Archive for January, 2009

On St. Eusebius of Vercelli

January 29, 2009

 

st-eusebius“He Governed the Church With the Austerity of Fasting”
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on St. Eusebius of Vercelli. After the discourse, the Pope announced the names of 23 who will be made cardinals in a consistory Nov. 24.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

This morning I invite you to reflect on St. Eusebius of Vercelli, the first bishop of northern Italy of whom we have sure knowledge. Born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, at a young age he transferred to Rome with his family. Later he was instituted as a lector: In this way he came to form part of the clergy of Urbe, during the time that the Church was suffering the difficult test of the Arian heresy.

The great esteem that many had for Eusebius explains his election, in 345, as the bishop of Vercelli. The new bishop immediately began an intense program of evangelization in a territory that was still to a large extent pagan, especially in the rural areas.

Inspired by St. Athanasius — who had written “The Life of St. Anthony,” founder of Eastern monasticism — founded in Vercelli a community of priests, similar to a monastic community. This monastery gave to the clergy of northern Italy a significant character of apostolic sanctity, and inspired important bishops such as Limenio and Honoratus, successors of Eusebius in Vercelli, Gaudentius in Novara, Exuperantius in Tortona, Eustasius in Aosta, Eulogius in Ivrea, Maximus in Turin, all venerated by the Church as saints.

Solidly formed in the faith of the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius defended with all his strength the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as “of the same nature” as the Father. With this objective he allied himself with the great fathers of the fourth century, above all St. Athanasius, the herald of the Nicene orthodoxy, against the pro-Arian politics of the emperor.

For the emperor the simpler Arian faith was more useful politically as an ideology of the empire. For him the truth didn’t count, only the political opportunity: He wanted to use religion as a tie to unite the empire. But these great fathers resisted, defending the truth over and against political domination. For this reason, Eusebius was condemned to exile, as were other bishops of the East and the West: such as Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers — of whom we spoke last week — and Osius of Cordoba. At Scythopolis in Palestine, where he was confined from 355 to 360, Eusebius wrote a wonderful page of his life. Here too he founded a monastery with a small group of disciples, and from there maintained correspondence with this faithful in Piedmont, which is demonstrated best by the second of the three letters of Eusebius that have been recognized as authentic.

After 360 he was exiled to Cappadocia and in Thebaid, where he suffered severe physical maltreatment. In 361, Emperor Constantius II died, and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, known as the Apostate, who was not interested in Christianity as the religion of empire, but rather wanted to restore paganism. He ended the exile of bishops and in this way permitted Eusebius to take back his see.

In 362 Eusebius was invited by Athanasius to participate in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon Arian bishops provided they reverted to the lay state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another decade, until he died, establishing with his city an exemplary relationship, which inspired the pastoral service of other bishops of northern Italy, whom we shall talk about in future catecheses, such as St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximus of Turin.

The relationship between the bishop of Vercelli and his city is made clear above all by two epistolary testimonies. The first is found in the letter we already cited, which Eusebius wrote from exile in Scythopolis “to my most delightful brethren and to my beloved priests, as well as to the holy peoples of Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, keeping firm in the faith” (“Ep. secunda,” CCL 9, p. 104).

These greetings, which show the emotion of the good shepherd when speaking to his flock, is confirmed to a large extent at the end of the letter, in the warm greetings of the father to each and every one of his sons in Vercelli, with expressions overflowing with affection and love.

One must underline above all the explicit relationship that unites the bishop to the “sanctae plebes” [holy people] not only of Vercelli — the first, and for many more years, the only diocese of the Piedmont region — but also of Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, that is to say, those Christian communities within his diocese that had reached a certain consistency and autonomy.

Another interesting element can be found in the farewell of the letter: Eusebius asks his sons and daughters to greet “even those who are outside the Church, and who have deigned to love us:” (etiam hos, qui foris sunt et nos dignantur diligere.) This is an evident sign that the bishop’s relationship with his city was not limited to the Christian population, but also extended to those outside the Church who recognized in a certain sense his spiritual authority, and loved this exemplary man.

The second testimony of the singular relationship the bishop had with his city appears in the letter that St. Ambrose of Milan wrote to the Christians of Vercelli around 394, more than 20 years after Eusebius’ death (“Ep. extra collectionem 14”: Maur. 63).

The Church of Vercelli was going through a difficult time: It was divided and without a bishop. With frankness, Ambrose declared that he couldn’t recognize in them “the descendants of the holy fathers, who elected Eusebius as soon as they saw him, without even having known him beforehand, passing over even their own fellow citizens.” In the same letter, the bishop of Milan clearly bore witness to his esteem for Eusebius: “A great man,” he wrote decisively, who “deserved to be elected by the whole Church.”

Ambrose’s admiration for Eusebius was based above all on the fact that Eusebius governed his diocese with the witness of his own life: “He governed the Church with the austerity of fasting.” In fact, Ambrose himself was fascinated, as he himself admitted, by the monastic ideal of contemplating God, which Eusebius had pursued in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah.

To begin with, Ambrose noted, the bishop of Vercelli gathered his own priests into “vita communis” [community life] and educated them “in the observance of monastic rules, even though they lived in the middle of the city.” The bishop and his priests had to share the problems of their fellow citizens, and they did this credibly by cultivating at the same time a different citizenship, that of heaven (cf. Hebrews 13:14). Thus they truly constructed a genuine citizenship in true solidarity with the citizens of Vercelli.

In this way Eusebius, while he took up the cause of the “sancta plebs” of Vercelli, lived in the midst of the city like a monk, opening his city to God. This trait did not take anything away from his exemplary pastoral dynamism.

Among other things, it seems that he set up parish churches in Vercelli to establish ecclesial services that were organized and stable, and that he promoted Marian shrines for the conversion of pagan rural populations. On the contrary, this “monastic character” gave a particular dimension to the relationship of the bishop with his city. Like the apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, the pastors and the faithful of the Church “are in the world” (John 17:11), but not “of the world.”

Therefore, the pastors, Eusebius reminds us, should exhort the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling, but rather to seek the future city, the definitive Jerusalem in heaven. This “eschatological dimension” allows the pastors and the faithful to protect the hierarchy of just values, without giving into the trend of the moment, or to the unjust demands of political power. The authentic hierarchy of values, Eusebius’ whole life seems to tell us, does not come from the emperors of yesterday or today, but from Jesus Christ, the perfect man, equal to the Father in divinity, but at the same time a man like us.

Referring to this scale of values, Eusebius does not tire of “recommending without reservations” to his faithful to guard, “with every resource, the faith, to maintain harmony, to be assiduous in prayer” (“Ep. secunda,” cit.).

Dear brothers and sisters, I too recommend to you with all my heart these perennial values, and I bless and greet you with the same words St. Eusebius used to conclude his second letter: “I address you all, my brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, the faithful of both sexes and every age, so that … you may bring our greetings even to those who are outside the Church, but who deign to love us” (ibid.).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Eusebius of Vercelli. Eusebius was born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, educated in Rome and eventually elected Bishop of Vercelli. There he founded a priestly community inspired by the early monastic communities of Egypt, and helped to spread the ideal of apostolic holiness throughout northern Italy.

Eusebius tirelessly defended the full divinity of Christ proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea, even at the cost of exile. His example of pastoral zeal greatly influenced many of his contemporaries, including Saints Ambrose and Maximus of Turin. Eusebius’ Letters testify to his closeness to the faithful of Vercelli, as well as his concern for those who were not of the faith. His episcopal ministry was shaped by his commitment to the monastic ideals of contemplation and self-discipline. He thus found the strength to resist every form of external pressure in his faithful service to the Gospel. May his teachings and example inspire us, in all our life and activity, to “make every effort to preserve the faith, to live in harmony and to be constant in the practice of prayer” (cf. Ep. II).

I warmly greet the Immaculate Heart Sisters from Nigeria who celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their foundation. I likewise greet the members of the national pilgrimage of Tanzania. My welcome also goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Norway and to the members of Serra International. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.



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On True Healing

January 28, 2009

On True Healing

“What a Treasure Is Hidden in the Little Phrase ‘Thank You'”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square when he led the praying of the midday Angelus.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

The Gospel from this Sunday presents Jesus curing 10 lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan, and thus a foreigner, returns to give thanks (cf. Luke 17:11-19). The Lord says, “Rise and go on your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

This Gospel passage invites us to a double reflection. Above all, it makes us think of two levels of healing: one that is more superficial, affecting the body; another, more profound, reaching the depths of a person, that which the Bible calls the “heart,” and from there, irradiating to all of existence.

The complete and radical healing is “salvation.” Even in common language, the distinction between “health” and “salvation” helps us to understand that salvation is much more that health. It is, in fact, a new life, full and definitive. Moreover, here, as in other circumstances, Jesus uses the expression, “Your faith has saved you.” Faith saves the human person, re-establishing him in his profound relationship with God, with himself, and with others. And faith is expressed with appreciation. He who, like the healed Samaritan, knows how to give thanks, shows that he does not consider everything as something which is merited, but instead as a gift that, even if it comes through people or through nature, in the end, comes from God. Faith involves, then, the openness of the person to the grace of the Lord; to recognize that all is gift, all is grace. What a treasure is hidden in the little phrase “thank you!”

Jesus cures 10 people sick with leprosy, a sickness in that time considered a “contagious impurity,” which required a rite of purification (cf. Leviticus 14:1-37). In reality, the leprosy that truly disfigures the person and society is sin; pride and egotism give birth in the spirit to indifference, hate and violence. Only God, who is Love, can cure this leprosy of the spirit, which disfigures the face of humanity. Upon opening the heart to God, the converted person is healed interiorly of evil.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel” (cf. Mark 1:15). Jesus made this invitation at the beginning of his public life, and it continues to resound in the Church, to the point that even the Blessed Virgin in her apparitions, especially in recent times, has renewed this call.

Today we think especially of Fatima, where, precisely 90 years ago, from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917, the Virgin appeared to three little shepherds: Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco. Thanks to a television connection, I want to make myself spiritually present in that Marian shrine, where Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state, has in my name presided over the concluding ceremonies of such an important anniversary.

I cordially greet him, and the other cardinals and bishops present, the priests that work in the shrine and the pilgrims who have come from every part of the world for this occasion. We ask the Blessed Virgin for the gift of conversion for all Christians, so that they may announce and give a faithful and coherent witness to the perennial evangelical message, which indicates to humanity the path to an authentic peace.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus. In today’s Gospel our Lord takes pity on the lepers, cleansing them of their infirmities and reminding us all of his desire to heal those who suffer. During your time in Rome may God bless you with the saving power of his peace and love.

[In Italian, the Pope added:]

Serious news of attacks and violence continues to arrive daily from Iraq, shaking the conscience of all people who have the good of that country and the peace of the region at heart. Among this news, I learned today of the kidnapping of two good priests of the Syrian Catholic archdiocese of Mosul, who have been threatened with death. I appeal to the kidnappers to release the two religious immediately and, in underlining once again that violence does not resolve tensions, I raise to the Lord a heartfelt prayer for their liberation, for all those suffering from violence, and for peace.

On Hilary of Poitiers

January 28, 2009

“God Only Knows How to Be Love”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on St. Hilary of Poitiers.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to speak about a great Father of the Western Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of the great bishops of the 4th century. Confronted with the Arians, who considered the Son of God a creature, albeit an excellent one, Hilary dedicated his life to the defense of faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and God as the Father, who generated him from all eternity.

We do not have definitive data about most of Hilary’s life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably around the year 310. From a well-to-do family, he received a good literary education, which is clearly evident in his writings. It does not seem that he was raised in a Christian environment. He himself tells us about a journey of searching for the truth, which little by little led him to the recognition of God the creator and of the incarnate God, who died to give us eternal life. He was baptized around 345, and elected bishop of Poitiers around 353-354. 

In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, the “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.” It is the oldest surviving commentary in Latin that we have on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary, as bishop, attended the Synod of Beziers in southern France, which he called the “Synod of the False Apostles,” given that the assembly was dominated by bishops who were followers of Arianism, and thus negated the divinity of Jesus Christ. These “false apostles” asked Emperor Constantine to condemn to exile the bishop of Poitiers. So Hilary was forced to leave Gaul during the summer of 356.

Exiled to Phrygia, in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious environment totally dominated by Arianism. There, too, his pastoral solicitude led him to work tirelessly for the re-establishment of the Church’s unity, based on the correct faith, as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end, he began writing his most important and most famous dogmatic work: “De Trinitatae” (On the Trinity). 

In it, Hilary talks about his own personal journey toward knowing God, and he is intent on showing that Scriptures clearly attest to the Son’s divinity and his equality with the Father, not only in the New Testament, but also in many pages of the Old Testament, in which the mystery of Christ is already presented. Faced with the Arians, he insists on the truth of the names of the Father and the Son and develops his entire Trinitarian theology departing from the formula of baptism given to us by the Lord himself: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And if some passages of the New Testament could lead one to think that the Son is inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: Some passages in Scripture speak about Jesus as God, others emphasize his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his self lowering (“kenosis”), his lowering himself unto death; and lastly, others contemplate him in the glory of the resurrection. 

During the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the “Book of the Synod,” in which, for his brother bishops of Gaul, he reproduces and comments on the confessions of faith and other documents of the synods which met in the East around the middle of the 4th century. Always firm in his opposition to radical Arians, St. Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity, but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity. 

This also seems characteristic: His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence, to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return from exile to his homeland and immediately resumed the pastoral work in his Church, but the influence of his teaching extended, in fact, well beyond its borders. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 took up again the language used by the Council of Nicea. Some ancient authors think that this anti-Arian development of the bishops of Gaul was due, in large part, to the strength and meekness of the bishop of Poitiers.

This was precisely his gift: uniting strength of faith and meekness in interpersonal relationships. During the last years of his life, he wrote “Treatises on the Psalms,” a commentary on 58 psalms, interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: “There is no doubt that all the things said in the Psalms must be understood according to the Gospel proclamation, so that, independently of the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, everything refers to the knowledge of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnation, passion and kingdom, and the glory and power of our resurrection” (“Instructio Psalmorum,” 5). 

In all of the Psalms, he sees this transparency of Christ’s mystery and of his body, which is the Church. On various occasions, Hilary met with St. Martin: The future bishop of Tours founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 13. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.

To summarize the essential aspects of his doctrine, I would like to say that the starting point for Hilary’s theological reflection is the baptismal faith. In “De Trinitate,” he writes: Jesus “commanded to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19), that is to say, confessing the Author, the Only Begotten One and the Gift. One alone is the author of all things, because there is only one God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made (1 Corinthians 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4), gift in everything. … Nothing can be found lacking in a plenitude that is so grand, in which converges in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the immensity of the Eternal, the revelation in the Image, the joy in the Gift” (“De Trinitatae” 2:1). 

God the Father, being all love, is able to communicate the fullness of his divinity to the Son. I find this phrase of St. Hilary to be particularly beautiful: “God only knows how to be love, only knows how to be Father. And he who loves is not envious, and whoever is Father, is so totally. This name does not allow for compromise, as if to say that God is father only in certain aspects and not in others” (ibid. 9:61).

For this reason, the Son is fully God without lacking anything or having any lessening: “He who comes from the perfect is perfect, because he who has everything, has given him everything” (ibid. 2:8). Only in Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, does humanity find salvation. Taking on human nature, he united every man to himself, “he became our flesh” (“Tractatus in Psalmos” 54:9); “he took on the nature of all flesh, thus becoming the true vine, the root of all branches” (ibid. 51:16). 

Precisely because of this motive, the path to Christ is open to all — because he drew everyone into his humanity — even though personal conversion is always required: “Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to everyone, provided that they leave aside the old man (cf. Ephesians 4:22) and nail him to his cross (cf. Colossians 2:14); provided they abandon their former works and are converted, in order to be buried with him in baptism, in view of life (cf. Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:4)” (ibid. 91:9).

Faithfulness to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore St. Hilary asks, at the end of his treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain faithful to the faith of baptism. One of the characteristics of this book is this: Reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer leads to reflection. The entire book is a dialogue with God. 

I would like to end today’s catechesis with one of these prayers, that also becomes our prayer: “Grant, O Lord,” Hilary prays in a moment of inspiration, “that I may remain faithful to that which I professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That I may adore you, our Father, and together with you, your Son; that I may be worthy of your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your only Son. … Amen” (“De Trinitatae” 12:57).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The subject of today’s catechesis is Saint Hilary of Poitiers. He was born around the year 310, baptized when he was about thirty-five, and became Bishop of Poitiers some eight years later. In opposition to the Arians, who believed Jesus was a created being, Hilary dedicated his life to defending our faith in the divinity of Christ. While exiled to Frigia, because of the stance he took against the Arians at the Synod of Béziers, he began his most important work, De Trinitate. In this text he demonstrates how both the old and new testaments clearly attest the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father with whom he shares one nature. In his De Synodis Hilary maintained a conciliatory spirit with those who used deficient theological formulations, while leading them to accept fully the Nicean creed. In 360 he returned home, took up his pastoral duties, and continued to write. The influence of his teaching spread and many were strengthened in their resistance to Arian thought, realising that Christ is our Saviour precisely because he is true God and true man. Fundamental to Hilary’s insight was the importance of our Trinitarian baptismal faith. Let us join him in praying to the Lord that we remain faithful to this confession, and always bear joyful witness to our baptismal call!

I welcome all the English speaking visitors present today, including members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, participants in the Nato Defence College Senior Course, and the student groups from Scotland and Denmark May your time in Rome be one of spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.



Month of the Rosary

January 27, 2009

Month of the Rosary

“A Means for Contemplating Jesus”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square when he led the praying of the midday Angelus.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This first Sunday of October offers us two reasons for prayer and reflection: the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is today, and the commitment to missions, to which this month is dedicated in a special way. 

The traditional image of the Madonna of the Rosary depicts Mary holding the child Jesus in her arm and giving the rosary to St. Dominic. This significant iconography shows that the rosary is a means given by the Virgin for contemplating Jesus and, meditating on his life, for loving and following him always more faithfully. 

This is something that Mary has also offered in various apparitions. I am thinking especially of her appearance at Fatima that took place 90 years ago. To the three little shepherds, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, presenting herself as “the Madonna of the Rosary,” she insistently recommended praying the rosary every day to bring an end to the war. 

We also desire to welcome the Virgin’s maternal request, committing ourselves to saying the rosary with faith for peace in our families, in countries, and in the whole world.

In any case, we know that peace spreads where men and institutions are open to the Gospel. The month of October helps us to recall this fundamental truth through a mobilization that seeks to promote an authentic missionary drive in each community, and to support the work of priests, religious and laypeople who work on the Church’s mission frontiers.

With special care we prepare to celebrate, on Oct. 21, the World Mission Day, which will have as its theme “All the Churches for All the World.” 

The proclamation of the Gospel remains the primary service that the Church owes to humanity, to offer the salvation of Christ to the man of our time, who is in many ways humiliated and oppressed, and to orientate in a Christian way cultural, social, and ethical transformations that are unfolding in the world. 

This year we are moved toward a renewal of missionary commitment for still another reason: the 50th anniversary of the encyclical “Fidei Donum” of the Servant of God Pius XII, which promoted and encouraged cooperation among the Churches for the mission “ad gentes.”

With pleasure I recall also that 150 years ago five priests and a layman of the Institute of Don Mazza in Verona departed for Africa, for present-day Sudan. Among them was St. Daniel Comboni, future bishop of central Africa and patron of the people of that region, whose liturgical memorial is Oct. 10.

We entrust all missionaries to the intercession of these pioneers of the Gospel and to the many other canonized and beatified missionaries, and especially to the maternal protection of the Queen of the Holy Rosary. 

O Mary, help us to remember that every Christian is called to be a proclaimer of the Gospel by his word and by his life.

I extend heartfelt greetings to the English-speaking visitors here today. In this month of October, dedicated to the holy rosary, we ponder with Mary the mysteries of our salvation, and we ask the Lord to help us grow in our understanding of the marvelous things he has done for us. 

May God fill you with his love and may he grant you and all those dear to you his blessings of joy and peace.

On St. Cyril of Alexandria

January 27, 2009

“An Untiring and Firm Witness of Jesus Christ”

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on St. Cyril of Alexandria.

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dsc00789Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, continuing our journey in the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, we meet a great figure: St. Cyril of Alexandria. Linked to the Christological controversy that led to the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the last noteworthy representative of the Alexandrian tradition, Cyril was later defined in the East as the “custodian of accuracy” — in other words, a guardian of the true faith — and even the “seal of all the Fathers.”

These ancient expressions manifest something that is, in fact, characteristic of Cyril, that is, the constant references the bishop of Alexandria makes to preceding ecclesiastical authorities — including, above all, Athanasius — with the goal of showing the continuity of his own theology with tradition.

Cyril took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church, by which he sees the guarantee of continuity with the Apostles and with Christ himself.

Venerated as a saint in both the East and the West, in 1882 St. Cyril was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII, who at that time also gave the same title to another important representative of Greek patristics, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This shows that Pope’s attention and love for the Eastern Christian traditions; he would later proclaim St. John Damascene a doctor of the Church, showing how the Eastern and Western traditions express the doctrine of the one Church of Christ.

Information on the life of Cyril before his election to the important See of Alexandria is scarce. A nephew of Theophilus — who, as bishop from 385, upheld the Diocese of Alexandria with resolve and prestige — Cyril was most likely born in that same Egyptian city sometime between 370-380. He soon embraced the ecclesiastical life and received a good education, both in culture and theology. In 403, he was in Constantinople following his powerful uncle and, here, he participated in the so-called Synod of the Oak, which deposed the city’s bishop — John, later called Chrysostom. This indicated the triumph of the Alexandrian See over its traditional rival, the See of Constantinople, where the emperor resided.

Upon the death of his uncle Theophilus, though still young, Cyril was elected bishop of the influential Church of Alexandria in 412, which he governed with great energy for 32 years, working tirelessly to affirm its primacy in the East, strengthened by its traditional bonds with Rome.

Two or three years later, in 417 or 418, the bishop of Alexandria showed himself to be a realist and healed the rift in the communion with Constantinople, which had been going on since 406, in the wake of Chrysostom’s removal from office.

But the old conflict with the See of Constantinople was rekindled some 10 years later, when Nestorius was elected in 428, a prestigious but severe monk, educated in Antioch. The new bishop of Constantinople quickly brought much opposition because he preferred the title “Mother of Christ” (Christotòkos) for Mary, in place of “Mother of God” (Theotòkos), which was already beloved in popular devotion.

The reason for Bishop Nestorius’ choice was his adhesion to the Christology of the Antiochean tradition, which, to safeguard the importance of Christ’s humanity, ended up affirming its separation from his divinity. Thus, there was no longer an authentic union between God and the man Christ, and therefore, one could no longer speak of a “Mother of God.”

Cyril — the leading exponent of Alexandrian Christology at the time, one who emphatically underlined the unity of Christ’s person — reacted almost immediately, using every means possible beginning in 429, even writing letters to Nestorius himself.

In the second letter (PG 77, 44-49) which Cyril sent to him, in February 430, we read a clear affirmation of the pastor’s task to preserve the faith of God’s people. This was his criterion, which is still valid today: The faith of God’s people is an expression of tradition, a guarantee of sound doctrine. He wrote to Nestorius: “It is necessary to explain the teaching and interpretation of the faith to the people in an irreproachable way, and recall that he who scandalizes even one of these little ones who believes in Christ will suffer an intolerable punishment.”

In the same letter to Nestorius — which later, in 451, would be approved by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon — Cyril describes his Christological faith with clarity: “The natures that have united in a true unity are different, but from both resulted one Christ and Son, not because, due to the unity, the differences of the human and divine natures have been eliminated, but rather because humanity and divinity united in an ineffable way have produced the one Lord, Christ, the Son of God.”

And this is important: The true humanity and the true divinity are really united in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, continues the bishop of Alexandria, “we profess only one Christ and Lord, not in the sense that we adore the man together with the Logos, so as not to insinuate the idea of separation by saying ‘together,’ but rather in the sense that we adore only one; his body is not something detached from the Logos, who sits at the Father’s side. There are not two sons sitting at his side, but one alone united with his own flesh.”

Soon the bishop of Alexandria, thanks to shrewd alliances, saw to it that Nestorius was repeatedly condemned: by the Roman See with a series of 12 anathemas Cyril himself composed and, in the end, by the council held in Ephesus in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council.

The assembly, which took place amid tumultuous and alternating incidents, concluded with the great triumph of devotion to Mary and with the exile of the bishop of Constantinople, who refused to recognize Mary under the title of “Mother of God,” because of a mistaken Christology, which claimed that Christ was divided in himself.

After prevailing in such a definitive way over his rival and his doctrine, Cyril was able to reach, as soon as 433, a theological formula of compromise and reconciliation with the people of Antioch. And this is also significant: On one hand there is clarity about the doctrine of faith, but on the other, there is the intense search for unity and reconciliation. In the years that followed, he dedicated himself in every way to defend and clarify his theological position until his death on June 27, 444.

Cyril’s writings — numerous and widespread in various Latin and Eastern traditions even during his life, which is a testament to their immediate success — are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the books of the Old and New Testaments, including the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke, are important. Many of his doctrinal works are also greatly important, in which he continually defends the Trinitarian faith against the Arian theses and Nestorius.

The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition, and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great predecessor in the Alexandrian See. Among Cyril’s other writings, we must recall the books “Against Julian,” the last great answer to anti-Christian polemics, dictated by the bishop of Alexandria most likely during the last years of his life as a response to “Against the Galileans,” written many years before, in 363, by the emperor who was called an apostate for having abandoned the Christianity in which he had been educated.

The Christian faith is above all a meeting with Jesus, “a person who gives life a new horizon” (encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 1). St. Cyril of Alexandria was an untiring and firm witness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, emphasizing his unity above all, as he repeats in his first letter in 433 to Bishop Succens: “One alone is the Son, one alone is the Lord Jesus Christ, before the incarnation and after the incarnation. In fact, it is not a question of a Son, the Logos, born of God the Father, and another, born of the holy Virgin; but we believe that he who is before all time was born according to the flesh of a woman.”

This affirmation, beyond its doctrinal significance, shows that faith in Jesus, the “Logos,” born of the Father, is also deeply rooted in history because, as St. Cyril says, this same Jesus came in time by being born of Mary, the “Theotòkos,” and will be, according to his promise, with us always. And this is important: God is eternal, he was born of a woman and remains with us every day. We live in this trust, in this trust we find the path of our life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The subject of today’s catechesis is Saint Cyril of Alexandria, known as the “pillar of faith” and the “seal of all the Fathers”. He was born somewhere between 370 and 380, and at a young age became Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was a zealous defender of the faith. He took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church by referring to preceding ecclesiastical authorities, especially Athanasius. Through a series of letters countering the position of Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. He was also of utmost influence at the Council of Ephesus, supporting the recognition of the Virgin Mary as the “Mother of God”. This led to the deposition of Nestorius as Bishop of Constantinople. Saint Cyril, a prolific writer whose works were read throughout the Church, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882. May our remembrance of this outstanding figure in the history of Christianity remind us that the centre of our faith is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who gives each one of us a new horizon and a decisive direction!

I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from Australia, Denmark, Scotland and the United States. In a special way I greet the Maryknoll Missionaries, the priests from the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston, the students from the Pontifical Beda College and Deacon Candidates from the Pontifical North American College. May God continue to strengthen you as you strive to serve his people. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.