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On St. Joan of Arc
"Joan's Judges ... Did Not Know They Were Condemning a Saint"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. He focused his reflection on the figure of St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about Joan of Arc, a young saint from the end of the Middle Ages, who died at age 19, in 1431. This French saint, quoted many times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is particularly close to St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and Europe, of whom I spoke in a recent catechesis. In fact they are two young women of the people, lay and consecrated in virginity, two committed mystics, not in a cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic realities of the Church and of the world of their time. They are, perhaps, the most characteristic examples from among those "strong women" who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly took the great light of the Gospel to the complex vicissitudes of history.
We could place her next to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to Jesus crucified, and Mary, his mother, while the apostles fled and Peter himself denied him three times.
In her times, the Church lived the profound crisis of the great Western schism, which lasted almost 40 years. When Catherine of Siena died, in 1380, there was a pope and an anti-pope. When Joan was born, in 1412, there was a pope and two anti-popes. In addition to this laceration within the Church, there were continuous fratricidal wars between the Christian peoples of Europe, the most tragic of which was the interminable 100 Years War between France and England.
Joan of Arc could not read or write, but she can be known in the depth of her soul thanks to two sources of exceptional historical value: the two trials she underwent. The first, the "Trial of Conviction," contains the transcription of the long and numerous interrogations of Joan during the last months of her life (February-May of 1431), and includes the words of the saint herself. The second, the "Trial of Nullity of the Sentence," or of "rehabilitation," contains the testimonies of close to 120 eye-witnesses from all the periods of her life (cf. Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 vol. and Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vol., ed. Klincksieck, Paris l960-1989).
Joan was born in Domremy, a small village located on the border between France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off farmers, known by everyone as very good Christians. From them she received a good religious education, with notable influence from the spirituality of the Name of Jesus, taught by St. Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by the Franciscans. To the Name of Jesus is always joined the Name of Mary and thus, in the framework of popular religiosity, Joan's spirituality was profoundly Christocentric and Marian. From her childhood, she showed great charity and compassion toward the poorest, the sick and all who suffered in the tragic context of the war.
From her own words, we know that Joan's religious life matured experientially beginning at the age of 13 (PCon, I, p. 47-48). Through the "voice" of the Archangel St. Michael, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself personally to the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her "yes," was the vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily attendance at Mass, frequent confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified or before the image of the Virgin. The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because of her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between mystical experience and political mission.
After the years of hidden life and interior maturation, the brief but intense two-year period of her public life followed: a year of action and a year of passion.
At the beginning of the year 1429, Joan began her work of liberation. The numerous testimonies show us this young woman who was only 17 years old as a very strong and determined person, capable of convincing unsure and discouraged men. Overcoming all obstacles, she met with the dauphin of France, the future King Charles VII, who in Poitiers subjected her to an examination by some theologians of the university. Their judgment was positive: They did not see anything evil in her, [finding] only a good Christian.
On March 22, 1429, Joan dictated an important letter to the king of England and his men who were besieging the city of Orleans (Ibid., p. 221-222). Hers was a proposal of true peace in justice between the two Christian peoples, in light of the names of Jesus and Mary, but this proposal was rejected, and Joan had to commit herself in the fight for the liberation of the city, which took place on May 8. The other culminating moment of her political action was the coronation of King Charles VII in Rheims, on July 17, 1429. For a whole year, Joan lived with the soldiers, carrying out among them a real mission of evangelization. Numerous are the testimonies about her goodness, her courage and her extraordinary purity. She was called by everyone and she herself described herself as "the maiden," namely, the virgin.
Joan's passion began on May 23, 1430, when she fell prisoner in the hands of her enemies. On Dec. 23 she was taken to the city of Rouen. Carried out there was the long and dramatic Trial of Conviction, which began in February of 1431 and ended on May 30 with the stake. It was a grand and solemn trial, presided over by two ecclesiastical judges, Bishop Pierre Cauchon and the inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in reality led entirely by a large group of theologians of the famous University of Paris, who took part in the trial as consultants. They were French ecclesiastics who had political leanings opposed to Joan's, and who thus had a priori a negative judgment on her person and her mission. This trial is a moving page of the history of sanctity and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church that, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is "at the same time holy and always in need of being purified" ("Lumen Gentium," 8). It was the dramatic meeting between this saint and her judges, who were ecclesiastics. Joan was accused and judged by them, to the point of being condemned as a heretic and sent to the terrible death of the stake. As opposed to the holy theologians who had illuminated the University of Paris, such as St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken in other catecheses, these judges were theologians lacking in charity and humility to see in this young woman the action of God. Jesus' words come to mind according to which the mysteries of God are revealed to those that have the heart of little ones, while they remain hidden from the learned and wise who are not humble (cf. Luke 10:21). Thus Joan's judges were radically incapable of understanding her, of seeing the beauty of her soul: They did not know they were condemning a saint.
Joan's appeal to the pope's intervention on May 24 was rejected by the court. On the morning of May 30 she received holy Communion for the last time in prison, and immediately after she was taken to her ordeal in the square of the old market. She asked one of the priests to put in front of the stake the cross of the procession. Thus she died looking at Jesus crucified and pronouncing many times and in a loud voice the Name of Jesus (PNul, I, p. 457; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 435). Almost 25 years later, the Trial of Nullity, opened under the authority of Pope Calixtus III, concluded with a solemn sentence that declared the condemnation null and void (July 7, 1456; PNul, II, p. 604-610). This long trial, which includes the statements of witnesses and judgments of many theologians, all favorable to Joan, highlights her innocence and her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 by Benedict XV.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our saint up to the last moments of her earthly life, was like the breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the center of her whole life. The "mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc," which so fascinated the poet Charles Peguy, is this total love of Jesus, and of her neighbor in Jesus and for Jesus. This saint understood that love embraces the whole reality of God and of man, of heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus was always in the first place during her whole life, according to her beautiful affirmation: "Serve God first" (PCon, I, p. 288; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 223).
To love him means to always obey his will. She said with total confidence and abandonment: "I entrust myself to my Creator God, I love him with my whole heart" (Ibid., p. 337). With the vow of virginity, Joan consecrated in an exclusive way her whole person to the one Love of Jesus: It is "her promise made to our Lord to protect well her virginity of body and soul" (Ibid., p. 149-150). Virginity of soul is the state of grace, the supreme value, for her more precious than life: It was a gift of God that she received and protected with humility and trust. One of the best known texts of the first trial has to do with this: "Asked if she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to put me there'" (Ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005).
Our saint lived prayer as a form of continuous dialogue with the Lord, who also enlightened her answers to the judges, giving her peace and security. She prayed with faith: "Sweetest God, in honor of your holy Passion, I ask you, if you love me, to reveal to me how I must answer these men of the Church" (Ibid., p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the "King of Heaven and Earth." Thus, on her standard, Joan had the image painted of "Our Lord who sustains the world" (Ibid., p. 172), icon of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice, which Joan carried out in charity, out of love for Jesus. Hers is a beautiful example of holiness for the laity who work in political life, above all in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every choice, as another great saint would testify a century later, the Englishman Thomas More. In Jesus, Joan also contemplated the reality of the Church, the "triumphant Church" of Heaven, and the "militant Church" of earth. According to her words, Our Lord and the Church are one "whole" (Ibid., p. 166). This affirmation quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of the Trial of Conviction, in face of the judges, men of the Church, who persecuted her and condemned her. In the love of Jesus, Joan found the strength to love the Church to the end, including at the moment of her conviction.
I am pleased to recall how St. Joan of Arc had a profound influence on a young saint of the modern age: Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In a completely different life, spent in the cloister, the Carmelite of Lisieux felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and taking part in the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of the world. The Church has joined them as patronesses of France, after the Virgin Mary. St. Thérèse expressed her desire to die like Joan, pronouncing the Name of Jesus (Manuscript B, 3r); she was animated by the same love for Jesus and her neighbor, lived in consecrated virginity.
Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous testimony, St. Joan of Arc invites us to a lofty level of Christian life: to make prayer the guiding thread of our days; to have full confidence in fulfilling the will of God, whatever it is; to live in charity without favoritisms, without limits and having, as she had, in the love of Jesus, a profound love for the Church. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Joan of Arc, one of the outstanding women of the later Middle Ages. Raised in a religious family, Joan enjoyed mystical experiences from an early age. At a time of crisis in the Church and of war in her native France, she felt God's call to a life of prayer and virginity, and to personal engagement in the liberation of her compatriots. At the age of seventeen, Joan began her mission among the French military forces; she sought to negotiate a just Christian peace between the English and the French, took an active part in the siege of Orleans and witnessed the coronation of Charles VII at Rheims. Captured by her enemies the next year, she was tried by an ecclesiastical court and burnt at the stake as a heretic; she died invoking the name of Jesus. Her unjust condemnation was overturned twenty-five years later. At the heart of Saint Joan's spirituality was an unfailing love for Christ and, in Christ, for the Church and for her neighbor. May the prayers and example of Saint Joan of Arc inspire many lay men and women to devote themselves to public life in the service of God's Kingdom, and encourage all of us to live to the fullest our lofty calling in Christ.
On St. Catherine of Genoa
"Love Itself Purifies [the Soul] From Its Dross of Sin"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2011 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. In his address, continuing the series of catecheses on the saints, he reflected on the figure of St. Catherine of Genoa, of the 15th century.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Today I would like to speak about another saint who, like Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Bologna, is also called Catherine; I am speaking of Catherine of Genoa, who is best known for her visions of purgatory.
The text that tells us about her life and thought was published in the Ligurian city in 1551; it is divided in three parts: "Vita," (Life) on her life itself; "Dimostratione et dechiaratione del purgatorio" (Demonstration and Declaration of Purgatory) -- better known as "Trattato" (Treatise on Purgatory); and "Dialogo tra l’anima e il corpo" (Dialogues on the Soul and Body). The compiler of Catherine's work was her confessor, the priest Cattaneo Marabotto.
Catherine was born in Genoa in 1447, the last of five children. She lost her father, Giacomo Fieschi, when she was very young. Her mother, Francesca di Negro, educated them in a Christian way, so much so that the elder of her two daughters became a religious. At 16, Catherine was married to Giuliano Adorno, a man who, after several experiences in the area of trade and in the military world in the Middle East, had returned to Genoa to get married. Their conjugal life was not easy, above all because of the husband's character [and his] affection for games of chance. Catherine herself in the beginning was induced to lead a worldly life, in which she did not find serenity. After 10 years, she had a feeling of profound emptiness and bitterness in her heart.
Her conversion began on March 20, 1473, thanks to an unusual experience. Catherine went to the church of St. Benedict and to the monastery of Our Lady of Graces for confession and, kneeling before the priest, "I received," as she herself writes, "a wound in my heart of the immense love of God," and such a clear vision of her miseries and defects, and at the same time of the goodness of God, that she almost fainted. She was wounded in her heart by the knowledge of herself, of the life she led and of the goodness of God. Born from this experience was the decision that oriented her whole life, which expressed in words was: "No more world, no more sin" (cf. Vita Mirabile, 3rv). Catherine then left, leaving her confession interrupted. When she returned home, she went to the most isolated room and thought for a long time. At that moment she was inwardly instructed on prayer and became conscious of God's love for her, a sinner -- a spiritual experience that she was unable to express in words (cf. Vita Mirabile, 4r). It was on this occasion that the suffering Jesus appeared to her, carrying the cross, as he is often represented in the iconography of the saint. A few days later, she returned to the priest to finally make a good confession. The "life of purification" began here, a life that for a long time caused her to suffer a constant pain for the sins committed and drove her to impose penances and sacrifices on herself to show her love of God.
On this path, Catherine became increasingly close to the Lord, until she entered what is known as the "unitive life," that is, a relationship of profound union with God. She wrote in her "Life" that her soul was guided and trained only by the gentle love of God, who gave her everything she needed. Catherine so abandoned herself in the Lord's hands that she lived, almost 25 years, as she wrote, "without the need of any creature, only instructed and governed by God" (Vita, 117r-118r), nourished above all on constant prayer and Holy Communion received every day, something unusual at that time. Only years later, the Lord gave her a priest to care for her soul.
Catherine was always reluctant to confide and manifest her experience of mystical communion with God, above all because of the profound humility she felt before the Lord's graces. Only in the perspective of giving him glory and being able to help others in their spiritual journey, was she convinced to recount what had happened at the moment of her conversion, which was her original and fundamental experience.
The place of her ascent to mystical summits was the hospital of Pammatone, the largest hospital complex in Genoa, of which she was director and leader. Thus, Catherine lived a totally active life, despite the profundity of her interior life. In Pammatone a group of followers, disciples and collaborators was formed around her, fascinated by her life of faith and her charity. She succeeded in having her husband himself, Giuliano Adorno, abandon his dissipated life, become a Franciscan tertiary and go to the hospital to help her. Catherine's participation in the care of the sick went on until the last days of her earthly journey, Sept. 15, 1510. From her conversion to her death, there were no extraordinary events; only two elements characterized her whole existence: on one hand, her mystical experience, that is, her profound union with God, lived as a spousal union, and on the other, care of the sick, the organization of the hospital, service to her neighbor, especially the most abandoned and needy. These two poles -- God and neighbor -- filled her life, which was spent practically within the walls of the hospital.
Dear friends, we must not forget that the more we love God and are constant in prayer, the more we will truly love those who are around us, those who are close to us, because we will be able to see in every person the face of the Lord, who loves without limits or distinctions. Mysticism does not create distances with others; it does not create an abstract life, but brings one closer to others because one begins to see and act with the eyes, with the heart of God.
Catherine's thought on purgatory, for which she is particularly known, is condensed in the last two parts of the book mentioned at the beginning: "Treatise on Purgatory" and "Dialogues on the Soul and Body." It is important to observe that, in her mystical experience, Catherine never had specific revelations on purgatory or on souls that are being purified there. However, in the writings inspired by our saint purgatory is a central element, and the way of describing it has original characteristics in relation to her era.
The first original feature refers to the "place" of the purification of souls. In her time [purgatory] was presented primarily with recourse to images connected to space: There was thought of a certain space where purgatory would be found. For Catherine, instead, purgatory is not represented as an element of the landscape of the core of the earth; it is a fire that is not exterior but interior. This is purgatory, an interior fire. The saint speaks of the soul's journey of purification to full communion with God, based on her own experience of profound sorrow for the sins committed, in contrast to the infinite love of God (cf. Vita Mirabile, 171v). We have heard about the moment of her conversion, when Catherine suddenly felt God's goodness, the infinite distance of her life from this goodness and a burning fire within her. And this is the fire that purifies, it is the interior fire of purgatory. Here also there is an original feature in relation to the thought of the era. She does not begin, in fact, from the beyond to narrate the torments of purgatory -- as was usual at that time and perhaps also today -- and then indicate the path for purification or conversion. Instead our saint begins from her own interior experience of her life on the path to eternity. The soul, says Catherine, appears before God still bound to the desires and the sorrow that derive from sin, and this makes it impossible for it to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God. Catherine affirms that God is so pure and holy that the soul with stains of sin cannot be in the presence of the Divine Majesty (cf. Vita Mirabile, 177r). And we also realize how far we are, how full we are of so many things, so that we cannot see God. The soul is conscious of the immense love and perfect justice of God and, in consequence, suffers for not having responded correctly and perfectly to that love, and that is why the love itself of God becomes a flame. Love itself purifies it from its dross of sin.
Theological and mystical sources typical of the era can be found in Catherine's work. Particularly there is an image from Dionysius the Areopagite: that of the golden thread that unites the human heart with God himself. When God has purified man, he ties him with a very fine thread of gold, which is his love, and attracts him to himself with such strong affection that man remains as "overcome and conquered and altogether outside himself." Thus the human heart is invaded by the love of God, which becomes the only guide, the sole motor of his existence (cf. Vita Mirabile, 246rv). This situation of elevation to God and of abandonment to his will, expressed in the image of the thread, is used by Catherine to express the action of the divine light on souls in purgatory, light that purifies them and elevates them to the splendors of the shining rays of God (cf. Vita Mirabile, 179r).
Dear friends, the saints, in their experience of union with God, reach such profound "knowledge" of the divine mysteries, in which love and knowledge are fused, that they are of help to theologians themselves in their task of study, of "intelligentia fidei," of "intelligentia" of the mysteries of the faith, of real deepening in the mysteries, for example, of what purgatory is.
With her life, St. Catherine teaches us that the more we love God and enter into intimacy with him in prayer, the more he lets himself be known and enkindles our heart with his love. Writing on purgatory, the saint reminds us of a fundamental truth of the faith that becomes for us an invitation to pray for the deceased so that they can attain the blessed vision of God in the communion of saints (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1032). Moreover, the humble, faithful and generous service that the saint gave during her whole life in the hospital of Pammatone is a luminous example of charity for all and a special encouragement for women who give an essential contribution to society and to the Church with their precious work, enriched by their sensitivity and by the care of the poorest and neediest. Thank you.
 cf. "Libro de la Vita mirabile et dottrina santa, de la beata Caterinetta da Genoa" (Book of the Life and Doctrine of St. Catherine of Genoa), which contains a useful and Catholic demonstration and declaration of purgatory, Genoa, 1551.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Catherine of Genoa, a fifteenth-century saint best known for her vision of purgatory. Married at an early age, some ten years later Catherine had a powerful experience of conversion; Jesus, carrying his cross, appeared to her, revealing both her own sinfulness and God's immense love. A woman of great humility, she combined constant prayer and mystical union with a life of charitable service to those in need, above all in her work as the director of the largest hospital in Genoa. Catherine's writings on purgatory contain no specific revelations, but convey her understanding of purgatory as an interior fire purifying the soul in preparation for full communion with God. Conscious of God's infinite love and justice, the soul is pained by its inadequate response, even as the divine love purifies it from the remnants of sin. To describe this purifying power of God's love, Catherine uses the image of a golden chain which draws the soul to abandon itself to the divine will. By her life and teaching, Saint Catherine of Genoa reminds us of the importance of prayer for the faithful departed, and invites us to devote ourselves more fully to prayer and to works of practical charity.
I am pleased to greet the many university students present at today's Audience. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Finland, Malta, China, Indonesia and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Catherine of Bologna
"She Identifies Seven Weapons in the Fight Against Evil"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 15, 2011- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Dec. 29 during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. In his address, continuing the series of catecheses on the saints, he reflected on the figure of St. Catherine of Bologna.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a recent Catechesis I spoke of St Catherine of Siena. Today I would like to present to you another less well known Saint who has the same name: St Catherine of Bologna, a very erudite yet very humble woman. She was dedicated to prayer but was always ready to serve; generous in sacrifice but full of joy in welcoming Christ with the Cross.
Catherine was born in Bologna on 8 September 1413, the eldest child of Benvenuta Mammolini and John de' Vigri, a rich and cultured patrician of Ferrara, a doctor in law and a public lector in Padua, where he carried out diplomatic missions for Nicholas III d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara.
Not much information about Catherine's infancy and childhood is available and not all of it is reliable. As a child she lived in her grandparents' house in Bologna, where she was brought up by relatives, especially by her mother who was a woman of deep faith.
With her, Catherine moved to Ferrara when she was about 10 years old and entered the court of Nicholas III d'Este as lady-in-waiting to Margaret, Nicholas' illegitimate daughter. The Marquis was transforming Ferrara into a fine city, summoning artists and scholars from various countries. He encouraged culture and, although his private life was not exemplary, took great care of the spiritual good, moral conduct and education of his subjects.
In Ferrara Catherine was unaware of the negative aspects that are often part and parcel of court life. She enjoyed Margaret's friendship and became her confidante. She developed her culture by studying music, painting and dancing; she learned to write poetry and literary compositions and to play the viola; she became expert in the art of miniature-painting and copying; she perfected her knowledge of Latin.
In her future monastic life she was to put to good use the cultural and artistic heritage she had acquired in these years. She learned with ease, enthusiasm and tenacity. She showed great prudence, as well as an unusual modesty, grace and kindness in her behaviour.
However, one absolutely clear trait distinguished her: her spirit, constantly focused on the things of Heaven. In 1427, when she was only 14 years old and subsequent to certain family events, Catherine decided to leave the court to join a group of young noble women who lived a community life dedicating themselves to God. Her mother trustingly consented in spite of having other plans for her daughter.
We know nothing of Catherine's spiritual path prior to this decision. Speaking in the third person, she states that she entered God's service, "illumined by divine grace... with an upright conscience and great fervour", attentive to holy prayer by night and by day, striving to acquire all the virtues she saw in others, "not out of envy but the better to please God in whom she had placed all her love" (Le sette armi necessarie alla battaglia spirituali, [The seven spiritual weapons], VII, 8, Bologna 1998, p. 12).
She made considerable spiritual progress in this new phase of her life but her trials, her inner suffering and especially the temptations of the devil were great and terrible. She passed through a profound spiritual crisis and came to the brink of despair (cf. ibid., VII, 2, pp. 12-29). She lived in the night of the spirit, and was also deeply shaken by the temptation of disbelief in the Eucharist.
After so much suffering, the Lord comforted her: he gave her, in a vision, a clear awareness of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, an awareness so dazzling that Catherine was unable to express it in words (cf. ibid., VIII, 2. pp. 42-46).
In this same period a sorrowful trial afflicted the community: tension arose between those who wished to follow the Augustinian spirituality and those who had more of an inclination for Franciscan spirituality.
Between 1429 and 1430, Lucia Mascheroni, in charge of the group, decided to found an Augustinian monastery. Catherine, on the other hand chose with others to bind herself to the Rule of St Clare of Assisi. It was a gift of Providence, because the community dwelled in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Spirit, annexed to the convent of the Friars Minor who had adhered to the movement of the Observance.
Thus Catherine and her companions could take part regularly in liturgical celebrations and receive adequate spiritual assistance. They also had the joy of listening to the preaching of St Bernardine of Siena (cf. ibid., VII, 62, p. 26). Catherine recounts that in 1429 - the third year since her conversion - she went to make her confession to one of the Friars Minor whom she esteemed, she made a good Confession and prayed the Lord intensely to grant her forgiveness for all her sins and the suffering connected with them.
In a vision God revealed to her that he had forgiven her everything. It was a very strong experience of divine mercy which left an indelible mark upon her, giving her a fresh impetus to respond generously to God's immense love (cf. ibid. IX, 2, pp. 46-48).
In 1431 she had a vision of the Last Judgement. The terrifying spectacle of the damned impelled her to redouble her prayers and penance for the salvation of sinners. The devil continued to assail her and she entrusted herself ever more totally to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary (cf. ibid., X, 3, pp. 53-54).
In her writings, Catherine has left us a few essential notes concerning this mysterious battle from which, with God's grace, she emerged victorious. She did so in order to instruct her sisters and those who intend to set out on the path of perfection: she wanted to put them on their guard against the temptations of the devil who often conceals himself behind deceptive guises, later to sow doubts about faith, vocational uncertainty and sensuality.
In her autobiographical and didactic treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons, Catherine offers in this regard teaching of deep wisdom and profound discernment. She speaks in the third person in reporting the extraordinary graces which the Lord gives to her and in the first person in confessing her sins. From her writing transpires the purity of her faith in God, her profound humility, the simplicity of her heart, her missionary zeal, her passion for the salvation of souls. She identifies seven weapons in the fight against evil, against the devil:
1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!
In the convent Catherine, in spite of being accustomed to the court in Ferrara, served in the offices of laundress, dressmaker and breadmaker and even looked after the animals. She did everything, even the lowliest tasks, with love and ready obedience, offering her sisters a luminous witness. Indeed she saw disobedience as that spiritual pride which destroys every other virtue. Out of obedience she accepted the office of novice mistress, although she considered herself unfit for this office, and God continued to inspire her with his presence and his gifts: in fact she proved to be a wise and appreciated mistress.
Later the service of the parlour was entrusted to her. She found it trying to have to interrupt her prayers frequently in order to respond to those who came to the monastery grill, but this time too the Lord did not fail to visit her and to be close to her.
With her the monastery became an increasingly prayerful place of self-giving, of silence, of endeavour and of joy.
Upon the death of the abbess, the superiors thought immediately of her, but Catherine urged them to turn to the Poor Clares of Mantua who were better instructed in the Constitutions and in religious observance.
Nevertheless, a few years later, in 1456, she was asked at her monastery to open a new foundation in Bologna. Catherine would have preferred to end her days in Ferrara, but the Lord appeared to her and exhorted her to do God's will by going to Bologna as abbess. She prepared herself for the new commitment with fasting, scourging and penance.
She went to Bologna with 18 sisters. As superior she set the example in prayer and in service; she lived in deep humility and poverty. At the end of her three-year term as abbess she was glad to be replaced but after a year she was obliged to resume her office because the newly elected abbess became blind. Although she was suffering and was afflicted with serious ailments that tormented her, she carried out her service with generosity and dedication.
For another year she urged her sisters to an evangelical life, to patience and constancy in trial, to fraternal love, to union with the divine Bridegroom, Jesus, so as to prepare her dowry for the eternal nuptials.
It was a dowry that Catherine saw as knowing how to share the sufferings of Christ, serenely facing hardship, apprehension, contempt and misunderstanding (cf. Le sette armi spirituali, X, 20, pp. 57-58).
At the beginning of 1463 her health deteriorated. For the last time she gathered the sisters in Chapter, to announce her death to them and to recommend the observance of the Rule. Towards the end of February she was harrowed by terrible suffering that was never to leave her, yet despite her pain it was she who comforted her sisters, assuring them that she would also help them from Heaven.
After receiving the last Sacraments, she give her confessor the text she had written: The Seven Spiritual Weapons, and entered her agony; her face grew beautiful and translucent; she still looked lovingly at those who surrounded her and died gently, repeating three times the name of Jesus. It was 9 March 1463 (cf. I. Bembo, Specchio di illuminazione, Vita di S. Caterina a Bologna, Florence 2001, chap. III). Catherine was to be canonized by Pope Clement XI on 22 May 1712. Her incorrupt body is preserved in the city of Bologna, in the chapel of the monastery of Corpus Domini.
Dear friends, with her words and with her life, St Catherine of Bologna is a pressing invitation to let ourselves always be guided by God, to do his will daily, even if it often does not correspond with our plans, to trust in his Providence which never leaves us on our own. In this perspective, St Catherine speaks to us; from the distance of so many centuries she is still very modern and speaks to our lives.
She, like us, suffered temptations, she suffered the temptations of disbelief, of sensuality, of a difficult spiritual struggle. She felt forsaken by God, she found herself in the darkness of faith. Yet in all these situations she was always holding the Lord's hand, she did not leave him, she did not abandon him. And walking hand in hand with the Lord, she walked on the right path and found the way of light.
So it is that she also tells us: take heart, even in the night of faith, even amidst our many doubts, do not let go of the Lord's hand, walk hand in hand with him, believe in God's goodness. This is how to follow the right path!
And I would like to stress another aspect: her great humility. She was a person who did not want to be someone or something; she did not care for appearances, she did not want to govern. She wanted to serve, to do God's will, to be at the service of others. And for this very reason Catherine was credible in her authority, because she was able to see that for her authority meant, precisely, serving others.
On St. Veronica Giuliani
"She Interpreted Everything in a Key of Love"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to present a mystic who is not of the Medieval Age; it is St. Veronica Giuliani, a Capuchin Poor Clare. The reason is that Dec. 27 is the 350th anniversary of her birth. Citta di Castello, the place where she lived the longest and where she died, as well as Mercatello -- her native country -- and the Diocese of Urbino celebrate this event joyfully.
Veronica was born precisely on Dec. 27, 1660, in Mercatello, in the valley of Metauro, to Francesco Giuliani and Benedetta Mancini. She was the last of seven sisters, an additional three of whom embraced the monastic life. She was given the name Ursula. She lost her mother at 7, and her father moved to Piacenza as superintendent of customs of the duchy of Parma. In this city, Ursula felt a growing desire to dedicate her life to Christ. The call was ever more pressing, so much so that at 17 she entered the strict cloister of the monastery of the Capuchin Poor Clares of Citta di Castello, where she would remain the whole of her life.
There she received the name Veronica, which means "true image," and, in fact, she would become a true image of Christ Crucified. A year later she made her solemn religious profession. The journey began for her configuration to Christ through much penance, great suffering and certain mystical experiences linked with the Passion of Jesus: the crowning of thorns, the mystical espousal, the wound in her heart and the stigmata. In 1716, at 56, she became abbess of the monastery and was confirmed in this role until her death, which occurred in 1727, after a most painful agony of 33 days that culminated in a profound joy, so much so that her last words were: "I have found Love, Love has allowed Himself to be seen! This is the cause of my suffering. Tell it to everyone, tell it to everyone!" (Summarium Beatificationis, 115-120).
She left her earthly dwelling on July 9 for her encounter with God. She was 67 years old; 50 of those years she spent in the monastery of Citta di Castello. She was proclaimed a saint on May 26, 1893, by Pope Gregory XVI.
Veronica Giuliani wrote much: letters, autobiographical reports, poems. However, the main source to reconstruct her thought is her "Diary," begun in 1693: a good 22,000 handwritten pages, which cover an expanse of 34 years of cloistered life. The writing flows spontaneously and continuously. There are no cancellations or corrections, punctuation marks or distribution of the material in chapters or parts according to a pre-established plan. Veronica did not wish to compose a literary work; instead, she was obliged to put her experiences into writing by Father Girolamo Bastianelli, a religious of the Filippini, in agreement with the diocesan bishop Antonio Eustachi.
St. Veronica has a markedly Christ-centered and spousal spirituality: Hers is the experience of being loved by Christ, the faithful and sincere Spouse, and of wanting to correspond with an ever more involved and impassioned love. She interpreted everything in a key of love, and this infuses in her a profound serenity. Everything is lived in union with Christ, for love of him, and with the joy of being able to demonstrate to him all the love of which a creature is capable.
The Christ to whom Veronica is profoundly united is the suffering Christ of the passion, death and resurrection; it is Jesus in the act of offering himself to the Father to save us. From this experience derives also the intense and suffering love for the Church, and the twofold way of prayer and offering. The saint lived from this point of view: She prays, suffers, seeks "holy poverty," as "dispossessed," loss of self (cf. ibid., III, 523), precisely to be like Christ, who gave his whole self.
In every page of her writings Veronica entrusts someone to the Lord, strengthening her prayers of intercession with the offering of herself in every suffering. Her heart dilated to all "the needs of the Holy Church," living with longing the desire of the salvation of "the whole world" (ibid., III-IV, passim).
Veronica cried out: "O sinners ... come to Jesus' heart; come to the cleansing of his most precious blood ... he awaits you with open arms to embrace you" (Ibid., II, 16-17). Animated by an ardent charity, she gave care, understanding and forgiveness to the sisters of the monastery. She offered her prayers and sacrifices for the Pope, her bishop, priests and for all needy persons, including the souls in Purgatory. She summarized her contemplative mission in these words: "We cannot go preaching around the world to convert souls, but we are obliged to pray continually for all those souls who are offending God ... particularly with our sufferings, that is with a principle of crucified life" (Ibid., IV, 877). Our saint conceived this mission as a "being in the middle" between men and God, between sinners and Christ Crucified.
Veronica profoundly lived participation in the suffering love of Jesus, certain that "to suffer with joy" is the "key of love" (cf. ibid., I, 299.417; III, 330.303.871;IV, 192). She evidences that Jesus suffers for men's sins, but also for the sufferings that his faithful servants had to endure in the course of the centuries, in the time of the Church, precisely because of their solid and coherent faith. She wrote: "The Eternal Father made him see and feel at that point all the sufferings that his elect would have to endure, his dearest souls, that is, those who would know how to benefit from his Blood and from all his sufferings" (ibid., II, 170). As the Apostle Paul says of himself: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24).
Veronica even asks Jesus to be crucified with him. "In an instant," she wrote, "I saw issue from his most holy wounds five shining rays; and all came to my face. And I saw these rays become as little flames. In four of them were the nails; and in one of them was the lance, as of gold, all red hot: and it pierced my heart, from one side to the other ... and the nails went through the hands and feet. I felt great pain; but, in the very pain I saw myself, I felt myself all transformed in God" (Diary, I, 897).
The saint was convinced she was participating already in the Kingdom of God, but at the same time she invoked all the saints of the Blessed Homeland to come to her aid on the earthly journey of her self-giving, while awaiting eternal blessedness; this was the constant aspiration of her life (cf. ibid., II, 909; V, 246). In regard to preaching of the time, not rarely centered on "saving one's soul" in individual terms, Veronica shows a strong "sense of solidarity," a sense of communion with all brothers and sisters on the way to heaven, and she lives, prays and suffers for all. The earthly, penultimate things, instead, although appreciated in the Franciscan sense as gift of the Creator, were always relative, altogether subordinate to the "taste" of God and under the sign of a radical poverty. In the communio sanctorum, she clarifies her ecclesial donation, as well as the relationship between the pilgrim Church and the heavenly Church. "All the saints," she wrote, "are up there through the merits and the Passion of Jesus; but they cooperated with all that the Lord did, so that their life was all ordered ... regulated by (his) very works" (ibid., III, 203).
In Veronica's writings we find many biblical quotations, at times indirectly, but always precise: She shows familiarity with the sacred text, from which her spiritual experience is nourished. Revealed, moreover, is that the intense moments of Veronica's mystical experience are never separated from the salvific events celebrated in the liturgy, where the proclamation and hearing of the Word of God has a particular place. Hence, sacred Scripture illumines, purifies and confirms Veronica's experience, rendering it ecclesial. On the other hand, however, precisely her experience, anchored in sacred Scripture with an uncommon intensity, guides one to a more profound and "spiritual" reading of the text itself, to enter into the hidden profundity of the text. She not only expresses herself with the words of sacred Scripture, but she also really lives from these words, they become life in her.
For example, our saint often quotes the expression of the Apostle Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31; cf. Diary, I, 714; II, 116.1021; III, 48). In her, the assimilation of this Pauline text, her great trust and profound joy, becomes a fait accompli in her very person: "My soul," she wrote, "was connected to the divine will and I was truly established and fixed in the will of God. It seems to me that I could never again be separated from this will of God and turn to myself with these precise words: nothing will be able to separate me from the will of God, not anxieties, or sorrows, or toil, or contempt, or temptations, or creatures, or demons, or darkness, and not even death itself, because, in life and in death, I will everything and in everything, the will of God" (Diary, IV, 272). Thus we have the certainty that death is not the last word, we are fixed in the will of God and so, really, in everlasting life.
In particular, Veronica shows herself to be a courageous witness of the beauty and the power of Divine Love, which draws, pervades and inflames her. It is crucified Love that imprinted itself on her flesh, as in that of St. Francis of Assisi, with the stigmata of Jesus. "My Bride," the crucified Christ whispers to me, "the penances you do for those who are in my disgrace are dear to me ... Then, detaching an arm from the cross, he made a sign to me to draw near to his side ... and I found myself in the arms of the Crucified. What I experienced at that point I cannot recount: I would have liked to remain always in his most holy side" (ibid.., I, 37). This is also an image of her spiritual journey, of her interior life: to be in the embrace of the Crucified and thus to be in Christ's love for others.
Also with the Virgin Mary, Veronica lived a relationship of profound intimacy, attested by the words she heard Our Lady say one day and which she reports in her Diary: "I will make you rest on my breast, you are united with my soul, and from it you were taken as in flight to God" (IV, 901).
St. Veronica Giuliani invites us to make our Christian life grow, our union with the Lord in being for others, abandoning ourselves to his will with complete and total trust, and to union with the Church, Bride of Christ; she invites us to participate in the suffering love of Jesus Crucified for the salvation of all sinners; she invites us to fix our gaze on Paradise, the goal of our earthly journey, where we will live together with so many brothers and sisters the joy of full communion with God; she invites us to nourish ourselves daily from the Word of God to warm our hearts and give direction to our life. The last words of the saint can be considered the synthesis of her passionate mystical experience: "I have found Love, Love has let himself be seen!" Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Veronica Giuliani, a Capuchin Poor Clare and mystic who was born three hundred and fifty years ago this month. Saint Veronica, true to the name she took in religion, became a "true image" of Christ crucified; her configuration to the Lord was accompanied by profound mystical experiences such as her crowning with thorns and the stigmata. Veronica's spirituality, as revealed above all in her Diary, is Christ-centred and spousal: she saw all things in the light of Christ's love, manifested in his Passion, and she united herself to his self-oblation to the Father for the salvation of souls. Her love of the Scriptures was deeply linked to her love of the Church and her strong sense of the communion of the saints. Veronica's passionate mystical experience can be summed up in the words she spoke on her deathbed: "I have found Love." May the life and teaching of Saint Veronica Giuliani inspire us to grow in union with the Lord and his Church, and to share in Christ's loving concern for the salvation of sinners.
I extend a warm welcome and prayerful good wishes to the priest alumni of the Pontifical North American College celebrating their fortieth anniversary of priestly ordination. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Ireland and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God's abundant blessings.
Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Julian of Norwich
"God's Promises Are Always Greater Than Our Hopes"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 1, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
I am still remembering with great joy the journey I made to the United Kingdom last September. England is a land that has given birth to so many illustrious figures who with their testimony and their teaching have embellished the history of the Church. One of these, venerated both by the Catholic Church as well as the Anglican Communion, is the mystic Julian of Norwich, of whom I would like to speak this morning.
The information we have on her life -- not much -- is taken primarily from the book in which this kind and pious woman gathered the content of her visions, titled "Revelations of Divine Love." It is known that she lived from 1342 to about 1430, years of torment both for the Church, lacerated by the schism following the Pope's return from Avignon to Rome, as well as for the people suffering the consequences of a long war between the kingdom of England and that of France. God, however, even in times of tribulation, does not cease to raise figures such as Julian of Norwich, to call men back to peace, love and joy.
As she herself recounts, in May of 1373, probably on the 13th of that month, she was suddenly stricken by a very serious illness that in three days seemed to bring her to the point of death. When the priest who came to her bedside showed her the crucifix, Julian not only quickly recovered her health, but received 16 revelations that subsequently she reported in writing and commented in her book, "Revelations of Divine Love." And it was in fact the Lord who, 15 years after these extraordinary events, revealed to her the meaning of those visions. "Do you wish to know what your Lord intended and to know the meaning of this revelation? Know well: Love is what he intended. Who reveals this to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? Out of love ... So learn that love is our Lord's meaning" (Julian of Norwich, "Il Libro delle Rivelazioni," Chapter 86, Milan, 1997, p. 320).
Inspired by divine love, Julian made a radical choice. Like one of the ancient hermits, she chose to live in a cell, which was near a church dedicated to St. Julian, in the city of Norwich, at the time a very important urban center, near London. Perhaps she took the name Julian precisely from that saint to whom the church was dedicated and next to which she lived for so many years, until her death. We might be surprised and even perplexed by this decision to live as a "recluse," as this was called in her time. However, she was not alone in making this choice: During those centuries a considerable number of women opted for this kind of life, adopting rules elaborated purposefully for them, such as that composed by St. Aelred of Rievaulx. The anchorites or "recluses" dedicated themselves within their cells to prayer, meditation and study. In this way, they developed a very fine human and religious sensitivity, which made them venerated by the people. Men and women of every age and condition, in need of advice and comfort, sought them devotedly. Hence, it was not an individualistic choice; precisely with this closeness to the Lord, what matured in her also was the capacity to be a counselor to many, to help those who lived in difficulty in this life.
We know that Julian also received frequent visitors, as attested in the autobiography of another fervent Christian woman of her time, Margery Kempe, who went to Norwich in 1413 to receive suggestions on her spiritual life. This is why when Julian was alive she was called, as is written on the funeral monument that houses her remains, "Mother Julian." She became a mother for many.
The women and men who withdraw to live in the company of God, precisely because of this decision, acquire a great sense of compassion for the sorrows and weaknesses of others. As friends of God, they have a wisdom that the world, from which they distance themselves, does not have. And with kindness, they share it with those who knock on their door. I am thinking, hence, with admiration and gratitude, of women's and men's cloistered monasteries that, today more than ever, are oases of peace and hope, precious treasures for the whole Church, especially in recalling the primacy of God and the importance of constant and intense prayer for the journey of faith.
It was precisely in the solitude inhabited by God that Julian of Norwich composed the "Revelations of Divine Love," of which we have two editions, a shorter one this is probably older, and a longer one. This book contains a message of optimism based on the certainty of being loved by God and of being protected by his Providence. In this book we read the following wonderful words: "I saw with absolute certainty ... that God, even before creating us loved us, with a love that has never failed, and will never vanish. And in this love he did all his works, and in this love he disposed that all things should be useful for us, and in this love our life lasts for ever ... In this love we have our beginning, and we see all this in God without end" (Ill libro delle rivelazioni, chapter 86, p. 320).
The subject of divine love returns often in the visions of Julian of Norwich who, with a certain audacity, does not hesitate to compare it also to maternal love. This is one of the most characteristic messages of her mystical theology. Tenderness, solicitude and the gentleness of God's goodness to us are so great that, to us pilgrims on earth, they evoke the love of a mother for her children. Indeed, at times the biblical prophets also used this language that recalls the tenderness, intensity and totality of the love of God, which manifests itself in creation and in the whole history of salvation and has its culmination in the incarnation of the Son. God, however, always surpasses every human love, as the prophet Isaiah says: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even if these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15).
Julian of Norwich understood the central message for the spiritual life: God is love and only when we open ourselves totally and with total trust to this love and allow it to become the sole guide of existence, is everything transfigured, true peace and true joy are found and one is able to spread this around.
I would like to stress another point. The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up the words of Julian of Norwich when it gives the point of view of the Catholic faith on an issue that does not cease to constitute a provocation for all believers (cf. Nos. 304-314). If God is supremely good and wise, why does evil and the suffering of the innocent exist? Saints as well, precisely the saints, ask themselves this question. Enlightened by faith, they give us an answer that opens our heart to trust and hope: In the mysterious designs of Providence, even from evil, God draws a greater good, as Julian of Norwich writes: "I learned by the grace of God that I must remain firmly in the faith, and hence I must firmly and perfectly believe that all will end well" (Il libro delle rivelazioni, chapter 32, p. 173).
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, God's promises are always greater than our hopes. If we entrust to God, to his immense love, the most pure and most profound desires of our heart, we will never be disappointed. "And all will be well," "everything will be for the good": This is the final message that Julian of Norwich transmits to us and that I also propose to you today. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Julian of Norwich, an English mystic and anchoress of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Julian is best known for her book, Revelations of Divine Love, which recounts sixteen vision or "showings" which she received during a grave illness. The Revelations are centred on the love of Christ; in Julian's own words: "love is our Lord's meaning." They exude an optimism grounded in the certainty that we are loved by God and protected by his providence; as Julian says, in speaking of God's power to bring good out of evil: "all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well." Julian's mysticism echoes the prophet Isaiah in using the imagery of a mother's love to describe the affectionate care which God shows for his children, culminating in the incarnation of his Son and the fulfilment of his promises. Like so many holy women in every age, in spite of her withdrawal from the world, Julian became a much-sought spiritual guide. In our own lives, may we draw profit from her teaching that God is the love which transforms our lives, bringing joy and peace to our hearts and, through us, to those all around us.
I extend a warm welcome to the many student groups present at today's Audience. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Malaysia, Australia and the United States of America, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Catherine of Siena
"We Can All ... Learn to Love Like Christ"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 24, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about a woman who has had an eminent role in the history of the Church. She is St. Catherine of Siena. The century in which she lived -- the 14th -- was a troubled time for the life of the Church and for the whole social fabric in Italy and Europe.
However, even in the moments of greatest difficulty, the Lord does not cease to bless his People, raising men and women saints who stir minds and hearts, bringing about conversion and renewal. Catherine is one of these and still today she speaks to us and pushes us to walk courageously toward sanctity to be disciples of the Lord in an ever fuller sense.
Born in Siena in 1347 to a very numerous family, she died in her native city in 1380. At 16, moved by a vision of St. Dominic, she entered the Dominican Third Order, in the feminine branch called the Mantellate. She stayed with her family and confirmed the vow of virginity she made privately when she was still an adolescent; she dedicated herself to prayer, penance, and works of charity, above all for the benefit of the sick.
When her fame for sanctity spread, she became the protagonist in an intense activity of spiritual counsel, dealing with all categories of persons: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated persons, ecclesiastics, and including Pope Gregory XI, who at that time resided in Avignon and whom Catherine exhorted energetically and effectively to return to Rome. She traveled a lot to solicit the interior reform of the Church and to foster peace between states. For this reason also the Venerable John Paul II declared her co-patroness of Europe: so that the Old World would never forget its Christian roots that are at the base of its journey and continue to draw from the Gospel the fundamental values that ensure justice and concord.
Catherine suffered much, as have many saints. Some thought in fact that she should not be trusted, to the point that, in 1374, six years before her death, the general chapter of the Dominicans called her to Florence to question her. They assigned her a learned and humble friar, Raymond of Capua, future master-general of the order. Having become her confessor and also her "spiritual son," he wrote the first complete biography of the saint. She was canonized in 1461.
Catherine learned to read with effort and learned to write when she was already an adult. Her doctrine is contained in "The Dialogue of Divine Providence" or "Book of Divine Doctrine," a masterpiece of spiritual literature in a collection of letters and prayers. Her teaching is gifted with such richness that, in 1970, the Servant of God Paul VI declared her a doctor of the Church, a title that was added to that of co-patroness of the city of Rome, by the decision of Blessed Pius IX, and of patroness of Italy, by the decision of the Venerable Pius XII.
In a vision that never left Catherine's heart and mind, Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her: "I, your Creator and Savior, espouse you in the faith, which you will always keep pure until you celebrate with me in heaven your eternal nuptials" (Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 115, Siena 1998). That ring was visible only to her. In this extraordinary episode, we see the vital center of Catherine's religiosity and of every authentic spirituality: Christocentrism. Christ was for her a spouse, with whom she had a relationship of intimacy, communion and faithfulness; he is the cherished good above any other good.
This profound union with the Lord is illustrated by another episode in the life of this famous mystic: the exchange of hearts. According to Raymond of Capua, who transmitted the confidences received by Catherine, the Lord Jesus appeared to her with a bright red human heart in his hand, opened her chest and placed it in her, and said: "Dearest daughter, as the other day I took your heart that you offered to me, behold now I give you mine, and henceforth it will be in the place that yours occupied" (ibid.). Catherine truly lived St. Paul's words, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
Like the Sienese saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed to the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and neighbor as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ, in a familiarity with him nourished by prayer, meditation on the Word of God and the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion.
Catherine also belongs to that rank of Eucharistic saints with which I concluded my apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" (cf. No. 94). Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, reinvigorate our hope, inflame our charity, to make us ever more like him.
A true and authentic spiritual family was built up around such a strong and genuine personality: people fascinated by the authoritative morality of this young woman of an elevated style of life, and at times impressed also by the mystical phenomena they witnessed, such as the frequent ecstasies. Many placed themselves at her service and above all considered it a privilege to be guided spiritually by Catherine. They called her "mamma," because as spiritual children they received the nourishment of the spirit.
Today also the Church receives great benefit from the spiritual maternity of so many women, consecrated and lay, who nourish in souls the thought of God, reinforce people's faith and orient Christian life toward ever higher summits. "Son I say to you and call you," wrote Catherine addressing one of her spiritual sons, the monk Giovanni Sabbatini, "inasmuch as I give you birth by continuous prayers and desire in the presence of God, just as a mother gives birth to a son" (Epistolario, Lettera n. 141: To don Giovanni de' Sabbatini). She would usually address the Dominican friar Bartolomeo de Dominici with these words: "Most beloved and very dear brother and son in Christ sweet Jesus."
Another trait of Catherine's spirituality is connected with the gift of tears. They express an exquisite and profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and tenderness. Not a few saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion of Jesus himself, who did not hold back and hide his tears before the sepulcher of his friend Lazarus and the sorrow of Mary and Martha, and on looking at Jerusalem in his last days on earth. According to Catherine, the tears of saints are mixed with the blood of Christ, of which she spoke with very effective vibrant tones and symbolic images: "Remember Christ crucified, God and man (...). Put before you as object Christ crucified, hide in the wounds of Christ crucified, drown in the blood of Christ crucified" (Epistolario, Lettera n. 16: To one whose name is withheld).
Here we are able to understand why Catherine, though aware of the human defects of priests, always had great reverence for them: Through the sacraments and the Word they dispense the salvific strength of the blood of Christ. The Sienese saint always invited the sacred ministers, including the Pope, whom she called "sweet Christ on earth," to be faithful to their responsibility, moved always and only by their profound and constant love of the Church. Before dying she said: "Leaving the body I, in truth, have consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is for me a most singular grace" (Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 363).
Hence, from St. Catherine we learn the most sublime science: to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church. In the "Dialogue of Divine Providence," she, with a singular image, describes Christ as a bridge flung between heaven and earth. It is made up of three steps constituted by the feet, the side and the mouth of Jesus. Raising itself by these steps, the soul passes through the three stages of every path of sanctification: detachment from sin, practice of the virtues and of love, sweet and affectionate union with God.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn from St. Catherine to love Christ and the Church with courage in an intense and sincere way. Hence, let us make our own the words of St. Catherine that we read in the "Dialogue of Divine Providence," at the end of the chapter that speaks of Christ-bridge: "Through mercy you have washed us in the blood, through mercy you wished to converse with creatures. O Madman of love! It was not enough for you to incarnate yourself, but you also wished to die! (...) O mercy! My heart drowns in thinking of you: for no matter where I turn to think I find only mercy" (chapter 30, pp. 79-80). Thank you
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Catherine of Siena, a Dominican tertiary, a woman of great holiness and a Doctor of the Church. Catherine's spiritual teachings are centred on our union with Christ, the bridge between earth and heaven. Her own virginal entrustment to Christ the Bridegroom was reflected in her celebrated visions. Catherine's life also shows us the importance of the spiritual maternity exercised by so many women in every age. From this great saint let us learn to grow in holiness, love for the Lord and fidelity to his body, the Church.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On a Saint of the Feast of Corpus Christi
"Today in the Church There Is a 'Eucharistic Springtime'"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 17, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning, too, I would like to present to you a little-known woman to whom, however, the Church owes great recognition, not only because of the holiness of her life, but also because, with her great fervor, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important liturgical solemnities of the year, that of Corpus Christi. She is St. Juliana of Cornillon, known also as St. Juliana of Liege. We have certain details of her life above all from a biography probably written by an ecclesiastic contemporary of hers, in which are gathered several testimonies from people who knew the saint directly.
Juliana was born between 1191 and 1192 in the neighborhood of Liege, in Belgium. It is important to stress this place, because at that time the Diocese of Liege was, so to speak, a true "Eucharistic cenacle." Before Juliana, eminent theologians had illustrated the supreme value of the sacrament of the Eucharist and, always at Liege, there were women's groups generously dedicated to Eucharistic worship and to fervent communion. Led by exemplary priests, they lived together, dedicating themselves to prayer and to charitable works.
Orphaned at 5 years of age, Juliana and her sister Agnes were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns of the convent-leper hospital of Mont Cornillon. She was educated above all by a sister named Sapienza, who followed her spiritual maturation, until Juliana herself received the religious habit and became as well an Augustinian nun. She acquired notable learning, to the point that she read the works of the Fathers of the Church in Latin, in particular St. Augustine and St. Bernard. In addition to keen intelligence, Juliana showed from the beginning a particular propensity for contemplation; she had a profound sense of the presence of Christ, which she experienced by living in a particularly intense way the sacrament of the Eucharist and pausing often to meditate on the words of Jesus: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
At 16 she had her first vision, which was then repeated many times in her Eucharistic adorations. The vision showed the moon in its full splendor, with a dark strip that crossed it diametrically. The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth; but the opaque line represented the absence of a liturgical feast. Juliana was asked to do her utmost in an effective way to bring about its institution: a feast, namely, in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist to increase their faith, advance in the practice of virtue and make reparation for offenses to the Most Holy Sacrament.
For about 20 years Juliana, who in the meantime had become prioress of the convent, kept secret this revelation, which had filled her heart with joy. Then she confided in two other fervent adorers of the Eucharist, Blessed Eva, who led an eremitical life, and Isabella, who had joined her in the monastery of Mont Cornillon. The three women established a sort of "spiritual alliance" for the purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Sacrament. They wished to involve also a much esteemed priest, John of Lausanne, canon of the church of St. Martin in Liege, asking him to question theologians and ecclesiastics about what they had in their hearts. The answers were positive and encouraging.
What happened to Juliana of Cornillon is frequently repeated in the life of saints: to have the confirmation that an inspiration comes from God, it is always necessary to be immersed in prayer, to be able to wait with patience, to seek friendship and encounters with other good souls, and to subject everything to the judgment of the pastors of the Church. It was, in fact, the bishop of Liege, Robert of Thourotte, who, after initial hesitations, took up this proposal from Juliana and her companions, and instituted, for the first time, the solemnity of Corpus Domini in his diocese. Later, other bishops imitated him, establishing the same feast in territories entrusted to their pastoral care.
To saints, however, the Lord often asks that they overcome trials, so that their faith is enhanced. This happened also to Juliana, who had to suffer the harsh opposition of some members of the clergy and even of the superior on whom her monastery depended. Then, of her own volition, Juliana left the convent of Mont Cornillon with some companions, and for 10 years, from 1248 to 1258, was a guest of several monasteries of Cistercian Sisters. She edified everyone with her humility; she never had words of criticism or rebuke for her adversaries, but continued to spread with zeal Eucharistic worship. She died in 1258 in Fosses-La-Ville, in Belgium. In the cell where she lay the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed and, according to the words of her biographer, Juliana died contemplating with a last outburst of love the Eucharistic Jesus, whom she had always loved, honored and adored.
Won over also to the good cause of the feast of Corpus Domini was Giacomo Pantaleon of Troyes, who had known the saint during his ministry as archdeacon in Liege. He, in fact, having become Pope in 1264 and taking the name Urban IV, instituted the solemnity of Corpus Domini as a feast of obligation for the universal Church, the Thursday after Pentecost. In the Bull of institution, titled "Transiturus de hoc mundo" (Aug. 11, 1264), Pope Urban also re-evoked with discretion the mystical experiences of Juliana, giving value to their authenticity. He wrote: "Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we hold it right that, at least once a year, there be a more honored and solemn memoria of it. The other things, in fact, of which we make memoria, we do so with the spirit and with the mind, but we do not obtain, because of this, their real presence. On the other hand, in this sacramental commemoration of Christ, Jesus Christ is present with us in his substance, even if under another form. In fact, while he was about to ascend to heaven he said: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
The Pontiff himself wished to give an example, celebrating the solemnity of Corpus Domini in Orvieto, the city where he then dwelled. By his order, in fact, the famous corporal with the traces of the Eucharistic miracle that happened the previous year, in 1263, in Bolsena, is the kept in the cathedral of the city -- and it is still kept there. [The miracle was this:] While a priest consecrated the bread and the wine, he was prey to strong doubts about the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Miraculously some drops of blood began to spurt from the consecrated Host, confirming in that way what our faith professes. Urban IV asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St. Thomas Aquinas -- who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto -- to compose texts of the liturgical office for this great feast. These are masterpieces in which theology and poetry fuse, still in use today in the Church. They are texts that make the cords of the heart vibrate to express praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the intelligence, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the living and true presence of Jesus, of his sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.
Even if after the death of Urban IV the celebration of the feast of Corpus Domini was limited to some regions of France, Germany, Hungary and northern Italy, it was again a Pontiff, John XXII, who in 1317 revived it for the whole Church. Henceforth the feast experienced a wonderful development, and is still much appreciated by the Christian people.
I would like to affirm with joy that today in the Church there is a "Eucharistic springtime": How many persons pause silently before the Tabernacle to spend time in a conversation of love with Jesus! It is consoling to know that not a few groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of praying in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament. I am thinking, for example, of our Eucharistic adoration in Hyde Park, in London.
I pray so that this Eucharistic "springtime" will spread increasingly in every parish, in particular in Belgium, the homeland of St. Juliana. The Venerable John Paul II, in the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," said: "In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned" (No. 10).
Remembering St. Juliana of Cornillon we also renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we are taught by the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man" (No. 282).
Dear friends, fidelity to the encounter with the Eucharistic Christ in Sunday's Holy Mass is essential for the journey of faith, but let us try as well to frequently go to visit the Lord present in the Tabernacle! Gazing in adoration at the consecrated Host, we discover the gift of the love of God, we discover the passion and the cross of Jesus, and also his Resurrection. Precisely through our gazing in adoration, the Lord draws us to himself, into his mystery, to transform us as he transforms the bread and wine. The saints always found strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic encounter. With the words of the Eucharistic hymn "Adoro te devote," let us repeat before the Lord, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament: "Make me believe ever more in You, that in You I may have hope, that I may love You!" Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Juliana of Cornillon, better known as Saint Juliana of Liege. Born at the end of the twelfth century, Juliana was orphaned young and became an Augustinian nun. Intelligent and cultured, she was drawn to contemplative prayer and devotion to the sacrament of the Eucharist. As the result of a recurring vision, Juliana worked to promote a liturgical feast in honour of the Eucharist. The feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in the diocese of Liege, and began to spread from there. Pope Urban IV, who had known Juliana in Liege, instituted the solemnity of Corpus Christi for the universal Church and charged Saint Thomas Aquinas with composing the texts of the liturgical office. The Pope himself celebrated the solemnity in Orvieto, then the seat of the papal court, where the relic of a celebrated Eucharistic miracle, which had occurred the previous year, was kept. As we recall Saint Juliana of Cornillon, let us renew our faith in Christ's true presence in the Eucharist and pray that the "springtime of the Eucharist" which we are witnessing in the Church today may bear fruit in an ever greater devotion to the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.
I extend a warm welcome to the delegation from the International Catholic Migration Commission. I offer prayerful good wishes to the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld meeting in General Chapter. I also greet the priests from England and Wales celebrating their anniversaries of ordination. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially the pilgrim groups from Israel, Nigeria, England and the United States of America, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Marguerite d'Oingt
"The God-Love That Reveals Himself in Christ Fascinated Her"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2010 - Here is a translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the weekly general audience, held in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With Marguerite d'Oingt, of whom I would like to speak to you today, we are introduced to Carthusian spirituality, which is inspired in the evangelical synthesis lived and proposed by St. Bruno. We do not know her date of birth, although some place it around 1240. Marguerite came from a powerful family of the old nobility of Lyonnais, the Oingt. We know that her mother was also called Marguerite, that she had two brothers -- Giscard and Louis -- and three sisters: Catherine, Elizabeth and Agnes. The latter followed her to the Carthusian monastery, succeeding her as prioress.
We have no information on her childhood, but through her writings we can intuit that she spent it peacefully, in an affectionate family environment. In fact, to express God's unbounded love, she valued images linked to the family, with particular reference to the figures of the father and mother. In one of her meditations she prays thus: "Very sweet Lord, when I think of the special graces that you have given me by your solicitude: first of all, how you took care of me since my childhood, and how you removed me from danger and called me to dedicate myself to your holy service, and how you provided everything that was necessary for me to eat, drink, dress and wear, (and you did so) in such a way that I had no occasion to think of these things but of your great mercy" (Marguerite d'Oingt, "Scritti Spirituali," Meditazione V, 100, Cinisello Balsamo, 1997, p. 74).
We always intuit in her meditations that she entered the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins in response to the Lord's call, leaving everything behind and accepting the severe Carthusian Rule, to belong totally to the Lord, to be with him always. She wrote: "Sweet Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of you; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more they are possessed the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but you know, sweet Lord, that if I possessed thousands of worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for your love; and even if you gave me everything that you possess in heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had you, because you are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of you" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 32, p. 59).
We also have little data on her life in the Carthusian monastery. We know that in 1288 she became its fourth prioress, a post she kept until her death, which took place on Feb. 11, 1310. From her writings, however, we do not deduce particular turns in her spiritual itinerary. She conceives the entirety of life as a journey of purification up to full configuration with Christ. He is the book that is written, which daily influences her heart and life, in particular his saving Passion. In the work "Speculum," referring to herself in the third person, Marguerite stresses that by the Lord's grace "she had engraved in her heart the holy life that Jesus Christ God led on earth, his good examples and his good doctrine. She had placed the sweet Jesus Christ so well in her heart, that it even seemed to her that he was present and that he had a closed book in his hand, to instruct her" (Ibid., I, 2-3, p. 81). "In this book she found written the life that Jesus Christ led on earth, from his birth to his ascension into heaven" (Ibid., I, 12, p. 83). Every day, beginning in the morning, Marguerite dedicated herself to the study of this book. And, when she had looked at it well, she began to read the book in her own conscience, which showed the falsehoods and lies of her own life (cf. Ibid., I, 6-7, p. 82); she wrote about herself to help others and to fix more deeply in her heart the grace of the presence of God, that is, to make her life every day marked by confrontation with the words and actions of Jesus, with the Book of his life. And she did this so that Christ's life would be imprinted in her soul in a stable and profound way, until she was able to see the Book in her interior, that is, until contemplating the mystery of God Trinity (cf. Ibid., II, 14-22; III, 23-40, p. 84-90).
Through her writings, Marguerite gives us some traces of her spirituality, enabling us to understand some features of her personality and of her gifts of governance. She was a very learned woman; she usually wrote in Latin, the language of the erudite, but she also wrote in Provençal French, and this too is a rarity: thus her writings are the first of those known to be written in that language. She lived a life rich in mystical experiences, described with simplicity, allowing one to intuit the ineffable mystery of God, stressing the limits of the mind to apprehend it and the inadequacy of the human language to express it. She had a lineal personality, simple, open, of gentle affectivity, great balance and acute discernment, able to enter into the depth of the human spirit, discovering its limits, its ambiguities, but also its aspirations, the soul's tensions toward God. She showed outstanding aptitude for governance, combining her profound mystical spiritual life with service to her sisters and to the community. Significant in this connection is a passage of a letter to her father. She wrote: "My sweet father, I let you know that I am very occupied because of the needs of our house, so that it is not possible for me to apply my spirit to good thoughts; in fact, I have so much to do I do not know which way to turn. We have not gathered wheat in the seventh month of the year and our vineyards were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, our church is in such poor conditions that we are obliged to reconstruct it in part" (Ibid., Lettere, III, 14, p. 127).
A Carthusian nun thus describes the figure of Marguerite: "Revealed through her work is a fascinating personality, of lively intelligence, oriented to speculation and at the same time favored by mystical graces: in a word, a holy and wise woman who is able to express with a certain humor an affectivity altogether spiritual" (Una Monaca Certosina, Certosine, in Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, Rome, 1975, col. 777). In the dynamism of mystical life, Marguerite values the experience of natural affections, purified by grace, as privileged means to understand more profoundly and to second divine action with greater alacrity and ardor. The reason lies in the fact that the human person is created in the image of God, and because of this is called to build with God a wonderful history of love, allowing himself to be totally involved in his initiative.
The God-Trinity, the God-love that reveals himself in Christ fascinated her, and Marguerite lived a relationship of profound love for the Lord and, in contrast, sees human ingratitude to the point of vileness, to the paradox of the cross. She says that the cross of Christ is similar to giving birth. Jesus' pain is compared with that of a mother. She wrote: "The mother who carried me in her womb suffered greatly in giving birth to me, during a day or a night, but you, most sweet Lord, were tormented for me not one night or one day, but for more than 30 years! [...] How bitterly you suffered because of me during your whole life! And when the moment of birth arrived, your work was so painful that your holy sweat became as drops of blood, which were shed over all your body to the ground" (Ibid., Meditazione I, 33, p. 59). Evoking the accounts of the Passion, Marguerite contemplated these sorrows with profound compassion. She said: "You were placed on the hard bed of the cross, so that you could not move or turn or wave your limbs as a man usually does when suffering great pain, because you were completely stretched and you were pierced with the nails [...] and [...] all your muscles and veins were lacerated. [...] But all these pains [....] were still not sufficient for you, so much so that you desired that your side be pierced so cruelly by the lance that your docile body should be totally ploughed and torn and your blood spurted with such violence that it formed a long path, almost as if it were a current." Referring to Mary, she said: It was no wonder that the sword that destroyed your body also penetrated the heart of your glorious Mother who so wanted to support you [...] because your love was higher than all other loves" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 36-39.42, p. 60f).
Dear friends, Marguerite d'Oingt invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and of his mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence. From contemplation of Christ's love for us are born the strength and joy to respond with the same love, placing our life at the service of God and of others. With Marguerite we also say: "Sweet Lord, all that you did, for love of me and of the whole human race, leads me to love you, but the remembrance of your most holy Passion gives unequaled vigor to my power of affection to love you. That is why it seems to me that [...] I have found what I so much desired: not to love anything other than you or in you or for love of you" (Ibid., Meditazione II, 46, p. 62).
At first glance this figure of a Medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life, we see that it also affects us and that it would also be the essential aspect of our own existence.
We have heard that Marguerite considered the Lord as a book, she fixed her gaze on the Lord, she considered him a mirror in which her own conscience also appeared. And from this mirror light entered her soul: She allowed the word to come in, the life of Christ in her own being and thus she was transformed; her conscience was enlightened, she found criteria, light and was cleansed. It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, his strength and his love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path. Therefore, let us follow holy Marguerite in this look toward Jesus. Let us read the book of his life, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened and cleansed, to learn the true life. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Marguerite d'Oingt, a thirteenth-century Carthusian prioress and mystic. Marguerite's writings, which include the earliest known examples of Provencal French, were inspired by the evangelical spirituality of Saint Bruno; they reveal her fine sensibility and her deep desire for God. Marguerite viewed life as a path of perfection leading to complete configuration to Christ, above all in the contemplation of his saving passion. She imagined the Lord's life, his words and his actions, as a Book which he hold out to us, a Book to be studied and imprinted on our hearts and lives, until the day we read it from within, in the contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.
Marguerite's writings, filled with imagery drawn from family life, radiate a warm love of God and deep gratitude for his grace which purifies our affections and draws us more closely to him. The life and writings of Marguerite d'Oingt invite us to meditate daily on the mystery of God's infinite love, revealed above all in the sufferings of Christ on the Cross, and to find in it the strength and joy to place our lives at his service and that of our brothers and sisters.
As I welcome all the English-speaking visitors this morning, I am especially pleased to greet the delegation form the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the representatives of Pittsburgh's Jewish and Catholic communities. Upon them all and upon all the English-speaking visitors present in today's Audience, especially the pilgrim groups from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the Almighty's abundant blessings of grace and peace.
Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Bridget of Sweden
"Together, Christian Spouses Can Follow a Path of Sanctity"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 27, 2010 - 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,
On the fervent eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II proclaimed St. Bridget of Sweden co-patroness of the whole of Europe. This morning I would like to present her figure, her message, and the reasons why this woman has much to teach -- even today -- to the Church and to the world.
We know well the events of the life of St. Bridget because her spiritual fathers wrote her biography to promote her process of canonization immediately after her death, which took place in 1373. Bridget was born 70 years earlier, in 1303, in Finster, Sweden, a nation of Northern Europe that had received the faith three centuries earlier with the same enthusiasm with which the saint received it from her parents, who were very pious individuals, belonging to noble families close to the reigning House.
We can distinguish two periods in the life of this saint.
The first was characterized by her condition as a happily married woman. Her husband was called Ulf and he was governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted 28 years, until Ulf's death. Eight children were born to them, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget's educational commitment in regard to her children. Moreover, her pedagogic wisdom was appreciated to the point that Magnus, the king of Sweden, called her to the court for a certain time, in order to introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture.
Bridget, spiritually guided by a learned religious who initiated her in the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her own family that, thanks to her presence, became a true "domestic church." Together with her husband, she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She practiced works of charity towards the indigent with generosity; she also founded a hospital. Together with his wife, Ulf learned to improve his character and to advance in the Christian life. On returning from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, taken in 1341 with other members of the family, the spouses matured the plan to live in continence, but shortly after, in the peace of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf concluded his earthly life.
The first period of Bridget's life helps us to appreciate what today we could define an authentic "conjugal spirituality": Together, Christian spouses can follow a path of sanctity, supported by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. Not infrequently, as happened in the lives of St. Bridget and Ulf, it is the wife who with her religious sensibility, with delicacy and gentleness, is able to make the husband follow a path of faith. I am thinking, with recognition, of so many women who, day in day out, still today illumine their families with their testimony of Christian life. May the Spirit of the Lord fuel the sanctity of Christian spouses, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the values of the Gospel: love, tenderness, mutual help, fecundity in generating and educating children, openness and solidarity to the world, participation in the life of the Church.
The second period of Bridget's life began when she became a widow. She renounced further marriage to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and works of charity. Hence, Christian widows can also find in this saint a model to follow. In fact, on the death of her husband, after distributing her goods to the poor, though without ever acceding to religious consecration, Bridget established herself in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra. Here is where the divine revelations began, which were with her for the rest of her life. They were dictated by Bridget to her confessor-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in an edition of eight books entitled "Revelationes" (Revelations.) Added to the books was a supplement, entitled "Revelationes Extravagantes" (Supplementary Revelations).
St. Bridget's Revelations present a very varied content and style. At times the revelation is presented in the form of dialogue between the Divine Persons, the Virgin, the saints and also the demons; dialogues in which Bridget also intervenes. At other times, instead, it is the narration of a particular vision; and at others she narrates what the Virgin Mary revealed to her on the life and mysteries of her Son. The value of St. Bridget's Revelations, sometimes the object of doubt, was specified by the Venerable John Paul II in the letter "Spes Aedificandi": "Yet there is no doubt that the Church," wrote my beloved predecessor, "which recognized Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience." (No. 5).
In fact, reading these Revelations we are faced with many important topics. For example, the description returns frequently, with very realistic details, of the Passion of Christ, to which Bridget always had a special devotion, contemplating in it the infinite love of God for men. On the mouth of the Lord who speaks to her, she puts these words: "O, my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that, if it were possible, I would like to die many times again for each one of them, in the same way that I suffered for the redemption of all" (Revelations, Book I, c. 59). Also Mary's sorrowful maternity, which made her Mediator and Mother of Mercy, is an argument that is repeated often in the Revelations.
Receiving these charisms, Bridget was conscious of being the recipient of a gift of great predilection on the part of the Lord: "My daughter," we read in the first book of the Revelations, "I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart ... more than everything that exists in the world" (c. 1). Moreover, Bridget knew well, and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build the Church. Precisely for this reason, not a few of her revelations were directed, in the form of warnings, including severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the religious and political authorities, so that they would live their Christian life coherently; but she did this with an attitude of respect and complete fidelity to the magisterium of the Church, in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.
In 1349, Bridget left Sweden for the last time and went on pilgrimage to Rome. Not only did she wish to participate in the Jubilee of 1350, but she also wished to obtain from the Pope the approval of the rule of a religious order that she wanted to found, dedicated to the Holy Savior, and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess. This is an element that should not surprise us: In the Middle Ages there were monasteries founded with masculine and feminine branches, but with the practice of the same monastic rule, which provided for the direction of an abbess. In fact, the great Christian tradition recognizes the dignity proper to women, as well as -- taking as an example Mary, Queen of the Apostles -- her own place in the Church that, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is also important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Moreover, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect toward their specific vocation, is of great importance in today's world.
In Rome, in the company of her daughter Karin, Bridget dedicated herself to a life of intense apostolate and prayer. And from Rome she went on pilgrimage to several Italian shrines, in particular to Assisi, homeland of St. Francis, to whom Bridget always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, she crowned her greatest desire: her trip to the Holy Land, where she went in the company of her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called "the friends of God."
During those years, the Pontiffs were in Avignon, far from Rome: Bridget addressed them earnestly, urging them to return to the See of Peter in the Eternal City.
She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned definitively to Rome. She was buried provisionally in the Roman church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna, but in 1374 her children Birger and Karin, took her back to her homeland, to the monastery of Vadstena, headquarters of the religious order founded by St. Bridget, which immediately enjoyed a notable expansion. In 1391, Pope Boniface IX canonized her solemnly.
Bridget's sanctity, characterized by the multiplicity of gifts and experiences that I wished to recall in this brief biographic-spiritual profile, makes her an eminent figure in the history of Europe. Coming from Scandinavia, St. Bridget attests how Christianity had permeated profoundly the life of all the peoples of this continent. Declaring her co-patroness of Europe, Pope John Paul II hoped that St. Bridget -- who lived in the 14th century, when Western Christianity had not yet been wounded by division -- can intercede effectively before God, to obtain the much-awaited grace of the full unity of all Christians. We want to pray, dear brothers and sisters, for this same intention, which we consider so important, so that Europe will be able to be nourished from its own Christian roots, invoking the powerful intercession of St. Bridget of Sweden, faithful disciple of God, co-patroness of Europe.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today is on Saint Bridget of Sweden. Born in thirteen hundred and three, she grew up steeped in the faith. She and her husband had eight children, and dedicated themselves with great fervour to the spiritual life and their children's Christian formation. Bridget was the driving force behind her and her husband's "conjugal sanctity," and became a model for many women through the ages of how to be the spiritual centre of the family. Following her husband's death, Bridget renounced further marriage in order to deepen her union with the Lord, through prayer, penance and works of charity. She gave away her possessions and lived in a monastery. In her prayer, she experienced many intense mystical experiences. In thirteen forty-nine, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, to obtain Papal approval for a religious order of both men and women which she intended to found, and, while in Rome, she lived a life of intense apostolic prayer and activity. Bridget died in thirteen seventy-three, and was canonized eighteen years later. She is a significant reminder of a united Western Christendom, a powerful example of feminine sanctity, and was proclaimed co-Patroness of Europe by the Venerable John Paul the Second, during the great Jubilee. May her intercession help unite all Christians, and draw the people of Europe to an ever greater appreciation of their unique and invaluable Christian heritage.
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present today. In particular, I extend greetings to the Bridgetine Sisters here for their General Chapter. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant blessings.
Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Elizabeth of Hungary
"It Is Christ Whom You Have Washed, Fed and Looked After"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2010 - 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 speak to you about one of the women of the Middle Ages who inspired great admiration: St. Elizabeth of Hungary, also called Elizabeth of Thuringia. She was born in 1207 in Hungary; historians disagree on the place. Her father was Andrew II, rich and powerful king of Hungary who, to reinforce his political ties, married German countess Gertrude of Andechs-Merania, sister of St. Hedwig who was the wife of the duke of Silesia. Elizabeth lived in the Hungarian court only the first four years of her childhood, together with a sister and three brothers. She liked playing, music and dancing; she recited her prayers faithfully and showed particular care for the poor, whom she helped with a good word or affectionate gesture.
Her happy childhood was brusquely interrupted when, from far away Thuringia, knights arrived to take her to her new headquarters in central Germany. According to the customs of that time, in fact, her father had decided that Elizabeth should become a princess of Thuringia. The landgrave or count of that region was one of the wealthiest and most influential of Europe at the beginning of the 13th century, and his castle was the center of magnificence and culture. However, behind the celebrations and apparent glory were hidden ambitions of feudal princes, often at war among themselves and in conflict with the royal and imperial authorities. In this context, the landgrave Hermann was pleased to accept the engagement between his son, Ludwig, and the Hungarian princess. Elizabeth left her homeland with a rich dowry and a large entourage, including her personal maidservants, two of whom would remain faithful friends to the end. They are the ones who have left us precious information on the childhood and life of the saint.
After a long journey they arrived in Eisenach, then on up to the fortress of Wartburg, the massive castle overlooking the city. Celebrated here was the engagement between Ludwig and Elizabeth. In subsequent years, while Ludwig learned the profession of a knight, Elizabeth and her companions studied German, French, Latin, music, literature and embroidery. Despite the fact that the engagement took place for political reasons, a sincere love was born between the two young people, animated by faith and the desire to do the will of God.
At 18, after the death of his father, Ludwig began to reign over Thuringia. But Elizabeth became the object of silent criticisms because her way of behaving did not correspond to the life of the court. In the same sense, the celebration of their marriage was not lavish, and the expenses of the banquet were given in part to the poor. In her profound sensibility Elizabeth saw the contradictions between the faith professed and Christian practice. She could not bear compromises. Once, entering the church on the feast of the Assumption, she took off her crown, placed it before the cross and remained prostrate on the ground with her face covered. When a nun reproved her for this gesture, she replied: "How can I, miserable creature, continue to wear a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King Jesus Christ crowned with thorns?" As she behaved before God, so she behaved with her subjects. Among the "Sayings" of the four maidservants we find this testimony: "She would not eat food if she was not first certain that it came from the properties and legitimate goods of her husband. While she abstained from goods procured illicitly, she was concerned to compensate those that had suffered violence" (Nos. 25 and 37). [She gave] a true example for all those entrusted with charges: The exercise of authority, at all levels, must be lived as a service to justice and charity, in constant pursuit of the common good.
Elizabeth practiced assiduously the works of mercy: she gave to drink and eat those who came to her door, she got clothes, paid debts, looked after the sick and buried the dead. Coming down from her castle, she often went with her maidservants to the homes of the poor, taking bread, meat, flour and other foods. She would hand the food out personally and carefully oversaw clothes and shelter for the poor. This behavior was reported to her husband, who not only was not annoyed, but answered her accusers: "So long as they don't come to the castle, I'm happy!" Placed in this context is the miracle of bread transformed into roses: While Elizabeth was going through the street with her apron full of bread for the poor, she met her husband, who asked her what she was carrying. She opened her apron and, instead of bread, magnificent roses appeared. This symbol of charity is often present in depictions of St. Elizabeth.
Hers was a profoundly happy marriage: Elizabeth helped her husband to raise his human qualities to the supernatural level and he, on the other hand, protected his wife in her generosity to the poor and in her religious practices. Ever more in admiration of his wife's great faith, Ludwig, referring to her care of the poor, said to her: "Dear Elizabeth, it is Christ whom you have washed, fed and looked after." A clear testimony of how faith and love of God and one's neighbor reinforce marital union and make it even more profound.
The young couple found spiritual support in the Friars Minor who, from 1222 spread in Thuringia. From among them, Elizabeth chose Friar Rudiger as her spiritual director. When he narrated to her the circumstances of the conversion of the young and rich merchant Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth was even more enthusiastic on her path of Christian life. From that moment, she decided to follow even more the poor and crucified Christ, present in the poor. Also when her first son was born, followed by two others, our saint never neglected her works of charity. Moreover, she helped the Friars Minor to build a monastery in Halberstadt, of which Friar Rudiger became the superior. Elizabeth's spiritual direction thus passed to Konrad of Marburg.
A harsh test was her farewell to her husband, at the end of June of 1227, when Ludwig IV joined the crusade of Emperor Frederick II, reminding his wife that this was a tradition for the sovereigns of Thuringia. Elizabeth replied: "I will not dissuade you. I gave myself wholly to God and now I must also give you." However, fever decimated the troops and Ludwig himself fell ill and died in Otranto before embarking, in September of 1227, at 27 years of age. Elizabeth, on hearing the news, had such sorrow that she withdrew in solitude, but later, strengthened by prayer and, consoled by the thought of seeing him again in heaven, she again became interested in the affairs of the kingdom.
However, another test awaited her: her brother-in-law usurped the government of Thuringia, declaring himself the true heir of Ludwig and accusing Elizabeth of being a pious woman incompetent to govern. The young widow, with her three sons, was expelled from the castle of Wartburg and began to look for a place of refuge. Only two of her maidservants stayed with her, accompanied her and entrusted her three sons to the care of friends of Ludwig. Traveling through villages, Elizabeth worked wherever she was received: She helped the sick, spinned and sewed. During this calvary, endured with great faith, patience and dedication to God, some relatives, who had remained faithful to her and considered her brother-in-law's government illegitimate, rehabilitated her name. Thus Elizabeth, at the beginning of 1228, was able to receive an adequate income to withdraw to the family castle in Marburg, where her spiritual director, Friar Konrad, also lived. It was he who referred to Pope Gregory IX the following event: "On Good Friday of 1228, with her hands on the altar in the chapel of the city of Eisenach, where she had received the Friars Minor, in the presence of some friars and relatives, Elizabeth gave up her own will and all the vanities of the world. She wanted to give up all her possessions, but I dissuaded her for love of the poor. Shortly after she built a hospital, took in the sick and the invalid and served the most miserable and abandoned at her own table. Having reproached her for these things, Elizabeth answered that from the poor she received a special grace and humility" (Epistula magistri Conradi, 14-17).
We can see in this affirmation a certain mystical experience similar to that lived by St. Francis: the Poverello of Assisi said, in fact, in his testament that, by serving the lepers, what was previously bitter became a sweetness of the soul and body (Testamentum, 1-3). Elizabeth spent her last three years in the hospital she founded, serving the sick, staying by the bedside of the dying. She always tried to carry out the most humble services and repugnant jobs. She became what we could call a consecrated woman in the midst of the world (soror in saeculo) and formed a religious community with other friends of hers, using a gray habit. It is no accident that she is patroness of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis and of the Secular Franciscan Order.
In November of 1231 she was affected by severe fever. When news of her illness spread, many people came to see her. Some 10 days later, she requested that her doors be closed to remain alone with God. She gently fell asleep in the Lord on the night of Nov. 17. Testimonies of her holiness were such and so many that, only four years later, Pope Gregory IX proclaimed her a saint and, in the same year, the beautiful church built in her honor in Marburg was consecrated.
Dear brothers and sisters, in the figure of St. Elizabeth we see how faith and friendship with Christ create the sense of justice, of the equality of everyone, of the rights of others, and they create love, charity. And from this charity hope is born, the certainty that we are loved by Christ and that the love of Christ awaits us and thus makes us capable of imitating Christ and of seeing Christ in others. St. Elizabeth invites us to rediscover Christ, to love him, to have faith and thus find true justice and love, as well as the joy that one day we will be immersed in divine love, in the joy of eternity with God. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis today I wish to speak about Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, also known as Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia. She was born in the early thirteenth century. Her father was the King of Hungary, and Elizabeth was known from an early age for her fidelity to prayer and her attention to the poor. Though she was married to Ludwig, a nobleman, for political reasons, she and her husband developed a sincere love for each other, one deepened by faith and the desire to do the Lord’s will.
In her married life, Elizabeth did not compromise her faith in spite of the requirements of life at court. She preferred to feed the poor than to dine at banquets, and to clothe the naked than to dress in costly garments. Because of their deep faith in God, Elizabeth and Ludwig supported each other in their religious duties. After his early death, she dedicated herself to the service of the poor, always performing the humblest and most difficult works. She founded a religious community, and lived her vows until her death at an early age. She was canonized four years later, and is a patroness of the Third Order of Saint Francis. May her dedication to the poor and needy inspire in us the same love for Christ in our neighbour.
On Medieval Mystic Blessed Angela of
"Jesus Lives in the Heart of Every Believer and Desires to Take Total Possession of It"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about Blessed Angela of Foligno, a great medieval mystic who lived in the 13th century. Usually, one is fascinated by the heights of the experience of union with God that she attained, but perhaps too little consideration is given to the first steps, her conversion, and the long path that led her from the beginning -- the "great fear of hell" -- to the goal: total union with the Trinity.
The first part of Angela's life is certainly not that of a fervent disciple of the Lord. Born around 1248 in a well-off family, she remained orphaned of her father and was educated by her mother in a rather superficial way. She was soon introduced to the worldly environments of the city of Foligno, where she met a man, whom she married at 20 and with whom she had children. Her life was carefree, so much so that she looked down on the so-called "penitents" -- very widespread at that time -- those, namely, who to follow Christ would sell their goods and live a life of prayer, fasting, the service of the Church and charity.
Some events, such as the violent earthquake of 1279, a hurricane, the age-old war against Perugia, and their harsh consequences affected Angela's life, who became progressively aware of her sins, until she took a decisive step: She invoked St. Francis, who appeared to her in a vision, to ask him for advice in view of undertaking a good general Confession. In 1285, Angela went to confession to a friar in San Feliciano. Three years later, her path of conversion took another turn: the dissolution of her familial ties. Within a few months, the death of her mother was followed by the deaths of her husband and all her children. She then sold all her goods, and in 1291, joined the Third Order of St. Francis. She died at Foligno on Jan. 4, 1309.
"Il Libro della beata Angela da Foligno" (The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno), which gathers the documentation on our Blessed, recounts this conversion; it indicates the necessary means: penance, humility and tribulations; and narrates in passages, the succession of experiences of Angela, begun in 1285. Recalling them, after having lived them, she sought to recount them through her friar confessor, who transcribed them faithfully, trying afterward to systematize them in stages, which he called "steps or changes," but without succeeding in ordering them fully (cf. "Il Libro della beata Angela da Foligno," Cinisello Balsamo, 1990, p. 51). This is because the experience of union of Blessed Angela was a total involvement of the spiritual and corporal senses, and of what she "understands" during her ecstasies remained, so to speak, only a "shadow" in her mind. "I really heard these words," she confesses after a mystical rapture, "but what I saw and understood, and that he [God] showed me, in no way do I know or am I able to say, though I will willingly reveal what I understood with the words that I heard, but it was an absolutely ineffable abyss."
Angela of Foligno presents her mystical "experience" without elaborating them with her mind, because they are divine illuminations that are communicated to her soul in an improvised and unexpected way. The friar confessor himself had difficulty in reporting such events, "also because of her great and admirable reserve regarding the divine gifts" (ibid., p. 194). To Angela's difficulty in expressing her mystical experience is added also the difficulty for her listeners to understand her. A situation that indicates clearly how the only and true Teacher, Jesus, lives in the heart of every believer and desires to take total possession of it. Thus in Angela, who wrote to one of her spiritual sons: "My son, if you saw my heart, you would be absolutely constrained to do everything that God wills, because my heart is that of God, and God's heart is mine." The words of St. Paul resound here: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
We will now consider only some "steps" of the rich spiritual path of our blessed. The first, in reality, is an introduction: "It was the knowledge of sin," as she specifies, "following which the soul has great fear of being damned; in this step she wept bitterly" ("Il Libro della beata Angela da Foligno," p. 39). This "fear" of hell responds to the type of faith that Angela had at the time of her "conversion"; a faith still poor in charity, namely, of love of God. Repentance, fear of hell, and penance opened up to Angela the prospect of the sorrowful "way of the cross" that, from the eighth to the 15th step, would then lead her on the "way of love." The friar confessor recounts: "The faithful one now said to me: I had this divine revelation: 'After the things that you have written, now write that whoever wants to preserve grace must not take the eyes of his soul off the Cross, whether in joy or in sadness, which I grant him and permit'" (Ibid., p. 143). However, in this phase Angela still "does not feel love"; she affirms: "The soul feels shame and bitterness and does not yet experience love, but sorrow" (Ibid., p. 39), and is dissatisfied.
Angela feels she must give God something in reparation for her sins, but understands slowly that she has nothing to give him, in fact, of her "being nothing" before him; she understands that it will not be her will that will give her love of God, because it can only give her "nothingness," "non-love." As she will say: only "true and pure love, which comes from God, is in the soul and makes one recognizes one's defects and divine goodness. [...] Such love bears the soul in Christ and she understands with certainty that no deceit can be verified or exercised. Together with this love nothing can be mixed that is of the world" (Ibid., p. 124-125). To open oneself only and totally to the love of God, which has its highest expression in Christ: "O my God," she prays, "make me worthy of knowing the most high mystery of your most holy incarnation for us. [...] O incomprehensible love! Above this love, that made my God become man to make me God, there is no greater love" (Ibid., p. 295). However, Angela's heart always bore the wound of sin; even after a well made confession, she found herself forgiven and still prostrated by sin, free and conditioned by the past, absolved but in need of penance. And even the thought of hell accompanied her because the more the soul progresses on the way of Christian perfection, all the more it will be convinced not only of being "unworthy" but of deserving hell.
Understand that, in her mystical journey, Angela understood profoundly the central reality: What would save her from her "unworthiness" and from "deserving hell" will not be her "union with God" and her possessing the "truth," but Jesus crucified, "his crucifixion for me," his love. In the eighth step, she says: "However I did not yet understand if my deliverance from sin and hell and conversion to penance was a greater good, or his crucifixion for me" (Ibid., p. 41). And the unstable balance between love and sorrow, perceived in all her difficult journey toward perfection. Precisely because of this she contemplated by preference the crucified Christ, because in this vision she saw realized the perfect balance: On the cross is the man-God, in a supreme act of suffering, which is a supreme act of love.
In the third Instruction the blessed insists on this contemplation and affirms: "The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love. [...] That is why the more we see the God and man Jesus Christ, the more we are transformed in him through love. [...] What I have said of love. [...] I say also of sorrow: The more the soul contemplates the ineffable sorrow of the God and man Jesus Christ, the more it sorrows and is transformed in sorrow" (Ibid., p. 190-191). To be immersed, to be transformed in love and in the sufferings of Christ crucified, to be identified with him. Angela's conversion, begun with that confession of 1285, came to maturity only when God's forgiveness appeared to her soul as the free gift of love of the Father, source of love: "There is no one who can give excuses," she affirms, "because each one can love God, ad He does not ask the soul other than that He wills it good, because He loves it and is its love" (ibid., p. 76).
In Angela's spiritual itinerary the passage from conversion to mystical experience, from what can be expressed to the inexpressible, happens through the crucifix. And the "suffering God-man," who becomes her "teacher of perfection." Hence, all her mystical experience tends to a perfect "likeness" with him, through ever more profound and radical purifications and transformations. In such a stupendous enterprise Angela puts her whole self, soul and body, without sparing herself penances and tribulations from the beginning to the end, desiring to die with all the pains suffered by the God-man crucified to be transformed totally in him. "O children of God," she recommended, "transform yourselves totally in the suffering God-man, who so loves you that he deigned to die for you the most ignominious and all together ineffably painful death and in the most painful and bitter way. This only for love of you, O man!" (ibid., p. 247).
This identification also means to live what Jesus lived: poverty, contempt, sorrow because, as she affirmed, "through temporal poverty the soul will find eternal riches; through contempt and shame it will obtain supreme honor and very great glory; through a little penance, made with pain and sorrow, it will possess with infinite sweetness and consolation of the Supreme God, God eternal" (Ibid., p. 184).
From conversion to mystical union with Christ crucified, to the inexpressible. A very lofty way, whose secret is constant prayer; "The more you pray," she affirms, "the more you will be illumined; the more you are illumined, the more profoundly and intensely you will see the Supreme Good, the supremely good Being; the more profoundly and intensely you see him, the more you will love him; the more you love him, the more he will delight you; and the more he delights you, the more you will understand him and become capable of understanding him. You will arrive successively to the fullness of light, because you will understand that you cannot understand" (Ibid., p. 184).
Dear brothers and sisters, the life of Blessed Angela began with a worldly existence, quite far from God. But then the encounter with the figure of St. Francis and, finally, the encounter with Christ Crucified awakened the soul by the presence of God, by the fact that only with God does life become true life, because it becomes, in the sorrow for sin, love and joy. And thus Blessed Angela speaks to us.
Today we are all in danger of living as if God did not exist: He seems too far away from today's life. But God has a thousand ways, for each one, of making himself present in the soul, of showing that he exists and that he knows and loves me. And Blessed Angela wants to make us attentive to these signs with which the Lord touches our soul, attentive to the presence of God, to thus learn the way with God and to God, in communion with Christ crucified. Let us pray to the Lord that he make us attentive to the signs of his presence, that he teach us to really live. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today recalls the medieval mystic Blessed Angela of Foligno, born in 1248. A carefree wife and mother, Angela at one time looked down on the mendicants and observers of strict poverty in religious life. However, tragic events and suffering in her personal life gave her cause to become aware of her own sins, leading her to a decisive moment of conversion in the year 1285. Invoking the aid of Saint Francis, who appeared to her in a vision, she made her confession at San Feliciano. Upon the death of her mother, husband and children, she sold all she had and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. She died in 1309.
The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno recounts her conversion, and indicates for us the necessary means of our own turning to the Lord: penance, humility and tribulations. This same book describes the numerous mystical experiences of Blessed Angela, ecstasies which she had great difficulty putting into words because of the intensity of her spiritual union with God. Her fear of sin and punishment was overcome by her growth in love for God, drawing her along the "way of the Cross" to "the way of love." My dear brothers and sisters, may we share her prayer to the Father: "My God, make me worthy to know the most high Mystery, which is your strong and ineffable love ... the greatest love possible!"
I am pleased to welcome the delegates of the International Association of Financial Executives Institute. I also extend greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States . May God bless you all!
Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Gertrude
"Only Woman of Germanic Descent to Be Called 'the Great'"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 6, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
St. Gertrude the Great, about whom I would like to speak today, takes us also this week to the monastery of Helfta, where some of the masterpieces of feminine Latin-Germanic religious literature were created. Gertrude belonged to this world; she was one of the most famous mystics, the only woman of Germanic descent to be called "the Great" because of her cultural and evangelical stature. With her life and thought she influenced Christian spirituality in a singular way. She was an exceptional woman, gifted with particular natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, of most profound humility and ardent zeal for the salvation of her neighbor, of profound communion with God in contemplation and readiness to help the needy.
In Helfta she is systematically compared, so to speak, with her teacher Matilda of Hackeborn, of whom I spoke in last Wednesday's audience; she was associated with Matilda of Magdeburg, another Medieval mystic; she grew up under the maternal, gentle and exacting care of Abbess Gertrude. From these three sisters of hers she acquired treasures of experience and wisdom; she developed them in her own synthesis, following her religious itinerary with unlimited trust in the Lord. She expresses the richness of spirituality not only in her monastic world, but also and above all in the biblical, liturgical, patristic and Benedictine world, with a most personal stamp and with great communicative effectiveness.
She was born on Jan. 6, 1256, feast of the Epiphany, but nothing is known about her parents or the place of her birth. Gertrude wrote that the Lord himself revealed to her the meaning of this first uprooting. She said that the Lord said: "I chose her for my dwelling because it pleases me that everything that is pleasing in her is my work. [...] Precisely for this reason I removed her from all her relatives so that no one would love her for reasons of blood relationship and I would be the only motive of the affection that moves her" (The Revelations, I, 16, Siena, 1994, p. 76-77).
At the age of 5, in 1261, she entered the monastery for formation and study, as was frequently the custom at that time. She spent all her life there; she herself points out the most significant stages. In her memoirs she recalls that the Lord preserved her with generous patience and infinite mercy, forgetting the years of her childhood, adolescence and youth, spent, she writes, "in such blindness of mind that I would have been capable [...] without any remorse, of thinking, saying or doing everything I would have liked to do and where I would have liked, if you had not preserved me, either with an inherent horror for evil and a natural inclination to good, or with the external vigilance of others. I would have behaved like a pagan [...] and that even though you willed from my childhood, from my fifth year of age, that I dwell in the blessed sanctuary of religion to be educated among your most devoted friends" (Ibid., II, 23 140s).
Gertrude was an extraordinary student; she learned everything that could be learned of the sciences of the Trivium and the Quadrivium; she was fascinated by learning and dedicated herself to worldly study with ardor and tenacity, achieving scholastic successes beyond all expectations. If we do not know anything about her origins, she tells us much about her youthful passions: literature, music and singing, miniature art captivated her; she had a strong character, determined, decisive, impulsive; often negligent, she says; she acknowledges her defects and humbly asks for forgiveness of them. With humility she asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. There are features of her temperament and defects that stayed with her until the end, to the point of astonishing some persons, who wondered how it was possible that the Lord preferred her so much.
From being a student she then consecrated herself totally to God in the monastic life and during 20 years nothing exceptional happened: study and prayer were her main activity. Because of her gifts, she stood out among her sisters; she was tenacious in consolidating her learning in various fields. However, during Advent of 1280, she began to feel displeasure in all this; she became conscious of her vanity and on Jan. 27, 1281, a few days before the feast of the Purification of the Virgin, towards the hour of Compline, the Lord illumined her dense darkness. With gentleness and kindness he calmed the turmoil that anguished her, turmoil that Gertrude saw as a very gift of God "to pull down the tower of vanity and curiosity that, woe is me, even bearing the name and habit of a religious, I had been raising with my pride, and at least thus find the way to show me your salvation" (Ibid., II, 1, p. 87).
She had a vision of a youth who, taking her by the hand, guided her to surmount the tangle of thorns that oppressed her soul. In that hand, Gertrude recognized "the precious imprint of those wounds that abrogated all the deeds of accusation of our enemies" (Ibid., II, 1, p. 89), she recognized the One who on the cross saved us with his blood, Jesus.
From that moment, her life of communion with the Lord intensified, above all in the most significant liturgical seasons -- Advent-Christmas, Lent-Easter, feasts of the Virgin -- even when illness made her unable to go to the choir. This is the same liturgical humus of Matilda, her teacher, which Gertrude, however, describes with simpler and more lineal, more realistic images, symbols and terms, with more direct references to the Bible, to the fathers, to the Benedictine world.
Her biography indicates two directions from which we could define a particular "conversion" of hers: in her studies, in the radical step from worldly humanistic studies to theological studies, and in monastic observance, with the change from a life that she describes as negligent to a life of intense, mystical prayer, with exceptional missionary ardor. The Lord, who had chosen her from her mother's womb and who from her childhood had allowed her to participate in the banquet of monastic life, called her again with his grace "from external things to the interior life, and from earthly concerns to love of spiritual things."
Gertrude understood that she had been far from him, in the region of the dissimilar, as St. Augustine says: From having dedicated herself with too much eagerness to liberal studies, to human wisdom, neglecting the spiritual science, depriving herself of the pleasure of true wisdom, now she is led to the mount of contemplation, where she leaves the old man to be clothed with the new. "From grammarian she becomes a theologian, with the tireless and careful reading of all the sacred books that she could have or obtain, she filled her heart with the most useful and sweet sentences of sacred Scripture. Hence she always had at her disposal an inspired or edifying word with which to satisfy anyone who came to consult her, and at the same time the most appropriate scriptural texts to confute any erroneous opinion and silence the tongue of her opponents" (Ibid., I, 1, p. 25).
Gertrude transformed all this into the apostolate: She dedicated herself to writing and spreading the truths of the faith with clarity and simplicity, grace and persuasion, serving the Church with love and fidelity to the point that she was useful and welcome for theologians and the pious. From this intense activity of hers, little remains, also because of the circumstances that led to the destruction of the monastery of Helfta. In addition to the "Herald of Divine Love" or "The Revelations," we still have the "Spiritual Exercises," a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature.
In religious observance, our saint was "a firm pillar [...], a most firm advocate of justice and truth," says her biographer (ibid., I, 1, p. 26). With her words and example she enkindled great fervor in others. To the prayers and penances of the monastic rule she added others with such devotion and confident abandonment in God, that she enkindled in those who met her an awareness of being in the Lord's presence. And, in fact, God himself made her understand that he had called her to be an instrument of his grace. Gertrude felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure; she admits to not having protected it and appreciated it. She exclaims: "Woe is me! If you had given me as a memento of yours, unworthy as I am, even one thread of cotton, I should have however kept it with greater respect and reverence than I have had for these gifts of yours!" (ibid., II, 5, p. 100). However, acknowledging her poverty and unworthiness, she adheres to the will of God, "because," she affirms, "I have taken such little advantage of your graces that I cannot decide to believe that they were given to me for myself, your eternal wisdom not being able to be frustrated by anyone. Hence, let it be, O Giver of all good, who have freely given me such undeserved gifts, that, reading this writing, the heart of at least one of your friends be moved by the thought that zeal for souls has induced you to leave during such a long time a gem of such inestimable value in the midst of the abominable mire of my heart" (ibid., II, 5, p. 100f).
In particular, two favors were more loved by her than any others, as Gertrude herself writes: "The stigmata of your saving wounds that you engraved in me, as precious jewels, in the heart, and the profound and saving wound of love with which you marked me. You flooded me with so much joy with these gifts of yours that, even if I had to live a thousand years without any interior or exterior consolation, their memory would be enough to comfort me, illumine me, fill me with gratitude. You also wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship, opening to me with many signs that most noble sanctuary of your divinity that is your Divine Heart [...] To this heap of benefits you added that of giving me as advocate the most holy Virgin Mary, your Mother, and of recommending me often to her affection as the most faithful of spouses could recommend to his own mother his beloved wife" (Ibid., II, 23, p. 145).
Turned toward the endless communion, she concluded her earthly life on Nov. 17, 1301 or 1302, at almost 46 years of age. In the Seventh Exercise, that of preparation for death, St. Gertrude writes: "O Jesus, you who are immensely loved by me, be always with me, so that my heart will remain with you and your love persevere with me without the possibility of division, and my passing be blessed by you, so that my spirit, free from the ties of the flesh, may immediately be able to find rest in you. Amen" (Esercizi, Milan, 2006, p. 148).
It seems obvious to me that these are not only historic things of the past, but that the existence of St. Gertrude continues to be a school of Christian life, of the straight path, which shows us that the center of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with Jesus the Lord. And this friendship is learned in love for sacred Scripture, in love for the liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so that one will increasingly really know God himself and thus true happiness, the goal of our life. Thank you.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today focuses on Saint Gertrude the Great, a remarkable figure associated with the monastery of Helfta, where so many masterpieces of religious literature were born. Saint Gertrude is the only woman of Germanic descent to be called "Great", an honour due to her exceptional natural and supernatural gifts. As a youth, Gertrude was intelligent, strong and decisive, but also impulsive. With humility she asked others for advice and prayer. Eventually, she experienced a deep conversion: in her studies she passed from worldly pursuits to the sacred sciences, and in her monastic observance she moved from concern with external things to a life of intense prayer. In her writings, she sought to explain the truths of the faith with clarity and simplicity, while not failing to develop spiritual themes associated with Divine Love. In her religious practice, she pursued prayer with devotion and faithful abandonment to God. Dear friends, may we learn from Saint Gertrude the Great how to love Christ and His Church with humility and faith, and to cultivate our personal prayer through an intense participation in the Holy Mass and the sacred liturgy.
On St. Matilda, God's Nightingale
"The Liturgy Is a Great School of Spirituality"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about St. Matilda of Hackeborn, one of the great figures of the monastery of Helfta, who lived in the 13th century.
Her religious sister, St. Gertrude the Great, in Book VI of the work "Liber specialis gratiae" (Book of Special Grace), in which are narrated the special graces that God granted St. Matilda, says thus: "What we have written is very little compared with what we have omitted. Only for the glory of God and usefulness of our neighbor do we publish these things, because it would seem unjust to us to maintain silence about the many graces that Matilda received from God not so much for herself, it seems to us, but for us and for those who will come after us" (Matilda von Hackeborn, Liber specialis gratiae, VI, 1).
This work was written by St. Gertrude and by another sister of Helfta and it has a singular history. At the age of 50, Matilda was going through a grave spiritual crisis, together with physical sufferings. In these conditions she confided to two sister-friends the singular graces with which God had guided her since her childhood, but she did not know that they were writing it all down. When she found this out, she felt profoundly anguished and troubled. But the Lord consoled her, making her understand that what had been written was for the glory of God and the good of her neighbor (cf. Ibid., II,25; V,20). Therefore, this work is the main source from which to obtain information on the life and spirituality of our saint.
With her we introduce ourselves to the family of the Baron of Hackeborn, one of the most noble, rich and powerful families of Thuringia, related to emperor Frederick II, and we enter the monastery of Helfta in the most glorious period of its history. The baron had already given one daughter to the monastery, Gertrude of Hackeborn (1231/1232 - 1291/1292), gifted with an outstanding personality. [She was] abbess for 40 years, able to give a peculiar stamp to the monastery's spirituality, leading it to an extraordinary flowering as center of mysticism and culture, and a school of scientific and theological formation. Gertrude offered the nuns high intellectual instruction, which enabled them to cultivate a spirituality founded on sacred Scripture, on the liturgy, on the patristic tradition, on the Cistercian Rule and spirituality, with particular predilection for St. Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry. She was a true teacher, exemplary in everything, in evangelical radicalism and apostolic zeal. Matilda, from her youth, received and enjoyed the spiritual and cultural climate created by her sister, adding later her personal stamp.
Matilda was born in 1241 or 1242 in the castle of Helfta; she was the baron's third daughter. When she was seven years old, she and her mother visited her sister Gertrude in the monastery of Rodersdorf. She was so fascinated by the environment that she ardently desired to be a part of it. She entered as a pupil and in 1258 she became a nun of the convent, which in the meantime had been moved to Helfta, on the property of the Hackeborn. She was outstanding for her humility, fervor, kindness, purity and innocence of life, the familiarity and intensity with which she lived her relationship with God, the Virgin and the saints. She was gifted with lofty natural and spiritual qualities, such as "science, intelligence, knowledge of human letters, a wonderfully soft voice: Everything made her adequate to be a real treasure for the monastery in all aspects" (Ibid., Proemio).
Thus, "God's nightingale" -- as she was called -- though very young, became the director of the monastery's school, director of the choir, and mistress of novices, services which she carried out with talent and tireless zeal, not only for the benefit of the nuns, but for all those who wished to appeal to her wisdom and goodness.
Enlightened by the divine gift of mystical contemplation, Matilda composed numerous prayers. She was a faithful teacher of doctrine and had great humility; she was a counselor, consoler, a guide in discernment: "She, one reads, "distributed doctrine with so much abundance as had ever been seen in the monastery and oh! we fear greatly that something similar will never be seen again. The nuns met with her to listen to the word of God, as they would a preacher. She was the refuge and consoler of all and she had, as a singular gift of God, the grace of revealing freely the secrets of each one's heart. Many people, not only in the monastery, but also strangers, religious and laymen, arriving from afar, attested that this holy virgin had freed them from their sorrows and that they had never experienced so much consolation as they did by her side. She also composed and taught so many prayers that if they were all collected they would surpass the volume of a psalter" (Ibid., VI, 1).
In 1261 a five-year-old girl named Gertrude arrived at the convent: She was entrusted to the care of Matilda, who was only 20, who educated and guided her in the spiritual life until she made of her not only her excellent disciple, but her confidant. In 1271 or 1272 Matilda of Magdeburg also entered the monastery. Hence the place received four great women -- two Gertrudes and two Matildas -- a glory of German monasticism.
In her long life spent in the monastery, Matilda endured constant and intense sufferings, to which she added the very harsh penances chosen for the conversion of sinners. In this way she took part in the Lord's passion until the end of her life (cf. Ibid., VI, 2). Prayer and contemplation were the vital soil of her existence: the revelations, her teachings, her service to her neighbor, her journey in faith and in love have their root and context here. In the first book of the work "Liber specialis gratiae," the writers gather Matilda's confidences indicated on the feasts of the Lord, of the saints and, especially, of the Blessed Virgin. Impressive is this saint's capacity to live the liturgy in its various components, including the simplest, bringing it into daily monastic life. Some images, expressions and applications perhaps are distant from our sensibility but, if one considers monastic life and her task of teacher and choir director, one notes her singular capacity as educator and formator, who helped the sisters to live intensely, from the liturgy, each moment of monastic life.
In liturgical prayer Matilda highlighted particularly the canonical hours, the celebration of holy Mass, above all holy Communion. At that moment she was often raised in ecstasy in profound intimacy with the Lord in his most ardent and gentle heart, in a stupendous dialogue, in which she prayed for interior illumination, while she interceded in a special way for her community and her sisters. At the center were the mysteries of Christ to which the Virgin Mary referred constantly in order to walk on the path of sanctity: "If you desire true sanctity, stay close to my Son; he is sanctity itself who sanctifies everything" (Ibid., I, 40). In her intimacy with God the whole world was present, the Church, benefactors, sinners. For her, heaven and earth were united.
Her visions, her teachings, the circumstances of her existence are described with expressions that evoke liturgical and biblical language. Hence one understands her profound knowledge of sacred Scripture, her daily bread. She takes recourse to it constantly, either savoring the biblical texts proclaimed in the liturgy, or using symbols, terms, landscapes, images and personages. Her predilection was for the Gospel: "The words of the Gospel were for her a wonderful nourishment and aroused in her heart feelings of such sweetness that often because of her enthusiasm she could not finish the reading. ... The way in which she read those words was so fervent that it aroused devotion in everyone. Likewise, when she sang in the choir, she was completely absorbed in God, transported by such ardor that at times she manifested her feelings with gestures. ... At others, raised in ecstasy, she did not hear those who called her or moved her and it was hard for her to recover the sense of exterior things" (Ibid., VI, 1).
In one of her visions, Jesus himself recommended the Gospel; opening to her the wound of his most gentle heart, he said to her: "Consider how great is my love: If you want to know it well, you will not find it expressed more clearly anywhere than in the Gospel. No one has ever expressed stronger or more tender feelings than these: As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you (John 15:9)" (Ibid., I, 22).
Dear friends, personal and liturgical prayer, especially the liturgy of the hours and holy Mass, are the root of the spiritual experience of St. Matilda of Hackeborn. Allowing herself to be guided by sacred Scripture and to be nourished by the Eucharistic Bread, she followed a path of intimate union with the Lord, always in full fidelity to the Church. This is for us also a strong invitation to intensify our friendship with the Lord, above all through daily prayer and attentive, faithful and active participation in the holy Mass. The liturgy is a great school of spirituality.
Her disciple Gertrude describes with intense expressions the last moments of the life of St. Matilda of Hackeborn, very harsh, but illumined by the presence of the most Blessed Trinity, of the Lord, of the Virgin, of all the saints, and also of her blood sister Gertrude. When the hour arrived in which the Lord wanted to take her with him, she asked him to be able to live a bit longer in suffering for the salvation of souls, and Jesus was pleased with this further sign of love.
Matilda was 58 years old. She lived the last stretch of her journey characterized by eight years of grave illnesses. Her work and her reputation for holiness spread widely. When her hour arrived, "the God of Majesty ... only sweetness of the soul that loves him ... sang to her: 'Venite vos, benedicti Patris mei' ... Come you blessed of my Father, come to receive the kingdom ... and he associated her to his glory" (Ibid., VI, 8).
St. Matilda of Hackeborn entrusts us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Virgin Mary. She invites us to praise the Son with the heart of the Mother and to praise Mary with the heart of the Son. "I greet you, O most venerated Virgin, in that most gentle dew, which from the heart of the Most Blessed Trinity was diffused in you; I greet you in the glory and the joy with which you now rejoice eternally, you who, preferred to all the creatures of earth and heaven, were chosen even before the creation of the world! Amen" (Ibid., I, 45).
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis today, we focus on the life of Saint Matilda of Hackeborn, one of several important thirteenth-century figures of the convent of Helfta in Saxony. Entering there at an early age, Matilda was formed in an intensely spiritual and intellectual atmosphere founded upon Sacred Scripture, the liturgy, and the patristic tradition. This climate, along with the gift of divine illumination that she received through her mystical contemplation, enabled her to compose numerous prayers and be of counsel and consolation to many. Distinguished by her humility and intelligence, and by the intensity with which she lived her relationship with God and the saints, Matilda became the director of the convent’s novices, its choir, and its school. In this way she also became the spiritual guide of Saint Gertrude the Great, another important figure of Germanic monasticism. Dear friends, Saint Matilda’s life of prayer, guided by Sacred Scripture and nourished by the Holy Eucharist, led her to an intimate union with Christ, expressed in her devotion to his Sacred Heart. May we too grow in that devotion, through the power of her intercession.
On Clare of Assisi
"The Whole Church Is Indebted to Courageous Women"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
One of the most beloved saints is without a doubt St. Clare of Assisi, who lived in the 13th century and was a contemporary of St. Francis. Her testimony shows us how the whole Church is indebted to courageous women rich in faith like her, capable of giving decisive impetus to the renewal of the Church.
Then who was Clare of Assisi? To respond to this question we have reliable sources: Not only the ancient biographies, such as that of Thomas of Celano, but also the acts from the canonization process promoted by the Pope only a few months after Clare's death, which contain the testimonies of those who lived with her for a long time.
Born in 1193, Clare belonged to a wealthy aristocratic family. She gave up nobility and wealth to live poorly and humbly, adopting the way of life proposed by St. Francis of Assisi. Although her family was planning her marriage to an important personality -- as was the practice in that time -- with a bold gesture inspired by her profound desire to follow Christ and her admiration for Francis, Clare left her family home when she was 18 and, accompanied by a friend, Bona di Guelfuccio, she secretly met the Friars Minor in the small church of the Portiuncula. It was the afternoon of Palm Sunday of 1211.
Amid general shock, a highly symbolic gesture took place: While his companions held lighted torches in their hands, Francis cut her hair and Clare was clothed in a coarse penitential habit. From that moment she became the virgin bride of Christ, humble and poor, and she consecrated herself totally to him. Over the course of history innumerable women like Clare and her companions have been fascinated by Christ who, in the beauty of his Divine Person, fills their hearts. And the entire Church, through the mystic nuptial vocation of consecrated virgins, shows what she will always be: the beautiful and pure Bride of Christ.
In one of the four letters that Clare sent to St. Agnes of Prague, the daughter of the king of Bohemia who wished to follow in her footsteps, she speaks of Christ, her beloved Spouse, with nuptial expressions, which might be surprising, but which are moving: "Loving him, you are chaste, touching him, you will be more pure, letting yourself be possessed by him you are virgin. His power is stronger, his generosity loftier, his appearance more beautiful, his love gentler and all grace finer. Now you are enfolded in his arms, he who has adorned your breast with precious stones ... and has crowned you with a crown of gold marked with the sign of sanctity" (First letter: FF, 2862).
Above all at the beginning of her religious experience, Clare had in Francis of Assisi not only a teacher whose instruction she would follow, but also a fraternal friend. The friendship between these two saints is a very beautiful and important element. In fact, when two pure souls meet, inflamed by the same love of God, they draw from their mutual friendship a very strong stimulus to undertake the way of perfection. Friendship is one of the noble and lofty human sentiments that divine grace purifies and transfigures. Like St. Francis and St. Clare, other saints have also experienced a profound friendship on the same path toward Christian perfection, such as St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal. And it is precisely St. Francis de Sales who writes: "It is lovely to be able to love on earth as one loves in heaven, and to learn to love one another in this world as we will eternally in the next. I am not speaking here of the simple love of charity, because we must have this for all people; I am speaking of spiritual friendship, in the ambit of which two, three or more persons exchange devotion, spiritual affections, and truly become one spirit" (Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 19).
After spending a period of some months in other monastic communities, resisting the pressures of her relatives who in the beginning did not approve of her choice, Clare established herself with her first companions in the church of San Damiano, where the Friars Minor had prepared a small convent for them. She lived in that monastery for more than 40 years, until her death, which occurred in 1253. A firsthand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is a report full of admiration from a Flemish bishop, James of Vitry, on a visit to Italy, who states that he met a great number of men and women, of all social classes, who "leaving everything for Christ, fled from the world. They are called Friars Minor and Sisters Minor and are held in great regard by the Lord Pope and by the cardinals. ... The women ... dwell together in various hospices not far from cities. They do not receive anything, but live from the work of their hands. And they are pained and profoundly disturbed because they are honored more than they would like, by clerics and laity" (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205.2007).
James of Vitry keenly understood a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was very sensitive: radical poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. Because of this, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF, 3279). Based on this, Clare and her companions of San Damiano could not own any material property. It was truly an extraordinary exception in regard to existing canon law, and the ecclesiastical authorities of that time granted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical sanctity that they recognized in the way that Clare and her sisters lived. This also shows that in the Medieval centuries, the role of women was not secondary but rather was considerable. In this regard, it is appropriate to recall that Clare was the first woman in the history of the Church who composed a written rule, subject to the Pope's approval, so that the charism of Francis of Assisi would be preserved in all the feminine communities that were being established already in great numbers in her time, and that wished to be inspired in Francis' and Clare's example.
In the convent of San Damiano, Clare practiced heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penance, charity. Even though she was the superior, she wished to serve the sick sisters herself, subjecting herself also to very humble tasks: Charity, in fact, overcomes all resistance and one who loves makes every sacrifice with joy. Her faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist was so great that on two occasions, prodigious events were witnessed. With the exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament alone, she succeeded in repelling the Saracen mercenary soldiers who were about to attack the convent of San Damiano and devastate Assisi.
These episodes, like other miracles about which records were kept, drove Pope Alexander IV to canonize her only two years after her death, in 1255, sketching a eulogy of her in the bull of canonization in which we read: "How vivid is the force of this light and how strong is the clarity of this luminous source. Truly, this light was enclosed in the retreat of the cloistered life, and outside it radiated luminous brilliance; it was recollected in a small monastery, and expanded outside throughout the vast world. It was kept inside and spread outside. Clare, in fact, hid herself, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame cried out" (FF, 3284).
And this is precisely the way of things, dear friends: It is the saints who change the world for the better, they transform it in a lasting way, injecting in it energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can arouse. The saints are the great benefactors of humanity!
St. Clare's spirituality, the synthesis of her proposal of sanctity, is gathered in the fourth letter to St. Agnes of Prague. St. Clare uses the image of the mirror, which was a very widespread image in the Middle Ages, rooted in the patristics. And she invites her Prague friend to look at herself in that mirror of perfection of every virtue, which is the Lord himself. She writes: "Happy certainly is she who is granted to enjoy this sacred union, to adhere with the depth of the heart [to Christ], to the One whose beauty all the blessed multitudes of the heavens admire incessantly, whose affection impassions, whose contemplation restores, whose goodness satiates, whose gentleness fills, whose memory shines gently, from whose perfume the dead will return to life and whose glorious vision will make blessed all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. And given that he is the splendor of glory, pure whiteness of the eternal light and spotless mirror, look every day in this mirror, oh queen, bride of Jesus Christ, and scrutinize continually in him his face, so that you will thus be able to adorn yourself completely within and without ... shining in this mirror are blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable charity" (Fourth Letter: FF, 2901-2903).
Thankful to God who has given us the saints who speak to our heart and provide us an example of Christian life to imitate, I would like to conclude with the same words of blessing that St. Clare composed for her sisters and that still today the Poor Clares, who carry out a valuable role in the Church with their prayer and their work, keep with great devotion. They are an expression from which arises all the tenderness of her spiritual maternity: "I bless you in my life and after my death, as I can and more than I can, with all the blessings with which the Father of mercies blesses and will bless in heaven and on earth his sons and daughters, and with which a spiritual father and a spiritual mother bless and will bless their spiritual sons and daughters. Amen" (FF, 2856).
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Clare of Assisi, the great mystic, friend of Saint Francis and foundress of the Poor Clare Nuns. Born to a family of means, Clare chose to embrace a life of radical poverty, chastity and trust in God's providence; received by Francis, she consecrated herself completely to Christ and, together with her companions, embraced the common life in the Church of San Damiano in Assisi. The spiritual friendship between Clare and Francis reminds us of how the great saints have found in such friendships a powerful impetus to greater love of Christ and renewed strength in the pursuit of the way of perfection. Clare's Rule, the first written by a woman, sought to preserve and foster the Franciscan charism in the growing number of women's communities which followed the example of Francis and her own. Her spirituality, nourished by the Eucharist, was based on the loving contemplation of Christ as the source and perfection of every virtue. Saint Clare shows us the value of consecrated virginity as an image of the Church's love for her divine Spouse, and the decisive role played by courageous and faith-filled women to the Church's renewal in every age.
A Continuing Reflection on St. Hildegard
"Theology As Well Can Receive a Particular Contribution From Women"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 8, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to take up again and continue the reflection on St. Hildegard of Bingen, an important woman of the Middle Ages, who is distinguished for her spiritual wisdom and holiness. Hildegard's mystical visions are like those of the prophets of the Old Testament: Expressing herself with the cultural and religious categories of her time, she interpreted sacred Scripture in the light of God, applying it to the various circumstances of life. Thus, all those who listened to her felt exhorted to practice a coherent and committed style of Christian living. In a letter to St. Bernard, the Rhenish mystic says: "The vision enthralled my whole being: I do not see merely with the eyes of the body, but mysteries appear to me in the spirit ... I know the profound meaning of what is expressed in the Psalter, in the Gospels and in other books, which were shown to me in the vision. This burns like a flame in my breast and in my soul, and teaches me how to understand the text profoundly" (Epistolarium pars prima I-XC: CCCM 91).
Hildegard's mystical visions are rich in theological content. They make reference to the main events of the history of salvation, and adopt a primarily poetic and symbolic language. For example, in her best known work, titled "Scivias," that is, "Know the Ways," she summarizes in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation, from the creation of the world to the end times. With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard, specifically in the central section of her work, develops the subject of the mystical marriage between God and humanity accomplished in the Incarnation. Carried out on the tree of the cross was the marriage of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with the grace of being capable of giving God new children, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c.).
Already from these brief citations we see how theology as well can receive a particular contribution from women, because they are capable of speaking of God and of the mysteries of the faith with their specific intelligence and sensitivity. Hence, I encourage all those [women] who carry out this service to do so with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great wealth, in part yet unexplored, of the Medieval mystical tradition, above all that represented by luminous models, such as, specifically, Hildegard of Bingen.
The Rhenish mystic is also author of other writings, two of which are particularly important because they report, as does "Scivias," her mystical visions: They are the "Liber vitae meritorum" (Books of Merits of Life) and the "Liber divinorum operum" (Book of Divine Works), also called "De operatione Dei." Described in the first is the unique and powerful vision of God who vivifies the cosmos with his strength and his light. Hildegard stresses the profound relationship between man and God and reminds us that the whole of creation, of which man is the summit, receives life from the Trinity. The writing is centered on the relationship between virtues and vices, in which the human being must daily face the challenge of vices, which distance him from the way to God, and the virtues, which favor him. It is an invitation to move away from evil to glorify God and to enter, after a virtuous existence, in the life "full of joy."
In the second work, considered by many her masterpiece, she again describes creation in its relationship with God and the centrality of man, manifesting a strong Christo-centrism of a biblical-patristic hue. The saint, who presents five visions inspired by the Prologue of St. John's Gospel, reports the words that the Son addresses to the Father: "All the work that you willed and that you entrusted to me, I have brought to a good end, and behold that I am in you, and you in me, and that we are but one thing" (Pars III, Visio X: PL 197, 1025a).
Finally, in other writings Hildegard manifests a variety of interests and the cultural vivacity of women's monasteries in the Middle Ages, contrary to the prejudices that still today are leveled upon that epoch. Hildegard was involved with medicine and the natural sciences, as well as with music, being gifted with artistic talent. She even composed hymns, antiphons and songs, collected under the title "Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum" (Symphony of the Harmony of the Celestial Revelations), which were joyfully performed in her monasteries, spreading an atmosphere of serenity, and which have come down to us. For her, the whole of creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit, who in himself is joy and jubilation.
The popularity with which Hildegard was surrounded moved many persons to seek her counsel. Because of this, we have available to us many of her letters. Masculine and feminine monastic communities, bishops and abbots turned to her. Many of her answers are valid also for us. For example, to a women's religious community, Hildegard wrote thus: "The spiritual life must be taken care of with much dedication. In the beginning the effort is bitter. Because it calls for the renunciation of fancies, the pleasure of the flesh and other similar things. But if it allows itself to be fascinated by holiness, a holy soul will find sweet and lovable its very contempt for the world. It is only necessary to intelligently pay attention so that the soul does not shrivel" (E. Gronau, Hildegard. Vita di una donna profetica alle origini dell'eta moderna, Milan, 1996, p. 402).
And when the emperor Frederick Barbarossa caused an ecclesial schism by opposing three anti-popes to the legitimate Pope Alexander III, Hildegard, inspired by her visions, did not hesitate to remind him that he also, the emperor, was subject to the judgment of God. With the audacity that characterizes every prophet, she wrote these words to the emperor as God speaking: "Woe, woe to this wicked behavior of evil-doers who scorn me! Listen, O king, if you wish to live! Otherwise my sword will run you through!" (Ibid., p. 412).
With the spiritual authority with which she was gifted, in the last years of her life Hildegard began to travel, despite her advanced age and the difficult conditions of the journeys, to talk of God to the people. All listened to her eagerly, even when she took a severe tone: They considered her a messenger sent by God. Above all she called monastic communities and the clergy to a life in keeping with their vocation. In a particular way, Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They -- Cathar literally means "pure" -- advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy. She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget.
Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will raise up in the Church holy and courageous women, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, who, valuing the gifts received from God, will make their precious and specific contribution to the spiritual growth of our communities and of the Church in our time.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on medieval Christian culture, we turn again to Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the great nun and mystic of the twelfth century. Hildegard's celebrated visions vividly interpreted the word of God for her contemporaries, calling them to a committed Christian life. She brought a woman's insight to the mysteries of the faith. In her many works she contemplated the mystic marriage between God and humanity accomplished in the Incarnation, as well as the spousal union of Christ and the Church. She also explored the vital relationship between God and creation, and our human calling to give glory to God by a life of holiness and virtue. Hildegard's musical compositions reflect her conviction that all creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit, who is himself joy and jubilation. Her vast learning and spiritual authority also led her to work for the renewal of the Church in her day. Through Saint Hildegard's intercession, let us ask the Spirit to raise up wise, holy and courageous women whose God-given gifts will enrich the life of the Church in our own time!
On St. Hildegard: Cloistered Nun and Mystic
"The Receiver of Supernatural Gifts Never Boasts"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 1, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year, the Venerable John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter titled "Mulieris dignitatem," dealing with the valuable role that women have had and have in the life of the Church.
"The Church," one reads there, "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).
In those centuries of history that we usually call medieval, several women are outstanding for their holiness of life and the richness of their teaching. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in the Rhineland in Bermersheim in 1098, in the region of Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, despite having permanently frail health.
Hildegard belonged to a noble and numerous family and, from her birth, she was vowed by her parents to the service of God. At 8 years of age, in order to receive an adequate human and Christian formation, she was entrusted to the care of the teacher Judith of Spanheim, who had withdrawn into a cloister near the Benedictine monastery of St. Disibod. A small women's cloistered monastery was being formed, which followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Hildegard received the veil from Bishop Othon of Bamberg and, in 1136, on the death of Mother Judith, who had become the superior of the community, her fellow-sisters called Hildegard to succeed her. She carried out this task bringing to fruition her gifts as an educated woman, spiritually elevated and able to address competently the organizational aspects of cloistered life. A year or so later, also because of the growing number of young women who knocked on the door of the monastery, Hildegard founded another community in Bingen, named after St. Rupert, where she spent the rest of her life. The style with which she exercised the ministry of authority is exemplary for every religious community: It inspired a holy emulation in the practice of goodness, so much so that, as we see from testimonies of the time, the mother and the daughters competed in their reciprocal esteem and service.
Already in the years in which she was superior of the monastery of St. Disibod, Hildegard had begun to dictate the mystical visions she had received for some time to her spiritual adviser, monk Volmar, and to her secretary, a fellow sister to whom she was very devoted, Richardis of Strade. As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard, too, wanted to be subject to the authority of wise persons to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the fruit of illusions and that they did not come from God. She turned, therefore, to the person that at her time enjoyed the highest esteem of the Church: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I have already spoken in some catecheses. He calmed and encouraged Hildegard. However, in 1147 she received another very important approval. Pope Eugene III, who was presiding at a synod in Treviri, read a text dictated by Hildegard, presented to him by Archbishop Henry of Mainz. The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak publicly.
From that moment, Hildegard's spiritual prestige grew increasingly, so much so that her contemporaries attributed to her the title of "Teutonic prophetess." This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority. Every gift distributed by the Holy Spirit, in fact, is destined for the edification of the Church, and the Church, through her pastors, recognizes their authenticity.
I will speak once again next Wednesday about this great woman "prophetess," who speaks with great timeliness also to us today, with her courageous capacity to discern the signs of the times, with her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today is being pieced together, her love of Christ and of his Church, suffering also at that time, wounded also at that time by the sins of priests and laymen, and that much more loved as Body of Christ. So St. Hildegard speaks to us; we will speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.
[In English, he said:]
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Sri Lanka. Our catechesis today deals with Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the great nun and mystic of the twelfth century. One of the outstanding women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard used her spiritual gifts for the renewal of the Church and the spread of authentic Christian living. Hildegard reminds us of the contribution which women are called to make to the life of the Church in our own time. Trusting in her intercession, I cordially invoke upon all of you God's abundant blessings!
On the Saints, Companions on the Journey
"Each One Should Have a Saint That Is Familiar to Him"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 25, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the life of each one of us there are very dear persons, to whom we feel particularly close; some are already in God's arms, others still share with us the journey of life: they are our parents, relatives, educators. They are persons to whom we have done good or from whom we have received good. They are persons we know we can count on. However, it is also important to have "travel companions" on the journey of our Christian life: I am thinking of a spiritual director, a confessor, persons with whom we can share the experience of faith, but I am also thinking of the Virgin Mary and of the saints. Each one should have a saint that is familiar to him, to whom he feels close with prayer and intercession, but also to imitate him or her. Hence, I would like to invite you to know the saints better, beginning with the one whose name you bear, by reading his life, his writings. You can be certain that they will become good guides to love the Lord ever more and valid aids for your human and Christian growth.
As you know, I am also united in a special way to some saints: among these, in addition to St. Joseph and St. Benedict, whose names I bear, and of others, is St. Augustine, whom I had the great gift of knowing, so to speak, up close through study and prayer, and who has become a good "travel companion" in my life and my ministry. I would like to stress once again an important aspect of his human and Christian experience, timely also in our age, in which it seems that relativism is, paradoxically, the "truth" that must guide thought, decisions and behavior.
St. Augustine was a man who never lived superficially. Thirst [for Truth], an anxious and constant search for Truth, is one of the underlying characteristics of his existence; however, [he didn't seek] "pseudo-truths" incapable of giving lasting peace of heart, but that Truth that gives meaning to existence and that is the "dwelling" in which the heart finds serenity and joy. His, we know, was not an easy journey: He thought he found Truth in prestige, in his career, in the possession of things, in the voices that promised him immediate happiness. He committed errors, went through sadness, faced failures, but he never paused, he was never satisfied with what gave him only a ray of light.
He was able to look into the depth of himself and he realized, as he writes in his Confessions, that that Truth, that God that he was looking for with his efforts was more intimate to him than he was to himself. He had always been by his side, had never abandoned him, was waiting to be able to enter into his life definitively (cf. III, 6, 11; X, 27, 38).
As I said commenting recently on a film on his life, in his anxious search, St. Augustine understood that it was not he who had found Truth, but that Truth itself, which is God, pursued and found him (cf. L'Osservatore Romano, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2009, p. 8). Commenting on a passage of the third chapter of the Confessions, Romano Guardini affirms: St. Augustine understood that God is glory that puts us on our knees, drink that extinguishes thirst, treasure that makes us happy, [...he had] the pacifying certainty of one who has finally understood, but also the blessedness of the love that knows: this is everything and it is enough for me" (Pensatori religiosi, Brescia, 2001, p. 177).
Again in the Confessions, in the ninth book, our saint gives us a conversation with his mother, St. Monica -- whose memorial is celebrated Friday, day after tomorrow. It is a very beautiful scene: he and his mother are in Ostia, in an inn, and from the window they see the sky and the sea, and they transcend sky and sea, and for a moment touch the heart of God in the silence of creatures. And here a fundamental idea appears in the journey toward Truth: creatures must be silent so that there will be a silence in which God can speak. This is also true in our time: Sometimes there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of reflecting on one's acts, on the profound meaning of one's life. Often preferred is living the fleeting moment, hoping that it will bring lasting happiness. One prefers to live, because it seems easier, with superficiality, without thinking; there is fear of seeking the Truth, or perhaps there is fear that the Truth will find us, will grip us and change our life, as happened to St. Augustine. '
Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to say to all, also to those in a difficult moment in their faith journey, those who do not participate much in the life of the Church, or those who live "as if God did not exist" that they not be afraid of the Truth, that they never interrupt their journey toward it, that they never cease to seek the profound truth about themselves and about things with the internal eyes of the heart.
God will not fail to give Light so that one can see, and Warmth to feel the heart that loves us and that wants to be loved.
May the intercession of the Virgin Mary, of St. Augustine and of St. Monica accompany us on this journey.
On Pope St. Pius X
A Pontificate "Characterized by a Notable Effort of Reform"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to reflect on the figure of my predecessor St. Pius X, whose liturgical memorial will be observed Saturday, to emphasize some of his characteristics that can also be useful for the pastors and faithful of our time.
Giuseppe Sarto -- that was his name -- was born in Riese, Treviso, in 1835 to a peasant family. After studying in the Seminary of Padua, he was ordained a priest at age 23. First he was vice-parish priest in Tombolo, then parish priest in Salzano, then canon of the cathedral of Treviso with the office of episcopal chancellor and spiritual director of the diocesan seminary. During those years of rich and generous pastoral experience, the future Pontiff showed that profound love of Christ and of the Church, that humility and simplicity and that great charity toward the neediest, which were characteristics of his whole life.
In 1884 he was appointed bishop of Mantua and in 1893 patriarch of Venice. On Aug. 4, 1903, he was elected Pope, a ministry that he accepted with hesitation, because he did not think he measured up to the loftiness of such a task.
St. Pius X's pontificate has left an indelible mark on the history of the Church, and was characterized by a notable effort of reform, synthesized in the motto "Instaurare omnia in Christo," (To Renew All Things in Christ.) His intervention, in fact, embraced various ecclesial ambits. From the beginning he dedicated himself to the reorganization of the Roman Curia; then he gave a green light to the work of writing the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by his successor, Benedict XV. Moreover, he promoted the revision of studies and of the iter of formation for future priests; he also founded several regional seminaries, equipped with good libraries and competent professors.
Another important sector was the doctrinal formation of the People of God. In the years he was a parish priest, he himself wrote a catechism, and during his episcopacy in Mantua he worked to establish a single catechism, if not universal, at least Italian. As a genuine pastor, he understood that the situation of the age, also because of the phenomenon of emigration, made necessary a catechism that all the faithful could refer to, regardless of the place and circumstances of life. As Pontiff he prepared a text of Christian doctrine for the Diocese of Rome, which later spread to the whole of Italy and the world. The catechism called "of Pius X" was for many a sure guide in learning the truths of the faith because of its simple, clear and precise language and its explanatory effectiveness.
He dedicated notable attention to the reform of the liturgy, in particular sacred music, to lead the faithful to a life of more profound prayer and to fuller participation in the sacraments. In the motu proprio "Tra le sollecitudini" (1931), he stated that the true Christian spirit has its first and indispensable source in active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church (cf. ASS 36 , 531). That is why he recommended the frequent reception of the sacraments, fostering daily, well-prepared reception of Holy Communion, and opportunely moving earlier children's First Communion to around 7 years of age, "when," he said, "the child begins to reason." (cf. S. Congr. de Sacramentis, Decretum Quam singulari: ASS 2 , 582).
Faithful to the task of confirming brethren in the faith, St. Pius X intervened with determination in the face of tendencies that manifested themselves in the theological realm at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, condemning Modernism, to defend the faithful from erroneous concepts and to promote scientific reflection on revelation in harmony with the tradition of the Church. On May 7, 1909, with the apostolic letter "Vinea electa," he founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The last months of his life were embittered by the outbreak of the War. An appeal to the Catholics of the world launched on Aug. 2, 1914, to express "the acute grief" of that hour, was the suffering cry of a father who sees his children confront one another. He died shortly after, on Aug. 20, and his reputation for sanctity soon began to spread among the Christian people.
Dear brothers and sisters, St. Pius X teaches all of us that, at the foundation of our apostolic action, in the various fields in which we work, there must always be an intimate personal union with Christ, which must be cultivated and enhanced day after day. This is the kernel of all his teaching, of all his pastoral commitment. Only if we are enamored of the Lord will we be able to lead men to God and open them to his merciful love, and thus open the world to God's mercy.
[In English, he said:]
My dear brothers and sisters, today we recall Pope Saint Pius the Tenth, whose feast we celebrate this coming Saturday. He left an indelible mark in very many aspects of the Church’s life and activity, his overarching goal being to "renew all things in Christ" through our intimate personal union with our Saviour. By Pope Saint Pius’s prayers, may we grow daily in love for Christ and help open others to his love. God’s abundant blessings upon you all!
On Duns Scotus
"Defender of the Immaculate Conception"
VATICAN CITY, JULY 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
This morning -- after a few catecheses on several great theologians -- I wish to present to you another important figure in the history of theology: John Duns Scotus, who lived at the end of the 13th century. An ancient inscription on his tomb summarizes the geographical coordinates of his biography: "England received him; France instructed him; Cologne, in Germany, keeps his remains, he was born in Scotland." We cannot overlook this information, because we have very little information on the life of Duns Scotus.
He was born probably in 1266 in a village, which in fact is called Duns, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Attracted by the charism of St. Francis of Assisi, he entered the Family of the Friars Minor and was ordained a priest in 1291. Gifted with a brilliant intelligence geared to speculation -- an intelligence that merited him by tradition the title of doctor subtilis, "subtle doctor" -- Duns Scotus was directed to the study of philosophy and theology at the famous Universities of Oxford and Paris. Having concluded his formation successfully, he undertook the teaching of theology at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and then Paris, beginning his commentary, as all teachers of the time, on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. The main works of Duns Scotus represent, in fact, the mature fruit of these lessons, and take the title of the places in which he taught: Opus Oxoniense (Oxford), Reportatio Cambrigensis (Cambridge), Reportata Parisiensia (Paris).
Duns Scotus left Paris when a serious conflict broke out between King Philip IV the Fair and Pope Boniface VIII, preferring voluntary exile rather than signing a document hostile to the Supreme Pontiff, as the king had imposed on all religious. Thus -- out of love for the See of Peter -- he left the country together with his Franciscan Brothers.
Dear brothers and sisters, this fact invites us to recall how many times in the history of the Church believers have met with hostility and even with persecutions because of their fidelity and their devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Pope. We all look with admiration to these Christians, who teach us to guard faith in Christ and communion with the Successor of Peter, and thus with the universal Church, as a precious good.
However, relations between the king of France and Boniface VIII's successor soon became friendly again and in 1305 Duns Scotus was able to return to Paris to teach theology with the title of magister regens, today we would say ordinary professor. Subsequently, his superiors sent him to Cologne as professor of the Franciscan Theological Studium, but he died on Nov. 8, 1308, when only 43 years of age, leaving, however, an important number of works.
Because of his fame for holiness, devotion to him soon spread in the Franciscan Order and Venerable Pope John Paul II wished to confirm him solemnly blessed on March 20, 1993, describing him as "singer of the Incarnate Word and defender of the Immaculate Conception." Synthesized in this expression is the great contribution Duns Scotus made to the history of theology.
First of all, he meditated on the mystery of the incarnation and, as opposed to many Christian thinkers of the time, he maintained that the Son of God would have become man even if humanity had not sinned. In the Reportata Parisiensia he affirms: "To think that God would have given up such work if Adam had not sinned would be altogether irrational! I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of the predestination of Christ, and that -- even if no one had fallen, not angels or man -- in this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same way" (in III Sent., d. 7, 4).
This, perhaps, rather surprising thought is born because for Duns Scotus the incarnation of the Son of God, projected from all eternity by God the Father in his plan of love, is the fulfillment of creation, and makes it possible for every creature, in Christ and through him, to be filled with grace and give praise and glory to God in eternity. Duns Scotus, though aware that, in reality, because of original sin, Christ has redeemed us with his passion, death and resurrection, confirms that the incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the whole history of salvation, and that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact, but is the original idea of God to finally unite the whole of creation with himself in the person and flesh of the Son.
Duns Scotus, faithful disciple of St. Francis, loved to contemplate and preach the mystery of the salvific passion of Christ, expression of the immense love of God, who communicates with enormous generosity outside of himself the rays of his goodness and his love (cf. Tractatus de primo principio, c. 4). And this love is not only revealed on Calvary, but also in the Most Blessed Eucharist, to which Duns Scotus was most devoted and which he saw as the sacrament of the real presence of Jesus and as the sacrament of the unity and community that induces us to love one another and to love God as the supreme common good (cf. Reportata Parisiensia, in IV Sent., d. 8, q. 1, n. 3).
Dear brothers and sisters, this theological vision, intensely "Christocentric," opens us to contemplation, to wonder and to gratitude: Christ is the center of history and of the cosmos; he it is who gives meaning, dignity and value to our life! Like Pope Paul VI in Manila, I also would like to cry out to the world today: "[Christ] reveals the invisible God, he is the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of everything created. He is the Teacher of mankind, and its Redeemer. He was born, he died and he rose again for us. He is the centre of history and of the world; he is the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and the friend of our life. ... I could never finish speaking about him" (Homily, Nov. 29, 1970).
Not only the role of Christ in the history of salvation, but also Mary's [role] is the object of the reflection of the doctor subtilis. In Duns Scotus' times, the majority of theologians offered an objection that seemed insurmountable to the doctrine that Most Holy Mary was free from original sin from the first instant of her conception. In fact, the universality of the redemption wrought by Christ, at first glance, might seem compromised by such an affirmation, as if Mary had no need of Christ and of his redemption. Because of this theologians were opposed to this thesis.
To make this preservation from original sin understood, Duns Scotus then developed an argument which later would also be adopted by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he defined solemnly the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. And this argument is that of the "preventive redemption," according to which the Immaculate Conception represents the masterpiece of the redemption wrought by Christ, because in fact the power of his love and of his mediation obtained that the Mother be preserved from original sin. Hence Mary is totally redeemed by Christ, but already before her conception. The Franciscans, his brethren, accepted and spread this doctrine enthusiastically, as did other theologians who -- often with a solemn oath -- committed themselves to defend and perfect it.
In this regard, I would like to highlight something, which it seems to me is important. Valuable theologians, such as Duns Scotus with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, enriched with their specific thought what the People of God already believed spontaneously about the Blessed Virgin, manifested in acts of piety, in the expressions of art and, in general, in Christian living. Thus faith in the Immaculate Conception or in the bodily assumption of the Virgin was already present in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to interpret it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. Thus the People of God precede theologians and all this thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit, which qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith, with humility of heart and mind.
In this sense, the People of God is "magisterium that precedes," and that later must be deepened and intellectually accepted by theology. May theologians always be able to listen to this source of faith and have the humility and simplicity of little ones! I made this reminder a few months ago saying: "There have been great scholars, great experts, great theologians, teachers of faith who have taught us many things. They have gone into the details of Sacred Scripture, ... but have been unable to see the mystery itself, its central nucleus. ... The essential has remained hidden! On the other hand, in our time there have also been 'little ones' who have understood this mystery. Let us think of St. Bernadette Soubirous; of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, with her new interpretation of the Bible that is 'non-scientific' but goes to the heart of Sacred Scripture" (Homily. Holy Mass with the Members of the International Theological Commission, Dec. 1, 2009).
Finally, Duns Scotus developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of liberty and its relation with the will and with the intellect. Our author stresses liberty as a fundamental quality of the will, initiating an approach of a voluntaristic tendency, which developed in contrast with the so-called Augustinian and Thomistic intellectualism. For St. Thomas Aquinas, who follows St. Augustine, liberty cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but the fruit of the collaboration of the will and of the intellect.
An idea of innate and absolute liberty placed in the will and preceding the intellect, whether in God or in man, risks, in fact, leading to the idea of a God who would not even be linked to the truth and to the good. The desire to save the absolute transcendence and diversity of God with an affirmation about his will that is so radical and impenetrable fails to take into account that the God who revealed himself in Christ is the God "logos," who acted and acts full of love toward us.
Certainly, as Duns Scotus affirms, in line with Franciscan theology, love surpasses knowledge and is increasingly capable of perceiving thought, but it is always the love of the God "Logos" (cf. Benedict XVI, Address at Regensburg, Teachings of Benedict XVI, II , p. 261). Also in man the idea of absolute liberty, placed in the will, forgetting the nexus with truth, ignores that liberty itself must be freed of the limits imposed on it by sin.
Speaking to Roman seminarians last year, I reminded that "[s]ince the beginning and throughout all time but especially in the modern age freedom has been the great dream of humanity" (Address to the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary, Feb. 20, 2009). However, modern history itself, in addition to our daily experience, teaches us that liberty is authentic, and helps the construction of a truly human civilization only when it is reconciled with truth. If it is detached from truth, liberty becomes, tragically, a principle of destruction of the interior harmony of the human person, source of malversation of the strongest and the violent, and cause of suffering and mourning. Liberty, as all the faculties with which man is gifted, grows and is perfected, affirms Duns Scotus, when man opens himself to God, valuing that disposition of listening to his voice, which he calls potentia oboedientialis: When we listen to divine Revelation, to the Word of God, to accept it, then we have been reached by a message that fills our life with light and hope and we are truly free.
Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed Duns Scotus teaches us that what is essential in our life is to believe that God is close to us and that he loves us in Christ Jesus, and therefore to cultivate a profound love of him and of his Church. We are witnesses of this love on earth. May Mary Most Holy help us to receive this infinite love of God that we will enjoy fully for eternity in heaven, when our soul will finally be united for ever to God, in the communion of saints.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on medieval Christian culture, we now turn to the distinguished Franciscan theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus. A native of Scotland, he taught at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Paris. Duns Scotus is best known today for his contribution to the development of Christian thought in three areas. First, he held that the Incarnation was not directly the result of Adam's sin, but a part of God's original plan of creation, in which every creature, in and through Christ, is called to be perfected in grace and to glorify God for ever. In this great Christocentric vision, the Incarnate Word appears as the centre of history and the cosmos. Secondly, Scotus argued that Our Lady's preservation from original sin was a privilege granted in view of her Son's redemptive passion and death; this theory was to prove decisive for the eventual definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Finally, Duns Scotus paid great attention to the issue of human freedom, although by situating it principally in the will, he sowed the seeds of a trend in later theology that risked detaching freedom from its necessary relation to truth. May the teaching and example of Blessed John Duns Scotus help us to understand that we attain happiness, freedom and perfection by opening ourselves to God's gracious self-revelation in Christ Jesus.
On St. Thomas Aquinas
He "Showed There Is a Natural Harmony Between Christian Faith and Reason"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 2, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today for the general audience in St. Peter's Square. The Pope returns to his cycle of catechesis on the great thinkers of the Middle Ages with a reflection on the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After a few catecheses on the priesthood and my latest trips, we return today to our principal theme, namely, to the meditation on some of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. We saw recently the great figure of St. Bonaventure, Franciscan, and today I would like to speak of him whom the Church calls the Doctor Communis, namely St. Thomas Aquinas.
In his encyclical "Fides et Ratio," my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II recalled that "the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology" (No. 43). It is not surprising that, after St. Augustine, among the writers mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas is quoted more than any other -- some 61 times! He was also called the Doctor Angelicus, perhaps because of his virtues, in particular the loftiness of his thought and purity of life.
Thomas was born between 1224 and 1225 in the castle that his family, noble and wealthy, owned in Roccasecca, on the outskirts of Aquino and near the famous abbey of Montecassino where he was sent by his parents to receive the first elements of his instruction. A year or so later he transferred to Naples, the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, where Frederick II had founded a prestigious university. There he was taught, without the limitations in force elsewhere, the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, to whom the young Thomas was introduced, and whose great value he intuited immediately.
But above all, during those years spent in Naples, his Dominican vocation was born. In fact, Thomas was attracted by the ideal of the order founded not many years earlier by St. Dominic. However, when he was clothed in the Dominican habit, his family opposed this choice, and he was obliged to leave the convent and spend some time with the family.
In 1245, now older, he was able to take up again his path of response to God's call. He was sent to Paris to study theology under the guidance of another saint, Albert the Great, about whom I spoke recently. Albert and Thomas forged a true and profound friendship and they learned to esteem and wish one another well, to the point that Albert wanted his disciple to follow him also to Cologne, where he had been invited by the superiors of the order to found a theological study. Thomas now made contact with all of Aristotle's works and with his Arab commentators, which Albert illustrated and explained.
In that period, the culture of the Latin world was profoundly stimulated by the encounter with Aristotle's works, which had been ignored for a long time. They were writings on the nature of knowledge, on the natural sciences, on metaphysics, on the soul and on ethics, rich in information and intuition that seemed valid and convincing. It was a whole complete vision of the world developed without and before Christ, with pure reason, and it seemed to impose itself on reason as "the" vision itself; hence, it was an incredible fascination for young people to see and know this philosophy. Many received with enthusiasm, and some with acritical enthusiasm, this enormous baggage of ancient learning, which seemed to be able to renew the culture advantageously, to open totally new horizons. Others, however, feared that Aristotle's pagan thought was in opposition to the Christian faith, and they refused to study him. Two cultures met: the pre-Christian culture of Aristotle, with his radical rationality, and the classic Christian culture.
Certain environments were led to refuse Aristotle, as well as the presentation that was made of this philosopher by the Arab commentators Avicenna and Averroes. In fact, they were the ones who transmitted Aristotelian philosophy to the Latin world. For example, these commentators had taught that men do not have a personal intelligence, but that there is only one universal intellect, a common spiritual substance for all, which operates in all as "the only one," hence, a de-personalization of man. Another disputed point made by the Arab commentators was that the world is eternal like God. Understandably, endless disputes were unleashed in the university and ecclesiastical realms. Aristotelian philosophy was being spread, even among simple people.
Thomas Aquinas, in the school of Albert the Great, carried out an operation of fundamental importance for the history of philosophy and theology, I would say for the history of culture: He studied Aristotle and his interpreters in depth, obtaining new Latin translations of the original texts in Greek. Thus, he no longer relied only on the Arab commentators, but could read the original texts personally, and he commented on a great part of the Aristotelian works, distinguishing what was valid from what was doubtful or to be refuted all together, showing the consonance with events of Christian revelation and using Aristotelian thought at length and acutely in the exposition of the theological writings he composed. In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures -- that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason -- showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped the culture of the following centuries.
Because of his excellent intellectual gifts, Thomas was recalled to Paris as professor of theology in the Dominican chair. Here he also began his literary production, which he continued until his death, and which is something prodigious: commentaries on sacred Scripture, because the professor of theology was above all interpreter of Scripture, commentaries on Aristotle's writings, powerful systematic works, among which excels the Summa Theologiae, treatises and discourses on several arguments. For the composition of his writings, he was helped by some secretaries, among whom was Brother Reginald of Piperno, who followed him faithfully and to whom he was tied by a fraternal and sincere friendship, characterized by great confidence and trust. This is a characteristic of saints -- they cultivate friendship, because it is one of the most noble manifestations of the human heart and has in itself something of the divine. Thomas himself explained this in the Summa Theologiae, in which he wrote: "Charity is man's friendship with God primarily, and with the beings that belong to him" (II, q. 23, a.1).
He did not stay a long and stable time in Paris. In 1259, he participated in the General Chapter of the Dominicans at Valenciennes where he was member of a commission that established the program of studies for the order. Then, from 1261 to 1265 Thomas was in Orvieto. Pope Urban IV, who greatly esteemed him, commissioned him to compose the liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Domini, which we celebrate tomorrow, instituted after the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The very beautiful hymns that the liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom. From 1265 until 1268, Thomas resided in Rome, where, probably, he directed a Studium, namely a House of Study of the Order, and where he began to write his Summa Theologiae (cf. Jean Pierre Torrell, "Tommaso d'Aquino. L'uomo e il teologo" [Thomas Aquinas: The Man and the Theologian], Casale Monf., 1994, pp. 118-184).
In 1269 he was recalled to Paris for a second cycle of teaching. The students -- understandably -- were enthusiastic about his lessons. A former student of his said that a great multitude of students followed Thomas' courses, so much so that the classrooms barely succeeded in containing them. He added, with a personal annotation, that "to listen to [Aquinas] was for him a profound happiness." The interpretation of Aristotle given by Thomas was not accepted by everyone, but even his adversaries in the academic field, such as Goffredo di Fontaines, for example, admitted that the doctrine of Brother Thomas was superior to that of others for usefulness and value, and that it served as a corrective to those of all the other doctors. Perhaps to extricate him from the lively discussions under way, his superiors sent him once again to Naples, to be at the disposition of King Charles I, who intended to reorganize university studies.
In addition to studying and teaching, Thomas was also dedicated to preaching to the people. And the people willingly went to hear him. I would say that it is truly a great grace when theologians are able to speak with simplicity and fervor to the faithful. The ministry of preaching, moreover, helps the scholars of theology themselves to a healthy pastoral realism, and enriches their research by lively stimulation.
The last months of Thomas' earthly life remained surrounded by a particular atmosphere -- I would say a mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he called his friend and secretary Reginald to communicate to him the decision to interrupt all work because, during the celebration of Mass, he had understood, following a supernatural revelation, that all he had written up to then was only "a heap of straw." It is a mysterious episode, which helps us to understand not only Thomas' personal humility, but also the fact that all that we succeed in thinking and saying about the faith, no matter how lofty and pure, is infinitely exceeded by the grandeur and beauty of God, which will be revealed to us fully in Paradise. A few months later, always more absorbed in a thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while traveling to Lyon, where he was going to take part in the ecumenical council called by Pope Gregory X. He died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after having received the Viaticum with sentiments of great piety.
The life and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas could be summarized in an episode handed down by the ancient biographers. While the saint, as was his custom, was praying in the morning before the crucifix in the Chapel of St. Nicholas in Naples, the sacristan of the church, Domenico da Caserta, heard a dialogue unfolding. Thomas was asking, worried, if what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was right. And the Crucifix responded: "You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What will be your recompense?" And the answer that Thomas gave is that which all of us, friends and disciples of Christ, would always wants to give: "Nothing other than You, Lord!" (Ibid., 320).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Doctor Communis, whose life and teaching have always been revered as an outstanding model for theologians. As a young student at the University of Naples, Thomas was introduced to the recently rediscovered works of Aristotle. Much of his scholarly life would be devoted to studying the Philosopher's authentic teaching, discerning its valid elements, and demonstrating its value for Christian thought. Thomas entered the Order of Preachers, studied under Albert the Great, and taught theology in Cologne, Paris, Rome and Naples. Among his many commentaries and systematic works, the great Summa Theologiae reveals his critical gifts and his conviction of the natural harmony between faith and reason. Thomas also composed the liturgical texts for the new feast of Corpus Domini, whose hymns reflect his deep Eucharistic faith and theological wisdom. At the end of his life, St. Thomas stopped writing, after a mystical experience which convinced him that all he had written "was as straw," in comparison with the infinite grandeur and beauty of God's truth. In coming catecheses we will explore the thought and writings of this great theologian.
On Aquinas, Philosophy and Theology
Faith "Protects Reason From Every Temptation to Mistrust Its Own Capacities"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 16, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to continue a presentation of St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of such value that the study of his thought was explicitly recommended by the Second Vatican Council in two documents, the decree "Optatam Totius," on formation for the priesthood, and the declaration "Gravissimum Educationis," which deals with Christian education. However, already in 1880, Pope Leo XIII, who greatly esteemed [Thomas] and was a promoter of Thomistic studies, wished to declare St. Thomas the patron of Catholic schools and universities.
The main reason for this appreciation lies not only in the content of his teaching, but also in the method he used, above all his new synthesis and distinction between philosophy and theology. The Fathers of the Church had found themselves faced with different philosophies of a Platonic type, in which a complete vision of the world and of life was presented, including the question of God and of religion. In confronting these philosophies, they themselves elaborated a complete vision of reality, starting from the faith and using elements of Platonism, to respond to the essential questions of man. They called this vision, based on biblical revelation and elaborated with a correct Platonism in the light of faith, "our philosophy." The word "philosophy" was not, therefore, the expression of a purely rational system and, as such, different from faith, but it indicated a comprehensive vision of reality, constructed in the light of faith, but made by and thought out by reason; a vision that, it is true, went beyond the capacity proper to reason, but that, as such, was also satisfying for it.
For St. Thomas the encounter with the pre-Christian philosophy of Aristotle (who died around 322 B.C.) opened a new perspective. Aristotelian philosophy was, obviously, a philosophy elaborated without knowledge of the Old and the New Testament, an explanation of the world without Revelation, by reason alone. And this consistent rationality was convincing. Thus the old form of the Fathers' "our philosophy" no longer worked. The relationship between philosophy and theology, between faith and reason, had to be thought out again.
There existed a complete and convincing "philosophy" in itself, a rationality preceding faith, and then "theology," thinking with the faith and in the faith. The pressing question was this: Are the world of rationality, philosophy thought out without Christ, and the world of faith compatible? Or do they exclude one another?
There was no lack of elements that affirmed the incompatibility between the two worlds, but St. Thomas was firmly convinced of their compatibility -- more than that, that a philosophy elaborated without the knowledge of Christ almost awaited the light of Jesus to be complete. This was the great "surprise" of St. Thomas, which determined his path as a thinker. To show this independence of philosophy and theology and, at the same time, their reciprocal rationality was the historic mission of the great teacher. And thus we can understand why, in the 19th century, when an incompatibility between modern reason and faith was forcefully declared, Pope Leo XIII indicated St. Thomas as the guide in the dialogue between the one and the other.
In his theological work, St. Thomas presupposes and makes concrete this rationality. Faith consolidates, integrates and enlightens the patrimony of truth that human reason acquires. The trust that St. Thomas accords to these two instruments of knowledge -- faith and reason -- can lead back to the conviction that both proceed from the one source of all truth, the divine Logos, which operates both in the realm of creation as well as in that of redemption.
Together with the agreement between reason and faith, it must be acknowledged that they make use of different cognitive procedures. Reason accepts a truth on the strength of its intrinsic evidence, indirect or immediate; faith, instead, accepts a truth based on the authority of the Word of God who reveals himself. At the beginning of his Summa Theologiae St. Thomas writes: "The order of the sciences is twofold; some proceed from principles known through the natural light of reason, such as mathematics, geometry and similar ones; others proceed from principles known through a higher science: as perspective proceeds from principles known through geometry and music from principles known through mathematics. And in this way the sacred doctrine (namely, theology) is a science because it proceeds from principles known through the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and of the saints" (I, q. 1, a. 2).
This distinction ensures the autonomy both of human sciences as well as of the theological sciences. However, this is not the equivalent of separation, but implies rather a reciprocal and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from every temptation to mistrust its own capacities, it stimulates it to open to ever more vast horizons, it keeps alive in it the search for foundations and, when reason itself applies itself to the supernatural sphere of the relationship between God and man, it enriches its work. According to St. Thomas, for example, human reason can without a doubt attain to the affirmation of the existence of one God, but only faith, which receives divine Revelation, is able to attain to the mystery of the Love of God, One and Triune.
On the other hand, it is not only faith that helps reason. Reason also, with its means, can do something important for faith, rendering it a threefold service that St. Thomas summarizes in the preface of his commentary to Boethius' De Trinitate: "To demonstrate the foundations of the faith; to explain through similarities the truth of the faith; to refute the objections that are raised against the faith" (q. 2, a. 2). The whole history of theology is, fundamentally, the exercise of this effort from the intelligence, which shows the intelligibility of faith, its internal articulation and harmony, its reasonableness and its capacity to promote the good of man. The correction of theological reasoning and its real cognitive meaning is based on the value of theological language, which is, according to St. Thomas, primarily an analogical language. The distance between God, the Creator, and the being of his creatures is infinite; the dissimilarity is always greater than the similarity (cf. DC 806). Despite this, in all the difference between Creator and creature, there is an analogy between created being and the being of the Creator, which enables us to speak with human words about God.
St. Thomas based the doctrine of analogy, as well as his exquisitely philosophical arguments, also on the fact that with Revelation, God himself has spoken to us and has, therefore, authorized us to speak of him. I consider it important to recall this doctrine. In fact, it helps us to surmount some objections of contemporary atheism, which denies that religious language is equipped with an objective meaning, and maintains instead that it has only a subjective or simply emotional value. This objection results from the fact that positivist thought is convinced that man does not know being, but only the functions of reality that are experienced. With St. Thomas and with the great philosophical tradition, we are convinced that, in reality, man does not only know the functions, object of the natural sciences, but he knows something of being itself -- for example he knows the person, the you of the other, and not only the physical or biological aspect of his being.
In the light of this teaching of St. Thomas, theology affirms that, though limited, religious language is equipped with meaning -- because we touch being -- as an arrow directed toward the reality it signifies. This fundamental agreement between human reason and Christian faith is recognized in another basic principle of Aquinas' thought: divine grace does not annul but supposes and perfects human nature. Human nature, in fact, even after sin, is not completely corrupt, but wounded and weakened. Grace, lavished by God and communicated through the Mystery of the Incarnate Word, is an absolutely free gift with which nature is healed, strengthened and aided in the pursuit of happiness, the innate desire in the heart of every man and every woman. All the faculties of the human being are purified, transformed and elevated by divine grace.
An important application of this relation between nature and grace is recognized in the moral theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is very timely. At the center of his teaching in this field, he puts the new law, which is the law of the Holy Spirit. With a profoundly evangelical focus, he insists on the fact that this law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to all those who believe in Christ. To such grace is joined the written and oral teaching of the doctrinal and moral truths, transmitted by the Church. Stressing the fundamental role in moral life of the Holy Spirit's action, of grace, from which the theological and moral virtues flow, St. Thomas makes one understand that every Christian can attain the lofty prospects of the "Sermon on the Mount" if he lives an authentic relationship of faith in Christ, if he opens himself to the action of his Holy Spirit. However -- Aquinas adds -- "even if grace is more effective than nature, still nature is more essential for man" (Summa Theologiae, Ia, q, 29, a. 3), due to which, in the Christian moral perspective, there is a place for reason, which is capable of discerning the natural moral law. Reason can recognize [this law] considering what is good to do and what is good to avoid to obtain that happiness which is in each one's heart, and which also imposes a responsibility toward others and, hence, the search for the common good. In other words, the virtues of man, theological and moral, are rooted in human nature. Divine grace supports, sustains and drives the ethical commitment but, on their own, according to St. Thomas, all men, believers and non-believers, are called to recognize the exigencies of human nature expressed in natural law and to be inspired in it in the formulation of positive laws, that is, those issuing from the civil and political authorities to regulate human coexistence.
When the natural law and the responsibility it implies are denied, the way is opened dramatically to ethical relativism on the individual plane and to the totalitarianism of the state on the political plane. The defense of man's universal rights and the affirmation of the absolute value of the dignity of the person postulate a foundation. Is not the natural law precisely this foundation, with the non-negotiable values that it indicates? The Venerable John Paul II wrote in his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" words that remain very timely: "It is therefore urgently necessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential and innate human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote" (No. 71).
In conclusion, Thomas proposes to us a broad and trustworthy concept of human reason: broad because it is not limited to the spaces of the so-called empirical-scientific reason, but open to the whole being and hence also to the fundamental and inalienable questions of human living; and trustworthy because human reason, above all if it accepts the inspirations of the Christian faith, is a promoter of a civilization that recognizes the dignity of the person, the intangibility of his rights and the strength of his duties. It is not surprising that the doctrine about the dignity of the person, fundamental for the recognition of the inviolability of man's rights, matured in realms of thought that took up the legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who had a very lofty concept of the human creature. He defined it, with his rigorously philosophical language, as "that which is most perfect found in the whole of nature, that is a subsistent subject in a rational nature" (Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 29, a. 3).
The profundity of St. Thomas Aquinas' thought stems -- let us never forget it -- from his lively faith and his fervent piety, which he expressed in inspired prayers, such as this one in which he asks God: "Grant me, I pray, a will that seeks you, a wisdom that finds you, a life that pleases you, a perseverance that waits for you with trust and a trust that in the end succeeds in possessing you."
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we turn to the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which the Church has consistently upheld as a model of sound theological method. Thomas' insistence on the harmony of faith and reason respected the autonomy and complementarity of these two ways of knowing the truth which has its ultimate origin in God's Word. Faith sheds fuller light on the truths which reason is naturally capable of knowing, while drawing from revelation a supernatural knowledge of the divine mysteries and the Triune God himself. Reason for its part serves to demonstrate faith's credibility, to defend its teaching, and to show its inner consistency and intelligibility. The complementary relationship between faith and reason reflects the truth that God's grace build on, elevates and perfects human nature, which is thus enabled to pursue the felicity which is its deepest desire. Thomas' conviction that we are naturally able to acknowledge the principles of the natural moral law remains timely, since that law, grounded in the truth of man's nature, is the basis of respect for human dignity and universal human rights. Saint Thomas is the patron of Catholic schools and universities; let us ask him to obtain for all of us the wisdom and understanding born of a deep and living Christian faith!
On the Summa Theologiae
"In the School of the Saints, Let Us Be Enamored" of the Eucharist
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 23, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to complete, with a third part, my catechesis on St. Thomas Aquinas. Even after more than 700 years since his death, we can learn much from him. We were reminded of this also by my predecessor, Pope Paul VI, who, in an address given at Fossanova on Sept. 14, 1974, on the occasion of the seventh centenary of St. Thomas' death, asked: "Master Thomas, what lessons can you give us?" And he answered thus: "Trust in the truth of Catholic religious thought, as he defended it, explained it, [and] opened it to the cognitive capacity of the human mind" (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XII , pp. 833-834). And, on the same day, in Aquino, still referring to St. Thomas, he affirmed: "All of us, who are faithful children of the Church can and must, at least in some measure, be his disciples!" (Ibid., p. 836).
Hence, let us also put ourselves in the school of St. Thomas and of his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae. It was never finished and yet it is a monumental work: It contains 512 questions and 2,669 articles. It is coherent reasoning, in which the application of human intelligence to the mysteries of the faith proceeds with clarity and depth, interlacing questions and answers, in which St. Thomas deepens the teaching that comes from sacred Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, above all St. Augustine. In this reflection, in the encounter with true questions of his time, which are often also our questions, St. Thomas, also using the methods and thought of ancient philosophers, in particular of Aristotle, thus arrives at precise, lucid and pertinent formulations of the truth of the faith, where truth is a gift of faith, [where it] shines and becomes accessible to us, through our reflection. However, such effort of the human mind, Aquinas reminds us with his very life, is always illumined by prayer, by the light that comes from on high. Only one who lives with God and with the mysteries can also understand what they say.
In the Summa of theology, St. Thomas begins from the fact that there are three different modes of the being and essence of God: God exists in himself; he is the beginning and end of all things, and thus all creatures proceed from and depend on him, and God is present through his grace in the life and activity of the Christian, of the saints; finally, God is present in an altogether special way in the Person of Christ really united here with the man Jesus, and operating in the sacraments, which flow from his redemptive work.
Because of this, the structure of this monumental work (cf. Jean Pierre Torrell, La "Summa" di San Tommaso, Milan, 2003, pp. 29-75), research with a "theological look" at the fullness of God (cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a. 7), is articulated in three parts, and is illustrated by the Doctor Communis himself -- St. Thomas -- with these words: The main purpose of sacred doctrine is that of making God known, not only in himself, but also inasmuch as he is beginning and end of things, and especially of the reasoning creature. In the attempt to explain this doctrine, we will first treat of God; then of the movement of the creature toward God; and finally of Christ who, inasmuch as man, is for us the way to ascend to God" (Ibid., I. q. 2). It is a circle: God in himself, who comes out of himself and takes us by the hand, so that with Christ we return to God, we are united to God, and God will be all in all.
Hence, the first part of the Summa Theologiae studies God in himself, the mystery of the Trinity, and God's creative activity. In this part we also find a profound reflection on the authentic reality of the human being inasmuch as he issued from the creative hands of God, fruit of his love. On one hand we are a created, dependent being -- we do not come from ourselves; but, on the other, we have a true autonomy, so that we are not only something apparent -- as some Platonic philosophers say -- but a reality willed by God as such, and with value in itself.
In the second part St. Thomas considers man, driven by grace, in his aspiration to know and love God to be happy in time and in eternity. Firstly, the author presents the theological principles of moral action, studying how, in man's free choice of carrying out good acts, reason, will and passions are integrated, to which is added the strength that the grace of God gives through the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the help that is given also by the moral law. Hence the human being is a dynamic being that seeks himself, he seeks to become himself and, in this connection, seeks to do acts that build him up, make him truly man; and here the moral law, grace and one's reason, the will and the passions come in. On this foundation St. Thomas delineates the physiognomy of the man who lives according to the Spirit and thus becomes an icon of God. Here Aquinas pauses to study the three theological virtues -- faith, hope and charity -- followed by the acute examination of more than 50 moral virtues, organized around the four cardinal virtues -- prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. He then ends with a reflection on the different vocations in the Church.
In the third part of the Summa, St. Thomas studies the mystery of Christ -- the way and the truth -- by which we can return to union with God the Father. In this section he writes pages as yet unparalleled on the mystery of the incarnation and passion of Jesus, adding afterward a thorough treatise on the seven sacraments, since in them, the incarnate divine Word extends the benefits of the incarnation for our salvation, for our path of faith toward God and eternal life. He remains almost materially present with the realities of creation; he thus touches us in what is most intimate.
Speaking of the sacraments, St. Thomas pauses particularly on the mystery of the Eucharist, for which he had a very great devotion, to the point that, according to ancient biographers, he used to lean his head on the tabernacle, almost as if to hear the beating of the divine and human Heart of Jesus. In one of his works commenting on Scripture, St. Thomas helps us to understand the excellence of the sacrament of the Eucharist, when he writes: "The Eucharist being the sacrament of the passion of our Lord, is also an effect of this sacrament, it not being other than the application in us of the passion of the Lord" (In Ioannem, c.6, n. 963). Let us understand well why St. Thomas and other saints celebrated the Holy Mass shedding tears of compassion for the Lord, who offers himself in sacrifice for us, tears of joy and of gratitude.
Dear brothers and sisters, in the school of the saints, let us be enamored of this sacrament! Let us participate in the Holy Mass with recollection to obtain its spiritual fruits, let us nourish ourselves on the Body and Blood of the Lord, to be incessantly nourished by divine grace! Let us willingly and frequently converse, face to face, in the company of the Most Blessed Sacrament!
All that St. Thomas illustrated with scientific rigor in his major theological works, such as the Summa Theologiae and the Summa contra Gentiles, was also explained in his preaching, addressed to students and the faithful. In 1273, a year before his death, during the whole of Lent, he preached in the San Domenico Maggiore Church in Naples. The content of those sermons was collected and conserved: They are the booklets in which he explains the Symbol of the Apostles, interprets the prayer of the Our Father, illustrates the Decalogue and comments on the Hail Mary. The content of the preaching of the Angelic Doctor corresponds almost entirely to the structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, in catechesis and in preaching, at a time like ours of renewed commitment to evangelization, these fundamental arguments must never be lacking: that is, what we believe, and here is the Symbol of the faith; what we pray, and here is the Our Father and the Hail Mary; and what we live as biblical revelation teaches us, and here is the law of love of God and of our neighbor and the Ten Commandments, as explanation of this mandate of love.
I would like to propose some simple, essential and convincing examples of the content of the teaching of St. Thomas. In his booklet on the Symbol of the Apostles he explains the value of faith. Through it, he says, the soul is united to God, and something like a shoot of eternal life is produced; life receives a sure orientation, and we overcome temptations easily. To those who object that faith is nonsense, because it makes one believe something that does not fall under the experience of the senses, St. Thomas gives a very articulated answer, and recalls that this is an inconsistent doubt, because human intelligence is limited and cannot know everything. Only in the case that we could know perfectly all visible and invisible things, would it then be genuine nonsense to accept truths purely on faith. However, it is impossible to live, St. Thomas observes, without trusting the experience of others, where personal knowledge does not reach. Hence it is reasonable to have faith in God who reveals himself and in the testimony of the Apostles: they were few, simple and poor, dismayed by the Crucifixion of their Teacher; and yet many wise, noble and rich persons were converted in a short time upon listening to their preaching. It is, in fact, a historically striking phenomenon, to which with difficulty one can give any other reasonable answer, other than that of the Apostles' encounter with the Risen Lord.
Commenting on the article of the Symbol regarding the incarnation of the Divine Word, St. Thomas makes some considerations. He affirms that Christian faith, when it considers the mystery of the incarnation, is reinforced; hope rises more trustingly, with the thought that the Son of God came among us, as one of us, to communicate to men his own divinity; charity is revived, because there is no more evident sign of the love of God for us than seeing the Creator of the universe make himself a creature, one of us. Finally, considering the mystery of the incarnation of God, we feel our desire inflamed to reach Christ in glory. Using a simple and effective analogy, St. Thomas observes: "If the brother of a king was far away, he certainly would long to live next to him. Well, Christ is our brother: hence, we must desire his company, become one heart with him" (Opuscoli teologico-spirituali, Rome, 1976, p. 64).
Presenting the prayer of the Our Father, St. Thomas shows that it is perfect in itself, having all the five characteristics that a well made prayer should have: trusting and tranquil abandonment; appropriateness of content, because -- St. Thomas observes -- "it is quite difficult to know exactly what it is appropriate to ask and what not, from the moment that we are in difficulty in face of the choice of desires" (Ibid., p. 120); and then the appropriate order of requests; fervor of charity; and sincerity of humility.
St. Thomas was, as all the saints, a great devotee of Our Lady. He described her with a beautiful appellative: Triclinium totius Trinitatis, triclinium, that is, place where the Trinity finds its rest, because, due to the Incarnation, the three divine Persons dwell [in her] and experience delight and joy to live in her soul full of grace as in no other creature. Through her intercession we can obtain all help.
With a prayer, which traditionally is attributed to St. Thomas and that, in any case, reflects the elements of his profound Marian devotion, we also say: "O blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God ... I entrust my whole life to your merciful heart. ... Obtain for me, oh my most sweet Lady, true charity, with which I will be able to love with all my heart your Most Holy Son and you, after him, above all things, and my neighbor in God and for God."
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we turn once more to the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologiae, his masterpiece, reflects Thomas' serene confidence in the harmony of faith and reason, and in the ability of reason, enlightened by faith, to come to an understanding of God and his saving plan. The Summa treats of the Triune God in himself, in his work of creation, and in the person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, whose humanity is the means by which we return to the Father. Thomas illustrates the working of divine grace, which perfects our natural gifts and enables us, through the practice of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to attain the eternal happiness for which we were created. His description of Christ's saving work stresses the importance of the seven sacraments, and especially the Eucharist. These great theological truths are also reflected in Thomas' preaching which in a clear and simple way presents the mysteries of the faith, the content of Christian prayer, and the demands of a moral life shaped by the natural law and the Gospel's new commandment of love. With the Angelic Doctor, let us pray for the grace to love the Lord with all our heart, and to love our neighbour, "in God and for God."
On St. Albert the Great
"Scientific Study Is Transformed Then Into a Hymn of Praise"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
One of the greatest teachers of Medieval theology is St. Albert the Great. The title "great" (magnus) with which he has passed into history, indicates the vastness and depth of his doctrine, which he coupled with holiness of life. But already his contemporaries did not hesitate to attribute excellent titles to him; one of his disciples, Ulrich of Strasbourg, described him as "wonder and miracle of our age."
Born in Germany at the beginning of the 13th century, he was still young when he went to Italy, to Padua, seat of one of the most famous universities of the Middle Ages. He dedicated himself to the study of the so-called liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music, that is, of the general culture, manifesting that typical interest for the natural sciences, which would soon become the favorite field of his specialization. During his stay in Padua, he frequented the church of the Dominicans, whom he later joined with the profession of religious vows. The hagiographic sources lead one to understand that Albert matured this decision gradually. The intense relationship with God, the example of holiness of the Dominican Friars, the listening of sermons of Blessed Giordano of Saxony, successor of St. Dominic in the leadership of the Order of Preachers, were the decisive factors that helped him to overcome every doubt, overcoming also family resistance. Often, in the years of youth, God speaks to us and indicates the plan of our life. As for Albert, so for all of us, personal prayer nourished by the Word of the Lord, the frequenting of the sacraments and the spiritual guidance of enlightened men are the means to discover and follow the voice of God. He received the religious habit from Blessed Giordano of Saxony.
After his priestly ordination, the superiors sent him to teach in several centers of theological study adjacent to monasteries of the Dominican Fathers. His brilliant intellectual qualities enabled him to perfect the study of theology in the most famous university of the time, that of Paris. From then on St. Albert undertook that extraordinary activity of writer, which he would then follow for his whole life.
He was assigned prestigious tasks. In 1248 he was charged with opening a theological study at Cologne, one of the most important administrative centers of Germany, where he lived in successive stages, and which became his adopted city. From Paris he took with him an exceptional pupil, Thomas Aquinas. The merit would suffice of having been St. Thomas' teacher to foster profound admiration toward St. Albert. Established between these two great theologians was a relationship of mutual esteem and friendship, human attitudes that help much in the development of science. In 1254, Albert was elected Provincial of the "Provincia Teutoniae" -- Teutonic Province -- of the Dominican Fathers, which embraced communities spread over a vast territory in Central and Northern Europe. He distinguished himself for the zeal with which he exercised this ministry, visiting the communities and constantly recalling his fellow brothers to fidelity, to the teachings and examples of St. Dominic.
His gifts did not pass unnoticed and the Pope of that time, Alexander IV, wanted Albert next to him for a certain time in Anagni -- where the Pope frequently went -- in Rome itself and in Viterbo, to make use of his theological counsel. The same Supreme Pontiff appointed him bishop of Regensburg, a great and famous diocese, which was, however, going through a difficult time. From 1260 to 1262 Albert carried out this ministry with tireless dedication, succeeding in taking peace and concord to the city, reorganizing parishes and convents, and giving a new impulse to charitable activities.
In the years 1263-1264 Albert preached in Germany and in Bohemia, charged by Pope Urban IV, to return then to Cologne to take up again his mission of docent, scholar and writer. Being a man of prayer, of learning and of charity, he enjoyed great authoritativeness in his interventions, in several affairs of the Church and of the society of the time. He was above all a man of reconciliation and peace in Cologne, where the archbishop had entered into harsh opposition with the city's institutions; he spent himself during the unfolding of the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, convoked by Pope Gregory X to foster the union between the Latin and Greek Churches, after the separation of the Great Schism of the East of 1054; he clarified the thought of Thomas Aquinas, who was the object of objections and even of wholly unjustified condemnations.
He died in the cell of his monastery of the Holy Cross in Cologne in 1280, and very soon was venerated by his fellow brothers. The Church proposed him to the devotion of the faithful with his beatification in 1622 and his canonization in 1931, when Pope Pius XI proclaimed him Doctor of the Church. It was undoubtedly an appropriate recognition of this great man of God and illustrious scholar not only of the truths of the faith, but of very many other sectors of learning; in fact, glancing at the titles of his very numerous works, we realize that his culture was something prodigious, and that his encyclopedic interest led him to be concerned not only with philosophy and theology, as other contemporaries, but also with every other discipline then known, from physics to chemistry, from astronomy to mineralogy, from botany to zoology. For this reason Pope Pius XII named him patron of cultivators of the natural sciences and he is also called "Doctor universalis" precisely because of the vastness of his interest and learning.
Of course, the scientific methods adopted by St. Albert the Great are not those that were to be affirmed in subsequent centuries. His method consisted simply in observation, description and classification of phenomenons studied, but thus he opened the door for future works.
He still has much to teach us. Above all, St. Albert shows that between faith and science there is no opposition, notwithstanding some episodes of misunderstanding recorded in history. A man of faith and prayer, as St. Albert the Great was, can cultivate serenely the study of the natural sciences and progress in the knowledge of the micro and macro cosmos, discovering the laws proper of matter, because all this concurs to feed the thirst for and love of God. The Bible speaks to us of creation as the first language through which God -- who is supreme intelligence, who is Logos -- reveals to us something of himself. The Book of Wisdom, for example, states that the phenomena of nature, gifted with grandeur and beauty, are as the works of an artist, through which, by analogy, we can know the Author of creation (cf. Wisdom 13:5). With a classic similarity in the Medieval Age and the Renaissance one can compare the natural world with a book written by God, which we read on the basis of several approaches of the sciences (cf. Address to the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Oct. 31, 2008). How many scientists, in fact, in the wake of St. Albert the Great, have carried forward their research inspired by wonder and gratitude before a world that, in the eyes of scholars and believers, seemed and seems the good work of a wise and loving Creator! Scientific study is transformed then into a hymn of praise. It was well understood by a great astrophysicist of our times, whose cause of beatification has been introduced, Enrico Medi, who wrote: "Oh, you mysterious galaxies ... I see you, I calculate you, I understand you, I study you and discover you, I penetrate you and I am immersed in you. From you I take the light and I do science, I take the motion and do science, I take the sparkling of colors and make poetry; I take you stars in my hands, and trembling in the unity of my being I raise you beyond yourselves, and in prayer I hand you to the Creator, that only through me you stars can adore" (The Works. Hymn to Creation).
St. Albert the Great reminds us that between science and faith there is friendship, and that the men of science can undertake, through their vocation to the study of nature, a genuine and fascinating journey of sanctity.
His extraordinary openness of mind is revealed also in a cultural operation that he undertook with success, that is, in the acceptance and evaluation of the thought of Aristotle. Spreading at the time of St. Albert, in fact, was knowledge of numerous works of this great Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century before Christ, above all in the realm of ethics and metaphysics. They demonstrated the force of reason, explained with lucidity and clarity the meaning and structure of reality, of its intelligibility, the value and end of human actions. St. Albert the Great opened the door for the complete reception of the philosophy of Aristotle in Medieval philosophy and theology, a reception elaborated later in a definitive way by St. Thomas. This reception of a philosophy, let us say, pagan and pre-Christian was an authentic cultural revolution for that time. And yet, many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle's philosophy, non-Christian philosophy, above all because, presented by its Arab commentators, it was interpreted in a way of appearing, at least in some points, as altogether irreconcilable with the Christian faith. Thus a dilemma was posed: are faith and reason in opposition to one another or not?
Here is one of the great merits of St. Albert: with scientific rigor he studied the works of Aristotle, convinced that everything that is rational is compatible with the faith revealed in sacred Scriptures. In other words, St. Albert the Great, thus contributed to the formation of an autonomous philosophy, different from theology and united to it only by the unity of the truth. Thus was born in the 13th century a clear distinction between these two learnings, philosophy and theology, which, in dialogue between them, cooperate harmoniously in the discovery of the authentic vocation of man, thirsty for truth and blessedness: and it is above all theology, defined by St. Albert as "affective science," which indicates to man his call to eternal joy, a joy that gushes from full adherence to the truth.
St. Albert the Great was able to communicate these concepts in a simple and comprehensible way. Authentic son of St. Dominic, he preached willingly to the people of God, which were conquered by his word and the example of his life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to the Lord so that there will never be lacking in the Holy Church learned, pious and wise theologians like St. Albert the Great and may he help each one of us to make our own the "formula of sanctity" that he followed in his life: "To want everything that I want for the glory of God, to wish and do everything only and always for his glory."
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to Saint Albert, better known as Albertus Magnus, Albert the Great. A universal genius whose interests ranged from the natural sciences to philosophy and theology, Albert entered the Dominicans and, after studies in Paris, taught in Cologne. Elected provincial of the Teutonic province, he served as bishop of Regensburg for four years and then returned to teaching and writing. He played an important part in the Council of Lyons, and he worked to clarify and defend the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, his most brilliant student. Albert was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI, and Pope Pius XII named him the patron of the natural sciences. Saint Albert shows us that faith is not opposed to reason, and that the created world can be seen as a "book" written by God and capable of being "read" in its own way by the various sciences. His study of Aristotle also brought out the difference between the sciences of philosophy and theology, while insisting that both cooperate in enabling us to discover our vocation to truth and happiness, a vocation which finds its fulfillment in eternal life.
On Theology According to Thomas and Bonaventure
"Different Accents in an Essentially Shared Vision"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2010 - 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,
This morning, continuing last Wednesday's reflection, I would like to reflect further with you on other aspects of the doctrine of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. He is an eminent theologian, who merits being placed next to another very great thinker, his contemporary, St. Thomas Aquinas. Both scrutinized the mysteries of revelation, valuing the resources of human reason in the fruitful dialogue between faith and reason that characterized the Christian Middle Ages, making it a period of great intellectual liveliness, as well as of faith and of ecclesial renewal, often not sufficiently noted. Other similarities associate them: Both Bonaventure, a Franciscan, and Thomas, a Dominican, belonged to the Mendicant Orders that, with their spiritual freshness -- as I mentioned in preceding catecheses -- renewed the whole Church in the 13th century and attracted so many followers. Both served the Church with diligence, passion and love, to the point that they were invited to take part in the Ecumenical Council of Lyon in 1274, the same year in which they died: Thomas while he was going to Lyon; Bonaventure during the course of that same council. Also in St. Peter's Square the statues of the two saints are parallel, placed in fact at the beginning of the Colonnade starting from the facade of the Vatican Basilica: one in the left wing and the other in the right wing. Despite all these aspects, we can see in these two great saints two different approaches to philosophical and theological research, which show each one's originality and depth of thought. I would like to refer to some of these differences.
A first difference concerns the concept of theology. Both doctors asked themselves if theology is a practical or a theoretical, speculative science. St. Thomas reflects on two possible contrasting answers. The first says: theology is reflection on faith and the aim of faith is that man become good, that he live according to the will of God. Hence, the aim of theology should be to guide man on the just and good way; consequently it is, fundamentally, a practical science. The other position says: theology seeks to know God. We are the work of God; God is above our action. God operates just action in us. Hence it is essentially not of our doing, but of knowing God, not of our working. St. Thomas' conclusion is: theology entails both aspects: it is theoretical, it seeks to know God ever more, and it is practical: it seeks to orient our life to the good. But there is a primacy of knowledge: we must above all know God, then follows action according to God (Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 1, art.4). This primacy of knowledge in comparison with practice is significant for St. Thomas' essential orientation.
St. Bonaventure's answer is very similar, but the accents are different. St. Bonaventure has the same arguments in both directions, as St. Thomas does, but to respond to the question if theology is a practical or theoretical science, St. Bonaventure makes a threefold distinction -- hence he lengthens the alternative between theoretical (primacy of knowledge) and practical (primacy of practice), adding a third attitude, which he calls "sapiential" and affirming that wisdom embraces both aspects. And then he continues: Wisdom seeks contemplation (as the highest form of knowledge) and has as its intention "ut boni fiamus" -- that we become good, above all this: to become good (cf. Breviloquium, Prologus, 5). Then he adds: "Faith is in the intellect, in such a way that it causes affection. For example: to know that Christ died 'for us' does not remain knowledge, but becomes necessarily affection, love" (Proemium in I Sent., q. 3).
His defense of theology moves along the same line, that is of the rational and methodical reflection of faith. St. Bonaventure lists some arguments against engaging in theology, perhaps widespread also among some of the Franciscan brothers and present also in our time: reason empties faith, it would be a violent attitude toward the Word of God, we must listen to and not analyze the word of God (cf. Letter of St. Francis of Assisi to St. Anthony of Padua). To these arguments against theology, which demonstrate the dangers existing in theology itself, the saint responds: It is true that there is an arrogant way of engaging in theology, a pride of reason, which places itself above the Word of God. But true theology, the rational work of the true and good theology, has another origin, not the pride of reason. He who loves always wants to know more and better the one who is loved; true theology does not engage reason and its seeking motivated by pride, "sed propter amorem eius cui assentit" -- [but] "motivated by the love of him, to whom it has given its consent" (Proemium in I Sent., q. 2), and wishes to know the loved one better: this is the essential intention of theology for St. Bonaventure. Hence, in the end, determinant for St. Bonaventure is the primacy of love.
Consequently, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure define in a different way man's ultimate destiny, his full happiness: for St. Thomas the supreme end, to which our desire is directed, is to see God. In this simple act of seeing God all problems find their solution: let us be happy, nothing else is necessary.
For St. Bonaventure, man's ultimate destiny is instead to love God, the encounter and the union of his love and our own. This is for him the most adequate definition of our happiness.
In this line, we could also say that the highest category for St. Thomas is the true, while for St. Bonaventure it is the good. It would be mistaken to see a contradiction in these two answers. For both the true is also the good, and the good is also the true; to see God is to love and to love is to see. It is a question therefore of different accents in an essentially shared vision. In both the accents have formed different traditions and different spiritualities and thus they have shown the fecundity of the faith -- one in the diversity of its expressions.
We return to St. Bonaventure. It is evident that the specific accent of his theology, of which I have given only one example, is explained from the Franciscan charism: the Poverello of Assisi, beyond the intellectual debates of his time, showed with his whole life the primacy of love; he was a living and enamored icon of Christ and thus made present, in his time, the figure of the Lord -- he convinced his contemporaries not with words, but with his life. In all St. Bonaventure's works, also the scientific works, of academia, one sees and finds this Franciscan inspiration; one notices, namely, that his thought starts from his encounter with the Poverello of Assisi. But to understand the concrete elaboration of the topic "primacy of love," we must also keep in mind another source: the writings of so-called Pseudo-Dionysius, a Syrian theologian of the 6th century, who concealed himself under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite, referring, with this name, to a figure of the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 17:34). This theologian had created a liturgical theology and a mystical theology, and had spoken amply of different orders of angels. His writings were translated into Latin in the 9th century; at the time of St. Bonaventure -- we are in the 13th century -- a new tradition was appearing, which sparked the interest of the saint and of the other theologians of his century. Two things in particular attracted the attention of St. Bonaventure:
1. Pseudo-Dionysius speaks of nine orders of angels, whose names he had found in Scripture and then systematized them, from the simple angels to the seraphim. St. Bonaventure interprets these orders of angels as steps for creatures drawing close to God. Thus they can represent the human journey, the ascent to communion with God. For St. Bonaventure there is no doubt: St. Francis belonged to the seraphic order, the highest order, to the choir of seraphim. That is, he was a pure fire of love. And so should the Franciscans be. But St. Bonaventure knew well that this last step of closeness to God cannot be inserted in a juridical ordering, but is always a particular gift of God. Because of this, the structure of the Franciscan Order is more modest, more realistic, but must, however, help the members to come ever closer to a seraphic existence of pure love. Last Wednesday I spoke about this synthesis between sober realism and evangelical radicalism in the thought and action of St. Bonaventure.
2. St. Bonaventure, however, found in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius another element, for him even more important. Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees. But in the night of the intellect, love still sees -- it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God. St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees. The conclusive words of his "Journey of the Mind to God," in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality: "If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; ... not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God" (VII, 6). All this is not anti-intellectual and anti-rational: it implies the way of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ. With this transformation of the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure is placed at the beginning of a great mystical current, which greatly raised and purified the human mind: it is a summit in the history of the human spirit.
This theology of the cross, born of the encounter between the theology of Pseudo-Dionysius and Franciscan spirituality, must not make us forget that St. Bonaventure also shares with St. Francis of Assisi the love of creation, the joy of the beauty of God's creation. I quote on this point a phrase of the first chapter of the "Journey": "He ... who does not see the innumerable splendors of creatures, is blind; he who is not awakened by so many voices, is deaf; he who for all these wonders does not praise God, is dumb; he who from so many signs does not rise to the first principle, is foolish" (I, 15). The whole of creation speaks in a loud voice of God, of the good and beautiful God; of his love.
Hence, for St. Bonaventure, all our life is a "journey," a pilgrimage -- an ascent to God. But with our own strength we cannot ascend to the loftiness of God. God himself must help us, must "pull" us on high. That is why prayer is necessary. Prayer -- so says the saint -- is the mother and origin of the ascent -- "sursum actio," action that takes us on high, Bonaventure says. Because of this, I conclude with the prayer, with which he begins his "Journey": "Let us pray, therefore and say to our Lord God: 'Lead me, Lord, on your way and I will walk in your truth. My heart rejoices in fearing your name'" (I,1).
Saint Bonaventure's concept of history
Last week I spoke of the life and personality of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. This morning I would like to continue with the presentation, reflecting on part of his literary work and his doctrine.
As I already said, among various merits, St. Bonaventure had that of interpreting authentically and faithfully the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, whom he venerated and studied with great love. In a particular way, in the times of St. Bonaventure a current of Friars Minor called "spiritual" held that there was a totally new phase of history inaugurated with St. Francis; the "eternal Gospel" had appeared, of which Revelation speaks, which replaced the New Testament. This group affirmed that the Church had now exhausted her historical role, and in her place came a charismatic community of free men guided interiorly by the Spirit, namely, the "spiritual Franciscans." At the base of the ideas of this group were the writings of a Cistercian abbot, Joachim of Fiore, who died in 1202. In his works, he affirmed a Trinitarian rhythm of history. He considered the Old Testament as the age of the Father, followed by the time of the Son, the time of the Church. To be awaited yet was the third age, that of the Holy Spirit. The whole of history was thus interpreted as a history of progress: from the severity of the Old Testament to the relative liberty of the time of the Son, in the Church, up to the full liberty of the children of God, in the period of the Holy Spirit, which would have been also the period of peace among men, of the reconciliation of peoples and religions. Joachim of Fiore aroused the hope that the beginning of the new time would come from a new monasticism. It is thus understandable that a group of Franciscans thought it recognized in St. Francis of Assisi the initiator of the new time and in his order the community of the new period -- the community of the time of the Holy Spirit, which left behind it the hierarchical Church, to begin a new Church of the Spirit, no longer connected to the old structures.
There was, hence, the risk of a very serious misunderstanding of the message of St. Francis, of his humble fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church, and such a mistake implied an erroneous vision of Christianity as a whole.
St. Bonaventure, who in 1257 became minister-general of the Franciscans, found himself before serious tension within his own order due, precisely, to those who espoused this current of "spiritual Franciscans," which aligned itself to Joachim of Fiore. Precisely to respond to this group and to give unity again to the order, St. Bonaventure carefully studied the authentic writings of Joachim of Fiore and those attributed to him and, taking into account the need to present correctly the figure and message of his beloved St. Francis, he wished to show a correct view of the theology of history.
St. Bonaventure addressed the problem in fact in his last work, a collection of conferences to monks of the Paris studio, which remained unfinished and which was completed with the transcriptions of the hearers. It was titled "Hexaemeron," that is, an allegorical explanation of the six days of creation. The Fathers of the Church considered the six or seven days of the account of creation as a prophecy of the history of the world, of humanity. The seven days represented for them seven periods of history, later interpreted also as seven millennia. With Christ we would have entered the last, namely, the sixth period of history, which would then be followed by the great sabbath of God. St. Bonaventure accounts for this historical interpretation of the relation of the days of creation, but in a very free and innovative way. For him, two phenomena of his time render necessary a new interpretation of the course of history:
The first: the figure of St. Francis, the man totally united to Christ up to communion of the stigmata, almost an alter Christus, and with St. Francis the new community created by him, different from the monasticism known up to then. This phenomenon called for a new interpretation, as a novelty of God which appeared in that moment.
The second: the position of Joachim of Fiore, who announced a new monasticism and a totally new period of history, going beyond the revelation of the New Testament, called for an answer.
As minister-general of the Order of Franciscans, St. Bonaventure had seen immediately that with the spiritualistic conception, inspired by Joachim of Fiore, the order was not governable, but was going logically toward anarchy. For him there were two consequences:
The first: the practical need of structures and of insertion in the reality of the hierarchical Church, of the real Church, needed a theological foundation, also because the others, those who followed the spiritualist conception, showed an apparent theological foundation.
The second: although taking into account the necessary realism, it was not necessary to lose the novelty of the figure of St. Francis.
How did St. Bonaventure respond to the practical and theoretical need? Of his answer I can only give here a very schematic and incomplete summary in some points:
1. St. Bonaventure rejected the idea of the Trinitarian rhythm of history. God is one for the whole of history and he is not divided into three divinities. As a consequence, history is one, even if it is a journey and -- according to St. Bonaventure -- a journey of progress.
2. Jesus Christ is the last word of God -- in him God has said all, giving and expressing himself. More than himself, God cannot express, cannot give. The Holy Spirit is Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Christ himself says of the Holy Spirit: He "...will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26), "he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:15). Hence, there is not another higher Gospel, there is not another Church to await. Because of this, the Order of St. Francis had also to insert itself in this Church, in her faith, in her hierarchical order.
3. This does not mean that the Church is immobile, fixed in the past and that novelties cannot be exercised in her. "Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt," the works of Christ do not go backward, do not fail, but progress, says the saint in the letter "De tribus quaestionibus." Thus St. Bonaventure formulates explicitly the idea of progress, and this is a novelty in comparison with the Fathers of the Church and a great part of his contemporaries. For St. Bonaventure, Christ is no longer, as he was for the Fathers of the Church, the end, but the center of history; history does not end with Christ, but a new period begins. Another consequence is the following: prevailing up to that moment was the idea that the Fathers of the Church were at the absolute summit of theology, all the following generations could only be their disciples. Even St. Bonaventure recognizes the Fathers as teachers for ever, but the phenomenon of St. Francis gave him the certainty that the richness of the word of Christ is inexhaustible and that also new lights can appear in the new generations. The uniqueness of Christ also guarantees novelties and renewal in all the periods of history.
Certainly, the Franciscan Order -- so he stresses -- belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ, to the Apostolic Church, and cannot build itself on a utopian spiritualism. But, at the same time, the novelty of such an order is valid in comparison with classic monasticism, and St. Bonaventure -- as I said in the preceding catechesis -- defended this novelty against the attacks of the secular clergy of Paris. The Franciscans do not have a fixed monastery, they can be present everywhere to proclaim the Gospel. Precisely the break with stability, characteristic of monasticism, in favor of a new flexibility, restored to the Church her missionary dynamism.
At this point perhaps it is useful to say that also today there are views according to which the whole history of the Church in the second millennium is a permanent decline; some see the decline already immediately after the New Testament. In reality, "opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt," the works of Christ do not go backward, but progress. What would the Church be without the new spirituality of the Cistercians, of the Franciscans and Dominicans, of the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and so on? This affirmation is also valid today: "Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt," they go forward.
St. Bonaventure teaches us the whole of the necessary discernment, even severe, of the sober realism and of openness to new charisms given by Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to his Church. And while this idea of decline is repeated, there is also the other idea, this "spiritualistic utopianism," which is repeated. We know, in fact, how after the Second Vatican Council, some were convinced that everything should be new, that there should be another Church, that the pre-conciliar Church was finished and that we would have another, totally "other" Church. An anarchic utopianism! And thanks be to God, the wise helmsmen of Peter's Barque, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, on one hand defended the novelty of the council and on the other, at the same time, defended the uniqueness and continuity of the Church, which is always a Church of sinners and always a place of grace.
4. In this connection, St. Bonaventure, as minister-general of the Franciscans, took a line of government in which it was very clear that the new order could not, as a community, live at the same "eschatological height" of St. Francis, in which he saw the future world anticipated, but -- guided, at the same time, by healthy realism and spiritual courage -- had to come as close as possible to the maximum realization of the Sermon on the Mount, which for St. Francis was the rule, though taking into account the limits of man, marked by original sin.
Thus we see that for St. Bonaventure, to govern was not simply a task but was above all to think and to pray. At the base of his government we always find prayer and thought; all his decisions resulted from reflection, from thought illumined by prayer. His profound contact with Christ always accompanied his work of minister-general and that is why he composed a series of theological-mystical writings, which express the spirit of his government and manifest the intention of guiding the order interiorly, of governing, that is, not only through commands and structures, but through guiding and enlightening souls, orienting them to Christ.
Of these his writings, which are the soul of his government and show the way to follow either as an individual or a community, I would like to mention only one, his masterwork, the "Itinerarium mentis in Deum," which is a "manual" of mystical contemplation. This book was conceived in a place of profound spirituality: the hill of La Verna, where St. Francis had received the stigmata. In the introduction, the author illustrates the circumstances that gave origin to his writing: "While I meditated on the possibility of the soul ascending to God, presented to me, among others, was that wondrous event that occurred in that place to Blessed Francis, namely, the vision of the winged seraphim in the form of a crucifix. And meditating on this, immediately I realized that such a vision offered me the contemplative ecstasy of Father Francis himself and at the same time the way that leads to it" (Journey of the Mind in God, Prologue, 2, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Opuscoli Teologici / 1, Rome, 1993, p. 499).
The six wings of the seraphim thus became the symbol of six stages that lead man progressively to the knowledge of God through observation of the world and of creatures and through the exploration of the soul itself with its faculties, up to the satisfying union with the Trinity through Christ, in imitation of St. Francis of Assisi. The last words of St. Bonaventure's "Itinerarium," which respond to the question of how one can reach this mystical communion with God, would make one descend to the depth of the heart: "If you now yearn to know how that happens (mystical communion with God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groaning of prayer, not the study of the letter; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness not clarity; not light but the fire that inflames everything and transport to God with strong unctions and ardent affections. ... We enter therefore into darkness, we silence worries, the passions and illusions; we pass with Christ Crucified from this world to the Father, so that, after having seen him, we say with Philip: that is enough for me" (Ibid., VII, 6).
Dear friends, let us take up the invitation addressed to us by St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, and let us enter the school of the divine Teacher: We listen to his Word of life and truth, which resounds in the depth of our soul. Let us purify our thoughts and actions, so that he can dwell in us, and we can hear his divine voice, which draws us toward true happiness.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we return to the teaching of Saint Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian of the thirteenth century. Bonaventure refuted the idea, based on the doctrine of Joachim of Fiore and associated with the "spiritual" Franciscans, that Saint Francis had inaugurated a new and final age of the Holy Spirit, to replace the age of Christ and the Church. In his defence of the newness of the Franciscan charism, he developed a remarkable theology of history and progress, based on the definitiveness of the Christ event and its enduring fruitfulness in the history of the Church. He insisted that Christian revelation will not be surpassed in history, and that the future fulfillment of God's plan remains the object of our Christian hope.
Bonaventure was influenced by the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, which present God as the origin and goal of a goodness which pervades the cosmos. In his work, The Journey of the Mind to God, he guides the soul from created realities to the mystic contemplation of the Triune God. Bonaventure made Christ the centre of his theology; his writings invite us to welcome Christ's word into our hearts and thus to experience the joy of God's eternal love.
On St. Bonaventure
"Proposing This Theme I Feel a Certain Nostalgia"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak about St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. I confide to you that on proposing this theme I feel a certain nostalgia because I remember the research that, as a young scholar, I carried out precisely on this author, whom I particularly esteem. His knowledge has been of no small influence in my formation. With great joy I went on pilgrimage a few months ago to his birthplace, Bagnoregio, a small Italian city, in Latium, which venerates his memory.
Born probably in 1217, he died in 1274; he lived in the 13th century, an age in which the Christian faith, profoundly permeating the culture and society of Europe, inspired immortal works in the field of literature, visual arts, philosophy and theology. Striking among the great Christian figures who contributed to the composition of this harmony between faith and culture is, precisely, Bonaventure, man of action and of contemplation, of profound piety and of prudence in governing.
He was called John of Fidanza. An incident that occurred when he was still a boy profoundly marked his life, as he himself relates. He had been affected by a serious illness and not even his father, who was a doctor, hoped to save him from death. His mother appealed then to the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, canonized a short time earlier. And John was cured. The figure of the Poverello of Assisi became even more familiar a year later, when he was in Paris, where he had gone for his studies. He had obtained the diploma of Master of Arts, which we could compare to that of a prestigious secondary school of our time. At that point, as so many young people of the past and also of today, John asked himself a crucial question: "What must I do with my life?" Fascinated by the witness of fervor and evangelical radicalism of the Friars Minor, who had arrived in Paris in 1219, John knocked on the doors of the Franciscan monastery of that city, and asked to be received in the great family of the disciples of St. Francis.
Many years later, he explained the reasons for his choice: He recognized the action of Christ in St. Francis and in the movement he initiated. He wrote thus in a letter addressed to another friar: "I confess before God that the reason that made me love more the life of Blessed Francis is that it is similar to the origin and growth of the Church. The Church began with simple fishermen, and was enriched immediately with very illustrious and wise doctors; the religion of Blessed Francis was not established by the prudence of men, but by Christ" (Epistula de tribus quaestionibus ad magistrum innominatum, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Intoduzione generale, Rome, 1990, p. 29).
Therefore, around the year 1243 John put on the Franciscan coarse woolen cloth and took the name Bonaventure. He was immediately directed to studies and frequented the faculty of theology of the University of Paris, following a program of very difficult courses. He obtained the different titles required by the academic career, those of "biblical bachelor's" and "bachelor's in sentences." Thus Bonaventure studied in depth sacred Scripture, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the manual of theology of that time, and the most important authors of theology and, in contact with the teachers and students that arrived in Paris from the whole of Europe, he matured his own personal reflection and a spiritual sensitivity of great value that, in the course of the following years, showed in his works and sermons, thus making him one of the most important theologians of the history of the Church. It is significant to recall the title of the thesis he defended to be able to qualify in the teaching of theology, the licentia ubique docendi, as it was then called. His dissertation was titled "Questions on Knowledge of Christ." This argument shows the central role that Christ always had in the life and teaching of Bonaventure. We can say, in fact, that all his thought was profoundly Christocentric.
In those years in Paris, Bonaventure's adopted city, a violent dispute broke out against the Friars Minor of St. Francis of Assisi and the Friars Preachers of St. Dominic Guzmán. Debated was their right to teach in the university and doubts were even cast on the authenticity of their consecrated life. Certainly the changes introduced by the Mendicant Orders in the way of understanding religious life, of which I spoke in preceding catecheses, were so innovative that not everyone understood them. Also added, as happens sometimes among sincerely religious persons, were motives of human weakness, such as envy and jealousy. Bonaventure, although surrounded by the opposition of the rest of the university teachers, had already started to teach in the chair of theology of the Franciscans and, to respond to those who were criticizing the Mendicant Orders, he composed a writing titled "Evangelical Perfection." In this writing he showed how the Mendicant Orders, especially the Friars Minor, practicing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, were following the counsels of the Gospel itself. Beyond these historical circumstances, the teaching offered by Bonaventure in this work of his and in his life is always timely: The Church becomes luminous and beautiful by fidelity to the vocation of those sons and daughters of hers who not only put into practice the evangelical precepts, but who, by the grace of God, are called to observe their advice and thus give witness, with their poor, chaste and obedient lifestyle, that the Gospel is source of joy and perfection.
The conflict died down, at least for a certain period, and, by the personal intervention of Pope Alexander IV, in 1257 Bonaventure was officially recognized as doctor and teacher of the Parisian University. Despite all this, he had to resign from this prestigious post, because that same year the General Chapter of the order elected him minister-general.
He carried out this task for 17 years with wisdom and dedication, visiting the provinces, writing to brothers, intervening at times with a certain severity to eliminate abuses. When Bonaventure began this service, the Order of Friars Minor had developed in a prodigious way: There were more than 30,000 friars spread over the whole of the West, with a missionary presence in North Africa, the Middle East and also Peking. It was necessary to consolidate this expansion and above all to confer on it, in full fidelity to Francis' charism, unity of action and spirit. In fact, among the followers of the Saint of Assisi there were different forms of interpreting his message and the risk really existed of an internal split. To avoid this danger, in 1260 the General Chapter of the order in Narbonne accepted and ratified a text proposed by Bonaventure, which unified the norms that regulated the daily life of the Friars Minor. Bonaventure intuited, however, that the legislative dispositions, though inspired in wisdom and moderation, were not sufficient to ensure communion of spirit and hearts. It was necessary to share the same ideals and the same motivations. For this reason, Bonaventure wished to present the authentic charism of Francis, his life and his teaching. Hence he gathered with great zeal documents related to the Poverello and listened attentively to the memories of those who had known Francis directly. From this was born a biography, historically well founded, of the Saint of Assisi, titled Legenda Maior, written also in a very succinct manner and called because of this the Legend. The Latin word, as opposed to the Italian [and English, legend], does not indicate a fruit of imagination but, on the contrary, Legenda means an authoritative text, "to be read" officially. In fact, the General Chapter of the Friars Minor of 1263, which met in Pisa, recognized in St. Bonaventure's biography the most faithful portrait of the founder and it thus became the official biography of the saint.
What is the image of St. Francis that arises from the heart and pen of his devoted son and successor, St. Bonaventure? The essential point: Francis is an alter Christus, a man who passionately sought Christ. In the love that drives to imitation, he was entirely conformed to Him. Bonaventure pointed out this living ideal to all of Francis' followers. This ideal, valid for every Christian, yesterday, today and always, was indicated as a program also for the Church of the Third Millennium by my predecessor, the Venerable John Paul II. This program, he wrote in the letter "Tertio Millennio Ineunte," is centered "on Christ himself, who must be known, loved and imitated to live in Him the Trinitarian life, and, with Him, to transform history to its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem" (No. 29).
In 1273 St. Bonaventure's life met with another change. Pope Gregory X wished to consecrate him bishop and name him cardinal. He also asked him to prepare a very important ecclesial event: the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyon, whose objective was the re-establishment of communion between the Latin and the Greek Churches. He dedicated himself to this task with diligence, but was unable to see the conclusion of that ecumenical summit, as he died while it was being held. An anonymous papal notary composed a eulogy of Bonaventure, which offers us a conclusive portrait of this great saint and excellent theologian: "Good, affable, pious and merciful man, full of virtues, loved by God and by men ... God, in fact, had given him such grace, that all those who saw him were invaded by a love that the heart could not conceal" (cf. J.G. Bougerol, Bonaventura, in A. Vauchez (vv.aa), Storia dei Santi e della santita cristiana. Vol. VI. L'epoca del rinnovamento evangelico, Milan, 1991, p. 91).
Let us take up the legacy of this saint, doctor of the Church, who reminds us of the meaning of our life with these words: "On earth ... we can contemplate the divine immensity through reasoning and admiration; in the heavenly homeland, instead, through vision, when we will be made like to God, and through ecstasy --- we will enter into the joy of God" (La conoscenza di Cristo, q. 6, conclusione, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Opuscoli Teologici /1, Rome, 1993, p. 187).
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catecheses on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to Saint Bonaventure, an early follower of Saint Francis of Assisi and a distinguished theologian and teacher in the University of Paris. There Bonaventure was called upon to defend the new mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, in the controversies which questioned the authenticity of their religious charism. The Friars, he argued, represent a true form of religious life, one which imitates Christ by practising the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Elected Minister General of the Friars Minor, he served in this capacity for seventeen years, at a time of immense expansion accompanied by controversies about the genuine nature of the Franciscan charism. His wisdom and moderation inspired the adoption of a rule of life, and his biography of Francis, which presented the Founder as alter Christus, a passionate follower of Christ, was to prove most influential in consolidating the charism of the Franciscan Order. Named a Bishop and Cardinal, Bonaventure died during the Council of Lyons. His writings still inspire us by their wisdom penetrated by deep love of Christ and mystical yearning for the vision of God and the joy of our heavenly homeland.
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from Nigeria, Japan and the United States. To the pilgrims from Sophia University in Tokyo I offer my prayerful good wishes that the coming centenary of your University will strengthen your service to the pursuit of truth and your witness to the harmony of faith and reason. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s abundant blessings!
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Dominic
"He Always Spoke With God and About God"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 3, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Last week I presented the luminous figure of Francis of Assisi; today I would like to speak to you of another saint who, in the same period, made an essential contribution to the renewal of the Church of his time. It is St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, known also as the Dominican Friars.
His successor in the leadership of the order, Blessed Giordano di Saxony, gives a complete portrait of St. Dominic in the text of a famous prayer: "Inflamed by zeal for God and supernatural ardor, by your limitless charity and the fervor of a vehement spirit, you consecrated yourself wholly with the vow of perpetual poverty to apostolic observance and to evangelical preaching." It is in fact this essential feature of Dominic's witness that is underlined: He always spoke with God and about God. In the life of saints, love of the Lord and of neighbor, the seeking of God's glory and the salvation of souls always go together.
Dominic was born in Spain, in Caleruega, around 1170. He belonged to a noble family of Old Castille and, supported by an uncle priest, he was educated in a famous school of Palencia. He was distinguished immediately for his interest in the study of sacred Scripture and for his love of the poor, to the point of selling books, which in his time constituted a good of great value, to help victims of famine with what he collected.
Ordained a priest, he was elected canon of the chapter of the cathedral in his native diocese, Osma. Although this appointment could represent for him some motive of prestige in the Church and in society, he did not interpret it as a personal privilege, or as the beginning of a brilliant ecclesiastical career, but as a service to render with dedication and humility. Is not perhaps the temptation to a career, to power, a temptation to which not even those who have a role of leadership and governance in the Church are immune? I recalled this a few months ago, during the consecration of some bishops: "We do not seek power, prestige or esteem for ourselves. [...] We know how in civil society and often also in the Church things suffer because many people on whom responsibility has been conferred work for themselves rather than for the community" (Homily, Cappella Papale per l'Ordinazione episcopale di cinque Ecc. mi Presuli, Sept. 12, 2009).
The bishop of Osma, who was named Diego, a true and zealous pastor, very soon noticed the spiritual quality of Dominic, and wished to make use of his collaboration. Together they went to Northern Europe to carry out diplomatic missions entrusted to them by the king of Castille.
While traveling, Dominic became aware of two great challenges for the Church of his time: the existence of people who were not yet evangelized, in the northern limits of the European continent, and the religious scourge that weakened Christian life in southern France, where the action of some heretical groups created disturbance and a falling away from the truth of the faith. Missionary work on behalf of those who do not know the light of the Gospel and the work of re-evangelization of the Christian community thus became the apostolic goals that Dominic intended to pursue. It was the Pope, to whom Bishop Diego and Dominic went to ask advice, who requested the latter to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians, a heretical group which held a dualistic concept of reality, that is, of two equally powerful creative principles, Good and Evil. This group, consequently, had contempt for matter as coming from the principle of evil, even rejecting marriage, and reaching the point of denying the incarnation of Christ, the sacraments in which the Lord "touches" us through matter, and the resurrection of bodies. The Albigensians esteemed a poor and austere life -- in this sense they were even exemplary -- and they criticized the wealth of the clergy of that time.
Dominic accepted this mission enthusiastically, which he carried out precisely with the example of his poor and austere existence, with the preaching of the Gospel and with public debates. He dedicated the rest of his life to this mission of preaching the Good News. His sons would fulfill St. Dominic's other dreams: the mission ad gentes, that is, to those who did not yet know Jesus, and the mission to those who lived in the city, especially in the universities, where new intellectual tendencies were a challenge for the faith of the well-educated.
This great saint reminds us that a missionary fire must always burn in the heart of the Church, which drives incessantly to take the first proclamation of the Gospel and, where necessary, to a new evangelization: Christ is, in fact, the most precious good that men and women of all times and all places have the right to know and to love! And it is consoling to see how also in the Church of today there are so many -- pastors and lay faithful, members of old religious orders and of new ecclesial movements -- that with joy spend their life for this supreme ideal: to proclaim and witness the Gospel!
Other men associated themselves to Dominic Guzmán, attracted by the same aspiration. Thus, gradually, from the first foundation of Tolosa, was born the Order of Preachers. Dominic, in fact, in full obedience to the directives of the Popes of his time, Innocent III and Honorius III, adopted the ancient Rule of St. Augustine, adapting it to the needs of apostolic life, which led him and his companions to preach, moving from one post to another, but returning, later, to their own monasteries, places of study, prayer and community life. In a particular way, Dominic wished to highlight two values considered indispensable for the success of the evangelizing mission: community life in poverty and study.
First of all, Dominic and the Friars Preachers presented themselves as mendicants, that is, without vast properties of land to administer. This element rendered them more available for study and itinerant preaching and constituted a concrete witness for the people. The internal government of the Dominican monasteries and provinces was structured on the system of chapters, which elected their own superiors, confirmed later by major superiors; hence, an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, exacting strong personal convictions. The choice of this system stemmed precisely from the fact that the Dominicans, as preachers of the truth of God, had to be consistent with what they proclaimed. Truth studied and shared in charity with brothers is the most profound foundation of joy. Blessed Giordano of Saxony said of St. Dominic: "He received every man in the great bosom of charity and, because he loved everyone, everyone loved him. He made a personal law for himself of being joyful with happy persons and of weeping with those who wept" (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum autore Iordano de Saxonia, ed. H.C. Scheeben, [Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, Romae, 1935]).
In the second place, with a courageous gesture Dominic wished that his followers acquire a solid theological formation, and he did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time, even though not a few ecclesiastics regarded with diffidence these cultural institutions. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers give great importance to study as preparation for the apostolate. Dominic wanted his friars to dedicate themselves to study, sparing no effort, with diligence and compassion -- to study founded on the soul of all theological learning, that is, on sacred Scripture, and respectful of the questions posed by reason.
The development of culture imposes on those who carry out the ministry of the Word, at various levels, to be well prepared. Hence I exhort all, pastors and laity, to cultivate this "cultural dimension" of faith, so that the beauty of the Christian truth can be better understood and faith can be truly nourished, reinforced and also defended. In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to appreciate the spiritual value of study. The quality of the priestly ministry depends also on the generosity with which one applies oneself to the study of revealed truths.
Dominic, who wished to found a religious Order of Preachers-Theologians, reminds us that theology has a spiritual and pastoral dimension, which enriches the spirit and life. Priests, consecrated persons and also all the faithful can find a profound "interior joy" in contemplating the beauty of the truth that comes from God, truth that is always up-to-date and always living. Hence, the motto of the Friars Preachers -- contemplata aliis tradere -- helps us to discover a pastoral yearning in the contemplative study of such truth, by the need to communicate to others the fruit of one's contemplation.
When Dominic died in 1221 in Bologna, the city that declared him its patron, his work had already had great success. The Order of Preachers, with the support of the Holy See, had spread to many countries of Europe to the benefit of the whole Church. Dominic was canonized in 1234, and it is he himself, with his sanctity, who indicates to us two indispensable means for apostolic action to be incisive. First of all, Marian devotion, which he cultivated with tenderness and which he left as precious legacy to his spiritual children, who in the history of the Church have had the great merit of spreading the prayer of the holy rosary, so dear to the Christian people and so rich in evangelical values, a true school of faith and piety. In the second place, Dominic, who took care of some women's convents in France and in Rome, believed profoundly in the value of intercessory prayer for the success of apostolic work. Only in Paradise will we understand how much the prayer of the cloistered effectively supports apostolic action! To each one of them I direct my grateful and affectionate thoughts.
Dear brothers and sisters, may Dominic Guzmán's life spur all of us to be fervent in prayer, courageous in living the faith, profoundly in love with Jesus Christ. Through his intercession, we ask God to enrich the Church always with genuine preachers of the Gospel.
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I wish to speak of the great contribution made by Saint Dominic to the renewal of the Church in the Middle Ages. As a priest of the Spanish diocese of Osma, he was sent on missions throughout Europe, which drew his attention to the need for sound and zealous preachers to bring the Gospel to the people. He was entrusted with the task of refuting the heresy of the Albigensians, who denied the incarnation of Christ, the resurrection of the body and the value of marriage and the sacraments. Embracing a life of poverty, Dominic dedicated himself to the task of preaching the Gospel, and with a band of followers he established the Order of Preachers, also know as Dominican Friars. Adapting the rule of Saint Augustine to the needs of the apostolic life, Dominic placed emphasis on theological study, prayer and community life for his friars. Thus fortified, they would be sent out on missions as itinerant, mendicant preachers. Hence the Dominican motto, contemplata aliis tradere -- to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation. One important way in which the Dominicans did this was by promoting the prayer of the rosary, a beautiful means of contemplating, through the eyes of Mary, the truth revealed in the mysteries of the life, death and Resurrection of her son.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Nigeria and the United States. My greetings also go to the students present, including those from Loyola University Chicago, Rome Campus. Upon all of you I willingly invoke God's abundant blessings.
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On John of Salisbury
"We Witness a Worrying Separation Between Reason ... and Liberty"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we will meet the figure of John of Salisbury, who belonged to one of the most important philosophical and theological schools of the Middle Ages, that of the cathedral of Chartres, in France. John, too, like the theologians about whom I've spoken over the past weeks, helps us to understand how faith, in harmony with the just aspirations of reason, pushes thought toward revealed truth, in which the true good of man is found.
John was born in England, in Salisbury, between the year 1100 and 1120. Reading his works, and above all, his rich epistles, we discover the most important events of his life. For 12 years, between 1136 and 1148, he dedicated himself to study, availing of the most qualified schools of the epoch, where he heard lectures from famous teachers.
He headed to Paris and then to Chartres, the environment that particularly marked his formation and from which he assimilated his great cultural openness, his interest for speculative problems, and his appreciation of literature. As often happened in that time, the most brilliant students were picked by prelates and sovereigns, to be their closest collaborators. This also happened to John of Salisbury, who was presented by a great friend of his, Bernard of Claraval, to Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury -- the primary see of England -- who happily took him in among his clergy.
For 11 years, from 1150 to 1161, John was the secretary and chaplain of the elderly archbishop. With tireless zeal, despite continuing his studies, he carried out an intense regimen of diplomatic activities, traveling 10 times to Italy with the specific objective of nourishing the relationship of the kingdom of England and the Church there with the Roman Pontiff.
Among other things, during those years, the Pope was Adrian IV, an Englishman who was a close friend of John of Salisbury. In the years following the 1159 death of Adrian IV, a situation of serious tension was created in England between the Church and the kingdom. The king, Henry II, aimed to wield authority over the internal life of the Church, limiting its liberty. This endeavor brought about a reaction from John of Salisbury, and above all, valiant resistance from Theobald's successor in the episcopal see of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket. St. Thomas went to exile in France because of this. John of Salisbury accompanied him and remained at his service, always working for reconciliation. In 1170, when both John and Thomas Becket had returned to England, Thomas was attacked and killed in the cathedral. He died as a martyr and was immediately venerated as such by the people.
John continued faithfully serving the successor of Thomas as well, until he was elected bishop of Chartres, where he stayed from 1176 to 1180, the year of his death.
I would like to point out two of John of Salisbury's works, which are considered his masterpieces and which are elegantly named with the Greek titles of "Metalogicon" (In Defense of Logic) and "Policraticus" (The Man of Government).
In the first work -- and not lacking that fine irony that characterizes many men of culture -- he rejects the position of those who had a reductionist concept of culture, considering it empty eloquence and useless words. John instead praises culture, authentic philosophy, that is, the encounter between clear thought and communication, efficient speech. He writes, "As in fact eloquence that is not enlightened by faith is not only rash but also blind, so wisdom that does not engage in the use of the word not only is weak, but in a certain way, is truncated: Although perhaps wisdom without words could be of benefit to the individual conscience, rarely and little does it benefit society" (Metalogicon 1,1 PL 199,327).
This is a very relevant teaching. Today, what John defines as "eloquence," that is, the possibility of communicating with instruments ever more elaborate and widespread, has enormously increased. For all that, there is an even more urgent need to communicate messages gifted with "wisdom," that is, messages inspired in truth, goodness and beauty. This is a great responsibility that particularly involves those who work in the multiform and complex realm of culture, communication and the media. And this is a realm in which the Gospel can be announced with missionary vigor.
In "Metalogicon," John takes up the problems of logic, which were something of great interest in his time, and he proposes a fundamental question: What can human reason come to know? Up to what point can it respond to this aspiration that is in every person, that of seeking the truth? John of Salisbury takes a moderate position, based in the teaching of certain treatises of Aristotle and Cicero. According to him, ordinarily human reason can reach knowledge that is not indisputable, but probable and contestable. Human knowledge -- this is his conclusion -- is imperfect, because it is subject to finitude, to the limits of man. Nevertheless, it increases and becomes perfected thanks to experience and the elaboration of correct and concrete reasoning, capable of establishing relationships between concepts and reality; thanks to discussion, to confrontation, and to knowledge that is enriched from one generation to another. Only in God is there a perfect knowledge, which is communicated to man, at least partially, by means of revelation welcomed in faith. Thus the knowledge of faith opens the potentialities of reason and brings it to advance with humility in knowledge of the mysteries of God.
The believer and the theologian, who go deeper into the treasure of the faith, are opened as well to a practical knowledge that guides daily activity, that is, moral law and the exercise of virtue.
John of Salisbury writes: "The clemency of God has conceded us his law, which establishes what is useful for us to know, and indicates how much is licit to know of God and how much is justifiable to investigate. ... In this law, in fact, the will of God is made explicit and manifested, so that each one of us knows what is necessary for him to do" (Metalogicon 4,41, PL 199,944-945).
According to John of Salisbury, there also exists an objective and immutable truth, whose origin is God, accessible to human reason. This truth regards practical and social actions. This is a natural law, from which human laws and political and religious authority should take inspiration, so that they can promote the common good. This natural law is characterized by a property that John calls "equity," that is, the attribution to each person of his rights. From here descend precepts that are legitimate for all peoples and which in no case can be abrogated. This is the central thesis in "Policraticus," the treatise on philosophy and political theology, in which John of Salisbury reflects on the conditions that enable a political leader to act in a just and authorized manner.
While other discussions taken up in this work are tied to the historical circumstances in which it was written, the theme of the relationship between natural law and a positive-juridical ordering, arbitrated by equity, is still today of great importance. In our times, in fact, above all in certain countries, we witness a worrying separation between reason, which has the task of discovering the ethical values linked to the dignity of the human person, and liberty, which has the responsibility of welcoming and promoting these values. Perhaps John of Salisbury would remind us today that only those laws are equitable that protect the sanctity of human life and reject the legalization of abortion, euthanasia and limitless genetic experimentation, those laws that respect the dignity of matrimony between a man and a woman, that are inspired in a correct secularity of state -- secularity that always includes the protection of religious liberty -- and that pursue subsidiarity and solidarity at the national and international level.
If not, what John of Salisbury calls the "tyranny of the sovereign" or, what we would call "the dictatorship of relativism," ends up taking over -- a relativism that, as I recalled some years ago, "recognizes nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires" (Misa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, homily, April 19, 2005).
In my most recent encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," addressing men and women of good will, who endeavor to ensure that social and political action is never disconnected from the objective truth about man and his dignity, I wrote: "Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. This principle is extremely important for society and for development, since neither can be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of us a duty to be freely accepted" (No. 52).
This plan that is prior to us, this truth of being, we should seek and welcome, so that justice is born. But we can find it and welcome it only with a heart, a will and reason purified in the light of God.
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to John of Salisbury, an outstanding philosopher and theologian of the twelfth century. Born in England, John was educated in Paris and Chartres. A close associate of Saint Thomas Becket, he was involved in the crisis between the Church and the Crown under King Henry II, and died as Bishop of Chartres. In his celebrated work, the Metalogicon, John teaches that authentic philosophy is by nature communicative: it bears fruit in a message of wisdom which serves the building up of society in truth and goodness. While acknowledging the limitations of human reason, John insists that it can attain to the truth through dialogue and argumentation. Faith, which grants a share in God’s perfect knowledge, helps reason to realize its full potential. In another work, the Policraticus, John defends reason’s capacity to know the objective truth underlying the universal natural law, and its obligation to embody that law in all positive legislation. John’s insights are most timely today, in light of the threats to human life and dignity posed by legislation inspired more by the "dictatorship of relativism" than by the sober use of right reason and concern for the principles of truth and justice inscribed in the natural law.
On Europe's Cathedrals
"Beauty Is a Privileged ... Way to Approach the Mystery of God"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience, which was held in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In the catecheses of recent weeks I have presented some aspects of Medieval theology. However Christian faith, profoundly rooted in the men and women of those centuries, did not only give origin to masterpieces of theological literature, of thought and of faith. It also inspired one of the loftiest artistic creations of universal civilization: the cathedrals, true glory of the Christian Middle Ages. In fact, for almost three centuries, beginning in the 11th century, Europe witnessed an extraordinary artistic fervor. An ancient chronicler describes thus the enthusiasm and industry of that time: "It happened that the whole world, but especially in Italy and in Gaul, churches began to be reconstructed, although many, being in good conditions, had no need of this restoration. It was as though one village and another competed; it was as if the world, shaking off its old rags, wished to be clothed everywhere in the white garment of new churches. In sum, almost all the cathedral churches, a great number of monastic churches, and even village chapels, were then restored by the faithful" (Rodolfo el Glabro, Historiarum 3,4).
Several factors contributed to this rebirth of religious architecture. First of all, more favorable historical conditions, such as greater political security, accompanied by a constant increase in the population and the progressive development of cities, of exchanges and of wealth. Moreover, architects found increasingly elaborate technical solutions to increase the dimension of buildings, ensuring at the same time their firmness and majesty. However, it was thanks primarily to the spiritual ardor and zeal of monasticism then in full expansion that abbey churches were erected, where the liturgy could be celebrated with dignity and solemnity, and the faithful could remain in prayer, attracted by the veneration of the relics of the saints, object of countless pilgrimages. Thus the Romanesque churches and cathedrals were born, characterized by their longitudinal development along the naves to house numerous faithful; very solid churches, with thick walls, stone vaults and simple and essential lines.
A novelty is represented by the introduction of sculptures. As Romanesque churches were the place of monastic prayer and the faithful's worship, the sculptors, rather than being concerned with technical perfection, took care above all of the educational end. It was necessary to arouse in souls strong impressions, feelings that could incite them to flee from vice and evil and practice virtue, goodness -- the recurrent theme was the representation of Christ as Universal Judge, surrounded by the personages of revelation. In general it is Romanesque facades that offer this representation, to underline that Christ is the door that leads to heaven. The faithful, crossing the threshold of the sacred building, entered a time and space that were different from those of ordinary life. Beyond the main door of the church, believers in the sovereign, just and merciful Christ could -- the artists hoped -- anticipate eternal happiness in the celebration of the liturgy and in acts of piety carried out inside the sacred building.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, beginning in the north of France, another type of architecture spread in the construction of sacred buildings: the Gothic. This style had two new characteristics as compared to the Romanesque: the vertical thrust and luminosity. Gothic cathedrals showed a synthesis of faith and art expressed harmoniously through the universal and fascinating language of beauty, which still today awakens wonder. Thanks to the introduction of pointed vaults, which were supported by robust pillars, it was possible to notably raise the height [of these churches]. The thrust to the sublime was an invitation to prayer and at the same time was a prayer. The Gothic cathedral thus wished to translate in its architectural lines souls longing for God. Moreover, with the new technical solutions, the perimeter walls could be penetrated and embellished by colorful stained glass windows. In other words, the windows were transformed into great luminous figures, very adapted to instructing the people in the faith. In them -- scene by scene -- were narrated the life of a saint, a parable or other biblical events. From the painted windows a cascade of light was shed on the faithful to narrate to them the history of salvation and to involve them in this history.
Another merit of the Gothic cathedrals was the fact that, in their construction and decoration, the Christian and civil community participated in a different but coordinated way; the poor and the powerful, the illiterate and the learned participated, because in this common house all believers were instructed in the faith. Gothic sculpture made of cathedrals a "Bible of stone," representing the episodes of the Gospel and illustrating the contents of the Liturgical Year, from Christmas to the Lord's glorification. Spreading ever more in those centuries, moreover, was the perception of the Lord's humanity, and the sufferings of his Passion were represented in a realistic way: The suffering Christ (Christus patiens) became an image loved by all, and able to inspire piety and repentance for sins. Not lacking were the personages of the Old Testament, whose history became familiar to the faithful in such a way that they frequented the cathedrals as part of the one, common history of salvation. With their faces full of beauty, tenderness, intelligence, Gothic sculpture of the 13th century reveals a happy and serene piety, which is pleased to emanate a heartfelt and filial devotion to the Mother of God, seen at times as a young, smiling and maternal woman, and represented primarily as the sovereign of heaven and earth, powerful and merciful.
The faithful who filled the Gothic cathedrals wanted to find in them artistic expressions that recalled the saints, models of Christian life and intercessors before God. And there was no lack of "lay" manifestations of existence; hence there appeared here and there representations of work in the fields, in the sciences and in the arts. Everything was oriented and offered to God in the place where the liturgy was celebrated. We can understand better the meaning that was attributed to a Gothic cathedral, considering the text of an inscription on the main door of St. Denis in Paris: "Passer-by, you who want to praise the beauty of these doors, do not be dazzled either by the gold or the magnificence, but by the laborious work. Here shines a famous work, but may the heavens allow that this famous work which shines make spirits shine, so that with luminous truths they will walk toward the true light, where Christ is the true door."
Dear brothers and sisters, I now wish to underline two elements of Romanesque and Gothic art, which are also useful for us.
The first: the works of art born in Europe in past centuries are incomprehensible if one does not take into account the religious soul that inspired them. Marc Chagall, an artist who has always given testimony of the encounter between aesthetics and faith, wrote that "for centuries painters have dyed their brush in that colored alphabet that is the Bible." When faith, celebrated in a particular way in the liturgy, encounters art, a profound synchrony is created, because both can and want to praise God, making the Invisible visible. I would like to share this in the meeting with artists on Nov. 21, renewing that proposal of friendship between Christian spirituality and art, desired by my venerated predecessors, in particular by the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II.
The second element: the force of the Romanesque style and the splendor of the Gothic cathedrals remind us that the via pilchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God. What is beauty, which writers, poets, musicians, and artists contemplate and translate into their language, if not the reflection of the splendor of the Eternal Word made flesh? St. Augustine states: "Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?" (Sermo CCXLI, 2: PL 38, 1134).
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to rediscover the way of beauty as one of the ways, perhaps the most attractive and fascinating, to be able to find and love God.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]
My dear brothers and sisters,
I have been speaking in recent weeks about medieval theology, and would now like to turn my attention to how the Christian faith of the Middle Ages inspired some of the greatest works of art of all time: the cathedrals of Europe. Romanesque cathedrals are distinctive for their size and for introducing to churches beautiful sculpture, including the image of Christ as the Universal Judge and the Gate of Heaven. By entering through Him, as it were, the faithful enter a space and even a time different from everyday life, somewhere they can anticipate eternal life through their participation in the liturgy. Gradually, Gothic architecture replaced the Romanesque, adding height and luminosity to the previous style. The Gothic cathedral translates the aspirations of the soul into architectural lines, and is a synthesis between faith, art and beauty which still raises our hearts and minds to God today. When faith encounters art, in particular in the liturgy, a profound synthesis is created, making visible the Invisible, and the two great architectural styles of the Middle Ages demonstrate how beauty is a powerful means to draw us closer to the Mystery of God. May the Lord help us to rediscover that "way of beauty," surely one of the best ways to know and to love Almighty God.
On What Europe Owes to Cluny
"The Value of the Human Person and the Primary Good of Peace"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
This morning I wish to speak of a monastic movement that had great importance in the Medieval centuries, and to which I have already referred in previous catecheses. It is about the Order of Cluny, which, at the beginning of the 12th century, the time of its greatest expansion, had almost 1,200 monasteries: a really impressive figure!
In fact at Cluny, 1,100 years ago, in 910, a monastery was founded and placed under the guidance of Abbot Bernone, after the donation of William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine. At that time Western monasticism, which flowered some centuries before with St. Benedict, was very impoverished for several reasons: the unstable political and social conditions due to the constant invasions and devastation of people not integrated in the European fabric, widespread poverty and above all the dependence of abbeys on local lords, who controlled everything that belonged to the territory of their competence. In such a context, Cluny represented the soul of a profound renewal of monastic life, to lead it back to its original inspiration.
Represented at Cluny was the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict with some adaptations already introduced by other reformers. Above all the intention was to guarantee the central role that the liturgy must have in Christian life. The monks of Cluny dedicated themselves with love and great care to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the singing of psalms, to processions both devotional and solemn and, above all, to the celebration of Holy Mass. They promoted sacred music; they wanted architecture and art to contribute to the beauty and solemnity of the rites; they enriched the liturgical calendar with special celebrations such as, for example, the commemoration of the faithful deceased at the beginning of November, which we also celebrated a short time ago; the they enhanced devotion to the Virgin Mary.
So much importance was given to the liturgy because the monks of Cluny were convinced that it was participation in the liturgy of Heaven. And the monks felt responsible to intercede at the altar of God for the living and the dead, given that very many faithful repeatedly requested them to be remembered in prayer. On the other hand, it was precisely for this purpose that William the Pious had desired the birth of the Abbey of Cluny. In the ancient document, which attests to the foundation, we read: "With this gift I establish that a monastery of regulars be built at Cluny in honor of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and that monks gather here who live according to the Rule of St. Benedict (...) and that it be a venerable asylum of prayer which is frequented with vows and supplications, seeking and yearning with every desire and profound ardor the celestial life, and assiduous prayers, invocations and supplications addressed to the Lord."
To guard and nourish this climate of prayer, the rule of Cluny emphasized the importance of silence, a discipline to which the monks willingly submitted themselves, convinced that the purity of the virtues, to which they aspired, required profound and constant recollection. It is no wonder that very soon, fame for holiness was attributed to the monastery of Cluny, and that many other monastic communities decided to follow its practices. Many princes and popes requested the abbots of Cluny to spread their reform, to the point that in a short time a multitudinous network of monasteries were linked to Cluny, wither with true and proper juridical links or a sort of charismatic affiliation. Thus a Europe of the spirit was being delineated in the different regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Hungary.
The success of Cluny was assured first of all by the lofty spirituality cultivated there, but also by some other conditions that favored its development. As opposed to what had happened up to then, the monastery of Cluny and the communities depending on it were exempted from the jurisdiction of the local bishops and placed directly under that of the Roman Pontiff. This entailed a special bond with the See of Peter and, thanks precisely to the protection and encouragement of pontiffs, the ideals of purity and fidelity, which the Cluniac reform intended to follow, were able to spread rapidly. Moreover, the abbots were elected without any intervention by the civil authorities, very different to what was the case in other places. Truly worthy persons succeeded one another in the guidance of Cluny and of the numerous dependent monastic communities: Abbot Odo of Cluny, of whom I spoke in a catechesis two months ago, and other great personalities, such as Emard, Maiolus, Odilo and above all Hugh the Great, who carried out their service for long periods, ensured stability to the reform undertaken and to its diffusion. Venerated as saints, in addition to Odo, are Maiolus, Odilo and Hugh.
The Cluniac reform had positive effects not only on the purification and reawakening of monastic life, but also on the life of the universal Church. In fact, the aspiration to evangelical perfection represented a stimulus to combat two grave evils that afflicted the Church in that period: simony, that is the acquisition of compensated pastoral offices, and the immorality of the secular clergy. The abbots of Cluny with their spiritual authoritativeness, the Cluniac monks who became bishops, some of them even popes, were protagonists of such an imposing action of spiritual renewal. And the fruits were not lacking: The celibacy of priests became esteemed and lived, and more transparent procedures were introduced in the assumption of ecclesiastical offices.
Significant also were the benefits contributed to society by monasteries inspired by the Cluniac reform. At a time in which only ecclesiastical institutions provided for the indigent, charity was practiced with determination. In all houses, the almoner had to receive passers-by and needy pilgrims, traveling priests and religious, and above all the poor who came to ask for food and roof for a day. Not less important were two other institutions, typical of Medieval civilization, which were promoted by Cluny: the so-called truce of God and the peace of God. At a time strongly marked by violence and the spirit of revenge, assured with the "truce of God" were long periods of non-belligerence, on the occasion of important religious feasts and of some days of the week. Requested with "the peace of God," under the pain of a canonical censure, was respect for defenseless people and sacred places.
Thus enhanced in the conscience of the people of Europe was that process of long gestation, which led to the recognition, in an ever clearer way, of two essential elements for the construction of society, that is, the value of the human person and the primary good of peace. Moreover, as happened with other monastic foundations, the Cluniac monasteries had ample properties that, put diligently to good use, contributed to the development of the economy. Next to manual labor, there was no lack of some typical cultural activities of Medieval monasticism, such as schools for children, the setting up of libraries and the scriptoria for the transcription of books.
In this way, a thousand years ago, when the process of the formation of European identity was at its height, the Cluniac experience spread over vast regions of the European Continent, and made its important and precious contribution. It recalled the primacy of the goods of the spirit; from this it drew the tension toward the things of God; it inspired and favored initiatives and institutions for the promotion of human values; it educated in a spirit of peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray so that all those who have at heart a genuine humanism and the future of Europe will be able to rediscover, appreciate and defend the rich cultural and religious patrimony of these centuries.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to the monastic reform linked to the great monastery of Cluny. Founded eleven hundred years ago, Cluny restored the strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict and made the Church’s liturgy the centre of its life. It stressed the solemn celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and Holy Mass, and enriched the worship of God with splendid art, architecture and music. The monastic liturgy, seen as a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, was accompanied by a daily regime marked by silence and intercessory prayer. Cluny’s reputation for sanctity and learning caused its influence to spread to monasteries throughout Europe. Exempt from interference by feudal authorities, the monastery freely elected its abbots and flourished under a series of outstanding spiritual leaders like Saints Odo and Hugh. Cluny also contributed to the reform of the universal Church by its concern for holiness, the restoration of clerical celibacy and the elimination of simony. At a formative time of Europe’s history, Cluny helped to forge the Continent’s Christian identity by its emphasis on the primacy of the spirit, respect for human dignity, commitment to peace and an authentic and integral humanism.
©Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Theology of the Heart or the Mind
"To Make Truth Triumph in Charity"
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In the last catechesis I presented the main characteristics of 12th century monastic and scholastic theology, which in a certain sense we could call, respectively, "theology of the heart" and "theology of reason." A wide debate, at times fiery, took place between the representatives of each current, represented symbolically by the controversy between St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Abelard.
To understand this confrontation between the two great teachers, it is good to recall that theology is the search for a rational understanding, insofar as possible, of the mystery of Christian revelation, believed by faith: fides quaerens intellectum -- faith seeking understanding -- to use a traditional, concise and effective definition.
Now, whereas St. Bernard, typical representative of monastic theology, places the accent on the first part of the definition, that is, on fides -- faith, Abelard, who is a scholastic, stresses the second part, that is, the intellectus -- on understanding through reason. For Bernard, faith itself is gifted with a profound certainty based on the testimony of Scripture and on the teaching of the Church fathers. Faith, moreover, is reinforced by the testimony of the saints and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the soul of each believer. In cases of doubt or ambiguity, faith must be protected and enlightened by the exercise of the ecclesial magisterium.
So for Bernard it is difficult to agree with Abelard and, more generally, with those who subjected the truths of the faith to the critical examination of reason, an examination that, in his opinion, entailed a grave danger, intellectualism, the relativization of truth, discussion of the very truths of the faith. Bernard saw in this way of proceeding an audacity to the point of lacking scruples, fruit of the pride of human intelligence, which attempts to "grasp" the mystery of God. Pained, he wrote thus in one of his letters: "Human wit grasps everything, leaving nothing to faith. It confronts what is beyond it; scrutinizes what is superior to it; invades the world of God; alters, more than illumines, the mysteries of the faith; it does not open what is closed and sealed, but eradicates it, and what is does not find viable, it considers as nothing, and refuses to believe in it" (Epistola CLXXXVIII,1: PL 182, I, 353).
For Bernard, theology has only one end: that of promoting the intense and profound experience of God. Therefore, theology is an aid to love the Lord ever more and better, as states the title of the treatise on the Duty to Love God (De diligendo Deo). Along this way, there are different degrees, which Bernard describes in detail, up to the highest, when the soul of the believer is inebriated on the summits of love. The human soul can attain already on earth that mystical union with the Divine Word, a union that the doctor mellifluus describes as "spiritual espousals." The Divine Word visits her, eliminates the last resistances, illumines her, inflames her and transforms her. In this mystical union, [the soul] enjoys great peace and sweetness, and sings to her Spouse a hymn of joy. As I reminded in the catechesis dedicated to the life and doctrine of St. Bernard, for him theology cannot but be nourished by contemplative prayer, in other words, by the affective union of the heart and mind with God.
Abelard, on the other hand, who is precisely the one who introduced the term "theology" in the sense in which we understand it today, places himself in a different perspective. Born in Brittany, in France, this famous teacher of the 12th century was gifted with a very acute intelligence and his vocation was study. He concerned himself first with philosophy, and then applied the results obtained in this discipline to theology, which he taught in Paris, the most cultured city of the time, and subsequently, in the monasteries in which he lived. He was a brilliant orator: His lessons were followed by true and proper masses of students.
Of a religious spirit but of a restless personality, his life was full of dramatics: He refuted his teachers, had a child with Eloise, an educated and intelligent woman. He was often in controversy with his theological colleagues. He also suffered ecclesiastical condemnations, though he died in full communion with the Church, to whose authority he submitted with a spirit of faith.
In fact St. Bernard contributed to the condemnation of some of Abelard's doctrines in the provincial synod of Sens of 1140, and he also requested the intervention of Pope Innocent II. The abbot of Clairvaux rejected, as we recalled, Abelard's too-intellectualist method, which in his eyes reduced the faith to a simple opinion detached from revealed truth. Bernard's fears were not unfounded, but were shared, moreover, by other great thinkers of his time. In fact, an excessive use of philosophy made Abelard's Trinitarian doctrine dangerously fragile, and thus his idea of God. In the moral field his teaching was not lacking in ambiguity: He insisted on considering the individual's intention as the only source to describe the goodness or evil of moral acts, thus neglecting the objective meaning and moral values of actions: a dangerous subjectivism. This is -- as we know -- a very pertinent element for our times, in which culture often seems marked by a growing tendency to ethical relativism: only the "I" decides what is good for me, at this moment.
However, we must not forget the great merits of Abelard, who had many disciples and who contributed to the development of scholastic theology, destined to express itself in a more mature and fruitful way in the next century. Some of his intuitions should not be undervalued, as for example when he affirms that in non-Christian religious traditions there is already a preparation for the acceptance of Christ, Divine Word.
What can we learn today from the often heated confrontation between Bernard and Abelard and, in general, between monastic and scholastic theology? Above all I believe it shows the usefulness of and the need for a healthy discussion in the Church, especially when the questions debated have not been defined by the magisterium, which continues to be, however, an essential point of reference. St. Bernard, but also Abelard himself, always recognized, without doubting, its authority. Moreover, the condemnations that the latter suffered remind us that in the theological field there must be a balance between what we might call the architectonic principles that have been given to us by Revelation and that, because of this, always are of prime importance, and the interpretative principles suggested by philosophy, that is, by reason, which has an important function, but only instrumental. When this balance between the architecture and the instruments of interpretation diminishes, theological reflection runs the risk of being contaminated with errors, and then it corresponds to the magisterium to exercise that necessary service to truth that is proper to it.
Moreover, it must be emphasized that, between the motivations that induced Bernard to place himself against Abelard and to request the intervention of the magisterium, was, also, the concern to safeguard simple and humble believers, who must be defended when they run the risk of being confused or led astray by opinions that are too personal and by theological argumentations without scruples, which might endanger their faith.
Finally, I would like to recall that the theological confrontation between Bernard and Abelard ended with full reconciliation between them, thanks to the mediation of a common friend, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke in a previous catechesis. Abelard showed humility in acknowledging his errors; Bernard used great benevolence. There prevailed in both what should truly be in the heart when a theological controversy is born, that is, to safeguard the faith of the Church and to make truth triumph in charity. May this also be the attitude with which there are confrontations in the Church, always keeping as the aim the pursuit of truth.
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we continue our comparison of the monastic and scholastic approaches to theology which we began last week, by looking again at Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, this time in comparison with Abelard. Both of them considered theology as "faith seeking understanding"; but whereas Bernard placed the accent on "faith," Abelard emphasized "understanding." Bernard, for whom the aim of theology was to have a living experience of God, cautioned against intellectual pride which makes us think we can grasp fully the mysteries of faith. Abelard, who strove to apply the insights of philosophy to theology, saw in other religions the seeds of an openness to Christ. The respective approaches of Bernard and Abelard -- one a "theology of the heart" and the other a "theology of reason" -- were not without tension. They therefore illustrate the importance of healthy theological discussion and humble obedience to ecclesial authority. Theology must respect the principles it receives from revelation as it uses philosophy to interpret them. Whenever a theological dispute arises, everyone, and in a particular way the Magisterium, has a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the faith. As we strive to deepen our understanding of the Gospel, may God strengthen us to extol its truth in charity.
I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience. I particularly greet priests from the dioceses of England and Wales celebrating Jubilees, pilgrims from the Diocese of Wichita, students and teachers from Catholic schools in Denmark, and Catholic nurses from the United States. God's blessings upon you all!
©Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Theology in the 12th Century
"Knowledge Grows Only if It Loves Truth"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I pause to reflect on an interesting page of history, regarding the flowering of Latin theology in the 12th century, which came about by a providential series of coincidences. In the countries of Western Europe there reigned then a relative peace, which assured society of economic development and the consolidation of political structures, and fostered a lively cultural activity thanks also to contacts with the East. Perceived within the Church were the benefits of the vast action known as the "Gregorian reform," which, vigorously promoted in the preceding century, brought greater evangelical purity to the life of the ecclesial community, above all of the clergy, and restored to the Church and the papacy genuine liberty of action. Moreover, a vast spiritual renewal was spreading, sustained by the exuberant development of consecrated life: New religious orders were being born and spreading, while those already existing experienced a promising renewal.
Theology was also flourishing, acquiring greater awareness of its own nature: It refined its method, addressed new problems, advanced in the contemplation of the mysteries of God, produced fundamental works, inspired important initiatives of culture -- from art to literature -- and prepared the masterpieces of the next century, the century of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.
There were two realms in which this fervid theological activity developed: the monasteries and the town schools, the scholae, some of which very soon gave life to the universities, which constituted one of the typical "inventions" of the Christian Middle Ages. In fact from these two realms, the monasteries and the scholae, one can speak of two different models of theology: "monastic theology" and "scholastic theology." The representatives of monastic theology were monks, in general, abbots, gifted with wisdom and evangelical fervor, dedicated essentially to arousing and nourishing a loving desire for God. The representatives of scholastic theology were cultured men, passionate about research; magistri wishing to show the reasonableness and soundness of the mysteries of God and of man, believed in with faith, of course, but understood also by reason. The contrasting objectives explain the differences in their method and their way of doing theology.
In the monasteries of the 12th century the theological method was linked primarily to the explanation of sacred Scripture, of the sacra pagina, to express ourselves as the authors of that period did. Biblical theololy was particularly widespread. The monks, in fact, were all devoted listeners and readers of sacred Scripture, and one of their main occupations consisted in lectio divina, namely, prayerful reading of the Bible. For them the simple reading of the sacred text was not enough to perceive the profound meaning, the interior unity and the transcendent message. Therefore, they had to practice a "spiritual reading," leading in docility to the Holy Spirit. Thus, in the school of the Fathers, the Bible was interpreted allegorically, to discover in every page, of the Old as well as the New Testament, what is said about Christ and his work of salvation.
Last year's synod of bishops on the "Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" recalled the importance of the spiritual approach to sacred Scripture. To this end, it is useful to treasure monastic theology, an uninterrupted biblical exegesis, as also the works composed by its representatives, precious ascetic commentaries on the books of the Bible. Therefore, to literary preparation, monastic theology joined spiritual preparation. It was, in fact, aware that a purely theoretic or profane reading was not enough: To enter the heart of sacred Scripture, it must be read in the spirit in which it was written and created. Literary preparation was necessary to know the exact meaning of the words and to facilitate the understanding of the text, refining the grammatical and philological sensibility. Jean Leclercq, the Benedictine scholar of the last century titled the essay with which he presented the characteristics of monastic theology thus : "L'amour des lettres et le desir de Dieu" (The love of words and the desire for God).
In fact, the desire to know and to love God, which comes to us through his Word received, meditated and practiced, leads to seeking to go deeper into the biblical texts in all their dimensions. There is then another attitude on which those who practice monastic theology insist, that is, a profound attitude of prayer, which must precede, support and complement the study of sacred Scripture. Because, in the last analysis, monastic theology is listening to the Word of God, one cannot but purify the heart to receive it and, above all, one cannot but kindle it with fervor to encounter the Lord. Therefore, theology becomes meditation, prayer, song of praise and drives one to a sincere conversion. Not a few representatives of monastic theology reached, along this way, the highest goal of mystical experience, and they constitute an invitation also for us to nourish our existence with the Word of God, for example, through more attentive listening to the readings and the Gospel, especially in Sunday Mass. Moreover, it is important to reserve a certain time every day for meditation of the Bible, so that the Word of God is the lamp that illumines our daily path on earth.
Scholastic theology, instead, -- as I was saying -- was practiced in the scholae, arising next to the great cathedrals of the age, for the preparation of the clergy, or around a teacher of theology and his disciples, to form professionals of culture, at a time in which learning was increasingly appreciated. Central to the method of the scholastics was the quaestio, namely the problem posed to the reader in addressing the words of Scripture and Tradition. In face of the problem that these authoritative texts pose, questions arose and debate was born between the teacher and the students. In such a debate appeared, on one hand, the arguments of authority, and, on the other, those of reason, and the debate developed in the sense of finding, in the end, a synthesis between authority and reason to attain a more profound understanding of the word of God.
In this regard, St. Bonaventure says that theology is "per additionem" (cf. Commentaria in quatuor libros sententiarum, I, proem., q. 1, concl.), that is, theology adds the dimension of reason to the word of God and thus creates a more profound, more personal faith, and therefore also more concrete in the life of man. In this connection, different solutions were found and conclusions were formed that began to construct a system of theology. The organization of the quaestiones led to the compilation of increasingly extensive syntheses, that is, the different quaestiones were composed with the answers that ensued, thus creating a synthesis, the so-called summae, which were, in reality, ample theological-dogmatic treatises born from the confrontation of human reason with the word of God.
Scholastic theology sought to present the unity and harmony of Christian Revelation with a method, called specifically "Scholastic," of the school, which gives confidence to human reason: grammar and philology are at the service of theological learning, but so increasingly is logic, namely that discipline that studies the "functioning" of human reasoning, so that the truth of a proposition seems evident. Also today, reading the scholastic summae, one is struck by the order, clarity, logical concatenation of the arguments, and of the depth of some of the intuitions. Attributed to every word, with technical language, is a precise meaning and, between believing and understanding, there is established a reciprocal movement of clarification.
Dear brothers and sisters, echoing the invitation of the First Letter of Peter, scholastic theology stimulates us to be always ready to answer anyone asking for the reason for the hope that is in us (cf. 3:15). To take the questions as directed to us and thus be capable also of giving an answer. It reminds us that there is between faith and reason a natural friendship, founded on the order of creation itself.
The Servant of God John Paul II, in the beginning of the encyclical "Fides et Ratio," wrote: "Faith and reason are like the two wings, with which the human spirit soars towards contemplation of the truth." Faith is open to the effort of understanding on the part of reason; reason, in turn, recognizes that faith does not mortify it, rather it drives it toward wider and loftier horizons. Inserted here is the perennial lesson of monastic theology. Faith and reason, in reciprocal dialogue, vibrate with joy when both are animated by the search for profound union with God. When love vivifies the prayerful dimension of theology, knowledge, acquired by reason, is broadened. Truth is sought with humility, received with wonder and gratitude: In a word, knowledge grows only if it loves truth. Love becomes intelligence and theology the authentic wisdom of the heart, which orients and sustains the faith and life of believers. Let us pray, therefore, that the path of knowledge and of deepening in the mysteries of God is always illumined by divine love.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages, we now turn to the renewal of theology in the wake of the Gregorian Reform. The twelfth century was a time of a spiritual, cultural and political rebirth in the West. Theology, for its part, became more conscious of its own nature and method, faced new problems and paved the way for the great theological masterpieces of the thirteenth century, the age of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure. Two basic "models" of theology emerged, associated respectively with the monasteries and the schools which were the forerunners of the medieval universities. Monastic theology grew out of the prayerful contemplation of the Scriptures and the texts of the Church Fathers, stressing their interior unity and spiritual meaning, centred on the mystery of Christ. Scholastic theology sought to clarify the understanding of the faith by study of the sources and the use of logic, and led to the great works of synthesis known as the Summae. Even today this confidence in the harmony of faith and reason inspires us to account for the hope within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and to show that faith liberates reason, enabling the human spirit to rise to the loving contemplation of that fullness of truth which is God himself.
[Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana]
On St. Bernard of Clairvaux
"Faith Is Above All a Personal, Intimate Encounter With Jesus"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 21, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called "the last father" of the Church, because in the 12th century he renewed once again and rendered present the great theology of the Fathers. We do not know details about the years of his boyhood. We know, nevertheless, that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, in a numerous, moderately comfortable family. As a youth, he spent himself in the study of the so-called liberal arts -- especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics -- at the school of the canons of the church of St. Vorles, in Chatillon-sur-Seine, and he slowly matured his decision to enter the religious life.
When he was about 20, he entered Citeaux, a new monastic foundation, more flexible than the old and venerable monasteries of the time and, at the same time, more rigorous in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was invited by St. Stephen Harding, third abbot of Citeaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young abbot -- who was only 25 years old -- was able to refine his concept of monastic life, and to be determined to put it into practice. Looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard decidedly reclaimed the need for a sober and measured life, at table as well as in dress and in the monastic buildings, recommending the support and care of the poor. In the meantime, the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and multiplied its foundations.
In those same years, before 1130, Bernard maintained a vast correspondence with many persons, whether of important or modest social conditions. To the many letters of this period must be added numerous sermons, as well as sentences and treatises. Striking at this time was Bernard's friendship with William, abbot of St. Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century.
From 1130 onward, he began to be concerned with not a few grave questions of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason, he had to go out of his monastery ever more often, and sometimes outside of France. He also founded some women's convents, and was protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, about whom I spoke last Wednesday.
He addressed his controversial writings above all against Abelard, a great thinker who began a new way of making theology, introducing above all the dialectic-philosophical method in the construction of theological thought. Another front against which Bernard fought was the heresy of the Cathars, who held matter and the human body in contempt, consequently scorning the Creator. As well, he felt it his duty to take on the defense of the Jews, condemning the ever more diffuse resurgence of anti-Semitism. For this last aspect of his apostolic action, some 10 years later, Ephraim, rabbi of Bonn, addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In that same period the holy abbot wrote his most famous works, such as the well-known Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles.
In the last years of his life -- his death occurred in 1153 -- Bernard had to limit his journeys, without however interrupting them altogether. He took advantage to review definitively the whole of the letters, sermons and treatises.
Worthy of being mentioned is a book that is quite singular, that he finished precisely in this period, in 1145, when one of his pupils, Bernard Pignatelli, was elected Pope, taking the name Eugene III. In this circumstance, Bernard, in the capacity of spiritual father, wrote to this spiritual son of his the text "De Consideratione," which contains teachings on how to be a good pope. In this book, which remains an appropriate book for popes of all times, Bernard does not only indicate what it is to be a good pope, but also expresses a profound vision of the mystery of the Church and of the mystery of Christ, which is resolved, in the end, in the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune and One God: "He must again continue the search of this God, who is not yet sufficiently sought," writes the holy abbot "but perhaps He can be sought better and found more easily with prayer than with discussion. We put an end here to the book, but not to the search" (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808), to being on the way to God.
I would now like to reflect on two key aspects of Bernard's rich doctrine: they regard Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His solicitude for the intimate and vital participation of the Christian in the love of God in Jesus Christ does not offer new guidelines in the scientific status of theology. But, in a more than decisive way, the abbot of Clairvaux configures the theologian to the contemplative and the mystic. Only Jesus -- insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time -- only Jesus is "honey to the mouth, song to the ear, joy to the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)." From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, "runs like honey."
In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists -- two philosophical currents of the age -- the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene. "Arid is all food of the soul," he confesses, "if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus." And he concludes: "When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus" (Sermones in Cantica Canticorum XV, 6: PL 183,847).
For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us."
In another famous sermon on the Sunday Between the Octave of the Assumption, the holy abbot describes in impassioned terms the intimate participation of Mary in the redeeming sacrifice of the Son. "O holy Mother," he exclaims, "truly a sword has pierced your soul! ... To such a point the violence of pain has pierced your soul, that with reason we can call you more than martyr, because your participation in the Passion of the Son greatly exceeded in intensity the physical sufferings of martyrdom" (14: PL 183, 437-438).
Bernard has no doubts: "per Mariam ad Iesum," through Mary we are led to Jesus. He attests clearly to Mary's subordination to Jesus, according to the principles of traditional Mariology. But the body of the sermon also documents the privileged place of the Virgin in the economy of salvation, in reference to the very singular participation of the Mother (compassio) in the sacrifice of the Son. It is no accident that, a century and a half after Bernard's death, Dante Alighieri, in the last canto of the Divine Comedy, puts on the lips of the "Mellifluous Doctor" the sublime prayer to Mary: "Virgin Mary, daughter of your Son,/ humble and higher than a creature,/ fixed end of eternal counsel, ..." (Paradiso 33, vv. 1ss.).
These reflections, characteristic of one in love with Jesus and Mary as St. Bernard was, rightly inflame again today not only theologians but all believers. At times an attempt is made to resolve the fundamental questions on God, on man and on the world with the sole force of reason. Instead, St. Bernard, solidly based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility. Theology takes us back to the "science of the saints," to their intuitions of the mysteries of the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the point of reference for theological thought.
Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily "with prayer than with discussion." In the end, the truest figure of the theologian and of every evangelizer is that of the Apostle John, who leaned his head on the heart of the Master.
I would like to conclude these reflections on St. Bernard with the invocations to Mary that we read in one of his beautiful homilies. "In danger, in anguish, in uncertainty," he says, "think of Mary, call on Mary. May she never be far from your lips, from your heart; and thus you will be able to obtain the help of her prayer, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot go astray; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot be mistaken. If she sustains you, you cannot fall; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, do not tire; if she is propitious to you, you will reach the goal ..." (Hom. II super "Missus est," 17: PL 183, 70-71).
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on the theologians of the Middle Ages, we now turn to one of the most outstanding, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard combined the austerity of the Cistercian monastic renewal with intense activity in the service of the Church in his time. Because of his great learning and deep spirituality he is venerated as a Doctor of the Church, and is often called "the last of the Fathers." Together with his theological writings and homilies, including the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard maintained a vast correspondence, developed warm friendships with his contemporaries, defended sound doctrine, and combated heresy and outbreaks of antisemitism. His spirituality was profoundly Christ-centred and contemplative, and his celebration of the sweetness of Christ's name won him the title of Doctor mellifluus. Bernard is also known for his fervent devotion to our Lady and his insight into her intimate sharing in the sacrifice of her Son. May Bernard's example of faith nourished by prayer, study and contemplation, lead us closer "to Jesus through Mary" and grant us that wisdom which finds joyful fulfillment in the knowledge of the saints in heaven.
On Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny
"I Am Not One of Those Who Is Not Happy With His Lot"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
The figure of Peter the Venerable, which I wish to present in today's catechesis, takes us back to the famous abbey of Cluny, to its "decorum" (decor) and its "lucidity" (nitor), to use terms that recur in the Cluniac texts -- decorum and splendor-- which are admired above all in the beauty of the liturgy, the privileged path to reach God.
Even more than these aspects, however, Peter's personality recalls the holiness of the great Cluniac abbots: At Cluny "there was not a single abbot who was not a saint," said Pope Gregory VII in 1080. Among these is Peter the Venerable, who to some degree gathers in himself all the virtues of his predecessors -- although already with him, Cluny, faced with new orders such as that of Citeaux, began to experience symptoms of crisis.
Born around 1094 in the French region of Auvergne, he entered as a child in the monastery of Sauxillanges, where he became a professed monk and then prior. He was elected abbot of Cluny in 1122, and remained in this office until his death, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1156, as he had wished. "Lover of peace," wrote his biographer, Rudolph, "he obtained peace in the glory of God on the day of peace" (Vita, I, 17; PL 189, 28).
All those who knew him praised his elegant meekness, serene balance, self-control, correctness, loyalty, lucidity and special attitude in mediating. "It is in my very nature," he wrote, "to be somewhat led to indulgence; I am incited to this by my habit of forgiving. I am used to enduring and forgiving" (Ep. 192, in: "The Letters of Peter the Venerable," Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 446).
He also said: "With those who hate peace we wish, possibly, to always be peaceful" (Ep. 100, 1.c., p. 261). And of himself, he wrote: "I am not one of those who is not happy with his lot ... whose spirit is always anxious and doubtful, and who laments that all the others are resting and he alone is working" (Ep. 182, p. 425).
Of a sensitive and affectionate nature, he was able to combine love of the Lord with tenderness toward his family, particularly his mother, and his friends. He was a cultivator of friendship, especially in his meetings with his monks, who usually confided in him, certain of being received and understood. According to the testimony of his biographer, "he did not disregard or refuse anyone" (Vita, 1,3: PL 189,19); "he seemed gracious to all; in his innate goodness, he was open to all" (ibid., I,1: PL, 189, 17).
We could say that this holy abbot is an example also for the monks and Christians of our time, marked by a frenetic rhythm of life, where incidents of intolerance and lack of communication, division and conflicts are not rare. His witness invites us to be able to combine love of God with love of neighbor, and never tire of renewing relations of fraternity and reconciliation. In this way, in fact, Peter the Venerable behaved, finding himself guiding the monastery of Cluny in years that were not very tranquil for several external and internal reasons, succeeding in being simultaneously severe and gifted with profound humanity. He used to say: "You will be able to obtain more from a man by tolerating him, than by irritating him with complaints" (Ep. 172, 1.c., 409).
Because of his office, he had to make frequent trips to Italy, England, Germany and Spain. Forced abandonment of contemplative stillness weighed on him. He confessed: "I go from one place to another, I am anxious, disturbed, tormented, dragged here and there; my mind is turned now to my affairs, now to those of others, not without great agitation to my spirit" (Ep. 91, 1.c., p. 233). Although having to maneuver between the powers and lordships that surrounded Cluny, nevertheless, thanks to his sense of measure, his magnanimity and his realism, he succeeded in keeping his habitual tranquility. Among the personalities with whom he interacted was Bernard of Clairvaux, with whom he enjoyed a relationship of growing friendship, despite differences of temperament and perspectives. Bernard described him as an "important man, occupied in important affairs" and he greatly esteemed him (Ep. 147, ed. Scriptorium Claravallense, Milan, 1986, VI/1, pp. 658-660), whereas Peter the Venerable described Bernard as "lamp of the Church" (Ep. 164, p. 396), "strong and splendid column of the monastic order and of the whole Church" (Ep. 175, p. 418).
With a lively ecclesial sense, Peter the Venerable said that the affairs of Christian people should be felt in the "depth of the heart" of those who number themselves "among the members of the Body of Christ" (Ep. 164, 1.c., p. 397). And he added: "He is not nourished by Christ who does not feel the wounds of the Body of Christ," wherever these are produced (ibid.). Moreover, he showed care and solicitude even for those who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated. In this regard, a recent historian observed: "Amid the intransigence of the men of Medieval times, also among the greatest of them, we admire here a sublime example of the delicacy to which Christian charity leads" (J. Leclercq, Pietro il Venerabile, Jaca Book, 1991, p. 189).
Other aspects of Christian life dear to him were love of the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin Mary. On the Most Holy Sacrament he has left us pages that are "one of the masterpieces of Eucharistic literature of all times" (ibid., p. 267), and on the Mother of God he wrote illuminating reflections, always contemplating her in close relationship with Jesus the Redeemer and his work of salvation. Suffice it to report this inspired elevation of his: "Hail, Blessed Virgin, who put malediction to flight. Hail, Mother of the Most High, spouse of the most meek Lamb. You conquered the serpent, you have crushed his head, when the God generated by you annihilated him ... Shining star of the East, who puts to flight the shadows of the West. Dawn that precedes the sun, day that ignores the night ... Pray to God born from you, so that he will absolve us from our sin and, after forgiveness, grant us grace and glory" (Carmina, Pl 189, 1018-1019).
Peter the Venerable also nourished a predilection for literary activity and he had the talent. He wrote down his reflections, persuaded of the importance of using the pen almost like a plough "to scatter on paper the seed of the Word" (Ep. 20, p. 38). Although he was not a systematic theologian, he was a great researcher of the mystery of God. His theology sinks its roots in prayer, especially the liturgy, and among the mysteries of Christ he favored the Transfiguration, in which the Resurrection is already prefigured. It was in fact he who introduced this feast at Cluny, composing a special office for it, in which is reflected the characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the Cluniac Order, wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.
Dear brothers and sisters, this holy monk is certainly a great example of monastic sanctity, nourished at the sources of the Benedictine tradition. For him, the ideal of the monk consisted in "adhering tenaciously to Christ" (Ep. 53, 1.c., p. 161), in a cloistered life marked by "monastic humility" (ibid.) and industriousness (Ep. 77, 1.c., p. 211), as well as by a climate of silent contemplation and constant praise of God. According to Peter of Cluny, the first and most important occupation of a monk is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office --"heavenly work and of all the most useful" (Statuta, I, 1026) -- to be supported with reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance observed with discretion (cf. Ep. 20, 1.c., p. 40).
In this way the whole of life is pervaded by profound love of God and love of others, a love that is expressed in sincere openness to one's neighbour, in forgiveness and in the pursuit of peace. By way of conclusion, we could say that if this style of life joined to daily work is, for St. Benedict, the ideal of the monk, it also concerns all of us; it can be, to a great extent, the style of life of the Christian who wants to become a genuine disciple of Christ, characterized in fact by tenacious adherence to him, by humility, by industriousness and the capacity to forgive, and by peace.
The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today considers an outstanding churchman of the early twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny. Despite his pressing responsibilities and frequent travels in the service of the Church, Peter maintained a contemplative spirit, deep inner tranquility, rigorous asceticism and a capacity for warm friendships. His ability to combine love of God with sincere love of neighbour found expression in a lively sense of the Church. He urged all the members of Christ's Body to be concerned for the trials and difficulties of the universal Church, and he expressed an interest in those outside the Church, specifically Jews and Muslims, in ways which were remarkable for his day. Prayer stood at the heart of Peter's theology and spirituality, which were nourished by the monastic liturgy and meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life. At Cluny he introduced the feast of the Transfiguration and composed its prayers, centered on the contemplation of the glorious face of Christ. By his ability to combine prayer and contemplation with love of neighbour and a commitment to the renewal of society, Peter the Venerable reflected the Benedictine ideal and serves as an example to Christian today in their efforts to live holy and integrated lives in our often stressful society.
On St. John Leonardi
"To Oppose the Weeds He Chose to be Good Wheat"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
The day after tomorrow, Oct. 9, will be the 400th anniversary of the death of St. John Leonardi, founder of the religious order of Clerks Regular of the Mother of God, canonized on April 17, 1938, and chosen patron of pharmacists on Aug. 8, 2006. He is also remembered for his great missionary zeal.
Together with Monsignor Juan Bautista Vives and Jesuit Martin de Funes, he planned and contributed to the establishment of a specific Congregation of the Holy See for the missions, that of Propoganda Fide, and to the future birth of the Pontifical Urbanian Athenaeum "De Propoganda Fide," which in the course of centuries has forged thousands of priests, many of them martyrs, to evangelize peoples. We are speaking, therefore, of a luminous priestly figure, which I am pleased to point out as an example to all presbyters in this Year for Priests. He died in 1609 from influenza contracted while he was giving himself to the care of all those who had been stricken by the epidemic in the Roman quarter of Campitelli.
John Leonardi was born in 1541 in Diecimo, in the province of Lucca. The last of seven siblings, his adolescence was sprinkled with rhythms of faith lived in a healthy and industrious family group, as well as the assiduous frequenting of a shop of herbs and medicines in his native town. At age 17 his father enrolled him in a regular course in pharmacy in Lucca, with the aim of making him a future pharmacist, that is, an apothecary, as they were called then. For close to a decade young John Leonardi was vigilant and diligent in following this, but when, according to the norms established by the former Republic of Lucca, he acquired the official recognition that would have allowed him to open his own shop, he began to think if perhaps the moment had not arrived to fulfill a plan that he had always had in his heart.
After mature reflection he decided to direct himself toward the priesthood. And thus, having left the apothecary's pharmacy, and acquired an appropriate theological formation, he was ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass on the feast of Epiphany of 1572. However, he did not abandon his passion for pharmaceutics because he felt that professional mediation as a pharmacist would allow him to realize fully his vocation of transmitting to men, through a holy life, "the medicine of God," which is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, "measure of all things."
Animated by the conviction that, more than any other thing, all human beings need such medicine, St. John Leonardi tried to make the personal encounter with Jesus Christ the fundamental reason of his existence. It is necessary to "start anew from Christ," he liked to repeat very often.
The primacy of Christ over everything became for him the concrete criterion of judgment and action and the generating principle of his priestly activity, which he exercised while a vast and widespread movement of spiritual renewal was under way in the Church, thanks to the flowering of new religious institutes and the luminous witness of saints such as Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph Calasanzius, Camillus of Lellis and Aloysius Gonzaga.
He dedicated himself with enthusiasm to the apostolate among youth through the Company of Christian Doctrine, gathering around himself a group of young men with whom, on Sept. 1, 1574, he founded the Congregation of Reformed Priests of the Blessed Virgin, subsequently called the Order of Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. He recommended to his disciples to have "before the mind's eye only the honor, service and glory of Christ Jesus Crucified," and, like a good pharmacist, accustomed to giving out potions according to careful measurements, he would add: "Raise your hearts to God a bit more and measure things with him."
Moved by apostolic zeal, in May 1605 he sent newly elected Pope Paul V a report in which he suggested the criteria for a genuine renewal of the Church. Observing how it is "necessary that those who aspire to the reform of men's practices must seek especially, and firstly, the glory of God," he added that they should stand out "for their integrity of life and excellence of customs thus, rather than constraining, they gently draw one to reform." Moreover, he observed that "whoever wishes to carry out a serious moral and religious reform must make first of all, like a good doctor, a careful diagnosis of the evils that beset the Church so as to be able to prescribe for each of them the most appropriate remedy." And he noted that "the renewal of the Church must be confirmed as much in leaders as in followers, high and low. It must begin from those who command and be extended to the subjects."
It was because of this that, while soliciting the Pope to promote a "universal reform of the Church," he was concerned with the Christian formation of the people, especially of the young, educating them "from their early years ... in the purity of the Christian faith and in holy practices."
Dear brothers and sisters, the luminous figure of this saint invites priests, in the first place, and all Christians, to tend constantly to the "high measure of the Christian life," which is sanctity -- each, of course, according to his own state. In fact, only from fidelity to Christ can genuine ecclesial renewal spring.
In those years, in the cultural and social passage between the 16th and 17th century, the premises of the future contemporary culture began to be delineated, characterized by an undue separation of faith and reason. This has produced among its negative effects the marginalization of God, with the illusion of a possible and total autonomy of man who chooses to live "as if God did not exist." This is the crisis of modern thought, which many times I have had the opportunity to point out and which often leads to a form of relativism.
John Leonardi intuited what the real medicine was for these spiritual evils and he synthesized it in the expression: "Christ first of all," Christ in the center of the heart, in the center of history and of the cosmos. And humanity -- he affirmed forcefully -- needs Christ intensely, because he is our "measure." There is no realm that cannot be touched by his strength; there is no evil that cannot find remedy in him, there is no problem that cannot be solved in him. "Either Christ or nothing!" Here is his prescription for every type of spiritual and social reform.
There is another aspect of the spirituality of St. John Leonardi that I would like to highlight. In many circumstances he had to confirm that a living encounter with Christ is realized in his Church: holy but fragile, rooted in history and in a sometimes dark future, where wheat and weeds grow together (cf. Matthew 13:30), but, nevertheless, always the sacrament of salvation. Having a clear awareness that the Church is the field of God (cf. Matthew 13:24), he was not scandalized by her human weaknesses. To oppose the weeds he chose to be good wheat: He decided, that is, to love Christ in the Church and to contribute to render her an ever more transparent sign of him.
He saw the Church with great realism, her human frailty, but also her being "God's field," the instrument of God for the salvation of humanity. And not only this. For love of Christ he worked with alacrity to purify the Church, to render her more beautiful and holy. He understood that every reform is made within the Church and never against the Church.
In this, St. John Leonardi was truly extraordinary and his example is always timely. Every reform certainly involves structures, but in the first place it must be engraved in the hearts of believers. Only the saints, men and women who allow themselves to be guided by the divine Spirit, ready to carry out radical and courageous choices in the light of the Gospel, renew the Church and contribute, in a decisive way, to building a better world.
Dear brothers and sisters, St. John Leonardi's existence was always enlightened by the splendor of the "Holy Face" of Jesus, kept and venerated in the Cathedral Church of Lucca, becoming the eloquent symbol and the indisputable synthesis of the faith that animated him. Conquered by Christ like the Apostle Paul, he pointed out to his disciples, and continues to point out to all of us, the Christocentric ideal for which "it is necessary to divest oneself of every self interest and only look to the service of God," having "before the mind's eye only the honor, service and glory of Christ Jesus Crucified."
Along with the face of Christ, he fixed his gaze on the maternal face of Mary. She whom he chose patroness of his order, was for him teacher, sister and mother, and he felt her constant protection. May the example and intercession of this "fascinating man of God" be, particularly in this Year for Priests, a call and encouragement for priests and for all Christians to live their own vocations with passion and enthusiasm.
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This week marks the four hundreth anniversary of the death of Saint John Leonardi, the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God and a priest whose missionary zeal found expression in the establishment of the congregation of Propoganda Fide. Saint John was born near Lucca, and after training as a pharmacist, became a priest committed to offering "the medicine of God" to the men and women of his time. At a period of great reform and renewal in the life of the Church, he made the crucified Christ the centre of his preaching and the criterion of all his activity. John understood that all true reform is born of fidelity to Christ and love for the Church. It was love for Christ which inspired his efforts to catechize the young, to promote missionary activity and to renew Christian life and practice. Saint John was convinced that Christ is the true measure of man, and so he worked with great realism and zeal to promote holiness and the reform of society. During this Year for Priests, may the figure of this great missionary inspire priests and laity alike to "start anew from Christ" and embrace their vocation with passionate enthusiasm.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors at today’s Audience, including the Sisters and friends of the Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of their foundation by Mary Ward. My particular greetings go to the groups of faithful from Iraq, from the Archdiocese of Samoa-Apia, and to the Diaconate ordination candidates from the Pontifical North American College accompanied by their families and friends. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Anselm: Theologian, Teacher, Pastor
A Life Marked By "Love of Truth and the Constant Thirst for God"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 23, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
In Rome, on the Aventine Hill, is found the Benedictine abbey of St. Anselm. As the seat of an Institute of Higher Studies and of the abbot primate of the Confederated Benedictines, it is a place that unites prayer, study and government, precisely the three activities that characterized the life of the saint to which it is dedicated: Anselm of Aosta, the 900th anniversary of whose death we celebrate this year.
The many initiatives, promoted especially by the Diocese of Aosta for this happy anniversary, have reflected the interest that this Medieval thinker continues to awaken. He is also known as Anselm of Bec and Anselm of Canterbury because of the cities with which he was connected. Who is this personage to which three localities, distant from one another and situated in three different nations -- Italy, France and England -- feel particularly bound? Monk of intense spiritual life, excellent educator of youth, theologian with an extraordinary speculative capacity, wise man of government and intransigent defender of the "libertas Ecclesiae," of the liberty of the Church, Anselm is one of the eminent personalities of the Medieval Age, who was able to harmonize all these qualities thanks to a profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and action.
St. Anselm was born in 1033 (or the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the firstborn of a noble family. His father was a crude man, dedicated to the pleasures of life and a spendthrift of his goods; his mother, on the other hand, was a woman of superior customs and profound religiosity (cf. Eadmero, Vita s. Anselmi, PL 159, col 49). It was his mother who took care of the first human and religious formation of her son, whom she later entrusted to the Benedictines of a priory of Aosta. Anselm, who from his childhood -- as his biographer recounts -- imagined the dwelling of the good God to be among the high and snow clad summits of the Alps, dreamed one night that he was invited to this splendid palace by God himself, who entertained him affably for a good while and at the end offered him to eat "a very white bread" (ibid., col 51).
This dream left him the conviction of being called to fulfill a high mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order, but his father opposed him with all his authority and did not even give in when his son, gravely ill, and sensing he was close to death, implored the religious habit as his last consolation. After his cure and the premature passing of his mother, Anselm went through a period of moral dissipation: He neglected his studies, overwhelmed by earthly passions; he was deaf to God's call. He returned home and began to travel in France, seeking new experiences.
After three years, arriving in Normandy, he went to the Benedictine abbey of Bec, attracted by the fame of Lanfranc of Pavia, prior of the monastery. It was, for him, a providential and decisive encounter for the rest of his life. Under the guidance of Lanfranc, Anselm took up his studies vigorously and in a short time became not only the favorite student, but also his teacher's confidant. His monastic vocation rekindled and, after careful evaluation, he entered the monastic order at the age of 27 and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study opened new horizons for him, making him find again, at a higher level, that familiarity with God that he had had as a child.
When Lanfranc became abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm, with just three years of monastic life, was appointed prior of the monastery of Bec and master of the cloister school, revealing gifts of a refine educator. He did not like authoritarian methods; he compared young men to small plants that develop better if they are enclosed in a greenhouse, and he gave them a "healthy" freedom. He was very exacting with himself and with others in the monastic observance, but instead of imposing discipline he was determined to have it followed with persuasion. On the death of Abbot Erluino, founder of the abbey of Bec, Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him; it was February of 1079. Meanwhile, many monks had been called to Canterbury to take to their brothers on the other side of the English Channel the renewal that was underway on the continent. His work was well received, to the point that Lanfranc of Pavia, abbot of Caen, became the new archbishop of Canterbury and asked Anselm to spend some time with him to instruct the monks and help him in the difficult situation in which his ecclesial community found itself after the Norman invasion. Anselm's stay was very fruitful. He won sympathy and esteem to such a point that at Lanfranc's death he was elected to replace him in the archbishopric of Canterbury. He received his solemn episcopal consecration in December of 1093.
Anselm got involved immediately in an energetic struggle for the liberty of the Church, upholding with courage the independence of the spiritual power in respect of the temporal. He defended the Church from undue interference by political authorities, especially Kings William the Red and Henry I, finding courage and support in the Roman Pontiff, to whom Anselm always demonstrated a courageous and cordial adherence. In 1103 this fidelity cost him the bitterness of exile from his Canterbury see. And only in 1106, when King Henry I gave up the pretension of conferring ecclesiastical investitures, as well as the accumulation of taxes and the confiscation of the Church's properties, was Anselm able to return to England, where he was festively welcomed by the clergy and the people. Thus ended happily the long struggle that he had conducted with the weapons of perseverance, pride and goodness.
This holy archbishop who inspired so much admiration from those around him, wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life above all to the moral formation of the clergy and the spiritual pursuit of theological arguments. He died on April 21, 1109, supported by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in the Holy Mass that day: "You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom ..." (Luke 22:28-30). The dream of that mysterious banquet, which he had as a child, precisely at the beginning of his spiritual journey, thus found its realization. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, received St. Anselm, at his death, in the eternal kingdom of the Father.
"God, I implore you, I want to know you, to love you and to be able to enjoy you. And if in this life I am not capable of it fully, that at least I might progress each day until I attain its fullness" (Proslogion, chapter 14). This prayer enables us to understand the mystical soul of this great saint of the Medieval Age, founder of Scholastic Theology, to whom Christian tradition has given the title of "magnificent doctor," because he cultivated an intense desire to deepen his understanding of divine mysteries, fully aware, however, that the journey in search of God is never ended, at least on this earth. The clarity and logical rigor of his thought always had as their objective "to raise the mind to the contemplation of God" (Ivi, Proemium). He states clearly that whoever attempts to theologize cannot just count on his intelligence, but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith. According to St. Anselm, the activity of a theologian, therefore, develops in three stages: faith, free gift of God that must be received with humility; experience, which consists in the incarnation of the word of God in one's daily life; and lastly true knowledge, which is never the fruit of aseptic thoughts, but of a contemplative intuition. Hence, his famous words continue to be very useful also today for a healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to go deeper in the truths of the faith: "I do not presume, Lord, to penetrate in your profundity, because I cannot even from afar confront my intellect with it; but I wish to understand, at least to a certain point, your truth, which my heart believes and loves. I do not seek to understand to believe, but I believe in order to understand" (Ivi, 1).
Dear brothers and sisters, may the love of
truth and the constant thirst for God, which marked the whole life of St.
Anselm, be a stimulus for every Christian to seek without ever tiring an ever
more profound union with Christ, Way, Truth and Life. In addition, may the
courageous zeal that distinguished his pastoral action, and procured for him
misunderstandings, bitterness and finally exile, be an encouragement for
pastors, for consecrated persons and for all the faithful to love the Church of
Christ, to pray, work and suffer for her, without every abandoning or betraying
her. May the Virgin Mother of God, for whom Anselm nourished a tender filial
devotion, obtain this grace for us. "Mary, my heart wants to love you," wrote
St. Anselm, "my tongue wants to praise you ardently."
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today turns to an outstanding churchman of the eleventh century, Saint Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm received a monastic education in his native town of Aosta, in the north of Italy, and entered the Benedictine monastery of Bec in Normandy. Under the guidance of his prior, Lanfranc of Pavia, he devoted himself to study and prayer, and eventually was elected abbot of Bec. Some time later he succeeded Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm's years in England were marked by the reorganization of ecclesial life in the wake of the Norman invasion and the struggle for the Church's legitimate freedom from political inroads, which resulted in his being exiled for three years. This great spiritual leader was also a brilliant teacher, writer and speculative theologian. In the prayer which opens his most celebrated work, the Proslogion, he expresses his desire to understand the faith, the divine truth which his heart already believes and loves. May Saint Anselm's life and teaching inspire us to a more fruitful contemplation of the mysteries of the Christian faith, and a deeper love of the Lord and his Church.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, including the members of the Australian Girls Choir and the school groups from Norway and Scotland. I ask you to join me in praying that my imminent visit to the Czech Republic will bear many spiritual fruits, and upon all of you and your families, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
©© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Symeon the New Theologian
"The Source of Love in Him Was the Presence of Christ"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 16, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we pause to reflect on the figure of the Eastern monk Symeon the New Theologian, whose writings exercised a noteworthy influence on the theology and spirituality of the East, in particular, regarding the experience of mystical union with God.
Symeon the New Theologian was born in 949 in Galatia, in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor), of a noble provincial family. While still young, he went to Constantinople to undertake studies and enter the emperor's service. However, he felt little attracted to the civil career before him and, under the influence of the interior illuminations he was experiencing, he looked for a person who would direct him through his moment of doubts and perplexities, and who would help him progress on the way to union with God.
He found this spiritual guide in Symeon the Pious (Eulabes), a simple monk of the Studion monastery in Constantinople, who gave him to read the treatise "The Spiritual Law of Mark the Monk." In this text, Symeon the New Theologian found a teaching that impressed him very much: "If you seek spiritual healing," he read there, "be attentive to your conscience. Do all that it tells you and you will find what is useful to you." From that moment -- he himself says -- he never again lay down without asking if his conscience had something for which to reproach him.
Symeon entered the Studion monastery, where, however, his mystical experiences and his extraordinary devotion toward the spiritual father caused him difficulty. He transferred to the small convent of St. Mammas, also in Constantinople, where, after three years, he became director -- the higumeno. There he pursued an intense search of spiritual union with Christ, which conferred on him great authority.
It is interesting to note that he was given there the name of "New Theologian," notwithstanding the fact that tradition reserved the title of "Theologian" to two personalities: John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzen. He suffered misunderstandings and exile, but was restored by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius II.
Symeon the New Theologian spent the last phase of his life in the monastery of St. Macrina, where he wrote the greater part of his works, becoming ever more famous for his teachings and miracles. He died on March 12, 1022.
His best known disciple, Nicetas Stathos, who compiled and re-copied Symeon's writings, prepared a posthumous edition, followed by a biography. Symeon's work includes nine volumes, which are divided in theological, gnostic and practical chapters, three volumes of catechesis addressed to monks, two volumes of theological and ethical treatises, and a volume of hymns. Nor should we forget his numerous letters. All these works have found an important place in the Eastern monastic tradition down to our day.
Symeon focuses his reflection on the presence of the Holy Spirit in those who are baptized and on the awareness they must have of this spiritual reality. Christian life -- he stresses -- is intimate and personal communion with God; divine grace illumines the believer's heart and leads him to the mystical vision of the Lord. In this line, Symeon the New Theologian insists on the fact that true knowledge of God stems from a journey of interior purification, which begins with conversion of heart, thanks to the strength of faith and love; passes through profound repentance and sincere sorrow for one's sins; and arrives at union with Christ, source of joy and peace, invaded by the light of his presence in us. For Symeon, such an experience of divine grace is not an exceptional gift for some mystics, but the fruit of baptism in the life of every seriously committed faithful -- a point on which to reflect, dear brothers and sisters!
This holy Eastern monk calls us all to attention to the spiritual life, to the hidden presence of God in us, to honesty of conscience and purification, to conversion of heart, so that the Holy Spirit will be present in us and guide us. If in fact we are justly preoccupied about taking care of our physical growth, it is even more important not to neglect our interior growth, which consists in knowledge of God, in true knowledge, not only taken from books, but interior, and in communion with God, to experience his help at all times and in every circumstance.
Basically, this is what Symeon describes when he recounts his own mystical experience. Already as a youth, before entering the monastery, while prolonging his prayer at home one night, invoking God's help to struggle against temptations, he saw the room filled with light. When he later entered the monastery, he was given spiritual books to instruct himself, but the readings did not give him the peace he was looking for. He felt -- he recounts -- like a poor little bird without wings. He accepted this situation with humility, did not rebel, and then the visions of light began to multiply again. Wishing to be certain of their authenticity, Symeon asked Christ directly: "Lord, are you yourself really here?" He felt resonate in his heart an affirmative answer and was greatly consoled. "That was, Lord," he wrote later, "the first time you judged me, prodigal son, worthy to hear your voice." However, this revelation did not leave him totally at peace either. He even wondered if that experience should not be considered an illusion.
Finally, one day an essential event occurred for his mystical experience. He began to feel like "a poor man who loves his brothers" (ptochos philadelphos). He saw around him many enemies that wanted to set snares for him and harm him but despite this he felt in himself an intense movement of love for them. How to explain this? Obviously, such love could not come from himself, but must spring from another source. Symeon understood that it came from Christ present in him and all was clarified for him: He had the sure proof that the source of love in him was the presence of Christ and that to have in oneself a love that goes beyond one's personal intentions indicates that the source of love is within. Thus, on one hand, we can say that, without a certain openness to love, Christ does not enter in us, but, on the other, Christ becomes the source of love and transforms us.
Dear friends, this experience is very important for us, today, to find the criteria that will indicate to us if we are really close to God, if God exists and lives in us. God's love grows in us if we are really united to him in prayer and in listening to his word, with openness of heart. Only divine love makes us open our hearts to others and makes us sensitive to their needs, making us regard everyone as brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond with love to hatred, and with forgiveness to offense.
Reflecting on the figure of Symeon the New Theologian, we can still find a further element of his spirituality. In the path of ascetic life proposed and followed by him, the intense attention and concentration of the monk on the interior experience confers on the spiritual father of the monastery an essential importance. The young Symeon himself, as has been said, had found a spiritual director who greatly helped him and for whom he had very great esteem, so much so that, after his death, he also accorded him public veneration.
And I would like to say that this invitation continues to be valid for all -- priests, consecrated persons and laypeople -- and especially for young people -- to take recourse to the counsels of a good spiritual father, capable of accompanying each one in profound knowledge of oneself, and leading one to union with the Lord, so that one's life is increasingly conformed to the Gospel. We always need a guide, dialogue, to go to the Lord. We cannot do it with our reflections alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.
Thus, to conclude, we can summarize the teaching and mystical experience of Symeon the New Theologian: In his incessant search for God, even in the difficulties he met and the criticism made of him, he, in a word, allowed himself to be guided by love. He was able to live personally and to teach his monks that what is essential for every disciple of Jesus is to grow in love and so we grow in knowledge of Christ himself, to be able to say with St. Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
[The Holy Father then addressed the people in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’’s catechesis focuses on the life of Symeon, an Eastern monk known as the "New Theologian". He was born in nine hundred and forty nine in Asia Minor. As a young man, he moved to Constantinople to embark on a career in the civil service but, during his studies, he was shown a work called The Spiritual Law by Mark the Monk which completely changed his life. It contained the phrase: "If you seek spiritual healing, be aware of your conscience. Do everything it tells you and you will find what is useful to you". From that day on, he made it his way of life always to listen to his conscience. He became a monk and his life and writings, collected afterwards by a disciple, reflect Symeon’’s deep understanding of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of all the baptized. Symeon teaches us that Christian life is an intimate and personal communion with God. True knowledge of God comes, not from books, but from an interior purification through conversion of the heart. For Symeon, union with Christ is not something extraordinary, but the fruit of the baptism common to all Christians. Inspired by Symeon’’s life, let us pay greater attention to our spiritual life, seeking the guidance we need to grow in the love of God.
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here this morning, including the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary gathered in Rome for their chapter, and the various schools and university groups present. Upon you all, I willingly invoke God’’s abundant graces.
©© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Peter Damian
"Jesus Must Truly Be at the Center of Our Life"
VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 9, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
During these Wednesday catecheses, I have been discussing some of the great figures of the life of the Church since its origin. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant personalities of the 11th century, St. Peter Damian, monk, lover of solitude and, at the same time, intrepid man of the Church, personally involved in the work of reform undertaken by the popes of the time.
He was born in Ravenna in 1007 of a noble but poor family. He was orphaned, and lived a childhood of hardships and sufferings. Even though his sister Roselinda was determined to be a mother to him and his older brother, he was adopted as a son by Damian. In fact, because of this, he would later be called Peter of Damiano, Peter Damian. His formation was imparted to him first at Faenza and then at Parma, where, already at the age of 25, we find him dedicated to teaching. In addition to keen competence in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing -- "ars scribendi" -- and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the best Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of the Latin Medieval Age" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, Ermite et Homme d'Eglise, Rome, 1960, p. 172).
He distinguished himself in the most diverse literary genres: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to a poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived the universe as an inexhaustible "parable" and an extension of symbols, from which it is possible to interpret the interior life and the divine and supernatural reality. From this perspective, around the year 1034, the contemplation of God's absoluteness compelled him to distance himself progressively from the world and its ephemeral realities, to withdraw to the monastery of Fonte Avellana, founded a few decades earlier, but already famous for its austerity. He wrote the life of the founder, St. Romuald of Ravenna, for the edification of the monks and, at the same time, dedicated himself to furthering his spirituality, expressing his ideal of eremitical monasticism.
A particularity must now be stressed: the hermitage of Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and the cross would be the Christian mystery that most fascinated Peter Damian. "He does not love Christ who does not love the cross of Christ," he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117) and he calls himself: "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus" -- Peter servant of the servants of the cross of Christ (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed most beautiful prayers to the cross, in which he reveals a vision of this mystery that has cosmic dimensions, because it embraces the whole history of salvation: "O blessed cross," he exclaimed, "you are venerated in the faith of patriarchs, the predictions of prophets, the assembly of the apostles, the victorious army of the martyrs and the multitudes of all the saints" (Sermo XLVIII, 14, p. 304).
Dear brothers and sisters, may the example of Peter Damian lead us also to always look at the cross as the supreme act of love of God for man, which has given us salvation.
For the development of the eremitical life, this great monk wrote a Rule which strongly stresses the "rigor of the hermitage": In the silence of the cloister, the monk is called to live a life of daily and nocturnal prayer, with prolonged and austere fasts; he must exercise himself in generous fraternal charity and in an obedience to the prior that is always willing and available. In the study and daily meditation of sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the Word of God, finding in it food for his spiritual life. In this connection, he called the cell of the hermitage the "salon where God converses with men." For him, the eremitical life was the summit of Christian life; it was "at the summit of the states of life," because the monk, free from the attachments of the world and from his own self, receives "the pledge of the Holy Spirit and his soul is happily united to the heavenly Spouse" (Ep 18, 17; cf. Ep 28, 43 ff.). This is also important for us today, even though we are not monks: To be able to be silent in ourselves to hear the voice of God, to seek, so to speak, a "salon" where God speaks to us: To learn the Word of God in prayer and meditation is the path for life.
St. Peter Damian, who basically was a man of prayer, meditation and contemplation, was also a fine theologian: His reflection on several doctrinal subjects led him to important conclusions for life. Thus, for example, he expresses with clarity and vivacity the Trinitarian doctrine. He already used, in keeping with biblical and patristic texts, the three fundamental terms that later became determinant also for the West's philosophy: processio, relatio e persona (cf. Opusc. XXXVIII: PL CXLV, 633-642; and Opusc. II and III: ibid., 41 ff. and 58 ff.). However, as theological analysis led him to contemplate the intimate life of God and the dialogue of ineffable love between the three divine Persons, he draws from it ascetic conclusions for life in community and for the proper relations between Latin and Greek Christians, divided on this topic. Also meditation on the figure of Christ has significant practical reflections, as the whole of Scripture is centered on him. The "Jewish people themselves," notes St. Peter Damian, "through the pages of sacred Scripture, have, one could say, carried Christ on their shoulders" (Sermo XL VI, 15). Therefore Christ, he adds, must be at the center of the monk's life: "Christ must be heard in our language, Christ must be seen in our life, he must be perceived in our heart" (Sermo VIII, 5). Profound union with Christ should involve not only monks but all the baptized. It also implies for us an intense call not to allow ourselves to be totally absorbed by the activities, problems and preoccupations of every day, forgetting that Jesus must truly be at the center of our life.
Communion with Christ creates unity among Christians. In Letter 28, which is a brilliant treatise of ecclesiology, Peter Damian develops a theology of the Church as communion. "The Church of Christ," he wrote, "is united by the bond of charity to the point that, as she is one in many members, she is also totally gathered mystically in just one of her members; so that the whole universal Church is rightly called the only Bride of Christ in singular, and every chosen soul, because of the sacramental mystery, is fully considered Church." This is important: not only that the whole universal Church is united, but that in each one of us the Church in her totality should be present. Thus the service of the individual becomes "expression of universality" (Ep 28, 9-23). Yet the ideal image of the "holy Church" illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond -- he knew it well -- to the reality of his time. That is why he was not afraid to denounce the corruption existing in monasteries and among the clergy, above all due to the practice of secular authorities conferring the investiture of ecclesiastical offices: Several bishops and abbots behaved as governors of their own subjects more than as pastors of souls. It is no accident that their moral life left much to be desired. Because of this, with great sorrow and sadness, in 1057 Peter Damian left the monastery and accepted, though with difficulty, the appointment of cardinal bishop of Ostia, thus entering fully in collaboration with the popes in the difficult undertaking of the reform of the Church. He saw that it was not enough to contemplate, and had to give up the beauty of contemplation to assist in the work of renewal of the Church. Thus he renounced the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.
Because of his love of monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he was given permission to return to Fonte Avellana, resigning from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the desired tranquility did not last long: Two years later he was sent to Frankfurt in an attempt to prevent Henry IV's divorce from his wife, Bertha; and again two years later, in 1071, he went to Montecassino for the consecration of the abbey's church, and, at the beginning of 1072 he went to Ravenna to establish peace with the local archbishop, who had supported the anti-pope, causing the interdict on the city. During his return journey to the hermitage, a sudden illness obliged him to stay in Faenza in the Benedictine monastery of "Santa Maria Vecchia fuori porta," where he died on the night of Feb. 22-23, 1072.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great grace that in the life of the Church the Lord raised such an exuberant, rich and complex personality as that of St. Peter Damian and it is not common to find such acute and lively works of theology as those of the hermit of Fonte Avellana. He was a monk to the end, with forms of austerity that today might seem to us almost excessive. In this way, however, he made of monastic life an eloquent testimony of the primacy of God and a call to all to walk toward holiness, free from any compromise with evil. He consumed himself, with lucid consistency and great severity, for the reform of the Church of his time. He gave all his spiritual and physical energies to Christ and the Church, always remaining, as he liked to call himself, "Petrus ultimus monachorum servus," Peter, last servant of the monks.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[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 Christian writers of East and West, we turn to Saint Peter Damian, who was born in Ravenna at the beginning of the eleventh century and became an accomplished writer and Latinist. His fine sensitivity made him excel in poetry and enabled him to see the world as a parable, full of symbolic references to the supernatural, leading him to embrace as a mature man a monastic vocation at Fonte Avellana, founded not long before. He was fascinated by the salvific mystery of the cross of Christ and promoted as the fullness of Christian living a form of monasticism noted for its austerity. Nourished by a mystical understanding of Scripture, Saint Peter Damian enjoyed precise theological insights especially into the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, our union with Christ, and the Church as a communion, from which he derived practical advice for living in charity with others. In 1057 he accepted the office of Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and assisted the Pope with courage and dedication in the reform of the Church of his time. After ten years he was granted his wish to return to his monastery and continued to serve the Church with prayer and action until his holy death in 1072. May the example and intercession of Saint Peter Damian, my dear Brothers and Sisters, inspire and renew us in our love of Christ and his Church.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Gibraltar, Japan and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings of joy and peace!
©Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Odo
"He Was Austere, But Above All He Was Good"
VATICAN CITY, Italy, SEPT. 2, 2009 - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at this Wednesday's general audience, which gathered pilgrims in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
After a long pause, I would like to take up again the presentation of the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church of the Medieval era because, as though in a mirror, in their lives and writings we see what it means to be Christians.
Today I propose to you the luminous figure of St. Odo, abbot of Cluny. He is situated in the monastic Middle Ages that saw in Europe the amazing spread of life and spirituality inspired in St. Benedict's Rule. During those centuries there was a prodigious rise and multiplication of cloisters that, branching out over the continent, spread through it the Christian spirit and sensibility. St. Odo takes us, in particular, to a monastery, Cluny, which during the Middle Ages was one of the most illustrious and celebrated. Even today it reveals with its majestic ruins the footprint of a glorious past because of its intense dedication to ascesis, study, and, in a special way, divine worship, enveloped in decorum and beauty.
Odo was the second abbot of Cluny. He was born around 880, on the border between Maine and Touraine, in France. He was consecrated by his [spiritual] father, the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent shadow and memory Odo passed all his life, ending it at last near his tomb. His choice to consecrate himself in the religious life was preceded by an experience of a special moment of joy, which he mentioned to another monk, John the Italian, later his biographer. Odo was still an adolescent, around 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he sensed how a prayer to the Virgin came spontaneously to his lips: "My Lady, Mother of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May your glorious and singular birth be, Oh most merciful, my refuge" (Vita Sancti Odonis, I,9: PL 133, 747).
The name "Mother of Mercy," with which the young Odo then invoked the Virgin, was the one he always wished to use when addressing Mary, also calling her "only hope of the world ... thanks to whom the doors of paradise have been opened to us" (In Veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae: PL 133, 721).
Around that time he began to reflect more profoundly on the Rule of St. Benedict and to observe some of its mandates, "bearing, though not being a monk, the light yoke of the monks" (ibid., I,14: PL 133, 50). In one of his sermons, Odo referred to Benedict as "light that shines on the dark stage of this life" (De Sancto Benedicto Abbate: PL 133, 725), and described him as "teacher of spiritual discipline" (ibid.: PL 133, 727). He revealed with affection that Christian piety "with most lively gentleness remembers" him, aware that God has raised him "among the highest and chosen Fathers of the Holy Church" (ibid.: PL 133, 722).
Fascinated by the Benedictine ideal, Odo left Tours and entered as a monk in the Benedictine abbey of Baume, to move later to that of Cluny, where he became abbot in the year 927. From that center of spiritual life, he was able to exert great influence on other monasteries of the continent. Benefiting from his guidance and reform were also several monasteries in Italy, among them that of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Odo visited Rome more than once, also going to Subiaco, Montecassino and Salerno. It was in fact in Rome where, in the summer of the year 942, he fell ill. Sensing he was close to death, he made every effort to return to his St. Martin, in Tours, where he died during the saint's octave, on Nov. 18, 942.
Underlining Odo's "virtue of patience," his biographer gives a long list of his other virtues, such as contempt for the world, zeal for souls, commitment to peace for the Churches. Abbot Odo greatly aspired to concord between the king and princes, the observance of the Commandments, care of the poor, correction of youth, and respect for the elderly (cf. Vita Sancti Odonis, I,17: PL 133, 49). He loved the cell where he resided, "far from the eyes of everyone, concerned with pleasing God alone" (ibid., I,14: PL 133, 49).
However, he did not fail to exercise as "superabundant source" the ministry of the word and of example, "weeping over this world as immensely wretched" (ibid., I,17: PL 133, 51). United in only one monk, comments his biographer, were the different virtues existing in a scattered way in other monasteries: "Jesus, in his goodness, basing himself in the monks' different gardens, was forming in a small place a paradise, to water from his source the hearts of the faithful" (ibid., I,14: PL 133, 49).
In a passage of a sermon in honor of Mary Magdalene, the abbot of Cluny reveals how he conceived monastic life: "Mary who, seated at the Lord's feet, with an attentive spirit listened to his word, is the symbol of the sweetness of contemplative life, whose taste, the more it is savored, so much more induces the soul to be detached from visible things and from the tumult of preoccupations of the world" (In ven. S. Mariae Magd., PL 133, 717). This is a concept that Odo confirms in other writings, which reflect his love for the interior life, his idea that the world is a fragile and precarious reality from which one must be uprooted, a constant inclination to detachment from things regarded as sources of unrest, an acute sensitivity to the presence of evil in the different classes of people, a profound eschatological aspiration. This vision of the world might seem quite far from ours and yet, Odo's is a conception that, seeing the fragility of the world, values interior life open to the other, the love of neighbor, and precisely thus he transforms life and opens the world to the light of God.
Meriting particular attention is the "devotion" to the Body and Blood of Christ that Odo always cultivated with conviction, in face of widespread neglect which he sharply deplored. He was firmly convinced of the real presence, under the Eucharistic species, of the Body and Blood of the Lord, in virtue of the "substantial" conversion of the bread and wine.
He wrote: "God, the Creator of everything, took bread, saying that it was his Body, and that he would offer it for the world, and distributed the wine, calling it his Blood; therefore, it is the law of nature that the mutation take place according to the Creator's mandate, consequently, nature immediately changes its usual condition: Without a doubt, the bread becomes flesh, and the wine becomes blood"; at the Lord's command "the substance changes" (Odonis Abb. Cluniac. occupatio, ed. A. Swoboda, Lipsia, 1900, p. 121).
Unfortunately, notes our abbot, this "sacrosanct mystery of the Body of the Lord, in which consists the whole salvation of the world" (Collationes, XXVIII: PL 133, 572), is celebrated with negligence. "Priests," he warns, "who approach the altar unworthily stain the bread, that is, the Body of Christ" (ibid., PL 133, 572-573). Only one who is spiritually united to Christ can participate worthily in his Eucharistic Body: In the opposite case, to eat his flesh and drink his blood would not be to his benefit, but to his condemnation (cf. ibid., XXX, PL 133, 575).
All this invites us to believe with renewed force and depth in the real presence of the Lord. The presence of the Creator among us, who gives himself in our hands and transforms us as he transforms the bread and wine, thus transforms the world.
St. Odo was a real spiritual guide both for monks and for the faithful of his time. In face of the "vastness of vices" in society, the remedy he proposed with determination was a radical change of life, based on humility, austerity, detachment from ephemeral things and adherence to the eternal (cf. Collationes, XXX, PL 133, 613). Despite the realism of his time, Odo did not yield to pessimism: "We do not say this," he specifies, "to precipitate those who wish to convert into despair. Divine mercy is always available; it awaits the hour of our conversion" (ibid.: PL 133, 563). And he exclaims: "Oh ineffable core of divine mercy! God persecutes faults but protects sinners" (ibid.: PL 133, 592).
Supported by this conviction, the abbot of Cluny loved to reflect on the contemplation of the mercy of Christ, the Savior whom he evocatively described as "lover of man": "amator hominum Christus" (ibid., LIII: PL 133, 637). Jesus has taken upon himself the scourges that correspond to us -- he observes -- thus to save the creature who is his work and who he loves (cf. ibid.: PL 133, 638).
A characteristic of the holy abbot appears here that at first glance is almost hidden under the rigor of his austerity as reformer: the profound goodness of his soul. He was austere, but above all he was good, a man of great goodness, a goodness that comes from contact with divine goodness. Odo, his contemporaries say, spread all around the joy with which he was filled. His biographer attests to never having heard from the mouth of man "such sweetness of word" (ibid., I,17: PL 133, 31). His biographer recalls that he used to invite children whom he met on the road to sing and then give them a small gift, and he adds: "His words were full of exultation ... his mirth infused in our heart a profound joy" (ibidem, II, 5: PL 133, 63).
In this way the vigorous and, at the same time, amiable Medieval abbot, passionate about reform, nourished with incisive action in the monks, as well as in the faithful of his time, the intention to advance with diligent step on the way of Christian perfection.
May his goodness, the joy that comes from faith, united to austerity and opposition to the vices of the world, also touch our heart, so that we too will be able to find the source of joy that springs from the goodness of God.
[The Holy Father then addressed pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with another great monastic figure of the Middle Ages, Saint Odo of Cluny. Attracted by the Benedictine ideal, Odo became a monk, and later the second abbot, of Cluny. At the beginning of the ninth century, Cluny was the center of an influential movement of Church reform, and Odo, by his example and teaching did much to further this spiritual renewal throughout Europe. His writings reveal how deeply he was influenced by the monastic virtues of contemplation, detachment from this world and longing for the world to come. Odo was particularly devoted to the Eucharist, emphasizing the real and substantial presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. This conviction of faith led him to work for the reform of the clergy and to stress the need for a worthy reception of the Sacrament. An authentic spiritual guide for his troubled times, Odo blended the personal austerity of a great reformer with a constant and joyful contemplation of Christ’s infinite mercy.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Cyril and Methodius
"Each People Should … Express the Salvific Truth With Their Own Language"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
Today, I would like to speak about Sts. Cyril and Methodius, brothers of the same parents and in the faith, known as the apostles to the Slavic people. Cyril was born in Thessalonica, son of the imperial magistrate Leon, in 826-827. He was the youngest of seven children. As a child, he learned the Slavic language. At age 14, he was sent to Constantinople to be educated and was accompanied by the young emperor, Michael III. During those years, he was introduced into the various university disciplines, among others, dialectics, and had Photius as his teacher. After having rejected a brilliant matrimony, he decided to receive holy orders and became the librarian in the patriarchate. Shortly afterward, wanting to retreat from society, he hid himself in a monastery, but soon was discovered and entrusted with teaching sacred and profane sciences, a task that he fulfilled so well that he won the title of "philosopher."
Meanwhile, the brother Michael (born around the year 815), after a career in public administration in Macedonia, abandoned the world around the year 850 to retreat to monastic life on Mount Olympus, in Bithynia, where he received the name Methodius (the monastic name had to begin with the same letter as the baptismal name) and became the hegumen of the monastery of Polychron.
Attracted by the example of his brother, Cyril also decided to leave teaching to dedicate himself to meditation and prayer on Mount Olympus. However, years later (around 861), the imperial government entrusted him with a mission among the Khazars of the Azov Sea, who had asked to have sent to them a scholar who would know how to debate with the Jews and the Saracens. Cyril, accompanied by his brother Methodius, lived for a long time in Crimea, where he learned Hebrew.
There, he also looked for the body of Pope Clement I, which had been buried in that location. He found his tomb and when he returned with his brother, he brought the precious relics. Upon arriving in Constantinople, the two brothers were sent by Emperor Michael III to Moravia; the prince of Moravia, Ratislav, had made a precise petition [to the emperor]: "Our nation," he said, "since it has rejected paganism, observes Christian law. But we do not have a teacher that is capable of explaining to us the true faith in our language." The mission very promptly had uncommon success. In translating the liturgy to the Slavic language, the two brothers won great affection among the people.
This, however, stirred up hostility against them among the Frankish clergy, who had previously arrived to Moravia and considered the territory as belonging to their ecclesial jurisdiction. To justify themselves, in the year 867, the two brothers traveled to Rome. During the trip, they stopped in Venice, where there was a heated discussion with those who defended the so-called trilingual heresy: These considered that there were only three languages in which God could be licitly praised -- Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Obviously, the two brothers opposed this with determination.
In Rome, Cyril and Methodius were received by Pope Adrian II, who went out to meet them in procession to worthily receive the relics of St. Clement. The Pope had also understood the great importance of their exceptional mission. From the middle of the first millennium, in fact, the Slavic people had established themselves in great numbers in those territories situated between the two parts of the Roman Empire -- the East, and the West, which experienced tension between themselves. The Pope intuited that the Slavic peoples could carry out the role of bridge, contributing in this way to conserve unity between the Christians of both parts of the Empire. Therefore, he did not hesitate in approving the mission of the two brothers in the Great Moravia, welcoming and approving the use of Slavic in the liturgy. The Slavic books were placed on the altar of Santa Maria di Phatmé (St. Mary Major) and the Slavic liturgy was celebrated in the basilicas of St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. Paul.
Unfortunately, in Rome, Cyril became gravely ill. Sensing that death was approaching, he wanted to consecrate himself totally to God as a monk in one of the Greek monasteries of the city (probably in St. Praxedes) and he took the monastic name Cyril (his baptismal name was Constantine). Later, he insistently beseeched his brother Methodius, who had meanwhile been consecrated a bishop, that he would not abandon the mission in Moravia and that he would return to those peoples. He directed this invocation to God: "Lord, my God … hear my prayer and maintain faithful to you the flock that you have placed before me. Free them from the heresy of the three languages, gather all of them in unity, and make this people that you have chosen live in harmony in the true faith and upright confession." He died Feb. 14, 869.
Faithful to the commitment taken on with his brother, the next year, 870, Methodius returned to Moravia and Pannonia (today, Hungary), where he again faced the violent ill-will of the Frankish missionaries who imprisoned him. He did not get discouraged and when, in the year 873, he was liberated, he actively dedicated himself to the organization of the Church, attending to the formation of a group of disciples. The merit of these disciples was in overcoming the crisis that broke out after the death of Methodius, which occurred April 6, 885. Persecuted and imprisoned, some of these disciples were sold as slaves and taken to Venice, where they were rescued by a functionary from Constantinople, who permitted them to return to the Balkan Slavic countries.
Welcomed in Bulgaria, they were able to continue the mission began by Methodius, spreading the Gospel in the "land of the Rus." God, in his mysterious providence, in this way availed of the persecution to save the work of the holy brothers. From [this work], literary documentation also remains. It is enough to think of works such as the "Evangeliario," (liturgical pericopes of the New Testament) [and] the "Salterio," various liturgical texts in Slavic, on which the two brothers worked. After the death of Cyril, it is owed to Methodius and to his disciples, among other things, the translation of all of sacred Scripture, the "Nomocanon" and the "Book of the Fathers."
Briefly summarizing the spiritual profile of the two brothers, above all it must be noted the passion with which Cyril approached the writings of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission of Revelation. St. Gregory had expressed the desire that Christ would speak through him: "I am a servant of the Word, for this I place myself at the service of the Word." Wanting to imitate Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to speak in Slavic through him. He introduces his work of translation with the solemn invocation: "Hear, Slavic peoples, hear the Word that proceeds from God, the Word that encourages souls, the Word that leads to the knowledge of God."
Actually, already years before the prince of Moravia asked Emperor Michael III to send missionaries to his land, it seems that Cyril and his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were working on a project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in Slavic. Then it was clearly seen that there was a need to have new graphic signs that were more adequate for the spoken language: Thus was born the Glagolitic alphabet, which modified later, was designated with the name "Cyrillic," in honor of its inspirer.
This was a decisive factor for the development of the Slavic civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the various peoples could not consider that they had fully received Revelation until they had heard it in their own language and read it with the characters proper to their own alphabet.
To Methodius falls the merit of ensuring that the work began by his brother would not remain sharply interrupted. While Cyril, the "philosopher," tended toward contemplation, he [Methodius] was directed more toward the active life. In this way, he was able to establish the foundations of the successive affirmation of what we could call the "Cyril-Methodian idea," which accompanied the Slavic peoples in the various historical periods, favoring cultural, national and religious development. Pope Pius XI already recognized this with the apostolic letter "Quod Sanctum Cyrillum," in which he classified the two brothers as "sons of the East, Byzantines by their homeland, Greeks by origin, Romans by their mission, Slavs by their apostolic fruits" (AAS 19  93-96). The historic role that they fulfilled was afterward officially proclaimed by Pope John Paul II who, with the apostolic letter "Egregiae Virtutis Viri," declared them co-patrons of Europe, together with St. Benedict (AAS 73  258-262).
Indeed, Cyril and Methodius are a classic example of what is today referred to with the term "inculturation": Each people should make the revealed message penetrate into their own culture, and express the salvific truth with their own language. This implies a very exacting work of "translation," as it requires finding adequate terms to propose anew the richness of the revealed Word, without betraying it. The two brother saints have left in this sense a particularly significant testimony that the Church continues looking at today to be inspired and guided.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we continue our catechesis on the early Christian writers of the East and the West, we now turn to the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius. They were born in Thessalonica in the early ninth century. Cyril, whose baptismal name was Constantine, was educated at the Byzantine Court, ordained a priest, and became an acclaimed teacher of sacred and profane sciences. When his brother Michael became a monk, taking the name of Methodius, Cyril also decided to embrace the monastic life. Having retrieved the relics of Pope Clement I during a mission in Crimea, the brothers successfully preached Christianity to the people of Moravia. Inventing an alphabet for the Slavonic language, they together with their disciples translated the Liturgy, the Bible and texts of the Fathers, shaping the culture of the Slav peoples and leaving an outstanding example of inculturation. Pope Adrian II received them in Rome and encouraged their missionary work. When Cyril died in Rome in 869, Methodius continued the mission in spite of persecution. After his death in 885, some of his disciples, providentially released from slavery, spread the Gospel in Bulgaria and in "the Land of the Rus". In recognition of the brothers’ vast influence, they were named Co-Patrons of Europe by Pope John Paul II. May we imitate their strong faith and their Christian wisdom as we bear witness to the Gospel in our daily lives!
I offer a warm welcome to the participants in the 2009 Church Music Festival. I greet the pilgrims from the parishes of Sacred Heart, Dontozidon, Ilapayan and Tuaran from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, accompanied by Archbishop John Lee, and also the pilgrims from Saint Francis Parish, Singapore. I am also pleased to greet the many student groups, and all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors.
I extend my greetings to the various religious leaders present today who have gathered in Rome for an International Conference of interreligious dialogue. I commend this initiative organized by the Italian Bishops’ Conference in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am confident that it will do much to draw the attention of world political leaders to the importance of religions within the social fabric of every society and to the grave duty to ensure that their deliberations and policies support and uphold the common good. Upon all those taking part I invoke an abundance of the Almighty’s blessings.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On John Scotus Erigena
"His Theology Proceeds … by Asserting Primarily What God Is Not"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 10, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
Today I would like to speak of a notable thinker of the Christian West: John Scotus Erigena, whose origins are obscure. He certainly came from Ireland, where he was born at the beginning of the 9th century, but we don't know when he left his island to cross the English Channel and thus fully become a part of that cultural world that was being reborn around the Carolingians, and in particular, around Charles the Bald, in France of the 9th century. Just as we don't know the exact date of his birth, we also do not know that of his death, which according to the experts, must have been around the year 870.
John Scotus Erigena had a firsthand patristic culture, as much Greek as Latin: He directly knew the writings of the Latin and Greek fathers. He knew well, among others, the works of Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, great fathers of the Christian West; but he also knew the thought of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and other fathers, no less important, of the East. It was an exceptional man who in that epoch also dominated Greek. He showed particular attention to St. Maximus the Confessor, and above all, to Dionysius the Areopagite. Under this pseudonym is hidden an ecclesiastical writer of the 5th century from Syria, but like everyone in the Middle Ages, John Scotus Erigena was convinced that this author was a direct disciple of St. Paul, spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles (17:34).
Scotus Erigena, convinced of the apostolicity of the writings of Dionysius, classified him as "divine author" par excellence; his writings were, therefore, an eminent source for his thought. John Scotus translated his works to Latin. The great medieval theologians, such as St. Bonaventure, got to know the works of Dionysius by way of this translation. He was dedicated during his whole life to going deeper into and developing his thought, paying recourse to these writings, to the point that still today, sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish when we find the thought of Scotus Erigena and when he is doing nothing more than presenting the thought of Pseudo Dionysius.
In truth, the theological work of John Scotus did not have much success. The end of the Carolingian era brought about the forgetting of his works, and a censure on the part of the ecclesiastical authority cast a shadow over his person. In truth, John Scotus represents a radical Platonism, which on occasions seems to approach a pantheistic vision, even if his personal subjective intentions were always orthodox. Some of the works of John Scotus Erigena are still in existence today, among which the treatises "On the Division of Nature" and "Expositions on the Celestial Hierarchy of St. Dionysius" deserve to be particularly mentioned.
In them, he develops stimulating theological and spiritual reflections, which could bring about interesting developments, even for contemporary theologians. I refer, for example, to what he writes on the duty to exercise an appropriate discernment about that which is presented as "auctoritas vera," or on the commitment to continue seeking the truth as long as an experience of the silent adoration of God is not attained.
Our author says: "Salus nostra ex fide inchoat: Our salvation begins with faith." That is, we cannot speak of God starting from our inventions, but rather from what God himself says about himself in sacred Scripture. Given that God only speaks the truth, Scotus Erigena is convinced that authority and reason should never be in contraposition one against the other. He is convinced that true religion and true philosophy coincide.
From this perspective, he writes: "Any type of authority that is not confirmed by true reason should be considered weak. … Only that authority is true that coincides with the truth discovered in virtue of reason, even if it is an authority recommended and transmitted for the usefulness of coming generations by the holy fathers" (I, PL 122, col 513BC). Thus he cautions, "May no authority frighten you or distract you from what you understand from the persuasion obtained thanks to an upright rational contemplation. In fact, authentic authority does not contradict right reason, and the latter never contradicts true authority. Both one and the other proceed without a doubt from the same source, which is divine wisdom" (I, PL 122, col 511B). We see here a courageous affirmation of the value of reason, founded on the certainty that true authority is reasonable, given that God is creative reason.
Even Scripture is not exempt, according to Erigena, from the need to apply the same criteria of discernment. In fact Scripture, affirms the Irish theologian, taking up again a reflection already presented by John Chrysostom, would not have been necessary if man had not sinned. Therefore, it must be deduced that Scripture was given by God with a pedagogical intention and lowering himself so that man could recall all that had been stamped on his heart from the moment of his creation "in the image and likeness of God" (cf. Genesis 1:26) and that the original fall had made him forget.
Erigena writes in the "Expositions": "Man was not created for Scripture, of which he would not have had necessity if he wouldn't have sinned, but rather Scripture -- interwoven with doctrine and symbols -- has been given to man. Thanks to it, in fact, our rational nature can introduce itself into the secrets of the authentic pure contemplation of God (II, PL 122, col 146C). The word of sacred Scripture purifies our rather blind reason and helps us to return to the memory of what we, as image of God, carry in our hearts, unfortunately violated by sin.
From here, some hermeneutical consequences are derived regarding the way to interpret Scripture, which can indicate still today the just path for a correct reading of sacred Scripture. It is a matter, in fact, of discovering the meaning hidden in the sacred text and this supposes a particular interior exercise thanks to which reason opens itself to the sure path leading to truth. This exercise consists in cultivating a constant readiness for conversion. To arrive deeply to the vision of the text, it is necessary to advance simultaneously in the conversion of the heart and in the conceptual analysis of the biblical page, whether it be of cosmic, historical or doctrinal character. Only thanks to the constant purification, as much of the eyes of the heart as of the eyes of the mind, can the exact understanding be achieved.
This arduous path, demanding and exciting, made up of continuous conquests and relativations of human knowledge, brings the intelligent creature toward the threshold of the divine Mystery, where all notions verify their own weakness and incapableness and lead, therefore, to going beyond -- with the simple, free and sweet force of the truth -- all that is continuously reached. The adoring and silent recognition of the Mystery, which flows into unifying communion, is revealed therefore as the only path for a relationship with the truth that is at the same time the most intimate possible and the most scrupulously respectful of the otherness. John Scotus, also utilizing in this a term appreciated by Christian tradition in the Greek language, called this experience to which we tend "theosis" or divinization, with daring affirmation to the point that he was suspected of falling into heterodox pantheism.
In any case, texts like the following cause intense emotion, texts in which, paying recourse to the ancient metaphor of the melting of iron, he writes: "Therefore, as all incandescent iron becomes liquid to the point that it appears only as fire, and nevertheless the substances of the one and the other remain distinct, in the same way it must be accepted that, after the end of this world, all nature, both corporal and incorporeal, will manifest only God, and nevertheless will remain integral, in such a way that God could be in a certain sense understood despite remaining incomprehensible, and the creature itself would be transformed, with ineffable marvel, into God" (V, PL 122, col 451B).
In reality, all of the theological thought of John Scotus turns into the clearest demonstration of the attempt to express the explainable of the inexplicableness of God, basing itself solely on the mystery of the World made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The numerous metaphors used by him to indicate this ineffable reality show up to what point he is aware of the absolute incapacity of the terms with which we speak of these things. And, nevertheless, there remains this enchantment and this atmosphere of authentic mystical experience in his texts that sometimes can almost be tangibly felt.
It is enough to cite, as proof, a page of the book "On the Division of Nature," which deeply touches our spirit as believers in the 21st century: "The only thing that must be desired," he writes, "is the joy of the truth, which is Christ, and the only thing that must be avoided is the absence of him. It should be considered that this [absence] is the only cause of total and eternal sadness. Take Christ from me and no good whatsoever remains for me; there is nothing that terrifies me as much as his absence. The worst torment of a rational creature is the privation and the absence of him (V, PL 122, col 989a).
These are words that we can make our own, converting them into a prayer to him who also is the longing of our hearts.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we consider the figure of John Scotus Erigena, an influential Christian thinker of the Carolingian period. Erigena’s interest in Eastern patristic theology, especially that of Dionysius, led him to study the latter’s works thoroughly and to translate them into Latin. According to Erigena, a believer is to seek the truth until he or she reaches a silent adoration of God in whose nature we participate by theosis, or "divinization". Since this experience can never be expressed fully in words, his theology proceeds by apophasis – that is, by asserting primarily what God is not. Yet he also holds that reason is indispensable in the human quest for God. Sacred Scripture, in fact, allows man to recall the truth which was impressed upon his soul at the beginning of time, but which had been forgotten through original sin. By reading the Bible, we can uncover the secrets of a pure, authentic contemplation of God. Let us therefore pursue the path of continual conversion in order to mine the riches of God’s word in our daily prayer and meditation.
I warmly greet all the English-speaking visitors present today. In a special way, I welcome seminarians from the United States participating in The Rome Experience Program, as well as pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Karachi in Pakistan. God bless you all!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Rabanus Maurus
"A Truly Extraordinary Personality of the Latin West"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 3, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters:
Today I would like to speak about a truly extraordinary personality of the Latin West: the monk Rabanus Maurus. Together with men such as Isidore of Seville, the Venerable Bede and Ambrose Auperto, of whom I have already spoken in previous catechesis, [Rabanus Maurus] knew how to stay in contact with the great culture of the ancient scholars and the Christian fathers during the centuries of the High Middle Ages. Often remembered as "praeceptor Germaniae," Rabanus Maurus was extraordinarily productive. With his entirely exceptional capacity for work, he was perhaps the person who most contributed to maintaining alive the theological, exegetical and spiritual culture to which successive centuries would pay recourse. Great personalities from the world of the monks, such as Peter Damian, Peter the Venerable and Bernard Clairvaux, make reference to him, as do an ever more consistent number of "clerics" of the secular clergy, who in the 12th and 13th centuries gave life to one of the most beautiful and fruitful flourishing of human thought.
Born in Mainz around the year 780, Rabanus entered the monastery when he was still very young: the name Maurus was given him precisely in reference to the young Maurus who, according to the second book of St. Gregory the Great's "Dialogues," had been given at a very young age to the abbot Benedict of Nursia by his own parents, who were Roman nobles. This precocious introduction of Rabanus as "puer oblatus" in the Benedictine monastic world, and the fruits that it gave for his human, cultural and spiritual growth, opened up very interesting possibilities not only for the life of the monks, but also for the whole of society of his time, normally referred to as "Carolingian." Speaking of them, or perhaps of himself, Rabanus Maurus writes: "There are some who have had the fortune of having been introduced in the knowledge of Scripture from a very young age ('a cunabulis suis') and have been nourished so well by the food that the holy Church has offered them that they can be promoted, with an adequate education, to the most elevated sacred orders" (PL 107, col 419BC).
The extraordinary culture that distinguished Rabanus Maurus very quickly brought the attention of the greats of his time. He became a counselor of princes. He committed himself to guaranteeing the unity of the empire, and on a wider cultural level, he never denied one who asked for a well-thought-out answer, preferentially inspired in the Bible and in the texts of the holy fathers. Despite the fact that he was first elected abbot of the famous monastery of Fulda, and afterward archbishop of his native city of Mainz, he did not leave aside his studies, demonstrating with the example of his life that one can be at the same time available for others without neglecting because of this an adequate time of reflection, study and meditation.
In this way, Rabanus Maurus became an exegete, philosopher, poet, pastor and man of God. The dioceses of Fulda, Mainz, Limburgo and Breslau venerate him as a saint or blessed. His works fill six volumes of the "Patrologia Latina" of Migne. He probably composed one of the most beautiful and well-known hymns of the Latin Church, the "Veni Creator Spiritus," an extraordinary synthesis of Christian pneumatology. The first theological commitment of Rabanus is expressed, in fact, in the form of poetry and had as a theme the mystery of the holy cross in a work titled, "De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis," conceived to propose not only conceptual content, but also exquisitely artistic motivations using both the poetic form and the pictorial form within the same manuscript codex. Iconographically proposing between the lines of his writing the image of the crucified Christ, he writes: "This is the image of the Savior who, with the position of his members, makes sacred for us the most sweet and dear form of the cross so that, believing in his name and obeying his commandments, we might obtain eternal life thanks to his passion. Because of this, each time that we raise our eyes to the cross, we remember him who suffered for us to sever us from the power of darkness, accepting death to make us heirs of eternal life (Lib. 1, Fig. 1, PL 107 col 151 C).
This method of harmonizing all the arts, the intelligence, the heart and the sentiment, which came from the East, would be highly developed in the West, reaching unreachable heights in the miniate codices of the Bible and in other works of faith and of art, which flourished in Europe until the invention of the press and even afterward. In any case, it shows that Rabanus Maurus had an extraordinary awareness of the need to involve in the experience of faith, not only the mind and the heart, but also the sentiments through these other elements of aesthetic taste and the human sensitivity that brings man to enjoy truth with all of his being, "spirit, soul and body." This is important: The faith is not only thought; it touches the whole being. Given that God made man with flesh and blood and entered into the tangible world, we have to try to encounter God with all the dimensions of our being. In this way, the reality of God, through faith, penetrates in our being and transforms it.
For this reason, Rabanus Maurus concentrated his attention above all on the liturgy, as the synthesis of all the dimension of our perception of reality. This intuition of Rabanus Maurus makes him extraordinarily relevant to our times. He also left the famous "Carmina" proposals to be used above all in liturgical celebrations. In fact, Rabanus' interest for the liturgy can be entirely taken for granted given that before all, he was a monk. Nevertheless, he did not dedicate himself to the art of poetry as an end in itself, but rather he used art and whatever other type of knowledge to go deeper in the Word of God. Because of this, he tried with all his might and rigor to introduce to his contemporaries, but above all to the ministers (bishops, priests and deacons), to the understanding of the profound theological and spiritual significance of all the elements of the liturgical celebration.
In this way, he tried to understand and present to the others the theological meanings hidden in the rites, paying recourse to the Bible and the tradition of the fathers. He did not hesitate to cite, out of honesty and also to give greater weight to his explanations, the patristic sources to which he owed his knowledge. He made use of them freely and with attentive discernment, continuing the development of the patristic thought. At the end of the "First Letter," addressed to a chorbishop of the Diocese of Mainz, for example, after having responded to requests to clarify the behavior that should be had in the carrying out of pastoral responsibility, he writes: "We have written you all of this just as we have deduced it from the sacred Scriptures and from the canons of the fathers. Now then, you, most holy man, make your decisions as seems best to you, case by case, trying to moderate your evaluation in such a way that discretion is guaranteed in everything, since she is the mother of all virtues" ("Epistulae", I, PL 112, col 1510 C). In this way is seen the continuity of the Christian faith, which has its beginnings in the Word of God: It is, nevertheless, always alive, it develops and is expressed in new ways, always in harmony with the entire construction, the whole edifice of the faith.
Given that the word of God is an integral part of the liturgical celebration, Rabanus Maurus dedicated himself to the latter with the greatest effort during his entire existence. He wrote exegetical explanations for almost all of the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments with a clearly pastoral objective, which he justified with words such as this: "I have written this, ... synthesizing explanations and proposals of many others, to offer a service to the poor reader who doesn't have many books at his disposal, but also to help those who haven't yet completely understood the meanings discovered by the fathers" ("Commentariorum in Matthaeum praefatio," PL 107, col. 727D). In fact, in commenting on the biblical texts he resorts quite often to the ancient fathers, with a special predilection for Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great.
His sharp pastoral sensibility carried him afterward to confront one of the problems that most interested the faithful and sacred ministers of his time: that of penance. He compiled "Penitentials" -- that's what he called them -- in which, according to the sensibilities of the age, he enumerated the sins and their corresponding penance, using, in the measure possible, motivations taken from the Bible, of the decisions of the councils, and of the decrees of the popes. Of these texts the "Carolingians" are also useful in his intention to reform the Church and society. Works such as "De disciplina ecclesiastica" and "De institutione clericorum" respond to this pastoral objective. In these, citing above all Augustine, Rabanus explained to simple people and to the clergy of his own diocese the fundamental elements of Christian faith: They were a type of small catechisms.
I would like to conclude the presentation of this great "man of the Church" citing some of his words that reflect his deep conviction: "He who neglects contemplation is deprived of the vision of the light of God; he who is carried away with worry and allows his thoughts to be crushed by the tumult of the things of the world is condemned to the absolute impossibility of penetrating the secrets of the invisible God" (Lib. I, PL 112, col. 1263A). I believe that Rabanus Maurus addressed these words to us today: while at work, with its frenetic rhythms, and during vacation, we have to reserve moments for God. [We have to] open our lives up to him, directing a thought to him, a reflection, a brief prayer. And above all, we mustn't forget that Sunday is the day of Our Lord, the day of the liturgy, [the day] to perceive in the beauty of our churches, in the sacred music and in the Word of God, the same beauty of our God, allowing him to enter into our being. Only in this way is our life made great; it is truly made a life.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with another great monastic figure of the High Middle Ages, Rabanus Maurus. Rabanus entered monastic life at a young age as an oblate, was trained in the liberal arts and received a broad formation in the Christian tradition.
As the Abbot of Fulda and then as Archbishop of Mainz, he contributed through his vast learning and pastoral zeal to the unity of the Empire and the transmission of a Christian culture deeply nourished by the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church. From his youth he wrote poetry, and he is probably the author of the famous hymn Veni Creator Spiritus.
Indeed, his first theological work was a poem on the Holy Cross, in which the poetry was accompanied by an illuminated representation of the Crucified Christ. This medieval method of joining poetry to pictorial art sought to lift the whole person -- mind, heart and senses -- to the contemplation of the truth contained in God’s word. In the same spirit Rabanus sought to transmit the richness of the Christian cultural tradition through his prolific commentaries on the Scriptures, his explanations of the liturgy and his pastoral writings. This great man of the Church continues to inspire us by his example of an active ministry nourished by study, profound contemplation and constant prayer.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, the Philippines and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. I also greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Theodore the Studite
"An Important Virtue … Is Love for Work"
VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
The saint that we find today, St. Theodore the Studite, brings us to a period that from the religious and political point of view was rather turbulent. St. Theodore was born in the year 759 to a noble and pious family. His mother, Teoctista, and an uncle, Plato, abbot of the monastery of Sakkudion in Bithynia, are venerated as saints. It was precisely his uncle who guided him toward the monastic life, which he embraced at the age of 22. He was ordained a priest by the patriarch Tarasios, but afterward he broke communion with him because of the weakness he showed in the case of the adulterous marriage of Emperor Constantine VI. The consequence was Theodore's exile to Thessalonica in the year 796. Reconciliation with the imperial authority came about the next year under Empress Irene, whose benevolence brought Theodore and Plato to be transferred to the urban monastery of Studios, together with the majority of the community of the monks of Sakkudion, to avoid the invasions of the Saracens. In this way began the important "studite reform."
The personal life of Theodore, nevertheless, continued to be very hectic. With his characteristic energy, he became the leader of the resistance to the iconoclasm of Leo V the Armenian, who opposed once again the existence of images and icons in the Church. The procession of icons, organized by the monks of Studios, brought about the reaction of the police. Between 815 and 821, Theodore was flogged, jailed and exiled in various parts of Asia Minor. In the end, he was able to return to Constantinople, but not to his monastery. Thus he established himself with his monks on the other side of the Bosphorus.
He died, it seems, on Pringipos on Nov. 11, 826, the day on which he is remembered in the Byzantine calendar. Theodore is distinguished in Church history for being one of the great reformers of monastic life and also as a defender of sacred images during the second iconoclast phase, together with the patriarch of Constantinople, St. Nicephorus.
Theodore had understood that the issue of the veneration of icons implicated the very truth of the Incarnation. In his three books, Antirretikoi (Refutations), Theodore compares the eternal internal relations of the Trinity, in which the existence of each divine Person does not destroy unity, with the relation between the two natures of Christ, which do not compromise in him the unique Person of the Logos. And he argues: To abolish the veneration of the icons of Christ would mean cancelling his very redemptive work, since in assuming human nature, the invisible Word has appeared in visible human flesh, and in this way has sanctified the entire visible cosmos. Icons, sanctified by liturgical blessing and the prayer of the faithful, unite us with the Person of Christ, with his saints, and through them, with the heavenly Father, and they give witness to an entrance into the divine reality of our visible and material cosmos.
Theodore and his monks, witnesses of courage in the times of the iconoclast persecutions, are inseparably united to the reform of the cenobitic life in the Byzantine world. Their importance asserts itself even because of an exterior circumstance: their number. While the monasteries of the epoch did not exceed 30 or 40 monks, through the "Life of Theodore," we know that there were more than 1,000 Studite monks. Theodore himself informs us that in his monastery there were some 300 monks; we see, therefore, the enthusiasm for the faith that sprung up in the context of this man truly informed and formed by the same faith. However, more than the number, the new spirit that the founder imprinted on the cenobitic life showed itself to be influential. In his writing, he insists on the urgency of a conscious return to the teaching of the fathers, above all to St. Basil, first legislator of the monastic life, and to St. Dorotheos of Gaza, a famous spiritual father of the Palestinian desert. The characteristic contribution of Theodore consists in his insistence on the necessity of order and submission on the part of the monks. During the persecutions, the monks had dispersed, accustoming themselves to living according to each one's personal judgment. When it was possible to reconstruct common life, it was necessary to deeply commit himself to again make of the monastery an authentic living community, an authentic family, or as he said, an authentic "Body of Christ." In a community like this, the reality of the Church as a whole is concretely fulfilled.
Another of Theodore's deep conviction is this: With respect to laypeople, monks take on the commitment of observing Christian duties with greater rigor and intensity. That's why they make a special profession, which belongs to the hagiasmata (consecrations), and which is almost a "new baptism," and is symbolized by the taking of the habit. With respect to laypeople, the commitment of poverty, chastity and obedience is characteristic of monks. Addressing the monks, Theodore speaks in a concrete way, occasionally almost picturesque, of poverty, but in the following of Christ this is from the beginning an essential element of monasticism and indicates as well a path for us. Renunciation of private poverty, freedom from material things, as well as sobriety and simplicity, are only valid in their radical form for monks, but the spirit of this renunciation is the same for everyone. In fact, we should not depend on material property; we should learn detachment, simplicity, austerity and sobriety. In this way, a solidary society can grow and the great problem of poverty in this world can be overcome. Therefore, in this sense, the radical sign of the poor monks indicates essentially a path also for us.
When he illustrates the temptations against chastity, Theodore does not hide his personal experiences and shows the path of interior fight to find self-control and in this way, respect for one's own body and the body of others as a temple of God.
But the principal renunciations are for him those demanded by obedience, since each one of the monks has his way of living, and integration in the great community of 300 monks truly implies a new form of life, which he classifies as the "martyrdom of submission." Also in this, the monks give an example, since after original sin, the tendency for man is to do one's own will, the first principle is the life of the world, and everything else remains submitted to the personal will. But in this way, if each one only follows himself, the social fabric cannot work. Only in learning to integrate oneself in common freedom, sharing and submitting to it, learning legality, that is, submission and obedience to the rules of the common good and the common life, can a society be healed, as well as the "I" of the pride of putting oneself in the center of the world. In this way, St. Theodore helps his monks with keen introspection, and certainly us as well, to understand the true life, to resist the temptation of putting one's own will as the supreme rule of life and to conserve a true personal identity, which is always an identity together with others, as well as peace of heart.
For Theodore the Studite, an important virtue, together with obedience and humility, is philergia, that is, love for work, which he sees as a criterion to prove the quality of personal devotion. One who is fervent in material commitments, who works assiduously, he maintains, is the same in the spiritual realm. In this regard, he does not allow that with the pretext of prayer and contemplation, the monk dispenses with work, including manual work, which in reality is, according to him and to the monastic tradition, the means to encounter God.
Theodore is not afraid to speak of work as the "sacrifice of the monk," of his "liturgy," even of a type of Mass through which the monastic life converts into angelical life. And precisely in this way the world of work is humanized and man, through work, becomes more himself, closer to God. A consequence of this singular vision deserves to be considered: Precisely because it is the fruit of a form of "liturgy," the riches that come from common work should not serve the comfort of the monks, but should be destined for the help of the poor. In this, all of us can see the need for the fruit of work to be a good for everyone. Obviously the work of the "studites" was not only manual: They had great importance in the religious-cultural development of the Byzantine culture as calligraphers, painters, poets, educators of youth, teachers in schools, librarians.
If indeed he carried out an enormous exterior activity, Theodore did not allow himself to be distracted from what he considered intimately linked to his function as superior: to be the spiritual father of his monks. He knew the decisive influence had in his life by both his good mother and his holy uncle, Plato, whom he classified with the significant title of "father." Because of this, he gave spiritual direction to the monks. Each day, his biographer says, after night prayers, he placed himself before the iconostasis to listen to the confidences of everyone. He gave spiritual advice as well to many people who were not from the monastery. The "Spiritual Testament" and the "Letters" highlight his open and affectionate manner, and show how from his paternity arose true spiritual friendships within the monastery and outside of it.
The Rule, known with the name of Hypotyposis, codified after Theodore's death, was adopted with some modification in Mount Athos, when in the year 962, St. Athanasius the Athonite founded there the Great Lavra, and in the Rus of Kiev, when at the beginning of the second millennium, St. Theodosius introduced it in the Lavra of the Caves. Understood in its genuine significance, the Rule becomes something exceedingly relevant. Today numerous currents arise that threaten the unity of the common faith and lead toward a type of dangerous spiritual individualism and spiritual pride. It is necessary to commit oneself in its defense and to make grow the perfect unity of the Body of Christ, in which can be integrated in harmony the peace of order and sincere personal relationships in the Spirit.
Perhaps it is useful to take up at the end some of the principal elements of the spiritual doctrine of Theodore. Love for the incarnated Lord and for his visibility in the liturgy and in icons. Fidelity to baptism and commitment to live in the communion of the Body of Christ, understood also as communion of Christians among themselves. Spirit of poverty, of sobriety, of renunciation; chastity, self-control, humility and obedience against the primacy of one's own will, which destroys the social fabric and the peace of souls. Love for material and spiritual work. Spiritual friendship born in the purification of one's conscience, of one's soul, of one's life. Let us try to follow these teachings that truly show us the path of the true life.
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's catechesis on the life and teaching of Saint Theodore the Studite places us at the heart of the medieval Byzantine period. Born in 759 to a noble and pious family, Theodore entered the monastery at the age of twenty-two. He vigorously opposed the iconoclastic movement since, he argued, abolishing images of Christ entails a rejection of his work of redemption. Theodore also initiated a thorough reform of the disciplinary, administrative and spiritual aspects of monastic life. A particularly important virtue according to Theodore is philergia - the love of work - since diligence in material tasks indicates fervour in one's spiritual duties. He even described work as a type of "liturgy", asserting that the riches mined from it must be used to help the poor. The Studite's Rule holds particular relevance for us today because it highlights the unity of faith and the need to resist the danger of spiritual individualism. May we heed Theodore's summons to nurture the unity of the Body of Christ through well-ordered lives and by cultivating harmonious relationships with one another in the Holy Spirit.
I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims. In a special way, I welcome members of the Schola Cantorum of Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas; seminarians and priests from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan; and members of the Order of Knights of Saint John from Nigeria. God bless all of you!
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the Spiritual Ladder of John Climacus
"A Great Symbol of the Life of the Baptized"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here
is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave during today's general
audience in Paul VI Hall.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters,
After 20 catecheses dedicated to the Apostle Paul, I would like to take up again today the presentation of the great writers of the Church of East and West in the Middle Ages. And I propose the figure of John called Climacus, a Latin transliteration of the Greek term klímakos, which means ladder (klímax).
This is the title of his principal work [rendered in English "Climax," or "Ladder to Perfection"], in which he describes the ascent of human life toward God.
He was born around 575. His life unfolded in the years in which Byzantium, capital of the Roman Empire of the East, experienced the greatest crisis of its history. Suddenly the geographical layout of the empire changed and the torrent of barbarian invasions brought all of its structures to crumble. Only the structure of the Church remained, which in these difficult times continued with its missionary, humanistic and socio-cultural activities, especially through the network of monasteries, in which operated great religious personalities, as was precisely John Climacus.
Among the mountain of Sinai, where Moses encountered God and Elias heard his voice, John lived and narrated his spiritual experiences. An account of him has been conserved in a brief biography (PG 88, 596-608), written by the monk Daniel of Raithu: At age 16, John, monk at Mt. Sinai, became a disciple of the abbot Martyrius, an "elder," that is to say, "a wise one." Toward age 20, he chose to live as a hermit in a cave at the foot of a mountain, in the region of Tola, eight kilometers from the feet of the current monastery of St. Catherine.
But solitude did not keep him from meeting people who desired a spiritual guide, or from visiting certain monasteries close to Alexandria. His hermitic withdrawal, in fact, far from being flight from the world and human reality, led him to an ardent love for others (Life, 5) and for God (Life, 7). After 40 years of hermitic life lived in the love of God and for others, years in which he cried, prayed and fought against the demons, he was named abbot of the great monastery of Mt. Sinai and thus returned to the cenobitic life in the monastery.
But a few years before his death, nostalgic for the hermitic life, he transferred to a brother, a monk of the same monastery, the guidance of the community. He died after the year 650. The life of John developed between two mountains, Sinai and Tabor, and truly it can be said of him that he radiated the light that Moses saw on Sinai and the apostles contemplated on Tabor.
He became famous, as I already mentioned, with his work "The Ladder" (klímax), called in the West the "Ladder of Paradise" (PG 88, 632-1164). Composed because of the insistent petitions of the abbot of the nearby monastery of Raithu, close to Sinai, "The Ladder" is a complete treatise of the spiritual life, in which John describes the path of a monk, from the renunciation of the world till the perfection of love. It is a path that -- according to this book -- takes place through 30 steps, each one of which is united to the one that comes after.
The path can be summarized in three successive phases: the first shows the rupture with the world with the aim of returning to the state of Gospel childlikeness. The essential, therefore, is not the rupture, but the union with which Jesus has called, the return to the true childlikeness in the spiritual sense, the coming to be like children. John comments: "A good foundation is that formed by three bases and three columns -- innocence, fasting and chastity. All the newborns in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1) should begin with these three things, following the example of physical newborns" (1,20; 636).
The voluntary separation from dear people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience, which is the path of humility through humiliations -- which are never lacking -- on the part of humans. Juan comments: "Blessed is he who has mortified his own will to the end and has entrusted the care of his person to his master in the Lord: He will be placed at the right of the Crucified One" (4,37; 704).
The second phase of the path is made up of spiritual combat against the passions. Each step of the ladder is united with a principal passion, which is defined and diagnosed, indicating as well the therapy and proposing the corresponding virtue. The whole of these steps undoubtedly constitutes the most important treatise of the spiritual strategy that we possess. The fight against the passions is seen in a positive light -- it's not viewed as a negative thing -- thanks to the image of the "fire" of the Holy Spirit:
"All those who undertake this beautiful fight (cf. 1 Timothy 6:12), difficult and arduous […] should know that they have come to throw themselves in a fire, if they truly desire that the immaterial fire dwells in them" (1,18; 636). The fire of the Holy Spirit, which is the fire of love and truth. Only the strength of the Holy Spirit assures victory. But, according to John Climacus, it is important to be aware that the passions are not evil in themselves; they become so because of the poor use that human freedom makes of them. If they are purified, the passions open to man the path toward God with energies unified by asceticism and grace and "if they have received from the Creator an order and principle … the limit of virtue is endless" (26/2,37; 1068).
The last phase of the path of Christian perfection is developed in the last seven rungs of the ladder. These are the highest phases of the spiritual life, able to be experienced by the "esicasti," the solitary ones, who have arrived to tranquility and interior peace. But they are phases accessible as well to the most fervent cenobites. Of the three first ones -- simplicity, humility and discernment -- John, in line with the desert fathers, considers the latter the most important, that is, the capacity to discern.
Every action should be submitted to discernment, everything depends in fact on deep motives, which it is necessary to explore. Here one enters into the depths of the person and tries to awaken in the hermit, in the Christian, the spiritual sensitivity and the "sense of the heart," gifts of God: "As guide and rule of all things, after God, we should follow our conscience" (26/1,5, 1013). In this way, one arrives to the tranquility of the soul, the "esichía," thanks to which the soul can peer into the abyss of divine mysteries.
The state of tranquility, of interior peace, prepares the "esicasta" for prayer, which in John is double: "corporal prayer" and "prayer of the heart." The first is proper to one who must avail of postures of the body: extend the hands, express groans, strike the chest, etc. (15,26; 900); the second is spontaneous, because it is an effect of awakening the spiritual sensitivity, gift of God to whom is dedicated the corporal prayer. In John, this takes the name of "Jesus prayer" (Iesoû euché) and it is made up of the invocation of the name of Jesus, a continuous invocation like breathing: "The memory of Jesus becomes one with your respiration, and then you will discover the truth of the esichía," of interior peace (27/2,26; 1112). In the end, prayer becomes something very simple, simply the word "Jesus" becomes one with our breathing.
The last rung of the scale (30), full of the "sober intoxication of the Spirit" is dedicated to the supreme "trinity of virtues": faith, hope and above all, charity. Regarding charity, John speaks also of eros (human love), figure of the matrimonial union of the soul with God. And he chooses yet again the image of fire to express the ardor, light and purification of love by God. The strength of human love can be reoriented toward God, as the good olive tree can be grafted onto the wild olive (cf. Romans 11:24) (15,66; 893).
John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros makes the soul advance more than the hard fight against the passions, because its power is great. Thus the positiveness of our path prevails. But charity is seen as well in direct relation with hope: "The strength of charity is hope: Thanks to it we hope for the recompense of charity … hope is the gate of charity … the absence of hope destroys charity: our troubles are linked to it, with it we sustain ourselves in our problems and thanks to it we are surrounded by the mercy of God" (30,16; 1157). The end of "The Ladder" contains the synthesis of the work with the words the authors puts in the mouth of God himself. "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the top of this ladder, as that great mystic of mine said (St. Paul): Now therefore three things remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)" (30,18; 1160).
At this point, a last question arises: "The Ladder," a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago: Can it say something to us today? The existential itinerary of a man who always lived on the mountain of Sinai in a time so long ago: Can it be current for us? At first glance, it seems the answer should be "no" because John Climacus is very far from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that such a monastic life is only a great symbol of the life of the baptized, of Christian life. It shows, to say it one way, in large letters what we write every day with little letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what is the life of the baptized, in communion with Christ, with his death and resurrection. For me, it is of particularly importance the fact that the culmination of the scale, the last rungs are at the same time the fundamental, initial, simplest virtues: faith, hope and charity.
These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes, but are the gift of God for all the baptized. In them our life too grows. The beginning is also the end; the starting point is also the arriving point: The whole path goes toward an ever more radical fulfillment of faith, hope and charity. In these virtues, the ladder is present. Fundamentally is faith, because this virtue implies that I renounce arrogance, my thoughts, the pretension to judge for myself, without entrusting myself to others.
This path toward humility, toward spiritual childlikeness is necessary: It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I am better, in this age of mine of the 21st century, than what those who lived then knew. It is necessary, instead, to entrust oneself only to sacred Scripture, the Word of the Lord, approach with humility the horizon of faith, to thus enter into the enormous vastness of the universal world, of the world of God.
In this way, our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart toward God grows. Precisely John Climacus says that only hope makes us capable of living charity. Hope in which we transcend the things of each day; we do not hope for the success of our earthly days but we hope finally for the revelation of God himself. Only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, our life is made great and we can bear the tiredness and disillusionment of each day, we can be good to others without expecting a reward.
Only if God exists, this great hope to which I tend, can I take the little steps of my life each day and thus learn charity. In charity, the mystery of prayers is hidden, of the personal knowledge of Jesus: a simple prayer that alone tends to touch the heart of the divine Teacher. And thus one's heart opens, learns from him his own goodness, his love. Let us use, therefore, this ladder of faith, of hope and of charity, and we will thus arrive to true life.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we recommence our catechesis on the great Christian writers of both East and West. John Climacus, whose name means "ladder", was born around 575, and wrote an outstanding tract near Mount Sinai on the spiritual journey leading from renunciation of the world to perfection in love. The journey takes place in three stages. The first involves detachment from worldly goods in order to return to a state of Gospel innocence and enter into a deeper communion with God. In the second phase, the soul engages in a spiritual battle with the passions by cultivating virtues corresponding to each. When purified, these passions can show us the way to God through self-denial and grace. In the third phase, John emphasizes the importance of discernment: we must examine every aspect of our behaviour in order to ascertain our deepest motivations and reawaken a "sense of the heart".
This leads to tranquillity of soul – esichía – which prepares us to probe the depths of the divine mysteries. The last "rung" of the ladder consists in faith, hope and charity. John’s account of charity includes eros, or human love, which points towards the nuptial union of the soul with God. May John’s spiritual "ladder" remind all of us who share in the death and resurrection of Christ through Baptism that we are called to continual conversion and purification with the help of the Holy Spirit.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On the Life of St. Bede
He "Contributed Effectively to the Making of a Christian Europe"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave on the life of St. Bede during today's general audience in Paul VI Hall.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. "In this monastery," he recalls, "I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write" (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People," with this invocation: "I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face." Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.
Sacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede's theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as "a" sacred Scripture.
The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls "concordia sacramentorum"). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.
Another topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the "Cronica Maiora," Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar "ab incarnatione Domini." Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord's Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," for which he is recognized as "the father of English historiography." The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.
Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the "realism" of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person "not only a Christian but Christ." In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is "self-generated," or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes "Mother of God," participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different "states of life":
a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the "Catholic simplicity," with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.
b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the "Our Father," and the "Creed" and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John's Gospel in the common language.
c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate -- no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others -- either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as "peregrini pro amore Dei."
Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, "bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization" -- clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: "Nigra sum sed formosa" (I am brown, but beautiful) -- attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations "not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those "insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat." He teaches them how to pray constantly, "reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy," offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise "the priestly office of pastors and guides," by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) "capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion ("Epist. ad Ecgbertum," ed. Plummer, p. 419).
The fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of "Venerable." He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.
Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede's stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.
[The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we now turn to Saint Bede the Venerable. A monk of the monastery of Wearmouth in England, Bede became one of the most learned men of the early Middle Ages and a prolific author, while also gaining a reputation for great holiness and wisdom. His scriptural commentaries highlight the unity of the Old and New Testaments, centred on the mystery of Christ and the Church. Bede is best known, however, for his historical writings, in which he traced the history of the Church from the Acts of the Apostles, through the age of the Fathers and Councils, and down to his own times. His Ecclesiastical History recounts the Church’s missionary expansion and growth among the English people. Bede’s rich ecclesial, liturgical and historical vision enable his writings to serve as a guide for the Church’s teachers, pastors and religious in living out their vocations in the service of the Church’s mission. His great learning and the sanctity of his life, earned Bede the title of "Venerable", while the rapid spread of his writings made him a highly influential figure in the building of a Christian Europe.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Boniface
"His Ardent Zeal for the Gospel Always Impresses Me"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- 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 we pause to consider a great missionary of the 8th century, who spread Christianity in Central Europe, precisely in my homeland as well: St. Boniface, who has been recorded in history as the "apostle of the Germans."
We have not a little information about his life, thanks to the diligence of his biographers: He was born to an Anglo Saxon family in Wessex around the year 675 and was baptized with the name Winfred. He joined the monastery very young, attracted by the monastic ideal. Possessing notable intellectual capacities, he seemed headed toward a tranquil and brilliant career as a scholar: He was a professor of Latin grammar, wrote a few treatises and also composed some poems in Latin.
Ordained a priest at close to 30 years of age, he felt called to the apostolate among the pagans of the continent. Great Britain, his land, evangelized just 100 years before by the Benedictines guided by St. Augustine, manifested a faith that was so solid and a charity that was so ardent that it sent missionaries to Central Europe to announce there the Gospel. In 716, Winfred, with some companions, headed to Friesland (in present day Holland), but he clashed with the opposition of the local leader and the attempt at evangelization failed.
Having returned to his homeland, he didn't lose his zest and two years later, he went to Rome to speak with Pope Gregory II and to receive direction. The Pope, according to a biographer's account, received him "with a smiling face and a gaze full of kindness," and in the following days, had with him "important discussions" (Willibaldo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, pp. 13-14). And finally, after having given him the new name of Boniface, he entrusted him with official letters and the mission to preach the Gospel among the peoples of Germany.
Comforted and sustained by the support of the Pope, Boniface got to work in the preaching of the Gospel in those regions, fighting against the pagan cults and strengthening the bases of Christian and human morality. With a great sense of duty, he wrote in one of his letters: "We are firm in the fight in the day of the Lord, because days of affliction and misery have arrived ... We are not muted dogs, nor tacit observers, nor mercenaries who flee before the wolves. We are instead diligent pastors who watch over the flock of Christ, who announce to important persons and normal ones, to the rich and the poor, the will of God ... in opportune moments and inopportune ones ... " (Epistulae, 3,352.354: MGH).
With his tireless activity, with his organizational gifts, with his flexible and amiable character despite its firmness, Boniface obtained great results. The Pope then "declared that he wanted to confer on him episcopal dignity, so that with greater determination he could thus correct and return to the path of truth those who were mistaken, feel that he was supported by the greater authority of the apostolic dignity, and would be more accepted by everyone in the office of preaching since all the more for this reason it seemed he had been ordained by the apostolic prelate" (Otloho, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, lib. I, p. 127).
It was the Supreme Pontiff himself who consecrated him "regional bishop" -- that is, for all of Germany, and Boniface revived his apostolic efforts in the territories entrusted to him and extended his action as well to the Church of Gaul. With great prudence, he restored ecclesiastical discipline, convoked various synods to ensure the authority of the sacred canons, and reinforced the necessary communion with the Roman Pontiff, a point that he carried especially in his heart. The successors of Pope Gregory II also held him in most high consideration: Gregory III named him archbishop of all the Germanic tribes, sent him the pallium and gave him the faculty to organize the ecclesiastical hierarchy in those regions (cf. Epist. 28: S. Bonifatii Epistulae, ed. Tangl, Berolini 1916). Pope Zachary confirmed him in his post and praised his work (cf. Epist. 51, 57, 58, 60, 68, 77, 80, 86, 87, 89: op. cit.). And Pope Stephen III, recently elected, received from him a letter in which he expressed his filial attention (cf. Epist. 108: op. cit.).
The great bishop, besides this work of evangelization and organization of the Church through the foundation of dioceses and the celebration of synods, did not fail to favor the foundation of various monasteries, masculine and feminine, so that they would be like a lighthouse to irradiate the faith and human and Christian culture in the territory. From the Benedictine cenobites of his homeland, he had called men and women monks who lent a most valuable and precious service in the task of announcing the Gospel and spreading the human sciences and arts among the populations.
He considered in fact that the work for the Gospel should be also work for a true human culture. Above all the monastery of Fulda -- founded around 743 -- was the heart and center of the irradiation of the spirituality and the religious culture: There the monks, in prayer, in work and in penance, endeavored to tend toward sanctity; they formed themselves in the study of sacred and secular disciplines, preparing themselves for the announcement of the Gospel, to be missionaries. Therefore thanks to Boniface, to his men and women monks -- the women too had a very important part in this work of evangelization -- this human culture also flourished, which is inseparable from the faith and reveals its beauty.
Boniface himself has left us significant intellectual works -- above all his copious collection of letters, wherein the pastoral letters alternate with official letters and those of a private nature, which reveal social events and above all his rich human temperament and deep faith. He composed as well a treatise of "Ars grammatica," in which he explained the declinations, verbs and syntax of Latin, but which for him was also an instrument to spread the faith and the culture. Attributed to him as well is an "Ars metrica," that is, an introduction to how to make poetry, and various poetic compositions, and finally, a collection of 165 sermons.
Though he was already advanced in years -- he was close to 80 -- he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: With some 50 monks, he returned to Friesland, where he had begun his work. Almost as a foretelling of his imminent death, alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to his disciple and successor in the See of Mainz, Bishop Lullus: "I want to complete the aim of this trip, I cannot in any way renounce the desire to depart. The day of my end is near and the time of my death draws near; leaving the mortal remains, I will rise to the eternal reward. But you, most dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the labyrinth of error, complete the construction of the already begun basilica of Fulda, and there you will place my body grown old with long years of life" (Willibaldo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46).
While he was beginning the celebration of Mass in Dokkum (in present day North Holland), on June 5, 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Placing himself at the front with a serene face, he "prohibited his [companions] to fight, saying: "Cease, sons, to combat, abandon the war, because the testimony of Scripture warns us not to return evil for evil, but good for evil. This is the day awaited for some time, the time of our end has arrived. Courage in the Lord!" (ibid. pp. 49-50).
Those were his last words before falling beneath the blows of his aggressors. The remains of the bishop-martyr were taken to the monastery of Fulda, where he received a dignified burial. Already one of his first biographers described him with this affirmation: "The holy Bishop Boniface can be called the father of all the inhabitants of Germany, because he was the first to engender them in Christ with the word of his holy preaching; he confirmed them with his example and finally gave his life for them, greater love than this cannot be given" (Otloho, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., lib. I, p. 158).
After centuries, what message can we take from the teaching and the prodigious activity of this great missionary and martyr? A first point is evident to one who approaches Boniface: the centrality of the Word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a Word that he lived, preached and gave testimony to unto the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so impassioned by the Word of God that he felt the urgency and the duty of taking it to others, even at his personal risk. Upon it, he supported his faith, the spreading of which he had solemnly made a pledge to in the moment of his episcopal consecration: "I integrally profess the purity of the holy Catholic faith and with the help of God, I want to remain in the unity of this faith, in which without any doubt is all of the salvation of Christians" (Epist. 12, in S. Bonifatii Epistolae, ed. cit., p. 29).
The second obvious point, a very important one, which emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central point in his missionary work. He always conserved that communion as a rule of his mission and he left it almost as a testament. In a letter to Pope Zachary, he affirmed: "I never fail to invite and to submit to the obedience of the Apostolic See those who want to remain in the Catholic faith and in the unity of the Roman Church and all those that in this mission God gives me as listeners and disciples" (Epist. 50: in ibid. p. 81).
A fruit of this determination was the firm spirit of cohesion around the Successor of Peter that Boniface transmitted to the Churches in his mission territory, uniting England, Germany and France with Rome and contributing in such a determinant way to plant the Christian roots of Europe that they have produced fecund fruits in successive centuries.
For a third characteristic that Boniface draws to our attention: He promoted the encounter between the Roman-Christian culture and the Germanic culture. He knew in fact that to humanize and evangelize the culture was an integral part of his mission as a bishop. Transmitting the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he implanted in the German peoples a new style of life that was more human, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were better respected. As an authentic son of St. Benedict, he knew how to unite prayer and work (manual and intellectual), pen and plow.
The valiant testimony of Boniface is an invitation for all of us to welcome in our life the Word of God as an essential point of reference, to passionately love the Church, to feel that we are co-responsible for its future, to seek unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, favoring the spreading of culture, promotes the progress of man. It falls to us, then, to measure up to a patrimony that is so prestigious and make it bear fruit for the good of the generations to come.
His ardent zeal for the Gospel always impresses me: At 40 years old, he leaves a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and a professor, to announce the Gospel to the simple, to the barbarians; at 80 years of age, once again, he goes to a zone where he foresaw his martyrdom. Comparing this ardent faith of his, this zeal for the Gospel, to our faith so often lukewarm and bureaucratic, we see that we have to renew our faith and how to do it, so as to give as a gift to our times the precious pearl of the Gospel.
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we now turn to Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans. Born in England and baptized with the name Winfrid, he embraced the monastic life and was ordained a priest. Despite his promise as a scholar, he sensed the call to proclaim the Gospel to the pagans of the Continent. After an initial setback, he visited Rome and was charged by Pope Gregory II with the mission to evangelize the Germanic peoples. Taking the name Boniface, he worked tirelessly for the spread of the faith and the promotion of Christian morality, established bishoprics and monasteries throughout northern Europe, and contributed in no small way to the growth of a Christian culture. He crowned his witness to Christ by a martyr's death, and was buried in the great monastery of Fulda. Saint Boniface continues to inspired us by his example of missionary zeal, his complete fidelity to the word of God and the integrity of the Catholic faith, his strong sense of communion with the Apostolic See, and his efforts to promote the fruitful encounter of Germanic culture with the Roman-Christian heritage.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On Ambrose Autpert, "1st Mariologist of the
"Christ Must Daily Be Born, Die, and Rise in Us"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Church lives in people and whoever wants to get to know the Church, to understand its mystery, must consider the people who have lived and who continue to live its message, its mystery. It is for this reason that I have spoken in the Wednesday catecheses of people from whom we can learn what the Church is. We started with the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church and have slowly arrived to the eighth century, the period of Charlemagne. Today I would like to talk about Ambrose Autpert, a relatively unknown author: His works were in fact largely attributed to other better-known personalities, from St. Ambrose of Milan to St. Ildephonsus, not to mention those that the monks of Montecassino have held as coming from the pen of a certain one of their abates who lived almost a century later. Apart from some brief autobiographical references inserted in his great commentary on the book of Revelation, we have little definite information about [Autpert's] life. Careful reading of the works that critics gradually recognized as his authorship allows for the discovery in his teaching of a theological and spiritual treasure precious also for our times.
Born in Provenza, from a distinguished family, Ambrose Autpert -- according to his biographer, John -- was an official at the court of King Pepin the Short. He also played, in some way, the role of tutor to the future emperor Charlemagne. Probably as one following Pope Stephen II, who in 753-54 had gone to the court of the Franks, Autpert travelled to Italy and was able to visit the famous Benedictine abbey of St. Vincent, located at the source of the Volturno, in the Duchy of Benevento. Founded at the beginning of that century by the three Beneventan brothers Paldone, Riceman and Tasone, the abbey was known as a haven of classical and Christian culture. Shortly after his visit, Ambrose Autpert decided to embrace the religious life and entered the monastery, where he could train in an appropriate manner, especially in matters of theology and spirituality, according to the tradition of the Fathers. Around the year 761 he was ordained a priest and on October 4, 777, he was elected abbot with the support of the French monks and despite the opposition of some monks in favor of Lombard Potone.
The tension due to nationalistic divisions did not quiet in the months ahead, and as a result, Autpert, a year later in 778, intended to step down and retire with some French monks to Spoleto, where they could count on the protection of Charlemagne. This, however, did not eliminate the dissension in the monastery of St. Vincent, and some years later, when the abbot who succeeded Autpert died and Lombard Potone was elected as successor (a. 782), the conflict flared up again, which eventually lead to the denunciation of the new abbot to Charlemagne. The contenders were referred to the court of the Pope, who summoned them to Rome. Autpert was also called as a witness, but suddenly died during the trip, perhaps killed, January 30, 784.
Ambrose Autpert was a monk and abbot in an age marked by strong political tension, tensions which also had repercussions on life inside the monasteries. Of this we have frequent and concerned echoes in his writings. He denounces, for example, the contradiction between the beautiful outer appearance of the monasteries and the monks' lukewarmness; certainly his own abbey was included in this criticism. For his monastery he wrote the life of the three founders with the clear intention to offer the new generation of monks a benchmark with which to compare themselves. He also wrote the brief ascetic treatise "Conflictus vitiorum et virtutum" [Conflict between the vices and virtues] with the same intention, which had great success in the Middle Ages and was published in 1473 in Utrecht under the name of Gregory the Great, and a year later in Strasbourg under the name of St. Augustine. With these writings Ambrose Autpert intended to train the monks specifically on how to address the spiritual battle on a daily basis. In an important way he applies the truth expressed in 2 Timothy 3:12: "All those who want to live fully in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," no longer external persecution, but he refers to the assault of the forces of evil that Christians must face within themselves. He presents 24 pairs of combatants in a kind of juxtaposition: each vice tries to persuade the soul with subtle reasoning, while the respective virtues refute such insinuations preferably using the words of Scripture.
In this treatise on the conflict between vice and virtue, Autpert opposed the vice of "cupiditas" [greed] to the virtue of "contemptus mundi" [contempt of the world], which becomes an important element in the spirituality of the monks. This contempt of the world is not a contempt of creation, beauty and goodness of creation and the Creator, but a contempt of the false vision of the world presented and insinuated to us by our own greed. This greed affirms that the value of "having" is the supreme value of our being, of our living in the world and our image of ourselves as important. And so greed falsifies the creation of the world and destroys the world. Autpert notes that the desire for profit of the rich and powerful in the society of his time also exists within the souls of the monks and because of this he wrote a treatise titled "De cupiditate" [On Greed], in which, with the Apostle Paul, he denounces from the outset the vice of greed as the root of all evil. He writes: "From the soil of the earth several sharp spines sprout from various roots, however, in the heart of man, the sting of all the defects come from a single root, greed" (De cupiditate 1: CCCM 27B, p. 963 ).
I offer this reflection, which, in light of this global economic crisis, is revealed in all its relevance. We see that from this very root of greed this crisis is born. Ambrose foresaw the objection that the rich and powerful would raise, saying: but we are not monks, these ascetic standards don't apply to us. And he answers: "It is true what you say, but also for you, in your own way and to the best of your ability, the hard and narrow way applies to you, because the Lord has proposed only two doors and two ways -- i.e. the narrow gate and the wide, the hard and comfortable; he did not indicate a third door or a third way"(ibid, p. 978). He saw clearly that the life styles are very different. But even for the man in this world, even for the rich it is necessary to fight against greed, against the desire to possess, to appear, against the false notion of freedom as the right to dispose of everything according to one's own will. Even the rich must find the authentic path of truth, of love and in this way the path of moral rectitude. So Autpert, as a prudent shepherd of souls, knew then to say at the end of his preaching of repentance a word of comfort: "I have not spoken against the greedy, but against greed, not against nature, but against vice" (lc, p. 981).
The most important work of Ambrose Autpert is his commentary on Revelation in ten books: it constitutes, after centuries, the first extensive comment in the Latin world on last book of Sacred Scripture. This was the fruit of a long work, which took place in two stages between 758 and 767, therefore before his election as abate. In the preface, he indicates precisely its sources, which is completely abnormal in the Middle Ages. Through its perhaps most significant source, the comments of the Bishop Primasio Adrumetano, written around the middle of the sixth century, Autpert comes into contact with the interpretation of Revelation of the African Tycho, who had lived a generation before St. Augustine. He was not a Catholic; he belonged to the schismatic church of the Donatists, however, he was a great theologian. In his commentary, he saw the mystery of the Church reveal itself, above all in the book of Revelation. Tycho had reached the conviction that the Church was a body with two parts: One part, he says, belongs to Christ, but there is another part of the Church that belongs to the devil. Augustine read this commentary and benefitted from it, but strongly emphasized that the Church is in the hands of Christ, it remains his body, forming with him a single entity, a participant in the mediation of grace. He emphasizes therefore that the Church can never be separated from Jesus Christ.
In his reading of Revelation, which is similar to that of Tycho, Autpert is interested not so much in the second coming of Christ at the end of time, but in the consequences for the Church of his first coming, the Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It tells us something very important: In reality, Christ, "must daily be born, die, and rise in us who are his body." (In Apoc. III: CCCM 27, p. 205). In the context of the mystical dimension that surrounds every Christian, he looks to Mary as a model of the Church, a model for us all, because also in us and between us Christ must be born. On the basis that the Fathers saw in the "woman clothed with the sun" of Revelation 12:1 the image of the Church, Autpert argues: "The blessed and pious Virgin [...] daily gives birth to new people, from which is formed the General Body of the Mediator. It is not therefore surprising that she, in whose blessed womb the Church itself deserved to be united to his head, represents the image of the Church."
In this sense Autpert sees a decisive role of the Virgin Mary in the work of Redemption -- see also his homilies in the occasions of the purification and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin. His great reverence, and his deep love for the Mother of God at times inspired formulations that somehow anticipate those of St. Bernard and the Franciscan spirit, but without diverging toward questionable forms of sentimentalism, because he never separated the mystery of the Church from Mary. With good reason then Ambrose Autpert is considered the first great mariologist in the West. The piety that, in his view, must free the soul from attachment to earthly and transient pleasures, he believes should be united with the deep study of the sacred sciences, especially the meditation of Sacred Scripture, which he describes as a "deep sky, an unfathomable abyss" (In Apoc.IX). In the beautiful prayer with which he concludes his remarks on the book of Revelation, emphasizing the priority which in every theological search for truth relies on love, he speaks to God with these words: "When you are scrutinized intellectually by us, you're not discovered as you truly are; it's only when you are loved that we reach you."
We can see today in Ambrose Autpert a person who lived in a time of intense political exploitation of the Church, in which nationalism and tribalism had disfigured the face of the Church. But he, in the midst of all these difficulties that we also experience, was able to discover the true face of the Church in Mary, in the saints. And so he was able to understand what it means to be Catholic, Christian, to live the Word of God, to enter into this abyss, and so live the mystery of the Mother of God: to give new life to the Word of God, to offer to the Word of God one's own body at the present time. And with all his theological experience, the depth of his knowledge, Autpert understood that with mere theological research God can not be known as he really is. Only love can reach him. Let us listen to this message and ask the Lord to help us live the mystery of the Church today, in this our time.
[The Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak about the writings of a little-known author from the eighth century -- the Benedictine monk and abbot Ambrose Autpert. The turbulence of the times in which he lived affected life within the monasteries, and many of Autpert's writings summon his brethren to rekindle the fervor of their monastic vocation. One of his most widely-read works is his "Conflict between the vices and the virtues," designed to assist his monks in their daily spiritual struggle. For each of twenty-four vices threatening the soul, he indicated the corresponding virtue that would help the Christian to overcome temptation. Observing the widespread thirst for power and wealth in society of that time, he taught that greed is the root of all vices, and he urged his contemporaries to seek the narrow gate that leads to life. In his extensive commentary on the Book of Revelation, viewed as a treatise on the Church, Autpert taught that Christ must "be born, die and rise again every day in us, his body." Hence the Virgin Mary serves as a model of the Church. Indeed, Autpert is considered the first great Marian theologian in the West, and he writes with an almost mystical love for the Blessed Virgin. Love, he says, is the key to our knowledge of God. Intellectual study may point the way, but only when we love God do we truly know him. Following Autpert's teaching, let us strive to grow daily in our love for God.
I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, including groups from Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. I extend a special greeting to the young people from India. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
[After the greetings, the Holy Father continued in Italian:]
I now greet the young, the sick and the newly married. May the Risen Lord fill with his love the hearts of each of you, dear young people, so that you will be ready to follow him with the enthusiasm and freshness of your age; sustain you, dear sick people, in the serene acceptance of the burden of suffering; guide you, dear new spouses, in forging, through mutual and faithful self giving, families replete with the perfume of evangelical sanctity.
Finally, I would like to say a special word to the youth of the International Youth Center of San Lorenzo, who remember today the 25th anniversary of the delivery of the Cross of the Holy Year to the youth of the world. It was, in fact, April 22, 1984, when at the end of the Holy Year of Redemption, the beloved John Paul II entrusted to the youth of the world the great cross of wood, which by his own desire, was kept at the high altar of the basilica of St. Peter's during the special Jubilee Year. Since then, the cross was accepted in the International Youth Center of San Lorenzo, and from there began to travel to the continents, opening the hearts of many young men and women to Christ the Redeemer. This its pilgrimage continues still, especially in preparation for World Youth Day, so much so as to be known now as "the World Youth Day Cross." Dear friends, I entrust this cross to you again! Continue to carry it to every corner of the earth, so that the next generation may also discover the mercy of God and have the hope in Christ crucified and risen renewed in their hearts!
[Translation by Matthew Pollock]
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
On St. Germanus
"There Is a Certain Visibility of God in the World"
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2009 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
The patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, of whom I would like to speak today, does not belong to the most characteristic figures of the Eastern Christian world, and yet, his name appears with a certain solemnity in the list of the great defenders of sacred images, compiled in the Second Council of Nicaea, the 7th ecumenical council (787).
The Greek Church celebrates his feast in the liturgy of May 12. He had a significant role in the complex history of the fight for images, during the so-called iconoclast crisis: He knew how to effectively resist pressure from an iconoclast emperor, that is, an adversary of icons, such as was Leo III.
During Germanus' time as patriarch (715-730), Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, suffered a very dangerous besiegement from the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718), a solemn procession was organized in the city with the showing of the image of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, and a relic of the holy cross, to invoke from on high the defense of the city. In fact, Constantinople was liberated from the besiegement. The adversaries decided to permanently let go of the idea of establishing their capital in the city that was the symbol of the Christian empire, and the appreciation for divine help was extremely great among the people.
Patriarch Germanus, after that event, became convinced that the intervention of God should be considered evident approval of the piety shown by the people toward the holy icons. Of an entirely different opinion, on the other hand, was Emperor Leo III, who precisely that year (717), was enthroned as the indisputable emperor in the capital, in which he would reign until 741. After the liberation of Constantinople and after a series of further victories, the Christian emperor began to show ever more openly the conviction that the consolidation of the empire should begin precisely with a reordering of the manifestations of the faith, with particular reference to the risk of idolatry, which according to his opinion, the people were exposed to due to an excessive devotion to icons.
Nothing was gained by Patriarch Germanus' references to the tradition of the Church and the efficacy of certain images, which were unanimously recognized as "miraculous." The emperor became more and more staunch in the application of his restoration project, which included the elimination of icons. And when, on Jan. 7, 730, during a public meeting he openly took a position against devotion to images, Germanus did not want in any way to yield to the will of the emperor on questions that he considered determinant for the Orthodox faith, to which, according to him, belongs precisely the devotion to and love for images. As a result of that, Germanus found himself obligated to turn in his resignation as patriarch and to condemn himself to exile in a monastery where he died forgotten by everyone. His name came to light again precisely in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), when the Orthodox Fathers decided in favor of icons, recognizing the merits of Germanus.
Patriarch Germanus gave much attention to the liturgical celebrations, and for a certain time, he was also considered the one who began the feast of Akathist. As is known, Akathist is an ancient and famous hymn which arose in the Byzantine circle and was dedicated to the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
Despite the fact that from the theological point of view, Germanus cannot be classified as a great thinker, some of his works had a certain echo above all because of certain of his intuitions regarding Mariology. From him, in fact, we have various homilies about Marian themes and some of them have profoundly marked the piety of entire generations of faithful, as much in the East as in the West.
His splendid homilies on the Presentation of Mary in the temple are still-living testimonies of the non-written tradition of the Christian Churches. Generations of nuns and monks, and members of countless institutes of consecrated life, continue finding even today precious treasures of spirituality in these texts.
Some Marian texts from Germanus that are part of his homilies pronounced on SS. Deiparae dormitionem, corresponding to our feast of the assumption, still create awe. Among these texts, Pope Pius XII used one that he set as a pearl in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950), with which he declared the dogma of faith, the assumption of Mary. Pope Pius XII cited this text in that constitution, presenting it as one of the arguments in favor of the permanent faith of the Church in the corporal assumption of Mary into heaven. Germanus wrote: "Could it ever happen, most holy Mother of God, that heaven and earth feel honored by your presence, and you, with your departure, would leave man deprived of your protection? No. It is impossible to think of such a thing. In fact when you were in the world you did not feel that the things of heaven were foreign, in the same way, after having emigrated from this world, you have not felt removed from the possibility of communicating in spirit with men. … In fact you have not abandoned those to whom you have guaranteed salvation … indeed your spirit lives eternally, nor has your flesh suffered the corruption of the tomb.
"You, oh Mother, are close to everyone and protect everyone, and even though our eyes cannot see you, we completely know, oh One on high, that you live in the midst of all of us and that you make yourself present in the most varied of ways … You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.
"In fact it was impossible that that which had been converted into the vase of God and the living temple of the most holy divinity of the Only Begotten would be enclosed in the sepulcher of the dead. Again we believe with certainty that you continue walking with us" (PG 98, coll. 344B-346B, passim).
It has been said that for the Byzantines, the decorum of the rhetorical form in preaching, and even more in hymns or poetic compositions that they call tropari, is as important in the liturgical celebration as the beauty of the sacred building in which the celebration takes place. Patriarch Germanus was recognized, in this tradition, as one of those who has contributed much to keeping alive this conviction, that is, that the beauty of the word, of the language and the beauty of the building and the music should coincide.
I cite, to conclude, the inspired words with which Germanus described the Church at the beginning of this small work of art: "The Church is the temple of God, sacred space, house of prayer, convocation of the people, body of Christ … It is heaven on earth, where the transcendent God dwells as in his house and walks [about] in her, but it is also the fulfilled image (antitype) of the Crucifixion, of the tomb and of the Resurrection. The Church is the house of God in which the life-giving mystical sacrifice is celebrated, at the same time the most intimate part of the sanctuary and the holy grotto. Within her is found those true and authentic precious pearls that are the divine dogmas of the teaching offered directly by the Lord to his disciples" (PG 98, coll. 384B-385A).
At the end remains this question: What does this saint have to tell us today, [being] chronologically and also culturally very far from us? I think substantially three things. The first: There is a certain visibility of God in the world, in the Church, which we should learn to perceive. God has created man in his image, but this image has been covered in so much filth from sin that consequently God is almost not seen anymore in it. Thus the Son of God became true man, perfect image of God: In Christ we can thus contemplate the face of God and learn to ourselves be true men, true images of God.
Christ invites us to imitate him, to come to be similar to him, so that in each man the face of God, the image of God, again shines through. In truth, God had prohibited in the Ten Commandments making images of God, but this was caused by the temptations to idolatry that believers could be exposed to in the context of paganism. Nevertheless, when God became visible in Christ through the incarnation, it became legitimate to reproduce the face of Christ. Holy images teach us to see God in the form of the face of Christ. After the incarnation of the Son of God, it has therefore become possible to see God in the images of Christ and also in the face of the saints, in the face of all men in whom the holiness of God shines.
The second [lesson] is the beauty and dignity of the liturgy. To celebrate the liturgy in the awareness of the presence of God, with this dignity and beauty that allows one to see a bit of his splendor, is the task of every Christian formed in his faith.
The third [lesson] is to love the Church. Precisely concerning the Church, we men are inclined to see above all its sins, the negative; but with the help of faith, which makes us capable of seeing authentically, we can also, today and always, rediscover in her the divine beauty. It is in Church where God makes himself present, offers himself in the holy Eucharist and remains present for adoration. In the Church, God speaks with us, in the Church, "God walks with us," as St. Germanus says. In the Church, we receive the forgiveness of God and we learn to forgive.
Let us pray to God so that he teaches us to see in the Church his presence, his beauty, to see his presence in the world, and that he helps us also to be transparent for his light.
[Translation by ZENIT]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we turn to Saint Germanus, Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople, whose feast day is celebrated in the Greek Church on 12 May. In 717, while Constantinople was under siege by Saracen armies, Germanus led a procession with the venerated image of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and relics of the Holy Cross. The siege was lifted, convincing him that God had responded to the people’s devotion. Some time later however, Emperor Leo III initiated his campaign against the use of sacred images, judging them to be a source of idolatry. When Germanus opposed the Emperor publicly in 730 he was forced to retire in exile to a monastery, where he later died. His memory was not forgotten, and in the Second Council of Nicea, which restored devotion to sacred images, his name was honoured. The writings of Germanus, steeped in an ardent love of the Church and devotion to the Mother of God, have had a wide influence on the piety of the faithful both of the East and the West. He promoted a solemn and beautiful Liturgy and is also known for his insights in Mariology. In homilies on the Presentation and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Germanus extols her virtue and her mission. A text which sees the source of her bodily incorruption in her virginal maternity was included by Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. I pray that through the intercession of Saint Germanus we may all be renewed in our love of the Church and devotion to the Mother of God.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Canada and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Lord’s Easter blessings of joy and peace!
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana