christ for the salvation of the world.

The Church in every age preserves and transmits what St. Paul calls the "rich deposit of faith" (cf. 2 Timothy 1:14). Tradition can thus be understood as the living voice of the Gospel, proclaimed in its integrity by the apostles and passed down by their successors. This apostolic Tradition includes "all that helps God's people to live in holiness and grow in faith." Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."


On Apostolic Succession
"Greatest Guarantee of Perseverance in the Lord's Word"  (May 10, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the last audiences we have meditated on the Tradition of the Church and we have seen that it is the permanent presence of the word and life of Jesus in his people. But to be present, the Church is in need of a person, a witness. In this way, reciprocity is born: On one hand, the word is in need of the person, but on the other hand the person, the witness, is linked to the word that has been entrusted to him, which he has not invented. This reciprocity between contents -- Word of God, life of the Lord -- and the person that transmits is a characteristic of the structure of the Church, and today we wish to meditate on this personal aspect of the Church.

The Lord began it, as we saw, when convoking the Twelve, who represented the future of the People of God. In fidelity to the mandate received from the Lord, initially the Twelve, after his Ascension, completed their number with the election of Matthias to replace Judas (cf. Acts 1:15-26), and later they associate others progressively to the functions entrusted to them to continue their ministry.

The Risen One himself called Paul (cf. Galatians 1:1), but Paul, despite the fact he was called by the Lord as an apostle, compares his Gospel to the Gospel of the Twelve (cf. ibid. 1:18), is concerned to transmit what he has received (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3-4) and in the distribution of the missionary tasks is associated with the apostles, together with others, for example, Barnabas (cf. Galatians 2:9).

Just as at the beginning of the condition of [being an] apostle there is a call and a sending by the Risen One, likewise the subsequent call and invitation to others takes place, with the strength of the Spirit, by the power of one already constituted in the apostolic ministry. This is the path on which this ministry will continue that, later, begun by the second generation, would be called episcopal ministry, "episcop?."

Perhaps it would be useful to explain briefly what the word bishop means. It is the Italian form ["vescovo"] of the Greek words "ep?scopos." This word makes reference to one who has a vision from on high, who sees with the heart. Thus, in his first letter, St. Peter himself calls the Lord Jesus guardian and shepherd of souls; the successors of the apostles were later called "bishops," "ep?scopoi." They were entrusted with the function of the "episcop?." This specific function of the bishop is carried out progressively with respect to the beginnings until it assumes the form, already clearly attested by Ignatius of Antioch, at the beginning of the second century (cf. "Ad Magnesios," 6,1: PG 5,668), of the triple function of bishop, priest and deacon. It is a development led by the Spirit of God, which assists the Church in the discernment of the authentic forms of the apostolic succession, defined ever better between a plurality of experiences and charismatic and ministerial forms, present in the community of the origins.

Thus, succession in the episcopal function is presented as continuity of the apostolic ministry, guarantee of the perseverance in the apostolic Tradition, word and life that have been entrusted to us by the Lord. The link between the College of Bishops and the original community of the apostles is understood, above all, in the line of historical continuity. As we have seen, to the Twelve is associated first Matthias, and then Paul, and afterward Barnabas and later others, up to the formation, in the second and third generation, of the ministry of the bishop. Therefore, continuity is expressed in this historical chain.

And in the continuity of the succession the guarantee is found of perseverance in the ecclesial community, in the apostolic College, gathered by Christ around him. But this continuity, which we saw before in the historical continuity of the ministers, must also be understood in the spiritual sense, as the apostolic succession in the ministry is considered as the privileged place of the action and transmission of the Holy Spirit.

A clear echo of these convictions can be seen, for example, in this text of Irenaeus of Lyon (second half of the second century): "the Tradition of the Apostles has been manifested to the universal world in the whole Church, and we can enumerate those who have been constituted bishops and successors of the Apostles up to us [?] [The apostles] wanted those whom they left as their successors to be 'perfect and irreproachable' in everything (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7), to entrust the Magisterium to them in their place: If they act correctly it will be followed by great usefulness, but if they fall, it would be the greatest calamity" ("Adversus Haereses," III, 3, 1: PG 7,848).

Then, Irenaeus, when presenting this network of the apostolic succession as the greatest guarantee of perseverance in the Lord's word, concentrates on that Church, among "the most ancient and known by all, the Church founded and constituted in Rome by the two most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul," underlining the Tradition of the faith proclaimed, which comes to us through the apostles and through the successions of the bishops.

In this way, for Irenaeus and for the universal Church, the episcopal succession of the Church of Rome becomes the sign, criterion and guarantee of the uninterrupted transmission of the apostolic faith: "It is necessary that every Church be in harmony with this Church, whose foundation is the most guaranteed -- I refer to all the faithful of any place, because in her all those who are found in all places have kept the apostolic Tradition" ("Adversus Haereses," III, 3, 2: PG 7,848).

The apostolic succession, verified in virtue of communion with that of the Church of Rome, is therefore the criterion of permanence of each one of the Churches in the Tradition of the common apostolic faith, which through this channel has been able to come to us from the origins: "By this order and succession the Tradition has come to us that was initiated by the Apostles. And this shows fully that the one and only vivifying faith that comes from the Apostles has been kept and transmitted in the Church until today" (ibid., III, 3,3: PG 7,851).

According to these testimonies of the ancient Church, the apostolicity of the ecclesial communion consists in faithfulness to the teaching and practice of the apostles, through whom is guaranteed the historical and spiritual union of the Church with Christ. The apostolic succession of the episcopal ministry is the path that guarantees the faithful transmission of the apostolic testimony.

What the apostles represent in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the Church of the origins, is represented analogously by the ministerial succession in the relationship between the Church of the origins and the present-day Church. It is not a mere material concatenation; rather, it is the historical instrument of which the Spirit makes use to make present the Lord Jesus, head of his people, through whom they are ordained by the ministry through the imposition of hands and the prayer of the bishops.

Then, through the apostolic succession, Christ comes to us: He speaks to us in the word of the apostles and their successors; he acts in the sacraments through their hands; our gaze is enveloped in his gaze and makes us feel loved, received in God's heart. And also today, as at the beginning, Christ himself is the true shepherd and guardian of our souls, whom we follow with great confidence, gratitude and joy.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

In today's catechesis, we consider how the ministry of the apostles continues through their successors, the bishops. The apostles themselves appointed others to take their place and to carry on their work. St. Irenaeus, writing at the end of the second century, links the tradition handed down from the apostles to the historical succession of bishops in the Churches they established.

Irenaeus points in particular to the Church of Rome, founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul. The succession of bishops in this Church can be seen as the sure sign and criterion of the unbroken transmission of the apostolic faith. Consequently, he says, every Church throughout the world must be in accord with the Roman Church ["Adversus Haereses" III, 3, 2].

The Church's perseverance in the apostolic tradition is thus guaranteed by the continuity between the original community of the apostles and the College of Bishops. Through apostolic succession, the Holy Spirit makes the Risen Christ present to his Church in the ministry of those ordained to preach the Gospel, to celebrate the sacraments and to serve as loving shepherds of his flock.

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience, particularly those from England, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the blessings of the Risen Christ and wish you a most pleasant time in Rome.


Profile of St. Peter
"Occasionally Naive and Fearful, Yet Honest and Capable of Repentance" (May 17, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the new series of catecheses we have tried to understand above all what the Church is, what the Lord's idea is about this new family. Then we said that the Church exists in people, and we have seen that the Lord entrusted this new reality, the Church, to the Twelve Apostles. Now we wish to contemplate them one by one, to understand through these persons what it means to live in the Church, to follow Christ. We begin with St. Peter.

After Jesus, Peter is the most known and quoted personality in the New Testament: He is mentioned 154 times with the nickname "Petros," "stone," "rock," which is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name that Jesus gave him directly, "Kefa," witnessed on nine occasions, especially in Paul's letters. Also to be added, moreover, is the name Simon, used frequently (75 times), which is the form adapted to the Greek of his original Hebrew name, Simeon (twice: Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1).

Son of John (cf. John 1:42) or, in the Aramaic form, "bar-Jona," son of Jonas (cf. Matthew 16:17), Simon was from Bethsaida (John 1:44), a town that was located east of the Sea of Galilee, from which Philip also came and, of course, Andrew, Simon's brother. His accent when speaking was Galilean.

Like his brother, he was a fisherman: With the family of Zebedee, father of James and John, he headed a small fishing business on the Lake of Gennesaret (cf. Luke 5:10). For this reason, he must have enjoyed a certain financial ease and was animated by a sincere religiosity that moved him to go with his brother to Judea, to follow the preaching of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42).

He was a faithful Jew, who believed in God's active presence in the history of his people, and was pained at not seeing His powerful action in the events of which he was, at that time, a witness. He was married and his mother-in-law, cured one day by Jesus, lived in the city of Capernaum, in the house where Simon also stayed, when he was in that city (cf. Matthew 8:14ff; Mark 1:29ff; Luke 4:38ff).

Recent archaeological excavations have made it possible to bring out into the light, under the mosaic floor of octagonal shape of a small Byzantine church, the remains of a more ancient church, built in that house, as attested by the graffiti with invocations to Peter. The Gospels tell us that Peter was among the first four disciples of the Nazarene (cf. Luke 5:1-11), to whom was added a fifth in keeping with the custom of the rabbis to have five disciples (cf. Luke 5:27: the calling of Levi). When Jesus went from five to 12 disciples, the novelty of his mission became clear: He was not one of the many rabbis, but had come to gather the eschatological Israel, symbolized by the number 12, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Simon appears in the Gospels with a strong and impulsive character; he is ready to make his opinions felt, even by force (he used the sword in the Garden of Olives, cf. John 18:10ff). At the same time, he is also occasionally naive and fearful, yet honest and capable of sincere repentance (cf. Matthew 26:75). The Gospels allows us to follow his spiritual itinerary step by step.

The starting point was the call by Jesus, which came on a day like any other, while Peter was busy at his work as a fisherman. Jesus was on the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowds surrounded him to hear him. The number of those listening to him created certain difficulties. The Master saw two boats by the lake. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He asked them if he could get into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and he asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down on that improvised chair, and taught the people from the boat (cf. Luke 5:1-3).

Thus, Peter's boat became Jesus' chair. When he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:10). Jesus, who was a carpenter, was not a fishing expert and, yet, Simon the fisherman trusted this Rabbi, who gave him no answers but called on him to have faith.

His reaction to the miraculous catch was one of astonishment and trepidation: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). Jesus replied inviting him to have confidence and to be open to a project that would surpass all expectations. "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). Peter could not yet imagine that one day he would arrive in Rome and would be there a "fisher of men" for the Lord. He accepted this astonishing call to let himself be involved in this great adventure: He was generous; he recognized his limits but believed in the One Who called him and followed his heart. He said yes and became a disciple of Christ.

Peter experienced another significant moment on his spiritual journey near Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus posed a specific question to his disciples: "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). For Jesus it was not enough to have a hearsay answer. He wanted the one who had accepted to commit himself personally to him, to take a personal stance. That is why he insisted: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). And it was Peter who replied on behalf of the others: "You are the Christ" (ibid.), that is, the Messiah.

This reply, which "flesh and blood has not revealed" but the Father who is in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:17), has within it the seed of the Church's future profession of faith. However, Peter had not yet understood the profound substance of Jesus' messianic mission, as became clear shortly afterward when he made it known that the Messiah he sought in his dreams was very different from God's plan. Faced with the announcement of the passion, he cried out and protested, arousing Jesus' strong reaction (cf. Mark 8:32-33).

Peter wanted as Messiah a "divine man," who fulfilled people's expectations, imposing his force upon everyone: We also want the Lord to impose his force and transform the world immediately; yet Jesus presented himself as the "human God," who overturned the expectations of the multitude by following the path of humility and suffering. It is the great alternative, which we also must learn again: to favor our own expectations rejecting Jesus or to accept Jesus in the truth of his mission and lay aside all too human expectations.

Peter, who is impulsive, does not hesitate to take him to one side and reprehend him. Jesus' response demolishes all false expectations, calling him to conversion and to follow him: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God but of men" (Mark 8:33). Do not show me the way, I follow my way and you follow me.

Peter thus learned what following Jesus really means. It is the second call, as Abraham's in Genesis, Chapter 22, after that of Genesis, Chapter 12. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). It is the exacting law to follow him: It is necessary to be able to deny oneself, if necessary, the whole world to save the true values, to save the soul, to save the presence of God in the world (cf. Mark 8:36-37). And though with difficulty, Peter accepted the invitation and continued his path in the footsteps of the Master.

I think that these different conversions of St. Peter and his whole figure are a motive of great consolation and a great teaching for us. We also desire God, we also want to be generous, but we also expect God to be strong in the world and that he transform the world immediately, according to our ideas and the needs we see.

God opts for another way. God chooses the way of the transformation of hearts in suffering and humility. And we, like Peter, must always be converted again. We must follow Jesus and not precede him. He shows us the way. Peter tells us: You think you have the recipe and that you have to transform Christianity, but the Lord is the one who knows the way. It is the Lord who says to me, who says to you, "Follow me!" And we must have the courage and humility to follow Jesus, as he is the way, the truth and the life.


On Peter, the Apostle
"Impetuous Generosity Does Not Safeguard Him"  (May 24, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these catecheses we are meditating on the Church. We have said that the Church lives in people and because of this, in the last catechesis, we began to meditate on the figure of the individual apostles, beginning with St. Peter. We saw two decisive stages of his life: the calling on the Lake of Galilee and then the confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Messiah." A confession, we said, that is still insufficient, initial though open.

St. Peter undertakes a journey of following. Thus, this initial confession already bears in itself, like a seed, the future faith of the Church. Today we wish to consider two other events in the life of St. Peter: the multiplication of the loaves. We just heard in the passage read the Lord's question and Peter's answer, and then the passage when the Lord calls Peter to be shepherd of the universal Church.

We begin with the event of the multiplication of loaves. You know that the people had heard the Lord for hours. At the end, Jesus said: They are tired, they are hungry, we must give these people something to eat. The apostles asked him: But how? And Andrew, Peter's brother, calls Jesus' attention to a boy who was carrying five loaves and two fish. But of what use are these for so many people? the apostles wondered.

Then the Lord had the people sit down and had the five loaves and two fish distributed. And all were filled. What is more, the Lord asked the apostles, and among them Peter, to gather the abundant leftovers: 12 baskets of bread (cf. John 12-13). Then the people, seeing this miracle -- which seemed to be the much-awaited renewal of the new "manna," the gift of bread from heaven -- want to make him their king.

But Jesus did not accept and withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. The following day, on the other side of the lake, in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus interpreted the miracle -- not in the sense of kingship over Israel with a power of this world in the manner expected by the crowd, but in the sense of gift of self: "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Jesus announces the cross and with the cross the true multiplication of loaves, of the Eucharistic bread -- his absolutely new way of being king, a way totally contrary to the people's expectations.

We can understand that these words of the Master -- who did not want to carry out a multiplication of loaves every day, who did not want to offer Israel a power of this world -- were truly difficult, even unacceptable, for the people. "Gives his flesh" -- what does this mean? And even for the disciples, what Jesus said at this moment seemed unacceptable. It was and is for our heart, for our mentality, a "hard" saying that puts faith to the test (cf. John 6:60). Many of the disciples withdrew. They wanted someone who would really renew the state of Israel, its people, and not someone who said: "I give my flesh."

We can imagine that Jesus' words were difficult also for Peter, who at Caesarea Philippi was opposed to the prophecy of the cross. And yet, when Jesus asked the Twelve: "Do you also want to go away?", Peter reacted with the outburst of his generous heart, guided by the Holy Spirit. In the name of all he responds with immortal words, which are also our words: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (cf. John 6:66-69).

Here, as in Caesarea, Peter initiates with his words the confession of the Church's Christological faith and also becomes the voice of the other apostles and of us believers of all times. This does not mean that he had understood the mystery of Christ in all its profundity. His was still an initial faith, a journeying faith. It would come to true fullness only through the experience of the paschal events.

But, nevertheless, it was already faith, open to a greater reality -- open above all because it was not faith in something, but faith in Someone: in him, Christ. Thus our faith is also an initial faith and we must still journey a long way. However, it is essential that it be an open faith that lets itself be guided by Jesus, because not only does he know the way, but he is the way.

Peter's impetuous generosity does not safeguard him, however, from the risks connected to human weakness. It is what we can also recognize based on our lives. Peter followed Jesus with drive; he surmounted the test of faith, abandoning himself to him. But the moment comes when he also gives way to fear and falls: He betrays the Master (cf. Mark 14:66-72). The school of faith is not a triumphal march, but a journey strewn with sufferings and love, trials and faithfulness to be renewed every day.

Peter, who had promised absolute faithfulness, knows the bitterness and humiliation of denial: The arrogant learns humility at his expense. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness. When the mask finally falls and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he breaks out in liberating tears of repentance. After this weeping, he is now ready for his mission.

On a spring morning, this mission would be entrusted to him by the risen Jesus. The meeting would take place on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias. It is the Evangelist John who refers to the dialogue that took place in that circumstance between Jesus and Peter. One notes a very significant play of words. In Greek the word "fil?o" expresses the love of friendship, tender but not total, whereas the word "agap?o" means love without reservations, total and unconditional.

Jesus asks Peter the first time: "Simon ? do you love me ('agap?s-me')" with this total and unconditional love (cf. John 21:15)? Before the experience of the betrayal, the apostle would certainly have said: "I love you ('agap?-se') unconditionally." Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the tragedy of his own weakness, he says with humility: "Lord, I love you ('fil?-se')," that is, "I love you with my poor human love." Christ insists: "Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?" And Peter repeats the answer of his humble human love: "Kyrie, fil?-se," "Lord, I love you as I know how to love."

The third time Jesus only says to Simon: "File?s-me?", "Do you love me?" Simon understood that for Jesus his poor love, the only one he is capable of, is enough, and yet he is saddened that the Lord had to say it to him in this way. Therefore, he answered: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you ('fil?-se')."

It would seem that Jesus adapted himself to Peter, rather than Peter to Jesus! It is precisely this divine adaptation that gives hope to the disciple, who has known the suffering of infidelity. From here trust is born that makes him able to follow to the end: "This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, 'Follow me'" (John 21:19).

From that moment, Peter "followed" the Master with the precise awareness of his own frailty; but this awareness did not discourage him. He knew in fact that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him. From the ingenuous enthusiasm of the initial adherence, passing through the painful experience of denial and the tears of conversion, Peter came to entrust himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity to love. And he also shows us the way, despite all our weakness.

We know that Jesus adapts himself to our weakness. We follow him, with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts us. It was a long journey for Peter that made him a trustworthy witness, "rock" of the Church, being constantly open to the action of the Spirit of Jesus. Peter would present himself as "witness of the sufferings of Christ and participant of the glory that must manifest itself" (1 Peter 5:1).

When he wrote these words he was already old, having reached the end of his life, which he would seal with martyrdom. He was now able to describe the true joy and to indicate where the latter can be attained: The source is Christ believed and loved with our weak but sincere faith, notwithstanding our frailty. That is why he would write the Christians of his community, and he says it also to us: "Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:8-9).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary in English:]

Today, I wish to focus again on the Apostle Peter. Christ's teachings, like all his behavior, were difficult to accept. Many withdrew and went their separate ways. Yet, when Jesus questioned the Twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?", Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we believe ? that you are the Only One of God."

In this way, Peter initiates the Church's Christological confession of faith. Though incomplete, his faith was nevertheless authentic and open -- not a faith in something, but in someone; in Christ. Peter was not, however, free of human weakness, and in time he too betrays the Master.

The school of faith, then, is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter knew the humiliation of denial, and for this he wept bitterly. But having learned his own nothingness, he was then ready for his mission.

That mission, made possible by our Lord's acceptance of Peter's fragile love and launched with the words "Follow me," is marked with hope: Notwithstanding his infidelity, Peter knows the Risen Lord is at his side. His long journey in faith, constantly open to the Spirit of Jesus, renders him a credible witness -- one who knows the true joy that lies in Christ, the way of salvation!


Peter, the Rock on which Christ founded the Church
"The Custodian of the Communion With Christ"  (June 7, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We resume the weekly catecheses that we began this spring. In the last one, two weeks ago, I spoke of Peter as the first apostle. Today we want to return once again to this great and important figure of the Church. The Evangelist John, when recounting the first meeting of Jesus with Simon, Andrew's brothers, mentions a singular detail: "Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas' -- which is translated Peter" (John 1:42). Jesus did not usually change his disciples' names.

With the exception of the nickname "sons of thunder," addressed in a specific circumstance to the sons of Zebedee (cf. Mark 3:17), and that afterward he would not use, he never attributed a new name to one of his disciples. He did so, however, with Simon, calling him Cephas, a name that was later translated into Greek as "Petros," in Latin "Petrus." And it was translated precisely because it was not just a name; it was a "mandate" that Petrus thus received from the Lord. The new name "Petrus" will return on several occasions in the Gospels and will end by replacing his original name, Simon.

This detail is of particular importance if one keeps in mind that, in the Old Testament, a change of name announced in general the conferring of a mission (cf. Genesis 17:5; 32:28ff, etc.). In fact, Christ's will to attribute to Peter a special prominence within the apostolic college is manifested with many clues: In Capernaum, the Master stays in Peter's house (Mark 1:29); when the crowds pressed upon him on the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret, between the two moored boats, Jesus chose Simon's (Luke 5:3); when in particular circumstances Jesus remains only in the company of three disciples, Peter is always recalled as the first of the group. Thus it occurred in the resurrection of Jairus' daughter (cf. Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), in the Transfiguration (cf. Mark 9:2; Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28), and finally during the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:33; Matthew 16:37).

The tax collectors for the Temple went up to Peter, and the Master paid for himself and for Peter, and only for him (cf. Matthew 17:24-27); he was the first one whose feet he washed in the Last Supper (cf. John 13:6) and he prays only for him so that his faith would not fail and so that later he will be able to confirm the other disciples in it (cf. Luke 22:30-31).

On the other hand, Peter himself is aware of this particular position he has. He is the one who speaks often on behalf of the others, asking for explanations of a difficult parable (Matthew 15:15), or to ask about the exact meaning of a precept (cf. Matthew 18:21), or the formal promise of a recompense (Matthew 19:27). In particular, he is the one who surmounts the awkwardness of certain situations intervening in the name of all.

In this way, when Jesus, grieved by the incomprehension of the crowd after his discourse on the "bread of life," asks: "Do you also want to leave?", Peter's answer was peremptory: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-69). Jesus then pronounces the solemn declaration that defines, once and for all, Peter's role in the Church: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).

The three metaphors to which Jesus takes recourse are very clear in themselves: Peter will be the rock foundation upon which the building of the Church will be based; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of heaven to open and close to whom he thinks it is just; finally, he will be able to bind or loose, that is, will be able to establish or prohibit what he considers necessary for the life of the Church, which is and will continue to be Christ's. It is always Christ's Church and not Peter's. He describes with plastic images what subsequent reflection will describe with the term "primacy of jurisdiction."

This pre-eminent position that Jesus willed to give Peter is also seen after the resurrection: Jesus tells the women to take the announcement to Peter, singling him out among the other apostles (cf. Mark 16:7); Magdalene runs to him and to John to tell them the stone has been removed from the entrance of the sepulcher (cf. John 20:2) and John will let him go first when they arrive before the empty tomb (cf. John 20:4-6); later, Peter will be, among the apostles, the first witness of the apparition of the Risen One (cf. Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).

This role, underlined with determination (cf. John 20:3-10), marks the continuity between his pre-eminence in the group of the apostles and the pre-eminence that he will continue to have in the community born with the paschal events, as the book of the Acts of the Apostles attests (cf. 1:15-26; 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:1-11,29; 8:14-17; 10; etc.]. His conduct is considered so decisive that it is the object of observations and also of criticisms (cf. Acts 11:1-18; Galatians 2:11-14).

In the so-called Council of Jerusalem, Peter carries out an executive function (cf. Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10), and precisely by the fact of being witness of the authentic faith, Paul himself will recognize in him a "first" role (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:7ff, etc.). Moreover, the fact that several of the key texts referring to Peter can be framed in the context of the Last Supper, in which Christ entrusts to Peter the ministry of confirming his brothers (cf. Luke 22:31ff], shows how the Church, which is born from the paschal memorial celebrated in the Eucharist, has in the ministry entrusted to Peter one of its constitutive elements.

This context of the primacy of Peter in the Last Supper, at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist, the Lord's Pasch, also indicates the ultimate meaning of this primacy: For all times, Peter must be the custodian of the communion with Christ; he must guide in the communion with Christ so that the net will not tear but sustain the great universal communion. Only together can we be with Christ, who is Lord of all. Peter's responsibility thus consists of guaranteeing the communion with Christ with the charity of Christ, guiding the realization of this charity in everyday life. Let us pray so that the primacy of Peter, entrusted to poor human beings, may always be exercised in this original sense desired by the Lord, so that it will be increasingly recognized in its true meaning by brothers who are still not in communion with us.


James the Greater
"His Path Is a Symbol of the Pilgrimage of Christian Life" (June 21, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We continue with the series of portraits of the apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his life. We have spoken of St. Peter and of his brother Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with his name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mark 3:17,18; Matthew 10:2-3), who are generally distinguished with the names James the Greater and James the Lesser.

These designations are not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different relevance they receive in the New Testament writings and, in particular, in the framework of Jesus' earthly life. Today we dedicate our attention to the first of these two personages of the same name.

The name James is the translation of "Iákobos," a variation under Greek influence of the name of the famous patriarch Jacob. The apostle of this name is John's brother, and in the mentioned lists he occupies second place after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3:17), or the third place after Peter and Andrew, as in the Gospels of Matthew (10:2) and Luke (6:14), while in the Acts of the Apostles he appears after Peter and John (1:13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of three privileged disciples who were admitted by Jesus to important moments of his life.

As it is very hot today, I would like to abbreviate and mention only two of these occasions now. He was able to take part, along with Peter and John, in the moment of Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and in the moment of Jesus' transfiguration. Therefore, it is a question of two very different situations: In one case, James, with the other two disciples, experiences the Lord's glory, sees him speaking with Moses and Elijah, sees the divine splendor revealed in Jesus; in the other, he finds himself before suffering and humiliation; he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, becoming obedient unto death.

The second occasion was surely for him an opportunity to mature in the faith, to correct the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the first: He had to discern how the Messiah, awaited by the Jewish people as a victor, was in reality not only surrounded by honor and glory, but also by sufferings and weakness. The glory of Christ was realized precisely on the cross, in taking part in our sufferings.

This maturation of the faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that when the supreme moment of witness arrived, James did not draw back. In the early 40s of the first century, King Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke informs us: "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword" (Acts 12:1-2). The brevity of the news, lacking any narrative detail, reveals, on one hand, how it was normal for Christians to witness to the Lord with their lives and, on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, in part because of the role carried out during Jesus' earthly existence.

A subsequent tradition, which goes back at least to Isidore of Seville, recounts that he was in Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, his body was taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela. As we all know, that place became an object of great veneration and, still today, is the objective of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe, but from the whole world. In this way is explained the iconographic representation of James with the pilgrim's staff, and the Gospel story, characteristics of the itinerant apostle, committed to the proclamation of the "good news," characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.

Therefore, we can learn much from James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call, even when he asks us to leave the "bark" of our human securities; enthusiasm in following Him on the paths that he indicates to us beyond our illusory presumption; readiness to give witness to Him with courage and, if necessary, with the supreme sacrifice of life. Thus, James the Greater is presented to us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion, in sharing martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that his path, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the agony, is a symbol of the pilgrimage of Christian life, amid the persecutions of the world and consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council states. Following Jesus, we, like James, know that, even in difficulties, we are on the right path.


James the Less
"Contributed to Integrate the Original Jewish Dimension of Christianity"  (June 28, 2006))

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Beside the figure of James "the Greater," son of Zebedee, of whom we spoke last Wednesday, another James appears in the Gospel, who is called "the Less." He also forms part of the list of Twelve Apostles chosen personally by Jesus, and is always specified as "son of Alphaeus" (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 5; Acts 1:13).

He has often been identified with another James, called "the Younger" (cf. Mark 15:40), son of a Mary (cf. ibid.), who could be Mary of Clopas present, according to the Fourth Gospel, at the foot of the cross together with the Mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25). He was also from Nazareth and probably a relative of Jesus (cf. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), who, after the Semitic manner, was called "brother" (cf. Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19).

Of this last James, the book of Acts underlines the pre-eminent role played in the Church of Jerusalem. In the apostolic council held there shortly after the death of James the Greater, he affirmed together with the others that the pagans could be received in the Church without first having to undergo circumcision (cf. Acts 15:13). St. Paul, who attributes to him a specific apparition of the Risen One (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7), on the occasion of his trip to Jerusalem names him directly before Cephas-Peter, describing him as a "column" of the Church together with him (cf. Galatians 2:9).

Afterward, the Judeo-Christians considered him their main point of reference. To him in fact is attributed the Letter that bears the name James and is included in the New Testament canon. He does not present himself as the "Lord's brother," but as "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1).

There is a debate among scholars over the identification of these two personages of the same name, James son of Alphaeus and James "brother of the Lord." The evangelical traditions have not preserved for us an account of one or the other in reference to the period of the earthly life of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles, instead, show us that a "James" carried out a very important role within the early Church, as we already mentioned, after the resurrection of Jesus, (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18).

The most prominent action he accomplished was his intervention on the question of the difficult relationship between Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin. In this he contributed, together with Peter, to surmount, or better, to integrate the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose on converted pagans the obligation to be subjected to all the norms of the law of Moses.

The book of Acts has preserved for us the compromise solution proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the apostles present, according to whom the pagans who had believed in Jesus Christ should only be requested to abstain from the idolatrous custom of eating the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, and from the "immodesty," a term that probably alluded to marital unions without consent. In practice, it was a question of adhering to only a few prohibitions, held rather important by the Mosaic legislation.

In this way, two significant and complementary results were obtained, both still valid: On one hand, the unbreakable relationship is recognized that links Christianity to the Jewish religion as its perennially living and valid matrix; on the other, Christians of pagan origin are allowed to preserve their own sociological identity, which they would have lost if they had been constrained to observe the so-called Mosaic ceremonial precepts: These now were no longer to be considered obligatory for converted pagans. In essence, a reciprocal praxis of esteem and respect was being initiated, which, notwithstanding subsequent unfortunate misunderstandings, sought by its nature to safeguard all that was characteristic of each of the two sides.

The most ancient information on the death of this James is given to us by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (20, 201f), written in Rome toward the end of the first century, he tells us that James' end was decided with the illegitimate initiative of the High Priest Ananus, son of the Annas attested in the Gospels, who took advantage of the interval between the deposition of one Roman Procurator (Festus) and the advent of his successor (Albinius) to decree his stoning in the year 62.

To the name of this James, in addition to the apocryphal proto-Gospel of James, which exalts the holiness and virginity of Mary the Mother of Jesus, is particularly linked the Letter that bears his name. It occupies the first place in the canon of the New Testament after the so-called Catholic Letters, addressed, that is, not to one particular Church -- such as Rome, Ephesus, etc. -- but to many Churches. It is a rather important writing, which insists much on the need not to reduce one's faith to a pure verbal or abstract declaration, but to express it concretely in good works. Among other things, he invites us to constancy in joyfully accepted trials and to trusting prayer to obtain from God the gift of wisdom, thanks to which we succeed in understanding that the true values of life are not in transitory riches, but rather in being able to share one's food with the poor and needy (cf. James 1:27).

Thus the Letter of St. James shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be carried out in life, above all in love of neighbor and particularly in commitment to the poor. It is with this background that the famous phrase must be read: "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). At times this statement of James has been contrasted to Paul's affirmations, according to whom we are rendered just by God not in virtue of our works, but thanks to our faith (cf. Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28).

However, the two phrases, seemingly contradictory in their different perspectives, in reality, if well interpreted, complement one another. St. Paul is opposed to man's pride who thinks he has no need of the love of God which anticipates us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without the grace simply given and not merited. St. James speaks instead of works as the normal fruit of faith: "The sound tree bears good fruit," says the Lord (Matthew 7:17). And St. James repeats it and says it to us.

Finally, the Letter of James exhorts us to abandon ourselves into God's hands in everything we do, always pronouncing the words: "If the Lord wills" (James 4:15). Thus he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives in an autonomous and selfish way, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows the true good for us. In this way, St. James is always a timely teacher of life for each one of us.


John, Son of Zebedee
"The Origin of our Loftiest Spirituality"  (July 5, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We dedicate today's meeting to recall another very important member of the apostolic college: John, son of Zebedee, and brother of James. His name, typically Hebrew, means "the Lord has given his grace." He was mending the nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus called him together with his brother (cf. Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19).

John is always part of the restricted group that Jesus took with him on certain occasions.

He is beside Peter and James when Jesus, in Capernaum, enters Peter's house to cure his mother-in-law (cf. Mark 1:29); with the other two he follows the Master into the house of the chief of the synagogue, Jarius, whose daughter would be called back to life (cf. Mark 5:37); he follows him when he goes up to the mountain to be transfigured (cf. Mark 9:2); he is by his side on the Mount of Olives when before the imposing Temple of Jerusalem he delivers the discourse on the end of the city and of the world (cf. Mark 13:3); and, finally, he is close to him when in the Garden of Gethsemane he withdraws to pray to the Father before the Passion (cf. Mark 14:33). Shortly before Passover, when Jesus chose two disciples to prepare the room for the Supper, he entrusts this task to him and to Peter (cf. Luke 22:8).

This prominent position in the group of the Twelve makes comprehensible, in a certain sense, the initiative that his mother took one day: she approached Jesus to request that her two sons, John and James, might sit one at his right hand and one at his left in the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 20:20-21). As we know, Jesus replied posing a question in turn: he asked if they were prepared to drink the chalice that he himself was about to drink (cf. Matthew 20:28).

With these words, he wanted to open the eyes of the two disciples, introduce them to knowledge of the mystery of his person, sketch the future call to be his witnesses to the supreme test of blood. Shortly after, in fact, Jesus clarified that he had not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28).

In the days following the Resurrection, we find the sons of Zebedee fishing together with Peter and others on a night without results. After the Risen One's intervention, came the miraculous catch: "the disciple whom Jesus loved" would be the first to recognize the Lord and to point him out to Peter (cf. John 21:1-13).

Within the Church of Jerusalem, John occupied an important place in the leadership of the first group of Christians. Paul, in fact, places him among those he called the "columns" of that community (cf. Galatians 2:9).

Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, presents him next to Peter while they go to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1-4,11) or when they appear before the Sanhedrin to witness their faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:13,19). Together with Peter he receives the invitation of the Church of Jerusalem to confirm those who accepted the Gospel in Samaria, praying over them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 8:14-15).

In particular, we must recall what he said, together with Peter, before the Sanhedrin, during the trial: "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). This frankness in confessing their own faith remains as an example and a warning for all of us so that we will be ready to declare with determination our unbreakable adherence to Christ, putting our faith before any human calculation or interest.

According to tradition, John is "the beloved disciple," who in the fourth Gospel places his head on the Master's breast during the Last Supper (cf. John 13:21), is found at the foot of the cross close to the Mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25) and, finally, is witness both of the empty tomb as well as the presence of the Risen One (cf. John 20:2, 21:7).

We know that this identification today is disputed by experts, as some of them see in him the prototype of the disciple of Jesus. Leaving the exegetes to clarify the situation, we content ourselves with drawing an important lesson for our lives: the Lord wishes to make of each one of us a disciple who lives in personal friendship with him.

To do this, it is not enough to follow and listen to him exteriorly; it is also necessary to live with him and as him. This is only possible in the context of a relationship of great familiarity, penetrated by the warmth of total trust. It is what happens between friends: this is why Jesus said one day: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends … No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:13,15).

In the apocryphal "Acts of John" the apostle, is not presented as founder of Churches, not even as guide of a constituted community, but as a constant itinerant, a communicator of the faith in the encounter with "souls capable of hoping and of being saved" (18:10, 23:8). He is impelled by the paradoxical desire to make the invisible seen. In fact, the Eastern Church calls him simply "the Theologian," that is, the one who is able to speak in terms accessible to divine things, revealing an arcane access to God through adherence to Jesus.

Devotion to John the Apostle was affirmed first in the city of Ephesus where, according to an ancient tradition, he lived for a long time, dying at an extraordinarily advanced age, under the emperor Trajan. In Ephesus, emperor Justinian, in the 6th century, built a great basilica in his honor, of which there still remain impressive ruins.

Precisely in the East he enjoyed and enjoys great veneration. In the Byzantine icons he is represented as very old and in intense contemplation, with the attitude of one who invites to silence.

In fact, without proper recollection, it is not possible to approach the supreme mystery of God and his revelation. This explains why, years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, whom Pope Paul VI embraced at a memorable meeting, affirmed: "John is at the origin of our loftiest spirituality. Like him, the 'silent ones' know that mysterious exchange of hearts, invoke the presence of John and their hearts are inflamed" (O. Clement, "Dialoghi con Atenagora," Turin, 1972, p. 159).

May the Lord help us to place ourselves in the school of John to learn the great lesson of love so that we feel loved by Christ "to the end" (John 13:1) and spend our lives for him.


On Being an Apostle
"May You Always Be Friends and Apostles of Jesus Christ!"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 18, 2006 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at the general audience on Aug. 2, in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope delivered a special catechesis for the 42,000 young people in Rome for the European Pilgrimage of Altar Servers, and also launched an appeal for peace in the Middle East.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you for your welcome! I greet you all with great affection. After an interval, due to my stay in the Aosta Valley, today I am resuming the general audiences. And I am starting with a truly special audience, because I have the joy of welcoming the large European Pilgrimage of Altar Servers.

Dear boys and girls and young people, welcome! Since most of the altar servers who have gathered in this square today are German-speaking, I will first address them in my mother-tongue.

Dear Altar Servers,

I am pleased that my first audience after my holiday in the Alps is with you altar servers, and I greet each one of you with affection. I thank your pastor, Auxiliary Bishop Martin Gächter of Basle, for the words with which, as president of Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, he introduced the audience, and I am grateful for the scarf, thanks to which I am once again an altar boy. In 1935, more than 70 years ago, I began as an altar boy; consequently, it has been a long journey on this path.

I cordially greet Cardinal Christoph Schönborn who celebrated holy Mass for you yesterday, and the many bishops and priests who have come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary.

I would like to offer you, dear altar servers -- briefly, since it is hot -- a message that can accompany you throughout your life and your service in the Church.

I would therefore like to resume the subject I have been addressing at the Catecheses in recent months. Perhaps some of you know that at the Wednesday general audiences I am presenting the figures of the apostles.

First came Simon, whom the Lord called Peter, his brother Andrew, then another pair of brothers, St. James known as "the Greater," the first martyr among the apostles, and John the theologian and Evangelist, then James called "the Less."

I am planning to continue my presentation of the individual apostles at the next audiences, in which the Church, so to speak, becomes personal.

Today, however, we are reflecting on a common subject: on what kind of people the apostles were.
In short, we might say that they were "friends" of Jesus. This is what he himself called them at the Last Supper, saying to them: "No longer do I call you servants ... but ... friends" (John 5: 15).

They were, and were able to be, apostles and witnesses of Christ because they were close to him. They were united to him by a bond of love, brought to life by the Holy Spirit.

In this perspective, we can understand the theme of your pilgrimage: "Spiritus vivificat." It is the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who gives life. It is he who gives life to your relationship with Jesus, in such a way that it becomes not only exterior: "We know that he existed and that he is present in the sacrament," but he makes it become an intimate, profound and truly personal friendship which can give meaning to each one of your lives. And since you know him and know him in friendship, you will be able to witness to him and take him to others.

Today, seeing you here before me in St. Peter's Square, I think of the apostles and I hear Jesus' voice saying to you: I do not call you servants but friends; abide in my love and you will bear an abundance of fruit (cf. John 15: 9, 16).

I ask you to listen to this voice! Christ did not only say this 2,000 years ago; he is alive and saying it to you now. Listen to his voice with great openness; he has something to say to each one. Perhaps he is saying to some of you: "I want you to serve me in a special way as a priest, thus becoming my witness, being my friend and introducing others into this friendship."

Listen faithfully, therefore, to Jesus' voice. Each person's vocation is different, but Christ wants to make friends with everyone, just as he did with Simon, whom he called Peter, with Andrew, James, John and the other apostles.

He has given you his word and continues to give it to you, so that you may know the truth, know how things truly are for human beings, and thus, so that you know how one ought to live in the right way, how one ought to face life so that it may become true. Thus, each of you, in your own way, will be able to be his disciples and apostles.

Dear altar servers, you are, in fact, already apostles of Jesus! When you take part in the liturgy by carrying out your altar service, you offer a witness to all. Your absorption, the devotion that wells up from your heart and is expressed in gestures, in song, in the responses: If you do it correctly and not absent-mindedly, then in a certain way your witness is one that moves people.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the bond of friendship with Jesus. You are very close to Jesus in the Eucharist, and this is the most important sign of his friendship for each one of us. Do not forget it.

This is why I am asking you not to take this gift for granted so that it does not become a sort of habit, knowing how it works and doing it automatically; rather, discover every day anew that something important happens, that the living God is among us and that you can be close to him and help him so that his mystery is celebrated and reaches people.

If you do not give into habit, if you put your innermost self into carrying out your service, then you will truly be his apostles and bear fruits of goodness and service in every context of your life: in the family, at school, in your free time.

Take to one and all that love which you receive in the liturgy, especially to places where you realize that they lack love, where they do not receive goodness, where they suffer and are lonely.

With the power of the Holy Spirit, try to take Jesus to those very people who are outcast, who are not very popular or have problems. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it is precisely there that you must take Jesus.

In this way, the bread you see broken upon the altar will be shared and multiplied even more, and you, like the Twelve Apostles, will help Jesus distribute it to the people of today in their different walks of life.

So it is, dear altar servers, that my last words to you are: May you always be friends and apostles of Jesus Christ!


Apostle John, the Seer of Patmos
"The Wounded and Dead Lamb Conquers!"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 23, 2006 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience, dedicated to the Apostle John, whom he presented on this occasion as "the seer of Patmos."

The meditation is part of the series of reflections he is offering on the Church and the apostles.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the last catechesis we meditated on the figure of the Apostle John. At first we tried to see how much can be known of his life. Then, in a second catechesis, we meditated on the central content of his Gospel, of his Letters: charity, love. And today we are again concerned with the figure of John, this time to consider the seer of Revelation.

We must immediately make an observation: Whereas his name never appears in the Fourth Gospel or the letters attributed to the apostle, [the Book of] Revelation makes reference to John's name four times (cf. 1:1,4,9; 22:8). On one hand, it is evident that the author had no reason to silence his name and, on the other, he knew that his first readers could identify him with precision. We know moreover that, already in the third century, the scholars argued over the true identity of the John of Revelation.

For this reason we can also call him "the seer of Patmos," because his figure is linked to the name of this island of the Aegean Sea, where, according to his own autobiographical testimony, he found himself deported "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:19). Precisely on Patmos, "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," John had grandiose visions and heard extraordinary messages, which would have no little influence on the history of the Church and on the whole of Christian culture.

For example, from the title of his book, "Apocalypse" [Revelation], were introduced in our language the words "apocalypse, apocalyptic," which evoke, though inappropriately, the idea of an impending catastrophe.

The book must be understood in the context of the dramatic experience of the seven Churches of Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Tiatira, Sardi, Philadelphia and Laodicea), which toward the end of the first century had to face great difficulties -- persecutions and even internal difficulties -- in their witnessing of Christ. John addresses them, showing profound pastoral sensitivity for persecuted Christians, whom he exhorts to remain steadfast in the faith and not identify with the very strong pagan world.

His objective, in short, is to unveil, from the death and resurrection of Christ, the meaning of human history. The first and essential vision of John, in fact, concerns the figure of the Lamb, which, despite being slain, is standing (cf. Revelation 5:6), placed before the throne where God himself is seated. With this, John wants to tell us two things above all: The first is that Jesus, though he was killed with an act of violence, instead of lying fallen on the ground remains paradoxically standing firmly on his feet, because with the resurrection he has vanquished death definitively.

The second is that Jesus himself, precisely because he died and resurrected, now participates fully in the royal and salvific power of the Father. This is the fundamental vision. Jesus, the Son of God, is, on this earth, a defenseless, wounded and dead Lamb. And yet, he is standing, firm, before the throne of God and participates in the divine power. He has in his hands the history of the world. In this way, the visionary wishes to tell us: Have confidence in Jesus, do not be afraid of opposing powers, of persecution! The wounded and dead Lamb conquers! Follow Jesus, the Lamb, trust Jesus, follow his way! Even if in this world he seems to be the weak Lamb, he is the victor!

The object of one of the principal visions of Revelation is this Lamb at the moment he opens a book, which before was sealed with seven seals, which no one was able to open. John is even presented weeping, as no one could be found able to open the book and read it (cf. Revelation 5:4). History appears as undecipherable, incomprehensible. No one can read it.

Perhaps this weeping of John before the very dark mystery of history expresses the disconcertment of the Asian Churches because of God's silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were exposed at that time. It is a disconcertment which might well reflect our surprise in the face of the grave difficulties, misunderstandings and hostilities that the Church also suffers today in several parts of the world.

They are sufferings which the Church certainly does not deserve, as Jesus did not deserve punishment either. However, they reveal both man's maliciousness, when he allows himself to be led by the snares of evil, as well as the higher governance of events by God. So, only the immolated Lamb is capable of opening the sealed book and of revealing its content, to give meaning to this history which, apparently, often seems so absurd.

He alone can draw pointers and teachings for the life of Christians, to whom his victory over death brings the announcement and guarantee of the victory that they also, without a doubt, will attain. All the language John uses, charged with strong images, tends to offer this consolation.

At the center of the vision that Revelation presents is the extremely significant image of the Woman, who gives birth to a male Child, and the complementary vision of the Dragon, which has fallen from the heavens, but is still very powerful. This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but she represents at the same time the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church that at all times, with great pain, again gives birth to Christ. And she is always threatened by the power of the Dragon. She seems defenseless, weak.

But, while she is threatened, pursued by the Dragon, she is also protected by God's consolation. And this Woman, at the end, is victorious. The Dragon does not conquer. This is the great prophecy of this book, which gives us confidence! The Woman who suffers in history, the Church which is persecuted, at the end is presented as the splendid Bride, image of the new Jerusalem, in which there is no more tears or weeping, image of the world transformed, of the new world whose light is God himself, whose lamp is the Lamb.

For this reason, John's Revelation, though full of constant references to sufferings, tribulations and weeping -- the dark face of history -- at the same time presents frequent songs of praise, which represent, so to speak, the luminous face of history.

For example, it speaks of an immense crowd that sings almost shouting: "Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, (our) God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:6-7). We are before the typical Christian paradox, according to which, suffering is never perceived as the last word; rather it is seen as a passing moment to happiness and, what is more, the latter is already mysteriously permeated with the joy that springs from hope.

Therefore, John, the seer of Patmos, can end his book with a final aspiration, in which an ardent hope palpitates. He invokes the Lord's final coming: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). It is one of the central prayers of nascent Christianity, translated also by St. Paul in Aramaic: "Marana tha." And this prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (1 Corinthians 16:22) has several dimensions.

Above all it implies, of course, the awaiting of the Lord's definitive victory, of the new Jerusalem, of the Lord who comes and transforms the world. But, at the same time, it is also a Eucharistic prayer: "Come, Jesus, now!" And Jesus comes, he anticipates his definitive coming. In this way, with joy, let us say at the same time: "Come now and come definitively!" This prayer also has a third meaning: "You have already come, Lord! We are certain of your presence among us. For us it is a joyful experience. But, come definitively!" Thus, with St. Paul, with the seer of Patmos, with nascent Christianity, we also pray: "Come, Jesus! Come and transform the world! Come now, today, and may peace conquer!" Amen.


John, the Theologian
"He Proclaims With Radiant Insight That 'God Is Love'"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 24, 2006 ( Here is Benedict XVI's address at the General Audience on Wednesday, August 9, 2006, held in the Paul VI Auditorium in the Vatican, in which he presented the figure of the Apostle John, "the Theologian."

With the meditation, the Holy Father resumed the series of catecheses on the Apostles, which on previous occasions he dedicated to the figures of Peter, Andrew, James the Lesser, James the Elder and John, son of Zebedee.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before the holidays I had begun sketching small portraits of the Twelve Apostles.

The apostles were Jesus' traveling companions, Jesus' friends. Their journey with Jesus was not only a physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but an interior journey during which they learned faith in Jesus Christ, not without difficulty, for they were people like us.

But for this very reason, because they were Jesus' traveling companions, Jesus' friends, who learned faith on a journey that was far from easy, they are also guides for us, who help us to know Jesus Christ, to love him and to have faith in him.

I have already commented on four of the Twelve Apostles: Simon Peter; Andrew, his brother; James, the brother of St. John; and the other James, known as "The Less," who wrote a letter that we find in the New Testament.

And I had started to speak about John the Evangelist, gathering together in the last catechesis before the holidays the essential facts for this apostle's profile.

I would now like to focus attention on the content of his teaching. The writings that we want to examine today, therefore, are the Gospel and the letters that go under his name.

If there is one characteristic topic that emerges from John's writings, it is love. It is not by chance that I wanted to begin my first encyclical letter with this apostle's words, "God is love (Deus caritas est); he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). It is very difficult to find texts of this kind in other religions. Thus, words such as these bring us face to face with an element that is truly peculiar to Christianity.

John, of course, is not the only author of Christian origin to speak of love. Since this is an essential constituent of Christianity, all the New Testament writers speak of it, although with different emphases.

If we are now pausing to reflect on this subject in John, it is because he has outlined its principal features insistently and incisively. We therefore trust his words. One thing is certain: He does not provide an abstract, philosophical or even theological treatment of what love is.

No, he is not a theoretician. True love, in fact, by its nature is never purely speculative but makes a direct, concrete and even verifiable reference to real persons. Well, John, as an apostle and a friend of Jesus, makes us see what its components are, or rather, the phases of Christian love, a movement marked by three moments.

The first concerns the very source of love which the apostle identifies as God, arriving at the affirmation that "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). John is the only New Testament author who gives us definitions of God. He says, for example, that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) or that "God is light" (1 John 1:5). Here he proclaims with radiant insight that "God is love."

Take note: It is not merely asserted that "God loves," or even less that "love is God!" In other words: John does not limit himself to describing the divine action but goes to its roots.

Moreover, he does not intend to attribute a divine quality to a generic and even impersonal love; he does not rise from love to God, but turns directly to God to define his nature with the infinite dimension of love.

By so doing, John wants to say that the essential constituent of God is love and hence, that all God's activity is born from love and impressed with love: All that God does, he does out of love and with love, even if we are not always immediately able to understand that this is love, true love.

At this point, however, it is indispensable to take another step and explain that God has concretely demonstrated his love by entering human history through the person of Jesus Christ, incarnate, dead and risen for us.

This is the second constitutive moment of God's love. He did not limit himself to verbal declarations but, we can say, truly committed himself and "paid" in the first person.

Exactly as John writes, "God so loved the world," that is, all of us, "that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). Henceforth, God's love for humanity is concretized and manifested in the love of Jesus himself.

Again, John writes: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (John 13:1).

By virtue of this oblative and total love we are radically ransomed from sin, as St. John writes further: "My little children ... if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2; cf. 1 John 1:7).

This is how Jesus' love for us reaches us: by the pouring out of his own blood for our salvation! The Christian, pausing in contemplation before this "excess" of love, cannot but wonder what the proper response is. And I think each one of us, always and over and over again, must ask himself or herself this.

This question introduces us into the third moment of the dynamic of love: From being the recipients of a love that precedes and surpasses us, we are called to the commitment of an active response which, to be adequate, can only be a response of love.

John speaks of a "commandment." He is, in fact, referring to these words of Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34).

Where is the newness to which Jesus refers? It lies in the fact that he is not content with repeating what had already been requested in the Old Testament and which we also read in the other Gospels: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27).

In the ancient precept the standard criterion was based on man ("as yourself"), whereas in the precept to which John refers, Jesus presents his own person as the reason for and norm of our love: "As I have loved you."

It is in this way that love becomes truly Christian: Both in the sense that it must be directed to all without distinction, and above all since it must be carried through to its extreme consequences, having no other bounds than being boundless.

Those words of Jesus, "as I have loved you," simultaneously invite and disturb us; they are a Christological goal that can appear unattainable, but at the same time they are an incentive that does not allow us to ensconce ourselves in what we have been able to achieve. It does not permit us to be content with what we are but spurs us to keep advancing toward this goal.

In "The Imitation of Christ," that golden text of spirituality which is the small book dating back to the late Middle Ages, on this subject is written: "The love of Jesus is noble and generous: It spurs us on to do great things, and excites us to desire always that which is most perfect. Love will tend upward and is not to be detained by things beneath. Love will be at liberty and free from all worldly affections ... for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all things created. The lover flies, runs and rejoices, he is free and not held. He gives all for all and has all in all, because he rests in one sovereign good above all, from whom all good flows and proceeds" (Thomas à Kempis, "The Imitation of Christ," III, V, 3-4).

What better comment could there be on the "new commandment" spelled out by John? Let us pray to the Father to be able, even if always imperfectly, to live it so intensely that we share it with those we meet on our way.


On St. Matthew
"A Model of Acceptance of God's Mercy"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 30, 2006 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience, held in Paul VI Hall, which he dedicated to the figure of St. Matthew.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Continuing with the series of portraits of the Twelve Apostles, which we began a few weeks ago, today we reflect on Matthew.

To tell the truth, it is almost impossible to delineate his figure completely, as information on him is scarce and incomplete. What we can do is sketch not so much the biography but the profile the Gospel gives us.

He is always present on the list of the twelve chosen by Jesus (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). His name, in Hebrew, means "gift of God." The first canonical Gospel, which bears his name, presents him to us in the list of the Twelve with a very specific qualification: "the publican" (Matthew 10:3).

For this reason, he is identified with the man seated at the tax office, whom Jesus calls to follow him. "As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he rose and followed him" (Matthew 9:9).

Also Mark (cf. 2:13-17) and Luke (cf. 5:27-30) narrate the call of the man sitting at the tax office, but they call him "Levi." To imagine the scene described in Mathew 9:9 suffice it to remember the magnificent canvas of Caravaggio, kept here, in Rome, in the French Church of St. Louis.

A new biographical detail emerges from the Gospels: In the passage, which precedes the narration of the call, reference is made to a miracle Jesus performed in Capernaum (cf. Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12) mentioning the proximity of the Sea of Galilee, that is, of the Lake of Tiberias (cf. Mark 2:13-14).

One can deduce that Mathew carried out the function of tax collector in Capernaum, located precisely "by the sea" (Matthew 4:13), where Jesus was a steady guest in Peter's house.

Basing ourselves on these simple observations that arise from the Gospel, we can make a couple of reflections. The first is that Jesus welcomes in the group of his close friends a man who, according to the conception of that time in Israel, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only managed money, considered impure as it came from people foreign to the people of God, but in addition collaborated with a foreign authority, odiously avid, whose tributes could be determined arbitrarily.

For these reasons, on more than one occasion, the Gospels mention together "publicans and sinners" (Matthew 9:10; Luke 15:1), "publicans and prostitutes" (Matthew 21:31). Moreover, they see in publicans an example of avarice (cf. Matthew 5:46: they only love those who love them) and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as "chief tax collector, and rich" (Luke 18:11).

Given these references, there is a fact that calls attention: Jesus excludes no one from his friendship. More than that, precisely when he is seated at the table in Matthew-Levi's house, answering those who were scandalized by the fact of his frequenting rather undesirable company, he makes the important declaration: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

The good proclamation of the Gospel consists precisely in this, in the offering of God's grace to the sinner! In another passage, with the famous parable of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus even points to an anonymous publican as example of humble confidence in divine mercy: While the Pharisee boasted of moral perfection, "the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'"

And Jesus commented: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:13-14).

With the figure of Matthew, therefore, the Gospels present us an authentic paradox: He who seems to be farthest from holiness might well become a model of acceptance of God's mercy enabling one to glimpse its marvelous effects in his life.

In this connection, St. John Chrysostom makes a significant comment: He observes that only in the narration of some of the calls is the work mentioned in which those in question were engaged. Peter, Andrew, James and John were called while they were fishing; Matthew while he collected taxes.

They are jobs of little importance, comments Chrysostom: "As there is nothing that is more detestable than the tax collector and nothing more ordinary than fishing" ("In Matth. Hom": PL 57, 363).

The call of Jesus comes, therefore, also to people of a low social level, while they are engaged in their ordinary work.

There is another reflection that arises from the Gospel narrative: Matthew responds immediately to Jesus' call: "He rose and followed him." The conciseness of the phrase underlines clearly Matthew's promptness in response to the call.

This meant for him abandoning everything, especially a sure source of income, though often unjust and dishonorable. Obviously Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not allow him to continue with activities disapproved by God.

One can easily intuit that it can also be applied to the present: Today one cannot admit attachment to what is incompatible with the following of Jesus, as are dishonest riches. Once he said openly: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21).

This is precisely what Matthew did: He rose and followed him! In this "rising" one can see the detachment from a situation of sin and, at the same time, the conscious adherence to a new life, upright, in communion with Jesus.

We recall, finally, that the tradition of the early Church agrees with attributing the authorship of the first Gospel to Matthew. This was already the case beginning with Papias, bishop of Gerapolis in Phrygia, about the year 130.

He wrote: "Matthew took up the Lord's words in Hebrew, and each one interpreted them as he could" (in Eusebius of Caesarea, "Hist. eccl.", III, 39, 16). The historian Eusebius adds this detail: "Matthew, who previously had preached to the Jews, when he decided to go also to other peoples, wrote in their maternal tongue the Gospel he was proclaiming: In this way he tried to substitute in writing what they, whom he was leaving, lost with his departure" (Ibid., III, 24, 6).

We no longer have the Gospel written by Matthew in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in the Greek Gospel that has come down to us we still continue to hear, in a certain sense, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew who, in becoming an apostle, continues proclaiming to us the saving mercy of God.

Let us hear this message of St. Matthew, let us meditate on it always again so that we also will learn to rise and follow Jesus with determination.


The Apostle Philip
"He Invites Us to Come and See Jesus" (September 6, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Continuing to sketch the portrait of the various apostles, as we have been doing for some weeks, we meet today with Philip. In the lists of the Twelve he always appears in fifth place (in Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), that is, essentially among the first.

Although Philip was of Jewish origin, his name is Greek, as is Andrew's, which constitutes a small gesture of cultural openness that must not be underestimated. The news we have of him comes from the Gospel of John. He was from the same place as Peter and Andrew, namely, Bethsaida (cf. John 1:44), a small city that belonged to the tetrarchy of one of Herod the Great's sons, who was also called Philip (cf. Luke 3:1).

The fourth Gospel says that, after being called by Jesus, Philip meets with Nathanael and tells him: "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45). In face of Nathanael's rather skeptical response -- "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" -- Philip does not give up and answers decisively: "Come and see" (John 1:46).

With this response, dry but clear, Philip demonstrates the characteristics of the authentic witness: He is not content with presenting the announcement as a theory, but questions the interlocutor directly, suggesting that he himself have the personal experience of what was proclaimed. Jesus uses those two same verbs when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he lives: Jesus answers: "Come and see" (cf. John 1:38-39).

We can think that Philip questions us with those two verbs which imply a personal participation. He also tells us what he said to Nathanael: "Come and see." The apostle commits us to know Jesus up close. In fact, friendship, to truly know the other, requires closeness, what is more, in part lives from it. In fact, we must not forget that, according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve with the primary objective that they "be with him" (Mark 3:14), that is, that they share his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behavior, but above all who he really was.

Only thus, participating in his life, could they know and proclaim him. Later on, in the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, we read that what is important is "the Christ that they learned" (4:20), that is, what is important is not only or above all to listen to his teachings, his words, but to know him personally, that is, his humanity and divinity, the mystery of his beauty.

He is not only a Teacher, but a Friend, more than that, a Brother. How can we know him if we are far from him? Intimacy, familiarity, custom, make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. This is precisely what the Apostle Philip reminds us. That is why he invites us to "come" and "see," that is, to enter into a contact of listening, of response and communion of life with Jesus, day after day.

On the occasion of the multiplication of loaves, he received from Jesus a precise request, quite surprising: Where was it possible to buy the bread needed to feed all the people who were following him (cf. John 6:5). Then, Philip answered with much realism: "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little" (John 6:7).

Here we can see the realism and practical spirit of the apostle, who was able to judge the implications of a situation. We know what happened afterward. We know that Jesus took the loaves, and after praying, distributed them. In this way, he effected the multiplication of the loaves. But it is an interesting fact that Jesus addressed Philip specifically, to have a first impression on the solution of the problem: evident sign that he formed part of the restricted group that surrounded him.

In another instance, very important for the future history, before the Passion, some Greeks were in Jerusalem on the occasion of the Passover, they "came to Philip … and asked him, 'Sir, we would like to see Jesus.' Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus" (John 12:20-22). Once again we are before a vestige of his particular prestige within the apostolic college. In this case, in particular, he carries out the functions of intermediary between the request of some Greeks -- he probably spoke Greek and was able to act as interpreter -- and Jesus; though he joins Andrew, the other apostle with a Greek name, in any case, the foreigners turn to him.

This teaches us also to be willing both to accept requests and invocations, wherever they come from, as well as to direct them to the Lord, as only he can satisfy them fully. It is important, in fact, to know that we are not the last recipients of the requests of those who approach us, but the Lord: We must direct to him those who are in difficulties. Each one of us must be an open path to him!

There is another highly particular opportunity in which Philip intervenes. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him also meant to know the Father (cf. John 14:7), Philip, almost naively asked him: "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8).

Jesus answered him in a tone of benevolent reproach: "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? […] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:9-11). They are one of the most sublime words of the Gospel of John. They contain an authentic revelation. At the end of the "Prologue" of his Gospel, John affirms: " No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him" (John 1:18).

Well then, that statement, which is of the evangelist, is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a detail. In fact, while John's "Prologue" speaks of an explanatory intervention of Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip, Jesus makes reference to his own person as such, leading us to understand that he can only be understood through what he says, more than that, through what he is. To help us understand, using the paradox of the Incarnation, we can say that God assumed a human face, that of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we really want to know the face of God, we have only to contemplate Jesus' face! In his face we really see who God is and how he is!

The evangelist does not tell us if Philip understood Jesus' phrase fully. What is certain is that he handed his life over to him totally. According to some subsequent accounts ("Acts of Philip" and others), our apostle evangelized Greece in the first instance and then Phrygia, and there he faced death, in Hieropolis, with a torture that some mention as crucifixion and others as stoning.

We wish to end our reflection recalling the objective toward which our life should be directed: to find Jesus, as Philip found him, trying to see in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment is lacking, we find ourselves alone with ourselves, as before a mirror, and we are ever more alone! Instead, Philip invites us to let ourselves be conquered by Jesus, to be with him and to share this indispensable company. In this way, seeing, finding God, we can find true life.


The Apostle Thomas (September 27, 2006)

"His Question Gives Us the Right … to Ask Jesus for Explanations"

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Continuing with our encounters with the Twelve Apostles chosen directly by Jesus, today we dedicate our attention to Thomas. Always present in the four lists of the New Testament, he is presented in the first three Gospels next to Matthew (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15), while in the Acts of the Apostles he appears next to Philip (cf. Acts 1:13). His name stems from a Hebrew root, "ta'am," which means "twin." In fact, John's Gospel calls him sometimes with the nickname "Didymus" (cf. John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), which in Greek means precisely "twin." The reason for this name is not clear.

The fourth Gospel, in particular, gives us some information which offers us some significant characteristics of his personality. The first is the exhortation he made to the other apostles when Jesus, at a critical moment of his life, decided to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus, thus coming dangerously close to Jerusalem (cf. Mark 10:32). On that occasion, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). His determination when it came to following the Master is truly exemplary and gives us a precious teaching: It reveals the total willingness of adherence to Jesus to the point of identifying his own fate with His, and of wanting to share with Him the supreme trial of death.

In fact, what is most important is never to distance oneself from Jesus. When the Gospels use the verb "follow," they intend to explain that wherever he goes, his disciple must also go. Thus, Christian life is defined as a life with Jesus Christ, a life that must be spent with him. St. Paul wrote something similar when he calmed Christians of Corinth with these words: "You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together" (2 Corinthians 7:3). What is true between the Apostle and his Christians must also be true above all in the relationship between Christians and Jesus himself: to die together, to live together, to be in his heart as he is in ours.

A second intervention of Thomas is recorded in the Last Supper. On that occasion, Jesus, predicting his imminent departure, announces that he will go to prepare a place for the disciples so that they will also be where he is; and he specifies: "And you know the way where I am going" (John 14:4). Then Thomas intervenes, saying: "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" (John 14:5).

In reality, with these words he places himself in a rather low level of understanding, but [his words] offer Jesus the opportunity to utter the famous definition: "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). Therefore, in the first instance, he makes this revelation to Thomas, but it is valid for all of us and for all times. Every time we hear or read these words, we can be in thought next to Thomas and imagine that the Lord also speaks with us as he spoke with him.

At the same time, his question also gives us the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations. We often do not understand him. We must have the courage to say to him: I do not understand you, Lord, hear me, help me to understand. In this way, with such frankness, which is the authentic way to pray, to converse with Jesus, we express the littleness of our capacity to understand, but at the same time we assume the attitude of trust of one who expects light and strength from the one able to give them.

Then, very well known, even proverbial, is the scene of Thomas' incredulity, which took place eight days after Easter. Initially, he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and had said: "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). Deep down, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus is no longer recognized by his face, but rather by the wounds. Thomas believes that the characteristic signs of Jesus' identity are now above all his wounds, in which is revealed to what point he has loved us. In this the apostle is not mistaken.

As we know, eight days later, Jesus again appears to his disciples and on this occasion Thomas is present. And Jesus says to him: "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing" (John 20:27).

Thomas reacts with the most splendid profession of faith of the New Testament: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). In this connection, St. Augustine comments: Thomas "saw and touched the man, but confessed his faith in God, whom he did not see or touch. But what he saw and touched led him to believe that which until then he had doubted" ("In Iohann" 121, 5). The evangelist continues with one last phrase of Jesus addressed to Thomas: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:29).

This phrase can also be enunciated in the present: "Blessed are those who do not see and believe." In any case, Jesus enunciates here a fundamental principle for Christians who will come after Thomas, that is, for all of us. It is interesting to observe how another Thomas, the great medieval theologian from Aquino, joins this blessedness with another referred to by Luke that seems opposed: "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!" (Luke 10:23).

However, Thomas Aquinas comments: "He has much more merit who believes without seeing than he who seeing, believes" ("In Iohann. XX lectio" VI paragraph 2566). In fact, the Letter to the Hebrews, recalling all the series of ancient biblical patriarchs, who believed in God without seeing the fulfillment of his promises, defines faith as "guarantee of what is hoped for; the proof of realities that are not seen" (11:1).

The case of the Apostle Thomas is important for us at least for three reasons: first, because it consoles us in our insecurities; second, because it shows us that every doubt can have a luminous end beyond any uncertainty; and, finally, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the authentic meaning of mature faith and encourages us to continue, despite the difficulties, on the path of fidelity to Him.

The fourth Gospel has preserved for us a last note on Thomas, on presenting him as witness of the Risen One in the moment after the miraculous catch on the Lake of Tiberias (cf. John 21:2). On that occasion, he is mentioned also immediately after Simon Peter: an evident sign of the notable importance that he enjoyed in the ambit of the first Christian communities. In fact, in his name, were later written the "Acts" and the "Gospel of Thomas," both apocryphal, but in any case important for the study of Christian origins.

Let us recall, finally, that according to an ancient tradition, Thomas evangelized in the first instance Syria and Persia (so says Origen, as referred by Eusebius of Caesarea, "Hist. eccl." 3,1) and later went on to Western India (cf. "Acts of Thomas" 1-2: 17 and following), from where he also reached Southern India. We end our reflection with this missionary perspective, hoping that Thomas' example will increasingly confirm our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.


The Apostle Bartholomew (October 4, 2006)
His "Words Present a Double Aspect of Jesus' Identity"

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the series of apostles called by Jesus during his earthly life, today our attention is caught by the Apostle Bartholomew. In the early lists of the Twelve he always appears before Matthew, while the name of the one who precedes him changes: in some cases it is Philip (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14) or Thomas (cf. Acts 1:13).

His name is evidently patronymic, as it makes explicit reference to the father's name. It is a name probably of Aramaic characteristics, "bar Talmay," which means "son of Talmay."

We do not have important information about Bartholomew. In fact, his name appears always and only within the lists of the Twelve that I have mentioned before; therefore, he is not the protagonist of any narration. Traditionally, however, he is identified with Nathanael: a name that means "God-given." This Nathanael was a native of Cana (cf. John 21:2); therefore, it is possible that he was witness of some great "sign" wrought by Jesus in that place (cf. John 2:1-11).

The identification of the two personages is probably due to the fact that Nathanael, in the scene of the vocation narrated by John's Gospel, is placed next to Philip, that is, in the place that Bartholomew has in the lists of the apostles referred to by the other Gospels. It was to this Nathanael that Philip had said that he had "found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth" (John 1:45).

As we know, Nathanael posed a weighty prejudice to him: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46a). This _expression is important for us. It allows us to see that, according to the Jewish expectations, the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village, as was the case of Nazareth (cf. also John 7:42).

At the same time, however, it shows the freedom of God, who surprises our expectations, manifesting himself precisely there, where we least expect him. Moreover, we know that, in reality, Jesus was not exclusively "from Nazareth," but that he was born in Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Nathanael's objection, therefore, had no value, as it was founded, as often happens, on incomplete information.

Nathanael's case suggests to us another reflection: In our relationship with Jesus, we must not only be content with words. Philip, in his reply, presents a significant invitation to Nathanael: "Come and see" (John 1:46b). Our knowledge of Jesus is in need above all of a living experience: Another person's testimony is certainly important, as in general the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or several witnesses. But we ourselves must be personally involved in an intimate and profound relationship with Jesus.

In a similar way, the Samaritans, after having heard the testimony of the compatriot whom Jesus had met at Jacob's well, wished to speak directly with him and, after that conversation, they said to the woman: "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world" (John 4:42).

Returning to the scene of the vocation, the evangelist tells us that, when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: "Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him" (John 1:47). It was praise that recalls the text of a psalm: "Happy those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2), but which arouses Nathanael's curiosity, who, surprised, replies: " How do you know me?" (John 1:48a). Jesus' answer at first is not understood. He said to him: "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree" (John 1:48b).

Today it is difficult to realize with precision the meaning of these last words. According to what the specialists say, it is possible that, given that at times the fig tree is mentioned as the tree under which the doctors of the law sat to read and teach the Bible, he is alluding to that type of occupation carried out by Nathanael at the moment of his calling.

Anyway, what counts most in John's narration is the confession of faith that Nathanael professes at the end in a limpid way: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). Although it does not reach the intensity of Thomas' confession with which John's Gospel ends: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28), Nathanael's confession has the function to open the terrain to the fourth Gospel.

In the latter a first and important step is taken on the path of adherence to Christ. Nathanael's words present a double and complementary aspect of Jesus' identity: He is recognized both by his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the only-begotten Son, as well as by his relationship with the people of Israel, of whom he is called King, an attribution proper of the awaited Messiah.

We must never lose sight of either of these two elements, since if we only proclaim the heavenly dimension of Jesus we run the risk of making him an ethereal and evanescent being, while if we only recognize his concrete role in history, we run the risk of neglecting his divine dimension, which is his proper description.

We do not have precise information on the subsequent apostolic activity of Bartholomew-Nathanael. According to information referred to by the historian Eusebius in the fourth century, a certain Panteno found in India signs of Bartholomew's presence (cf. "Ecclesiastical History," V, 10,3).

In the later tradition, beginning in the Middle Ages, the account of his death by flaying was imposed, which later became extremely popular. Suffice it to think of the very famous scene of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, in which Michelangelo presented St. Bartholomew holding his own skin in his left hand, in which the artist left his self-portrait.

His relics are venerated here, in Rome, in the church dedicated to him on the Island of the Tiber, where they were brought by the German Emperor Otto III in the year 983.

Concluding, we can say that the figure of St. Bartholomew, despite the lack of information, tells us that adherence to Jesus can be lived and witnessed even without doing sensational works. Jesus is the extraordinary one, to whom each one of us is called to consecrate his life and death.


On the Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddaeus
"Our Identity Is Not to Be Toyed With" (October 11, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we take into consideration two of the Twelve Apostles: Simon the Cananaean and Jude called Thaddaeus (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot). We consider them together, not only because in the lists of the Twelve they are always mentioned next to one another (cf. Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), but also because there is not much information about them, apart from the fact that the New Testament Canon has a letter attributed to Jude Thaddaeus.

Simon receives an epithet that varies in the four lists: while Matthew and Mark describe him as "Cananaean," Luke instead describes him as "Zealot." In reality, the two qualifications are equivalent, because they mean the same thing: In the Hebrew language, in fact, the verb "qanà'" means "to be zealous, passionate" and can be said either of God, in as much as he is jealous of the people chosen by him (cf. Exodus 20:5), or of men who burn with zeal in serving the one God with complete dedication, as Elias (cf. 1 Kings 19:10).

It is quite possible, therefore, that this Simon, if he does not actually belong to the nationalist movement of the Zealots, was at least characterized by an ardent zeal for Jewish identity, hence for God, for his people and for the divine law. If this is the case, Simon is in the antipodes of Matthew who on the contrary, insofar as publican, came from an activity considered altogether impure. Evident sign that Jesus calls his disciples and collaborators from the most diverse social and religious strata, without any preclusion.

He is interested in people, not in social categories or etiquette! And the beautiful thing is that in the groups of his followers, all, though diverse, from the zealot to the publican, coexisted together, surmounting the imagined difficulties: Jesus himself, in fact, was the motive for cohesion, in whom all found themselves united. And this constitutes clearly a lesson for us, often inclined to underline the differences and perhaps the oppositions, forgetting that in Jesus Christ the strength is given to us to compose our conflicts. And let's also keep in mind that the group of the Twelve is a pre-figuration of the Church and prefigures therefore the Church in which there must be room for all the charisms, peoples, races, all human qualities, which find their composition and unity in communion with Jesus.

In regard to Jude Thaddaeus, he is called thus by tradition, uniting together two different names: while Matthew and Mark call him simply "Thaddaeus" (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18), Luke calls him "Judas the son of James" (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). The nickname Thaddaeus is of uncertain derivation and is explained as coming from the Aramaic "taddà'," which means "breast" and hence would mean "magnanimous," or as an abbreviation of a Greek name like "Theodore, Teodoto." Little is said about him.

Only John notes a request of his made to Jesus during the Last Supper: Thaddaeus says to the Lord: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" It is a question of great present importance, which we also ask the Lord: Why has not the risen one manifested himself in all his glory to his adversaries to show that he is the victor? Why did God manifest himself only to the disciples? Jesus' answer is mysterious and profound.

The Lord says: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:22-23). This means that the Risen One must be seen, perceived, also with the heart, so that God can make his dwelling in him. The Lord does not appear as a thing. The Lord wishes to enter into our lives and because of this, his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only thus do we see the Risen One.

To Jude Thaddaeus was attributed in past times the authorship of one of the letters of the New Testament that were called "catholic" in as much as they were addressed to a very large circle of recipients. It in fact was addressed "to the elect that live in the love of God the Father and have been preserved by Jesus Christ" (verse 1).

Central concern of this writing is to put Christians on guard from all those who give as pretext the grace of God to excuse their own licentiousness and to lead astray other brothers with unacceptable teachings, introducing divisions within the Church "under the influence of their dreams" (verse 8). Jude compares them in fact to the fallen angels, and with strong words says "they followed the path of Cain" (verse 11).

Moreover, he labels them without hesitation "as clouds without rain blown away by the wind or trees at the end of the season without fruits, twice dead, uprooted; as wild waves of the sea, which foam their filth; like errant stars, to which is reserved the fog of darkness in eternity" (verses 12-13).

Today we are no longer in the habit of using such controversial language, which nevertheless tells us something important: That in all the existing temptations, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve the identity of our faith. Of course the path of indulgence and dialogue, which the Second Vatican Council has felicitously undertaken, will surely be continued with firm constancy. But this path of dialogue, so necessary, must not make us forget the duty to rethink and to witness always with as much force the guiding lines of our Christian identity that cannot be given up.

It is important to keep very present that this, our identity is not to be toyed with on a simply cultural plane or on a superficial level, but requires strength, clarity and courage given the contradictions of the world in which we live.

For this reason, the text of the letter continues thus: "But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life; be convinced, those of you who are vacillating ..." (verse 20-22).

We see clearly that the author of these lines lives his faith in full, to which great realities belong such as moral integrity and joy, trust and finally praise, all being motivated only by the goodness of our one God and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, may both Simon the Cananaean as well as Jude Thaddaeus help us to rediscover always anew and to live tirelessly the beauty of the Christian faith, knowing how to give both strong and serene witness.


On Judas Iscariot and Matthias
"Never Despair of God's Mercy" (October 18, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

On completing today the review of the Twelve Apostles called directly by Jesus during his earthly life, we cannot fail to mention the one who always appears in the last place: Judas Iscariot. We want to associate him with the person who was later chosen to substitute him, namely, Matthias.

The name Judas alone arouses among Christians an instinctive reaction of reprobation and condemnation. The meaning of the name "Iscariot" is controversial: The most used explanation says that it means "man from Queriyyot," in reference to his native village, located in the surroundings of Hebron, mentioned twice in sacred Scripture (cf. Joshua 15:25; Amos 2:2).

Others interpret it as a variation of the term "hired assassin," as if it alluded to a guerrilla armed with a dagger, called "sica" in Latin. Finally, some see in the label the simple transcription of a Hebrew-Aramaic root that means: "He who was going to betray him." This mention is found twice in the fourth Gospel, that is, after a confession of faith by Peter (cf. John 6:71) and later during the anointing at Bethany (cf. John 12:4).

Other passages show that the betrayal was underway, saying: "He who betrayed him," as happened during the Last Supper, after the announcement of the betrayal (cf. Matthew 26:25) and later at the moment Jesus was arrested (cf. Matthew 26:46.48; John 18:2.5). However, the lists of the twelve recall the betrayal as something that already occurred: "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him," says Mark (3:19); Matthew (10:4) and Luke (6:16) use equivalent formulas.

The betrayal, as such, took place in two moments: first of all in its planning phase, when Judas comes to an agreement with Jesus' enemies for 30 pieces of silver (cf. Matthew 26:14-16), and later in its execution with the kiss he gave the master in Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:46-50).

Anyway, the evangelists insist that his condition of apostle corresponded fully to him: He is repeatedly called "one of the twelve" (Matthew 26:14.47; Mark 14:10.20; John 6:71) or "of the number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3).

Moreover, on two occasions, Jesus, addressing the apostles and speaking precisely of him, indicates him as "one of you" (Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18; John 6:70; 13:21). And Peter would say of Judas "he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry" (Acts 1:17).

He is, therefore, a figure belonging to the group of those whom Jesus had chosen as companions and close collaborators. This poses two questions when it comes to explaining what happened. The first consists in asking ourselves how it was possible that Jesus chose this man and trusted him.

In fact, though Judas is the group's administrator (cf. John 12:6b; 13:29a), in reality he is also called "thief" (John 12:6a). The mystery of the choice is even greater, as Jesus utters a very severe judgment on him: "Woe to that man by whom the son of man is betrayed!" (Matthew 26:24).

This mystery is even more profound if one thinks of his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying 'I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Matthew 27:3-4). Though he departed afterward to hang himself (cf. Matthew 27:5), it is not for us to judge his gesture, putting ourselves in God's place, who is infinitely merciful and just.

A second question affects the motive of Judas' behavior: Why did he betray Jesus? The question raises several theories. Some say it was his greed for money; others give an explanation of a messianic nature: Judas was disappointed on seeing that Jesus did not fit the program of the political-military liberation of his country.

In fact, the Gospel texts insist on another aspect: John says expressly that "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him" (John 13:2); in the same way, Luke writes: "Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve" (Luke 22:3).

In this way, one goes beyond historical motivations, explaining what occurred by basing it on Judas' personal responsibility, who yielded miserably to a temptation of the evil one. In any case, Judas' betrayal continues to be a mystery. Jesus treated him as a friend (cf. Matthew 26:50), but in his invitations to follow him on the path of the beatitudes he did not force his will or prevent him from falling into Satan's temptations, respecting human freedom.

In fact, the possibilities of perversion of the human heart are truly many. The only way to prevent them consists in not cultivating a view of life that is only individualistic, autonomous, but in always placing oneself on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view.

We must try, day after day, to be in full communion with him. Let us recall that even Peter wanted to oppose him and what awaited him in Jerusalem, but he received a very strong rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mark 8:32-33).

After his fall, Peter repented and found forgiveness and grace. Judas also repented, but his repentance degenerated into despair and in this way it became self-destruction. It is an invitation for us to always remember what St. Benedict says at the end of Chapter 5 -- fundamental -- of his Rule: "Never despair of God's mercy." In fact, "God is greater than our hearts," as St. John says (1 John 3:20).

Let us remember two things. The first: Jesus respects our freedom. The second: Jesus waits for us to have the disposition to repent and to be converted; he is rich in mercy and forgiveness. In fact, when we think of the negative role Judas played, we must frame it in the higher way with which God disposed the events.

His betrayal led to the death of Jesus who transformed this tremendous torment into a space of salvific love and in self-giving to the Father (cf. Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2.25). The verb "betray" is the Greek version which means "to give up." At times its subject is also God himself in person: Out of love, he "gave up" Jesus for us all (cf. Romans 8:32). In his mysterious plan of salvation, God assumes Judas' unjustifiable gesture as the motive for the total giving up of the Son for the redemption of the world.

On concluding, we wish to recall also he who, after Easter, was chosen to replace the traitor. In the Church of Jerusalem, two were put forward to the community and then lots were cast for their names: "Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias" (Acts 1:23).

Precisely the latter was chosen, and in this way "he was enrolled with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26). We do not know anything more about him, with the exception that he was a witness of Jesus' public life (cf. Acts 1: 21-22), being faithful to him to the end. To the greatness of his fidelity was added later the divine call to take Judas' place, as though compensating his betrayal.

We draw a final lesson from here: Although there is no lack of unworthy and traitorous Christians in the Church, it is up to us to counterbalance the evil they do with our limpid testimony of Jesus Christ our lord and savior.


Paul of Tarsus
"Be Imitators of Me, As I Am of Christ" (October 25, 2006)

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We have concluded our reflections on the Twelve Apostles, called directly by Jesus during his earthly life. Today we begin to approach the figures of other important personalities of the early Church. They also spent their lives for the Lord, for the Gospel and for the Church. They were men and women who, as Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, "have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:26).

The first of these, called by the Lord himself, by the risen one, to also be an authentic apostle, is without a doubt Paul of Tarsus. He shines like a star of first grandeur in the history of the Church, and not only in that of the origins.

St. John Chrysostom exalts him as a personage who is superior even to many angels and archangels (cf. "Panegyric" 7,3). In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, inspired in Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 9:15), describes him simply as "chosen vessel" (Inferno 2, 28), which means: instrument chosen by God. Others have called him the "Thirteenth Apostle" -- and he really insists much on the fact of being an authentic apostle, having been called by the Risen One, or even "the first after the Only One."

Certainly, after Jesus, he is the personality of the origins of whom we are the most informed. In fact, not only do we have Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles, but also a group of letters that come directly from his hand and that without intermediaries reveals to us his personality and thought. Luke tells us that his original name was Saul (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1, etc.), in Hebrew Saul [also] (cf. Acts 13:21), and he was a Jew of the Diaspora, given that the city of Tarsus is situated between Anatolia and Syria.

Very soon he went to Jerusalem to study the Mosaic law in-depth at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3). He had also learned a manual and common trade, tent-making (cf. Acts 18:3), which later would allow him to support himself personally without being a weight for the Churches (cf. Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 12:13-14).

For him it was decisive to know the community of those who professed themselves disciples of Jesus. Through them he had news of a new faith, a new "way," as was said, which did not put the law of God at the center, but rather the person of Jesus, crucified and risen, to whom was attributed the remission of sins.

As a zealous Jew, he considered this message unacceptable, more than that, scandalous, and felt the duty to persecute Christ's followers, also outside Jerusalem. Precisely on the road to Damascus, at the beginning of the 30s, according to his words, "Jesus Christ" made Saul "his own." While Luke recounts the event with abundance of details -- the way in which the light of the Risen One reached him, changing his life fundamentally -- in his letters he goes directly to the essential and speaks not only of a vision (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1), but of an illumination (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6), and above all of a revelation and a vocation in the encounter with the Risen One (cf. Galatians 1:15-16).

In fact, he will describe himself explicitly as "apostle by vocation" (cf. Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; or "apostle by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as if wishing to underline that his conversion was not the result of nice thoughts, of reflections, but the fruit of a divine intervention, of an unforeseen divine grace. Henceforth, everything that before was of value to him became, paradoxically, according to his words, loss and refuse (cf. Philippians 3:7-10). And from that moment he put all his energies at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an apostle who wants to "become all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22) without reservations.

From here is derived a very important lesson for us: What matters is to put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is characterized essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and his word. In his light, every other value must be recovered and purified of possible dross.

Another fundamental lesson left by Paul is the spiritual horizon that characterizes his apostolate. Acutely feeling the problem of the possibility for the Gentiles, namely, the pagans, to attain God, who is Jesus Christ crucified and risen who offers salvation to all men without exception, he dedicated himself to make this Gospel known, literally "good news," that is, the proclamation of grace destined to reconcile man with God, with himself and with others. From the first moment he understood that this was a reality that did not affect only the Jews, a certain group of men, but that it had universal value and affected all.

The Church of Antioch of Syria was the starting point of his trips, where for the first time the Gospel was proclaimed to the Greeks, and where the name "Christians" was also coined (cf. Acts 11:20.26), that is, believers in Christ. From there in the first instance he started off to Cyprus and then on different occasions to regions of Asia Minor (Pisidia, Laconia, Galatia), and later to those of Europe (Macedonia, Greece). More revealing were the cities of Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, not forgetting either Berea, Athens and Miletus.

Difficulties were not lacking in Paul's apostolate, which he faced with courage for love of Christ. He himself recalls that he had to endure "labors ... imprisonments ... beatings; danger of death, many times ... Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked ... on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the Churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

In a passage of the Letter to the Romans (cf. 15:24.28) is reflected his intention to go to Spain, to the limits of the West, to proclaim the Gospel everywhere to the ends of the then known earth. How can such a man not be admired? How can we not thank the Lord for having given us an apostle of this stature? Clearly, he would not have been able to face such difficult and at times so desperate situations, had he not had a reason of absolute value before which there could be no limits. We know that for Paul this reason was Jesus Christ, of whom he writes: "The love of Christ controls us ... he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), for us, for all.

In fact, the Apostle will give his supreme witness with his blood under the emperor Nero here, in Rome, where we keep and venerate his mortal remains. In the last years of the 1st century, Clement of Rome, my predecessor in this Apostolic See, wrote: "Because of jealousy and discord, Paul was obliged to show us how one obtains the prize of patience ... After preaching justice to all in the world, and after having arrived at the limits of the West, he endured martyrdom before the political rulers; in this way he left this world and reached the holy place, thus becoming the greatest model of perseverance" (To the Corinthians, 5).

May the Lord help us to live the exhortation that the Apostle left us in his letters: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1)


Paul of Tarsus, Continued
"He Lives From Christ and With Christ" (November 8, 2006)

Dear Brothers:

In the earlier catechesis, two weeks ago, I attempted to sketch the essential lines of the Apostle Paul's biography. We have seen how the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus literally revolutionized his life. Christ became his reason for being and the profound motive of all his apostolic work.

In his letters, after the name of God, which appears over 500 times, the name most often mentioned is that of Christ -- 380 times. Therefore, it is important that we realize how Jesus Christ can influence a person's life and, hence, also our own life. In fact, Jesus Christ is the apex of the history of salvation and therefore the true discriminating point in the dialogue with other religions.

On seeing Paul's example, we can thus formulate the basic question: How does the human being's encounter with Christ take place? In what does the relationship that stems from it consist? The answer Paul gives can be understood in two ways.

In the first place, Paul helps us to understand the fundamental and irreplaceable value of faith. In the Letter to the Romans, he writes: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (3:28). And in the Letter to the Galatians: "a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, in order to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (2:16).

"To be justified" means to be made righteous, that is, to be received by the merciful justice of God, and enter into communion with him and therefore to be able to establish a much more authentic relationship with all our brothers: and this in virtue of a total forgiveness of our sins.

Paul says with all clarity that this condition of life does not depend on our possible good works, but on the pure grace of God: We "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).

With these words, Paul expresses the fundamental content of his conversion, the new direction his life took as a result of his encounter with the Risen Christ. Before his conversion, Paul was not a man estranged from God or his law. On the contrary, he was observant, with an observance that bordered on fanaticism.

However, in the light of the encounter with Christ, he understood that with this he only sought to make himself, his own righteousness, and with all that righteousness he had lived only for himself. He understood that his life needed absolutely a new orientation. And he expresses this new orientation thus: "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself, for his own righteousness. He lives from Christ and with Christ: Giving himself, he no longer seeks or makes himself. This is the new righteousness, the new orientation that the Lord has given us, which gives us faith. Before the cross of Christ, highest expression of his self-giving, there is no longer any one who can glory in himself, in his own righteousness!

On another occasion, Paul echoing Jeremiah, clarifies his thought: "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31; Jeremiah 9:22f); or also: "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!" (Galatians 6:14).

On reflecting what it means not to justify oneself by works but by faith, we have come to the second element that defines the Christian identity described by St. Paul in his own life. Christian identity which is made up in fact of two elements: not to seek oneself, but to be clothed in Christ and to give oneself with Christ, and in this way participate personally in the life of Christ himself to the point of being immersed in him, sharing both in his death as well as his life.

Paul writes this in the Letter to the Romans: We were "baptized into Jesus Christ, we were baptized into his death ... we were buried with him ... we are one with him ... So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:3, 4, 5, 11). Precisely this last expression is symptomatic: For Paul, in fact, it is not enough to say that Christians are baptized, believers; for him it is equally important to say that they "are in Christ Jesus" (cf. also Romans 8:1, 2, 39; 12:5; 16:3,7,10; 1 Corinthians 1:2,3, etc.).

On other occasions he inverts the terms and writes that "Christ is in us/you" (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5) or "in me" (Galatians 2:20). This mutual understanding between Christ and the Christian, characteristic of Paul's teaching, completes his reflection on faith. Faith, in fact, although it unites us intimately to Christ, underlines the distinction between us and him.

However, according to Paul, the Christian's life also has an element which we could call "mystical," as it entails losing ourselves in Christ and Christ in us. In this connection, the Apostle goes so far as to describe our sufferings as the "sufferings of Christ in us" (2 Corinthians 1:5), so that we always carry "in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

We must apply all this to our daily life following the example of Paul who always lived with this great spiritual horizon. On one hand, faith must keep us in a constant attitude of humility before God, more than that, of adoration and praise in relation to him. In fact, what we are as Christians we owe only to him and to his grace. Given that nothing and no one can take his place, it is necessary therefore that we render to nothing and no one the homage we render to him. No idol must contaminate our spiritual universe; otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom attained we will again fall into a humiliating slavery. On the other hand, our radical belonging to Christ and the fact that "we are in him" must infuse in us an attitude of complete confidence and immense joy.

In short, we must exclaim with St. Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:39). Our Christian life, therefore, is based on the most stable and sure rock imaginable. From it we draw all our energy, as the Apostle in fact writes: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

Let us therefore face our lives, with its joys and sorrows, supported by these great sentiments that Paul offers us. Experiencing this, we can understand that what the Apostle himself writes is true: "I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me," that is, until the definitive day (2 Timothy 1:12) of our encounter with Christ, judge, savior of the world and of us.


Paul's Teaching on the Holy Spirit
"Analyzes His Presence in the Life of the Christian" (November 15, 2006)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today, as in the two preceding catecheses, we again speak of St. Paul and his thought. We are before a giant, not only at the level of the concrete apostolate, but also at the level of theological doctrine, extraordinarily profound and stimulating. After having meditated on the last occasion on what Paul wrote about the central place that Jesus Christ occupies in our life of faith, let us see today what he tells us about the Holy Spirit and his presence in us, as in this also the Apostle has something very important to teach us.

We know what St. Luke tells us about the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, on describing the event of Pentecost. The Pentecostal Spirit imprints a vigorous drive to assume the commitment of the mission to witness the Gospel on the paths of the world. In fact, the book of the Acts of the Apostles recounts a whole series of missions carried out by the apostles, first in Samaria, then in the strip of the coast of Palestine, as I already recalled in a previous Wednesday meeting.

However, in his letters St. Paul also speaks to us of the Spirit from another point of view. He does not limit himself to illustrate only the dynamic and operative dimension of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, but also analyzes his presence in the life of the Christian, whose identity is marked by him. That is, Paul reflects on the Spirit showing his influence not only on the Christian's action but over his very being. In fact, he says that the Spirit of God dwells in us (cf. Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 3:16) and that "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Galatians 4:6).

For Paul, therefore, the Spirit penetrates our most intimate personal depths. In this connection, these words have a relevant meaning: "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. ... For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'" (Romans 8:2,15), given that we are children, we can call God "Father."

We can see, therefore, that the Christian, even before acting, already possesses a rich and fecund interiority, which has been given to him in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, an interiority that introduces him in an objective and original relationship of being a child of God. Our great dignity consists in this: We are not only images but children of God. And this constitutes an invitation to live our filiation, to be ever more conscious that we are adoptive children in the great family of God. It is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality, determinant for our way of thinking, for our acting, for our being. God considers us his children, as he has raised us to a similar, though not equal, dignity to that of Jesus himself, the only one who is fully true Son. In him we are given or restored the filial condition and trusting freedom in our relationship with the Father.

In this way we discover that for the Christian the Spirit is no longer the "Spirit of God," as is usually said in the Old Testament and as Christian language repeats (cf. Genesis 41:38; Exodus 31:3; 1 Corinthians 2:11.12; Philippians 3:3; etc.). And he is not just a "Holy Spirit," understood generically according to the manner of expression of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:10,11; Psalm 51:13), and of Judaism itself in its writings (Qumran, rabbinism).

Proper to the Christian faith is the confession of a participation of this Spirit in the Risen Lord, who himself has become the "life-giving Spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45). Precisely for this reason St. Paul speaks directly of the "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9), of the "Spirit of his Son" (Galatians 4:6) or of the "Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:19). It seems as if he wished to say that not only God the Father is visible in the Son (cf. John 14:9), but also the Spirit of God is expressed in the life and action of the crucified and risen Lord.

Paul also teaches us another important thing. He says that there can be no authentic prayer without the presence of the Spirit in us. In fact, he writes: "In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will" (Romans 8:26-27).

It is as if saying that the Holy Spirit, namely, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, becomes the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, from which rises incessantly to God a movement of prayer, of which we cannot even specify the terms. The Spirit, in fact, ever awake in us, makes up for our deficiencies and offers the Father our adoration, along with our most profound aspirations. Obviously this calls for a level of great vital communion with the Spirit. It is an invitation to be ever more sensitive, more attentive to this presence of the Spirit in us, to transform it into prayer, to experience this presence and to learn in this way to pray, to speak with the Father as children in the Holy Spirit.

There is, moreover, another typical aspect of the Spirit that St. Paul has taught us: his relationship with love. The Apostle writes thus: "Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). In my encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est," I quoted a highly eloquent phrase of St. Augustine: "If you see charity, you see the Trinity" (No. 19), and then I explained: "The Spirit […] is that interior power which harmonizes their [believers'] hearts with Christ's heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them" (ibid.).

The Spirit places us in the very rhythm of divine life, which is a life of love, making us participate personally in the relations that exist between the Father and the Son. It is highly significant that Paul, when he enumerates the different elements of the fruits of the Spirit, mentions love first: " the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," etc. (Galatians 5:22). And, given that by definition love unifies, the Spirit is above all creator of communion within the Christian community, as we say at the beginning of the Mass with an expression of St. Paul "... the communion of the Holy Spirit [namely, that by which he acts] be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:13).

However, moreover, it is also true that the Spirit stimulates us to engage in relationships of charity with all people. In this way, when we love we make room for the Spirit, we allow him to express himself in fullness. Thus we understand the reason why Paul unites these two exhortations on the same page of the Letter to the Romans: "Be fervent in spirit" and "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" (Romans 12:11,17).

Finally, according to St. Paul, the Spirit is a generous pledge which God himself has given us ahead of time and at the same time guarantee of our future inheritance (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). Thus let us learn from Paul that the action of the Spirit orients our life toward the great values of love, joy, communion and hope. It is for us to experience this every day, seconding the interior suggestions of the Spirit, helped in discernment by the illuminating guidance of the Apostle.


Paul's Teaching on the Church
"We Who Are Many Are One Body" (November 22, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We complete today our encounters with the Apostle Paul, dedicating a last reflection to him. We cannot take leave of him, in fact, without taking into consideration one of the decisive components of his activity and one of the most important themes of his thought: the reality of the Church.

We must note first of all that his first contact with the person of Jesus took place through the testimony of the Christian community of Jerusalem. It was a stormy contact. On knowing the new group of believers, he became immediately its fierce persecutor. He himself appropriately acknowledges it three times in as many letters: "I persecuted the Church of God," he writes (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6), virtually presenting his behavior as the worst crime.

History shows us that one reaches Christ normally through the Church! In a certain sense, it is what happened, as we were saying, also to Paul, who found the Church before finding Jesus. In his case, however, this contact was counterproductive; it did not cause adherence, but rather a violent rejection.

For Paul, adherence to the Church was propitiated by a direct intervention of Christ, who, revealing himself to Paul on the way to Damascus, identified himself with the Church and made Paul understand that to persecute the Church was to persecute him, the Lord.

In fact, the Risen One said to Paul, the persecutor of the Church: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4). In persecuting the Church, he was persecuting Christ. Paul converted then, at the same time, to Christ and to the Church.

Thus one understands why the Church was so present in the thoughts, in the heart and in the activity of Paul. In the first place, it was present as he literally founded many Churches in the different cities where he went as evangelizer. When he speaks of his "anxiety for all the Churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28), he is thinking of the various Christian communities established from time to time in Galatia, Ionia, Macedonia and Achaia.

Some of those Churches also gave him worries and displeasures, as happened for example with the Churches of Galatia, which he saw "turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6), something which he opposed with spirited determination. Nevertheless, he felt bound to the communities he founded not in a cold and bureaucratic manner, but intensely and passionately.

Thus, for example, he describes the Philippians as "my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown" (4:1). At other times he compares the different communities to a letter of recommendation unique of its kind: "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written in your hearts, to be known and read by all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2). At other times he shows them in their encounters a true and proper sentiment not only of paternity but even of maternity, as when he turns to those he is addressing beseeching them as "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!" (Galatians 4:19; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

In his letters, Paul also illustrates for us his doctrine on the Church as such. Well known is his original definition of the Church as "body of Christ," which we do not find in other Christian authors of the first century (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12; 5:30; Colossians 1:24). We find the most profound root of this amazing designation of the Church in the sacrament of the body of Christ.

St. Paul says: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17). In the Eucharist itself Christ gives us his body and makes us his body. In this connection, St. Paul says to the Galatians: "you are all one in Christ" (Galatians 3:28).

With all this Paul leads us to understand that not only is there a belonging of the Church to Christ, but also a certain form of equivalence and identification of the Church with Christ himself. It is from here, therefore, that the greatness and nobility of the Church derives, that is, of all of us who are part of it: Our being members of Christ, is almost as an extension of his personal presence in the world. And from here follows, naturally, our duty to really live in conformity with Christ.

From here derive also Paul's exhortations in regard to the several charisms which animate and structure the Christian community. They can all be referred back to a single source, which is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, knowing well that in the Church there is no one who is lacking them, because, as the Apostle writes, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7).

What is important, however, is that all the charisms cooperate together for the building up of the community and that they not become instead a motive of laceration. To this end, Paul asks himself rhetorically: "Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). He knows well and teaches us that it is necessary "to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Ephesians 4:3-4).

Obviously, to underline the need for unity does not mean to hold that one must make ecclesial life uniform and flat according to one way of operating. Elsewhere Paul teaches "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19), namely, to generously make room for the unforeseeable dynamism of the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit, who is an always new source of energy and vitality.

But if there is a particularly important criterion for Paul it is mutual edification: "Let all things be done for edification" (1 Corinthians 14:26). Everything should concur to build the ecclesial fabric in an orderly way, not only without deadlocks, but also without flights or tears.

One of Paul's letters goes so far as to present the Church as the bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). He thus takes up again a prophetic metaphor, which made of the people of Israel the spouse of God of the Covenant (cf. Hosea 2:4.21; Isaiah 54:5-8): He thus expresses to what point the relations are intimate between Christ and his Church, be it because she is the object of the most tender love on the part of her Lord, or because love must be mutual and we, in as much as members of the Church, must show him a passionate fidelity.

In conclusion, therefore, at stake is a relationship of communion: the relationship -- to call it in some way -- "vertical" between Jesus Christ and all of us, but also "horizontal" between all those who are distinguished in the world by the fact of "calling on the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:2).

This is our definition: We are part of those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we understand to what point we must desire the fulfillment of what Paul himself yearns for when writing to the Corinthians: "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

So should be our liturgical meetings. A non-Christian who enters one of our assemblies should be able to say at the end: "Truly God is with you." Let us ask the Lord that we might live in this way, in communion with Christ and in communion among ourselves.


On St. Stephen
"He Teaches Us to Love the Cross" (January 10, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

After the holidays, we return to our catecheses. I meditated with you on the figures of the Twelve Apostles and on St. Paul. Then we began to reflect on other figures of the nascent Church. So today we wish to pause on the person of St. Stephen, celebrated by the Church on the day after Christmas. St. Stephen is the most representative of a group of seven companions. Tradition sees in this group the seed of the future ministry of deacons, though we must point out that this name is not present in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen's importance, in any case, is clear by the fact that, in this important book, Luke dedicates two whole chapters to him.

Luke's account begins by showing a subdivision that took place within the primitive Church of Jerusalem: It was made up completely of Christians of Jewish origin, but among the latter some were natives of the land of Israel and were called "Hebrews," while others came from the Jewish faith in the Old Testament from the diaspora of the Greek tongue and were called "Hellenists." Thus the problem began to take shape: The neediest among the Hellenists, especially widows devoid of any social support, ran the risk of being neglected in assistance for their daily sustenance.

In order to overcome these difficulties, the apostles, reserving for themselves prayer and the ministry of the word as their main task, decided to appoint "seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" to this duty, that is, to charitable social service. As Luke writes, with this objective and by invitation of the apostles, the disciples elected seven men. We have their names. They are: "Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them" (Acts 6:5-6).

The gesture of the imposition of hands can have several meanings. In the Old Testament, the gesture has above all the meaning of transmitting an important duty, as Moses did with Joshua (Cf. Numbers 27:18-23), thus designating his successor. Following this line, the Church of Antioch would also use this gesture to send Paul and Barnabas on mission to the peoples of the world (Cf. Acts 13:3). Reference is made to a similar imposition of hands upon Timothy, to transmit an official duty, in two letters that St. Paul addressed to him (Cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The fact that it referred to an important action, which had to be carried out after a discernment is deduced from what is read in the first letter to Timothy: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man's sins" (5:22).

Therefore, we see that the gesture of the imposition of hands takes place in the line of a sacramental sign. In the case of Stephen and his companions it is certainly about the official transmission, on the part of the apostles, of a duty and at the same time of imploring for the grace to exercise it.

What is most important is that, in additional to charitable services, Stephen also carried out a task of evangelization among his fellow countrymen, the so-called "Hellenists." Luke, in fact, stresses the fact that he, "full of grace and power" (Acts 6:8), presents in Jesus' name a new interpretation of Moses and of the very Law of God, rereads the Old Testament in the light of the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This rereading of the Old Testament, a Christological rereading, provokes the reactions of the Jews who interpret his words as blasphemous (Cf. Acts 6:11-14). For this reason, he is sentenced to stoning. And St. Luke transmits to us the saint's last discourse, a synthesis of his preaching.

As Jesus explained to the disciples of Emmaus that the whole of the Old Testament speaks of him, of his cross and of his resurrection, so St. Stephen, following Jesus' teaching, reads the whole of the Old Testament in a Christological key. He demonstrates that the mystery of the cross is at the center of the history of salvation narrated in the Old Testament, he truly shows that Jesus, the crucified and risen one, is the new and authentic "temple."

Precisely this "no" to the temple and its worship provokes the condemnation of St. Stephen who, in that moment -- St. Luke tells us -- on turning his gaze to heaven saw the glory of God and Jesus at his right hand. And looking up to heaven, to God and to Jesus, St. Stephen said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). It was followed by his martyrdom, which in fact was conformed with the Passion of Jesus himself, as he gives his own spirit to the Lord Jesus and prays so that the sin of his killers not be held against them (Cf. Acts 7:59-60).

The place of Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem is situated traditionally just beyond the Damascus Gate in the north, where in fact the church of St. Stephen now is, near the well-known "Ecole Biblique" of the Dominicans. The murder of Stephen, Christ's first martyr, was followed by a local persecution against Jesus' disciples (Cf. Acts 8:1), the first verified in the history of the Church. It was the concrete opportunity that drove the group of Hebrew-Hellenist Christians to flee Jerusalem and be scattered. Expelled from Jerusalem, they became itinerant missionaries. "Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). The persecution and consequent scattering became mission. The Gospel was thus propagated in Samaria, Phoenicia, and Syria, until reaching the great city of Antioch where, according to Luke, it was proclaimed for the first time to the pagans (Cf. Acts 11:19-20) and where the name "Christians" resounded for the first time (Acts 11:26).

In particular, Luke specifies that those who stoned Stephen "laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58), the same one who from persecutor would become a famous Apostle of the Gospel. This means that the young Saul must have heard Stephen's preaching, and knew the main contents. And St. Paul was probably among those who, following and listening to this discourse, "were enraged" and "ground their teeth against him" (Acts 7:54). Thus we can see the wonders of Divine Providence: Saul, hardened adversary of Stephen's vision, after the encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, takes up the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament made by the first martyr, furthers and completes it, and thus becomes the "Apostle to the Gentiles." The law is fulfilled, he teaches, in the cross of Christ. And faith in Christ, communion with the love of Christ, is the true fulfillment of the whole Law. This is the content of Paul's preaching. He thus shows that the God of Abraham becomes the God of all. And all believers in Christ Jesus, as sons of Abraham, become sharers in the promises. Stephen's vision is fulfilled in St. Paul's mission.

Stephen's story tells us much. For example, it teaches us that we must never disassociate the social commitment of charity from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven entrusted above all with charity. But it was not possible to disassociate charity from proclamation. Thus, with charity, he proclaims Christ crucified, to the point of also accepting martyrdom. This is the first lesson that we can learn from the figure of St. Stephen: Charity and proclamation always go together.

St. Stephen speaks to us above all of Christ, of Christ crucified and risen as the center of history and of our life. We can understand that the Cross occupies always a central place in the life of the Church and also in our personal lives. Passion and persecution will never be lacking in the history of the Church. And, precisely persecution becomes, according to Tertullian's famous phrase, source of mission for the new Christians. I quote his words: "We multiply every time we are harvested by you: The blood of Christians is a seed" ("Apologetico" 50,13: "Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum").

But also in our lives the cross, which will never be lacking, becomes a blessing. And, accepting the cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn the joy of the Christian, even in moments of difficulty. The value of the testimony is irreplaceable, as the Gospel leads to him and the Church is nourished on him. St. Stephen teaches us to learn these lessons, he teaches us to love the cross, as it is the way through which Jesus always makes himself present again among us.


On Paul's Collaborators (January 31, 2007)
"Holiness Doesn't Consist in Not Making Mistakes or Never Sinning"

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Continuing our journey among the leaders of the Christian origins, today we look at other collaborators of St. Paul. We must acknowledge that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: In the Church, he does not want to do everything on his own, but makes use of numerous and diverse colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious helpers, as they are many. Suffice it to recall, among others, Epaphras (cf. Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23), Epaphroditus (cf. Philippians 2:25; 4:18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12), Urbanus (cf. Romans 16:9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Colossians 4:10).

And women such as Phoebe (cf. Romans 16:1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Romans 16:12), Persis, mother of Rufus, of whom he says, "also his mother and mine" (cf. Romans 16:12-13), not forgetting spouses such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).

Today, among this great army of men and women collaborators of St. Paul, we are interested in three of these persons who had a particularly significant role in the evangelization of the origins: Barnabas, Silas and Apollos.

"Barnabas," which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36) or "son of consolation," is the nickname of a Levite Jew born a native of Cyprus. Having moved to Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity, after the Lord's resurrection.

With great generosity, he sold a field that belonged to him, giving the money to the Apostles for the needs of the Church (cf. Acts 4:37). He became the guarantor of Saul's conversion to the Christian community of Jerusalem, which still mistrusted its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9:27).

Sent to Antioch of Syria, he went to look for Paul in Tarsus, where he had gone, and spent a whole year with him, dedicating himself to the evangelization of that important city, in whose Church Barnabas was known as prophet and doctor (cf. Acts 13:1).

So Barnabas, at the moment of the first conversions of pagans, understood that Saul's hour had arrived; Saul had gone to Tarsus, his city. He went there to look for him. In that important moment he virtually restored Paul to the Church; he gave it, in a certain sense, once again, the Apostle of the Gentiles.

From the Church of Antioch, Barnabas was sent on mission, together with Paul, undertaking the Apostle's so-called first missionary journey. In reality, it was Barnabas' missionary journey, given that he was the person in charge. Paul joined him as a collaborator, crossing the regions of Cyprus and central-south Anatolia, in present-day Turkey, through the cities of Atalia, Perga, Antioch of Psidia, Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where, after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the elders decided to abandon the practice of circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1-35).

Only thus, in the end, did they allow it officially to be the Church of the pagans, a Church without circumcision: We are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, confronted each other later, at the start of the second missionary journey, because Barnabas wanted to get John Mark as a companion, while Paul did not want to, given that the youth had separated from them in the previous journey (cf. Acts 13:13; 15:36-40).

Hence, also among saints there are oppositions, discords and controversies. And this is very consoling for me, as we see that the saints have not "fallen from heaven."

They are men like us, with complicated problems. Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

And in this way, Paul, who had been somewhat hard and bitter with Mark, in the end meets him again. In the last letters of St. Paul, to Philemon and in the second to Timothy, Mark appears precisely as "my collaborator."

We are not made saints because we never make a mistake, but because of our capacity to forgive and reconcile. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (cf. Acts 15:39) around the year 49.

From then on all traces of him were lost. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews, which is not improbable as, being of the tribe of Levi, Barnabas might have been interested in the topic of priesthood. And the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus' priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

Silas, another of Paul's companions, is the Greek form of a Hebrew name (perhaps "sheal": to request, to invoke), which constitutes the same root of the name "Saul" (which also proceeds the Latin form "Silvanus").

The name Silas is only mentioned in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, whereas Silvanus appears in Paul's letters. He was a Jew from Jerusalem, one of the first to become a Christian, and he enjoyed great esteem in that Church (cf. Acts 15:22), being considered a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32).

He was in charge of taking "to the brethren of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23) the decisions made by the Council of Jerusalem and of explaining them.

Evidently they thought that he was able to carry out a sort of mediation between Jerusalem and Antioch, between Judeo-Christians and Christians of pagan origin, and in this way serve the unity of the Church in the diversity of rites and origins.

When Paul separated from Barnabas, he took Silas as his new fellow traveler (cf. Acts 15:40). With Paul, he arrived in Macedonia (in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea), where he stayed, while Paul continued to Athens and afterward to Corinth.

Silas reached him in Corinth, where he collaborated in the preaching of the Gospel; in fact, in Paul's second letter to that Church, he speaks of "Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I" (2 Corinthians 1:19).

This explains why he appears as co-author, along with Paul and Timothy, of the two Letters to the Thessalonians.

This also seems important to me. Paul does not act as a "soloist," as an isolated individual, but together with these collaborators in the "we" of the Church.

This "I" of Paul is not an isolated "I," but an "I" in the "we" of the Church, in the "we" of the apostolic faith.

And Silvanus is mentioned also at the end of the First Letter of Peter, when one reads: "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you" (5:12).

Thus we also see the communion of the Apostles. Silvanus serves Paul, serves Peter, because the Church is one and the missionary proclamation is one.

The third companion of Paul that we wish to recall today is Apollos, probable abbreviation of Apollonius or Apolodorous. Despite its being a name of pagan origin, he was a fervent Jew of Alexandria of Egypt.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes him as an "eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures ... fervent in spirit" (18:24-25).

Apollos' arrival on the scene of the first evangelization took place in the city of Ephesus: He had traveled there to preach and there he had the good fortune of meeting the Christian spouses Priscilla and Aquila (cf. Acts 18:26), who "took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately" (cf. Acts 18:26).

From Ephesus he crossed to Achaia until he arrived in the city of Corinth: He arrived there with the support of a letter of the Christians of Ephesus, who asked the Corinthians to give him a good reception (cf. Acts 18:27).

In Corinth, as Luke writes, "he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus" (Acts 18:27-28).

His success in that city had a problematic ending, as some members of that Church, fascinated by his manner of speaking, opposed others in his name (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6; 4:6).

Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians expresses his appreciation for Apollos' work, but reproaches the Corinthians for lacerating the Body of Christ, separating in opposing factions.

He draws an important lesson from what happened: Both Apollos and I, he says, are no more than "diakonoi," that is, simple ministers, through whom you came to the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5).

Each one has a different task in the field of the Lord: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave growth. ... for we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

On returning to Ephesus, Apollos resisted Paul's invitation to return immediately to Corinth, postponing the journey to a later date, which we ignore (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:12).

We have no more news of him, though some experts think that he is the possible author of the Letter to the Hebrews, whose author, according to Tertullian, was Barnabas.

These three men shine in the firmament of witnesses of the Gospel by a common characteristic, in addition to each one's personal characteristics. In common, in addition to the Jewish origin, they have the dedication to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, as well as the fact that the three were collaborators of the Apostle Paul.

In this original evangelizing mission they found the meaning of life and thus they are presented to us as luminous models of selflessness and generosity.

Let us think, finally, once again, of that phrase of St. Paul: Both Apollos and I are ministers of Jesus, each one in his way, as it is God who gives growth. This is valid for us also today, for the Pope, as well as for cardinals, bishops, priests and laity.

We are all humble ministers of Jesus. We serve the Gospel in the measure that we can, according to our gifts, and we ask God to make his Gospel, his Church grow today.


On Aquila and Priscilla
"Every House Can Be Transformed Into a Small Church"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2007 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope spoke about Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple active in the early Church.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Taking a step forward in this kind of portrait gallery of the witnesses to Christian faith that we started a few weeks ago, today we consider a married couple. The couple in question are Priscilla and Aquila, who have their place among the circle of numerous collaborators drawn to the apostle Paul, and whom I already briefly mentioned last Wednesday. Based on the information we have, this married couple developed a very active role at the time of the post-paschal origins of the Church.

The names of Aquila and Priscilla are Latin, but the man and woman who bear them were of Jewish origin. However, Aquila, at least, came geographically from the Diaspora of northern Anatolia, which overlooks the Black Sea, in what is now Turkey; while Priscilla, whose name is sometimes abbreviated to Prisca, was probably a Jew originating from Rome (cf. Acts 18:2).

In any case, it is from Rome that they arrive at Corinth, where Paul met them at the beginning of the 50s; there he became associated with them, since, as Luke tells us, they also practiced Paul's trade of tentmakers for domestic use, and he was even welcomed into their home (cf. Acts 18:3).

The reason for their coming to Corinth was the decision of Emperor Claudius to expel from Rome the Jews living in the city. The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that he expelled the Jews because "they were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus" (cf. "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius," 25).

One can see that he did not know the name well -- instead of Christ he writes "Chrestus" -- and that he only had a very confused idea about what had happened. In any case, there were disagreements within the Jewish community about the issue of whether Jesus was the Christ. And these problems were the reason the emperor simply expelled all Jews from Rome.

One can deduce from this that the couple had already embraced the Christian faith in Rome during the 40s, and had now found in Paul someone who not only shared with them this faith, that Jesus is the Christ, but who was also an apostle, personally called by the Risen Lord. Therefore, their first encounter is in Corinth, where they welcome him into their home and they work together making tents.

In a second moment, they move to Ephesus, in Asia Minor. There they played a decisive role in completing the formation of the Alexandrian Jew, Apollo, of whom we spoke last Wednesday. Since he only had a superficial knowledge of the Christian faith, "Priscilla and Aquila heard him, then took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26).

When the apostle Paul writes his First Letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, together with his characteristic greetings, he explicitly mentions "Aquila and Prisca, together with the church at their house" (1 Corinthians 16:19).

In this way we come to know the hugely important role this couple played in the sphere of the primitive Church: that of welcoming in their own home the group of local Christians when they got together to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.

It is precisely that type of gathering that in Greek is called "ekklesìa" -- the Latin word is "ecclesia" -- the Italian "chiesa" -- that means assembly, gathering. So, in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, the Church gets together, the Church summoned by Christ, which celebrates here the Sacred Mysteries.

In this way we can see the very birth of the reality of the Church in the homes of the believers. Christians, in fact, until around the third century, did not have their own places of worship: At first, they gathered in Jewish synagogues, until the original symbiosis between the Old and New Testament was dissolved and the Church of the people was forced to give itself its own identity, always deeply rooted in the Old Testament.

Then, after this "split," they gather in the homes of Christians, which in this way become "Church." And finally, in the third century, authentic buildings for Christian worship were born.

But here, in the first half of the first century as in the second century, Christian houses become true and proper "church." As I have said, they read Scripture together and celebrated the Eucharist. That was what used to happen, for example, in Corinth, where Paul mentions a certain "Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church" (Romans 16:23), or in Laodicea, where the community would get together in the house of a certain Nympha (Colossians 4:15), or in Colossae, where the gathering would take place in the house of a certain Archippus (cf. Philemon 2).

Having subsequently returned to Rome, Aquila and Priscilla continue to develop that most precious function in the capital of the empire as well. Paul, in fact, writing to the Romans, sends this precise greeting: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house" (Romans 16:3-5).

What extraordinary praise is found in these words! And it is the apostle Paul, no less, who offers it! He explicitly recognizes in them two true and important collaborators of his apostolate.

The reference to their having risked their lives for him is probably linked to an intervention in his favor during an imprisonment of his, perhaps in Ephesus itself (cf. Acts 19:23; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

And that Paul should associate all the Churches of the Gentiles with his own gratitude, although the statement may seem to be hyperbole, allows us, in any case, to intuit how great their range of action and their influence for the good of the Gospel was.

Later hagiographic tradition has conferred singular importance on Priscilla, even if the problem remains of her identification with another Priscilla who was a martyr. In any case, here in Rome we have both a church dedicated to St. Prisca on the Aventine, and the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria.

In this way, the memory of a woman who has surely been an active person of great value in the history of Roman Christianity is perpetuated. One thing is certain: Together with the gratitude of those first Churches, of which Paul speaks, our own must be added, since due to the faith and apostolic commitment of faithful lay people, of families, of married couples such as Priscilla and Aquila, Christianity has reached our generation.

It was not only able to grow thanks to the apostles who announced it. In order to take root in peoples' land, in order to develop in a living way, it was necessary that there be the commitment of these families, of these couples, of these Christian communities, of faithful lay people who offered "humus" to the growth of faith.

And it is always in this way that the Church grows. In particular, this couple proves just how important the action of Christian spouses is. When these are supported by faith and a strong spirituality, their courageous commitment to and in the Church becomes natural.

Their daily community of life is prolonged and somehow sublimated in the taking on of a public responsibility for the good of the Body of Christ, even if just a small part of it. This is how it was in the first generation and this is how it will often be.

One further lesson we cannot neglect to take from their example: Every house can be transformed into a small church. Not only in the sense that, therein, Christian love, typically made of altruism and mutual care, should reign, but even more in the sense that the whole of family life, founded on faith, is called to revolve around the sole lordship of Jesus Christ.

Not by chance, in the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul compares the relationship of matrimony to the spousal communion between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Even more, we can maintain that the Apostle shapes the life of the whole Church on that of the family. And the Church, in reality, is the family of God.

For this reason we honor Aquila and Priscilla as models of conjugal life, responsibly committed to the service of the entire Christian community. And we find in them the model of the Church, family of God for all times.


Women of the Early Church
"The Feminine Presence Was in No Way Secondary" (February 14, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We come today to the end of the journey among the witnesses of early Christianity, mentioned in the writings of the New Testament. And we take advantage of the last stage of this first journey to focus our attention on the many feminine figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.

Their testimony cannot be forgotten, in keeping with what Jesus himself said about the woman who anointed his head shortly before his passion: "Truly I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9).

The Lord wants these witnesses of the Gospel, these figures who have made their contribution so that faith in him would grow, to be known and their memory to remain alive in the Church. Historically we can distinguish the role of women in primitive Christianity, during Jesus' earthly life and during the vicissitudes of the first Christian generation.

Of course, as we know, Jesus chose 12 men among his disciples as fathers of the new Israel "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach" (Mark 3:14-15). This fact is obvious but, in addition to the Twelve, pillars of the Church, fathers of the new People of God, many women were also chosen and numbered among the disciples.

I can only mention briefly those who found themselves on the path of Jesus himself, beginning with the prophetess Anna (cf. Luke 2:36-38), coming then to the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:1-39), the Syrophoenician woman (cf. Mark 7:24-30), the woman with the hemorrhage (cf. Matthew 9:20-22) and the forgiven woman sinner (cf. Luke 7:36-50).

Nor will I consider the protagonists of some of his effective parables, for example, the woman who makes the bread (Matthew 13:33), the woman who loses the silver coin (Luke 15:8-10), or the vexing widow before the judge (Luke 18:1-8).

More significant for our discussion are the women who played an active role in the context of Jesus' mission. Above all, our thoughts go naturally to the Virgin Mary, who with her faith and maternal endeavor collaborated in a unique way in our redemption, to the point that Elizabeth was able to call her "blessed among women" (Luke 1:42), adding: "Blessed is she who believed" (Luke 1:45).

Becoming a disciple of Christ, Mary manifested at Cana her complete trust in him (cf. John 2:5) and followed him to the foot of the cross, where she received a maternal mission from him for all his disciples of all times, represented by John (cf. John 19:25-27).

There are, moreover, several women who in different ways gravitated around the figure of Jesus with functions of responsibility. The women who followed Jesus to serve him with their properties are an eloquent example of this. Luke gives us some names: Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna "and many others" (cf. Luke 8:2-3). Later, the Gospels tell us that the women, unlike the Twelve, did not abandon Jesus in the hour of his passion (cf. Matthew 27:56.61; Mark 15:40).

Outstanding among these women, in particular, is the Magdalene, who not only was present at the Passion, but also became the first witness and herald of the Risen One (cf. John 20:1,11-18). To Mary of Magdala, in fact, St. Thomas Aquinas dedicates the singular description "apostle of the apostles" ("apostolorum apostola"), dedicating a beautiful commentary to her: "Just as a woman had announced to the first man the words of death, so also a woman was the first to announce to the apostles the words of life" ("Super Ioannem," CAI publishers, Paragraph 2519).

Moreover, in the ambit of the early Church the feminine presence was in no way secondary. This is the case of the four daughters of "deacon" Philip, whose names are not mentioned, residents in Caesarea, all of them gifted, as St. Luke says, with the "gift of prophecy," that is, of the faculty to speak publicly under the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 21:9). The brevity of the news does not allow for more precise deductions.

We owe to St. Paul a more ample documentation on woman's dignity and ecclesial role. He begins with the fundamental principle, according to which, for the baptized "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), that is, all united in the same nature, though each one with specific functions (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27-30).

The Apostle admits as something normal that woman can "prophesy" in the Christian community (1 Corinthians 11:5), that is, pronounce herself openly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, on the condition that it is for the edification of the community and in a dignified manner. Therefore, the famous exhortation "the women should keep silence in the churches" must be relativized (1 Corinthians 14:34).

The much-discussed problem on the relationship between the first phrase -- women can prophesy in church -- and the other -- they cannot speak -- that is, the relationship between these two indications which are seemingly contradictory, we leave for the exegetes.

It is not something that must be discussed here. Last Wednesday we already met with Prisca, or Priscilla, wife of Aquila, who in two cases is mentioned surprisingly before her husband (cf. Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3): Both are described explicitly by Paul as his "sun-ergous," or collaborators (Romans 16:3).

There are other observations that must not be neglected. It is necessary to state, for example, that the brief Letter to Philemon is addressed by Paul also to a woman called "Apphia" (cf. Philemon 2). Latin and Syrian translations of the Greek text add to the name "Apphia" the description "soror carissima" (ibid.), and it must be said that in the community of Colossae they must have had an important role. In any case, she is the only woman mentioned by Paul among the recipients of one of his letters.

In other passages, the Apostle mentions a certain Phoebe whom he calls "diakonos" of the church of Cenchreae, the small port city east of Corinth (cf. Romans 16:1-2). Although at that time the title still did not have a specific ministerial value of a hierarchical character, it expresses a genuine exercise of responsibility on the part of this woman in favor of that Christian community.

Paul requests that she be received cordially and "help her in whatever she may require," and then adds: "For she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well." In the same epistolary context, the Apostle, with delicate lines recalls other names of women: a certain Mary, and then Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis, "beloved," as well as Julia, of whom he writes openly that they "have worked hard for you" or "have worked hard in the Lord" (Romans 16:6,12a,12b,15), thus underlining their intense ecclesial commitment.

Moreover, two women, called Euodia and Syntyche, are distinguished in the church of Philippi (Philippians 4:2): Paul's appeal to mutual agreement suggests that the two women carried out an important function within that community.

In sum, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently if the generous contribution of many women had not taken place. For this reason, as my venerated and beloved predecessor, John Paul II, wrote in the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem": "Therefore, the Church gives thanks for each and every woman. ... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: She gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness" (No. 31).

As we see, the praise refers to women in the course of the history of the Church and is expressed in the name of the whole ecclesial community. We also join ourselves to this appreciation, giving thanks to the Lord because he leads his Church, from generation to generation, making use indistinctly of men and women, who are able to make their faith and baptism fruitful for the good of the whole ecclesial Body for the greater glory of God.


On St. Clement of Rome
"The Church Has a Sacramental, Not Political Structure"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2007 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope is beginning a new cycle of catecheses on the Apostolic Fathers, starting with St. Clement of Rome.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the past few months we have meditated upon the figures of each individual apostle and the first witnesses of the Christian faith, those mentioned in the New Testament writings. Now, we will turn our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generation of the Church after the apostles. This way we can see how the Church's path started in history.

St. Clement, Bishop of Rome during the last years of the first century, is the third successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimonial of his life is that written by St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon until 202. He asserts that Clement "had seen the apostles … had met with them," and "still had their preaching in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3). Later testimonials, between the fourth and sixth centuries, give Clement the title of martyr.

This Bishop of Rome's authority and prestige were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only certain one is the Letter to the Corinthians.

Eusebius of Caesarea, the great "archivist" of Christian origins, presents it with these words: "One letter by Clement has been sent down to us recognized as authentic, great and admirable. It was written by him on behalf of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth. … We know that for a long time, and still today, this letter is read publicly during the reunions of the faithful" (Hist. Eccl. 3,16).

An almost canonical characteristic was attributed to this letter. At the beginning of the text, written in Greek, Clement is sorry if "the multiple and calamitous events" (1,1), made for a tardy intervention. These "events" can be identified with the persecution of Domitian; therefore, the date this letter was written goes back to a time directly after the death of the emperor and toward the end of the persecution, that is to say just after 96.

Clement's intervention -- we are still in the first century -- was called upon because of the serious problems the Church of Corinth was undergoing; the priests of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young upstarts. The painful event is remembered, once again by St. Irenaeus who writes, "Under Clement, having given rise to a rather serious contrast between the Corinthian brothers, the Church of Rome sent the Corinthians a very important letter to reconcile them in peace to renew their faith and to announce the tradition, a tradition they had so newly received from the apostles" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3).

Therefore, we could say that this letter is a first exercise of a Primate of Rome after the death of St. Peter. Clement's letter touches upon topics dear to St. Paul who had written two great letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, always pertinent, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.

First, there is the proclamation of saving grace. The Lord foresees us and gives us forgiveness, gives us his love, the grace of being Christians, his brothers and sisters. This is an announcement that fills our life with joy and gives certitude to our actions. The Lord always foresees our acts with his goodness and the goodness of the Lord is always greater than all of our sins.

We must, however, commit ourselves in a coherent way to this gift that we have received and answer the proclamation of salvation with a generous and courageous path toward conversion. Looking at the Pauline model, the novelty is that Clement follows the doctrinal part and the practical part with a "great prayer," which practically concludes the letter.

The immediate occasion of the letter opened to the Bishop of Rome the possibility for vast intervention on the identity of the Church and its mission. If there were abuses in Corinth, Clement notes, the reason should be looked for in the weakening of charity and the necessary Christian virtues. This is why he calls all the faithful to humility and brotherly love, two virtues, truly the basis for being part of the Church. "We are the portion of the Holy One," he says, "let us do all those things which pertain to holiness" (30,1).

In particular, the Bishop of Rome recalls that the Lord himself, "where and by whom he desires these things to be done, he himself has fixed by his own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to his good pleasure, may be acceptable unto him. … For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to the laymen" (40,1-5: note that here, in this letter from the end of the first century, for the first time in Christian literature the Greek term "laikós" appears which means "member of the laos," that is "the people of God").

This way, referring to the liturgy of ancient Israel, Clement reveals his ideal of the Church. This is gathered by his "one spirit of grace poured down upon us," which shows through the different members of the Body of Christ, in which all, joined without division are "members one of the other" (46,6-7).

The clear distinction between the "laymen" and the hierarchy does not mean, in any way, a contraposition but only the organic connection of a body, of an organism with different functions. In fact, the Church is not a place for confusion and anarchy, where someone can do whatever he wants at any time; each one in this organism with an articulated structure practices his ministry according to the vocation received.

As pertains to the heads of the communities, Clement specifies clearly the doctrine of apostolic succession. The laws that regulate this derive from God himself in an ultimate analysis. The Father sent Jesus Christ, who in turn sent the apostles. These then sent out the first heads of the communities, and established that they would be followed by worthy men. Therefore, all proceeds in "an orderly way, according to the will of the word of God" (42).

With these words, with these phrases, St. Clement underlines that the Church has a sacramental structure, not a political structure. God's actions that come to us in the liturgy precede our decisions and our ideas. The Church is above all a gift of God and not a creature of ours and therefore this sacramental structure not only guarantees the common order but also the precedence of the gift of God that we all need.

Finally, the "great prayer" confers a cosmic breath to the preceding discussion. Clement praises and thanks God for his great providence of love, who created the world and continued to save it and bless it. Particular relevance is given to the invocation for the governing body. After the New Testament texts, this represents the oldest prayer for political institutions. Thus, on the morrow of the persecution, Christians, well aware that the persecutions would continue, did not cease to pray for those very authorities that had condemned them unjustly.

The motive is above all Christological: One must pray for persecutors, as Jesus did on the cross. But this prayer also contains a teaching that guides, in the course of the centuries, the attitude of Christians in the face of politics and the state.

In praying for the authorities, Clement recognizes the legitimacy of the political institutions in the order established by God. At the same time, he manifests his concern that the authorities be docile to God and "exercise the power that God has given them in peace and gentleness with compassion" (61,2).

Caesar is not all. Another sovereignty emerges, whose origin and essence are not of this world, but "from above": It is that of Truth, which merits the right to be heard also in confrontations with the state."

Thus Clement's letter faces numerous themes of continuous actuality. This is more significant inasmuch as it represents, since the first century, solicitude of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all other churches.

With the same spirit we make our invocations as the "great prayer," where the Bishop of Rome becomes the voice for the entire world, "Yea, Lord, make your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by your mighty hand ... we praise you through the high priest and guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation and for evermore. Amen" (60-61).

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the early Church, we now turn to the Apostolic Fathers. Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome and third successor of Peter, lived in the last years of the first century. He had met the apostles personally. Clement wrote an important letter to the Church in Corinth at a time when the Christian community was deeply divided. He encourages them to renew their faith in the message received from the apostles and to be reconciled with one another. In this way, he shows the essential connection between the content of the Gospel and the way we live. This connection is essential to Clement's ideal for the Church, in which the hierarchical structure is intrinsically ordered to the service of charity. Laity and hierarchy are not opposed, but organically connected in the mystery of the one body. According to Clement, not only the Church, but also the entire cosmos reflects God's providential love and mercy. Clement concludes his letter by praising God for this marvelous order. Let us join him as we beg the Lord to "make his face shine upon us in goodness and peace. Amen."

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's audience, especially the groups from Scotland, Denmark, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage renew your love for the Lord and his Church, and may God bless you all!


On St. Ignatius of Antioch
"Truly a Doctor of Unity" (March 14, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Like last Wednesday, today we are talking about the protagonists in the young Church. Last week, we spoke about Pope Clement I, third successor to St. Peter. Today, we will talk about St. Ignatius, who was "the third bishop of Antioch in Syria, from the year 70 to 107," the year of his martyrdom.

At that time, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were the three great cities of the Roman Empire. The Council of Nicaea mentions the three "primacies": that of Rome, and Alexandria and Antioch participate, in a certain sense, in a "primacy."

St. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch, which is now located in Turkey. Here, in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a blossoming Christian community was emerging: Its first bishop was the apostle Peter as is stated in tradition, and "there for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Act 11:26).

Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicates an entire chapter of his Storia Ecclesiastica to the life and works of Ignatius (3,36).

"From Syria," he writes, "Ignatius was sent to Rome to be thrown to the animals, because of his testimony to Christ. Traveling through Asia, under the severe care of the guards" (which he calls "ten leopards" in his Letter to the Romans, 5:1), "in each city where he stopped, with preaching and admonitions, he reinforced the Churches; above all, he would exhort heatedly to watch out for heresy, which were beginning to come about and recommended not straying from the apostolic tradition."

The first stop on Ignatius' trip toward martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, whose bishop was St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Church of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome.

Eusebius continues: "Having left Smyrna, Ignatius came to Troas, and from there sent new letters": two to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Eusebius completes the list of letters, which have come to us from the first-century Church like a precious treasure. Reading these texts, one can feel the freshness of the faith of the generation that had still known the apostles. We can also feel in these letters the ardent love of a saint. Finally from Troas, the martyr reached Rome, where, in the Flavian Amphitheater, he was thrown to the lions.

No other Church Father expressed as intensely as Ignatius the wish for union with Christ and life in him. This is why we have read the Gospel of the vine, which according to the Gospel of St. John is Jesus.

Two spiritual currents can be found in St. Ignatius: St. Paul's tending toward union with Christ and St. John's concentrating on life in him. In turn, these two currents merge into "imitation of Christ" many times proclaimed by Ignatius as my or our God.

Therefore Ignatius begs the Roman Christians to not postpone his martyrdom, because he was "impatient to join Jesus Christ." And explains: "It is beautiful for me to die going toward ('eis') Jesus Christ, rather than reigning to the ends of the earth. I look for him, who died for me, I want him, who was resurrected for us. … Let me imitate the Passion of my God!" (Romans 5-6).

In these expressions of burning love we can see the specific Christological realism typical of the Church of Antioch, evermore attentive to the incarnation of the Son of God and his true and concrete humanity. Ignatius writes to the Smyrnaeans, "He is truly of the line of David … truly born of a virgin … truly was he nailed for us" (1,1).

Ignatius' irresistible tension toward union with Christ founds a real "mystique of unity." He defines himself as "a man who has been given the duty of unity" (Philadelphians 8,1).

For Ignatius, union is "above all a prerogative of God who being three," is one in absolute union. He often repeats that God is union and only in God can this be found in the pure and original state. The union to be reached in this world by Christians is but an imitation, the closest possible to the divine archetype. In this way, Ignatius elaborates a vision of the Church, closely recalling certain expression of the Letter to the Corinthians by Clement of Rome.

For example, he writes to the Christians of Ephesus: "Wherefore it is fitting that you should run in accordance with the will of your bishop, a thing you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing" (4,1-2).

And after having advised the Smyrnaeans to not "undertake anything regarding the Church without the bishop" (8,1), he confides to Polycarp: "I offer my life for those obeying the bishop, the presbyters and the deacons. May I, with them, have a part with God. Work together one with the other, fight together, run together, suffer together, sleep and wake together as administrators of God, his assessors and servants. Please him under whom you fight and from whom you receive grace. May none of you be found deserting. May your baptism remain a shield, faith as a helmet, charity as a lance, patience as armor" (6,1-2).

In general, in Ignatius' letters, we can see a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between the two aspects characteristic of Christian life: on one hand the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community, and on the other hand, the fundamental union that links all the faithful in Christ. Therefore the roles cannot be opposed. On the contrary, the insistence on communion of the faithful among themselves and with their pastors is continually formulated through eloquent images and analogies: the harp, the chords, the tone, the concert, the symphony. The specific responsibility of the bishops, the presbyters and the deacons in the building of the community is evident. To them above all, the invitation to love and union is valid.

Ignatius writes to the Magnesians, taking up Jesus' prayer during the Last Supper: "Be as one. One supplication, one mind one hope in love. … Come all to Jesus Christ as the only temple of God, as the one altar; he is one, and proceeding from the one Father, he remained in union with him, and returned to him in union" (7,1-2).

Ignatius was the first one in Christian literature to give the Church the adjective "Catholic," that is, "universal." He states: "Where Jesus Christ is, so is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans 8,2).

It is in the service of union to the Catholic Church that the Christian community of Rome exercises a sort of primacy in love: "In Rome, it presides worthy of God, venerable worthy of being called blessed. … Presiding over charity, who bears the law of Christ and the name of Father" (Romans, prologue).

As we can see, Ignatius is "truly a doctor of unity": unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies that had begun to spread and divided humanity and divinity in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful "in faith and charity, of which there is nothing more excellent" (Smyrnaeans 6,1).

In conclusion, the realism of Ignatius invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (union with the bishop, generous service to the community and the world).

In other words, one must achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within itself and the mission of proclamation of the Gospel to others, until one dimension speaks through the other, and believers are evermore "in possession of that indivisible spirit that is Jesus Christ himself" (Magnesians 15).

Imploring this "grace of union" of the Lord, and with the conviction of presiding charity throughout the Church (cf. Romans, prologue), I wish you the same desire that ends the Letter by Ignatius to the Trallians: "Love one another with an undivided heart. My spirit is offered in sacrifice for you not only now, but also when you have reached God. … In Christ may you be found without sin" (13). And we pray that the Lord may help us in achieving this unity and to be found without sin, because love purifies the spirit.


On St. Irenaeus of Lyons
"The First Great Theologian of the Church" (March 28, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the catechesis on the great figures of the Church during the first centuries, today we reach the figure of an eminent personality, Irenaeus of Lyons. His biographical information comes from his own testimony, sent down to us by Eusebius in the fifth book of the "Storia Ecclesiastica."

Irenaeus was most probably born in Smyrna (today Izmir, in Turkey) between the years 135 and 140. There, while still a youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, for his part, a disciple of the apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but the move must have coincided with the first developments of the Christian community in Lyons: There, in 177, we find Irenaeus mentioned among the college of presbyters.

That year he was sent to Rome, bearer of a letter from the community of Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. The Roman mission took Irenaeus away from the persecution by Marcus Aurelius, in which at least 48 martyrs died, among them the bishop of Lyons himself, the 90-year-old Pothinus, who died of mistreatment in jail. Thus, on his return, Irenaeus was elected bishop of the city. The new pastor dedicated himself entirely to his episcopal ministry, which ended around 202-203, perhaps by martyrdom.

Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor. Like the Good Shepherd, he has prudence, a richness of doctrine, and missionary zeal. As a writer, he aims for a twofold objective: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of the heretics, and to clearly expound the truth of the faith. His two works still in existence correspond exactly to the fulfillment of these two objectives: the five books "Against Heresies," and the "Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching" (which could be called the oldest "catechism of Christian doctrine"). Without a doubt, Irenaeus is the champion in the fight against heresies.

The Church of the second century was threatened by so-called gnosticism, a doctrine which claimed that the faith taught by the Church was nothing more than symbolism for the simpleminded, those unable to grasp more difficult things. Instead, the initiated, the intellectuals -- they called themselves gnostics -- could understand what was behind the symbolism, and thus would form an elite, intellectual Christianity.

Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became more and more fragmented with different currents of thought, often strange and extravagant, yet attractive to many. A common element within these various currents was dualism, that is, a denial of faith in the only God, Father of all, creator and savior of humanity and of the world. To explain the evil in the world, they asserted the existence of a negative principle, next to the good God. This negative principle had created matter, material things.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of Creation, Irenaeus refuted dualism and the gnostic pessimism that devalued corporal realities. He decisively affirmed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, as well as of the spirit. But his work goes far beyond the refutation of heresies: In fact, one can say that he presents himself as the first great theologian of the Church, who established systematic theology. He himself speaks about the system of theology, that is, the internal coherence of the faith.

The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

To adhere to this faith publicly taught by the apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what the bishops say. They must specifically consider the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and ancient. This Church, because of its age, has the greatest apostolicity; in fact its origins come from the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul. All the Churches must be in harmony with the Church of Rome, recognizing in it the measure of the true apostolic tradition and the only faith common to the Church.

With these arguments, very briefly summarized here, Irenaeus refutes the very foundation of the aims of the gnostics, of these intellectuals: First of all, they do not possess a truth that would be superior to the common faith, given that what they say is not of apostolic origin, but invented by them. Second, truth and salvation are not a privilege monopolized by a few, but something that everyone can reach through the preaching of the apostles' successors, and, above all, that of the Bishop of Rome.

By taking issue with the "secret" character of the gnostic tradition and by contesting its multiple intrinsic contradictions, Irenaeus concerns himself with illustrating the genuine concept of Apostolic Tradition, that we could summarize in three points.

a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" ("Adv. Haer." 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.

b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which -- as we have seen -- Irenaeus calls "regula fidei" or "veritatis." And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.

There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book "Against Heresies": "The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."

We can already see at this time -- we are in the year 200 -- the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

This is the "life" of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of "Against Heresies," "which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. ¡Ä For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (3,24,1).

As we can see, Irenaeus does not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always internally vivified by the Holy Spirit, which makes it alive again, allows it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church.

According to his teaching, the Church's faith must be preached in such a way that it appears as it must appear, that is "public," "one," "pneumatic," "spiritual." From each of these characteristics, one can glean a fruitful discernment of the authentic transmission of the faith in the Church of today.

More generally, in the doctrine of Irenaeus, human dignity, body and soul, is firmly rooted in Divine Creation, in the image of Christ and in the permanent work of sanctification of the Spirit. This doctrine is like the "main road" to clarify to all people of good will, the object and the limits of dialogue on values, and to give an ever new impulse to the missionary activities of the Church, to the strength of truth which is the source of all the true values in the world.


On Clement of Alexandria
"One of the Great Promoters of Dialogue Between Faith and Reason" (April 18, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After a time of holidays, we return to our normal catechesis, despite the fact that the square is still visibly decorated for the feasts. With these catecheses, we return, as I said, to the theme previously begun. We have spoken about the Twelve Apostles, then the disciples of the apostles, and now we turn to the great personalities of the nascent Church, of the ancient Church.

Last time, we had spoken about St. Irenaeus of Lyons and today we will speak of Clement of Alexandria, a great theologian who was probably born in Athens, sometime around the turn of the second century. In Athens, he picked up a keen interest in philosophy that would make him one of the great promoters of dialogue between faith and reason in the Christian tradition.

While still a youth, he moved to Alexandria, the "symbolic city" of this fruitful nexus between cultures which characterized the Hellenistic age. He was a disciple of Pantaenus and even succeeded him in directing the catechetical school. Numerous sources say he was ordained a priest. During the persecution from 202-203, he fled Alexandria and took refuge in Caesarea, in Cappadocia, where he died in the year 215.

The most important of his works which still exist are the "Exhortation," the "Instructor" and the "Stromata." Although it seems that it was not the author's original intention, these works make for a real trilogy, adequate for efficiently accompanying the spiritual maturation of a Christian.

"The Exhortation," as the title itself implies, exhorts one who is beginning and searching for the path of faith. Moreover, "The Exhortation" coincides with a person: the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is an "exhorter" of those who decidedly begin the journey toward Truth.

Christ himself later becomes the "educator," that is, the "instructor" of those who, by virtue of baptism, have become sons and daughters of God. Christ himself, finally, is also "Didascalo," that is, the "Teacher," who proposes the deepest teachings. These are collected in Clement's third work, "The Stromata," a Greek word meaning "miscellanies." It is a composition that is not systematic, but rather deals with various arguments, and is the direct fruit of the ordinary teaching of Clement.

Taken together, Clement's catecheses accompany the catechumen and the baptized step by step, because, with the two "wings" of faith and reason, they lead to knowing the Truth, which is Christ, the Word of God. "Authentic gnosis" -- the Greek expression which means "knowledge" or "intelligence" -- can only be found in knowing the person of the truth. This is the edifice built by reason under the impulse of the supernatural principle. Therefore, the authentic "gnosis" is a development of the faith, drawn forth by Christ in the souls of those united to him. Clement later defines two levels of Christian life.

The first level: believing Christians who live the faith in an ordinary way, although with their horizons always open toward sanctity. The second level: the "gnostics," that is, those who lead a life of spiritual perfection. In any case, the Christian has to begin with the common base of the faith and by way of a path of searching, he should allow himself to be led by Christ and thus arrive to the knowledge of the Truth and the truths that make up the content of the faith.

This knowledge, Clement tells us, becomes for the soul a lived reality: It is not just a theory. Rather, it is a life force, a union with a transforming love. The knowledge of Christ is not just a thought, but a love that opens the eyes, transforms the person and creates communion with the "Logos," the divine Word that is truth and life. In this communion, which is the perfect knowledge and is love, the perfect Christian reaches contemplation and union with God.

Clement finally takes up doctrine, according to which the final end of the person consists in being like God. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, but this is also a challenge, a journey; in fact, the objective of life, the final destiny of the person consists in making himself like God. This is possible thanks to a connaturality with him, which the person has received at the moment of his creation, by which he is already the image of God. This connaturality enables him to know divine realities to which the person adheres above all by faith, and through the living of the faith, the practice of the virtues, can grow until he reaches the contemplation of God.

In this way, on the journey to perfection, Clement gives the same importance to moral requirements as to the intellectual ones. The two go together because it is not possible to know the truth without living it, nor to live the truth without knowing it. It is not possible to make oneself like God and contemplate him simply with a rational knowledge: In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to live according to the "Logos," a life according to truth. And, therefore, good works have to accompany intellectual knowledge, as the shadow accompanies the body.

There are two virtues which particularly adorn the soul of the "authentic gnostic." The first is freedom from passions ("ap?theia"); the second is love, the true passion, which ensures intimate union with God. Love gives perfect peace, and enables the "authentic gnostic" to confront the greatest sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice in the following of Christ, and brings him to rise to the level of living virtue. In this way, the ethical ideal of ancient philosophy, that is, the freedom from passions, is redefined by Clement and complemented by love, in the unending process which leads to being like God.

In this way, the thinker from Alexandria fosters the second great opportunity for dialogue between the Christian message and Greek philosophy. We know that St. Paul, in the Areopagus in Athens, where Clement was born, had made the first attempt at dialogue with Greek philosophy and for the most part, had failed, given that his listeners said, "We will listen to you at another time." Now Clement, takes up again this dialogue, and supremely ennobles it in the tradition of Greek philosophy.

As my venerable predecessor, John Paul II, wrote in his encyclical "Fides et Ratio," Clement of Alexandria arrived to an interpretation of philosophy as "instruction which prepared for Christian faith" (No. 38). And, in fact, Clement even affirmed that God had given philosophy to the Greeks "as their own Testament" ("Stromata," 6, 8, 67, 1).

For him, the tradition of Greek philosophy, almost like the Law for the Jews, is the context for "revelation." They are two currents that definitively direct toward the very "Logos." Clement decisively continues along the path of those who want to "give reason" for their faith in Jesus Christ.

He can serve as an example for Christians, for catechists and theologians of our time, who John Paul II exhorted in that same encyclical to "recover and express to the full the metaphysical dimension of truth in order to enter into a demanding critical dialogue with [?] contemporary philosophical thought."

We conclude with one of the expressions from the famous "Prayer to Christ, 'Logos'" with which Clement concludes the "Instructor." His prayer reads: "Show favor to your children ? grant us to live in peace, to arrive to your city, pass through the currents of sin without sinking into them, be transported with serenity by the Holy Spirit, by ineffable Wisdom: we, who by day and by night, until the last day, raise to you a hymn of thanksgiving to the one Father ? the Son, Instructor and Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit, Amen!" ("Instructor," 3, 12, 101).


On Origen of Alexandria
"He Was a True Teacher"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on Origen of Alexandria.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our meditations on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we will get to know one of the most outstanding. Origen of Alexandria is one of the key people for the development of Christian thought. He draws on the teachings he inherited from Clement of Alexandria, whom we reflected upon last Wednesday, and brings them forward in a totally innovative way, creating an irreversible turn in Christian thought.

He was a true teacher; this is how his students nostalgically remembered him: not only as a brilliant theologian, but as an exemplary witness of the doctrine he taught. "He taught," wrote Eusebius of Caesarea, his enthusiastic biographer, "that one's conduct must correspond to the word, and it was for this reason above all that, helped by God's grace, he led many to imitate him" (Hist. Eccl. 6,3,7).

His entire life was permeated by a desire for martyrdom. He was 17 years old when, in the 10th year of Septimius Severus' reign, the persecution against Christians began in Alexandria.

Clement, his teacher, left the city, and Origen's father, Leonides, was thrown into prison. His son ardently yearned for martyrdom, but he would not be able to fulfill this desire. Therefore, he wrote to his father, exhorting him to not renounce giving the supreme witness of the faith. And when Leonides was beheaded, young Origen felt he must follow the example of his father.

Forty years later, while he was preaching in Caesarea, he said: "I cannot rejoice in having had a father who was a martyr if I do not persevere in good conduct and I do not honor the nobility of my race, that is to the martyrdom of my father and the witness he gave in Christ" (Hom. Ez. 4,8).

In a later homily -- when, thanks to the extreme tolerance of Emperor Philip the Arab, the possibility of ever becoming a martyr seemed to fade -- Origen exclaimed: "If God would consent to let me be washed in my blood, receiving a second baptism by accepting death for Christ, I would surely go from this world. … But blessed are they who merit these things" (Hom. Lud. 7.12).

These words reveal Origen's nostalgia for the baptism by blood. And finally, this irresistible desire was, in part, fulfilled. In 250, during the persecution by Decius, Origen was arrested and cruelly tortured. Severely weakened by the sufferings he endured, he died a few years later. He was not yet 70 years old.

We mentioned earlier the "irreversible turn" that Origen caused in the history of theology and Christian thought. But in what did this "turn" consist, this turning point so full of consequences?

In substance, he grounded theology in the explanations of the Scriptures; or we could also say that his theology is the perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. In truth, the characterizing mark of Origen's doctrine seems to reside in his incessant invitation to pass from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in the knowledge of God.

And this "allegoristic" approach, wrote von Balthasar, coincides precisely "with the development of Christian dogma carried out by the teachings of the doctors of the Church," who -- in one way or another -- accepted the "lesson" of Origen. In this way, Tradition and the magisterium, foundation and guarantee of theological research, reach the point of being "Scripture in act" (cf. "Origene: il mondo, Cristo e la Chiesa," tr. it., Milano 1972, p. 43).

We can say, therefore, that the central nucleus of Origen's immense literary works consists in his "three-pronged reading" of the Bible. But before talking about this "reading," let us look at the literary production of the Alexandrian.

St. Jerome, in his Epistle 33, lists the titles of 320 books and 310 homilies by Origen. Unfortunately most of those works are now lost, but the few surviving works make him the most prolific author of the first three Christian centuries. His array of interests extended from exegesis to dogma, to philosophy, to apologetics, to asceticism and to mysticism. It is an important and global vision of Christian life.

The inspirational core of this work is, as we mentioned earlier, the "three-pronged reading" of the Scriptures developed by Origen during his life. With this expression we are alluding to the three most important ways -- not in any order of importance -- with which Origen dedicated himself to the study of Scripture.

He read the Bible with the intent to understand the text as best he could and to offer a trustworthy explanation. This, for example, is the first step: to know what is actually written and to know what this text wanted to say intentionally and initially. He carried out a great study with this in mind and created an edition of the Bible with six parallel columns, from right to left, with the Hebrew texts written in Hebrew -- Origen had contact with rabbis to better understand the original Hebrew text of the Bible.

He then transliterated the Hebrew text into Greek and then did four different translations into Greek, which permitted him to compare the various possibilities for translation. This synopsis is called "Hexapla" (six columns). This is the first point: to know exactly what is written, the text in itself.

The second "reading" is Origen's systematic reading of the Bible along with its most famous commentaries. They faithfully reproduce the explanations give by Origen to his students, in Alexandria and Caesarea. He proceeds almost verse by verse, probing amply and deeply, with philological and doctrinal notes. He works with great attention to exactness to better understand what the sacred authors wanted to say.

In conclusion, even before his ordination, Origen dedicated himself a great deal to the preaching of the Bible, adapting himself to varied audiences. In any case, as we see in his Homilies, the teacher, dedicated to systematic interpretation of verses, breaks them down into smaller verses.

Also in the Homilies, Origen takes every opportunity to mention the various senses of sacred Scripture that help or express a way of growth in faith: There is the "literal" sense, but this hides depths that are not apparent upon a first reading; the second dimension is the "moral" sense: what we must do as we live the Word; and in the end we have the "spiritual" sense, the unity of Scripture in its diversity.

This would be interesting to show. I tried somewhat, in my book "Jesus of Nazareth," to show the multiple dimensions of the Word in today's world, of sacred Scripture, that must first of all be respected in the historical sense. But this sense brings us toward Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, and shows us the way, how to live.

We find traces of this, for example in the ninth Homily on Numbers, where Origen compares the Scriptures to nuts: "The doctrine of the Law and of the Prophets in the school of Christ," he affirms, "is bitter reading, like the peel, after which you come to the shell which is the moral doctrine, in the third place you will find the meaning of the mysteries, where the souls of the saints are fed in this life and in the next" (Hom. Num. 9,7).

Following along this path, Origen began promoting a "Christian reading" of the Old Testament, brilliantly overcoming the challenge of the heretics -- above all the Gnostics and the Marcionites -- who ended up rejecting the Old Testament.

The Alexandrian wrote about this in the same Homily on Numbers: "I do not call the Law an 'Old Testament,' if I understand it in the Spirit. The Law becomes an 'Old Testament' only for those that what to understand it in terms of the flesh," that is to say, stopping at the mere reading of the text. But, "for us, we who understand it and apply it in the Spirit and in the sense of the Gospel, the Law is ever new, and the two Testaments are for us a new Testament, not because of a temporal date, but because of the newness of the meaning. … For the sinner on the other hand and those who do not respect the pact of charity, even the Gospels get old" (Hom. Num. 9,4).

I invite you to welcome the teachings of this great teacher of the faith into your hearts. He reminds us that in the prayerful reading of Scripture and in a coherent way of life, the Church is renewed and rejuvenated.

The Word of God, which never ages or has its meaning exhausted, is a privileged way of doing this. It is the Word of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which leads us always to the whole truth (cf. Benedict XVI, international congress for the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," in Insegnamenti, vol. I, 2005, pp. 552-553).

Let us ask the Lord to enable us thinkers, theologians and exegetes of today to find this multidimensional nature, this permanent validity of sacred Scripture.

We pray that the Lord will help us to read the sacred Scriptures in a prayerful way, to really nourish ourselves on the true bread of life, his Word.


Origen's Teachings on Prayer and Church

"The Privileged Path to Knowing God Is Love"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 2, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection, like that of last week, focused on Origen of Alexandria.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday's catechesis was dedicated to the important figure of Origen, the Alexandrian doctor of the second and third century. In that catechesis we looked at the life and literary works of the Alexandrian master, focusing on his "three-pronged reading" of the Bible, which is the animating center of all of his work.

I left out two aspects of Origen's doctrine, which I consider among the most important and timely, so that I could speak about them today. I am referring to his teachings on prayer and the Church.

In truth, Origen -- author of an important and ever relevant treatment "On Prayer" -- constantly mixes his exegetic and theological works with experiences and suggestions relating to prayer. Despite the theological wealth found in his thought, his is never a purely academic treatment; it is always founded on the experience of prayer, on contact with God.

In his view, understanding Scripture requires more than mere study. It requires an intimacy with Christ and prayer. He is convinced that the privileged path to knowing God is love and that one cannot give an authentic "scientia Christi" without falling in love with him.

In his "Letter to Gregory" he writes: "Dedicate yourself to the 'lectio' of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Practice 'lectio' with the intention of believing and being pleasing to God.

"If during the 'lectio' you find yourself in front of a closed door, knock and the guardian will open it for you, the guardian of whom Jesus said: 'The advocate will teach you everything.' Apply yourself in this way to 'lectio divina' -- search, with unshakable faith in God, the sense of the divine Scriptures, which is amply revealed.

"You must not be satisfied with only knocking and searching: To understand the things of God, 'oratio' is absolutely necessary. To encourage us to do this, the Savior did not only say: 'Seek and you shall find,' and 'Knock and it shall be opened unto you,' but he also added: 'Ask and you shall receive'" (Ep. Gr. 4).

One can see clearly the "primordial role" that Origen played in the history of "lectio divina." Bishop Ambrose of Milan -- who would learn to read the Scritpures from Origen's works -- introduced it in the West, to hand it on to Augustine and the successive monastic tradition.

As we mentioned earlier, the highest level of knowing God, according to Origen, comes from loving him. It is the same with human relationships: One only really knows the other if there is love, if they open their hearts. To show this he illustrates the significance given at that time to the verb in Hebrew "to know," used to show the act of human love: "Adam knew Eve, his wife and she conceived" (Genesis 4:1).

This suggests that union in love procures the most authentic knowledge. As man and woman are "two that become one flesh," in the same way, God and the believer become "two that become one in the spirit."

In this way, the prayer of the Alexandrian reaches the highest mystical levels, as is shown by his "Homilies on the Song of Songs."

In one passage of the first homily, Origen confesses: "Often -- God is a witness to this -- I felt that the Bridegroom drew very near to me; afterward he would leave suddenly, and I could not find that which I searched for. Again I have the desire for his presence, and he returns, and when he appears, when I hold him in my hands, he leaves again and once he is gone I begin again to search for him" (Hom. Cant. 1:7).

I recall what my venerable predecessor wrote, as a true witness, in "Novo Millennio Ineunte," where he showed the faithful "how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart … becoming," John Paul II continued, "a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications. But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as 'nuptial union'" (No. 33).

We come to Origen's teaching on the Church, and precisely -- within it -- on the priesthood of the laity. As the Alexandrian affirms in his ninth Homily on Leviticus, "this discourse is important for all of us" (Hom. Lev. 9:1).

In the same homily Origen -- referring to Aaron's prohibition, after the death of his two children, to enter the Holy of Holies "at any time" (Leviticus 16:2) -- he admonishes the faithful: "From this we can see that if one enters the sanctuary, without the proper preparation, not dressed in priestly dress, without having prepared the prescribed offerings and having offered them to God, he will die. …This discourse is meant for everyone. It guarantees that we know how to approach God's altar.

"Or do you not know that the priesthood was given to God's Church and to all believers? Listen to how Peter speaks to the faithful: 'Elect race,' he says, 'royal priesthood, holy nation, a people bought by God.' You have priesthood because you are a 'priestly people,' and therefore you must offer sacrifice to God. … But so that you may offer it worthily, you need pure vestments, distinct from the common vestments of other men, and you need the divine fire" (ibid.).

On one hand the "girded loins" and the "priestly vestments," which represent purity and honest living, and on the other the "perpetually lit lamp," which represents the faith and science of the Scriptures -- these become the necessary conditions for the exercise of the priestly ministry. These conditions -- right conduct, but above all, the welcoming and study of the Word -- establish a genuine "hierarchy of holiness" in the common priesthood of all Christians.

Origen places martyrdom at the top of this path of perfection. In the ninth Homily on Leviticus he alludes to the "fire for the sacrifice," that is, the faith and knowledge of Scripture, which must never be extinguished on the altar of he who exercises the priesthood.

He then adds: "Each one of us has within us" not only fire, but "also the sacrifice, and from his sacrifice he lights the altar, so that it will burn forever. If I renounce everything I possess and take up the cross and follow Christ, I offer my sacrifice on God's altar; and if I give my body over to be burned, having charity, and meriting the glory of martyrdom, I offer my sacrifice on God's altar" (Hom. Lev. 9:9).

This path of perfection "is for everyone," so that "the eyes of our heart" will contemplate wisdom and truth, which is Jesus Christ. Preaching on the discourse of Jesus of Nazareth -- when "the eyes of all in the synagogue were upon him" (Luke 4:16-30) -- Origen seems to be speaking to us: "Even today, if you want, in this gathering, your eyes can gaze upon the Savior.

"When you turn your heart's gaze to contemplate wisdom and truth and the only Son of God, your eyes will see God. O happy gathering, that of whom Scripture speaks as having their eyes fixed on him! How I would like that this gathering receive a similar witness, that the eyes of all, of the unbaptized and of the faithful, of women and men and young children, not the eyes of the body, but those of the soul, look at Jesus! … Impressed upon us is the light of your face, O Lord, to whom belongs glory and power forever and ever. Amen!" (Hom. Lc. 32:6).


On Tertullian
"Accomplished a Great Step in the Development of the Trinitarian Dogma" (May 30, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With today's catechesis we return to the series that we stopped in honor of the trip to Brazil, and we continue to talk about the great personalities of the ancient Church: They are masters of the faith for us even today and witnesses of the perennial actuality of the Christian faith.

Today we speak about an African, Tertullian, who at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third inaugurated Christian literature in Latin. With him we see the beginning of theology in that language.

His work bore decisive fruits, and it would be unforgivable to undervalue them. His influence is developed on many levels: linguistically and in the recovery of the classic culture, and the singling out of a common "Christian soul" in the world and the formulation of new proposals for living together.

We don't know the exact date of his birth or his death. We know that he was from Carthage, that he lived near the end of the second century, and that from his parents and pagan teachers, he received a solid formation in rhetoric, philosophy, law and history. He converted in Christianity, being attracted -- it seems -- by the example of the Christian martyrs.

He began publishing his most famous writings in A.D. 197. But because of a too individualistic research of the truth together with his intemperance of character -- he was a rigorous man -- he gradually left communion with the Church and joined a sect of Montanism. But the originality of his thought united with an incisive efficacy of language assured him a high position in ancient Christian literature.

Most noteworthy are his apologetic writings. They show two principal intents: that of confounding the grave accusations that pagans were hurling against the new religion, and that of a more missionary nature -- to communicate the message of the Gospel in dialogue with the culture of that time.

His most famous work, "Apologeticus," denounces the unjust actions of the political authorities toward the Church. He explains and defends the teachings and customs of Christians; he lists the differences between the new religion and the principal philosophical currents of the time; he shows the triumph of the Spirit, who pits the violence of persecutors against the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs. "As refined as it is," he writes, "your cruelty serves no purpose: On the contrary, for our community, it is an invitation. We multiply every time one of us is mowed down: The blood of Christians is a seed" ("Apologeticus" 50:13).

Martyrdom and suffering for the truth are victorious in the end and more effective than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.

But Tertullian, like all great apologists, at the same time speaks of the need to communicate the essence of Christianity in a positive way. To do this he adopts the speculative way to show the rational foundations of Christian dogma. He studies them in a systematic manner, and begins with the description of "the God of the Christians." "He whom we adore," he writes, "is one God."

He goes on to say, using the antitheses and paradoxes that are characteristic of his language: "He is invisible, even if you see him, untouchable, even if he is present through grace; unintelligible, even if human sense can perceive him, therefore he is true and great!" (ibid., 17:1-2).

Tertullian also accomplished a great step in the development of the Trinitarian dogma; he gave us, in Latin, the terms adequate to express this great mystery, introducing the terms "one substance" and "three Persons." In a similar way, he also greatly developed the correct language to express the mystery of Christ, Son of God and true Man.

The African also speaks about the Holy Spirit, showing his personal and divine character: "We believe that, according to his promise, Jesus Christ sent by means of his Father the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of all those who believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (ibid, 2:1).

There are also in the African's writings numerous texts on the Church, which Tertullian always refers to as "mother." Even after joining Montanism, he never forgot that the Church is the Mother of our faith and of our Christian life.

He also speaks about the moral conduct of Christians and the life to come. His writings are important because they reflect the living tendencies of the Christian community about Mary most holy, the Eucharist, matrimony and reconciliation, the primacy of Peter, prayer… In a special way, during those times of persecution in which the Christians seemed to be a lost minority, the apologist exhorted them to hope; that -- in his writings -- is not merely a virtue in itself, but something that involves every aspect of Christian existence. We have the hope that the future is ours because the future is God's.

The Lord's resurrection is presented as the foundation for our future resurrection, and represents the principal object of Christian faith: "And so the flesh shall rise again, wholly in every man, in its own identity, in its absolute integrity. Wherever it may be, it is in safe keeping in God's presence, through that most faithful Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who shall reconcile both God to man, and man to God" (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 63:1).

From a human point of view one can speak of Tertullian's drama. With the passing of time he came more demanding of Christians. He expected them at all times, and above all in times of persecution, to act heroically. He rigidly held his positions, criticized many and inevitably found himself isolated.

There are still many questions about Tertullian's theological and philosophical thought, but also about his way of dealing with the political institutions and the pagan society of that time.

This great moral and intellectual personality, this man who gave such a great contribution to Christian thought, makes me think. It is evident that at the end he lacks simplicity, the humility to belong to the Church, to accept his weaknesses, to be tolerant of others and with himself.

When you evaluate your thought in terms of your greatness, in the end it is this greatness that is lost. The essential characteristic of a great theologian is the humility to stay with the Church, to accept her and one's own faults, because only God is all holy. We, on the other hand, are always in need of forgiveness.

Tertullian remains an interesting witness of the first years of the Church, when Christians found themselves true subjects of a "new culture" between classic inheritance and the Gospel message. His famous phrase states that our soul "is naturally Christian" (Apologeticus 17:6), where Tertullian evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian ones. And his other reflection, taken from the Gospels, says "the Christian cannot hate, not even his own enemies" (Apologeticus 37), where the moral implication of the choice of faith, proposes "nonviolence" as the law of life: And who could not see the relevance of this teaching today in light of the fervent debate on religions.

In Tertullian's writings there are many themes that we are called to face still today. They call us to a fruitful interior examination, to which I exhort all the faithful, so that they may know how to express, in an evermore convincing way, the "Rule of Faith," which -- getting back to Tertullian -- "prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that he is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through his own Word, first of all sent forth" (Prescription against Heretics 13:1).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the Fathers and teachers of the early Church, we now turn to Tertullian, an African from Carthage and the first great Christian author to write in Latin. A convert to Christianity, Tertullian became an eloquent apologist for the faith, not only defending it from its detractors but striving to present positively the Gospel message in dialogue with the pagan intellectual tradition. He emphasized the unity of God while affirming the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Tertullian's terminology of three "persons" in one divine "substance" marked a significant advance in the development of the dogma of the Trinity. His works also bear witness to the emerging understanding of the dignity of Our Lady, the nature of the Church, the Petrine Primacy, and the sacraments. Tertullian grounds the Christian life in prayer and in hope based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Converted by the sufferings of the martyrs, whose blood he called the seed of the Church (cf. Ap., 50.13), Tertullian grew increasingly rigoristic, and eventually left the Church's communion. Yet he remains an influential witness to the Church's rule of faith and an important figure in the perennial dialogue between the Gospel and the world of culture.


On St. Cyprian

"His Book on the 'Our Father' Has Helped Me to Pray Better"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 6, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Cyprian.

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Dear brothers and sisters,
Continuing with our catechetical series on the great figures of the ancient Church, we arrive today to an excellent African bishop of the third century, St. Cyprian, "the first bishop in Africa to attain the crown of martyrdom." His fame, as his first biographer, the deacon Pontius, testifies, is linked to his literary production and pastoral activity in the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. "Vida" 19,1; 1,1).

St. Cyprian was born in Carthage to a rich pagan family. After a squandered youth, Cyprian converted to Christianity at age 35. He himself tells us about his spiritual pilgrimage: "When I was still in a dark night," he wrote months after his baptism, "it seemed to me extremely difficult and exhausting to do what the mercy of God was proposing to me. … I was bound by many mistakes of my past life and I didn't think I could be free, to such extent that I would follow my vices and favored my sinful desires. … Later, with the help of the regenerative water, the misery of my previous life was washed away; a sovereign light illumined my heart; a second birth restored me to a completely new life. In a marvelous way, all doubt was swept away. … I understood clearly that what used to live in me were the worldly desires of the flesh and that, on the contrary, what the Holy Spirit had generated in me was divine and heavenly" ("A Donato," 3-4).
Immediately after his conversion Cyprian, despite envy and resistance, was chosen for the priestly office and elevated to the dignity of bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy, he faced the two first persecutions mandated by imperial decree: Decius' in 250 and Valerian's in 257-258. After the particularly cruel persecution of Decius, the bishop had to work hard to restore order in the Christian community. Many faithful, in fact, had renounced their faith or had not reacted adequately in the face of such a test. These were the so-called lapsi, that is, "fallen," who fervently desired to re-enter the community.

The debate regarding their readmission divided the Christians of Carthage into those who were lax and those who were rigorists. To these difficulties was added a serious plague that scourged Africa and posed grave theological questions both within the Church and in regard to the pagans. Finally, we must remember the controversy between St. Cyprian and the Bishop of Rome, Stephen, regarding the validity of baptism administered to the pagans by heretical Christians.
Amid these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian showed a true gift for governing: He was strict, but not inflexible with the "fallen," giving them the possibility of forgiveness after a period of exemplary penance; in regard to Rome, he was firm in his defense of the traditions of the Church in Africa; he was extremely understanding and full of a truly, authentic evangelical spirit when exhorting Christians to fraternal assistance toward pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful, quite afraid of losing both their lives and their material possessions, that their true life and authentic goods are not of this world; he was unyielding in fighting the corrupt practices and sins that destroy the moral life, especially avarice.
"Thus were his days spent," narrates Deacon Pontius, "when by the command of the proconsul, unexpectedly, the police arrived at this house" ("Vida," 15,1). That day the holy bishop was arrested and, after a brief interrogation, courageously faced martyrdom amid his people.
Cyprian composed numerous treatises and letters, always linked to his pastoral ministry. Seldom given to theological speculation, he wrote mostly for the edification of the community and to encourage the good behavior of the faithful. In fact, the Church was his favorite subject. He distinguishes between the hierarchical "visible Church" and the mystical "invisible Church," but he strongly affirms that the Church is one, founded on Peter.
He never tires of repeating that "he who abandons the Chair of Peter, upon which the Church is founded, lives in the illusion that he still belongs to the Church" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 4).

Cyprian knew well, and strongly stated it, that "there is no salvation outside the Church" (Epistle 4,4 and 73,21), and that "he who doesn't have the Church as his mother can't have God as his Father" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 4).

Unity is an irrevocable characteristic of the Church, symbolized by Christ's seamless garment (Ibid., 7): a unity that, as he says, finds its foundation in Peter (Ibid., 4) and its perfect fulfillment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63,13).

"There is only one God, one Christ," Cyprian exhorts, "one Church, one faith, one Christian people firmly united by the cement of harmony; and that which by nature is one cannot be separated" ("The Unity of the Catholic Church," 23).
We have spoken of his thoughts on the Church, but let us not forget, lastly, his teachings on prayer. I particularly like his book on the "Our Father" which has helped me to understand and pray better the "Lord's Prayer." Cyprian teaches us that precisely in the Our Father, Christians are offered the right way of praying; and he emphasizes that this prayer is said in plural "so that whoever prays it, prays not for himself alone."

"Our prayer," he writes, "is public and communal, and when we pray, we pray not only for ourselves but for the whole people, for we are one with the people" ("The Lord's Prayer," 8).

In this manner, personal and liturgical prayer are presented as firmly united to each other. This unity is based on the fact that they both respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say "My Father," but "Our Father," even in the secret of his own room, because he knows that in all places and in all circumstances, he is a member of the one Body.
"Let us pray then my most beloved brothers," writes the bishop of Carthage, "as God, the teacher, has taught us. It is an intimate and confident prayer to pray to God with what is his, elevating to his ears Christ's prayer. May the Father recognize the words of his Son when we lift a prayer to him: that he who dwells interiorly in the spirit would also be present in the voice. … Moreover, when we pray, we ought to have a way of speaking and praying that, with discipline, remains calm and reserved. Let us think that we are under God's gaze.

"It is necessary to be pleasing to the divine eyes both in our bodily attitude and our tone of voice. … And when we gather with the brethren and celebrate the divine sacrifice with a priest of God, we must do it with reverent fear and discipline, without throwing our prayers to the wind with loud voices, nor elevating in long speeches a petition to God that ought to be presented with moderation, for God does not listen to the voice but to the heart ('non vocis sed cordis auditor est')" (3-4).

These words are as valid today as they were then, and they help us to celebrate well the sacred liturgy.
Undeniably, Cyprian is at the origins of that fertile theological-spiritual tradition that sees in the "heart" the privileged place of prayer. According to the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, the heart is, in fact, the inner core of the human being where God dwells. That encounter in which God speaks to man and man listens to God takes place there; there man speaks to God and God listens to man; all this takes place through the only divine Word. It is precisely in this sense that, echoing Cyprian, Smaragdus, abbot of St. Michael, at the beginning of the ninth century, asserts that prayer "is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words, but at the heart of him who prays." (Diadem of the Monks, 1.)
Let us have this "listening heart" of which Scriptures and the Fathers speak (cf. 1 Kings 3:9): How greatly we need it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother.


On Eusebius of Caesarea (June 13, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the history of ancient Christianity, there is a fundamental distinction between the first three centuries and those following the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council in the year 325. As a "hinge" between the two periods is the so-called change of Constantine and the peace for the Church, as well as the figure of Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine.

He was the most qualified exponent of the Christian culture of his time in the most varied of contexts: from theology to exegesis, from history to scholarship. Eusebius is known, above all, as the first historian of Christianity, but also as the greatest philologist of the ancient Church.

In Caesarea, where he was probably born around the year 260, Origen had earlier taken refuge, fleeing from Alexandria. There, Origen had founded a school and a huge library. It is precisely from those books that the young Eusebius would receive his formation some decades later. In the year 325, as bishop of Caesarea, he played a main role in the Council of Nicaea. He authored the Creed and the affirmation of the full divinity of the Son of God, defined by Eusebius as "one in substance with the Father" (homooúsios tõ Patrí). It is practically the same Creed we recite at Mass every Sunday.

A sincere admirer of Constantine, who had given peace to the Church, Eusebius felt esteem and deference toward him. He praised the emperor, not only in his works, but also in his official addresses, delivered on both the 20th and 30th anniversary of the emperor's coming to the throne, as well as after his death in the year 337. Two or three years later, Eusebius would also die.

A tireless academic, Eusebius, in his numerous works, sought to reflect upon and take stock of the three centuries of Christianity, three centuries lived under persecution. He consulted, for the most part, the original Christian and pagan sources that had been preserved in the great library of Caesarea. Thus, despite the objective merit of his apologetic, exegetical and doctrinal work, Eusebius' long-lasting fame is linked, first and foremost, to his 10-volume "Ecclesiastical History." He was the first to write a history of the Church, and to this day his work is still foundational, mainly due to the sources Eusebius puts forever at our disposal. His "History" preserved from sure oblivion numerous events, people and literary works of the ancient Church. His work is therefore a primary source for knowing the first centuries of Christianity.

We may ask how he structured this work and what his intentions were in writing these volumes. At the beginning of the first book, the historian presents the arguments he is going to address in his work: "It is my intention to record the succession of the holy apostles from Our Savior to our day: how many and how important were the events that took place according to the history of the Church, and who were distinguished in their governance and direction of the most notable communities, including those who, in each generation, were ambassadors of the Word of God, either by means of the written word or without it, and those who, motivated by the desire for innovation to the point of error, have become promoters of what they falsely call knowledge, thus devouring the flock of Christ like fierce wolves … also the number, the customs and duration of the pagans that fought against the divine word, and the greatness of those who, because of this, endured the test of blood and torture; noting also the martyrs of our time and the merciful and favorable help which Our Savior offers everyone" (1,1,1-2).

In this manner, Eusebius covers various topics: apostolic succession, as the structure of the Church, the spreading of the Message, errors, persecutions by pagans, and the great testimonies which constitute the shining light of this "History." Amid it all, shine the mercy and goodness of the Savior.

Thus Eusebius inaugurates ecclesiastical historiography. His narrative covers up to the year 324 when Constantine, after the defeat of Licinius, was proclaimed as the only Roman emperor. This is the year that preceded the great Council of Nicaea, which later offered the "summa" of what the Church had learned over those 300 years -- doctrinally, morally and even legally.

The quote we have just mentioned from the first volume of "Ecclesiastical History" contains a repetition that is certainly intentional. In just a few sentences, he repeats the Christological title "Savior" and makes explicit reference to "his mercy" and "his benevolence." Thus we can understand the fundamental perspective of Eusebius' historiography: It is a Christocentric history, in which the mystery of God's love for men is progressively revealed. With genuine surprise, Eusebius recognizes: "Of all men of his time and of all men who have ever existed on the earth, only he is proclaimed and confessed as Christ (that is, as "Messiah" and "Savior of the World"), and all give testimony to him with this name, both Greeks and barbarians call him this. Besides, even today, across the land, he is honored as king by his followers, contemplated as superior to any prophet, and is glorified as the true and only high priest of God; and, above all, He is adored as God because he is the pre-existing Logos, who existed before all times, and has received from the Father the honor of being an object of veneration. And what is most significant about this is that we who are consecrated to Him do not honor him with our voices alone or the sound of our words, but with a complete readiness of soul, to the point of preferring martyrdom for his cause more than our own lives" (1,3,19-20).

In this manner, we see first of all another characteristic that will be a constant in ancient ecclesiastical historiography: the "moral intent" that gives direction to the narrative. Historical analysis is never an end in itself; it seeks not only to get to know the past, but it firmly points toward conversion and to an authentic witness of Christian life on the part of the faithful. It is a guide for us today.

Eusebius, then, poses poignant questions to the faithful of every age regarding the manner in which they face the changing circumstances of history and, in particular, of the Church. He questions us too: What is our attitude toward the vicissitudes faced by the Church? Is it the attitude of someone who is interested out of mere curiosity, looking for sensationalism and scandal at all costs? Or is it rather the loving attitude, open to mystery, of one who because of faith knows that he can discern in the history of the Church the signs of God's love and the great work of salvation he has accomplished?

If this is our attitude, we should feel invited to offer a more coherent and generous response, a more Christian testimony of life that will leave an imprint of God's love for future generations as well.

"There is a mystery," tirelessly repeats the eminent scholar of the Church Fathers, Cardinal Jean Daniélou: "There is a content hidden in history. … The mystery is that of the works of God that form, in time, the authentic reality that lies hidden beneath appearances. … But this history that God accomplishes through man, he doesn't accomplish without Himself. To contemplate the 'great works' of God would mean to only see one aspect of things. Before the things, there is the answer" ("Saggio sul Misterio della Storia" [Essay on the Mystery of History], Brescia 1963, p. 1982).

Many centuries later, Eusebius of Caesarea still today issues an invitation to believers. He invites us to be awed by and to contemplate the great work of salvation that God has accomplished in history. And with the same vigor, he invites us to a conversion of life. In fact, before a God who has loved us so much, we cannot remain unaffected. The very demand of love is that all of life be oriented toward the imitation of the Beloved. Let us do all within our power to leave in our lives a clear imprint of God's love.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on the writers of the early Church, we turn today to Eusebius of Caesarea. The many theological, exegetical and historical writings of Eusebius reflect the rich Christian culture of his time, which spanned the period of the last persecutions, the peace of the Church under Constantine, and the controversies surrounding the Council of Nicaea. He attended the Council as the Bishop of Caesarea and subscribed its teaching on the Son's divinity and consubstantiality with the Father. Eusebius is best known for his Ecclesiastical History, which documented the first centuries of the Church's life and preserved much precious evidence which would otherwise be lost. His Christocentric approach to history emphasized the gradual revelation of God's merciful love for humanity, culminating in the coming of Christ, the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. Eusebius' writings continue to inspire Christians in every age to let their study of history bear fruit in a greater appreciation of God's saving works, a deeper conversion to Christ and a more generous witness to the Gospel in everyday life.


St Athanasius: God Is Accessible (June 20, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Athanasius.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing with our catechetical series on the great teachers of the ancient Church, today we turn our attention to St. Athanasius of Alexandria. This true protagonist of Christian tradition, just a few years after his death, was celebrated as a "pillar of the Church" by the great theologian and bishop of Constantinople, Gregory Nazianzen (Discourses 26:26). He has always been esteemed as a model of orthodoxy, in the East as well as in the West.

It was no mistake that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed a statue of him among the four holy doctors of the Eastern and Western Church -- together with Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine -- which surround the chair of Peter in the apse of the Vatican basilica.

Athanasius was, without a doubt, one of the most important and venerated Fathers of the ancient Church. But above all, this great saint is the passionate theologian of the incarnation of the "Logos," the Word of God, which -- as the prologue of the fourth Gospel says -- "was made flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14).

For this reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time was threatening faith in Christ by reducing him to a creature between God and man, following a recurring tendency in history that we still see in various forms today.

Athanasius was most likely born in Alexandria in Egypt, around the year 300, and received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. The young cleric worked closely with his bishop, and accompanied him to, and took part in, the Council of Nicaea, the first such ecumenical council, called by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 to ensure the unity of the Church. The fathers of the Nicene Council dealt with many questions, foremost among them, the serious problems that had originated some years before with the preaching of the deacon Arius.

His theory threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the "logos" was not true God, but a created God, a being not quite God and not quite man, but in the middle. And therefore the true God remained inaccessible to us. The bishops in Nicaea responded by emphasizing and establishing the "Symbol of Faith" that, later completed by the first Council of Constantinople, remained in the tradition of various Christian confessions and in the liturgy as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text -- which expresses the faith of the undivided Church, and which we still recite today, each Sunday in the Eucharistic celebration -- we see the Greek term "homooúsios," in Latin "consubstantialis," which means that the Son, the Logos, is "of the same substance" as the Father, is God from God, is his substance. Therefore the full divinity of the Son, which was negated by the Arians, is seen.

Upon the death of Bishop Alexander, Athanasius became, in 328, his successor as bishop of Alexandria. He immediately decided to fight against every compromise resulting from the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea. His resolve -- tenacious and at times very tough, even if necessary -- with those who were opposed to his election as bishop and above all against the adversaries of the Nicene Symbol, brought upon him the relentless hostility of the Arians and their supporters.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas returned once more to dominate public thought -- so that even Arius himself regained popularity, and was supported for political motives by Emperor Constantine and then by his son Constantine II. The latter was not interested in theological truth but rather the unity of the empire and its political problems; he wanted to politicize the faith, making it more accessible -- in his view -- to all the subjects of the empire.

The Arian crisis, which was thought to be resolved in Nicaea, continued in this way for decades, with difficult incidents and painful divisions in the Church. And five times -- during the 30 years between 336 and 366 -- Athanasius was forced to abandon the city, living 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith.

But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the bishop was able to sustain and spread -- in the West, first in Trier and then in Rome -- the faith of the Nicene Council and the ideals of monasticism, which were embraced in Egypt by the great hermit Anthony whose choice of life Athanasius followed closely. St. Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important person in sustaining the faith of St. Athanasius.

After the definitive return to his see, the bishop of Alexandria was able to dedicate himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian community. He died on May 2, 373, the day in which we celebrate his liturgical feast.

The most famous work of the Alexandrian bishop is the treatise on the "Incarnation of the Word, " the divine "Logos" made flesh, like us, for our salvation.

In this work, Athanasius says, in a phrase that has become well known, that the Word of God "became man so that we might become God. He manifested himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality" (54:3).

In fact, with his resurrection, the Lord made death disappear like "straw in the fire" (8:4). The fundamental idea of the entire theological battle of St. Athanasius was that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is true God, and through our communion with Christ we can truly unite ourselves to God. He truly became "God with us."

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church -- which deal mainly with the events of the Arian crisis -- we recall the four letters that he addressed to his friend Serapion, bishop of Thmius, on the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, which was clearly affirmed.

And there are some 30 or so "festal" letters, written at the beginning of every year, to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to indicate the date of Easter, but moreover to strengthen the ties among the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for that great solemnity.

Athanasius is also the author of meditative texts on the Psalms, which were vastly distributed, and a text that constituted a "best seller" of ancient Christian literature: the "Life of Anthony," the biography of St. Anthony the Abbot, written shortly after the death of this saint, while the bishop of Alexandria was in exile, living with the monks of the Egyptian desert. Athanasius was a friend of the great hermit, and even received one of the two sheepskins left by Anthony as his inheritance, together with the mantel that he himself had given him.

The biography of this beloved figure in Christian tradition contributed greatly to the spread of monasticism in the East and the West, as it became very popular and was soon translated twice in Latin and then in other Eastern languages.

The letter of this text, to Trier, is at the center of an emotional telling of the conversion of two ministers of the emperor, which Augustine mentions in the "Confessions" (VIII, 6:15) as a premise of his own conversion.

Athanasius showed that he had a clear awareness of the influence that the figure of Anthony could have on the Christian people.

In fact, he writes in the conclusion of this work: "And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God's love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Anthony renowned, but solely from his piety toward God.

"That this was the gift of God no one will deny. For from whence into Spain and into Gaul, how into Rome and Africa, was the man heard of who dwelled hidden in a mountain, unless it was God who makes his own known everywhere, who also promised this to Anthony at the beginning? For even if they work secretly, even if they wish to remain in obscurity, yet the Lord shows them as lamps to lighten all, that those who hear may thus know that the precepts of God are able to make men prosper and thus be zealous in the path of virtue" ("Life of Anthony" 93, 5-6).

Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many reasons to thank St. Athanasius. His life, as that of Anthony and countless other saints, shows us that "those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them" ("Deus Caritas Est," 42).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the great teachers of the ancient Church, we turn today to St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius is venerated in East and West alike as a pillar of Christian orthodoxy. Against the followers of the Arian heresy, he insisted on the full divinity and consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and defended the faith of the Church as expressed in the Creed of the Council of Nicea. The Arian crisis did not end with the Council; indeed, for his resolute defense of the Nicene dogma, Athanasius was exiled from his see five times in thirty years. His many writings include the treatise On the Incarnation of the Word, which defends the full divinity of the Son, whose incarnation is the source of our salvation: "he became man so that we could become God." Athanasius also wrote a celebrated Life of Anthony, a spiritual biography of St. Anthony Abbot, whom he had known personally. This popular book had an immense influence in the spread of the monastic ideal in East and West. Like Anthony, Athanasius stands out as one of the great figures of the Church in Egypt, a "lamp" whose teaching and example even today light up the path of the entire Church.


On St. Cyril of Jerusalem
"His Catechesis Spans God's Entire Plan of Salvation" (June 27, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our attention today will be focused on St. Cyril of Jerusalem. His life represents the coming together of two dimensions: on one side, pastoral care and, on the other, involvement in the controversies that weighed upon the Church of the East at that time.

Born in 315 in Jerusalem, or in the surrounding areas, Cyril received a fine literary formation that became the basis of his ecclesiastical knowledge through the study of the Bible.

He was ordained a priest by Bishop Maximus. When Maximus died and was buried, in 348, Cyril was ordained a bishop by Acacius, the influential metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine, a follower of Arius who was convinced he had an ally in Cyril. Hence, Cyril was suspected to have received the episcopal nomination through concessions given to Arianism.

Cyril soon found himself at odds with Acacius for doctrinal as well as juridical reasons, because Cyril reinstated the autonomy of his own see, separating it from that of the metropolitan of Caesarea. During 20 years or so, Cyril suffered three exiles: the first in 357, by decree of a synod of Jerusalem; a second in 360 by Acacius; and a third in 367 -- the longest, lasting 11 years -- by Emperor Valens, a follower of Arianism. Not until 378, after the death of the emperor, was Cyril able to resume possession of his see, bringing back unity and peace to the faithful.

Despite certain writings from his day that call into question his orthodoxy, others of the same epoch defend it. Among the most authoritative is the synodal letter of 382, after the ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381, in which Cyril had a significant role. In that letter, sent to the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern bishops officially recognize the absolute authority of Cyril, the legitimacy of his episcopal ordination and the merits of his pastoral service, which death brought to an end in 387.

We have 24 of his celebrated catecheses, which he wrote as a bishop around the year 350. Introduced by a "Procatechesis" of welcome, the first 18 are addressed to catechumens or illuminandi (in Greek "photizomenoi") and were kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

The first five deal with the dispositions required to receive baptism, conversion from pagan customs, the sacrament of baptism and the ten dogmatic truths contained in the creed or symbol of faith.

The following catecheses, Nos. 6-18, make up a "continual catechesis" of the Symbol of Jerusalem, which is anti-Arian. Of the last five, Nos. 19-23, the so-called mystagogical ones, the first two develop a commentary on the rites of baptism, the last three deal with confirmation, the Body and Blood of Christ and the Eucharistic liturgy. There is also an explanation of the Our Father ("Oratio Dominica"), which establishes a path of initiation to prayer that develops parallel to the initiation with the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

The foundation of instruction in the Christian faith developed, although amid controversy against the pagans, Judeo-Christians and followers of Manichaeism. The development of the instruction was based on the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, with a language rich with images. Catechesis was an important moment, inserted into the broad context of the entire life, and especially the liturgical life, of the Christian community. Within this maternal womb, the gestation of the future Christian took place, accompanied by the prayer and witness of the brethren.

Taken together, Cyril's homilies make up a systematic catechesis on the rebirth of the Christian through baptism. To the catechumen, Cyril says: "You have fallen into the nets of the Church (cfr. Matthew 13:47). Let yourself be taken alive: Do not run away, because it is Jesus who takes you to his love, not to give you death but the resurrection after death. You must die and rise again (cfr. Romans 6:11-14). … Die to sin, and live for justice, starting today" (Pro-Catechesis, No. 5).

From a "doctrinal" point of view, Cyril comments on the symbol of Jerusalem with recourse to the use of typology in the Scriptures, in a "symphonic" relationship between the two Testaments, pointing to Christ, the center of the universe. Typology will later be wisely described by Augustine of Hippo with these words: "The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New" ("De Catechizandis Rudibus," 4:8).

His catechesis on morality is anchored in profound unity to the doctrinal one: Dogma slowly descends into souls, which are asked to change their pagan ways to adopt new life in Christ, the gift of baptism. The "mystagogical" catechesis, was the height of instruction that Cyril imparted, no longer to catechumens, but to the newly baptized and neophytes during Easter week. He led them to discover the mysteries still hidden in the baptismal rites of the Easter vigil. Enlightened by the light of a faith, deepened in the strength of baptism, the neophytes were finally able to better understand the mysteries, having just celebrated the rites.

In particular, with the neophytes of Greek origin, Cyril focused on visual aspects, most suited to them. It was the passage from rite to mystery, which availed of the psychological effect of surprise and the experience lived in the Easter vigil. Here is a text explaining the mystery of baptism: "You were immersed in water three times and from each of the three you re-emerged, to symbolize the three days that Christ was in the tomb, imitating, that is, with this rite, our savior, who spent three days and three nights in the womb of the earth (cfr. Matthew 12:40).

"With the first emersion from the water you celebrated the memory of the first day that Christ spent in the tomb, with the first immersion you witnessed to the first night spent in the tomb: As he who in the night is unable to see, and he who in the day enjoys the light, you too experience the same thing. While at first you were immersed in the night and unable to see anything, reemerging, you found the fullness of day. Mystery of death and of birth, this water of salvation was for you a tomb and mother. … For you … the time to die coincides with the time to be born: One is the moment that achieved both events" ("Second Mystagogical Catechesis," No. 4).

The mystery to behold is God's design; this is achieved through the salvific actions of Christ in the Church. The mystagogical dimension complements that of symbols, expressing the lived spiritual experience that they cause to "explode." From St. Cyril's catechesis, based on the three components described previously -- doctrinal, moral and mystagogical -- there results a global catechesis in the Spirit. The mystagogical dimension brings about the synthesis of the first two, directing them to the sacramental celebration, in which the salvation of the entire person is realized.

It is an integral catechesis, which -- involving the body, soul and spirit -- remains emblematic of the catechetical formation of today's Christians.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the great teachers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril is best known for his Catecheses, which reveal his orthodox doctrine and his pastoral wisdom. The Catecheses prepared the catechumens of the Church of Jerusalem first to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, and then, after their Baptism, to understand more deeply the Church's faith as expressed in the sacred mysteries. Based on the "symphonic" harmony of the Old and the New Testaments, and centered on the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Catecheses explained the articles of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, the reality of Baptism as an event of spiritual rebirth, and the importance of the sacramental life and personal prayer for every Christian. Cyril's catechesis spans God's entire plan of salvation, accomplished through the work of Christ in the Church. With their rich doctrinal, moral and mystagogical teaching, the Catecheses remain a model for instruction today, leading the whole person -- body, soul and spirit -- to a living experience of Christ's gift of salvation.

On St. Basil
"He Shows Us How to Be Real Christians"

VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience. The audience took place in two phases: The Pope first greeted a crowd in St. Peter's Basilica. Then he went to a packed Paul VI Hall, where he delivered the catechesis. The reflection focused on St. Basil and concluded with an appeal to young people to attend World Youth Day '08 in Australia.

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[Before giving the catechesis, the Pope greeted crowds in St. Peter's Basilica. In English, he said:]

I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today. May your visit to this Basilica and to the city of Rome inspire you to imitate the apostles in following Christ and serving the Church. I assure you of my prayers for your families and friends at home, especially those afflicted by illness or suffering of any kind. God bless you all!

[Then, in Paul VI Hall, the Pope gave a catechesis on St. Basil]

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today we remember one of the great Fathers of the Church, St. Basil, defined by Byzantine liturgical texts as a "light of the Church." He was a great bishop of the fourth century, to whom the Churches of the East and West look with great admiration because of his sanctity of life, the excellence of his doctrine and the harmonious synthesis of his speculative and practical skills.

He was born around the year 330 to a family of saints, "a true domestic Church," who lived in an atmosphere of profound faith. He carried out his studies with the best teachers of Athens and Constantinople. Unfulfilled by his worldly successes, and aware of having lost much time in vain pursuits, he himself confesses: "One day, waking up from a deep sleep, I turned to the wonderful light of the truth of the Gospels … and cried over my miserable life" (cf. Letters 223: PG 32, 824a). Attracted by Christ, I began to look to him and listen to him alone (cf. "Moralia" 80, 1: PG 31, 860bc).

He dedicated himself with determination to the monastic life in prayer, meditation on the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and to the exercise of charity (cf. Letters 2 and 22), following the example of his sister, St. Macrina, who was already living monastic asceticism. He was later ordained a priest and then, in 370, bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia in what is present day Turkey.

Through preaching and writing, he carried out intense pastoral, theological and literary activities. With wise balance, he was able to blend service to souls with dedication to prayer and meditation in solitude. Taking advantage of his own personal experience, he favored the foundation of many "fraternities" or Christian communities consecrated to God, which he frequently visited (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus. "Oratio 43,29 in Laudem Basilii": PG 36,536b). Through his words and his writings, many of which still exist today (cf. "Regulae Brevius Tractatae, Proemio": PG 31,1080ab), he exhorted them to live and to grow in perfection. Many drew from his writings to establish norms of ancient monasticism, including St. Benedict, who considered St. Basil his teacher (cf. "Regula" 73:5).

In reality, St. Basil created a special kind of monasticism, not closed off from the local Church, but open to it. His monks were part of the local Church, they were its animating nucleus. Preceding others of the faithful in following Christ and not merely in having faith, they showed firm devotion to him -- love for him -- above all in works of charity. These monks, who established schools and hospitals, were at the service of the poor and showed Christian life in its fullness. The Servant of God, John Paul II, speaking about monasticism, wrote: "Many believe that monasticism, an institution so important for the whole Church, was established for all times principally by St. Basil -- or that, at least, the nature of monasticism would not have been so well defined without Basil's decisive contribution" ("Patres Ecclesiae," 2).

As bishop and pastor of his vast diocese, Basil constantly worried about the difficult material conditions in which the faithful lived; he firmly condemned evils; he worked in favor of the poor and marginalized; he spoke to rulers in order to relieve the sufferings of the people, above all in moments of disaster; he looked out for the freedom of the Church, going up against those in power to defend the right to profess the true faith (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, "Oratio 43: 48-51 in Laudem Basilii": PG 36,557c-561c). To God, who is love and charity, Basil gave witness by building hospitals for the needy (cf. Basil, Letters 94: PG 32,488bc), much like a city of mercy, that took its name from him "Basiliade" (cf. Sozomeno, "Historia Eccl." 6,34: PG 67, 1387a). It has been the inspiration for modern hospital institutions of recovery and cure of the sick.

Aware that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows" ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," 10), Basil, though he was concerned with charity, the sign of faith, was also a wise "liturgical reformer" (cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, "Oratio 43,34 in Laudem Basilii": PG 36,541c). He left us a wonderful Eucharistic prayer (or anaphora) which is named after him, and helped to organize the prayer and the psalmody:

Because of him the people loved and knew the Psalms, and came to pray them even during the night (cf. Basil, "In Psalmum" 1,1: PG 29,212a-213c). In this way we can see how liturgy, adoration and prayer come together with charity, and depend upon each other.

With zeal and courage, Basil opposed heretics, who denied that Jesus Christ is God like the Father (cf. Basil, Letters 9,3: PG 32,272a; "Ep." 52: 1-3: PG 32,392b-396a; "Adv. Eunomium" 1,20: PG 29,556c). In the same way, contrary to those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, he taught that the Spirit is also God, and "must be numbered and glorified with the Father and the Son" (cf. "De Spiritu Sancto": SC 17bis, 348). Because of this, Basil is one of the great Fathers that formulated the doctrine of the Trinity: one God, because he is love, he is God in three persons, who form the most profound unity in existence, divine unity.

In his love for Christ and his Gospel, the great Cappadocian also worked to heal the divisions within the Church (cf. Letters 70 and 243), working so that all might be converted to Christ and his word (cf. "De Iudicio" 4: PG 31,660b-661a), a unifying force, which all believers must obey (cf. ibid. 1-3: PG 31,653a-656c).

In conclusion, Basil spent himself completely in faithful service to the Church in his multifaceted episcopal ministry. According to the program laid out by him, he became "apostle and minister of Christ, dispenser of the mysteries of God, herald of the kingdom, model and rule of piety, eye of the body of the Church, pastor of Christ's sheep, merciful physician, father and nurturer, cooperator with God, God's farmer and builder of God's temple" (cf. "Moralia" 80: 11-20: PG 31: 864b-868b).

This is the program that the holy bishop gives to those who proclaim the word -- yesterday like today -- a program that he himself generously put into practice. In 379, Basil, not yet 50 years old, consumed by hard work and asceticism, returned to God, "in the hope of eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ" ("On Baptism" 1,2,9). He was a man who truly lived with his gaze fixed on Christ, a man of love for his neighbor. Full of the hope and the joy of faith, Basil shows us how to be real Christians.

[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis on the church Fathers today brings us to the great fourth-century bishop, Saint Basil, whom the Byzantine liturgy refers to as a "light of the Church." Though he had received the best education possible, at the conclusion of his studies he yearned to learn more. He discovered that only Christ could fulfill him, and so dedicated himself completely to a monastic life of prayer and charitable works. Ordained Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 370, Basil tirelessly cared for his people and devoted himself continuously to meditation on the sacred word. He attended to the material needs of his flock, supported the poor and marginalized, and defended the freedom to profess the Christian faith. A special love for the sick led him to found many hospitals. Basil's pastoral activity flowed from a deep devotion to the sacred liturgy; in fact, the Church still possesses a Eucharistic prayer bearing his name. Basil also firmly corrected those who denied the divinity of either Christ or the Holy Spirit. We find in Basil an outstanding model of free, total, and uncompromising service to the Church. May God give us the courage to imitate him.

I extend a cordial greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience, especially the athletes and organizers of the European Maccabi Games. May God bestow abundant blessings upon all of you!

[The Pope then made an appeal to young people:]

Dear Young People,

One year from now we will meet at World Youth Day in Sydney! I want to encourage you to prepare well for this marvelous celebration of the faith, which will be spent in the company of your bishops, priests, Religious, youth leaders and one another. Enter fully into the life of your parishes and participate enthusiastically in diocesan events! In this way you will be equipped spiritually to experience new depths of understanding of all that we believe when we gather in Sydney next July.

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). As you know, these words of Jesus form the theme of World Youth Day 2008. How the Apostles felt upon hearing these words, we can only imagine, but their confusion was no doubt tempered with a sense of awe and of eager anticipation for the coming of the Spirit. United in prayer with Mary and the others gathered in the Upper Room (cfr Acts 1:14), they experienced the true power of the Spirit, whose presence transforms uncertainty, fear, and division into purpose, hope and communion.

A sense of awe and eager anticipation also describes how we feel as we make preparations to meet in Sydney. For many of us, this will be a long journey. Yet Australia and its people evoke images of a warm welcome and wondrous beauty, of an ancient aboriginal history and a multitude of vibrant cities and communities. I know that already the ecclesial and government authorities, together with numerous young Australians, are working very hard to ensure an exceptional experience for us all. I offer them my heartfelt thanks.

World Youth Day is much more than an event. It is a time of deep spiritual renewal, the fruits of which benefit the whole of society. Young pilgrims are filled with the desire to pray, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the wonder of the human soul and shows the way to be "the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ" (Deus Caritas Est, 33).

It is this love -- Christ's love -- for which the world yearns. Thus you are called by so many to "be his witnesses." Some of you have friends with little real purpose in their lives, perhaps caught up in a futile search for endless new experiences. Bring them to World Youth Day too! In fact, I have noticed that against the tide of secularism many young people are rediscovering the satisfying quest for authentic beauty, goodness and truth. Through your witness you help them in their search for the Spirit of God. Be courageous in that witness! Strive to spread Christ's guiding light, which gives purpose to all life, making lasting joy and happiness possible for everyone.

My dear young people, until we meet in Sydney, may the Lord protect you all. Let us entrust these preparations to Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians. With her, let us pray: "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love."


On 3 Lessons From St. Basil
"Only If We Are Open to God Can We Build a Just World"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 16, 2007 ( Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Aug. 1 at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Basil, continuing with the Pope's last catechesis from July 4.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After this three-week break, we are continuing with our Wednesday meetings. Today, I would simply like to resume my last Catechesis, whose subject was the life and writings of St Basil, a Bishop in present-day Turkey, in Asia Minor, in the fourth century A.D. The life and works of this great Saint are full of ideas for reflection and teachings that are also relevant for us today.

First of all is the reference to God's mystery, which is still the most meaningful and vital reference for human beings. The Father is "the principal of all things and the cause of being of all that exists, the root of the living" (Hom. 15, 2 de fide: PG 31, 465c); above all, he is "the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ" ("Anaphora Sancti Basilii"). Ascending to God through his creatures, we "become aware of his goodness and wisdom" (Basil, "Adversus Eunomium" 1, 14: PG 29, 544b).

The Son is the "image of the Father's goodness and seal in the same form" (cf. "Anaphora Sancti Basilii"). With his obedience and his Passion, the Incarnate Word carried out his mission as Redeemer of man (cf. Basil, "In Psalmum" 48, 8; PG 29, 452ab; cf. also "De Baptismo" 1, 2: SC 357, 158).

Lastly, he spoke fully of the Holy Spirit, to whom he dedicated a whole book. He reveals to us that the Spirit enlivens the Church, fills her with his gifts and sanctifies her.

The resplendent light of the divine mystery is reflected in man, the image of God, and exalts his dignity. Looking at Christ, one fully understands human dignity.

Basil exclaims: "[Man], be mindful of your greatness, remembering the price paid for you: look at the price of your redemption and comprehend your dignity!" ("In Psalmum" 48, 8: PG 29, 452b). ?Christians in particular, conforming their lives to the Gospel, recognize that all people are brothers and sisters; that life is a stewardship of the goods received from God, which is why each one is responsible for the other, and whoever is rich must be as it were an "executor of the orders of God the Benefactor" (Hom 6 de avaritia: PG 32, 1181-1196). We must all help one another and cooperate as members of one body (Ep 203, 3).

And on this point, he used courageous, strong words in his homilies. Indeed, anyone who desires to love his neighbour as himself, in accordance with God's commandment, "must possess no more than his neighbour" ("Hom. in divites": PG 31, 281b).

In times of famine and disaster, the holy Bishop exhorted the faithful with passionate words "not to be more cruel than beasts ... by taking over what people possess in common or by grabbing what belongs to all ("Hom. tempore famis": PG 31, 325a).

Basil's profound thought stands out in this evocative sentence: "All the destitute look to our hands just as we look to those of God when we are in need".

Therefore, Gregory of Nazianzus' praise after Basil's death was well-deserved. He said: "Basil convinces us that since we are human beings, we must neither despise men nor offend Christ, the common Head of all, with our inhuman behaviour towards people; rather, we ourselves must benefit by learning from the misfortunes of others and must lend God our compassion, for we are in need of mercy" (Gregory Nazianzus, "Orationes" 43, 63; PG 36, 580b).

These words are very timely. We see that St Basil is truly one of the Fathers of the Church's social doctrine.
Furthermore, Basil reminds us that to keep alive our love for God and for men, we need the Eucharist, the appropriate food for the baptized, which can nourish the new energies that derive from Baptism (cf. "De Baptismo" 1, 3: SC 357, 192).

It is a cause of immense joy to be able to take part in the Eucharist (cf. "Moralia" 21, 3: PG 31, 741a), instituted "to preserve unceasingly the memory of the One who died and rose for us" ("Moralia" 80, 22: PG 31, 869b).

The Eucharist, an immense gift of God, preserves in each one of us the memory of the baptismal seal and makes it possible to live the grace of Baptism to the full and in fidelity.

For this reason, the holy Bishop recommended frequent, even daily, Communion: "Communicating even daily, receiving the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is good and useful; for he said clearly: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life' (Jn 6: 54). So who would doubt that communicating continuously with life were not living in fullness?" (Ep. 93: PG 32, 484b).

The Eucharist, in a word, is necessary for us if we are to welcome within us true life, eternal life (cf. "Moralia" 21, 1: PG 31, 737c).

Finally, Basil was of course also concerned with that chosen portion of the People of God, the youth, society's future. He addressed a Discourse to them on how to benefit from the pagan culture of that time.

He recognized with great balance and openness that examples of virtue can be found in classical Greek and Latin literature. Such examples of upright living can be helpful to young Christians in search of the truth and the correct way of living (cf. "Ad Adolescentes" 3).

Therefore, one must take from the texts by classical authors what is suitable and conforms with the truth: thus, with a critical and open approach -- it is a question of true and proper "discernment" -- young people grow in freedom.

With the famous image of bees that gather from flowers only what they need to make honey, Basil recommends: "Just as bees can take nectar from flowers, unlike other animals which limit themselves to enjoying their scent and colour, so also from these writings ... one can draw some benefit for the spirit. We must use these books, following in all things the example of bees. They do not visit every flower without distinction, nor seek to remove all the nectar from the flowers on which they alight, but only draw from them what they need to make honey, and leave the rest. And if we are wise, we will take from those writings what is appropriate for us, and conform to the truth, ignoring the rest" ("Ad Adolescentes" 4).

Basil recommended above all that young people grow in virtue, in the right way of living: "While the other goods ... pass from one to the other as in playing dice, virtue alone is an inalienable good and endures throughout life and after death" ("Ad Adolescentes" 5).

Dear brothers and sisters, I think one can say that this Father from long ago also speaks to us and tells us important things.

In the first place, attentive, critical and creative participation in today's culture.

Then, social responsibility: this is an age in which, in a globalized world, even people who are physically distant are really our neighbours; therefore, friendship with Christ, the God with the human face.

And, lastly, knowledge and recognition of God the Creator, the Father of us all: only if we are open to this God, the common Father, can we build a more just and fraternal world.

[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Iceland, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. I extend a special welcome to the musicians present and to the large group from Cherry Hill, Colorado. May the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and may God bless you all!

I greet the group of European Scouts, who with their presence this morning desire to reaffirm their membership in the Church, after renewing their scout promise which binds them to doing their duty to God and serving others generously. My thoughts also turn to all the scouts and guides in the world who are renewing their promise this very day, the centenary of the Scout movement, founded on 1 August 1907 with the first scout camp in history on Brownsea Island. I warmly hope that this educational movement, which was born from the profound insight of Lord Robert Baden Powell, will continue to bear fruit in the spiritual and civil formation of human beings in all countries in the world.

Lastly, as usual I would like to greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds, and to express to them the wish that enlivened by Christ's charity they will lead a life that sets an example for all. May Jesus sustain you in your hope, dear young people, in your suffering, dear sick people, and in your fruitful love, dear newly-weds. ?I impart my Blessing to you all.

[After greeting the faithful, the Holy Father said:]

At the end of the General Audience, I would like to record some good news about Iraq which has sparked an explosion of popular joy throughout the Country. I am referring to the victory of the Iraqi football team, which won the Asian Cup and for the first time has become the football champion of Asia. I was happily impressed by the enthusiasm that infected all the inhabitants, driving them out onto the streets to celebrate the event. Just as I have so often wept with the Iraqis, on this occasion I rejoice with them. This experience of joyful sharing shows a people's desire to have a normal, quiet life. I hope that the event may help in building in Iraq a future of authentic peace with the contribution of all, in freedom and reciprocal respect. Congratulations!


St. Gregory Nazianzen's Teachings
"You Have the Task to Find the True Light"  (August 22, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 22, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Gregory Nazianzen, a fourth-century bishop.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

During the last reflection on the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church of this catechesis, I spoke about St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of the fourth century, and today I would like to continue with the portrait of this great teacher. Today we will summarize some of his teachings.

Reflecting on the mission that God had confided in him, St. Gregory Nazianzen concludes: "I have been created to ascend to God with my actions" (Oratio, 14,6 "De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,865). In fact, he put his talent as a writer and orator at the service of God and the Church. He wrote numerous discourses, homilies and panegyrics, many letters and poetic works (nearly 18,000 verses!): a truly prodigious level of activity.

He understood what the mission was that God had confided in him: "Servant of the word, I adhere to the ministry of the word, which never allows me to neglect this good. I appreciate and enjoy this vocation, it gives me more joy than everything else" (Oratio 6,5: SC 405,134; cf. Oratio 4,10).

The Nazianzen was a meek man, and in his life he always worked to promote peace in the Church of his time, torn by discord and heresy. With evangelical audacity he endeavored to overcome his shyness to proclaim the truth of the faith. He deeply felt the desire to draw near to God, to unite himself to him. He expresses this in his poetry, in which he writes: "great waves of the ocean of life, tossed here and there by the impetuous winds ... there was only one thing that I wanted, my only treasure, consolation and oblivion of weariness, the light of the Holy Trinity" ("Carmina [historical]" 2,1,15: PG 37, 1250ss.)

Gregory made the light of the Trinity glow, defending the faith proclaimed in the Council of Nicea: one God in three equal and distinct Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- "triple light that unites in one single splendor" ("Himno vespertino: Carmina [histórica]" 2,1,32: PG 37,512). In this way, Gregory, following St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6), affirms: "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are; one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit, in whom all things are" (Oratio 39, 12: SC 358,172).

Gregory brings Christ's full humanity to the forefront: To redeem man in his totality of body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the components of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.

Against the heresy of Apollinaris, who assured that Jesus Christ had not assumed a rational soul, Gregory confronts the problem in the light of the mystery of salvation: "What had not been assumed had not been cured" (Epistle 101, 32: SC 208,50), and if Christ had not had a "rational intellect, how could he have been a man?"

Precisely our intellect, our reason, was in need of a relationship, an encounter with God in Christ. Upon becoming man, Christ gave us the possibility to become like him. The Nazianzen exhorts: "We try to be like Christ, well Christ also made himself like us; to be like gods through him, well he made himself man for us. He carried the worst to give us the best" (Oratio 1,5: SC 247,78).

Mary, who gave human nature to Christ, is truly the Mother of God ("Theotókos": cf. Epistle 101, 16: SC 208,42), and with a view to her lofty mission was "prepurified" (Oratio 38,13: SC 358,132, presenting a type of distant prelude to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). He proposes Mary as a model for Christians, above all for virgins, and as an aid that should be invoked in need (cf. Oratio 24, 11: SC 282,60-64).

Gregory reminds us that, as human persons, we need to be in solidarity with one another. He writes: "'We, though many, are one body in Christ.' (cf. Romans 12:5), rich and poor, slaves and freemen, healthy and sick; and there is one head from which everything originates: Jesus Christ. And as happens with the members of a single body, each one takes care of each one, and everybody of everybody."

Later, referring to the sick and those suffering hardship, he concludes: "This is the only salvation for our flesh and our soul: Charity toward others" (Oratio 14,8 "De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,868ab).

Gregory underlines that man must imitate the goodness and love of God, and for that he recommends: "If you are healthy and rich, alleviate the need of the one who is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, help the one who has fallen and lives in suffering; if you are happy, console the one who is sad; if you are fortunate, help the one who has been bitten by misfortune.

"Show God your gratitude, for you are one that can do good, and not the one that has to be helped. ... Don't be merely rich in wealth, but also in piety; not only in gold, but also in virtue, or better yet, only in this. Surpass the fame of your neighbor by being better than everybody; be God for the unfortunate, imitating the mercy of God" (Oratio 14, 26 "De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,892bc).

Gregory teaches us, before all, the importance and necessity of prayer. He affirms that "it is necessary to remind oneself of God more frequently than one breathes" (Oratio 27,4: PG 250,78), since prayer is the encounter of the thirst of God with our thirst. God thirsts that we thirst for him (cf. Oratio 40,27: SC 358,260).

In prayer, we have to direct our heart to God to surrender ourselves to him as an offering that should be purified and transformed. In prayer, we see everything in the light of Christ, we let down our guard and we submerge ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, nurturing the fire of our love.

In a poem, that at the same time is a meditation on the meaning of life and an implicit supplication to God, Gregory writes: "My soul, you have a task -- if you want -- a great task. Thoughtfully scrutinize your interior, your being, your destiny; where do you come from and where are you going, try to know if it is life that you live, or if it is something more.

"My soul, you have a task then, purify your life: Consider, please, God and his mysteries, investigate what you were before this universe, and what it is for you, where you came from and what will be your destiny. This is your task then, dear soul, purify your life" ("Carmina [historical] 2," 1,78: PG 37,1425-1426).

The holy bishop continually asks Christ for help to raise himself up and to begin again: "I have been disappointed, dear Christ, by my considerable presumption: From the heights I have fallen very low. But, I raise myself up again now, because I see that I have deceived myself; if I rely on myself too much once more, I will immediately fall again, and the fall will be fatal" ("Carmina [historical] 2," 1,67: PG 37,1408).

Gregory, therefore, felt the need to draw near to God to overcome the weariness of his own being. He experienced the urging of the soul, the vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of fleeting happiness. For him, in the drama of a life in which the awareness of his weakness and misery weighed heavily, the experience of the love of God was always stronger.

You have a task -- St. Gregory says to us as well -- the task to find the true light, to find the true measure of your life. And your life consists in encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now continue our reflection on Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Gregory considered it his mission to employ his learning and literary talent in the service of the Gospel.

Inclined to study and prayer, he nonetheless took part in the many controversies which followed the Council of Nicaea. Gregory forcefully defended the Church's faith in one God in three equal and distinct persons. He upheld the full humanity of the Incarnate Son, arguing that Christ took on our human nature in its integrity, including a rational soul, in order to bring us the fullness of redemption. He likewise defended Mary's dignity as the Mother of God, her purity and her intercessory power.

Gregory often stresses our Christian responsibility to imitate God's goodness and love through charity and solidarity with others, especially the sick and those in need. He also speaks eloquently of the importance of prayer, in which we see everything in the light of Christ, are immersed in God's truth and inflamed by his love. The life and teaching of Saint Gregory are a celebration of the divine love which is revealed in Christ. Let us open our hearts to this love, which overcomes our weakness and gives lasting joy and happiness to our lives.

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially the groups from England, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Japan, Australia and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and peace.


On St. Gregory of Nyssa
"A Pillar of Orthodoxy" (August 29, 2007)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the last few catecheses I spoke about two great doctors of the Church of the fourth century, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. Today we add a third, Basil's brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who showed himself to be a man of meditative character, with a great capacity for reflection, and a vivacious intellect, open to the culture of his time. He showed himself in this way to be an original and deep thinker in Christian history.

Born in 335, his Christian formation was carried out largely by his brother Basil -- whom he defined as "father and teacher" (Ep 13,4: SC 363, 198) -- and by his sister Macrina. He completed his studies, with a particular appreciation for philosophy and rhetoric. At the beginning, he dedicated himself to teaching and got married. Then he too, like his brother and sister, dedicated himself entirely to the aesthetic life. Later he was elected bishop of Nyssa, and showed himself to be a zealous pastor, earning the esteem of the community. Accused of economic embezzlements by heretical adversaries, he had to abandon his episcopal see for a brief time, but then made a triumphant return (cf. Ep. 6: SC 363, 164-170), and continued to commit himself to the defense of the true faith.

Especially after Basil's death, almost garnering his spiritual legacy, Gregory cooperated in the triumph of orthodoxy. He participated in various synods; he tried to settle divisions between the Churches; he took an active part in the Church's reorganization; and, as "a pillar of orthodoxy," he was a protagonist at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He received various official appointments from Emperor Theodosius, he gave important homilies and eulogies, and dedicated himself to writing various theological works. In 394, he participated yet again in a synod held in Constantinople. The date of his death is unknown.

Gregory expresses with clarity the scope of his studies, the supreme goal for which he aims in his theological work: to not engage one's life in vane pursuits, but to find the light that enables one to discern that which is truly useful (cf. "In Ecclesiasten Hom" 1: SC 416, 106-146).

He found this supreme good in Christianity, thanks to which "imitation of the divine nature" is possible ("De Professione Christiana": PG 46, 244C). With his acute intelligence and his vast knowledge of philosophy and theology, he defended the Christian faith against heretics, who negated the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (like Eunomios and the Macedonians), or negated Christ's perfect humanity (like Apollinaris).

He commented on sacred Scripture, concentrating on the creation of man. For him the essential theme was creation. He saw the reflection of the Creator in the creature and therein found the path to God. But he also wrote an important book on the life of Moses, which shows him as a man on the path toward God. This hill leading to Mt. Sinai becomes for him an image of our own hill in human life toward true life, toward the meeting with God. He also interpreted the Lord's prayer, the Our Father, and the beatitudes. In his "Great Catechetical Discourse" ("Oratio Catechetica Magna") he laid out the fundamental points of theology, not for an academic theology closed in on itself, but to offer catechists a system of reference to keep in mind in their teaching, a sort of framework within which a pedagogic interpretation of the faith could move.

Gregory is also outstanding because of his spiritual doctrine. His theology was not an academic reflection, but an expression of a spiritual life, of a lived life of faith. His reputation as a "father of mysticism" can be seen in various treatises -- like "De Professione Christiana" and "De Perfectione Christiana" -- the path that Christians must take to reach true life, perfection. He exalted consecrated virginity ("De Virginitate"), and likewise offered his sister Macrina as an outstanding model of life, who remained a guide for him always, an example (cf. "Vita Macrinae").

He gave various discourses and homilies, and wrote numerous letters. In commenting on the creation of man, Gregory highlights the fact that God, "the best artist, forges our nature so as to make it suitable for the exercise of royalty. Through the superiority given by the soul, and through the very make-up of the body, he arranges things in such a way that man is truly fit for regal power" ("De Hominis Opificio" 4: PG 44, 136B).

But we see how man, in the web of sins, often abusive of creation, does not act in a regal fashion. For this reason, in fact, in order to obtain true responsibility toward creatures, he must be penetrated by God and live in his light. Man is a reflection of that original beauty which is God: "Everything created by God was very good," writes the holy bishop.

And he adds: "The story of creation witnesses to it (cf. Genesis 1:31). Man was also listed among those very good things, adorned with a beauty far superior to all of the good things. In fact, what else could be good, on par with one who was similar to pure and incorruptible beauty? ... Reflection and image of eternal life, he was truly good, no he was very good, with the shining sign of life on his face" ("Homilia in Canticum" 12: PG 44, 1020C).

Man was honored by God and placed above every other creature: "The sky was not made in God's image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things that appear in creation. Only you (human soul) were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of the true light, that when you look upon it you become that which he his, because through the reflected ray coming from your purity you imitate he who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness" ("Homilia in Canticum" 2: PG 44,805D).

Let us meditate on this praise of man. We see how man has been debased by sin. And let us try to return to that original greatness: Only if God is present will man arrive at this his true greatness.

Man, therefore, recognized within him the reflection of the divine light. Purifying his heart, he returns to being, as he was in the beginning, a clear image of God, beauty itself (cf. "Oratio Catechetica" 6: SC 453, 174). In this way man, purifying himself, can see God, as do the pure in heart (cf. Matthew 5:8): "If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you will wash away the bad things that have deposited upon your heart, the divine beauty will shine in you. … Contemplating yourself, you will see within you he who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed" ("De Beatitudinibus," 6: PG 44,1272AB). Therefore, one must wash away the bad things that have deposited upon our heart and find again God's light within us.

Man has as his end the contemplation of God. Only in him can he find his fulfillment. To somehow anticipate this objective already in this life, he must work incessantly toward a spiritual life, a life in dialogue with God. In other words -- and this is the most important lesson that St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us -- man's total fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived with God, that, in this way, becomes luminous for others and for the world.

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother and spiritual heir of Saint Basil. Gregory's outstanding education and intellectual gifts led him first to teaching. He then embraced the ascetic life, and eventually was ordained Bishop of Nyssa. Like the other Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory contributed greatly to defence of the faith in the period following the Council of Nicaea, and played a leading role at the Council of Constantinople, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. For Gregory, the purpose of all learning and culture is the discernment of the supreme human good, the truth that enables us to find authentic and lasting fulfilment. This supreme good is found in Christianity. In his many catechetical, spiritual and exegetical writings, Gregory emphasizes our creation in the image of God, our royal vocation as stewards of the created order, and our responsibility to cultivate our inner beauty, which is a participation in the uncreated beauty of the Creator. By purifying our hearts and progressing in holiness, we are drawn to the vision of God and thus to the satisfaction of the deepest longings of every human heart.


Gregory of Nyssa on Perfection
"God Continually Expands the Possibilities of the Soul" (September 5, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I offer you some aspects of St. Gregory of Nyssa's teaching, which we already talked about last Wednesday.

First of all, Gregory of Nyssa shows a highly elevated sense of man's dignity. Man's aim, says the bishop-saint, is to make himself like God, and he reaches this end above all through love, knowledge and the practice of the virtues, "luminous rays that come down from the divine nature" ("De beatitudinibus" 6: PG 44,1272C), in a perpetual and dynamic adherence to good, like a runner stretching forward.

Gregory uses, to this end, an effective image, already present in the Letter of Paul to the Philippians: "épekteinómenos" (3:13), which means "stretching oneself out" toward that which is greater, toward the truth and love.

This representative expression indicates a profound reality: The perfection we seek is not something that is conquered once and for all; perfection is a permanent journey, a constant commitment to progress, because complete likeness to God can never be achieved; we are always on the path (cf. "Homilia in Canticum" 12: PG 44,1025d).

The story of each soul is that of a love which is totally fulfilled, and at the same time open to new horizons, because God continually expands the possibilities of the soul, so as to make it capable of ever greater good. God himself, who placed the seeds of good within us, and from whom comes every initiative of holiness, "forms the block of clay … polishing and cleaning our spirit, forming Christ in us" ("In Psalmos" 2:11: PG 44,544B).

Gregory is careful to clarify: "It is not the result of our efforts, neither is it the result of human strength to become like the Deity, but rather it is the result of God's generosity, who even from his origin offered to our nature the grace of likeness with him" ("De virginitate" 12:2: SC 119,408-410).

For the soul, therefore, "it is not a matter of knowing something about God, but in having God within us" ("De beatitudinibus" 6: PG 44, 1269c). As Gregory notes, "divinity is purity, it is freedom from the passions and removal from all evil: If all these things are in you, God is truly in you" ("De beatitudinibus" 6: PG 44,1272C).

When we have God within us, when man loves God, through that reciprocity that is part of the law of love, he wants what God himself wants (cf. "Homilia in Canticum" 9: PG 44,956ac), and therefore cooperates in forming the divine image within himself, so that "our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are parents of ourselves in some way, creating ourselves as we want to be, and forming ourselves through our will according to the model we choose" ("Vita Moysis" 2:3: SC 1bis,108).

To ascend to God, man must be purified: "The path, that leads human nature to heaven, is nothing more than separation from the evils of this world. … Becoming like God means becoming just, holy and good. … If therefore, according to Ecclesiastes (5:1), 'God is in heaven' and if, according to the prophet (Psalm 72:28) you 'belong to God,' it necessarily follows that you must be there where God is, from the moment that you are united to him. Because he has commanded that, when you pray, you call God Father, he tells you to become like your heavenly Father, with a life worthy of God, as the Lord commands us more explicitly in other passages, saying: 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!' (Matthew 5:48)" ("De oratione dominica" 2: PG 44,1145ac).

In this journey of spiritual ascent, Christ is the model and the master, who shows us the beautiful image of God (cf. "De perfectione Christiana": PG 46,272a). Looking at him, each one of us discovers ourselves to be "the painter of our own life," in which our will undertakes the work and our virtues are the colors at our disposal (ibid.: PG 46,272b).

Therefore, if man is considered worthy of Christ's name, how must he act?

Gregory responds in this way: "[He must] always examine his inner thoughts, his words and actions, to see if they are focused on Christ or if they are far from him" (ibid.: PG 46,284c).

Gregory, as we mentioned earlier, speaks of ascent: ascent to God in prayer through purity of heart; but ascent to God also through love of neighbor. Love is the ladder that leads us to God. Therefore, he heartily encourages each one his listeners: "Be generous with these brothers, victims of the plight. Give to the hungry that which you deny your own stomach" (ibid.: PG 46,457c).

With great clarity Gregory reminds us that we are all dependent on God, and therefore he exclaims: "Do not think that everything is yours! There must also be something for the poor, the friends of God. The truth, in fact, is that everything comes from God, the universal Father, and that we are brothers, and we belong to the same progeny" (ibid PG 46,465b).

And so the Christian must examine himself, Gregory insists: "What does it profit you to fast and abstain from meat, if with your wickedness you bite your brother? What do you gain from it, in God's eyes, from not eating what is yours, if you unjustly strip from the hands of a poor man what is his?" (ibid.: PG 46,456a).

We conclude our catecheses on the three great Cappadocian Fathers by recalling the important aspect of the spiritual doctrine of Gregory of Nyssa, which is prayer.

To make progress on the journey toward perfection and to welcome God within ourselves, to carry within us the Spirit of God, the love of God, man must turn to him in prayer with faith: "Through prayer we are able to be with God. He who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is the support and defense of chastity, the restraint of anger, the quieting and control of pride. Prayer is the guardian of virginity, protection of fidelity in marriage, hope for those who keep vigil, abundance of fruit for farmers, security for the traveler" ("De oratione dominica" 1: PG 44,1124A-B).

The Christian prays, inspired by the Lord's prayer: "If we want to pray for God's Kingdom to descend upon us, we ask this with the power of the Word: That I be removed from corruption, freed from death, released from the chains of error; that death will never reign over me, that the tyranny of evil will never have power over us, that the enemy never rule over me or make me a prisoner through sin, but may your kingdom come, so that the passions that rule me may be removed from me or, better yet, be obliterated" (ibid., 3: PG 44,1156d-1157a).

At the end of his earthly life, the Christian can approach God in serenity. In speaking about this, St. Gregory refers to the death of his sister Macrina and writes that at the moment of her death she prayed: "You who have the power on earth to remit sins forgive me, so that I can have the Risen One" (Psalm 38:14), and that I can be found spotless in your eyes, in the moment in which I am stripped of my body (cf. Collosians 2:11), so that my spirit, holy and immaculate (cf. Ephesians 5:27) will be welcomed into your hands, "like incense before you" (Psalm 140:2)" ("Vita Macrinae" 24: SC 178,224).

This teaching of Gregory's remains valid: not only speaking about God, but bringing God within us. We do this through prayer and by living in the spirit of love for all of our brothers.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the early Church, we once again consider Saint Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century. At the heart of Saint Gregory's teaching is the innate dignity of every man and woman, made in the image of God and called to grow more fully into his likeness. Human fulfillment is found in a dynamic process of growth towards that perfection which has its fullness in God; daily we "press forward" (cf. Phil 3:13) towards union with God through love, knowledge and the cultivation of the virtues. This ascent to God calls for a process of purification which, by his grace, perfects our human nature and produces fruits of justice, holiness and goodness. In all of this, Jesus Christ, the perfect image of the Father, is our model and teacher. Gregory insists on Christ's presence in the poor, who challenge us to acknowledge our own dependence on God and to imitate his mercy. Finally, Gregory points to the importance of prayer modeled on the Lord's own prayer for the triumph of God's Kingdom. May his teaching inspire us to seek that holiness and purity of heart which will one day enable us to see God face to face!

On St. John Chrysostom's Antioch Years
"His Is an Exquisitely Pastoral Theology"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. John Chrysostom.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

This year marks the 16th centenary of the death of St. John Chrysostom (407-2007). John of Antioch was called Chrysostom, "golden-mouthed,” for his eloquence. It could be said he is still alive today through his written works. An anonymous copyist wrote that his works "go across the globe like lighting." His writings enable us -- as they did for the faithful of his time, who were repeatedly deprived of him because of his exiles -- to live with his books, despite his absence. This was the advice he himself gave in one of his letters written from exile (cf. "To Olympia, Letter” 8:45).

Born around the year 349 in Antioch in Syria (modern-day Antakya, in south Turkey), he carried out his priestly ministry for about 11 years. In 397, he was appointed bishop of Constantinople. He exercised the episcopal ministry in the capital of the empire, before his two exiles which happened within a few years of each other, between 403 and 407. Today we limit ourselves to considering Chrysostom's years in Antioch.

Orphaned by his father at a young age, he lived with his mother, Anthusa, who instilled in him an exquisite human sensitivity and a profound Christian faith. He completed his elementary and higher studies, crowned by courses in philosophy and rhetoric. Libanius, a pagan, was his teacher. At his school, John became the greatest orator of late Ancient Greece. Baptized in 368 and formed in the ecclesiastical life by Bishop Meletius, he was ordained as a lector by him in 371. This marked Chrysostom's official entrance into the ecclesiastical "cursus." He attended, from 367-372, the "Asceterium," a kind of seminary in Antioch, together with a group of young men, some of whom later became bishops, under the guidance of the famous exegete Diodorus of Tarsus, who taught John historical-literal exegesis, characteristic of the Antiochian tradition.

He retreated for four years among the hermitages on nearby Mount Silpius. And then he continued his retreat for another two years, living alone in a grotto under the guidance of an "elder." During that time he dedicated himself entirely to meditating on "the laws of Christ," the Gospels and especially Paul's letters. Falling ill, he found it impossible to take care of himself, and therefore he returned to the Christian community of Antioch (cf. Palladium, "Life” 5).

The Lord -- a biographer explains -- intervened at the right time to enable John to follow his true vocation. In effect, he himself would write that if he had to choose between the crosses of governing the Church or the tranquility of the monastic life, he would have preferred pastoral service a thousand times over (cf. "On the Priesthood," 6:7): Chrysostom felt called to this.

And here we see the decisive turning point of his vocation story: full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated during the years in the hermitage, matured in him the irresistible urgency to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he received during years of meditation. The ideal missionary was thus launched, a soul afire, into pastoral care.

Between 378 and 379 he returned to the city. Ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, he became a celebrated preacher in the churches of his city. He gave homilies against the Arians, followed by those commemorating the martyrs of Antioch and others on principal liturgical feasts: constituting a great teaching of faith in Christ, in light of his saints.

The year 387 was John's "heroic year," the so-called statue revolt. The people knocked down the imperial statues, as a sign of protest against tax increases. During those days of Lent and anguish because of the emperor's punishments, he gave his 22 vibrant "Homilies on Statues," directed toward penance and conversion. What followed was a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is counted among the most prolific Fathers, having written 17 treatises, 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and Paul (Letters to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians and to the Hebrews), and 241 letters. He was not a speculative theologian. However he transmitted the traditional and certain doctrine of the Church in an age of theological controversies caused above all by Arianism, that is, by the negation of Christ's divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development of the Church in the fourth-fifth century.

His is an exquisitely pastoral theology, in which there is constant concern for the coherence between the thought expressed by the word and lived existence. It is this, in particular, the common thread of the splendid catecheses, with which he prepared the catechumens to receive baptism. Just before he died, he wrote that man's value is found in the "exact knowledge of true doctrine and in rectitude of life” ("Letter From Exile”). The two things, knowledge of the truth and rectitude of life, go together: Knowledge must become life. Every one of his discourses aimed at developing in the faithful the exercise of intelligence, of true reason, in order to understand and put into practice moral needs and precepts of the faith.

John Chrysostom tried to assist, through his writings, the integral development of the person, in the physical, intellectual and religious dimension. The various phases of growth are comparable to as many seas in an immense ocean.

"The first of these seas is infancy” (Homily 81:5 "On the Gospel of Matthew”). Therefore "in this first stage inclinations to vice and virtue begin to show." That is why God's law must be impressed on the soul from the beginning "as on a table of wax” (Homily 3:1 "On the Gospel of John”). In fact this is the most important age. We must be aware how important it is that in this first phase of life the major orientations that give the right perspective to existence truly enter into man. Chrysostom therefore recommends: "From a very young age, arm children with spiritual weapons, and teach them to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads” (Homily 12:7 "On the First Letter to the Corinthians”).

Then follows adolescence and boyhood: "The sea of adolescence follows that of childhood, where violent winds blow … because concupiscence grows within us” (Homily 81:5 "On the Gospel of Matthew”).

Lastly there is engagement and marriage: "After boyhood comes the age of maturity, in which the duties of family life abound: It is the time to look for a wife” (ibid). He recalls the goals of marriage, enriching them -- with an appeal to the virtue of temperance -- with a rich tapestry of personalized relationships. Spouses who are well prepared block, in this way, the road to divorce: Everything is carried out joyfully and one can educate their children to virtue. When the first child is born, this is "like a bridge; the three become one flesh, so that the child links the two parts (Homily 12:5 "On the Letter to the Colossians”), and the three make up "one family, a little Church” (Homily 20:6 "On the Letter to the Ephesians”).

Chrysostom's preaching took place regularly during the liturgy, the "place” in which the community is built up by the word and the Eucharist. Here the assembly, gathered together, expresses the only Church (Homily 8:7 "On the Letter to the Romans”), the same word is addressed to everyone in every place (Homily 24:2 "On the First Letter to the Corinthians”), and the Eucharistic Communion becomes an efficacious sign of unity (Homily 32:7 "On the Gospel of St. Matthew”).

His pastoral project was inserted into the life of the Church, in which the lay faithful, through baptism, assume the priestly, kingly and prophetic office. To the lay faithful he said: "Baptism also makes you king, priest and prophet” (Homily 3:5 "On the Second Letter to the Corinthians”). From this comes the Church's fundamental task of mission, because each one in some way is responsible for the salvation of others: "This is the principle of our social life … to think not just of ourselves!” (Homily 9:2 "On Genesis”). Everything takes place between these two poles: the big Church and the "little Church," the family, in a reciprocal relationship.

As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, this lesson of Chrysostom on the authentically Christian presence of the lay faithful in the family and in society, is important today more than ever. Let us pray that the Lord render us docile to the lessons of this great teacher of the faith.


On Chrysostom's Social Doctrine
"All Are Brothers and Sisters With Equal Rights"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 26, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection was a continuation of last week's commentary on St. John Chrysostom.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

We continue our reflection today on St. John Chrysostom. After his time spent in Antioch, he was appointed in 397 the bishop of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. From the beginning, John proposed a reform of his Church: The austerity of the bishop's palace would be an example to everyone -- clergy, widows, monks, people of the court and the rich. Unfortunately, many of those people, implicated by his judgments, distanced themselves from him.

Attentive to the poor, John was also called "the almsgiver." With careful administration, in fact, he was able to establish charitable institutions that were well appreciated. His initiatives in various fields caused some to view him as a dangerous rival. However, like a good pastor, he treated everyone in a kind and fatherly manner. In particular, he showed kindness toward women and dedicated special attention to marriages and the family. He invited the faithful to participate in liturgical life, which he made splendid and attractive with his creative genius.

Despite his goodness, his life was not serene. As pastor of the capital of the empire, he found himself often involved in political intrigues, because of his ongoing relationship with the authorities and civil institutions. On the ecclesiastical plane, moreover, given that he deposed six bishops in the year 401 in Asia who were unworthily elected, he was accused of having exceeded the limits of his own jurisdiction, and thus became a target of easy attacks.

Another cause of attacks against him was the presence in Constantinople of some refugee Egyptian monks, excommunicated by Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria. Lively disagreement was started when Chrysostom criticized Empress Eudoxia and her courtiers, who responded by discrediting and insulting him. Thus, he was deposed at the synod organized by Patriarch Theophilus in 403, and condemned to a brief period of exile.

After his return, he caused more hostility by protesting the festivals in honor of the empress -- which the bishop considered lavish pagan festivals -- and banishing the priests who performed the baptisms in the Easter Vigil in 404. So began the persecution of Chrysostom and his followers, the so-called Johannites.

John explained the facts in a letter to the Bishop of Rome, Innocent I. But it was too late. In 406 he had to again go into exile, this time to Cucusa, in Armenia. The Pope was convinced of his innocence, but he did not have the power to help him. A council, called by Rome to pacify the two parts of the empire and between their two Churches, could not take place.

A difficult trip from Cucusa to Pythius, a destination that was never reached, was meant to impede the faithful from visiting him and to break the resistance of the worn-out prelate: The condemnation to exile was truly a condemnation to death!

The numerous letters from exile are moving. John speaks of his pastoral concerns with undertones of sorrow for the persecutions suffered by his followers. His march toward death came to an end in Comana in Pontus. There, the dying John was brought into the chapel of the martyr Basiliscus, where he gave forth his spirit to God and was buried, martyr next to martyr (Palladio, "Life" 119). It was Sept. 14, 407, feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The reconciliation took place in 438 with Theodosius II. The relics of the saintly bishop, placed in the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, were brought in 1204 to Rome, to the early Constantinian basilica, and now lie in the Chapel of the Choir of Canons of St. Peter's Basilica.

On Aug. 24, 2004, a large portion of the relics were given by Pope John Paul II to Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The liturgical memorial of the saint is celebrated on Sept. 13. Blessed John XXIII proclaimed him patron saint of the Second Vatican Council.

It is said of John Chrysostom that, when he sat on the throne of the New Rome, that is, Constantinople, God revealed him as a second Paul, a doctor of the universe. But in reality, in Chrysostom, there is a substantial unity of thought and action, both in Antioch and in Constantinople. Only his role and situations change.

Meditating on the eight works carried out by God during six days, John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Genesis, desires to lead the faithful from creation to the Creator. "It is a great good," he says, "to know that which is creature and that which is Creator." He shows us the beauty of creation and the transparency of God in his creation, which thus becomes a sort of "staircase" to ascend to God, to know him.

But to this first step, he adds a second: This creator God is also the God of condescension ("synkatabasis"). We are weak in our "ascent"; our eyes are weak. And therefore God becomes the God of condescension, who sends a letter to fallen and foreign man, sacred Scripture. In this way, creation and Scripture compliment each other.

In light of Scripture, the letter that God gave us, we can decipher creation. God is called the "tender father" ("philostorgios") (ibid.), physician of souls (Homily 40:3 "On Genesis"), mother (ibid.) and affectionate friend ("On Providence" 8:11-12).

Added to the first step -- creation as a "staircase" leading to God -- and the second step -- the condescension of God through a letter that he has given us, sacred Scripture -- is a third step. God not only gives a letter: He himself descends, is incarnated, he truly becomes: "God with us," our brother unto death on a cross.

And to these three steps -- God is visible in creation, God gives us his letter, God comes down and becomes one of us -- is added a fourth and last step. Within the life and action of the Christian, the vital and dynamic principle is the Holy Spirit ("Pneuma"), which transforms the world's realities. God comes into our own existence through the Holy Spirit and transforms us from within our heart.

Against this backdrop, precisely in Constantinople, John, in his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, proposes the model of the early Church (Acts 4:32-37) as a model for society, developing a social "utopia" (an "ideal city").

He proposed, in fact, to give a soul and Christian face to the city. In other words, Chrysostom understood that it is not enough to give alms, helping the poor now and then. Rather, it is necessary to establish a new structure, a new model of society, a model based on the New Testament perspective. It is this new society that is revealed in the nascent Church.

Therefore, John Chrysostom truly becomes one of the great Fathers of the Church's social doctrine: The old idea of the Greek "polis" is replaced with a new idea of a city inspired by the Christian faith. Chrysostom affirmed with Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11) the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as a person, including the slave and the poor man. His project corrected the traditional Greek view of the "polis," of the city, in which large portions of the population were excluded from the rights of citizenship. In the Christian city, all are brothers and sisters with equal rights.

The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that the city is constructed on the foundation of the person. In the Greek "polis," on the other hand, the country was more important than the individual, who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. In this way, with Chrysostom, the vision of a society built by the Christian conscience begins. And he tells us that our "polis" is another, "our homeland is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20) and this homeland of ours, even on this earth, renders us all equals, brothers and sisters, and obligates us to solidarity.

At the end of his life, from his exile on the borders of Armenia, "the most remote place in the world," John, going back to his first sermon in 386, once again took up the theme so dear to him -- the plan of God for humanity. It is an "unutterable and incomprehensible" plan, but which is surely guided by him with love (cf. "On Providence" 2:6).

This is our certainty. Even if we cannot decode the details of personal and collective history, we know that God's plan is always inspired by love. Therefore, despite his sufferings, John Chrysostom reaffirmed the discovery that God loves every one of us with an infinite love, and therefore he desires the salvation of all.

For his part, the bishop-saint cooperated generously with this salvation, without holding anything back, throughout his entire life. In fact, he considered God's glory the ultimate goal of his existence, which -- as he was dying -- he left as his last testament: "Glory to God for everything!" (Palladio, "Life" 11).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we continue our reflections on Saint John Chrysostom. In 397, when he became Bishop of Constantinople, he set an example to the people of the city by his simplicity of life and his constant concern for the poor. He did not hesitate to speak out against corrupt or pagan practices, even in the Imperial Court, and for this he was sent into exile. In his teaching, he showed how our wonder at the beauty of creation should lead us to give glory to the Creator. Yet God is also a tender father, a healer of souls and an affectionate friend. The Creator of the Universe loved us so much that he did not spare his only Son. The Holy Spirit also features prominently in Saint John's writings – the life-force that transforms the world and gives wings to those Christians who are docile to the Spirit's promptings. This authoritative teaching earned Saint John Chrysostom the title of a second Saint Paul, Teacher of the Universe. The exiled bishop continued until his death to proclaim the infinite love of God, who wants all to be saved. With his last breath he spoke of the ultimate end of human life – the glory of God. Let us learn from Saint John's example to love Christ in the poor and to bear faithful witness to the truth of the Gospel.

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I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Britain and Ireland, New Zealand, Thailand, and North America. I greet in particular the new students from the Venerable English College and the priests from Ireland who are taking part in a renewal course here in Rome. May the time that you spend in this city deepen your love for Christ and his Church, and may God's blessings of peace and joy be with you always!


On St. Cyril of Alexandria
"An Untiring and Firm Witness of Jesus Christ"


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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, continuing our journey in the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, we meet a great figure: St. Cyril of Alexandria. Linked to the Christological controversy that led to the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the last noteworthy representative of the Alexandrian tradition, Cyril was later defined in the East as the “custodian of accuracy” -- in other words, a guardian of the true faith -- and even the “seal of all the Fathers."

These ancient expressions manifest something that is, in fact, characteristic of Cyril, that is, the constant references the bishop of Alexandria makes to preceding ecclesiastical authorities -- including, above all, Athanasius -- with the goal of showing the continuity of his own theology with tradition.

Cyril took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church, by which he sees the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself.

Venerated as a saint in both the East and the West, in 1882 St. Cyril was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, who at that time also gave the same title to another important representative of Greek patristics, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This shows that Pope's attention and love for the Eastern Christian traditions; he would later proclaim St. John Damascene a doctor of the Church, showing how the Eastern and Western traditions express the doctrine of the one Church of Christ.

Information on the life of Cyril before his election to the important See of Alexandria is scarce. A nephew of Theophilus -- who, as bishop from 385, upheld the Diocese of Alexandria with resolve and prestige -- Cyril was most likely born in that same Egyptian city sometime between 370-380. He soon embraced the ecclesiastical life and received a good education, both in culture and theology. In 403, he was in Constantinople following his powerful uncle and, here, he participated in the so-called Synod of the Oak, which deposed the city’s bishop -- John, later called Chrysostom. This indicated the triumph of the Alexandrian See over its traditional rival, the See of Constantinople, where the emperor resided.

Upon the death of his uncle Theophilus, though still young, Cyril was elected bishop of the influential Church of Alexandria in 412, which he governed with great energy for 32 years, working tirelessly to affirm its primacy in the East, strengthened by its traditional bonds with Rome.

Two or three years later, in 417 or 418, the bishop of Alexandria showed himself to be a realist and healed the rift in the communion with Constantinople, which had been going on since 406, in the wake of Chrysostom’s removal from office.

But the old conflict with the See of Constantinople was rekindled some 10 years later, when Nestorius was elected in 428, a prestigious but severe monk, educated in Antioch. The new bishop of Constantinople quickly brought much opposition because he preferred the title “Mother of Christ” (Christotòkos) for Mary, in place of “Mother of God” (Theotòkos), which was already beloved in popular devotion.

The reason for Bishop Nestorius’ choice was his adhesion to the Christology of the Antiochean tradition, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ’s humanity, ended up affirming its separation from his divinity. Thus, there was no longer an authentic union between God and the man Christ, and therefore, one could no longer speak of a “Mother of God."

Cyril -- the leading exponent of Alexandrian Christology at the time, one who emphatically underlined the unity of Christ’s person -- reacted almost immediately, using every means possible beginning in 429, even writing letters to Nestorius himself.

In the second letter (PG 77, 44-49) which Cyril sent to him, in February 430, we read a clear affirmation of the pastor’s task to preserve the faith of God’s people. This was his criterion, which is still valid today: The faith of God’s people is an expression of tradition, a guarantee of sound doctrine. He wrote to Nestorius: “It is necessary to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in an irreproachable way, and recall that he who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believes in Christ will suffer an intolerable punishment."

In the same letter to Nestorius -- which later, in 451, would be approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon -- Cyril describes his Christological faith with clarity: "The natures that have united in a true unity are different, but from both resulted one Christ and Son, not because, due to the unity, the differences of the human and divine natures have been eliminated, but rather because humanity and divinity united in an ineffable way have produced the one Lord, Christ, the Son of God."

And this is important: The true humanity and the true divinity are really united in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, continues the bishop of Alexandria, “we profess only one Christ and Lord, not in the sense that we adore the man together with the Logos, so as not to insinuate the idea of separation by saying 'together,' but rather in the sense that we adore only one; his body is not something detached from the Logos, who sits at the Father’s side. There are not two sons sitting at his side, but one alone united with his own flesh.”

Soon the bishop of Alexandria, thanks to shrewd alliances, saw to it that Nestorius was repeatedly condemned: by the Roman See with a series of 12 anathemas Cyril himself composed and, in the end, by the council held in Ephesus in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council.

The assembly, which took place amid tumultuous and alternating incidents, concluded with the great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the bishop of Constantinople, who refused to recognize Mary under the title of “Mother of God," because of a mistaken Christology, which claimed that Christ was divided in himself.

After prevailing in such a definitive way over his rival and his doctrine, Cyril was able to reach, as soon as 433, a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the people of Antioch. And this is also significant: On one hand there is clarity about the doctrine of faith, but on the other, there is the intense search for unity and reconciliation. In the years that followed, he dedicated himself in every way to defend and clarify his theological position until his death on June 27, 444.

Cyril’s writings -- numerous and widespread in various Latin and Eastern traditions even during his life, which is a testament to their immediate success -- are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the books of the Old and New Testaments, including the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke, are important. Many of his doctrinal works are also greatly important, in which he continually defends the Trinitarian faith against the Arian theses and Nestorius.

The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition, and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great predecessor in the Alexandrian See. Among Cyril’s other writings, we must recall the books “Against Julian," the last great answer to anti-Christian polemics, dictated by the bishop of Alexandria most likely during the last years of his life as a response to “Against the Galileans,” written many years before, in 363, by the emperor who was called an apostate for having abandoned the Christianity in which he had been educated.

The Christian faith is above all a meeting with Jesus, “a person who gives life a new horizon” (encyclical “Deus Caritas Est," No. 1). St. Cyril of Alexandria was an untiring and firm witness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, emphasizing his unity above all, as he repeats in his first letter in 433 to Bishop Succens: “One alone is the Son, one alone is the Lord Jesus Christ, before the incarnation and after the incarnation. In fact, it is not a question of a Son, the Logos, born of God the Father, and another, born of the holy Virgin; but we believe that he who is before all time was born according to the flesh of a woman."

This affirmation, beyond its doctrinal significance, shows that faith in Jesus, the “Logos,” born of the Father, is also deeply rooted in history because, as St. Cyril says, this same Jesus came in time by being born of Mary, the "Theotòkos," and will be, according to his promise, with us always. And this is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and remains with us every day. We live in this trust, in this trust we find the path of our life.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The subject of today’s catechesis is Saint Cyril of Alexandria, known as the "pillar of faith" and the "seal of all the Fathers". He was born somewhere between 370 and 380, and at a young age became Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was a zealous defender of the faith. He took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church by referring to preceding ecclesiastical authorities, especially Athanasius. Through a series of letters countering the position of Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. He was also of utmost influence at the Council of Ephesus, supporting the recognition of the Virgin Mary as the "Mother of God". This led to the deposition of Nestorius as Bishop of Constantinople. Saint Cyril, a prolific writer whose works were read throughout the Church, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882. May our remembrance of this outstanding figure in the history of Christianity remind us that the centre of our faith is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who gives each one of us a new horizon and a decisive direction!

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Australia, Denmark, Scotland and the United States. In a special way I greet the Maryknoll Missionaries, the priests from the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston, the students from the Pontifical Beda College and Deacon Candidates from the Pontifical North American College. May God continue to strengthen you as you strive to serve his people. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.


On Hilary of Poitiers
"God Only Knows How to Be Love" (October 10, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about a great Father of the Western Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of the great bishops of the 4th century. Confronted with the Arians, who considered the Son of God a creature, albeit an excellent one, Hilary dedicated his life to the defense of faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God as the Father, who generated him from all eternity.

We do not have definitive data about most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably around the year 310. From a well-to-do family, he received a good literary education, which is clearly evident in his writings. It does not seem that he was raised in a Christian environment. He himself tells us about a journey of searching for the truth, which little by little led him to the recognition of God the creator and of the incarnate God, who died to give us eternal life. He was baptized around 345, and elected bishop of Poitiers around 353-354.

In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, the "Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew." It is the oldest surviving commentary in Latin that we have on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary, as bishop, attended the Synod of Beziers in southern France, which he called the "Synod of the False Apostles," given that the assembly was dominated by bishops who were followers of Arianism, and thus negated the divinity of Jesus Christ. These "false apostles" asked Emperor Constantine to condemn to exile the bishop of Poitiers. So Hilary was forced to leave Gaul during the summer of 356.

Exiled to Phrygia, in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious environment totally dominated by Arianism. There, too, his pastoral solicitude led him to work tirelessly for the re-establishment of the Church’s unity, based on the correct faith, as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end, he began writing his most important and most famous dogmatic work: "De Trinitatae" (On the Trinity).

In it, Hilary talks about his own personal journey toward knowing God, and he is intent on showing that Scriptures clearly attest to the Son's divinity and his equality with the Father, not only in the New Testament, but also in many pages of the Old Testament, in which the mystery of Christ is already presented. Faced with the Arians, he insists on the truth of the names of the Father and the Son and develops his entire Trinitarian theology departing from the formula of baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And if some passages of the New Testament could lead one to think that the Son is inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: Some passages in Scripture speak about Jesus as God, others emphasize his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his self lowering ("kenosis"), his lowering himself unto death; and lastly, others contemplate him in the glory of the resurrection.

During the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the "Book of the Synod," in which, for his brother bishops of Gaul, he reproduces and comments on the confessions of faith and other documents of the synods which met in the East around the middle of the 4th century. Always firm in his opposition to radical Arians, St. Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity, but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity.

This also seems characteristic: His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence, to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return from exile to his homeland and immediately resumed the pastoral work in his Church, but the influence of his teaching extended, in fact, well beyond its borders. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 took up again the language used by the Council of Nicea. Some ancient authors think that this anti-Arian development of the bishops of Gaul was due, in large part, to the strength and meekness of the bishop of Poitiers.

This was precisely his gift: uniting strength of faith and meekness in interpersonal relationships. During the last years of his life, he wrote "Treatises on the Psalms," a commentary on 58 psalms, interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things said in the Psalms must be understood according to the Gospel proclamation, so that, independently of the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, everything refers to the knowledge of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnation, passion and kingdom, and the glory and power of our resurrection” ("Instructio Psalmorum," 5).

In all of the Psalms, he sees this transparency of Christ's mystery and of his body, which is the Church. On various occasions, Hilary met with St. Martin: The future bishop of Tours founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 13. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.

To summarize the essential aspects of his doctrine, I would like to say that the starting point for Hilary's theological reflection is the baptismal faith. In "De Trinitate," he writes: Jesus "commanded to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19), that is to say, confessing the Author, the Only Begotten One and the Gift. One alone is the author of all things, because there is only one God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), gift in everything. … Nothing can be found lacking in a plenitude that is so grand, in which converges in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the immensity of the Eternal, the revelation in the Image, the joy in the Gift" ("De Trinitatae" 2:1).

God the Father, being all love, is able to communicate the fullness of his divinity to the Son. I find this phrase of St. Hilary to be particularly beautiful: "God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (ibid. 9:61).

For this reason, the Son is fully God without lacking anything or having any lessening: "He who comes from the perfect is perfect, because he who has everything, has given him everything" (ibid. 2:8). Only in Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, does humanity find salvation. Taking on human nature, he united every man to himself, "he became our flesh" ("Tractatus in Psalmos" 54:9); "he took on the nature of all flesh, thus becoming the true vine, the root of all branches" (ibid. 51:16).

Precisely because of this motive, the path to Christ is open to all -- because he drew everyone into his humanity -- even though personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to everyone, provided that they leave aside the old man (cf. Ephesians 4:22) and nail him to his cross (cf. Colossians 2:14); provided they abandon their former works and are converted, in order to be buried with him in baptism, in view of life (cf. Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:4)" (ibid. 91:9).

Faithfulness to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore St. Hilary asks, at the end of his treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain faithful to the faith of baptism. One of the characteristics of this book is this: Reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer leads to reflection. The entire book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's catechesis with one of these prayers, that also becomes our prayer: "Grant, O Lord," Hilary prays in a moment of inspiration, "that I may remain faithful to that which I professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That I may adore you, our Father, and together with you, your Son; that I may be worthy of your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your only Son. … Amen” ("De Trinitatae" 12:57).


On St. Eusebius of Vercelli
"He Governed the Church With the Austerity of Fasting" (October 17, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

This morning I invite you to reflect on St. Eusebius of Vercelli, the first bishop of northern Italy of whom we have sure knowledge. Born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, at a young age he transferred to Rome with his family. Later he was instituted as a lector: In this way he came to form part of the clergy of Urbe, during the time that the Church was suffering the difficult test of the Arian heresy.

The great esteem that many had for Eusebius explains his election, in 345, as the bishop of Vercelli. The new bishop immediately began an intense program of evangelization in a territory that was still to a large extent pagan, especially in the rural areas.

Inspired by St. Athanasius -- who had written "The Life of St. Anthony," founder of Eastern monasticism -- founded in Vercelli a community of priests, similar to a monastic community. This monastery gave to the clergy of northern Italy a significant character of apostolic sanctity, and inspired important bishops such as Limenio and Honoratus, successors of Eusebius in Vercelli, Gaudentius in Novara, Exuperantius in Tortona, Eustasius in Aosta, Eulogius in Ivrea, Maximus in Turin, all venerated by the Church as saints.

Solidly formed in the faith of the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius defended with all his strength the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as "of the same nature" as the Father. With this objective he allied himself with the great fathers of the fourth century, above all St. Athanasius, the herald of the Nicene orthodoxy, against the pro-Arian politics of the emperor.

For the emperor the simpler Arian faith was more useful politically as an ideology of the empire. For him the truth didn't count, only the political opportunity: He wanted to use religion as a tie to unite the empire. But these great fathers resisted, defending the truth over and against political domination. For this reason, Eusebius was condemned to exile, as were other bishops of the East and the West: such as Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers -- of whom we spoke last week -- and Osius of Cordoba. At Scythopolis in Palestine, where he was confined from 355 to 360, Eusebius wrote a wonderful page of his life. Here too he founded a monastery with a small group of disciples, and from there maintained correspondence with this faithful in Piedmont, which is demonstrated best by the second of the three letters of Eusebius that have been recognized as authentic.

After 360 he was exiled to Cappadocia and in Thebaid, where he suffered severe physical maltreatment. In 361, Emperor Constantius II died, and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, known as the Apostate, who was not interested in Christianity as the religion of empire, but rather wanted to restore paganism. He ended the exile of bishops and in this way permitted Eusebius to take back his see.

In 362 Eusebius was invited by Athanasius to participate in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon Arian bishops provided they reverted to the lay state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another decade, until he died, establishing with his city an exemplary relationship, which inspired the pastoral service of other bishops of northern Italy, whom we shall talk about in future catecheses, such as St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximus of Turin.

The relationship between the bishop of Vercelli and his city is made clear above all by two epistolary testimonies. The first is found in the letter we already cited, which Eusebius wrote from exile in Scythopolis "to my most delightful brethren and to my beloved priests, as well as to the holy peoples of Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, keeping firm in the faith" ("Ep. secunda," CCL 9, p. 104).

These greetings, which show the emotion of the good shepherd when speaking to his flock, is confirmed to a large extent at the end of the letter, in the warm greetings of the father to each and every one of his sons in Vercelli, with expressions overflowing with affection and love.

One must underline above all the explicit relationship that unites the bishop to the "sanctae plebes" [holy people] not only of Vercelli -- the first, and for many more years, the only diocese of the Piedmont region -- but also of Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, that is to say, those Christian communities within his diocese that had reached a certain consistency and autonomy.

Another interesting element can be found in the farewell of the letter: Eusebius asks his sons and daughters to greet "even those who are outside the Church, and who have deigned to love us:" (etiam hos, qui foris sunt et nos dignantur diligere.) This is an evident sign that the bishop's relationship with his city was not limited to the Christian population, but also extended to those outside the Church who recognized in a certain sense his spiritual authority, and loved this exemplary man.

The second testimony of the singular relationship the bishop had with his city appears in the letter that St. Ambrose of Milan wrote to the Christians of Vercelli around 394, more than 20 years after Eusebius' death ("Ep. extra collectionem 14": Maur. 63).

The Church of Vercelli was going through a difficult time: It was divided and without a bishop. With frankness, Ambrose declared that he couldn't recognize in them "the descendants of the holy fathers, who elected Eusebius as soon as they saw him, without even having known him beforehand, passing over even their own fellow citizens." In the same letter, the bishop of Milan clearly bore witness to his esteem for Eusebius: "A great man," he wrote decisively, who "deserved to be elected by the whole Church."

Ambrose's admiration for Eusebius was based above all on the fact that Eusebius governed his diocese with the witness of his own life: "He governed the Church with the austerity of fasting." In fact, Ambrose himself was fascinated, as he himself admitted, by the monastic ideal of contemplating God, which Eusebius had pursued in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah.

To begin with, Ambrose noted, the bishop of Vercelli gathered his own priests into "vita communis" [community life] and educated them "in the observance of monastic rules, even though they lived in the middle of the city." The bishop and his priests had to share the problems of their fellow citizens, and they did this credibly by cultivating at the same time a different citizenship, that of heaven (cf. Hebrews 13:14). Thus they truly constructed a genuine citizenship in true solidarity with the citizens of Vercelli.

In this way Eusebius, while he took up the cause of the "sancta plebs" of Vercelli, lived in the midst of the city like a monk, opening his city to God. This trait did not take anything away from his exemplary pastoral dynamism.

Among other things, it seems that he set up parish churches in Vercelli to establish ecclesial services that were organized and stable, and that he promoted Marian shrines for the conversion of pagan rural populations. On the contrary, this "monastic character" gave a particular dimension to the relationship of the bishop with his city. Like the apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, the pastors and the faithful of the Church "are in the world" (John 17:11), but not "of the world."

Therefore, the pastors, Eusebius reminds us, should exhort the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling, but rather to seek the future city, the definitive Jerusalem in heaven. This "eschatological dimension" allows the pastors and the faithful to protect the hierarchy of just values, without giving into the trend of the moment, or to the unjust demands of political power. The authentic hierarchy of values, Eusebius' whole life seems to tell us, does not come from the emperors of yesterday or today, but from Jesus Christ, the perfect man, equal to the Father in divinity, but at the same time a man like us.

Referring to this scale of values, Eusebius does not tire of "recommending without reservations" to his faithful to guard, "with every resource, the faith, to maintain harmony, to be assiduous in prayer" ("Ep. secunda," cit.).

Dear brothers and sisters, I too recommend to you with all my heart these perennial values, and I bless and greet you with the same words St. Eusebius used to conclude his second letter: "I address you all, my brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, the faithful of both sexes and every age, so that ... you may bring our greetings even to those who are outside the Church, but who deign to love us" (ibid.).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Eusebius of Vercelli. Eusebius was born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, educated in Rome and eventually elected Bishop of Vercelli. There he founded a priestly community inspired by the early monastic communities of Egypt, and helped to spread the ideal of apostolic holiness throughout northern Italy.

Eusebius tirelessly defended the full divinity of Christ proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea, even at the cost of exile. His example of pastoral zeal greatly influenced many of his contemporaries, including Saints Ambrose and Maximus of Turin. Eusebius' Letters testify to his closeness to the faithful of Vercelli, as well as his concern for those who were not of the faith. His episcopal ministry was shaped by his commitment to the monastic ideals of contemplation and self-discipline. He thus found the strength to resist every form of external pressure in his faithful service to the Gospel. May his teachings and example inspire us, in all our life and activity, to "make every effort to preserve the faith, to live in harmony and to be constant in the practice of prayer" (cf. Ep. II).

I warmly greet the Immaculate Heart Sisters from Nigeria who celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their foundation. I likewise greet the members of the national pilgrimage of Tanzania. My welcome also goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Norway and to the members of Serra International. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God's abundant blessings.


On St. Ambrose of Milan
"Catechesis Is Inseparable From the Testimony of Life" (October 24, 2007)

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Dear brothers and sisters:

The saintly Bishop Ambrose, of whom I will speak to you today, died during the night in Milan between April 3-4, 397. It was the dawn of Holy Saturday. The day before, toward 5 p.m., he began to pray as he was lying in bed with his arms open in the form of the cross. That is how he participated in the solemn Easter triduum, in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. "We saw him moving his lips," testified Paulinus, the faithful deacon who was invited by Augustine to write Ambrose's biography entitled "Vita," "but his voice could not be heard."

Suddenly, the situation seemed to come to an end. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli, who helped Ambrose and who slept upstairs from him, was awakened by a voice that repeated: "Get up, quick! Ambrose is approaching death." Honoratus immediately went downstairs, Paulinus recounted, "and offered the saint the Body of the Lord. After having taken it, Ambrose surrendered his spirit, carrying with him viaticum. Thus, his soul, strengthened by virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of angels" ("Vita," 47).

On that Good Friday of 397, the open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord. This was his last catechesis: Without speaking a word, he spoke with the testimony of life.

Ambrose was not old when he died. He was not even 60, for he was born around 340 in Trier, where his father was prefect of the Gauls. The family was Christian. When his father died, and he was still a boy, his mother brought him to Rome to prepare him for a civil career, giving him a solid rhetorical and juridical education. Around 370, he was sent to govern the provinces of Emilia and Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. It was precisely there where the struggle between orthodox Christians and Arians was seething, especially after the death of Auxentius, the Arian bishop. Ambrose intervened to pacify those of both factions, and his authority was such that, despite the fact that he was nothing more than a simple catechumen, he was acclaimed by the people as bishop of Milan.

Until that moment, Ambrose had been the highest magistrate of the Roman Empire in northern Italy. Highly prepared culturally, but deficient in knowledge of Scriptures, the new bishop began to study them energetically. He learned to study and comment on the Bible from the works of Origen, the undisputed master of the school of Alexandria. In this way, Ambrose brought to the Latin environment the practice of meditating on Scriptures initiated by Origen, beginning the practice of "lectio divina" in the West.

The method of "lectio" soon guided the preaching and writing of Ambrose, which emerged precisely from prayerful listening to the word of God. A famous opening from one Ambrosian catechesis distinctly demonstrates how the holy bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: "When we read the histories of the patriarchs and the maxims of Proverbs, we come face to face with morality," the bishop of Milan told his catechumens and neophytes, "in order that, educated by these, you can then accustom yourselves to enter into the life of the fathers and to follow the path of obedience to the divine precepts" ("I misteri," 1,1).

In other words, neophytes and catechumens, in the opinion of the bishop, after having learned the art of living morally, could then consider themselves prepared for the great mysteries of Christ. In this way, the preaching of Ambrose, which represents the heart of his prodigious literary work, originates from the reading of sacred books ("The Patriarchs," the historical books, and "Proverbs," the sapiential books), to live in conformity with divine revelation.

It is evident that the personal testimony of the preacher, and the exemplarity of the Christian community, conditions the efficacy of any preaching. From this point of view a passage from St. Augustine's "Confessions" is significant. Augustine had come to Milan as a professor of rhetoric; he was a skeptic, not a Christian. He was looking, but he wasn't able to truly encounter the Christian truth. For the young African rhetorician, skeptical and desperate, it was not the beautiful homilies of Ambrose that converted him -- despite the fact that he appreciated them immensely. Rather, it was the testimony of the bishop and the Church in Milan, which prayed and sang, united as a single body. It was a Church capable of resisting the bullying of the emperor and his mother, who had demanded again the expropriation of a Church building for Arian ceremonies in early 386.

In the building that was to be expropriated, Augustine wrote, "the devout people of Milan stayed put, ready to die with their own bishop." This testimony in the "Confessions" is invaluable, because it shows that something was moving deep within Augustine. He continued, "Despite the fact that we were still spiritually lukewarm, we participated as well in the fervor of the entire population" ("Confessions" 9, 7).

From the life and example of Bishop Ambrose, Augustine learned to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which deserved to be cited many centuries later in No. 25 of the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum": "All the clergy must hold fast to the sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become," and here is where Augustine is quoted, "'an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.'" He had learned precisely from Ambrose this "to listen inwardly," this diligence in reading sacred Scripture in a prayerful attitude, in order to truly receive it in one's heart, and to assimilate the word of God.

Dear brothers and sisters: I would like to present to you a type of "patristic icon" that, seen in the light of what we have just said, effectively represents the heart of Ambrosian doctrine. In the same book of "Confessions," Augustine recounts his meeting with Ambrose, certainly a meeting of great importance for the history of the Church. He writes in the text that when he came to see the bishop of Milan, the latter was always surrounded by hordes of people with problems, whom he tried to help. There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose, looking for comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people -- and this only happened for short periods of time -- he was either filling his body with the food necessary to live, or filling his spirit with reading. In this respect Augustine praises Ambrose, because Ambrose read Scriptures with his mouth closed, and only with his eyes (cf. "Confessions," 6,3).

In the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scripture was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding, even for the one who was reading it. The fact that Ambrose could read through the pages only with his eyes was for Augustine a singular capacity for reading and being familiar with Scripture. In this reading -- in which the heart seeks to understand the word of God -- this is the "icon" we are talking about. Here one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: Scripture itself, profoundly assimilated, suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts.

Thus, according to the teachings of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of life. The catechist may also avail himself of what I wrote in "Introduction to Christianity" about theologians. Educators of the faith cannot run the risk of looking like some sort of clown, who is simply playing a role. Rather, using an image from Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learned how to think, speak and act. In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective manner.

Like John the Apostle, Bishop Ambrose, who never tired of repeating "Omnia Christus est nobis!" -- Christ is everything for us! -- remained an authentic witness for the Lord. With these same words, full of love for Jesus, we will conclude our catechesis: "Omnia Christus est nobis! If you want to heal a wound, he is the physician; is you burn with fever, he is the fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you need help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you are in darkness, he is the light. ... Taste and see how good the Lord is. Blessed is the man who hopes in him!" ("De virginitate," 16,99). We also hope in Christ. In this way we will be blessed and will live in peace.

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Ambrose of Milan. Born into a Christian family in the middle of the fourth century, Ambrose was educated in Rome and sent as governor to Milan, where, although a catechumen, he was soon acclaimed as Bishop. He set about mastering the Scriptures, guided by the writings of Origen and the practice of "lectio divina," a form of prayerful meditation on the word of God. It was Ambrose who introduced this practice to the West, and it deeply permeated his life and preaching. Saint Augustine, who was converted in Milan and baptized by Ambrose, relates the profound impression which Ambrose’s engagement with the word of God left upon him. Ambrose, contrary to the custom of the time, did not read the Scriptures aloud, which Augustine interpreted as a sign of how deeply the inspired word had penetrated the holy Bishop’s mind and heart. This image can serve as an "icon" of Ambrose as a catechist: his teaching was inseparable from his prayer and his entire life. For Ambrose, Christ was everything -- Omnia Christus est nobis! -- and so it must be for every catechist and indeed for every one of the Lord’s disciples.

I am happy to greet the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who are gathered in Rome for their Twentieth General Chapter. I also cordially welcome an ecumenical pilgrimage of Catholics and Evangelical Lutherans from the United States of America. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I invoke God’s abundant blessings of peace and joy.


On St. Maximus of Turin
"The Intimate and Vital Union of the Bishop With His City"  (October 31, 2007)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Between the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, another Father of the Church -- after St. Ambrose of Milan -- contributed decisively to the spread and consolidation of Christianity in northern Italy: He is St. Maximus, who was the bishop of Turin in 398, one year after the death of Ambrose. There is very little information about him; but, we do have a collection of about 90 Sermons. In these the intimate and vital union of the bishop with his city emerges, which bears witness to an evident point of contact between the episcopal ministry of Ambrose and that of Maximus.

At that time, serious tensions upset civil coexistence. In this context, Maximus succeeded in uniting the Christian population around him as pastor and teacher. The city was threatened by scattered groups of barbarians who, having entered through the eastern passes, were advancing toward the western Alps. For this reason Turin was permanently surrounded by military garrisons, which became, during critical moments, a refuge for the people fleeing the countryside and the unprotected urban centers.

The interventions of Maximus in the face of this situation bears witness to his commitment to do something about civil degradation and disaggregation. Even though it is difficult to determine the social composition of the people that his Sermons addressed, it appears that his preaching, to overcome the risk of being generic, was addressed specifically to a select nucleus of the Christian community of Turin, comprised of rich landowners who owned land in the countryside and a home in the city. It was a lucid pastoral decision of the bishop, who envisaged this kind of preaching as the most effective path to maintain and reinforce his ties with the people.

To illustrate Maximus' ministry in Turin from this perspective, I wish to refer to Sermons 17 and 18 as examples. They are dedicated to a theme that is always current, that of wealth and poverty in Christian communities. Sharp tensions ran through the city on account of this topic. Wealth was accumulated and hidden. "One does not think of the needs of others," the bishop said bitterly in Sermon 17.

"In fact, not only do many Christians not distribute what they have, but they also plunder the possessions of others. Not only do they fail to bring to the feet of the apostles the money they collect, but they even drive away from the feet of the priests their brethren who seek help." And he concludes: "Many guests and pilgrims come to our city. Do what you promised" in good faith, "so that what was said of Ananias may not be said of you: 'You have not lied to men, but to God'" (Sermon 17, 2-3).

In the next Sermon, No. 18, Maximus criticizes the common forms of profiting from the misfortunes of others. "Tell me, Christian," the bishop asked his faithful, "tell me: Why have you taken the loot abandoned by the plunderers? Why have you brought to your house a savage and contaminated so-called profit?" "But," he continued, "perhaps you say you bought it, and in this way think you can avoid being accused of avarice. But this is no way to establish a buyer-seller relationship. Buying is something good, but in times of peace, when one sells freely, and not when one sells what has been looted in plunder. ... Therefore, act like Christians and like citizens who buy back things in order to return them" (Sermon 18,3).

Maximus preached of an intimate relationship between the duties of a Christian and those of a citizen. For him, to live a Christian life also meant taking on civic commitments. And on the other hand, the Christian who, "despite the fact that he could live on the fruits of his own labor, takes someone else's loot with the fierceness of beasts," or who "ambushes his neighbor, attempting day by day to claw at his neighbor's fence and take possession of his crops," isn't even similar to a fox who beheads chickens, but rather a wolf who preys on pigs (Sermon 41,4).

Compared to the prudent defensive attitude taken by Ambrose to justify his famous initiative of rescuing prisoners of war, the historical changes that have since taken place in the relationship between a bishop and civic institutions can clearly be seen. Supported in his time by a law that urged Christians to redeem prisoners of war, Maximus, facing the collapse of the civil authority of the Roman Empire, felt fully authorized to exercise a true and proper power of control over the city.

This power would become broader and more effective to the point of substituting for the absence of magistrates and civic institutions. Maximus not only dedicated himself to reigniting in the faithful a traditional love for their native city, but also proclaimed that it was their duty to take on fiscal responsibilities, as serious and unpleasant as they may be (Sermon 26, 2).

In short, the tone and substance of his Sermons assume a mature and growing awareness of the political responsibility of a bishop in specific historical circumstances. He was the city's "watchtower." Are not the watchtowers, Maximus asked in Sermon 92, "the blessed bishops who, being raised, so to speak, on an elevated rock of wisdom to defend the people, see from afar the evils that are approaching?"

In Sermon 89, the bishop of Turin illustrates to the faithful his task, availing himself of a singular comparison between the bishop's function and that of bees: "Like the bee," he said, the bishops "observe corporal chastity, offer the food of celestial life, use the sting of the law. They are pure in order to sanctify, gentle in order to comfort and severe in order to punish." That is how St. Maximus described the mission of a bishop in his time.

Definitively, historical and literary analysis demonstrates his growing awareness of the political responsibility of ecclesiastical authorities, in a context in which he was in fact substituting for civil authority. This is the development of the bishop's ministry in northern Italy, beginning with Eusebius, who lived in Vercelli "like a monk," to Maximus, who "like a sentinel" was situated on the highest rock in the city.

Obviously, the historical, cultural and social context today is profoundly different. The context today is that which my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II, described in his postsynodal exhortation "Ecclesia in Europa," in which he offers a detailed analysis of the challenges and signs of hope for Europe today (6-22). In any case, independent of changed conditions, the duties of the believer toward his city and homeland remain valid. The intimate relationship between the "honest citizen" and the "good Christian" continues to stand.

In conclusion, I wish to recall what the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes" says to clarify one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life: the consistency between faith and behavior, between Gospel and culture. The Council exhorts the faithful "to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation" (No. 43).

Following the magisterium of St. Maximus and many other Fathers of the Church, let us make the Council's hope ours as well, that the faithful may ever more "exercise all their earthly activities and their humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are harmonized unto God's glory" (ibid.), and in this way for the good of mankind.


On St. Jerome
"To Ignore Scripture Is to Ignore Christ" (November 7, 2007)

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Dear brothers and sisters!

We will turn our attention today to St. Jerome, a Father of the Church who placed the Bible at the center of his life: He translated it into Latin, he commented on it in his writings, and above all he committed to live it concretely in his long earthly existence, despite his naturally difficult and fiery character, which he was known for.

Jerome was born in Stridon around 347 to a Christian family that educated him well, and sent him to Rome to complete his studies. Being young, he felt attracted to worldly living (cf. Ep. 22,7), but his desire for and interest in the Christian religion prevailed.

After his baptism around 366, he was drawn to the ascetic life, and upon moving to Aquileia, he joined a group of fervent Christians, whom he described as a type of "choir of the blessed" (Chron. Ad ann., 374), who were united around the bishop Valerian.

He then left for the East and lived as a hermit in the desert of Calcide, south of Aleppo (cf. Ep. 14,10), dedicating himself to serious study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began to study Hebrew (cf. Ep. 125,12), transcribed patristic codices and works (cf. Ep. 5,2). The meditation, the solitude, the contact with the word of God matured his Christian sensibility.

He felt intensely the weight of his youthful past (cf. Ep. 22, 7), and became vividly aware of the contrast between the pagan and Christian mentalities: a contrast made famous by the dramatic and vivid "vision" which he left to us. In this vision he saw himself being scourged in the presence of God because he was a "Ciceronian and not a Christian" (cf. Ep. 22,30).

In 382, he moved to Rome where Pope Damasus, recognizing his fame as an ascetic and his competence as a scholar, took him on as secretary and adviser. He encouraged him to undertake a new Latin translation of biblical texts for pastoral and cultural reasons.

Some members of the Roman aristocracy, above all noblewomen such as Paola, Marcella, Asella, Lea and others, desired to commit themselves to the way of Christian perfection and to deepen their knowledge of the Word of God, and they chose him to be their spiritual guide and teacher in the method to read sacred texts. These women also learned Greek and Hebrew themselves.

After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and undertook a pilgrimage, first to the Holy Land, silent witness to the earthly life of Christ, then to Egypt, a destination chosen by many monks (cf. "Contra Rufinum," 3,22; Ep. 108,6-14).

In 386, he decided to stay in Bethlehem, where, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paola, a monastery for men was built, and another for women, as well as a hospice for pilgrims to the Holy Land "in memory of Mary and Joseph who found no shelter" (Ep. 108,14).

He remained in Bethlehem until his death, carrying on his intense activity. He commented on the Gospels; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he exhorted monks to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young pupils; he welcomed pilgrims to the Holy Land like a pastor. He died in his cell near the Grotto of the Nativity on Sept. 30, 419/420.

His literary preparation and vast erudition allowed Jerome to revise and translate many biblical texts: an invaluable service for the Latin Church and for Western culture. Beginning with the original texts in Greek and Hebrew, and comparing them to earlier translations, he revised the translation of the four Gospels in Latin, then the Psalms and a good part of the Old Testament.

Taking into account the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Septuagint, the classic Greek version of the Old Testament that dates back to pre-Christian times, and the earlier Latin translations, Jerome and his collaborators were able to offer a better translation. This is what we call the "Vulgate," considered the "official" text of the Latin Church, which was recognized as such by the Council of Trent. Despite the recent revision of the text, it continues to be the "official" text of the Church in the Latin language.

It is interesting to highlight the criteria that the great biblical scholar used in his work as a translator. He revealed them himself when he stated that he respected even the order of words in sacred Scripture, because "even the order of the words is a mystery," that is, a revelation.

He also reiterated the need to turn to the original texts: "Whenever a question is raised among the Latins regarding the New Testament due to discordant readings of the texts, we must turn to the original, that is, the Greek text in which the New Testament was first written. Likewise for the Old Testament, if there are divergences between the Greek and Latin texts, let us turn to the original text in Hebrew. In this way, "we will be able to find in the rivulets everything that flows from the spring" (Ep. 106,2).

Jerome also commented on several biblical texts. He said commentaries should offer many opinions so that "the astute reader, after reading different explanations and getting to know different opinions -- to accept or to reject -- may judge which one is most reliable, and like a currency expert, reject the counterfeit" ("Contra Rufinum" 1,16).

With energy and liveliness, he refuted the heretics who contested the tradition and faith of the Church. He also showed the importance and validity of Christian literature, which had by then come into its own, and deemed worthy to confront classical literature. He did this in "De viris illustribus," a work in which he presented the biographies of more than 100 Christian authors.

He also wrote biographies of monks, expounding the monastic ideal alongside other spiritual itineraries, and translated various works by Greek authors. Lastly, in the important Epistolary, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerges characterized as a man of culture, an ascetic and a spiritual guide.

What can we learn from St. Jerome? Above all I think it is this: to love the word of God in sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said, "To ignore Scripture is to ignore Christ." That is why it is important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the word of God, given to us in sacred Scripture.

This dialogue should be of two dimensions. On one hand, it should be truly personal, because God speaks to each of us through sacred Scripture and has a message for each of us. We shouldn't read sacred Scripture as a word from the past, but rather as the word of God addressed even to us, and we must try to understand what the Lord is telling us.

And so we don't fall into individualism, we must also keep in mind that the word of God is given to us in order to build communion, to unite us in the truth along our way to God. Therefore, despite the fact that it is always a personal word, it is also a word that builds community, and that builds the Church itself. Therefore, we should read it in communion with the living Church.

The privileged place for reading and listening to the word of God is in the liturgy. By celebrating the word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the sacrament, we bring the word into our life and make it alive and present among us.

We should never forget that the word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go; what is very modern today will be old tomorrow. But the word of God is the word of eternal life, it carries within itself eternity, which is always valuable. Carrying within ourselves the word of God, we also carry eternal life.

I conclude with a something St. Jerome had said to St. Paulinus of Nola, in which the great exegete expressed the reality that in the word of God we receive eternity, life eternal. St. Jerome said: "Let us seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in heaven" (Ep. 53,10).


St. Jerome on the Bible
"Love Sacred Scripture and Wisdom Shall Love You"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2007- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on St. Jerome.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today we continue with the presentation of St. Jerome. As we said last Wednesday, he devoted his life to the study of the Bible, for which he was acknowledged as "eminent doctor in the interpretation of sacred Scripture" by one of my predecessors, Pope Benedict XV.

Jerome underlined the joy and importance of familiarizing oneself with the biblical texts: "Don't you feel, here on Earth, that you are already in the kingdom of heaven, just by living in these texts, meditating on them, and not seeking anything else?" (Ep. 53,10).

In truth, to converse with God and with his word means to be in heaven's presence, that is to say, in God's presence. To draw close to the biblical texts, above all to the New Testament, is essential for the believer, because "ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." This is his famous sentence, also quoted by the Second Vatican Council in the constitution "Dei Verbum" (No. 25).

Truly "enchanted" by the word of God, Jerome asked himself: "How could we live without the science of Scriptures, through which we learn how to know Christ himself, who is the life of the believer?" (Ep. 30,7). Hence the Bible, the instrument "with which God speaks to the faithful every day" (Ep. 133,13), becomes catalyst and source of Christian life for all situations and for everyone.

To read Scripture is to converse with God: "If you are praying," he writes to a noble young lady from Rome, "you are speaking with the Groom; if you are reading, it is He who is speaking to you" (Ep. 22,25). The study and meditation of Scripture makes man wise and at peace (cf. In Eph., prol.). Certainly, to penetrate more deeply the word of God, a constant and increasing practice is necessary. This is what Jerome recommended to the priest Nepotian: "Read the divine Scriptures with much regularity; let the Holy Book never be laid down by your hands. Learn there what you ought to teach (Ep. 52,7)."

To the Roman matron Laeta he gave the following advice for the Christian education of her daughter: "Make sure that every day she studies some passages of Scripture. ... That she ensues from reading to praying and from praying to reading. ... Instead of loving jewelry and silk garments, may she rather love the divine books" (Ep. 107,9.12). With the meditation and the science of the Scriptures one "maintains the balance of the soul" (Ad Eph., prol.). Only through a deep spirit of prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to understand the Bible: "For the interpretation of sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit" (In Mich. 1,1,10,15).

A passionate love for Scripture pervaded all of Jerome's life, a love that he sought to also awaken in the faithful. To a spiritual daughter he recommended: "Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honor it and you shall receive its caresses. Let it mean to you as much as your necklaces and your earrings mean to you" (Ep. 130,20). And again: "Love the science of Scripture, and you shall not love the vices of the flesh" (Ep. 125,11).

A fundamental criterion Jerome used to interpret Scripture was to be in tune with the magisterium of the Church. Alone we are not able to read Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us.

For him an authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. This is not an external requirement imposed on the book. The book itself is the voice of the people of God in pilgrimage, and only in the faith of these people we find the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture. Hence Jerome warned: "Stay firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that has been taught to you, so that you can preach according to the right doctrine and refute those who contradict it" (Ep. 52,7).

In particular, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, he concluded that every Christian has to be in communion "with the chair of St. Peter. I know that on this stone the Church is built" (Ep. 15,2). Consequently, he declared: "I am with whoever is united to the chair of St. Peter" (Ep. 16).

Jerome obviously does not neglect the ethical side. Rather often he recalls the duty of reconciling life with the divine word, and that only by living it we manage to understand it. Such coherence is necessary for every Christian, especially for the preacher, to ensure that his actions are not a source of embarrassment when conflicting with his speech. So he urges the priest Nepotian: "Let not your actions deny your words, so that when you preach in church someone won't be able to say: 'Why don't you act this way?' Interesting is the teacher who, with his belly full, preaches about fasting -- even a thief can condemn greed -- but for the priest of Christ the mind and word have to match" (Ep. 52,7).

In another letter Jerome confirms: "Even when mastering a wonderful doctrine, he who is condemned by his own conscience will be shamed" (Ep. 127,4). Always in terms of coherence, he observes, the Gospel has to translate into attitudes of true charity, because in every human being Christ is present. For instance, when addressing Paulinus (who became bishop of Nola and then a saint), Jerome advises: "The true temple of Christ is the soul of the faithful: adorn this sanctuary, embellish it, put your offerings in it and receive Christ. To what purpose do you adorn walls with precious stones, if Christ starves in the person of the poor?" (Ep. 58,7).

Jerome continues: It is necessary "to dress Christ among the poor, to visit him among the suffering, to nourish him among the starving, to host him among the homeless" (Ep. 130,14). The love for Christ, fed with study and meditation, makes us overcome any difficulty: "We love Jesus Christ, we always search the union with him: then all that is difficult will seem easy" (Ep. 22,40).

Jerome, defined as "a model of conduct and a master of the human kind" by Prosper of Aquitaine ("Carmen de Ingratis," 57), also left us a rich teaching on Christian asceticism. He reminds us that a courageous engagement toward perfection requires a constant alertness, frequent mortifications, even if with moderation and caution, an assiduous intellectual or manual work to avoid idleness (cf. Epp. 125.11 and 130,15), and above all obedience to God: "Nothing … pleases God as much as obedience. ... That is the most outstanding and the sole virtue" (Hom. De oboedientia: CCL 78,552).

The practice of pilgrimages can be included in the ascetic path. In particular, Jerome promoted pilgrimages to the Holy Land, where pilgrims were welcomed and accommodated in the buildings built near Bethlehem's monastery, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paula, Jerome's spiritual daughter (cf. Ep. 108,14).

Finally, we have to mention Jerome's contribution to Christian pedagogy (cf. Epp. 107 and 128). He proposes to form "a soul that has to become the temple of the Lord " (Ep. 107,4), a "most precious gem" to the eyes of God (Ep. 107,13). With deep intuition he suggests to protect the soul from evil and from sinful events, to exclude equivocal or wasteful friendships (cf. Ep. 107.4 and 8-9; cf also Ep. 128,3-4).

Above all, he urges parents to create an environment of serenity and joy around the children, to encourage them to study and work, also through praise and emulation (cf. Epp. 107,4 and 128,1), to encourage them to overcome difficulties, to nurture in them good habits and protect them from bad ones because -- here he quotes a phrase that Publilius Syrus had heard as a schoolboy -- "you will barely succeed to correct those things that you are getting used to do" (Ep. 107,8).

Parents are the primary educators for children, their first life teachers. Addressing himself to the mother of a girl and then turning to the father, Jerome warns, with much clarity, as if to express a fundamental requirement of every human creature who comes into existence: "May she find in you her teacher, and may her inexperienced childhood look at you with wonder. May she never see, neither in you nor in her father, any actions that, if imitated, could lead her to sin. Remember that ... you can educate her more with the example than with the word" (Ep. 107,9).

Among Jerome's main intuitions as a pedagogue we must underline the importance attributed to a healthy and complete education from infancy, as well as the special responsibility acknowledged as belonging to parents, the urgency of a serious moral and religious education, and the need of study for a more complete human formation.

Moreover, a vital aspect retained by the author but disregarded in ancient times is the promotion of the woman, to whom he acknowledges the right to a complete education: human, academic, religious, professional. We actually see today that the true condition to any progress, peace, reconciliation and exclusion of violence is the education of the person in its entirety and the education in responsibility before God and before man. Sacred Scripture offers us the guidance of education and of true humanism.

We cannot conclude these rapid notes on the great Father of the Church without mentioning his effective contribution to the safeguard of the positive and valid elements of ancient Israeli, Greek and Roman cultures in the rising Christian civilization. Jerome recognized and assimilated the artistic values, the rich feelings and harmonic images of the classics, which educate heart and fantasy to noble feelings.

Above all, he put the word of God at the center of his life and actions, a word that shows to man the paths of life and discloses the secrets of holiness. Today we can't be but deeply grateful to Jerome for all this.


On the Teachings of Aphraates
"Prayer Is Strong When It Is Full of God’s Strength" (November 21, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The reflection focused on the fourth-century Christian Aphraates.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

On our journey into the world of the Fathers of the Church, today I would like to guide you toward a little-known area of the universe of faith, namely those territories in which the Churches of Semitic languages, not yet influenced by Greek thought, flourished. Such Churches developed through the fourth century in the Near East, from the Holy Land to Lebanon and Mesopotamia. In that century -- which was a period of clerical and literary growth -- the ascetic-monastic phenomenon was developed with autochthonous characteristics, which did not come under the influence of Egyptian monasticism. Hence the Syriac communities of the fourth century represent the Semitic world from which the Bible itself evolved. They are an expression of a Christianity whose theological formulation had not yet come into contact with other cultural currents, but rather lived thinking their own way. These are Churches in which asceticism in its various hermitic forms (hermits in the desert, in caverns, recluses, stylites), and monasticism in the form of community life, play a vital role in the development of theological and spiritual thought.

I would like to introduce this world through Aphraates, also known as "the wise one." He was one of the most important and enigmatic characters of fourth-century Syriac Christianity. He lived in the first half of the fourth century and was a native of the Nineveh-Mosul region -- today’s Iraq.

We have little information about his life; he had strong ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac Church, on which he reflected a great deal in his work. According to some sources, he was the head of a monastery, and later ordained a bishop. He wrote 23 speeches known as Expositions or Demonstrations, in which he discusses different topics of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and between the Old and New Testaments. He writes in a simple style, with short sentences and at times contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless he manages to make consistent speeches by developing articulated arguments.

Aphraates came from a clerical community halfway between Judaism and Christianity. The community was very closely linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its bishops were traditionally chosen among what were called James' "relatives," the "Lord’s brother" (cf. Mark 6:3): These people were connected to the Church of Jerusalem by blood and faith.

Aphraates spoke Syriac, a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. The ecclesial community in which Aphraates lived wanted to stay faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. Therefore it maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its sacred books.

Significantly Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of sacred Scripture," of both the Old and New Testaments (Exposition 22,26), which he considered his sole source of inspiration, and so often mentioned it that it became the center of his reflections.

Aphraates develops different arguments in his Expositions. True to his Syriac tradition, he often presents Christ’s salvation as a type of healing and consequently, Christ as a doctor. In keeping with this, sin is seen as a wound, which penance alone can heal: "A man that has been injured in battle," says Aphraates, "is not ashamed to put himself in the hands of a doctor. ... Equally so, he who has been injured by Satan should not be ashamed to admit his fault and to distance himself from it, asking for the medicine of penance" (Exposition 7,3).

Another important aspect of Aphraates' work is his teaching on prayer, and particularly on Christ as the master of prayer. The Christian prays following Jesus’ teaching and the example he has set us: "Our Savior taught us to pray saying: 'Pray in the secret of the one who is hidden, but who sees everything.'" And again: "Enter your room, pray to your Father in secret, and the Father who sees this will reward you" (Matthew 6:6). … Our Savior wants to show that God knows the desires and thoughts of the heart" (Exposition 4,10).

To Aphraates, Christian life is centered on the imitation of Christ, taking up his yoke, following him on the path of the Gospel. Humility is one of the most apt virtues in a disciple of Christ. It is not a secondary consideration in the spiritual life of a Christian: Man’s nature is humble, and God exalts it to his own glory. Humility, Aphraates states, is not a negative value: "If man’s root is planted in the earth, his fruits ascend before the Lord of greatness" (Exposition 9,14). By remaining humble, even in his earthly surroundings, a Christian can establish a relationship with the Lord: "The humble man is humble, but his heart rises to the uppermost heights. The eyes of his face observe the earth, but the eyes of his mind observe the highest summit" (Exposition 9,2).

Aphraates’s vision of man and his physical reality is a very positive one: The human body, in the example of the humble Christ, is called to beauty, joy and light: "God is attracted to the man who loves, it is right to love humility and to stay humble. Humble individuals are simple, patient, loving, honest, righteous, experts in what is good, prudent, serene, wise, calm, peaceful, merciful, ready to convert, benevolent, profound, thoughtful, beautiful and attractive" (Exposition 9,14).

Often in Aphraates’ teachings, Christian life is presented in a clear ascetic and spiritual dimension: Faith is its base, its foundation; it makes of man a temple where Christ himself lives. Faith therefore enables a true charity that is expressed in the love toward God and toward one’s neighbor.

Another important aspect in Aphraates’ thought is that of fasting, understood in its widest sense. He speaks of fasting from food as a practice that is necessary to be charitable and pure; of fasting in the sense of self-discipline with a view to sanctity; of fasting from vain and loathsome words; of fasting from anger; of fasting from owning goods in the context of the priestly ministry; of fasting from sleep to pray.

Dear brothers and sisters, to conclude, we return again to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. According to this ancient sage, prayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the heart of Christians, inviting them to a coherent commitment of charity toward their brethren. He writes:

"Give relief to those in distress, visit the ailing,
Be solicitous to the poor: This is prayer.
Prayer is good, and its works are beautiful.
Prayer is accepted when it gives relief to your neighbor.
Prayer is heard when it includes the forgiveness of sins.
Prayer is strong when it is full of God’s strength" (Exposition 4,14-16).

With these words Aphraates invites us to join in a prayer that becomes Christian life, a life that comes to fruition, infused by faith, by openness to God and, as such, by the love for one’s neighbor.


On St. Ephrem the Syrian
"Scepter of the Holy Spirit" (November 28, 2007)

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 28, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focussed on the figure of St. Ephrem the Syrian, fourth-century theologian, poet and musician.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

According to general opinion, Christianity is a European religion that has exported the culture of this Continent to other countries. The reality, though, is a lot more complex, as the root of the Christian religion is found in the Old Testament, and therefore in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. Christianity has always nourished itself from its roots in the Old Testament.

Also, its expansion during the first centuries was both westward -- toward the Greek-Latin world, where it then inspired the European culture -- and eastward to Persia and India, thus contributing to stimulate a specific culture, in Semitic languages, with its own identity.

To show the cultural diversity of the early Christian faith, during last Wednesday's catechesis I talked about a representative of this Christianity, Aphraates the Persian sage, almost unknown to us. Along the same lines I would like to speak today of St. Ephrem the Syrian, born in Nisibis around 306 into a Christian family.

He was the most important representative of Syriac Christianity, and succeeded in a unique way to reconcile the vocation of the theologian with that of the poet. He was brought up with James, bishop of Nisibis (303-338), and with him he founded the theological school of his town. Once deacon, he completely immersed himself in the life of the local Christian community until 363, the year in which Nisibis fell under Persian rule. Ephrem fled to Edessa, where he continued his activities as a preacher. He died there in 373, after being infected with the plague while attending to the sick.

It is not known with certainty whether he was a monk, but in any case it is certain that he remained a deacon all his life and that he embraced celibacy and poverty. In this way, according to the specific character of his culture, the common and fundamental Christian identity can be seen: faith, hope -- the hope that allows you to live a chaste and simple life putting your faith in the Lord -- and charity, even to the point of giving one's own life to care for the victims of the plague.

St. Ephrem left us a large written theological inheritance. His considerable writings can be grouped into four categories: works written in ordinary prose (his polemical works, or biblical commentaries); works in poetic prose; sermons in verses; and finally the hymns -- undoubtedly Ephrem's most extensive work.

He is a rich and captivating author for many reasons, but particularly because of his theological profile. The specific character of his work is that theology meets poetry. If we want to get closer to his doctrine, we need to acknowledge that he studied theology through poetry. Poetry allowed him to deepen his theological reflections through paradoxes and images. His theology became both liturgy and music at the same time: he was indeed a great composer and musician.

Theology, reflection on faith, poetry, chanting and the praising of God all complement one another. It is actually from this liturgical character that the divine truth appeared with clarity in Ephrem's theology. During his search for God and in his theology, he followed the path of paradox and symbol. His preference was to use opposing images, because they serve to underline the mystery of God.

I cannot quote much of his work, partly because poetry is difficult to translate, but just to give an idea of his poetic theology I would like to quote parts of two different hymns. First of all, as Advent is almost here, I would like to show you some wonderful images taken from the hymns "On Christ's Nativity." In an inspired tone Ephrem expressed his wonder of the figure of the Virgin Mary:

"The Lord came to her
to make himself a servant.
The Word came to her
to keep silence in her womb.
The lightning came to her
to not make any noise.

"The shepherd came to her
and the Lamb is born, who humbly cries.
Because Mary's womb
has reversed the roles:
The one who created all things
wasn't born rich, but poor.

"The Almighty came to her (Mary),
but he came humbly.
Splendor came to her,
but dressed in humble clothes.
The One who gives us all things
met hunger.

"The One who gives water to everyone
met thirst.
Naked and unclothed he came from her,
he who dresses all things (with beauty)."

(Hymn "De Nativitate" 11, 6-8).

To express the mystery of Christ, Ephrem uses a large variety of topics, expressions and images. In one of his hymns he connects Adam (in paradise) with Christ (in the Eucharist) in an effective way:

"It was the cherub's sword,
that closed the path
to the tree of life.

"But for the people,
the Lord of this tree
gave himself like food
at the (Eucharistic) offering.

"Eden's trees
were given as nourishment
to the first Adam.

"For us, the gardener
of the garden
has made himself food
for our souls.

"In fact we all left
Paradise together with Adam,
who left it all behind.

"Now that the sword has been removed,
from there (on the cross) by the lance
we are able to return."

(Hymn 49,9-11).

Ephrem uses two images to speak about the Eucharist: the charcoal or the hot coal, and the pearl. The theme of the hot coal is taken from the prophet Isaiah (cf. 6:6). It is the image of the seraph who takes the hot coal with tongs and simply grazes the lips of the prophet to purify them; the Christian, instead, takes and consumes the hot coal, that is, Christ himself:

"In your bread hides the Spirit
that cannot be consumed;
In your wine is the fire that cannot be drunk.

"The Spirit in your bread, the fire in your wine:
Here is a wonder welcomed by our lips.

"The seraph could not get his fingers close to the hot coal,
that could only approach Isaiah's mouth;
neither did the fingers take it, nor the lips swallow it;
But the Lord granted us the ability to do both things.

"The fire rained down with anger to destroy the sinners,
But the fire of grace comes down on the bread and remains there.
Instead of the fire destroying man,
we ate the fire in the bread
and we were revived."

(Hymn "De Fide" 10,8-10).

Here is another example of St. Ephrem's hymns, where he writes of the pearl as a symbol of the richness and beauty of faith:

"My brothers, I put (the pearl) to the palm of my hand,
to be able to look at it closely.

"I observed it from one side and then the other:
It had one only appearance from all sides.

"(Such) is the search for the Son, inscrutable,
for he is luminous.

"In its clarity, I saw the clear one,
that does not become opaque;
and in its purity,
I saw the great symbol of our Lord's body,
That is pure.

"In its indivisibility, I saw the truth,
which is indivisible."

(Hymn "On The Pearl" 1, 2-3).

The figure of Ephrem is still very relevant for the life of the various Christian Churches. In the first place we discover him as a theologian, who began from sacred Scripture and poetically reflected upon the mystery of the redemption of man by Christ, the embodiment of the Word of God.

His theological reflection is expressed with images and symbols taken from nature, from daily life and from the Bible. Ephrem conferred an educational and catechetical character to his poetry and to the hymns for the liturgy; these are theological hymns suitable for performance or liturgical songs. Ephrem uses such hymns to spread the doctrine of the Church at liturgical festivals. Over time the hymns proved to be an extremely effective catechetical instrument for the Christian community.

It is important to underline Ephrem's reflection on the God of creation: Nothing in creation is isolated, and the world is, with sacred Scripture, a Bible of God. By using his freedom wrongly, man overturns the order of the cosmos.

To Ephrem the role of the woman is a relevant one. The way he wrote about women was always prompted by sensibility and respect: The fact that Jesus dwelt in the womb of Mary has enormously raised the woman's dignity. For Ephrem there is no redemption without Jesus, just as there could be no incarnation without Mary. The divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our redemption can already be found in Ephrem's texts; in a poetic way and with scriptural images, he anticipated the theological background and in some ways the language itself of the great Christological definitions from the fifth-century councils.

Honoured by the Christian tradition as "scepter of the Holy Spirit," Ephrem opted to be a deacon of his Church for his entire life. It was a decisive and emblematic choice: He was deacon, that is to say, a servant, in the ministry of the liturgy, in his love for Christ -- which was radical -- that he sung of in an unparalleled way, and in charity toward his brothers, whom he taught with rare mastery the knowledge of divine revelation.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]


On St. Chromatius of Aquileia
"A Wise Teacher and a Zealous Pastor" (December 5, 2007)

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Dear brothers and sisters!

In the last two catecheses we ventured through the Eastern Semitic Churches, meditating on Aphraates the Persian and St. Ephrem the Syrian; today we return to the Latin world, to the north of the Roman Empire, with St. Chromatius of Aquileia.

This bishop carried out his ministry in the ancient Church of Aquileia, a devout center of Christian life situated in the 10th region of the Roman Empire, "Venetia et Histria."

In 388, when Chromatius ascended to the episcopal chair of the town, the local Christian community already had a splendid history of faith in the Gospel. Between the middle of the third century and the early fourth century, persecutions by Decius, Valerianus and Diocletian had caused a large number of martyrs. Besides, the Church in Aquileia, like many other Churches at that time, was confronted with the threat of the Arian heresy.

Even Athanasius -- the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy, whom the Arians had sent to exile -- found shelter in Aquileia for some time. Under the guidance of its bishops, the Christian community withstood the snares of heresy, and fortified its ties to the Catholic faith.

In September 381, Aquileia hosted a synod, which was attended by roughly 35 bishops from the African coasts, the valley of Rhodes and the entire 10th region. The synod's proposition was to destroy what was left of Arianism in the West. The priest Chromatius attended the council as an expert of the bishop of Aquileia, Valeriano (370/1-387/8). The years around the synod in 381 represent "the golden age" of the Aquileian community. St. Jerome, native of Dalmatia, and Rufino from Concordia speak with nostalgia of their stay in Aquileia (370-373), of a sort of theological coterie that Girolamo defines "tamquam chorus beatorum" (like a chorus of blessed) (Cronaca: PL XXVII,697-698).

From this coterie -- that to some extents recalls the communitarian experiences of Eusebius of Vercelli and Augustine -- arose the most relevant personalities of the Northern Adriatic Churches.

Within his family Chromatius had already learned to know and love Christ. Jerome himself admiringly speaks about this, comparing Chromatius' mother to the prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the virgins of the Gospel parable, Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius to young Samuel (cf. Ep VII: PL XXII,341). Jerome further wrote of Chromatius and Eusebius: "The blessed Chromatius and holy Eusebius were as much brothers by blood ties as by the identity of ideals" (Ep. VIII: PL XXII,342).

Chromatius was born in Aquileia around 345. He was ordained deacon, then presbyter and finally pastor of that Church (388). After receiving the episcopal consecration from Bishop Ambrose, he devoted himself to a task that was challenging due to the vastness of the territory entrusted to his pastoral care: Aquileia's ecclesiastical jurisdiction extended in fact from the present territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, up to the borders of Hungary.

From an episode of St. John Chyrsostom's life we can deduce how much Chromatius was well appreciated in the Church of his times. When the bishop of Constantinople was exiled, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important bishops of the West, in order to obtain the emperors' support: The first letter went to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the bishop of Milan and the third to the bishop of Aquileia, that is to Chromatius (Ep. CLV: PG LII, 702).

Due to the precarious political situation, those were difficult times for him too. Most likely Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while attempting to escape from the raids of the barbarians in 407, the same year Chrysostom died.

In prestige and importance, Aquileia was the fourth town of the Italian peninsula, and the ninth of the Roman Empire: This is also the reason why it was so attractive for the Goths and the Huns. Besides causing grave wars and destruction, the barbarian invasions seriously compromised the circulation of the works of the Fathers preserved in the episcopal library, which had a wealth of codices.

St. Chromatius' writings were dispersed, appearing here and there, often credited to other authors such as John Chrysostom (mostly because both names start the same, Chromatius and Chrysostom), Ambrose, Augustine and even to Jerome himself, whom Chromatius had helped significantly in the textual revision and Latin translation of the Bible.

Most of Chromatius' work was rediscovered thanks to fortunate events that has allowed in recent years the reconstruction of a consistent body of writings: more than 40 sermons (10 of which are incomplete), and over 60 treatises commenting the Gospel of Matthew.

Chromatius was a wise teacher and a zealous pastor. His first and primary commitment was to listen to the Word, in order to announce it: In his teaching he always began from the word of God and returned to the word of God.

Certain themes are especially dear to him, especially the mystery of the Trinity, which he contemplated on as it is revealed throughout the history of salvation.

Second was the theme of the Holy Spirit: Chromatius constantly drew the faithful's attention to the presence and the action of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in the life of the Church.

Third, with special determination the holy bishop addressed the mystery of Christ: The Word made flesh is the real God and the real man: He became man so to confer to humankind the gift of deity. Fifty years later such truths, used as well against Arianism, contributed to the definition of the Council of Chalcedon.

The strong emphasis on Christ's human nature led Chromatius to talk about the Virgin Mary. His doctrine about Mary is clear and precise. To him we owe some evocative descriptions of the Holy Virgin: Mary is "the evangelical virgin was able of receiving God"; she is "the immaculate and inviolate lamb" who gave birth to the "lamb swaddled in purple" (cf. Sermo XXIII, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, p. 134).

The bishop of Aquileia often associated the Virgin to the Church: Both, in fact, are "virgin" and "mother." Chromatius' ecclesiology was especially developed in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew.

Some recurring concepts are: The Church is one and only; it was born from the blood of Christ; it is a precious garment woven by the Holy Spirit; the Church is the place which proclaims that Christ was born of the Virgin, and where brotherhood and harmony flourish.

Chromatius was particularly fond of the image of the ship on the stormy sea -- his were stormy times too, as we have heard. The holy bishop affirmed, "Without a doubt this ship represents the Church" (cf. Tract. XLII, 5: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 260).

As a zealous pastor, Chromatius knew how to speak to his people with fresh, colorful and sharp language. Even though he mastered Latin perfectly, he preferred to use the popular language, which was rich in easily understandable images.

Hence, for instance, taking inspiration from the sea, he compared the act of fishing in which fish -- once pulled to shore -- died, to the preaching of the Gospel, thanks to which men are saved from the muddy waters of death and are introduced to true life (cf. Tract. XVI, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 106).

Like a good Shepherd, in a tumultuous time like his own, where barbarian raids threatened the world, he stayed at the side of the faithful to comfort them and to open their souls to God, who never abandons his children.

At the conclusion of these reflections, let us reflect on one of Chromatius' exhortations, which is still valid today. "We pray to the Lord with all our heart and faith," recommended the bishop of Aquileia in a sermon, "let us pray that he free us from any attack of the enemy, from any fear of the opponents.

"May he not look at our merits, but at his mercy, he who in the past freed the children of Israel not for their merits, but for his mercy. May he protect us with his merciful love, and may he do what Holy Moses said to the children of Israel: The Lord will fight to defend you, and you will remain in silence. It is he who fights, it is he who carries the victory. [...]

"In order for him to deign to do so, we ought to pray as much as possible. He himself says from the mouth of the prophet: Invoke my name on the day of tribulation; I shall free you, and you shall give me glory" (Sermo XVI, 4: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, pp. 100-102).

At the beginning of Advent, St. Chromatius reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer, and that it is necessary to be in contact with God. God knows us, he knows me, he knows all of us, he loves me, he won't leave me. Let us carry this faith during the liturgical time that has just begun.


St. Paulinus, bishop of Nola.
"Faith Is the Only Art, and Christ Is My Poetry"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Paulinus, bishop of Nola.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

St. Paulinus of Nola is the Father of the Church to whom we turn today. A contemporary of St. Augustine, to whom he was bound by deep friendship, Paulinus exercised his ministry in Campania, in Nola, where he was first priest then bishop. He originally came from Aquitaine in the south of France, from Bordeaux, where he was born to a high-ranking family. He received a fine literary education, his teacher being the poet Ausonius.

The first time he left his homeland was to follow his precocious political career, which saw him rise at a young age to the post of governor of Campania. In this public office he showed his gifts of wisdom and moderation.

It was in that period that the seed of conversion was planted in his heart. The stimulus came from the simple yet intense faith with which people honored the grave of a saint, Felix the martyr, in the shrine of what is now Cimitile. As the person in charge of the public good, Paulinus took an interest in the shrine. He built a home for the poor and a road to give easier access for the numerous pilgrims.

While he was striving to build the earthly town, he was slowly discovering the way to the celestial one. The encounter with Christ was the arrival point of a laborious work, a work filled with trials. Painful circumstances, such as his being less favored by the political authorities, made him realize firsthand how transient things are. Once he came to the faith he will write: "Man without Christ is but dust and shadow" ("Carmen" X, 289).

Longing to make sense of existence he went to Milan to join Ambrose's school. He then completed the Christian education in his homeland, where he was baptized by Bishop Delphinus of Bordeaux. His marriage played a role in his path toward faith. He married Therasia, a devout noblewoman from Barcelona, with whom he had a son. He would have continued his life as a good Christian layman, had it not been for the death of his child, only a few days old, which shook him, showing him that God had a different plan for his life. He was called to devote himself to Christ in a strict ascetic life.

In full agreement with his wife Therasia, he sold his assets for the benefit of the poor, and left Aquitaine with her to go to Nola, where the two spouses took up residence next to the basilica of the patron St. Felix, living in chaste fraternity according to a way of life which others soon joined.

The community rhythm was typically monastic; Paulinus, who had been ordained a priest in Barcelona, committed himself to minister to the pilgrims. In this way he gained the trust of the Christian community that chose him as the successor to the chair of Nola after the death of its bishop around 409. His pastoral action intensified, characterized by a special attention toward the poor.

He left behind the image of an authentic pastor of charity, as St. Gregory the Great described him in Chapter III of his "Dialogues," where the heroic gesture of Paulinus offering himself as a prisoner in the place of a widow's son is illustrated.

The episode has been historically questioned; however, we are left with the image of a kindhearted bishop who stayed close to his people during the troubled times of the barbaric invasions.

Paulinus' conversion impressed his contemporaries. His teacher Ausonius, a pagan poet, felt "betrayed," and addressed him with harsh words, reproaching him on one hand for his "scorn" of material assets, which he found foolish, and on the other hand the fact that he abandoned his literary vocation. Paulinus replied that giving to the poor did not mean he despised earthly assets; on the contrary, he gave them a higher value by using them for charitable ends.

As to the literary engagements, Paulinus did not abandon the poetic talent, which he would still cultivate, but rather the poetic forms inspired by mythology and pagan ideals. A new aesthetic was driving his sensitivity: It was the beauty of God made man, crucified and resurrected, of whom he was now a poet. In truth he hadn't left poetry; now he took inspiration from the Gospel, as he says in the following verse: "To me faith is the only art, and Christ is my poetry" ("At nobis ars una fides, et musica Christus": "Carmen" XX, 32).

His poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and big events is seen as the history of salvation, the history of God with us. A lot of these compositions, the so-called Christmas Poems, are related to the annual festival of Felix the martyr, whom he had chosen as his heavenly patron. By remembering St. Felix he meant to praise Christ himself, convinced that it was thanks to the saint's mediation that he had obtained the glory of conversion: "In your light, oh joyous one, I loved Christ" ("Carmen" XXI, 373).

He wanted to express the same concept by enlarging the shrine with a new basilica, where the paintings, illustrated with subtitles, would become a visual catechesis for the pilgrims. That is how he explained his project in a "Carmen" dedicated to another catechist, St. Nicetas of Remesiana, while accompanying him during his visit to the basilicas: "Now I want you to contemplate the paintings on the walls of the decorated porticos. [...] We thought it would be helpful to use the painting to represent the sacred themes in St. Felix's house, in the hope that, by viewing these images, the painted picture will inspire interest in the astonished minds of the peasants" ("Carmen" XXVII, vv. 511.580-583). Today we can still admire the remains of such accomplishments, which place the saint from Nola among the main reference points of Christian archaeology.

In the ascetic community of Cimitile, life went on in poverty, prayer and fully immersed in the "lectio divina." Scripture -- read, pondered and assimilated -- was the light under which the saint from Nola scrutinized his soul in the drive toward perfection. To those who admired his decision to dispose of material assets, he reminded them that such gestures did not represent full conversion: "Abandoning or selling the assets we own in this world does not constitute the completion, but only the beginning of our race in the stadium; it is not, so to speak, the goal, but only the starting point. The athlete, in fact, does not win when he undresses, as he puts down his clothes to begin his fight; he is worthy of being crowned winner only after he has duly fought" (cf. Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicius Severus).

Next to asceticism and the word of God lies charity: In the monastic community the poor were regulars. Paulinus did not only give alms: He welcomed the poor as if they were Christ himself. He had reserved for them an area of the monastery and, by doing so, he felt like not giving, but receiving, through an exchange of gifts between the offered shelter and the praying gratitude of the assisted ones. He called the poor his "patrons" (cf. Ep. XIII, 11 to Pammachio) and, because they lived in the lower floor, he liked to say that their prayer served as the foundation of his house (cf. "Carmen" XXI, 393-394).

St. Paulinus did not write theological treatises, but his poems and his dense epistolary are full of a lived theology, imbued with the word of God, constantly scrutinized like light for life. In particular, the sense of the Church as a mystery of unity emerges. He practiced communion above all through the practice of spiritual friendship. In this way, Paulinus was a true teacher, making of his life a crossroads of chosen souls: from Martin of Tours to Jerome, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Delphinus of Bordeaux to Nicetas of Remesiana, from Victricius of Rouen to Rufinus of Aquileia, from Pammachius to Severus Sulpicius, and many more, some more famous than others. The intense letters written to Augustine stem from this environment. Independent of the content of the individual letters, what's impressive is the warmth with which the saint from Nola celebrates friendship in itself, as a manifestation of the single body of Christ being animated by the Holy Spirit.

Here is a significant passage from the beginning of the correspondence between the two friends: "We should not be astonished if we, though distant, are in each other's presence and, without having met, we know each other, as we are parts of one body, we have one head only, we are filled with one grace, we live of the same bread, we walk along one single road, we live in the same house" (Ep. 6, 2).

As we can see, this is an amazing description of what it means to be a Christian, to be the Body of Christ, to live in communion with the Church. The theology of our times has found precisely in the concept of communion the key to approach the mystery of the Church. The testimony of St. Paulinus of Nola helps us to experience the Church as it is presented in the Second Vatican Council: sacrament of the intimate union with God, and as such the union of us all and eventually of all humankind (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 1). From this perspective I wish you all a good Advent.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the great teachers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Paulinus, the Bishop of Nola in southern Italy. A native of Bordeaux in Gaul, Paulinus became the Roman governor of Campania, where, after encountering the depth of popular devotion to Saint Felix Martyr, he was led to embrace the Christian faith. After the tragic loss of their first child, he and his wife sold their goods and undertook a life of chastity and prayer. Ordained a priest and then Bishop of Nola, Paulinus distinguished himself by his charity to the poor during the troubled times of the barbarian invasions. A man of letters and a gifted poet, Paulinus placed his art at the service of Christ and the Church. In his poetry and his vast correspondence, Paulinus expressed his deep faith and his love of the poor. His letters to such contemporary churchmen as Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Martin of Tours, reflect his asceticism, his deep sense of the Church's communion and his cultivation of the practice of spiritual friendship as a means of experiencing that communion within the mystery of Christ's mystical Body, enlivened by the Holy Spirit.


On the Birth of Christ
"Like the Shepherds, We Hasten Our Steps Toward Bethlehem"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2007- Here is a translation of the reflection on Christmas that Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

As we approach the great feast of Christmas, the liturgy encourages us to intensify our preparation, placing at our disposal numerous biblical texts from the Old and the New Testaments, which serve to motivate us to focus on the significance and value of this annual celebration.

On one hand, Christmas is a commemoration of the incredible miracle of the birth God's only son, born of the Virgin Mary in the cave of Bethlehem. On the other hand, Christmas exhorts us to keep watch and pray, waiting for our Redeemer, who will come "to judge the living and the dead."

Perhaps we today, even we believers, truly await the Judge; we all await justice. We see so much injustice in the world, in our small world, at home, in our neighborhoods, as well as in the large world of states, of societies. And we wait for justice to be done.

Justice is an abstract concept: Justice is done. We await the coming of the very one who can effect justice. In this context we pray: "Come, Lord, Jesus Christ, as judge, come as you must." The Lord knows how to enter the world and bring justice.

We ask the Lord, the Judge, to respond, to truly effect justice in the world. We await justice, but our demands with respect to others cannot be the only the expression of this waiting. The Christian significance of waiting for justice implies that we begin to live under the eyes of the Judge, according to the criteria of the Judge; that we begin to live in his presence, rendering justice in our lives. By being just, putting ourselves in the presence of the Judge, we await justice.

This is the meaning of Advent, of vigilance. The vigilance of Advent means to live under the eyes of the Judge and to prepare ourselves and the world for justice. By living under the eyes of the God-Judge, we can open the world to the arrival of his Son, preparing our heart to welcome "the Lord who comes."

The Child, adored 2,000 years ago by the shepherds in a cave of Bethlehem, never stops visiting us in our daily life as we, like pilgrims, walk toward the Kingdom. As he waits, the believer becomes the spokesperson for the hopes of all humankind; humanity longs for justice, and thus, though often unaware, waits for God, waits for the salvation that only God can give us.

For us Christians the wait is marked by assiduous prayer, as indicated by the particularly evocative series of invocations that are proposed to us in these days of the Christmas novena in the Mass, in the Gospel, and in the celebration of vespers, before the canticle of the Magnificat. Each appeal that implores the coming of Wisdom, the Sun of Justice, and God-With-Us, contains a prayer directed to the Awaited one of the nations, so that his arrival be hastened.

To invoke the gift of the birth of the promised Savior also means to commit myself to prepare the way, to prepare a worthy home not only in the environment around us, but above all in our souls. With the guidance of the Evangelist John, we try to turn our thoughts and hearts to the eternal Word, to the Logos, to the Word that has become flesh and has given us grace after grace (cf. 1:14,16).

This faith in the Creator Logos, in the Word that created the world, in the one who came like a Child, this faith and its great hope seem to be far from our daily public and private reality. It seems this truth is too great. We manage the best we can, so it seems at least. But the world is becoming more chaotic and violent: We witness this every day. And the light of God, the light of Truth, is put out. Life becomes dark and without a compass.

It is therefore very important that we are true believers, and as believers, that we reaffirm forcefully, with our lives, the mystery of salvation that comes with the celebration of Christ's birth! In Bethlehem, the Light which illumines our life was made manifest to the world; the Way which leads to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us. What sense does it make to celebrate Christmas if we don't acknowledge that God has become man? The celebration becomes empty.

Before all else, we Christians have to reassert with deep and heartfelt conviction the truth of Christ's birth in order to bear witness before all the awareness of an unparalleled gift that enriches not only us, but everyone.

The duty of evangelization is to convey this "eu-angelion," the "good news." This was recalled by the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith titled "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," which I would like to offer for your reflection and personal as well as communal study.

Dear friends, in these days of preparation leading up to Christmas the prayer of the Church intensifies, so that the hopes for peace, salvation, justice, and all that the world urgently needs, be made a reality. We ask God that violence be defeated by the power of love, that opposition be replaced by reconciliation, that the desire to dominate be transformed into desires for forgiveness, justice and peace.

May the wishes of kindness and love that we exchange in these days reach all sectors of our daily lives. May peace be in our hearts, so that we can be open to the action of God's mercy. May peace live in all families and may they spend Christmas united before the crib and the tree decorated with lights. May the Christmas message of solidarity and welcome contribute to create a deeper sensibility toward old and new types of poverty, and toward the common good that we are all called to share.

May all family members, especially the children and the elderly -- the weakest ones -- feel the warmth of this feast, and may that warmth spread out through every day of the year. May Christmas be a celebration of peace and joy: joy for the birth of the Savior, Prince of peace. Like the shepherds, we hasten our steps toward Bethlehem. In the heart of the Holy Night we will be able to contemplate the "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger," together with Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:12,16).

We ask the Lord to open our soul, so that we can enter the mystery of his birth. May Mary, who gave her virginal womb to the Word of God, who contemplated the child between her arms, and who offers him to everyone as the Redeemer of the world, help us make next Christmas a moment of growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. This is the wish that I warmly extend to you all, to your families and your dear ones.

Merry Christmas to you all!


On Mary, Mother of God
"This Woman Is Very Close to Us and Helps Us"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2008  Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience Jan. 2, held in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

A very ancient formula of benediction, reported in the Book of Numbers, says: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord make his countenance to shine upon you and be propitious to you. May the Lord turn his face to you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). With these words that the liturgy offered for our hearing yesterday, the first day of the year, I would like to formulate cordial greetings to you, here present, and to those who in these Christmas holidays have sent me attestations of affectionate spiritual nearness.

Yesterday we celebrated the solemn feast of Mary, Mother of God. “Mother of God,” “Theotokos,” is the title officially attributed to Mary in the fifth century, exactly by the Council of Ephesus in 431, but affirmed in the devotion of the Christian people already since the third century, in the context of the discussions that arose in that period over the person of Christ. It is underscored, with that title, that Christ is God and he is truly born as man from Mary: thus his unity as true God and true man was preserved. In truth, although the debate seemed to focus on Mary, it essentially regarded the Son. Wanting to safeguard the humanity of Christ, some fathers suggested a more attenuated term: Instead of the title “Theotokos,” they proposed that of “Christotokos,” “Mother of Christ”: Rightly, however, that was seen as a threat to the doctrine of the complete unity of the divinity with the humanity of Christ. For this reason, after ample discussion in the Council of Ephesus of 431, there was solemnly affirmed on one hand, the unity of the two natures, the divine and the human, in the person of the Son of God (cf. DS, No. 250) and, on the other hand, the legitimacy of the attribution to the Virgin the title of “Theotokos,” Mother of God (DS, No. 251).

After this council there is recorded a true explosion of marian devotion and numerous churches were constructed that were dedicated to the Mother of God. Among these, there stands out with primacy the Basilica of Saint Mary Major here in Rome. The doctrine concerning Mary, Mother of God, found further confirmation in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in which Christ was declared “true God and true man […] born for us and for our salvation from Mary, Virgin and Mother of God, in his humanity” (DS, No. 301). As is known, the Second Vatican Council gathered up the doctrine on Mary in Chapter 8 of the dogmatic constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” reaffirming her divine maternity. The chapter is entitled: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.”

The title Mother of God, which is so profoundly linked to the Christmas celebrations, is for this reason the fundamental appellation with which the community of believers has, we might say, always honored the Holy Virgin. It expresses very well Mary’s mission in the history of salvation. All of the other titles attributed to the Madonna find their basis in her vocation to be the Mother of the Redeemer, the human creature elected by God to realize the plan of salvation, centered on the great mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word. In these festive days we have paused to contemplate the representation of the Nativity in the crèche. At the center of this scene we find the Virgin Mother who offers the child Jesus to the contemplation of those who come to adore the Savior: the shepherds, the poor folk of Bethlehem, the magi who have come from the East.

Later, on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which we celebrate on Feb. 2, it will be the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna to receive into their arms from the Mother the little Child to adore him. The devotion of the Christian people has always considered the birth of Jesus and the divine maternity of Mary as two aspects of the same mystery of the incarnation of the divine Word and for this reason never considered the Nativity as something of the past. We are “contemporaries” of the shepherds, of the magi, of Simeon and Anna, and while we go with them we are full with joy, because God has desired to be the God with us and he has a mother, who is our mother.

From the title “Mother of God” are drawn all the other titles with which the Church honors Mary, but this one is the fundamental title. We think of the privilege of the “Immaculate Conception,” of being, that is, immune from sin from the moment of her conception: Mary was preserved from every stain of sin because she had to be the Mother of the Redeemer. The same goes for the title “Assumed”: she who gave birth to the Savior could not be subjected to the corruption that comes from original sin. And we know that all these privileges are not given to distance Mary from us, but on the contrary to make her more near; in fact, being totally with God, this Woman is very close to us and helps us as mother and sister. Even the unique and unrepeatable place that Mary has in the community of believers derives from this fundamental vocation of being the Mother of the Redeemer. Precisely as such, Mary is also the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Justly, then, during the Second Vatican Council, on November 21, 1964, Paul VI solemnly attributed to Mary the title of “Mother of the Church.”

Precisely because Mother of the Church, the Virgin is also Mother of each one of us, who are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. From the cross Jesus entrusted the Mother to each of his disciples and, at the same time, entrusted each of his disciples to the love his Mother. The evangelist John concludes his brief and suggestive account with the words: “And from that moment the disciple took her into his house” (John 19:27). That is how the Greek text is translated in Italian. The Greek says “eis tai dia,” he welcomed her into his own reality, into his being. In this way she is part of his life and the two lives interpenetrate; and this welcoming her (“eis tai dia”) in his own life is the testament of the Lord. Thus, in the supreme moment of the fulfillment of his messianic mission, Jesus leaves to each of his disciples, as a precious inheritance, his own Mother, the Virgin Mary.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these first days of the year we are invited to attentively consider the importance of the presence of Mary in the life of the Church and in our personal existence. Let us entrust ourselves to her that she may guide our steps in the his new period of time that the Lord has given to us to live, and that she may help us to be authentic friends of her Son and thus courageous builders of the his Kingdom in this world, Kingdom of light and of truth. Happy New Year to all! This is the greeting that I desire to address to you here present and to your loved ones in this first general audience of 2008. May the new year, begun under the sign of the Virgin Mary, make us feel her maternal presence with more vivacity, so that, sustained and comforted by the protection of the Virgin, we can contemplate the countenance of her Son Jesus with renewed eyes and walk in the paths of the good with greater vigor.

Once again, Happy New Year to all!


On Saint Augustine
"All the Roads of Christian Latin Literature Lead to Hippo"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 9, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the first in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

After the Christmas holidays I would like to turn to the meditations on the Fathers of the Church and speak today of the greatest Father of the Latin Church, St. Augustine: a man of passion and faith, of high intelligence and untiring pastoral zeal. This great saint and doctor of the Church is often well-known, at least by name, even by those who ignore Christianity, or who are little acquainted with it, because he made a deep impression on the cultural life of the Western world, and the world in general.

Due to his exceptional importance, St. Augustine has been enormously influential, so much so that it could be said, on one hand, that all the roads of Christian Latin literature lead to Hippo (today’s Annaba, on the Algerian coast), the place where he was a bishop, and on the other hand, that from this town of Roman Africa, where Augustine was bishop from 395 to 430, branch out many other roads of future Christianity and of Western culture itself.

Rarely has a civilization encountered a figure so great, capable of embracing its values and of proclaiming its intrinsic richness, formulating ideas and methods that serve to nurture successive generations, as Paul VI also emphasized: "One can say all of antiquity’s philosophy converge in his work, and from it derive currents of thought pervading the doctrinal tradition of the next centuries" (AAS, 62, 1970, p. 426).

Moreover, Augustine is the Father of the Church who has left the greatest number of writings. His biographer Possidius says: It seemed impossible that a man could write so much during his life. We will talk about his various works in a future session. Today we will focus on his life, a life that we can reconstruct from his writings, and in particular from the "Confessions," his extraordinary spiritual autobiography written in praise of God, and which is his most popular work.

Precisely because of the attention paid to interiority and psychology, Augustine's "Confessions" is a unique model in Western and non-Western literature, even including nonreligious literature, right through to modern times. The focus on spiritual life, on the mystery of self, on the mystery of God that hides in the self, is an extraordinary thing without precedent and remains, so to speak, a spiritual "vertex."

But, returning to his life, Augustine was born in Tagaste -- in the Roman province of Africa -- on Nov. 13, 354, to Patrick, a pagan who then became a catechumen, and Monica, a zealous Christian. This passionate woman, venerated as a saint, was a big influence on her son and educated him in the Christian belief. Augustine also received salt, as a mark of welcome in the catechumenate. He was always charmed by the figure of Jesus Christ; he says he had always loved Jesus, but he had grown more and more apart from the faith and practice of the Church, as happens with a lot of young people today.

Augustine also had a brother, Navigius, and a sister, whose name we do not know, and who, when widowed, became the head of a female monastery.

Augustine had a sharp intelligence and received a good education, though he was not always a model student. He studied grammar, first in his hometown and then in Madaurus, and beginning in 370 he took rhetoric in Carthage, capital of Roman Africa. He came to master Latin, but did not do as well in Greek or Punic, the language of his fellow countrymen.

It was in Carthage that he read "Hortensius" for the first time, a work by Cicero -- subsequently lost -- and which started him on the road to conversion. The text awakened in him a love of wisdom, as confirmed in his writings as a bishop in the "Confessions": "The book changed my feelings," so much so that "suddenly, every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor in my heart" (III, 4, 7).

But, since he was convinced that without Jesus truth cannot really be found, and because in that fascinating book his name was missing, he immediately set to reading Scripture, the Bible. But he was disappointed. Not only was the Latin translation of the sacred Scripture insufficient, but also the content itself did not seem satisfactory.

In the narrations of wars and other human events, he could not find the heights of philosophy, the splendor of its search for the truth. Nevertheless, he did not want to live without God, and so he sought a religion that matched his desire for truth and his desire to be close to Jesus.

He fell into the net of the Manichaeans, who presented themselves as Christians and promised a totally rational religion. They confirmed that the world is divided into two principles: that of good and evil. This explained the complexity of human history. St. Augustine also liked the dualistic morality, because it entailed a very high morality for the chosen ones: and for those, like him, who adhered to it, it was possible to live a life more suited to the times, especially for a young man. He therefore became a Manichaean, convinced that he had found the synthesis between rationality, the search for the truth and the love of Jesus Christ.

And his private life benefited as well: Being a Manichaean opened career possibilities. To adhere to this religion, which included many influential personalities, allowed him to pursue a relationship he started with a woman, and to continue his career.

With this woman he had a son, Adeodatus, who was very dear to him, extremely intelligent, and who later on will be present in Augustine's preparation for baptism in Lake Como, forming part of the "Dialogues" that St. Augustine has passed on to us. Unfortunately, the boy died prematurely.

After teaching grammar in his hometown at the age of 20, he soon returned to Carthage, where he became a brilliant and celebrated master of rhetoric. With time, however, Augustine distanced himself from the Manichaean faith. It disappointed him intellectually as it was not capable of resolving his doubts. He moved to Rome, and then to Milan, where he obtained a prestigious place in the imperial court, thanks to the recommendations of the prefect of Rome, the pagan Symmachus, who was hostile to the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose.

At first with the purpose of enriching his rhetorical repertoire, Augustine began attending the impressive lectures of Bishop Ambrose, who had been a representative of the emperor in Northern Italy; he was charmed by his words, not only because of their eloquence, but because they touched his heart. The main problem of the Old Testament -- the lack of oratory and philosophical elevation -- resolved itself in the lectures of St. Ambrose thanks to the typological interpretation of the Old Testament: Augustine understood that the Old Testament is a journey toward Jesus Christ. So he found the key to understanding the beauty, the philosophic depth of the Old Testament, and he understood the unity of the mystery of Christ in history, as well as the synthesis between philosophy, rationality and faith in the Logos, in Christ, the eternal Word that became flesh.

Quickly, Augustine realized the allegorical reading of Scripture and the Neoplatonic philosophy practiced by the bishop of Milan helped him resolve the intellectual difficulties he encountered at a younger age, when he first approached the biblical texts, which he believed to be insuperable.

Augustine continued to read the writings of the philosophers along with Scripture, and especially the letters of St. Paul. His conversion to Christianity, Aug. 15, 386, is therefore placed at the apex of a long and tormented inner journey of which we will speak in another catechesis; The African moved to the country north of Milan near Lake Como -- with his mother Monica, his son Adeodatus, and a small group of friends -- to get ready for baptism. At 32, Augustine was christened by Ambrose on April 24, 387, during Easter vigil in the Milan Cathedral.

After his baptism Augustine decided to return to Africa with his friends, with the idea of putting into practice a communal monastic life, in the service of God. But in Ostia, while waiting to leave, his mother suddenly fell sick and a little later died, leaving her son's heart in torment.

Back in his homeland he settled in Hippo to found a monastery. In this town on the African coast he was ordained presbyter in 391, despite his refusal, and began a monastic life with some companions, dividing his time between praying, studying and preaching. He wanted to serve truth alone, he didn’t feel called to the pastoral life; then he understood that God’s call was to be a shepherd among others, and to offer the others the gift of truth.

Four years later, in 395, he was consecrated bishop in Hippo. Deepening the study of Scripture and the texts of the Christian tradition, Augustine was an exemplary bishop in his untiring pastoral commitment: He preached to the faithful several times a week, he helped the poor and the orphans, he followed the education of the clergy and the organization of female and male monasteries.

In short, he affirmed himself as one of the most important representatives of Christianity of the time: Very active in the administration of his diocese -- with considerable civic results too -- in more than 35 years of episcopate, the bishop of Hippo had an immense influence in the leadership of the Catholic Church in Roman Africa and, in general, in the Christianity of his time, facing Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism, which were endangering the Christian faith and the one and only God full of grace.

Augustine entrusted himself to God every day, right up until the very end of his life. He was struck by fever, while Hippo was being besieged by invaders. The bishop -- as his friend Possidius tells us in the "Vita Augustini" -- asked to transcribe in large characters the penitential psalms, "and he had the sheets pinned to the wall, so that during his illness he could read them while in bed, and he cried endlessly warm tears" (31,2); this is how Augustine spent his last days. He died on Aug. 28, 430, at the age of 75. We will dedicate the next sessions to his works, his message and his interior experience.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our weekly catechesis, we now turn to the towering figure of Saint Augustine of Hippo. The great intellectual heritage of antiquity found expression in Augustine’s many writings, which then became a rich source of inspiration and teaching for centuries to come. Augustine’s spiritual autobiography -- "The Confessions" -- tells the story of his Christian upbringing, his secular education, his decision to devote his life to the pursuit of truth, and his eventual abandonment of the faith. Attracted at first by Manichean dualism, he gradually recovered the faith of his childhood, thanks to the prayers of his mother, Saint Monica, and the brilliant teaching of Saint Ambrose, then Bishop of Milan. "The Confessions" recount the tormented interior journey which led to his moral and intellectual conversion, culminating in his baptism by Ambrose. Returning to Africa to lead a monastic life, Augustine became a priest and then the Bishop of Hippo. In his thirty years as Bishop, he proved himself an exemplary pastor, an assiduous preacher and an influential champion of the Catholic faith. In coming weeks, we will turn our attention to the writings and the thought of this great Doctor of the Church.

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the student groups from Australia and the United States. I greet the group of deacons from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.


St. Augustine's Last Days
"Though the World Grows Old, Christ Is Forever Young"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2007 JAN. 16, 2007 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the second in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, as I did last Wednesday, I would like to discuss the great bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine. Four years before he died, he wanted to nominate his successor. To this end, on Sept. 26, 426, he gathered the people in the Basilica of Peace in Hippo so he could present them with his choice for this task.

He said: "We are all mortal, but no individual can be sure of his last day in this life. In any case, in childhood we hope to reach adolescence, in adolescence we aspire toward adulthood, in adulthood toward middle age and in middle age we look to reaching old age. We are never sure we will get there, but that is our hope.

"Old age, however, is not followed by another stage of life toward which we can aspire; its duration is unknown. I arrived in this city in the vigor of my life, but now my youth has gone and I am an old man" (Ep. 213,1).

At this point Augustine told them the name of his chosen successor, the priest Heracles. The people burst into applause of approval and repeated 23 times: "Thanks be to God! Praise be to Christ!" They continued to exclaim approval when Augustine told them of his plans for the future. He wanted to dedicate his remaining years to a deeper study of holy Scripture (Ep. 213,6).

The following four years were indeed of an extraordinary intellectual activity: Augustine carried out important works, he undertook new ones that were no less demanding, he held discussions with the heretics -- he always sought dialogue -- and he intervened to promote peace in the African provinces that were harassed by the southern barbarian tribes.

For this reason he wrote to Count Darius, who had come to Africa to put an end to the disagreement between Count Boniface and the Imperial Court, which the Mauri tribes were taking advantage of for their raids. "A greater title for glory," he affirmed in his letter, "is to kill war with words, rather than to kill men with the sword, and to get or maintain peace through peace and not through war. Certainly the fighters, if they are good, are also seeking peace, but at the cost of shedding blood. You, on the contrary, have been sent to prevent blood being spilt on any side" (Ep. 229, 2).

Unfortunately, the hope for peace in the African territories was not fulfilled: In May 429, the Vandals, invited to Africa out of spite by Boniface himself, crossed the Gibraltar strait and entered Mauritania. The invasion rapidly spread to other rich African provinces. In May or June 430, "the destroyers of the Roman Empire," as Possidius called these barbarians ("Vita," 30,1), laid siege to Hippo.

Boniface also sought shelter in town; he had reconciled too late with the Court and was now trying to stop the invaders, but to no avail. The biographer Possidius describes Augustine's pain: "More than usual, his tears became his bread day and night, and arriving almost to the end of his life, he was, more than others, dragging his old age into bitterness and mourning" ("Vita," 28,6). He explains: "That man of God was in fact witnessing the massacre and destruction of the cities; homes in the countryside destroyed and residents killed by the enemy, or forced to flee; churches deprived of their priests and ministers; sacred virgins and monks displaced; among them, some were tortured and killed, others murdered by the sword, others taken prisoners; they lost faith and the integrity of their soul and body, reduced to a grievous and long slavery by their enemies" (ibid., 28,8).

Despite being old and tired, Augustine remained strong, providing comfort for himself and others through prayer and meditation on the mysteries of God's will. He spoke of "the world's old age" -- and this Roman world really was old. He spoke of this old age as he had done years earlier to console the Italian refugees when the Goths from Alaric invaded the city of Rome. In old age sickness abounds: coughs, catarrh, anxiety, exhaustion. Though the world grows old, Christ is forever young.

So he invited them: "Don't refuse to be young again united with Christ, even in an old world. He tells you: Do not fear, your youth will be renewed like the eagle's youth" (cf. Serm. 81,8). Therefore, the Christian should not be let down even in difficult situations, but he must help those in need. This is what the great doctor advised, answering Honoratus, bishop of Tiabe, who had asked him whether a bishop, a priest or any man of Church could flee to save his life when under barbarian invasions: "When the danger is shared by all -- bishops, clergymen and laymen -- those in need should not be left alone. In this case they should all be transferred to safe places; but if some need to stay, they should not be left alone by those who have the duty to assist them with the sacred ministry, so either they all save themselves together, or together they bear the disaster that the Father wants them to suffer" (Ep. 228, 2).

And he concluded: "This is the supreme test of charity" (ibid., 3). How could we not recognize, in these words, the heroic message that many priests have embraced and identified with along the centuries?

Meanwhile, the town of Hippo held fast. Augustine's house-monastery had opened its doors to the colleagues in the episcopate who were seeking refuge. Among them was Possidius, already his disciple, who managed to leave us a direct account of those final, dramatic days. "In the third month of that siege," he tells us, "he was struck by fever: That was his last illness" ("Vita," 29,3). The holy, venerable, old man decided to dedicate his remaining time to intense prayer. He used to affirm that no one, bishop, monk or layman, however irreproachable his conduct may have been, could confront death without adequate penitence. That's why between tears he continually repeated the penitential psalms, that he had so often recited with his people (cf. ibid., 31,2).

As he worsened, the more the dying bishop felt the need for solitude and prayer: "About 10 days before he left his body, in order not to be troubled in his concentration, he begged us to not let anyone enter his room outside of the medical visiting hours or the eating time schedule. His wishes were carried out and during all that time he prayed" (ibid., 31,3). He died Aug. 28, 430: His great heart finally rested in God.

"We assisted in the removal of his body," Possidius informs us, "dedicated to God, and then he was buried" (Life, 31,5). At a certain point -- date unknown -- his body was transferred to Sardinia, and from there to Pavia around 725, to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'oro, where he rests today.

His first biographer has the following conclusive judgment about him: "He left a large clergy to the Church, as well as male and female monasteries with people dedicated to the obedience of their superiors. He left us libraries with books and speeches by him and other holy men from which, with God's grace, we can deduce his merit and stature in the Church, and in which the faithful always rediscover him" (Possidius, "Vita," 31, 8).

We can associate ourselves with this judgment: In his writings we also "rediscover him." When I read St. Augustine's works, I don't have the impression that he died more or less 1,600 years ago, I feel he is a modern man: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, he speaks to us with his fresh and modern faith.

In St. Augustine, who speaks to us -- who speaks to me at us in his writings -- we see the permanent actuality of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, eternal word made flesh, Son of God and son of man. This faith does not belong to yesterday, though it was preached yesterday. It is always of today, because Christ is truly yesterday, today and always. He is the way, the truth and the life. St. Augustine encourages to entrust ourselves to the living Christ and to find through him the way to life.

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis this week is again centred on the life and writings of the great Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine. Some four years before he died, Augustine designated his successor in the See of Hippo, desiring to devote the rest of his life to the study of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, those proved to be years of extraordinary activity, as the aged Bishop sought to reconcile divided Christians and to bring peace to the troubled African provinces of the Empire. During the Vandal invasion of Africa, Augustine found solace in reflection on the mystery of God's providence. The world, he said, is growing old and failing, yet Christ remains eternally young and brings renewed youth to those who put their faith in him. Amid the calamities of the time, he encouraged the clergy not to abandon their flock, but to offer the supreme witness of Christian charity. Augustine died in 431, during the siege of Hippo, having devoted his last days to penance and prayer. At last his great heart found its rest in God. Today, as in past centuries, may Augustine's example and the rich treasury of his writings be a source of instruction, inspiration and strength as the Church makes her pilgrim way to the fullness of God's Kingdom.


On St. Augustine's Search for Truth
"Faith and Reason Are the Two Forces That Lead Us to Knowledge "

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection is the third in a series on St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

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Dear friends,

After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we return today to the great figure of St. Augustine. In 1986, on the 1,600th anniversary of his conversion, my beloved predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long and detailed document to St. Augustine, the apostolic letter "Augustinium Hipponensem."

The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "thanksgiving to God for the gift he bestowed on the Church and on all humanity with that wonderful conversion" (AAS, 74, 1982, p. 802). I would like to return to the subject of his conversion in a future audience. It is a fundamental subject, not only for St. Augustine's own personal life but for ours too. In last Sunday's Gospel, the Lord himself summarized his preaching with the words "be converted." In following the path of St. Augustine we can consider what this conversion revolves around: It is definitive, decisive, but the fundamental decision must be developed and must be accomplished throughout our lives.

Today instead, the catechesis is dedicated to the subjects of faith and reason, which are the defining themes of St. Augustine's biography. As a child he learned the Catholic faith from his mother Monica. As an adolescent he abandoned the faith because he could not see how it could be reasoned out and did not want a religion that was not also for him an expression of reason -- that is to say, truth.

His thirst for truth was radical and led him away from the Catholic faith. His radicality was such that he was not satisfied with philosophies that did not reach truth itself, and that did not reach God -- not a God as a last cosmological hypothesis, but the true God, God who gives life and joins our very lives.

The intellectual and spiritual itinerary of St. Augustine is also a valid model for today in the relationship between faith and reason, a topic not only for faithful individuals, but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the equilibrium and destiny of every human being.

These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated nor opposed, but rather go forward together. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us to knowledge" ("Contra Academicos," III, 20, 43).

To this end the two famous Augustinian formulas ("Sermons," 43, 9) express this coherent synthesis between faith and reason: "Crede ut intelligas" (I believe in order to understand) -- faith opens the way to step through the door of truth -- but also, and inseparably, "intellige ut credas" (I understand in order to believe), in order to find God and believe, you must scrutinize truth.

The two assertions of St. Augustine express the synthesis of this problem in which the Catholic Church sees its own approach expressed with depth and immediacy. Historically speaking, this synthesis was formed even before the coming of Christ, with the coming together of the Jewish faith and Greek thought in Hellenistic Judaism. Subsequently, this synthesis was taken up again and developed by many Christian thinkers. The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God is not far away; he is not far from our reasoning or from our lives; he is close to every human being, close to our hearts and close to our reason if we truly follow his path.

It is precisely this closeness of God to man that Augustine experienced with extraordinary force. The presence of God in man is deep and at the same time mysterious. It can however be discovered and recognized deep down in oneself: Don't look outside of yourself, says the converted one, "but go back into yourself -- truth resides in the interior man, and if you find that your nature is changeable, transcend yourself. But remember, when you transcend yourself, that you transcend a soul which reasons. Then reach beyond -- to where the light of reason is lit" ("De vera religione," 39, 72).

He emphasizes this with a well-known assertion at the beginning of the "Confessions," a spiritual autobiography written in the praise of God: "You made us for you, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (I, 1, 1).

Distance from God means distance from oneself. Addressing his words directly to God he acknowledges ("Confessions," III, 6, 11): "You are more intimately present to me than my inmost being and higher than the highest element in me," -- "interior intimo meo et superior summo meo" -- so that, he adds in another passage remembering the time preceding his conversion, "you were in front of me, but I, instead, had gone far from myself and could not find myself again, and even less could I find you again" (Confessiones, V, 2, 2).

Because Augustine personally experienced this intellectual and spiritual journey, he managed to convey it in his writings with immediacy, depth and wisdom; in another two famous passages of the "Confessions" (IV, 4, 9 and 14, 22), he acknowledged that man is "a great enigma" (magna quaestio) and "a deep abyss" (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss that Christ alone enlightens and saves.

This is important: A man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, estranged from himself, he can find himself only by meeting God. This path leads to himself, to his true self and identity.

In "De Civitate Dei" (XII, 27) Augustine underlines the fact that the human being is by nature a social animal, but antisocial in his vices. Man is saved by Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity, and as repeated by my predecessor John Paul II ("Augustinium Hipponensem," 21), he is "the universal path to freedom and salvation."

In the same text, Augustine affirms that "no one has ever found freedom or will ever find freedom" ("De Civitate Dei," X, 32, 2) other than by following this path which has always been accessible to man. Christ, as the only route to salvation, is head of the Church and inscrutably united with it. Augustine affirms, "We have become Christ. In fact, if he is the head of man and we are the body, together we make up the whole" ("In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus," 21, 8).

People of God and house of God: The Church in the Augustinian vision is closely associated with the concept of the Body of Christ, based on the Christological rereading of the Old Testament and on the sacramental life centered on the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his Body and transforms us in his Body. It is then essential that the Church -- people of God in the Christological and not sociological sense -- be really placed in Christ, who "prays for us, prays in us, is prayed to by us," as Augustine affirms beautifully on the written page: "He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our chief, he is prayed to by us as our God: so we recognize in him our voice, and in ours, his" ("Enarrationes in Psalmos," 85, 1).

In the conclusion of the apostolic letter "Augustinum Hipponensem," John Paul II asked St. Augustine what he would say to the men of today, and he answers with the words that Augustine dictated in a letter shortly after his conversion: "It seems to me that men have to be guided toward the hope of finding the truth" (Epistulae, 1, 1); that truth is Christ himself, true God, to whom is dedicated one the most beautiful and famous prayers of the Confessions (X, 27, 38):

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness
I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you
they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

So Augustine found God and throughout his life experienced God to the point that this reality -- which was above all an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ -- changed his life, just as it changed the lives of so many men and women who have had the grace to meet him.

Let us pray that God grants us this favor and in so doing allows us to find his peace.

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In Italian, he said:]

I extend a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the bishops who came for the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Community of Sant'Egidio, I pray that everyone strengthens the firm wish to announce Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world to all men.

I extend a particularly special welcome to the faithful of the Parish of Santa Caterina of Nardo -- which I am told has a beautiful sea -- with a special thought for the young musicians.

Dear friends, I thank you for your presence here and I hope that this meeting increases in each of you the desire to witness with joy the Gospel in your every day life. I accompany you with my prayer, so that you may build your projects on the solid foundation of faithfulness to God. I also greet the Caritas staff from the Diocese of Sabina-Poggio Mirteto, and I encourage them to continue with generosity their work for the those most in need.
Finally, I address the young, the sick and the newlyweds.
Tomorrow we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St. John Bosco, a priest and educator. Dear young people, look to him as a true master of life, especially those of you preparing for confirmation from Serroni di Battipaglia. Dear sick ones, learn from his spiritual experience to trust in Christ whatever the circumstances. And you, dear newlyweds, ask for his intercession to help you engage in your mission of marriage with generous enthusiasm.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we continue our catechesis on Saint Augustine of Hippo, I wish today to consider some of the teachings of this great Doctor of the Church. A passionate believer, he recognized the importance of bringing together faith and reason. It was he who taught that we should believe in order to understand, and understand in order to believe. God makes himself known to our reason, although he always transcends what we can know through reason alone. As Augustine beautifully expressed it, God is "more intimately present to me than my inmost being" and "higher than the highest element in me."

Saint Augustine taught that by belonging to the Church, we are so closely united to Christ that we "become" Christ, the head whose members we are. As our head, Christ prays in us, yet he also prays for us as our priest, and we pray to him as our God. If we ask what particular message Saint Augustine has for the men and women of today, it is perhaps his emphasis on our need for truth. Listen to the way he describes his own search for God's truth: "You were within me and I sought you outside, in the beautiful things that you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called me, you cried out and broke open my deafness. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you." Let us pray that we too may discover the joy of knowing God's truth.


On the Writings of St. Augustine
"He Truly Lives in His Works, He Is Present With Us"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2008.- Here is a translation of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica to those who could not be accommodated in Paul VI Hall for the general audience, and a translation of the catechesis he delivered in the Vatican auditorium. This is the fourth address the Pope has dedicated to the figure of St. Augustine.

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[Greetings at St. Peter's Basilica in English]

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims gathered here in the Basilica of St. Peter. Lent is a privileged time for all Christians to recommit themselves to conversion and spiritual renewal. In this way, we rekindle a genuine faith in Christ, a life-giving relationship with God and a more fervent dedication to the Gospel. Strengthened by the conviction that love is the distinguishing mark of Christian believers, I encourage you to persevere in bearing witness to charity in your daily lives.

[Catechesis in Paul VI Hall]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After last week's break for spiritual exercises we return today to the great figure of St. Augustine, about whom I have repeatedly spoken during the Wednesday catecheses. He is the Father of the Church who has left the most works and I intend to discuss these briefly today.

Some of the Augustinian writings are of major importance not only for the history of Christianity but also in terms of the development of Western culture as a whole: The clearest example of this is his "Confessions," without doubt one of the most frequently read books of ancient Christianity -- even today. As other Fathers of the Church in the early centuries, but vastly more influential, the Bishop of Hippo has in fact exercised an extensive and persistent influence as demonstrated by the abundance of manuscripts of his works, which are truly numerous.

He personally reviewed these in the "Retractationes" a few years before his death, and shortly after his death they were carefully recorded in the "Indiculus" (list) attached to the biography of St. Augustine, "Vita Augustini," by his faithful friend Possidius. The list of works by Augustine was created with the express purpose of safeguarding them as the destructive Roman invasion rampaged across Africa, and is made up of more than 1,030 writings numbered by their author, plus others that “cannot be numbered because he did not give them a number.” Possidius, bishop of a nearby town, dictated these words in Hippo --where he had taken refuge and had witnessed the death of his friend -- and almost definitely based these comments on Augustine's personal library.

Today more than 300 letters and 600 sermons from the bishop of Hippo have survived. Originally there would have been many more, perhaps even 3,000 or 4,000, fruit of 40 years of preaching by the ex-rhetorician who decided to follow Christ and not to speak just to important individuals in the imperial court, but to the ordinary population of Hippo.

In recent years the discovery of a group of letters and sermons have enriched our knowledge of this great Father of the Church. His friend, the Bishop Possidius wrote: "Many books were written and published by him, many homilies were given in Church and then transcribed and edited, both to refute various heresies as well as to interpret Sacred Scriptures for the edification of the children of the Church. These works are so numerous that a scholar could hardly find it possible to read all of them and learn them" ("Vita Augustini," 18, 9).

Within Augustine’s literary production -- more than 1,000 publications subdivided into philosophical, apologetic, doctrinal, moral, monastic, exegetic, and anti-heretical writings, as well as the letters and sermons -- are some exceptional works of great theological and philosophical intensity.

Above all it is necessary to remember the already mentioned "Confessions," written in 13 books in praise of God between 397 and 400. It is a sort of autobiography in the form of a dialog with God. This literary genre reflects St. Augustine’s life, which was not a reclusive life, not dispersed in many things, but was a life mainly lived like a conversation with God, a life shared with others. Already the title "Confessions" shows the specificity of his autobiography.

In the Christian Latin developed in the tradition of the Psalms, the word "confessiones" has two meanings that are interlinked. In the first place "confessiones" is the confession of one’s own weaknesses, and of the misery of sins; at the same time "confessiones" means praise of God, gratitude to God.

Seeing one's misery in the light of God becomes praise for God and gratitude because God loves us and accepts us, he transforms us and raises us toward him. In the "Confessions" -- which were already largely successful during St. Augustine’s life -- he wrote: "They exercised such action on me while I was writing them and do so even now when I reread them. There are many brothers who like these writings" ("Retractationes," II, 6). I should also mention that I am one of these "brothers."

Thanks to the "Confessions" we can follow step by step the inner journey of this extraordinary man who was fascinated by God.

Less well-known but equally important are the "Retractationes," composed in two books around 427, in which St. Augustine, now an old man, puts together a "revision" (retractatio) of all his writings, thus leaving us a particular and precious literary document, but also a teaching of sincerity and intellectual humility.

"De Civitate Dei" (The City of God) -- a decisive and imposing work in the development of modern political thought in the West and in Christian historical theology -- was written between 413 and 426 and was made up of 22 books. It was prompted by the sacking of Rome by the Goths in 410.

Many pagans who had survived, and also many Christians, had said: "Rome has fallen; the Christian God and the Apostles cannot protect the city. During the presence of the pagan gods, Rome was the 'caput mundi,' the capital of the world, and no one thought it could fall into the hands of its enemies. Now, with a Christian God, this great city no longer seems safe. The Christian God therefore did not protect and could not be a God in which one could trust."

It is this charge that was deeply felt by the Christians that St. Augustine answered with this magnificent work, "De civitate Dei." He clarified what we should and should not expect from God. Even today, this book is the source used to clearly define secular and clerical responsibilities, as well as the competences of the Church, the true and great hope that gives us faith.

This great book is a presentation of the history of humanity as governed by divine Providence, but actually divided by two loves. This is the fundamental design, his interpretation of history, which is the struggle between two loves: love of oneself, “even to the point of showing indifference toward God,” and love of God, “even to the point of being indifferent toward oneself” ("De Civitate Dei," XIV, 28 ), which leads to full freedom to be for others in the light of God. This, therefore, is perhaps St. Augustine's greatest book, of enduring importance.

Equally important is "De Trinitate," a work comprising 15 books on the main linchpin of Christian faith, God as part of the holy Trinity. It was written between 399 and 412. The first 12 books were published without Augustine's knowledge, who completed and revised the work around the year 420. He reflects on the face of God and tries to understand this mystery of a God which is unique: creator of the world, of all of us, and yet part of a trinity -- a circle of love. He seeks to understand the unfathomable mystery: the Trinitarian being, in three persons, as precisely the most real and most profound expression of teh unity of the one God.

"De Doctrina Christiana" however is a true cultural introduction of the interpretation of the Bible and on Christianity, which had a decisive influence on the formation of Western culture.

Even if modest, Augustine was certainly aware of his intellectual magnitude. Nevertheless, he considered it more important to carry the Christian message to the ordinary people than to realize major works of high theological relevance. His deeper intention, that drove him all his life, is revealed in a letter written to his colleague Evodio, where he announces his decision to temporarily suspend the dictation of "De Trinitate," "because they are too laborious and I think they may be understood only by a few; more urgent are texts which I hope will be useful to many" ("Epistulae," 169, 1, 1).

Therefore he found it more useful to communicate the faith in a comprehensible manner to all, than to write large theological works. The responsibility he felt toward the popularization of the Christian message is the reason for writings such as "De Catechizandis Rudibus," a theory as well as a practice of the catechesis, or the "Psalmus Contra Partem Donati."

The Donatists were the big problem in St. Augustine’s Africa, a definitively African faction. They affirmed that true Christianity was African and opposed the unity of the Church. The great bishop fought all his life against this split, trying to convince Donatists that only in unity could the African way be true.

In order to be understood by ordinary men, who could not understand the great rhetorician's Latin, he said: I should write with grammatical mistakes, in a very simplified Latin. He did this above all in his "Psalmus," a simple poem against Donatists, to help everybody understand that only through the unity of the Church can we truly realize our connection with God and can encourage peace in the world.

In this production destined to a wider public, the numerous sermons play an important role. Often given extemporaneously, they were transcribed by the stenographers during the preaching and immediately distributed. Among them stand out the attractive "Enarrationes in Psalmos," which were widely read during the Medieval age.

It is the actual routine of publication of the thousands of sermons by Augustine -- often without the control of the author -- that explains their spread and successive dispersal, but also their vitality. Because of the author’s reputation, immediately his lectures became very sought after and were used as models by other bishops and priests, and adapted to ever-new contexts.

The iconographic tradition, which we can see in a Lateran fresco dating from the 6th century, represents St. Augustine with a book in his hand to express his literary production that highly influenced Christian mentality and thinking, but also to express his love for books, for reading and knowledge of the great cultures.

Possidius tells us that at his death he did not leave anything, but "he urged to always conserve diligently for posterity the library of the Church with all its codices," as well as his own writings. Possidius underlines that Augustine is "always alive" in his works and helps those who read them, even if, he concludes, "I believe that those who saw and heard him when he preached in Church had profited more from that contact, but most of all, those who had experience of his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31).

Indeed, it would have been wonderful to listen to him when he was alive. But he truly lives in his works, he is present with us, and this is how we see the permanent vitality of his faith to which he had dedicated all his life.

[Translation by Laura Leoncini]

[After his address, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s catechesis, we continue to focus on Saint Augustine, a prolific and widely influential author. Perhaps Augustine’s best-known work is the "Confessions," a prayerful reflection on his life, in which he perceives his own sinfulness and extols the Lord’s grace and mercy. In "De civitate Dei," Augustine describes the tension between two cities: the earthly city that springs from love of self and indifference to God, and the heavenly city born from love of God and "indifference to self". In "De Trinitate," Augustine expounds the core belief of the Christian faith: one God in three persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Although Augustine is renowned for his towering intellect and vast body of writings, his primary concern was always to spread the Christian message. He continually strove to express the Gospel in a way accessible to every man, woman and child, so that all might come to know its saving truth: Jesus Christ. May we follow his example in sharing the Good News with others.

I cordially greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience. I extend a particular welcome to parishioners from the Church of Our Lady of Loretto in New York, as well as Benedictines participating in an intensive course on the rule of their order. A blessed Lent to you all!


On St. Augustine's Conversion
"A Journey That Remains a True Example for Each One of Us"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2008 - Here is a translation of the greetings Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica to those who could not be accommodated in Paul VI Hall for the general audience, and a translation of the catechesis he delivered in the Vatican auditorium. This is the fifth and final address the Pope has dedicated to the figure of St. Augustine.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we conclude our presentation of St. Augustine. Having dwelt on his life, his works, and some aspects of his writings, today I would like to return to the process of his interior conversion, which was one of the greatest conversions in Christian history.

It is to this journey in particular that I dedicated my reflections during my pilgrimage to Pavia last year, to pay homage to the mortal remains of this Father of the Church. In so doing, I wanted to demonstrate the admiration and reverence of the entire Catholic Church toward St. Augustine, and my own personal devotion and recognition of a figure with whom I feel I have close ties to due to the part he has played in my theological life, in my life as a priest and a pastor.

Even today it is possible to revisit the experiences of St. Augustine; above all this is thanks to the "Confessions," written in the praise of God and which is the basis of a more specific Western literary form -- the autobiography. That is, a personal expression of the knowledge of oneself.

Anyone who gets close to this extraordinary and fascinating book, which is still read by many today, will soon realize that the conversion of St. Augustine was not sudden or completed quickly, but it is better described as a journey that remains a true example for each one of us.

This journey culminated with his conversion and subsequent baptism, but was not concluded with the Easter vigil of 387, when the African rhetorician was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan.

In fact, Augustine’s journey of conversion continued with humility until the end of his life. We can state that all the stages of his life -- and we can easily distinguish three phases -- together make up a single long conversion.

St. Augustine was from the start, a passionate seeker of the truth: He remained so his whole life. The first stage of his journey toward conversion was realized through his gradual approach to Christianity.

In reality, he received a Christian education from his mother, Monica, with whom he was always very close. Even though he lived an errant life in his youth, he was deeply tied to the love of Christ's name, as he himself underlined (cfr. "Confessions," III, 4, 8).

Philosophy, and especially Platonic philosophy, led him closer to Christ by revealing to him the existence of the Logos, or creative reason. The books of the philosophers showed him the existence of 'reason' from which the whole world is derived, but did not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so inaccessible.

It was only through reading the letters of St. Paul, in the faith of the Catholic Church, that he came to a fuller understanding. This experience was summarized by Augustine in one of the most famous passages of the "Confessions." He tells us that in the torment of his reflections, he withdrew into a garden, when suddenly he heard a child's voice singing a lullaby he had never heard before: "Tolle, lege, tolle, lege," -- take and read, take and read (VIII, 12,29).

He was reminded at that moment of the conversion of Anthony, the father of monasticism. He hastily returned to the writings of Paul, which he had been looking at a short time before. His eyes fell on the passage of the Letter to the Romans, in which the apostle urges the abandonment of the pleasures of the flesh in favor of Christ (13:13-14).

He understood that those words were specifically meant for him. They came from God, through The Apostle, and showed him what he had to do in that moment. Augustine felt the dark cloud of doubt disperse and was free to give himself completely to Christ: “You converted my being to you,” he notes ("Confessions," VIII, 12,30). This was the first and decisive conversion.

It is thanks to his passion for men and for the truth that the African rhetorician arrived at the most important stage of his long journey; a passion that brought him to seek God, the great and inaccessible. His faith in Christ made him understand that God, seemingly so distant, was in truth not distant at all. In fact he has come near us, becoming one of us. In this sense his faith in Christ allowed Augustine to accomplish his long search for truth. Only a God who made himself 'touchable,' one of us, was a God to whom one could pray, for whom and with whom one could live.

This is a road to undertake with courage and humility, leading to a permanent purification, which everyone needs. That Easter vigil in 387, however, was not the end of Augustine’s journey. He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends, and dedicated himself to contemplation and study. This was his life's dream. He was called to completely dedicate his life to truth, in friendship with Christ, who is the truth. This dream lasted three years, until he was consecrated a priest in Hippo and destined to serve the believers, continuing to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of everyone.

This was very difficult for him, but since the beginning he understood that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he live with Christ and for Christ. So, by renouncing a life of only meditation, Augustine learned, not without difficulty, to put his knowledge at the disposal of others. He learned to communicate his faith to the ordinary people, and to live for them in what became his home town. He carryied out tirelessly a burdensome and generous activity that he describes in one of his beautiful sermons: "To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone -- it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort" (Sermon 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, knowing that this way he could be closer to Christ. His true second conversion was indeed to understand that one reaches others through simplicity and humility.

There is a last step -- a third conversion -- in the Augustinian journey: The one that led him to ask God for forgiveness every day of his life. At first he thought that once christened, in a life in communion with Christ, in the sacraments, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, he would attain a life as proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, which is one of perfection given through baptism and confirmed in the Eucharist.

In the latter period of his life he understood that what he had said in his first homilies on the Sermon on the Mount -- that we as Christians permanently live this ideal life -- was a mistake. Only Christ himself realizes truly and completely the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be cleansed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need a permanent conversion. Up to the end we need to demonstrate a humility that acknowledges that we are sinners on a journey, until the Lord gives us his hand and leads us to eternal life. It is with this attitude of humility that Augustine lived out his final days until his death.
This deep humility in the face of the one Lord Jesus introduced him to an intellectual humility as well. In his last years, Augustine, who in fact was one of the greatest figures in philosophical history, wanted to critically examine his numerous works. This was the origin of the "Retractationes" -- Revisions -- that places his theological thinking, which is truly great, within the humble and holy faith of that which he refers to as simply Catholic, that is, the Church.
In this very original book he writes: "I understood that only one is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only one -- in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead -- all of us, including the Apostles -- must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" (I, 19, 1-3).
Converted to Christ, who is truth and love, Augustine followed him all his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God.

That is why I wanted to conclude my pilgrimage to Pavia by offering to the Church and the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first encyclical -- "Deus Caritas Est." The encyclical owes a great deal to St. Augustine’s thinking, especially its first part.

Today, as then, mankind needs to know and to live this fundamental reality: God is love and meeting him is the only answer to the fears of the human heart. A heart where hope dwells, perhaps still dark and unenlightened for many of our contemporaries, but which for us Christians opens the doors to the future, so much so that St. Paul wrote "in hope we are saved" (Romans 8:24). I wanted to dedicate my second encyclical to hope -- "Spe Salvi" -- this one also owes a great deal to Augustine and to his meeting with God.

In a beautiful text St. Augustine defines prayer as an expression of desire, and affirms that God answers by moving our hearts closer to him. For our part we should purify our desires and our hopes in order to receive God's gentleness (cfr. "In I Ioannis," 4, 6). In fact, this alone -- opening ourselves up to others -- can save us.

Let us pray therefore that we are able to follow the example of this great man every day of our lives, and in every moment that we live, encounter the Lord Jesus -- the only one who can save us, purify us, and who gives us true joy and true life.


On Leo the Great
"One of the Greatest Pontiffs Ever"


Dear brothers and sisters,

Continuing on our journey with the Fathers of the Church, true guiding lights that shine from afar, in today's meeting we will look at a pope who in 1754 was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Benedict XIV: I am speaking, of course, of Leo the Great. As indicated by the name he is traditionally given, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs ever to have graced the See of Rome. He made an enormous contribution toward strengthening its authority and prestige. He was the first Bishop of Rome to adopt the name Leo, which has subsequently been adopted by a further 12 pontiffs. He is also the first pope of whom we have evidence of his preaching to the people who crowded around him during celebrations. It is natural to think of him in the context of the general Wednesday audiences; an appointment that has become in the last decades, a normal and expected way of meeting with the faithful and with many other visitors from all over the world.

Leo was born in Tuscia. He became deacon of the Church of Rome around 430 and with time worked his way up to a post of great importance. He stood out in this role and in 440 Galla Placidia who governed the Western Empire at the time, sent him to Gallia to help resolve what was a very difficult situation.

In the summer of that year, however, Pope Sisto III -- whose name is linked to the magnificent mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore -- died. It was Leo himself who succeeded him; he heard the news while pursuing his mission of peace in Gaul.

Once back in Rome, the new Pope was consecrated Sept. 29, 440. His papacy lasted 21 years and was without doubt one of the most important in the history of the Church. When he died Nov. 10, 461, the Pope was buried near St. Peter's tomb. To this day his remains are kept in one of the altars in the Vatican.

Pope Leo lived in very difficult times: repeated barbarian invasions, the progressive weakening of imperial power in the West and a lengthy social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome -- as was to happen to an even greater degree a century and a half later during the papacy of Gregory the Great -- to assume a role in the civil and political happenings of the time. This obviously served to increase the importance and prestige of the See of Rome.

Leo is particularly remembered for a certain incident in his life which occurred in 452 when the Pope met with Attila the Hun in Mantua and convinced him to desist from his invasion which had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. In so doing he saved the rest of the peninsula.

This important, memorable event has come to symbolize the Pontiff's efforts toward peace. Unfortunately, another papal initiative that took place three years later was not so successful. It was nevertheless indicative of astounding courage. In the spring of 455, Leo was not able to stop the Geiseric Vandals from invading and sacking Rome for two weeks. In any case, the gesture made by the Pope -- who went to meet the invader unarmed and surrounded by his clergy to try and convince him to stop -- prevented Rome from being set alight and saved the Basilica of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John in which some of the terrified people of Rome had taken refuge.

We are well aware of Pope Leo’s actions, thanks to his beautiful sermons -- almost 100 of them are preserved in a superb and clear Latin -- and thanks to his letters, about 150. In his texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, at the service of the truth within charity, through an indefatigable exercise of the word that reveals him both a theologian and a shepherd.

Leo the Great, constantly aware of his believers and of the people of Rome, but also of the communion between the various Churches and their needs, was a supporter and an untiring promoter of the Roman primacy, offering himself as the authentic heir of Peter the Apostle: the numerous bishops attending the Council of Chalcedon -- mostly oriental -- were fully aware of this.

Taking place in the year 451, with 350 bishops, this council was the most important assembly ever to be celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represented the end goal of the Christology of the previous three ecumenical councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431. Already in the 6th century, these four councils, which synthesized the faith of the early Church, were compared to the four Gospels, as Gregory the Great affirmed in a famous letter (I,24), in which he declared we should "to accept and venerate, like the four books of the Holy Gospel, the four Councils" because, he explains further, on them "the structure of the holy faith arises as on a keystone."

By rejecting the heresy of Eutiche, which denied the true human nature of God’s Son, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the union in the one Person, without confusion and without separation, of the two natures, human and divine.

The Pope affirmed the faith in true God and true man Jesus Christ in an important doctrinal text directed to the bishop of Constantinople, the so-called "Tome to Flavianus," which was read in Chalcedon and was acclaimed by the attending bishops, registered in the, recorded in the acts of the Council in these words: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo," the fathers of the council exclaimed together.

From this intervention, and from others made during the Christological controversy of those years, it is evident that the Pope felt the urgent responsibility of Peter’s Successor, whose role is unique in the Church, because "only to one Apostle was entrusted what was communicated to all the apostles,” as Leo affirms in one of his sermons on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (83,2).

The Pontiff managed to exercise such responsibilities, in the West like in the East, by intervening in various circumstances with prudence, determination and lucidity through his texts and his bound manuscripts. In so doing he demonstrated the importance of the Roman primacy then, as much as today, in order to effectively serve the communion that is a feature of the one and only Church of Christ.

Conscious of the historical significance of the times in which he was living and of the change that was taking place -- in a time of deep crisis -- from pagan to Christian Rome, through preaching and pastoral care, Leo the Great was able to stay close to the people and the faithful. He encouraged charity in a Rome that was suffering famine, refugees, injustice and poverty. He hindered pagan superstition and the actions of Manichean groups. He linked liturgy to the daily life of Christians by uniting, for example, the practice of fasting to charity and almsgiving, especially during the Four 'tempora' which marked the seasonal changes during the year. In particular Leo the Great taught his faithful -- even today his words apply to us -- that the Christian liturgy is not simply a way of remembering past events but to focus attention on invisible truths that operate in the lives of everyone. He stresses in a sermon (64,1-2) that we should celebrate Easter at any time of year “not as something from the past, but rather as an event of the present."

The Holy Pontiff insisted this is all part of an orchestrated event: Just as the Creator breathed life into man molded from the mud of the earth, after original sin, he sent his Son to into the world to give man back his dignity and to destroy the reign of the devil by means of a new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St. Leo the Great gave a vital and effective contribution with his letter to the Council of Ephesus, confirming during the council what St. Peter said to Caesarea-Philippi.

With Peter and like Peter he confessed: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God." God and man together, "not alien to mankind, but alien to sin" (cf. Serm. 64).

With the strength of his Christological faith he was a great bearer of peace and love. Hence he shows us the way: In faith we learn charity. Through St. Leo the Great we learn to believe in Christ, true God and true man, and to realize our faith every day in our actions for peace and in the love of our neighbor.


On Boethius and Cassiodorus
"Both Were Anxious to Preserve the Heritage of Greek and Roman Learning"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2008 - Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave today at St. Peter's Basilica at the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about two Christian writers; Boethius and Cassiodorus, who lived during some of the most troubled years in the Christian West, and in particular in the Italian peninsula.

Odoacre, king of a Germanic race called the Eruli rebelled and threatened the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, but then quickly had to succumb to the Theodoric's Ostrogoths, who secured control of the Italian peninsula for several decades.

Boethius, born in Rome around 480 and descended from the noble line of the Anicii, entered public life when he was very young and attained the post of senator when he was still only 25 years old.

Faithful to the family tradition, he entered politics, convinced that the principles of Roman society could be integrated with the values of the new populations.

In this new era of an encounter between cultures, he considered it his personal mission to reconcile and join these two cultures -- the classical Roman culture with the culture of the Ostrogoths. He was actively involved in politics during Theodoric's rule, who initially held him in high esteem.

Despite being so active in public life, Boethius did not neglect his studies. In particular, he dedicated himself to a deeper understanding of subjects of a philosophical and religious nature. He also wrote manuals on geometry, music and astronomy, all with the intention of passing on the great Greek and Roman culture to the new generations of the new times. In his efforts to promote unity of the two cultures, he used Greek philosophy to put forward the Christian faith, again striving for a synthesis of the Roman Hellenic heritage and the evangelical message. It is precisely because of this that Boethius has been qualified as the last representative of ancient Roman culture and the first representative of the medieval intellectuals.

Without doubt, his most famous work is the "De consolatione philosophiae." He wrote this when in jail, to give some sense to the unjustified detention. He had in fact been accused of conspiring against King Theodoric for assuming the defense of a friend -- Senator Albino. This was just an excuse. The truth was that the Arian King Theodoric was a barbarian and suspected that Boethius sympathized with the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

He was tried and condemned to death and was executed on Oct. 23, 524 at only 44 years of age.

Precisely because of this dramatic end, he can truly speak from the heart of his experience to modern man, and above all to the many people who suffer the same fate because of the injustice present in many areas of “human justice.”

In this work, completed while in jail, he searches for comfort, he searches for light, and he searches for wisdom. He tells us that precisely in the situation in which he finds himself, he is able to distinguish between apparent goods -- these disappear in jail -- and true goods, such as real friendship which never disappears, even if you are in jail.

The greatest good is God: Boethius learned and now teaches us not to succumb to fatalism, which extinguishes hope. He teaches us that fate does govern our lives -- Providence does and Providence has a face. You can speak to Providence because Providence is God. So, even in jail it is still possible to pray, to talk to him who will save us. At the same time, even in these circumstances he retains a sense of the beauty of culture and recalls the teachings of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle -- he began translating these into Latin -- Cicero, Seneca and even poets like Tibullus and Virgilius.

Philosophy, in the sense of being the search for true wisdom, is according to Boethius, the true medicine for the soul (Book I). On the other hand, man can only test true happiness within himself (Book II). Boethius is able to make sense of his own personal tragedy in the light of wise text of the Old Testament (Wisdom 7:30-8:1), which he quotes: “ Wickedness cannot prevail against wisdom. Wisdom stretches from one border to the other and governs all things with a wonderful goodness” (Book III, 12: PL 63, col. 780). The so-called progress of evil therefore proves to be a lie (Book IV), and the providential nature of "adversa fortuna" is revealed.

The difficulties we experience in life not only reveal how fleeting this is but also prove useful in identifying and maintaining true relationships between men. The "adversa fortuna" allows us to distinguish true friends from false ones and makes us realize that nothing is more precious to man than true friendship. To accept suffering with a fatalistic attitude is very dangerous, the believer Boethius adds, because “it destroys the very root of the possibility of prayer and theological hope which are the foundations of the relationship between man and God” (Book V, 3: PL 63, col. 842).

The final plea of "De consolatione philosophiae" can be considered a synthesis of all the teachings which Boethius directs to himself and to all those who may find themselves in similar circumstances. This is what he writes while in jail: “Fight against your vices, dedicate yourselves to a virtuous life directed by hope which elevates your heart to the skies with humble prayer. The pain you have suffered may change, refuse to lie; it is an advantage to keep the supreme judge in your sights. He knows how things really stand” (Book V, 6: PL 63, col. 862). Every detainee, no matter what the reason of his incarceration, will understand how heavily this weighs upon you, especially if the situation is exacerbated -- as was the case with Boethius -- by the use of torture.

It is particularly reprehensible that someone should be tortured to death, as Boethius was -- he was recognized and celebrated by the city of Pavia in the liturgy as a martyr -- for no reason other than one’s own political and religious ideals. Boethius, symbol of the huge number of detainees, unjustly arrested from all the different times and regions in our history, is an objective doorway to contemplating the mystery of the Crucifixion on Golgotha.

Aurelius Cassiodorus, a contemporary of Boethius, was a Calabrian and was born in Squillace around 485 and died at Vivarium around 580. He was also of a good social standing and dedicated himself to political life and cultural commitment as few others did in the Western Roman Empire in his time. Perhaps the only ones equal to him in this double commitment were Boethius himself and the future Pope, Gregory the Great (590-604).

Conscious of the need not to allow the human and humanistic patrimony accumulated in the golden age of the Roman empire to vanish into oblivion, Cassiodorus collaborated generously -- and at the highest levels of political responsibility -- with the new peoples who had entered the confines of the empire and had now settled in Italy. He also set an example of how to join cultures, of dialogue and reconciliation.

Historical events prevented him from realizing his political and cultural dreams which aspired to create a synthesis between Italian, Roman and Christian traditions with the new Gothic culture. Those same events convinced him of the providence of the monastic movement, which was steadily growing in Christian lands. He decided to support them, dedicating to them all his wealth and his spiritual efforts.

His was the idea to entrust the monks with the task of recovering, preserving and transmitting to posterity the vast cultural property of the ancients, so that it would not get lost. This is why he founded Vivarium, a monastery organized in such a manner that the intellectual work of the monks was considered most precious and vital.

He also arranged that those monks who did not have an intellectual education should not only occupy themselves with material work, such as agriculture, but also with transcribing manuscripts and thereby help transmit the great culture to the future generations. This was to be done without losing focus of the Christian monastic and spiritual commitment and on charity toward the poor.

In his teaching -- spread in various works, above all in the essay "De anima e nelle Institutiones divinarum litterarum" -- prayer (cf. PL 69, col. 1108), which is nourished by sacred Scripture and especially by the assiduous contemplation of the Psalms (cf. PL 69, col 1149), always holds a central position as necessary nourishment for all.

This is how the erudite Calabrian scholar introduces his "Expositio in Psalterium": "After I rejected and left in Ravenna all the demands of a political career -- marked by the disgusting flavor of worldly concerns -- and having enjoyed the Psalter, a book that came from the heavens like an authentic honey of the soul, I plunged into it like a thirsty man to scrutinize it relentlessly without pause and let it permeate me with that healthy sweetness, after I had enough of the bitterness of the active life" (PL 70, col. 10).

The search for God, oriented toward his contemplation, notes Cassiodorus, remains the permanent aim of monastic life (cf. PL 69, col. 1107). He adds, however, that with the help of divine favor (cf. PL 69, col. 1131.1142), it is possible to reveal a better use of the holy word through the use of scientific breakthroughs, “secular” cultural instruments already in the possession of the Greeks and the Romans (cf. PL 69, col. 1140).

Cassiodorus himself was dedicated to philosophical, theological and exegetical studies, without being particularly creative, but was attentive to the intuitions that he recognized as valid in others. He devotedly read the writings of Jerome and Augustine whom he particularly respected.

Of Augustine he said: “There is so much richness in Augustine's work that it seems impossible to find anything which has not been dealt with in-depth by him” (cf. PL 70, col. 10).

Mentioning Jerome, he urged the monks at Vivarium: "Not only those who fight until the effusion of blood or those who live in virginity will achieve the victory palm, but also all those who, with God’s help, overcome the vices of the body and preserve a straight faith. But in order to win more easily against the requests of the world and its enticements -- always with the help of God -- staying in the world like pilgrims in a continuous journey, try first to ensure the help suggested in the first psalm, which recommends reflecting night and day on the law of the Lord. In fact, if all your attention is occupied by Christ the enemy will not find any opening to attack you" ("De Institutione Divinarum Scripturarum," 32: PL 69, col. 1147).

It is an admonishment we can relate to. We also live in times where cultures meet, where violence threatens to destroy culture, where we have a duty to pass on the great values and to teach the new generations the ways of peace and reconciliation. We will find this way by turning toward God and his human face, the God revealed to us in Christ.


On St. Benedict of Norcia
"The Great Monk Is Still a True Teacher"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 9, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to talk about St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, and also the patron saint of my papacy. I will begin with a few words from Pope St. Gregory the Great who wrote the following about St. Benedict: “The man of God who shone on this earth with so many miracles does not shine any less for the eloquence with which he knew how to present his teaching” (Dial. II, 36).

The Great Pope wrote these words in the year 592: The holy monk had died barely 50 years earlier and was still alive in the memories of the people and above all in the blossoming religious order he founded. St. Benedict, through his life and work, had a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture.

The most important source of information on his life is the second book of the Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great. It is not a biography as such. According to the ideas of the time, he wanted to demonstrate by using a real person -- St. Benedict -- how someone who abandons himself to God can reach the heights of contemplation. He offers us a model of human life characterized as an ascent toward the peak of perfection.

Pope St. Gregory the Great tells us in the book of the Dialogues about the many miracles performed by the saint. Here too he did not want to simply recount a strange event, but rather demonstrate how God, by warning, helping and even punishing, intervenes in real situations in the life of man. He wanted to show that God is not a distant hypothesis situated at the beginning of the world, but rather that he is present in the life of man, of all men.

This perspective of the "biography" is also explained in the light of the general context of the times: Between the fifth and sixth centuries the world suffered a terrible crisis in values and institutions, caused by the collapse of the Roman Empire, the invasion of new people and the decline of customs. By presenting St. Benedict as a "shining light," Gregory wanted to show the way out of “this dark night of history” (cfr. John Paul II, Teachings, II/1, 1979, p. 1158), the terrible situation here in the city of Rome.

In fact, the work of St. Benedict and his Rule in particular are bearers of a genuine spiritual turmoil, which changed the face of Europe over the centuries and whose effects were felt way beyond his time and the borders of his own country. Following the collapse of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, it revived a new spiritual and cultural unity -- that of Christian faith, shared among the people of the Continent. This is how the Europe we know today was born.

The birth of St. Benedict is dated around the year 480. He was born, according to Pope St. Gregory, “ex provincia Nursiae” -- in the region of Norcia. His parents were well off and sent him to be educated in Rome. He did not stay long in the eternal city however. Pope St. Gregory offers a very likely explanation for this. He points out that the young Benedict was disgusted by the way of life of many of his fellow students who led unprincipled lives and he did not want to fall into the same trap. He wanted only to please God “soli Deo placere desiderans” (II Dial., Prol 1).

Therefore, even before he completed his studies, Benedict left Rome and withdrew to the solitude of the mountains east of Rome. Initially he stayed in the village of Effide (now: Affile), where for some time he affiliated himself with a "religious community" of monks, and then became a hermit living in Subiaco, which was close by. For three years he lived completely alone in a cave there. In the High Middle Ages, this cave became the "heart" of a Benedictine monastery called "Sacro Speco." His time in Subiaco was a period of solitude spent with God and was for Benedict a time in which he matured.

Here he endured and overcame the three fundamental human temptations: the temptation of self-assertion and the desire to place oneself at the center of things; the temptation of the senses; and finally, the temptation of anger and revenge.

Benedict firmly believed that only after conquering these temptations would he be able to say anything useful to others in need. And so, having pacified his soul, he was fully able to control the drive to put oneself first, and so became a creator of peace. Only then did he decide to found his first monasteries in the valley of Anio, near Subiaco.

In the year 529 he left Subiaco to establish himself in Montecassino. Some have explained this move as a flight from the interference of a jealous local clergyman, but this is not likely, as the priest's sudden death did not lead Benedict to move back again (II Dial. 8). In truth, he took this decision because he had entered into a new phase of monastic experience and personal maturity.

According to Gregory the Great his exodus from the remote valley of Anio to Mount Cassio -- which dominates the vast planes around it -- is symbolic of his character. A monastic life of isolation has it's place, but a monastery also has a public aim in the life of the Church and society as a whole. It must serve to make faith visible as a force of life. In fact, when Benedict died on March 21, 547, through his Rule and the Benedictine order that he founded, he left us a legacy that bore fruit all over the world in the subsequent centuries, and continues to do so today.

In the whole of the second book of the Dialogues, Gregory shows us how the life of St. Benedict was immersed in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer you cannot experience God. Benedict's spirituality was not cut off from reality. In the turmoil and confusion of the times, Benedict lived under the gaze of God. He never lost sight of the duties of everyday life and of man and his necessities. In seeing God he understood the reality of man and his mission. In his Rule he explains monastic life as “a school at the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45), and he asks his monks "not to place anything ahead of the work of God" (that is, the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours)(43,3). He underlines, however, that the act of prayer is in the first instance the act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which is then translated into concrete action. “Every day the Lord expects us to respond to his holy teaching with action” (Prol. 35).

The life of a monk therefore becomes a fruitful symbiosis of action and contemplation, “so that God is glorified in everything” (57,9). In contrast to an egocentric and easy self-fulfillment, often extolled today, the first and irrefutable duty of a disciple of St. Benedict is a sincere search for God (58,7) on the road traced by a humble and obedient Christ (5,13), the love of whom nothing should be allowed to stand in the way (4,21; 72,11).

It is in this way, in serving others, that Benedict becomes a man of service and peace. By showing obedience through his actions with a faith driven by love (5,2), the monk acquires humility (5,1), to which the Rule dedicates a whole chapter (7). In this way man becomes more like Christ and attains true self-fulfillment as a creature in God's own image.

The obedience of the disciple must be matched by the wisdom of the Abbot, who “takes the place of Christ” (2,2; 63,13) in a monastery. His role, outlined mainly in the second chapter of the Rule, with a description of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as Gregory the Great writes, “the Saint could not teach what he himself had not lived” (Dial. II, 36). The Abbot must be both a loving father and a strict teacher (2,24), a true educator.

Inflexible when it comes to vices, he is called upon to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27,8) to “assist rather than dominate” (64,8), to “point out more with actions than words all that is good and holy,” and to “ illustrate the divine commandments by setting an example” (2,12).

In order to be capable of making responsible decisions, the Abbot must also be someone who listens to “the advice of his brothers” (3,2), because “God often reveals the most apt solution to the youngest person” (3,3). This attitude makes the Rule, written almost 15 centuries ago very current! A man with public responsibility, even in small circles, must always be a man who knows how to listen and to learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule as “minimal, just an initial outline” (73,8); in reality, however, it offers useful advice not only to monks, but to anyone looking for guidance on the path to God. Through his capacity, his humanity, and his sober ability to discern between what is essential and what is secondary in the spiritual life, he is still a guiding light today.

Paul VI, by proclaiming St. Benedict the patron saint of Europe on October 24, 1964, recognized the wonderful work accomplished by the saint through the Rule toward creating the civilization and culture of Europe.

Today, Europe -- deeply wounded during the last century by two world wars and the collapse of great ideologies now revealed as tragic utopias -- is searching for it's own identity. A strong political, economic and legal framework is undoubtedly important in creating a new, unified and lasting state, but we also need to renew ethical and spiritual values that draw on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise we cannot construct a new Europe.

Without this vital lifeblood, man remains exposed to the ancient temptation of self-redemption -- a utopia, which caused in various ways in 20th-century Europe, as pointed out by Pope John Paul II, “an unprecedented regression in the tormented history of humanity” (Teachings, XIII/1, 1990, p. 58).

In the search for true progress, let us listen to the Rule of St. Benedict and see it as a guiding light for our journey. The great monk is still a true teacher in whose school we can learn the art of living a true humanism.

[Translation by Giustina Montaque]

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today is concerned with Saint Benedict, the Father of Western monasticism. The most important source of information on his life is the Second Book of the Dialogues of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Writing in a time of turmoil and moral decadence following the fall of the Roman Empire, Pope Gregory believed that the life and Rule of Benedict could be a light leading the people of Europe out of darkness.

Benedict was born in 480 in the region of Nursia. He came to Rome to study but soon left the city so as to live in silence and to please God alone. He spent some time in a religious community before becoming a hermit in a cave. After struggling victoriously against the fundamental human temptations of pride, sensuality and anger, he decided to found a monastery at Subiaco. Years later he established a new community on a mountain, Montecassino, to symbolize the public role of a monastery called to be a light shining for the good of the Church and society. Indeed, when he died in 547 Saint Benedict left behind a thriving spiritual family and a Rule, which invites us to search for God in prayer, obedience and humility while attending faithfully to daily duties and to those in need.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI proclaimed Saint Benedict Patron of Europe recognizing the role that his teaching and his disciples had played in shaping Europe’s spiritual life and culture. Let us continue to pray that Europe’s new unity may be enlightened and nourished by a religious and moral renewal drawn from its Christian roots.


On Romanus the Melodist
"If faith Is Alive, Christian Culture Will Never Be

VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the series of catecheses on the Fathers of the Church, I would like to speak today of one who isn't well known: Romanus the Melodist, born around the year 490 in Emesa (today Homs) in Syria. Theologian, poet, composer, he belongs to the group of theologians that have transformed theology into poetry. We think of his countryman, St. Ephraim of Syria, who lived 200 years before he did. We can also think of theologians of the West, such as Ambrose, whose hymns form part of our liturgy and touch our hearts to this day; or in a theologian, a thinker of great vigor, such as St. Thomas, gave us the hymns of the feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrate tomorrow; we think in St. John of the Cross and in many others. Faith is love, and so it creates poetry and music. Faith is joy, and so it creates beauty.

Romanus the Melodist is one of these, poet, theologian and composer. He learned the foundations of Greek and Syrian culture in his native city, and then moved to Beritus (now Beirut), to complete his classical education and knowledge of rhetoric. After being ordained permanent deacon -- around 515 -- he was a preacher in this city for three years. He then moved to Constantinople, until the end of the reign of Anastasius I -- around 518 -- and from there he settled in at the monastery of the Church of the Theotokos, Mother of God.

A key moment of his life took place there: the Synaxar tells us that Mary appeared to him in his dreams and gave him the gift of poetic charism. Mary, in fact, asked him to swallow a scroll. Upon waking the next day, it was Christmas, Romanus began to recite from the pulpit: "Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent" (Hymn On the Nativity, I. Proemium). He became in this way a preacher-cantor until his death (around 555).

Romanus is known in history as one of the most representative authors of liturgical hymns. At the time the homily was for the faithful practically the only opportunity of catechesis. Thus Romanus was not only an eminent witness of the religious sentiment of his day, but also of a lively and original method of catechesis. Through his compositions we can see the creativity of this form of catechesis, of the creativity of the theological thought, of the aesthetic and the sacred hymnography of the era.

The place where Romanus preached was a shrine on the outskirts of Constantinople: he would ascend the pulpit, located in the center of the Church, and he would speak to the community using a rather elaborate setting -- he used images on the walls or icons on the pulpit to illustrate his homilies, and even used dialogue. He recited chanted metrical hymns, called kontakia. The word "kontakion" --"small rod" -- seems to make reference to the small rod around which he rolled the scroll of the liturgical manuscript, or another such scroll. There are 89 kontakia attributed today to Romanus, but tradition attributes a thousand to him.

In Romanus, each kontakion is composed of stanzas, at the most 18-24, with the same number of syllables structured according to the model of the first stanza (irmo); the rhythmic accents of the verses of all the stanzas are modeled according to the "irmo." Each stanza ends with a refrain (efimnio), in general identical, to create poetic unity.

Furthermore, the beginning of each stanza indicates the name of the author (acrostico), frequently preceded with the adjective "humble." A prayer referring to the celebrated or evoked events ends the hymn.

Upon ending the biblical reading, Romanus sung the Proemium, generally in the form of a prayer or supplication. He thus announced the theme of the homily, explaining the refrain that was repeated all together at the end of each stanza, which he recited aloud in cadence.

A significant example is the kontakion for Holy Friday: It is a dialogue between Mary and her son that takes place on the way of the cross.

Mary says: "Where are you going, son? Why have you completed the path of you life so rapidly? / I would never have thought, my son, that I would see you like this. / And I could never have imagined that that the fury of the wicked could go so far, / laying their hands on you against all sense of justice."

Jesus responds: "Why are you crying, mother? [...] I shouldn't go? I shouldn't die? / How will I save Adam?"

Mary's son consoles his mother, but also reminds her of his role in salvation history: "Lay down, then, mother, lay down your pain: / It is not fitting for you to cry out, for you were called 'full of grace.'" (Mary at the Foot of the Cross, 1-2; 4-5).

In the hymn on the sacrifice of Abraham, Sarah reserves for herself the decision on the life of Isaac. Abraham says: "When Sarah hears, my Lord, your words, / upon knowing your will, she will tell me: / If the one who has given wants to take back, why has he given? / [...] You, watchful one, leave me my son, / and when he who called you wants him, he should say so to me" (The Sacrifice of Abraham, 7).

Romanus did not use the solemn Byzantine Greek of the imperial court, but the simple Greek that was close to the language of the people. I would like to cite here an example of his lively and very personal way of speaking about the Lord Jesus: he calls him the "spring that does not burn and the light against the shadows," and says: "I desire to have you in my hands like a lamp; / in fact, he who carries the light among man is illuminated without being burned. / Illuminate me, then, you who are the light that never burns out" (The Presentation, or Feast of Encounter, 8).

The strength of conviction in his preaching was based on the great coherence between his words and his life. One prayer says: "Make clean my tongue, my savior, open my mouth / and, after having filled it, penetrate my heart so that I may act / that I be coherent with my words" (Mission of the Apostles, 2).

Let us now examine some of his main themes. A fundamental theme of his preaching is the unity of the action of God in history, the unity between creation and the history of salvation, unity between the Old and New Testaments.

Another important theme is pneumatology, the doctrine on the Holy Spirit. During the celebration of Pentecost he underlines the continuity that exists between Christ, who ascended to heaven, and the apostles, that is to say, the Church, and he exalts missionary action in the world: "With divine virtue they have conquered all men; / they have taken up the cross of Christ like a pen, / they have used words like fishing nets and with them they have fished all over the world, / they have used the word of God as a sharp hook, / and they have used as bait / the meat of the Sovereign One of the universe" (Pentecost 2:18).

Another central theme is, of course, Christology. He does not involve himself in the difficult theological concepts, highly debated at that time, which tore at the unity among theologians and Christians in the Church. He preached a simple Christology, but fundamental, the Christology of the great councils. But above all he spoke of popular piety, in fact the concepts of the councils came from popular piety and the knowledge of the Christian heart, and in this way Romanus underlined that Christ is true man and true God, and being true man-God, is only one person, the synthesis of creation and Creator, in whose human words we hear the voice of the Word of God himself. "He was man," he said, "Christ, but he was also God, / now, he wasn't divided in two: He is one, son of a Father who is only one" (The Passion, 19).

Regarding what he said about Mariology, in thanksgiving to the Virgin for the give of poetic charism, Romanus remembers her at the end of almost all of his hymns, and he dedicated to her some of his most beautiful kontakia: Christmas, Annunciation, Divine Motherhood, New Eve.

Lastly, his moral teachings are related to the last judgment (The Ten Virgins, [II]). He takes us to this moment of truth of our lives, the appearance before the just Judge, and for this he exhorts us to conversion in penitence and fasting. The Christian should practice charity and almsgiving.

He accentuated the primacy of charity over continence in two hymns -- The Wedding at Cana and The Ten Virgins. Charity is the greatest of the virtues: "Ten virgins possessed intact the virtue of virginity, / But for five of them the practice prove futile. / The others shown with their lamps of love for humanity, / And for this the bridegroom invited them in." (The Ten Virgins, 1).

Palpitating humanity, arduous faith and profound humility pervade the songs of Romanus the Melodist. This great poet and composer reminds us of the entire treasure of Christian culture, born of faith, born of the heart that has found Christ, the Son of God. From this contact of the heart with the truth that is love, culture is born, the entire great Christian culture.

And if the faith continues to live, this cultural inheritance will not die, but rather it will continue to live and be current. Icons continue to speak to the hearts of believers to this day, they are not things of the past. The cathedrals are not medieval monuments, rather houses of life, where we feel "at home": where we find God and each other. Neither is great music -- the Gregorian chant, Bach or Mozart -- something of the past, rather it lives in the vitality of the liturgy and our faith.

If faith is alive, Christian culture will never be "outdated," but rather will remain alive and current. And if faith is alive, we can respond to the imperative that is always repeated in the psalms: "Sing an new song unto the Lord."

Creativity, innovation, new song, new culture, and presence of the entire cultural inheritance are not mutually exclusive, but one reality: the presence of the beauty of God and of the joy of being his sons and daughters.

[Translation by Karna Swanson]

[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s catechesis we turn to the Christian poetry of Romanus the Melodist. Born in Syria at the end of the fifth century, Romanus received a classical education, was ordained a deacon, and settled in Constantinople. His preaching took the form of chanted metrical hymns known as "kontakia", consisting of an introduction and a series of stanzas punctuated by a refrain. Some eighty-nine of these have come down to us, and they testify to the rich theological, liturgical and devotional content of the hymnography of that time. Composed in simple language accessible to his hearers, these kontakia are notable for their dramatic dialogues and their use of sustained metaphors. Romanus was a catechist concerned to communicate the unity of God’s saving plan revealed in Christ. His hymns, steeped in Scripture, develop the teaching of the early Councils on the divinity of the Son, the mystery of the Incarnation, the person and role of the Holy Spirit, and the dignity of the Virgin Mary. Romanus shows us the power of symbolic communication which, in the liturgy, joins earth to heaven and uses imagery, poetry and song to lift our minds to God’s truth.


On Gregory the Great
"He Was a Man Immersed in God"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 28, 2008 - Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience, which he dedicated to the figure of Pope Gregory the Great.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Last Wednesday I spoke about a Father of the Church little known in the West -- Romanus the Melodius. Today I wish to present the figure of one of the greatest fathers in the history of the Church, one of the four doctors of the West, Pope Gregory, who was bishop of Rome between the years 590 and 604, and who merited on the part of tradition the title "magnus" -- great.

Gregory was truly a great Pope and great doctor of the Church! He was born in Rome, around 540, of a rich patrician family of the "gens Anicia," which was distinguished not only for its nobility of blood, but also for its attachment to the Christian faith and for the services rendered to the Apostolic See. Two Popes proceeded from this family: Felix III (483-492), great-great grandfather of Gregory, and Agapitus (535-536).

The house where Gregory grew up was built on the "Clivus Scauri," surrounded by the majestic building that attested to the greatness of ancient Rome and the spiritual strength of Christianity. To inspire him with lofty Christian sentiments he counted, moreover, with the examples of his parents, Gordian and Sylvia, both venerated as saints, and those of his paternal aunts Emiliana and Tarsilia, who lived in the house as consecrated virgins in a shared journey of prayer and ascesis.
Gregory soon entered an administrative career, which his father had also followed, and in 572 he reached the top, becoming prefect of the city. This office, complicated by the sadness of that time, allowed him to apply himself to a vast range of administrative problems, gleaning from them light for his future endeavors. In particular, a profound sense of order and discipline were instilled in him. When he became Pope, he would suggest to bishops to take as model in the management of ecclesiastical affairs the diligence and respect of the laws proper to civil employees.

That life did not satisfy him, and it was not long before he decided to leave all civil posts to retire to his home and begin the life of a monk, transforming the family home into the monastery of St. Andrew in Celio.

From this period of monastic life, a life of permanent dialogue with the Lord and listening to his word, there remained in him a constant nostalgia which repeatedly and increasingly appears in his homilies. In the midst of relentless pastoral concerns, he would recall it several times in his writings as a happy time of recollection in God, of dedication to prayer, and of serene immersion in study. He was thus able to acquire that profound knowledge of sacred Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church of which he was to make use later in his works.
However, Gregory's cloistered retirement did not last long. The valuable experience that matured in civil administration, at a time weighed down by problems, the relationships he had developed with the Byzantines, the universal esteem he had won, led Pope Pelagius to appoint him deacon and to send him to Constantinople as his "apocrisiario" -- today we would say apostolic nuncio -- to help overcome the last remains of the monophysite controversy, and above all to obtain the emperor's support in the effort to contain the Lombard invaders.

His stay in Constantinople, where he again took up the monastic life with a group of monks, was most important for Gregory, as it allowed him to gain direct experience in the Byzantine world, as well as to address the problem of the Lombards, which would later acutely test his ability and energy in the years of his pontificate.

After some years, he was recalled to Rome by the Pope, who appointed him his secretary. They were difficult years: constant rains, rivers bursting their banks and famine afflicted many areas of Italy and Rome itself. In the end, the plague was unleashed, which caused numerous victims, among them also Pope Pelagius II. The clergy, the people, and the Senate were unanimous in electing Gregory as Successor to the See of Peter. He tried to resist, even seeking to flee, but it was all to no avail: In the end, he had to give in. It was the year 590.
Recognizing in all that had happened the will of God, the new Pontiff began to work immediately with determination. From the beginning he revealed a singularly lucid vision of reality against which he should be measured, an extraordinary capacity for work in addressing both ecclesial as well as civil issues, a constant balance in his decisions, including the difficult ones that his mission imposed on him. An ample documentation is kept of his governance thanks to the Register of his letters -- approximately 800 -- which reflect the daily confrontation of complex questions that arrived on his desk. They were questions that came from bishops, from abbots, from clergymen, and also from civil authorities of all orders and degrees.

Among the problems that afflicted Italy and Rome at that time there was one of particular relevance in both the civil as well as ecclesial ambits: the Lombard question. To it the Pope dedicated all possible energy in the hope of a truly peaceful solution. Unlike the Byzantine emperor, who began from the assumption that the Lombards were only rude and predatory individuals who had to be defeated or exterminated, St. Gregory looked on these people with the eyes of the Good Shepherd, concerned about proclaiming to them the word of salvation, establishing with them relations of fraternity oriented toward a future peace founded on reciprocal respect and peaceful coexistence among Italians, imperalists and Lombards. He was concerned with the conversion of young peoples and immigrants in Britain and the Lombards were the privileged beneficiaries of his evangelizing mission. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, leader of a group of monks whom Gregory sent to Britain to evangelize England.
To obtain an effective peace in Rome and Italy, to which the Pope was fully committed -- he was a real peacemaker -- he undertook a close negotiation with the Lombard King Agilulfo. This conversation led to a period of truce that lasted some three years -- 598-601 -- after which it was possible to stipulate in 603 a more stable armistice. This positive result was achieved thanks also to parallel contacts that, in the meantime, the Pope maintained with Queen Theodolinda, who was a Bavarian princess and, unlike the heads of other German peoples, was a Catholic -- profoundly Catholic.

Preserved is a series of letters of Pope Gregory to this queen, in which he expresses his esteem and friendship to her. Theodolinda succeeded, little by little, in directing the king toward Catholicism, thus preparing the way to peace. The Pope also took the trouble to send her the relics for the basilica of St. John the Baptist, which she had built in Monza, and did not fail to send her congratulations and precious gifts for the same cathedral of Monza on the occasion of the birth and baptism of her son, Adaloaldo. This queen's vicissitude constitutes a beautiful testimony of the importance of women in the history of the Church.

In the end, the objectives on which Gregory constantly focused were three: to contain the expansion of the Lombards in Italy, to remove queen Theodolina from the influence of schismatics, and to reinforce the Catholic faith, as well as to mediate between the Lombards and Byzantines in the hope of an agreement that would guarantee peace in the peninsula and consist at the same time of an evangelizing action among the Lombards themselves. Therefore, his constant orientation in the complex situation was twofold: to promote agreements on the diplomatic-political level, and to spread the proclamation of the true faith among the peoples.
Along with his purely spiritual and pastoral action, Pope Gregory was also an active protagonist of a multi-faceted social activity. With the income of the conspicuous patrimony that the Roman See had in Italy, especially in Sicily, he purchased and distributed wheat, assisted those in need, helped priests, monks and nuns who lived in indigence, paid the ransom for citizens who had been made prisoners of the Lombards, and obtained armistices and truces. Moreover, he carried out -- both in Rome as well as in other parts of Italy -- a determined effort for administrative reorganization, giving precise instructions so that the goods of the Church, useful for its subsistence and evangelizing work in the world, could be managed with absolute rectitude and according to the rules of justice and mercy. He demanded that tenant farmers be protected from the abuses of the managers of lands that were the property of the Church and, in case of fraud, that they be speedily indemnified, so that the face of the Bride of Christ not be contaminated with dishonest profits.
Gregory carried out this enormous activity despite his delicate health, which often obliged him to stay in bed for long days. The fasts he engaged in during the years of monastic life had caused him serious digestive problems. Moreover, his voice was very weak, so much so that he often had to entrust the deacon with the reading of his homilies so that the faithful of the Roman basilicas could hear him. In any case he did everything possible to celebrate the "Missarum sollemnia" on feast days, that is, solemn Mass, and then he would meet personally with the people of God, who greatly appreciated him because they saw in him the authoritative reference to obtain certainty: It was no accident that he was soon attributed the title "consul Dei." Despite the most difficult conditions in which he had to act, he succeeded in winning, thanks to the holiness of his life and his rich humanity, the trust of the faithful, obtaining for his time and for the future truly great results.

He was a man immersed in God: The desire for God was always alive in the depth of his soul and precisely because of this he was always very close to his neighbor, to the needs of the people of his time. During a disastrous and desperate time, he was able to create peace and hope. This man of God shows us the true fonts of peace, from which true hope comes, and so becomes a guide also for us today.
[At the end of the Audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis we turn to Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who governed the Church of Rome at the end of the sixth century and is venerated as a Doctor of the Church. Born of a noble Roman family, Gregory entered the civil service, in which he rose to the dignity of Prefect of the City, and then embraced the monastic life. Gregory's learning and experience, and his outstanding personal gifts, led to his appointment as the papal representative to the imperial court in Constantinople, and then as the Pope's secretary. In the year 590, Gregory was elected Pope. His papal ministry was marked by tireless energy and a clear vision of the grave problems facing civil society and the Church. Gregory made every effort to contain the Lombard invasion, to provide for the evangelization of that people, and to establish peace throughout Italy. In addition to his preaching, teaching and pastoral activity, he also reorganized the management of the Church's goods and ensured a more effective administration of her charitable works. At a time of great social instability, and despite his frequent ill health, Gregory proved an effective, prudent and saintly pastor, whose life and teaching continue to inspire us today.


On the Thought of Gregory the Great
"Holiness Is Always Possible, Even in Difficult Times"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 4, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience, the second catechesis he dedicated to the figure of Pope Gregory the Great.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I return today, in this our Wednesday meeting, to the extraordinary figure of Pope Gregory the Great, to glean additional light from his rich teaching. Despite the many commitments connected with his work as Bishop of Rome, he has left us numerous works, which in succeeding centuries the Church has received with open hands.

Beyond the conspicuous collection of letters -- the Register to which I referred in the last catechesis contains an additional 800 letters -- he left us letters written primarily in an exegetic character; outstanding among them is the Moral Commentary on Job -- known under the Latin title of "Moralia in Iob." He also left the Homilies on Ezekiel, and the Homilies on the Gospel.

There is moreover an important work of hagiographic character, the Dialogues, written by Gregory for the Lombard Queen Theodolinda. The principal and best-known work is without a doubt the Pastoral Rule, which the Pope wrote at the beginning of the pontificate with a clearly programmatic end.
In wishing to consider these works briefly, we must note, however, that in his writings, Gregory never seems concerned to delineate "his" doctrine, his originality. Instead, he seeks to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he wishes simply to be the mouth of Christ and of his Church on the way that must be followed to reach God.

Exemplary in this respect are his exegetical comments. He was a passionate reader of sacred Scripture, which he approached not only with speculative understanding. He thought that from sacred Scripture the Christian must distill not just theoretical knowledge, but also daily nourishment for his soul, for his life as a man in this world.

In the Homilies on Ezekiel, for example, he energetically underlines this function of the sacred text: To approach Scripture simply to satisfy one's desire to know, means to give in to the temptation of pride and thus expose oneself to the risk of falling into heresy. Intellectual humility is the main rule for one who seeks to penetrate supernatural realities flowing from the sacred book.

Humility, obviously, does not exclude serious study; but in order to make this result in spiritual profit, consenting to truly enter into the profundity of the text, humility remains indispensable. Only with this interior attitude does one finally truly hear and perceive the voice of God. Moreover, when it is a question of the word of God, understanding is nothing if the comprehension does not lead to action.

Found also in these homilies on Ezekiel is that beautiful expression according to which "the preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his heart; thus he too will be able to reach his neighbor's ear." Reading these homilies of his, one sees that Gregory has really written with the blood of his heart and, consequently, speaks to us also today.
Gregory develops this discourse, also, in the Moral Commentary on Job. In keeping with the patristic tradition, he examines the sacred text in the three dimensions of its meaning: the literal dimension, the allegorical dimension and the moral. These are dimensions of the singular meaning of sacred Scripture. But Gregory attributes a clear prevalence to the moral meaning.

In this perspective, he proposes his thought through some significant binomials -- know how/do, speak/live, know something/act -- in which he evokes the two aspects of human life which should be complementary, but which often end up by being antithetical. The moral ideal, he comments, consists in achieving always a harmonious integration between word and action, thought and commitment, prayer and dedication to the duties of one's state: This is the road to attain that synthesis thanks to which the divine descends into man and man is raised to identification with God.

The great Pope thus traces, for the authentic believer, a complete plan of life. Because of this, in the course of medieval times, the Moral Commentary on Job was seen as a sort of "Summa" of Christian morality.
The Homilies on the Gospel are also of noteworthy relevance and beauty. The first of these was delivered in St. Peter's Basilica during Advent in 590, and therefore, a few months after his election to the pontificate. The last was given in St. Lawrence's Basilica on the second Sunday after Pentecost in 593. The Pope preached to the people in churches where "stations" were celebrated -- particular ceremonies of prayer at intense times in the liturgical year -- or the feasts of titular martyrs.

The inspirational principle, which links together the various addresses, is summarized in the word "praedicator": Not only the minister of God, but also every Christian, has the duty to make himself a "preacher" of what he has experienced in his own interior, following the example of Christ who became man to take to all the proclamation of salvation. The horizon of this commitment is eschatological: The expectation of fulfillment in Christ of all things is a constant thought of the great Pontiff and ends by being the inspirational motive of his every thought and activity. From here flow his incessant calls to vigilance and commitment to good works.
Perhaps the most organic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his pontificate. In it Gregory intends to delineate the figure of the ideal bishop, teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrates the gravity of the office of pastor of the Church and the duties it entails: Therefore, those who are called to such a task were not called and did not search for it superficially, those instead who assume it without due reflection feel arising in their spirit an onerous trepidation.

Taking up again a favorite topic, he affirms that the bishop is above all the "preacher" par excellence. As such, he must be above all an example to others, so that his behavior can be a reference point for all. Effective pastoral action requires therefore that he know the recipients and adapt his addresses to each one's situation. Gregory pauses to illustrate the different categories of faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the appraisal of those who have seen in this work a treatise of psychology. From here one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke about everything with the people of his time and of his city.
The great Pontiff, moreover, stresses the daily duty that a pastor has to acknowledge his own misery, so that pride will not render vain -- before the eyes of the supreme Judge -- the good he accomplished. Therefore, the last chapter of the rule is dedicated to humility. "When one is pleased about having attained many virtues it is good to reflect on one's own insufficiencies and humble oneself. Instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what one has failed to accomplish."

All these precious indications demonstrate the very lofty concept St. Gregory had of the care of souls, defined by him as "ars artium," the art of arts. The rule had great success to the point that, something rather rare, it was soon translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.
Significant also is the other work, the Dialogues, in which to his friend and deacon Peter, convinced that the customs were now so corrupt so as not to allow for the emergence of saints as in past times, Gregory demonstrates the contrary: Holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proves it by recounting the life of contemporary and recently deceased persons, who can well be considered saints, even if not canonized. The account is accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographic text, able to fascinate whole generations of readers.

The material is drawn from the living traditions of the people and has the objective of edifying and forming, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions such as the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of hell, the representation of the above -- all topics that were in need of opportune clarification.

Book II is entirely dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia, and is the only ancient testimony on the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty appears in the text in full evidence.

In the theological design that Gregory develops through his works, the past, present and future are relativized. What counts most of all for him is the entire span of salvific history, which continues to unravel through the dark meanderings of time. In this perspective, it is significant that he inserts the announcement of the conversion of the Anglos right in the middle of the Moral Commentary on Job. To his eyes the event constituted an advancement of the Kingdom of God which Scripture addresses. With good reason, therefore, it is to be mentioned in the commentary on a sacred book.

According to him, the leaders of the Christian community must be committed to reread events in the light of the word of God. In this respect, the great Pontiff felt the need to guide pastors and faithful in the spiritual itinerary of an illumined and concrete "lectio divina," placed in the context of their lives.
Before concluding, it is only right to say a word on the relationship that Pope Gregory cultivated with the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. He was always concerned with acknowledging and respecting their rights, allowing himself no interference that would limit their legitimate authority.

If, however, in the context of his historical situation, St. Gregory was opposed to the title "ecumenical" on the part of the patriarch of Constantinople, he did not do so to limit or deny this legitimate authority, but because he was concerned about the fraternal unity of the universal Church. He did so above all by his profound conviction that humility should be the fundamental virtue of every bishop, even more so of a patriarch.

Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and that explains why he was decidedly opposed to great titles. He wished to be -- this is his expression -- "servus servorum Dei." This word, coined by him, was not a pious formula in his mouth, but the true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was profoundly impressed by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our slave; he washed and washes our dirty feet.

Therefore, he was convinced that, above all, a bishop must imitate this humility of God and, for love of God, be able to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulations and sufferings, to make himself the "servant of the servants." Precisely because he was this, he is great and shows us also the measure of true greatness.

[The Pope then greeted those present in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's audience we return to the writings of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, whose constant aim was to present the Church's teaching on the ways that lead to the contemplation of God. His Homilies on Ezekiel and his Moral Commentary on Job present a model of spiritual life which integrates prayer and action. In his Homilies on the Gospels Saint Gregory explained how the preacher's own spiritual experience of Christ should form the basis of his exhortations. The Pastoral Rule describes the ideal Bishop as a teacher and guide who leads by example and adapts his preaching to the specific background of those he addresses. The Dialogues, a work full of rich theological and spiritual insights, describe the lives of the saints of Gregory's epoch. In all things he insists on intellectual humility as a key to the meaning of Scripture, and proposes to Pastors and the faithful alike, the continual practice of lectio divina in order to better understand and follow God's will. Pope Gregory defended the prerogatives of the See of Rome, but with humility as the servant of the servants of God, and respected the rights of other Pastors, especially the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria. May the life and teaching of Saint Gregory guide and inspire us on our way to the joyous contemplation of God in eternity!


On St. Columban
"A Tireless Builder of Monasteries"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2008 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square, on the Irish monk St. Columban.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak of the holy Abbot Columban, the most famous Irishman of the early Middle Ages. With good reason he can be called a "European" saint, because as monk, missionary and writer, he worked in several countries of Western Europe. Along with the Irishmen of his time, he was aware of the cultural unity of Europe.

In a letter, written around the year 600 and addressed to Pope Gregory the Great, we find for the first time the expression "totius Europae" (of all Europe) with reference to the presence of the Church in the Continent (crf. Epistula I,1).
Columban was born around 543 in the province of Leinster, in southeast Ireland. Educated in his own home by outstanding teachers, who led him to the study of the liberal arts, he was later entrusted to the guidance of Abbot Sinell of the community of Cluain-Inis, in Northern Ireland, where he was able to further his study of sacred Scriptures.

At the age of about 20 he entered the monastery of Bangor on the northeastern part of the island, where Comgall was abbot, a monk well-known for his virtue and ascetic rigor. In full agreement with his abbot, Columban zealously practiced the severe discipline of the monastery, leading a life of prayer, ascesis and study. There he was also ordained a priest. Life at Bangor and the abbot's example influenced the concept of monasticism that with time matured in Columban, and which he later spread in the course of his life.
At almost 50 years of age, following the typically Irish ascetic ideal of the "peregrinatio pro Christo," namely, of making himself a pilgrim for Christ, Columban left the island with 12 companions to engage in missionary work on the European continent.

We must, in fact, keep present that the migration of people of the North and East had made entire Christianized regions fall back into paganism. Around the year 590, this small band of missionaries landed on the Breton coast. Received with benevolence by the king of the Franks of Austrasia -- present-day France -- they asked only for a piece of uncultivated land.

They obtained the ancient Roman fortress of Annegray, all demolished and abandoned, and now covered by forest. Used to a life of extreme renunciation, the monks succeeded in a few months in building the first hermitage on the ruins. Thus, their re-evangelization began to be carried out above all through the testimony of life.

With the new cultivation of the land they also began a new cultivation of souls. The fame of those foreign religious, who, living on prayer and in great austerity, built houses and cultivated the earth, spread rapidly and attracted pilgrims and penitents. Above all, many young men asked to be received in the monastic community to live, like them, that exemplary life that renewed the cultivation of the earth and of souls.

Very soon, the foundation of a second monastery was rendered necessary. It was built a few kilometers away, on the ruins of an ancient thermal city, Luxeuil. The monastery then became the center of monastic and missionary radiation of Irish tradition on the European continent. A third monastery was erected at Fontaine, a one-hour walk further north.
Columban lived at Luxeuil for almost 20 years. Here the saint wrote the Regula Monachorum for his followers -- for a certain time more widespread in Europe than that of St. Benedict -- delineating the ideal image of the monk. It is the only ancient Irish monastic rule we possess today. By way of integration, he elaborated the Regula Coenobialis, a sort of penal code for infractions, with rather surprising punishments for modern sensitivity, explainable only with the mentality of the time and the environment.

With another famous work titled "De Poenitentiarum Misura Taxanda," written also at Luxeuil, Columban introduced private and repeated confession and penance on the continent. It was called "tariffed" penance because of the proportion established between gravity of the sin and the type of penance imposed by the confessor. This novelty awakened the suspicion of the bishops of the region, a suspicion that was translated into hostility when Columban had the courage to reprimand them openly for some of their practices.

An occasion to manifest their opposition was the dispute about the date of Easter. Ireland, in fact, followed the Eastern tradition as opposed to the Roman. The Irish monk was called in 603 to Chalon-sur-Saon to render account before a synod of his practices related to penance and Easter. Instead of appearing at the synod, he sent a letter in which he minimized the issue inviting the synodal fathers to discuss not only the problem of the date of Easter, a small problem according to him, "but also of all the necessary canonical normatives that are disregarded -- something more grave -- by many" (cfr. Epistula II,1). At the same time, he wrote to Pope Boniface IV -- as some years earlier he had turned to Pope Gregory the Great (cfr. Epistula I) -- to defend the Irish tradition (cfr. Epistula III).
Intransigent as he was on every moral question, Columban later entered into conflict with the Royal House, because he had severely reprimanded King Theodoric for his adulterous relations. A network of intrigues and maneuvers was born at the personal, religious and political level that, in the year 610, was translated into a decree of expulsion from Luxeuil of Columban and all the monks of Irish origin. They were condemned to a definitive exile. They were escorted to the sea and embarked, at the expense of the court, toward Ireland.

However, the ship ran aground a short distance from the beach and the captain, seeing in this a sign from heaven, gave up the enterprise and, out of fear of being cursed by God, took the monks back to dry land. The monks, instead of returning to Luxeuil, wanted to start a new work of evangelization. They embarked on the Rhine and sailed up the river. After a first stop at Tuggen near the Lake of Zurich, they went around the region of Bregenz near Lake Costanza to evangelize the Germans.
Shortly after, however, Columban -- because of political affairs not favorable to his work -- decided to cross the Alps with the majority of his disciples. Only a monk by the name of Gallus stayed behind; from his hermitage developed later the famous Abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland. Arriving in Italy, Columban met with a benevolent reception at the Lombard royal court, but he soon was faced with noteworthy difficulties.

The life of the Church was lacerated by the Arian heresy still prevalent among the Lombards and by a schism that had removed the greater part of the Churches of northern Italy from communion with the Bishop of Rome. Columban inserted himself with authority into this context, writing a libel against Arianism and a letter to Boniface IV to convince him to take some decisive steps in view to re-establishing unity (cfr. Epistula V).

When, in 612 or 613, the king of the Lombards assigned him some land in Bobbio, in the valley of Trebbia, Columban founded a new monastery which later became a center of culture comparable to the famous one of Montecassino. Here he reached the end of his days: He died on Nov. 23, 615, and on this date he is commemorated in the Roman rite until today.
St. Columban's message is centered on a firm call to conversion and detachment from the goods of the earth in view of our eternal heritage. With his ascetic life and his conduct free from compromises in face of the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist.

His austerity, however, was never an end in itself, but was only the means to open himself freely to the love of God and correspond with his whole being to the gifts received from him, thus reconstructing in himself the image of God and at the same time cultivating the earth and renewing human society. I quote from his Instructiones: "If man makes use correctly of that faculty that God has given his soul he will then be similar to God. Let us remind ourselves that we must restore to him all those gifts that he has deposited in us when we were in our original condition. He has shown us the way with his Commandments. The first of these is that of loving the Lord with all our heart, because he loved us first, since the beginning of time, even before we came to the light of this world" (cfr. Instr. XI).

These words were truly embodied by the Irish saint in his own life. A man of great culture -- he also wrote poetry in Latin and a grammar book -- he proved himself to be rich in gifts of grace. He was a tireless builder of monasteries as well as an intransigent penitential preacher, spending all his energy to nourish the Christian roots of Europe, which was being born. With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and for his neighbor, he truly became one of the fathers of Europe: He shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn.

Dear Brothers and Sisters.
In today's catechesis we turn to Saint Columban, one of the many Irish monks who contributed to the re-evangelization of Europe in the early Middle Ages. Columban made his monastic profession in Bangor and was ordained a priest. At the age of fifty, he left the monastery to begin missionary work in Europe, where entire regions had lapsed into paganism. Beginning in Brittany, Columban and his companions established monasteries at Annegray and Luxeuil. These became centers for the spread of the monastic and missionary ideals brought by the monks from their native Ireland. Columban introduced to Europe the Irish penitential discipline, including private confession. His stern moral teachings led to conflict with the local Bishops and the Frankish court, resulting in the exile of the Irish monks, first to the Rhineland and then to Italy. At Bobbio, where he established a great monastic center, Columban worked for the conversion of the Arian Lombards and the restoration of unity with the Bishop of Rome. It was there that he died, leaving behind not only the example of an austere monastic life, but also a corpus of writings which shaped the monastic culture of the Middle Ages and thus nourished the Christian roots of Europe.

I offer a warm greeting and prayerful good wishes to Cardinal Kitbunchu and the pilgrims from Thailand who are present today, and also to the large group of delegates from the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska. To all the English-speaking visitors, from England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Korea, and the United States of America, I extend a warm welcome. May God bless you all.


"Believers Up to Our Times Benefit From His Definitions"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 18, 2008.- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square, focused on the figure of St. Isidore of Seville.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I wish to speak of St. Isidore of Seville, younger brother of Leander, bishop of Seville, and great friend of Pope Gregory the Great. This relation is important because it leads us to keep in mind a cultural and spiritual approach that is indispensable to understanding Isidore's personality. In fact, he owed much to Leander, a very exacting, studious and austere person, who had created around his younger brother a family context characterized by ascetic demands proper of a monk and the rhythms of work required by serious dedication to study.

In addition, Leander was attentive to prepare in advance what was necessary to address the political-social situation of the moment: In those decades, in fact, the Visigoths, barbarians and Arians, had invaded the Iberian Peninsula and taken over territories belonging to the Roman empire. It was necessary to win them over to Romanism and Catholicism. Leander and Isidore's home had quite a rich library of classical, pagan and Christian works. Isidore, who felt attracted simultaneously to both one and the other, was taught, therefore, to develop, under the watchfulness of his elder brother, a very strong discipline in dedicating himself to their study with discretion and discernment.
In the bishop's residence in Seville one lived, therefore, in a serene and open climate. We can deduce this from Isidore's cultural and spiritual interests, as they emerge from his works themselves, which contain an encyclopedic knowledge of the pagan classical culture and in-depth knowledge of Christian culture. Thus can be explained the eclecticism that characterizes Isidore's literary output, which extends with great ease from Marcial to Augustine, and from Cicero to Gregory the Great.

Indeed, the interior struggle that the young Isidore had to endure, having become his brother Leander's successor in the episcopal chair of Seville in 599, was not light. Perhaps the impression of excessive voluntarism that one detects when reading the works of this great author -- regarded as the last of the Christian fathers of antiquity -- is due precisely to this constant struggle with himself. A few years after his death, which occurred in 636, the Council of Toledo of 653 described him as: "Illustrious teacher of our time and glory of the Catholic Church."
Isidore was without a doubt a man of accentuated dialectical oppositions. And, also in his personal life, he experienced a permanent interior conflict, rather like that which St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine had already noted, between the desire for solitude, to dedicate themselves solely to meditation on the word of God, and the exigencies of charity toward his neighbors, for whose salvation, as bishop, he felt responsible.

He wrote, for example, in connection with persons responsible for the Churches: "The person responsible for a Church -- "vir ecclesiasticus" -- must on one hand allow himself to be crucified to the world with the mortification of the flesh and, on the other, accept the decision of the ecclesiastical order, when it stems from the will of God, to dedicate himself to governance with humility, even if he does not wish to do it" (Sententiarum liber III, 33, 1: PL 83, col 705 B).

He then adds just another paragraph: "The men of God -- "sancti viri" -- do not in fact desire to dedicate themselves to worldly things and lament when, by a mysterious plan of God, they are entrusted with certain responsibilities. They do anything to avoid it, but accept that which they wish to flee, and do that which they would have wished to avoid. In fact, they enter into the secret of the heart and therein try to understand what the mysterious will of God requests. And when they realize that they must submit to God's plans, they humble their hearts under the yoke of the divine decision" (Sementarium liber III, 33, 3: PL 83, coll. 705-706).
To better understand Isidore, we must recall, first of all, the complexity of the political situations of his time, to which I have already made reference: During the years of his childhood he had experienced the bitterness of exile. Despite this, he was permeated with apostolic enthusiasm: He experienced the rapture of contributing to the formation of a people who were finally rediscovering their unity, whether on the political or the religious plane, with the providential conversion of Erminigild, the heir to the Visigothic throne, from Arianism to the Catholic faith.

However, we must not underestimate the enormous difficulties he faced in adequately addressing very grave problems such as those of relations with the heretics and the Jews -- a whole series of problems that appear very concretely also today, above all, if we consider what happens in certain regions in which it seems that situations somewhat similar to those of the Iberian Peninsula of the 6th century have reappeared. The wealth of cultural knowledge that Isidore possessed allowed him to constantly confront the Christian novelty with the Greco-Roman classical heritage, even if, beyond the precious gift of synthesis, it seems he also had that of "collatio," namely, of compilation, which was expressed in an extraordinary personal erudition, not always ordered as might have been desired.
To be admired, in any case, is his persistent desire not to neglect anything of that which human experience had produced in the history of his homeland and of the whole world. Isidore did not wish to lose anything that was acquired by man in ancient times, whether pagan, Jewish or Christian. We should not be surprised, therefore, if, in pursuing this purpose, at times he was not successful in passing on adequately, as he would have wished, the knowledge he possessed through the purifying waters of the Christian faith.

In fact, however, in Isidore's intentions, the proposals he makes are always in harmony with the Catholic faith, which he firmly upheld. In the discussion of several theological problems, he shows perception of their complexity and often suggests with acuity solutions that take up and express the complete Christian truth. This enabled believers through the course of the centuries and up to our times to benefit with gratitude from his definitions. A significant example of this matter is offered to us by Isidore's teaching on the relationships between the active and contemplative life.

He writes: "Those who seek to attain the repose of contemplation must first train themselves in the stage of the active life; and thus, freed from the dross of sins, will be able to exhibit that pure heart which, alone, allows one to see God" (Differentiarum Lib II, 34, 133: PL 83, col 91A).

The realism of a true pastor convinces him however of the risk that the faithful run of reducing themselves to being one-dimensional men. Hence, he adds: "The middle way, composed of both ways of life, is generally more useful to resolve those tensions that often are acute by the choice of only one kind of life and are better tempered by an alternation of the two ways" (o.c., 134: ivi, col 91B).
Isidore looks for the definitive confirmation of a correct orientation of life in the example of Christ and says: "Jesus the Savior offers us the example of the active life when, during the day he dedicated himself to offer signs and miracles in the city, but he showed the contemplative life when he withdrew to the mountain at night and dedicated himself to prayer" (o.c. 134: ivi).

In the light of the example of the divine Teacher, Isidore could conclude with this precise moral teaching: "Therefore, the servant of God, imitating Christ, must dedicate himself to contemplation without denying himself the active life. To behave otherwise would not be right. In fact, as we must love God with contemplation, so we must love our neighbor with action. It is impossible, therefore, to live without the presence of one and the other way of life, nor is it possible to love if one has no experience of one or the other" (o.c., 135: ivi, col 91C).

I hold that this is the synthesis of a life that seeks the contemplation of God, dialogue with God in prayer and the reading of sacred Scripture, as well as action in the service of the human community and of one's neighbor. This synthesis is the lesson that the great bishop of Seville leaves us, Christians of today, called to witness to Christ at the beginning of a new millennium.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis we turn to Saint Isidore of Seville, the brother of Saint Leander and a contemporary and friend of Saint Gregory the Great. Isidore lived during the Visigothic invasions of Spain, and he devoted much energy to converting the barbarian tribes from heresy and preserving the best fruits of classical and Christian culture. His encyclopedic, albeit somewhat eclectic, learning is reflected in his many writings, including the Etymologies, which were widely read throughout the Middle Ages. Isidore worked to bring the richness of pagan, Jewish and Christian learning to the rapidly changing political, social and religious situations in which he lived. Throughout his life, he was torn between his devotion to study and contemplation, and the demands made by his responsibilities as a Bishop, especially towards the poor and those in need. He found his model in Christ, who joined both the active and contemplative life, and sought to "love God in contemplation and one's neighbor in action" (Differentiarum Liber, 135). This is a lesson which is as valid today as it was in the life of the great Bishop of Seville.
I am pleased to welcome the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles gathered in Rome for their General Chapter, and the participants in the Rome Seminar of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. I also warmly greet a group of survivors of the Holocaust who are present at today's Audience. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.


On St. Maximus the Confessor
"He Always Had As His Compass the Concrete Reality of the World"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 25, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square, dedicated to the figure of St. Maximus the Confessor.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present the figure of one of the great Fathers of the Eastern Church of later times. He is a monk, St. Maximus, who merited from Christian tradition the title of Confessor because of the intrepid courage with which he was able to give witness -- "to confess" -- even while suffering, the integrity of his faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Savior of the world.

Maximus was born in Palestine, the Lord's land, around 580. From his boyhood he was directed to the monastic life and to the study of Scripture, also through the works of Origen, the great teacher who already in the third century had already managed to define the Alexandrian exegetic tradition.

From Jerusalem, Maximus went to Constantinople, and from there, because of the barbarian invasions, he sought refuge in Africa. Here he distinguished himself with extreme courage in the defense of Orthodoxy. Maximus did not accept any attempt to minimize the humanity of Christ. The theory had arisen according to which Christ had only one will, the divine. To defend the uniqueness of his person, they denied he had a true human will.

At first glance, it might appear to be something good that in Christ there was only one will. However, St. Maximus understood immediately that this would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because a humanity without will -- a man without a will -- is not a true man, but rather an amputated man. Therefore, the man Jesus Christ would not have been a true man, would not have experienced the drama of the human being, which consists precisely in the difficulty of conforming our will with the truth of being.

Thus St. Maximus affirmed with great determination: Sacred Scripture does not show us an amputated man, without a will, but a true complete man: God, in Jesus Christ, has truly assumed the totality of the human being -- obviously except for sin -- hence, also, a human will. Stated that way, the question was clear: Christ is either a true man or not.

However, the problem arises: Does not one end in this way in a sort of dualism? Is not one faced with affirming two complete personalities with reason, will, sentiment? How can this dualism be overcome? How can the completeness of the human being be preserved while protecting the unity of the person of Christ, who was not schizophrenic?

St. Maximus demonstrates that man finds his unity, the integration of himself, his totality not in himself, but in surpassing himself, by coming out of himself. Thus, also in Christ, man, coming out of himself, finds in God, in the Son of God, himself.

Man must not "amputate" the human Christ to explain the Incarnation. One must only understand the dynamism of the human being who is fulfilled only by coming out of himself. Only in God do we find ourselves, our totality and our completeness.

Thus we see that it is not the man who is closed in on himself who is complete the man, but it is the man who opens himself, who comes out of himself -- it is he who becomes complete, who finds himself in the Son of God, he finds in him his true humanity.

For St. Maximus this vision does not remain a philosophical speculation. He sees it realized in the concrete life of Jesus, above all in the drama of Gethsemane.

In this drama of Jesus' agony, of anguish and death, of the opposition between the human will not to die and the divine will that offers itself to death, in this drama of Gethsemane the whole human drama is realized, the drama of our redemption. St. Maximus tells us, and we know that this is true: Adam -- and Adam is us -- thought that the "no" was the apex of liberty; that only he who can say "no" is truly free; that to truly realize his liberty, man must say "no" to God.

Only in this way, he thinks, he is finally himself; he has arrived at the summit of liberty. This tendency was also present in Christ's human nature, but he overcame it, because Jesus saw that "no" is not the greatest liberty. The greatest liberty is to say "yes," to conform with the will of God. Only in saying "yes" does man really become himself. Only in the great opening of the "yes," in the unification of his will with the divine will, does man become immensely open, he becomes "divine."

To be like God was Adam's desire, namely, to be completely free. However, he is not divine, the man who is closed in on himself is not completely free. He is so by coming out of himself, it is in the "yes" that he becomes free. And this is the drama of Gethsemane: not my will but yours.

Transferring one's will to the divine will, that is how a true man is born. That is how we are redeemed.

This, in a few words, is the fundamental point of what St. Maximus wished to say, and we see that here the whole human being is questioned; here is the whole question of our life.

St. Maximus already had problems in Africa defending this vision of man and of God; then he was called to Rome. In 649 he took an active part in the Lateran Council, called by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of Christ, against the emperor's edict, which -- pro bono pacis -- prohibited the discussion of this question.

Pope Martin paid dearly for his courage: Although he was in poor health, he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Prosecuted and condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to final exile in Crimea, where he died on Sept. 16, 655, after two long years of humiliation and torments.
Not long after, in 662, it was Maximus' turn who -- also opposing the emperor -- continued to repeat: "It is impossible to affirm only one will in Christ!" (cfr PG 91, cc. 268-269).

Thus, together with two of his disciples, both called Anastasius, Maximus was subjected to an exhausting trial, though he was already older than 80 years of age. The emperor's tribunal condemned him, accused of heresy, to the cruel mutilation of his tongue and right hand -- the two organs with which, through words and writing, Maximus had combated the erroneous doctrine of the one will of Christ.

In the end, the holy monk, thus mutilated, was exiled in Colchide, on the Black Sea, where he died, exhausted by the sufferings undergone, at the age of 82, on Aug. 13 of the same year, 662.
Speaking of the life of Maximus, we referred to his literary work in defense of orthodoxy. We are referred in particular to the dispute with Pirro, then patriarch of Constantinople, in which Maximus succeeded in persuading the adversary of his errors. With great honesty, in fact, Pirro concluded the dispute thus: "I apologize for myself and for those who preceded me. Through ignorance we arrived at these absurd thoughts and arguments. I pray that the way will be found to cancel these absurdities, rescuing the memory of those who erred" (PG 91, c. 352).

There were then added some dozen important works, outstanding among which is the "Mistagoghia," one of St. Maximus' most significant writings, which brings together his theological thought in a well-structured synthesis.
St. Maximus' thought was never only theological, speculative, closed in on itself, because he always had as his compass the concrete reality of the world and of its salvation. In this context, in which had to suffer, he could not evade the question with solely theoretical philosophical affirmations. He had to seek the meaning of life, asking himself: who am I? What is the world?

To man, created in his image and likeness, God has entrusted the mission to unify the cosmos. And as Christ has unified the human being in himself, so the Creator has unified the cosmos in man. He has shown us how to unify the cosmos in communion with Christ and thus truly arrive at a redeemed world.

One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar, referred to this powerful saving vision when, in "re-launching" the figure of Maximus, he defined his thinking as the representative expression of "cosmic liturgy."

At the center of this solemn liturgy Jesus Christ always remains, the only Savior of the world. The efficacy of his salvific action, which has definitively unified the cosmos, is guaranteed by the fact that he, though being God in everything, is also integrally man -- with the "energy" and the will of man.
The life and thought of Maximus remain powerfully illumined by an immense courage in witnessing to the integral reality of Christ, without any reduction or compromise. And so we see who is truly man, how we must live to respond to our vocation. We must live united to God, and thus be united to ourselves and the cosmos, giving the cosmos itself and humanity their just form.

Christ's universal "yes" shows us with clarity how to give the right place to all the other values. We are thinking of values justly defended today, such as tolerance, liberty and dialogue. However, a tolerance that is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil would become chaotic and self-destructive. So, moreover, would a liberty that does not respect the freedom of others and does not find the common measure of our respective liberties, it would become anarchic and destroy authority. Dialogue that no longer knows what to dialogue about becomes empty chatter.

All these values are great and fundamental, but they can remain true values only if they have the point of reference that unites them and gives them true authenticity. This point of reference is the synthesis between God and the cosmos, and the figure of Christ in which we learn the truth about ourselves and so learn where to place all the other values, because we discover their genuine meaning.

Jesus Christ is the point of reference that gives light to all the other values. This is the end point of the testimony of this great Confessor. And thus, in the end, Christ shows us that the cosmos must become liturgy, glory of God and that adoration is the beginning of the true transformation, of the true renewal of the world.
Because of this, I would like to conclude with a fundamental passage from St. Maximus' works: "We adore the only Son, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, as it is now, and for all times, and the times after time. Amen." (PG 91, c. 269).

[After the audience, the Pope greeted those present in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis we turn to Saint Maximus the Confessor, a heroic defender of the Church's faith in the true humanity of Christ amid the bitter theological controversies of the seventh century. Born in Palestine, Maximus became a monk and lived in Constantinople, Roman Africa and Rome itself. In his preaching and writings he defended the mystery of the Incarnation and opposed the Monothelite heresy, which refused to acknowledge the presence of an integral human will in Jesus Christ. Maximus clearly understood that our salvation depends on Christ's complete humanity, which necessarily includes a human will capable of freely cooperating with the divine will in achieving the work of our redemption. The salvation of man, and indeed the entire cosmos, is central to the theology of Saint Maximus. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, the whole universe is now redeemed and unified. Christ is thus the one absolute Value, to whom all worldly values are directed. This vision of a "cosmic liturgy," centred on the Incarnate Lord, ought to inspire the efforts of Christians today to make our world conform ever more fully to its ultimate meaning and goal in God's saving plan.