Posts Tagged ‘Church’

On Our Lord’s Prayer at the Last Supper

January 24, 2012
“When Trial Comes Upon the Disciples, Jesus’ Prayer Sustains Their Weakness”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope continued with his catecheses on prayer, reflecting today on Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

On our journey of reflection on the prayer of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, I would like to meditate today on the particularly solemn moment of His prayer at the Last Supper.

The temporal and emotional backdrop to the banquet in which Jesus takes leave of His friends is the imminence of His death, which He feels already to be near at hand. For a long time, Jesus had spoken about His Passion and had sought to increasingly draw His disciples into this perspective. The Gospel according to Mark states that from the time of their departure on the journey to Jerusalem — in the villages of the far-off Caesarea Philippi — Jesus had begun “to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Moreover, on the very day He was preparing to bid the disciples farewell, the life of the people of Israel was marked by the approaching feast of Passover; i.e. of the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. This liberation — experienced in the past, and awaited anew in the present and for the future — was relived in the family celebrations of the Passover.

The Last Supper takes place within this context, but with a fundamental newness. Jesus looks to His Passion, Death and Resurrection fully aware of them. He wills to experience this Supper with His disciples, but with a wholly unique character, different from all other banquets: It is His Supper, in which He gives Something totally new: Himself. Thus it is that Jesus celebrates His Passover and anticipates His Cross and Resurrection.

This newness is emphasized for us by the chronology of the Last Supper account in John’s Gospel, which does not describe it as the Passover meal precisely because Jesus intends to inaugurate something new, to celebrate His Passover — certainly linked to the events of the Exodus. And for John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when, in the temple of Jerusalem, the Passover lambs were being immolated.

What, then, is the heart of this Supper? The actions of the breaking of bread, of distributing it to those who are His own, and of sharing the chalice of wine — with the words that accompany them and within the context of prayer in which they occur: It is the institution of the Eucharist; it is the great prayer of Jesus and the Church. But let us look more closely at this moment.

First of all, the New Testament tradition of the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Luke 22:14-20; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29), pointing to the prayer that introduces the actions and words of Jesus over the bread and wine, uses two parallel and complementary words. Paul and Luke speak of eucharistía/thanksgiving: “He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19). Mark and Matthew, on the other hand, emphasize the aspect of eulogia/blessing: “He took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (Mark 14:22). Both of the Greek words eucaristeìn and eulogein indicate the Jewish berakah; that is, the Jewish tradition’s great prayer of thanksgiving that inaugurated the major feasts.

The two different Greek words indicate the two intrinsic and complementary directions of this prayer. The berakah, in fact, is first and foremost thanksgiving and praise that ascends to God for the gift received: In Jesus’ Last Supper, it is bread made from the wheat that God brings forth from the earth, and wine produced from the mature fruit of the vine. This prayer of praise and thanksgiving raised to God returns as a blessing that descends from God on the gift and enriches it. Thus, thanksgiving and praise of God become blessing, and the offering given to God returns to man blessed by the Almighty. The words of the institution of the Eucharist belong within this context of prayer; in them, the praise and blessing of theberakah become the blessing and transformation of the bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Before the words of institution come the actions: the breaking of bread and the offering of wine. The breaking of bread and the passing of the chalice is in the first instance the function of the head of the family, who welcomes the members of his family to his meal; but these are also gestures of hospitality, of welcoming the stranger who is not part of the household to table fellowship and communion. These very gestures, in the meal with which Jesus takes leave of those who are his own, acquire an entirely new depth: He gives a visible sign of welcome to the meal in which God gives Himself. Jesus offers and communicates Himself in the form of bread and wine.

But how can this be? How can Jesus, in that moment, give Himself? Jesus knows that His life is about to be taken from Him through the torture of the Cross, the death penalty of men who are not free, what Cicero defined as the mors turpissima crucis — [the most shameful death of the cross]. With the gift of the bread and wine that He offers at the Last Supper, Jesus anticipates His Death and Resurrection by bringing to fulfillment what he had said in the Good Shepherd discourse: “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He therefore offers in anticipation the life that will be taken from Him, and in this way He transforms His violent death into a free act of self-giving for others and to others. The violence suffered is transformed into an active, free and redemptive sacrifice.

Once again, in prayer — begun in accordance with the ritual forms of the biblical tradition — Jesus reveals His identity and His determination to accomplish unto the end His mission of total love, of offering in obedience to the Father’s Will. The profound originality of His gift of Himself to those who are His own through the memorial of the Eucharist is the summit of the prayer that marks the farewell supper with His disciples.

In contemplating Jesus’ actions and words on that night, we see clearly that His intimate and constant relationship with the Father is the locus where He accomplishes the act of leaving to His disciples, and to each one of us, the Sacrament of love, the “Sacramentum caritatis”. Twice in the Cenacle do the words resound: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). He celebrates His Passover by giving Himself, by becoming the true Lamb that brings to fulfillment the whole of ancient worship. For this reason St. Paul, speaking to the Christians in Corinth, affirms: “Christ, our paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The Evangelist Luke has preserved another precious element of the events of the Last Supper that allows us to see the moving depth of Jesus’ prayer on that night for those who are His own, His attentiveness to each one. Beginning with the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing, Jesus comes to the Eucharistic gift — the gift of Himself — and as He bestows the decisive sacramental reality, he turns to Peter.  At the end of the supper, He says to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

When trial comes upon the disciples, Jesus’ prayer sustains their weakness, their struggle to comprehend that God’s way passes through the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection, anticipated in the offering of the bread and wine. The Eucharist is the food of pilgrims that becomes strength also for whoever is tired, exhausted and disoriented. And the prayer is especially for Peter, so that once converted, he might confirm his brothers in faith. The Evangelist Luke records that it was Jesus’ gaze that sought out Peter’s face at the very moment he consummated his triple denial, in order to give him the strength to continue on his journey after Him: “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and fixed his gaze upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word that the Lord had spoken to him” (Luke 22:60-61).

Dear brothers and sisters, in participating in the Eucharist we experience in an extraordinary way the prayer that Jesus offered, and continually offers, for each one of us in order that evil — which we all encounter in life — may not have the power to overcome us, and so that the transforming power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection may act in us. In the Eucharist, the Church responds to Jesus’ command: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26); she repeats the prayer of thanksgiving and blessing and, with this, the words of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Our celebrations of the Eucharist are a being drawn into that moment of prayer, a uniting ourselves again and again to Jesus’ prayer. From her earliest days, the Church has understood the words of consecration as part of her praying together with Jesus; as a central part of the praise filled with thanksgiving through which the fruit of the earth and of men’s hands are given to us anew by God in the form of Jesus’ Body and Blood, as God’s gift of Himself in His Son’s self-emptying love (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, II, pg. 128). In participating in the Eucharist, in nourishing ourselves on the Flesh and Blood of the Son of God, we unite our prayer to that of the paschal Lamb on His last night, so that our lives might not be lost, despite our weakness and infidelity, but might be transformed.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord that, after having worthily prepared ourselves, also through the Sacrament of Penance, our participation in His Eucharist, which is indispensible for Christian life, might always be the summit of our prayer. Let us ask that, by being united deeply to His own offering to the Father, we too may transform our crosses into a free and responsible sacrifice of love to God and to our brothers and sisters. Thank you.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, when our Lord instituted the Eucharist, the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Jesus’ gift of himself anticipates his sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious Resurrection. The Eucharist is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of his Church. At the Last Supper, with its overtones of the Passover and the commemoration of Israel’s liberation, Jesus’ prayer echoes the Hebrew berakah, which includes both thanksgiving and the gift of a blessing. His act of breaking the bread and offering the cup on the night before he died becomes the sign of his redemptive self-oblation in obedience to the Father’s will: he thus appears as the true paschal lamb who brings the ancient worship to fulfilment. Jesus’ prayer also invokes strength for his disciples, especially Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-32). May our celebration of the Eucharist, in obedience to Christ’s command, unite us more deeply to his prayer at the Last Supper and enable us, in union with him, to offer our lives ever more fully in sacrifice to the Father.

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I greet the many school groups from the United States present at today’s Audience, including the deacons from Saint Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota. My greeting also goes to the students of Carmel College in New Zealand. I welcome the participants in the Interfaith Journey from Canada. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and their families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Lastly, an affectionate thought goes to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday, offers us the opportunity to recall our own baptism. Dear young people, may you joyfully live out your belonging to the Church, which is the family of Jesus. Dear sick, may the grace of baptism alleviate your sufferings and move you to offer them to Christ for the salvation of mankind. And may you, dear newlyweds, who have now begun your married life together, establish your marriage upon faith, received as a gift on the day of your baptism.

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On Peace, Missions and Justice

March 15, 2009

On Peace, Missions and Justice

“A Strong Effort Is Required By All”

NAPLES, Italy, OCT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today after celebrating Mass in Naples, and before leading the recitation of the midday Angelus. The Pope was in Naples to open the 21st International Encounter of Peoples and Religions.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the end of this solemn celebration, I would like to renew, my dear friends of Naples, my greeting to you and my thanks for the cordial reception that you gave me. I address a particular greeting to the delegations that have come from various parts of the world to participate in the International Meeting for Peace sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The theme of this meeting is “Toward a World Without Violence: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.” May this important cultural and religious initiative contribute to consolidating peace in the world.
Let us pray for this. But let us also pray today in a special way for missionaries. Today, in fact, we celebrate World Mission Sunday, which has a very significant motto: “All the Churches For All the World.” Every particular Church is responsible for the evangelization of all of humanity, and this cooperation among the Churches was augmented by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago with the encyclical “Fidei Donum.” Let us not fail to give our spiritual and material support to those who work on the frontlines of the missions: priests, religious and lay people, who often encounter grave difficulties in their work, and even persecutions.

Let us give these prayer intentions to Mary Most Holy, who, in the month of October we love to invoke with the title with which she is venerated at the shrine of Pompeii, not far from here: Queen of the Rosary. To her we entrust the many pilgrims who have traveled from Caserta.

May the Holy Virgin also protect those who in various ways commit themselves to the common good and the just order of society, as has been highlighted rather well during the 45th Social Week of Italian Catholics. The event is being held in these days in Pistoia and Pisa, 100 years after the first such Week, promoted above all by Giuseppe Toniolo, an illustrious figure among Christian economists.

There are many problems and challenges that we face today. A strong effort is required by all, especially lay faithful working in social and political spheres, to assure that every person, in particular the youth, be assured the indispensable conditions for developing their natural talents and cultivating the generous choices of service to their families and the entire community.



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.



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.

On St. Gregory of Nyssa

October 13, 2008

“A Pillar of Orthodoxy”

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 29, 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. Gregory of Nyssa.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the last few catecheses I spoke about two great doctors of the Church of the fourth century, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. Today we add a third, Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who showed himself to be a man of meditative character, with a great capacity for reflection, and a vivacious intellect, open to the culture of his time. He showed himself in this way to be an original and deep thinker in Christian history.

Born in 335, his Christian formation was carried out largely by his brother Basil — whom he defined as “father and teacher” (Ep 13,4: SC 363, 198) — and by his sister Macrina. He completed his studies, with a particular appreciation for philosophy and rhetoric. At the beginning, he dedicated himself to teaching and got married. Then he too, like his brother and sister, dedicated himself entirely to the aesthetic life. Later he was elected bishop of Nyssa, and showed himself to be a zealous pastor, earning the esteem of the community. Accused of economic embezzlements by heretical adversaries, he had to abandon his episcopal see for a brief time, but then made a triumphant return (cf. Ep. 6: SC 363, 164-170), and continued to commit himself to the defense of the true faith.

Especially after Basil’s death, almost garnering his spiritual legacy, Gregory cooperated in the triumph of orthodoxy. He participated in various synods; he tried to settle divisions between the Churches; he took an active part in the Church’s reorganization; and, as “a pillar of orthodoxy,” he was a protagonist at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He received various official appointments from Emperor Theodosius, he gave important homilies and eulogies, and dedicated himself to writing various theological works. In 394, he participated yet again in a synod held in Constantinople. The date of his death is unknown.

Gregory expresses with clarity the scope of his studies, the supreme goal for which he aims in his theological work: to not engage one’s life in vane pursuits, but to find the light that enables one to discern that which is truly useful (cf. “In Ecclesiasten Hom” 1: SC 416, 106-146).

He found this supreme good in Christianity, thanks to which “imitation of the divine nature” is possible (“De Professione Christiana”: PG 46, 244C). With his acute intelligence and his vast knowledge of philosophy and theology, he defended the Christian faith against heretics, who negated the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit (like Eunomios and the Macedonians), or negated Christ’s perfect humanity (like Apollinaris).

He commented on sacred Scripture, concentrating on the creation of man. For him the essential theme was creation. He saw the reflection of the Creator in the creature and therein found the path to God. But he also wrote an important book on the life of Moses, which shows him as a man on the path toward God. This hill leading to Mt. Sinai becomes for him an image of our own hill in human life toward true life, toward the meeting with God. He also interpreted the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, and the beatitudes. In his “Great Catechetical Discourse” (“Oratio Catechetica Magna”) he laid out the fundamental points of theology, not for an academic theology closed in on itself, but to offer catechists a system of reference to keep in mind in their teaching, a sort of framework within which a pedagogic interpretation of the faith could move.

Gregory is also outstanding because of his spiritual doctrine. His theology was not an academic reflection, but an expression of a spiritual life, of a lived life of faith. His reputation as a “father of mysticism” can be seen in various treatises — like “De Professione Christiana” and “De Perfectione Christiana” — the path that Christians must take to reach true life, perfection. He exalted consecrated virginity (“De Virginitate”), and likewise offered his sister Macrina as an outstanding model of life, who remained a guide for him always, an example (cf. “Vita Macrinae”).

He gave various discourses and homilies, and wrote numerous letters. In commenting on the creation of man, Gregory highlights the fact that God, “the best artist, forges our nature so as to make it suitable for the exercise of royalty. Through the superiority given by the soul, and through the very make-up of the body, he arranges things in such a way that man is truly fit for regal power” (“De Hominis Opificio” 4: PG 44, 136B).

But we see how man, in the web of sins, often abusive of creation, does not act in a regal fashion. For this reason, in fact, in order to obtain true responsibility toward creatures, he must be penetrated by God and live in his light. Man is a reflection of that original beauty which is God: “Everything created by God was very good,” writes the holy bishop.

And he adds: “The story of creation witnesses to it (cf. Genesis 1:31). Man was also listed among those very good things, adorned with a beauty far superior to all of the good things. In fact, what else could be good, on par with one who was similar to pure and incorruptible beauty? … Reflection and image of eternal life, he was truly good, no he was very good, with the shining sign of life on his face” (“Homilia in Canticum” 12: PG 44, 1020C).

Man was honored by God and placed above every other creature: “The sky was not made in God’s image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things that appear in creation. Only you (human soul) were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of the true light, that when you look upon it you become that which he his, because through the reflected ray coming from your purity you imitate he who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness” (“Homilia in Canticum” 2: PG 44,805D).

Let us meditate on this praise of man. We see how man has been debased by sin. And let us try to return to that original greatness: Only if God is present will man arrive at this his true greatness.

Man, therefore, recognized within him the reflection of the divine light. Purifying his heart, he returns to being, as he was in the beginning, a clear image of God, beauty itself (cf. “Oratio Catechetica” 6: SC 453, 174). In this way man, purifying himself, can see God, as do the pure in heart (cf. Matthew 5:8): “If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you will wash away the bad things that have deposited upon your heart, the divine beauty will shine in you. … Contemplating yourself, you will see within you he who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed” (“De Beatitudinibus,” 6: PG 44,1272AB). Therefore, one must wash away the bad things that have deposited upon our heart and find again God’s light within us.

Man has as his end the contemplation of God. Only in him can he find his fulfillment. To somehow anticipate this objective already in this life, he must work incessantly toward a spiritual life, a life in dialogue with God. In other words — and this is the most important lesson that St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us — man’s total fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived with God, that, in this way, becomes luminous for others and for the world.

[The Pope made an appeal for regions affected by recent disasters:]

In the last few days, some geographical regions have been devastated by severe calamities: I am referring to the floods in some Eastern countries, as well as the disastrous fires in Greece, Italy and other European nations. Faced with such drastic emergencies, which have resulted in numerous victims and enormous material damages, one cannot help but be worried about the irresponsible behavior of some individuals who put the safety of others at risk and destroy the environmental heritage, a precious good for all of humanity. I unite myself to all those who rightly stigmatize these criminal actions and I invite everyone to pray for the victims of these tragedies.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After the audience, the Holy Father addressed the audience in various languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the younger brother and spiritual heir of Saint Basil. Gregory’s outstanding education and intellectual gifts led him first to teaching. He then embraced the ascetic life, and eventually was ordained Bishop of Nyssa. Like the other Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory contributed greatly to defence of the faith in the period following the Council of Nicaea, and played a leading role at the Council of Constantinople, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. For Gregory, the purpose of all learning and culture is the discernment of the supreme human good, the truth that enables us to find authentic and lasting fulfilment. This supreme good is found in Christianity. In his many catechetical, spiritual and exegetical writings, Gregory emphasizes our creation in the image of God, our royal vocation as stewards of the created order, and our responsibility to cultivate our inner beauty, which is a participation in the uncreated beauty of the Creator. By purifying our hearts and progressing in holiness, we are drawn to the vision of God and thus to the satisfaction of the deepest longings of every human heart.