Posts Tagged ‘council’

On the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

January 23, 2012
“The Unity for Which We Pray Requires Interior Conversion, Both Communal and Personal”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 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 reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins today.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for more than a century has been celebrated by Christians of all Churches and ecclesial Communities, in order to invoke that extraordinary gift for which the Lord Jesus Himself prayed during the Last Supper, before His Passion: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). The practice of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was introduced in 1908 by Father Paul Wattson, founder of an Anglican religious community that subsequently entered the Catholic Church. The initiative received the blessing of Pope St. Pius X and was then promoted by Pope Benedict XV, who encouraged its celebration throughout the Church with the Brief, Romanorum Pontificum, promulgated Feb. 25, 1916.

The octave of prayer was developed and perfected in the 1930s by Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon, who promoted prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wills, and in accordance with the instruments He wills.” In his later writings, Abbé Couturier sees this Week as a way of allowing the prayer of Christ to “enter into and penetrate the entire Christian Body”; it must grow until it becomes “an immense, unanimous cry of the whole People of God” who ask God for this great gift. And it is precisely during the Week of Christian Unity that the impetus given by the Second Vatican Council toward seeking full communion among all of Christ’s disciples each year finds one of its most forceful expressions. This spiritual gathering, which unites Christians of all traditions, increases our awareness of the fact that the unity to which we tend will not be the result of our efforts alone, but will rather be a gift received from above, a gift for which we must constantly pray.

Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon

Each year, the booklets for the Week of Prayer are prepared by an ecumenical group from a different region of the world. I would like to pause to consider this point. This year, the texts were proposed by a mixed group comprised of representatives of the Catholic Church and of the Polish Ecumenical Council, which includes the country’s various Churches and ecclesial Communities. The documentation was then reviewed by a committee made up of members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of the Faith and Order Commission of the Council of Churches.  This work, carried out together in two stages, is also a sign of the desire for unity that animates Christians, and of the awareness that prayer is the primary way of attaining full communion, since it is in being united with the Lord that we move toward unity.

The theme of the Week this year — as we heard — is taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “We Will All Be Changed By the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ” — His victory will transform us. And this theme was suggested by the large ecumenical Polish group I just mentioned, which — in reflecting on their own experience as a nation — wanted to underscore how strong a support the Christian faith is in the midst of trial and upheaval, like those that have characterized Poland’s history. After ample discussion, a theme was chosen that focuses on the transforming power of faith in Christ, particularly in light of the importance it has for our prayer for the visible unity of Christ’s Body, the Church. This reflection was inspired by the words of St. Paul who, addressing himself to the Church of Corinth, speaks about the perishable nature of what belongs to our present life — which is also marked by the experience of the “defeat” that comes from sin and death — compared to what brings us Christ’s victory over sin and death in His paschal mystery.

The particular history of the Polish nation, which knew times of democratic coexistence and of religious liberty — as in the 16th century — has been marked in recent centuries by invasions and defeat, but also by the constant struggle against oppression and by the thirst for freedom. All of this led the ecumenical group to reflect more deeply on the true meaning of “victory” — what victory is — and “defeat.” Compared with “victory” understood in triumphalistic terms, Christ suggests to us a very different path that does not pass by way of force and power. In fact, He affirms: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, through mutual service, help, new hope and concrete comfort given to the least, to the forgotten, to those who are rejected. For all Christians, the highest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself — the total gift He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death on the Cross, which shines resplendent in the light of Easter morning.

We can take part in this transforming “victory” if we allow ourselves to be transformed by God — but only if we work for the conversion of our lives, and if this transformation leads to conversion. This is the reason why the Polish ecumenical group considered particularly fitting for their own reflection the words of St. Paul: “We will all be changed by the victory of Christ, Our Lord” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

The full and visible unity of Christians for which we long demands that we allow ourselves to be ever more perfectly transformed and conformed to the image of Christ. The unity for which we pray requires interior conversion, both communal and personal. It is not simply a matter of kindness and cooperation; above all, we must strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who has spoken to us and who made Himself one of us; we must enter into new life in Christ, which is our true and definitive victory; we must open ourselves to one another, cultivating all the elements of that unity that God has preserved for us and gives to us ever anew; we must feel the urgency of bearing witness before the men of our times to the living God, who made Himself known in Christ.

The Second Vatican Council put the ecumenical pursuit at the center of the Church’s life and work: “The Sacred Council exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism” (Unitatis redintegratio, 4). Blessed John Paul II stressed the essential nature of this commitment, saying: “This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community (Ut unum sint, 9). The ecumenical task is therefore a responsibility of the whole Church and of all the baptized, who must make the partial, already existing communion between Christians grow into full communion in truth and charity. Therefore, prayer for unity is not limited to this Week of Prayer but rather must become an integral part of our prayer, of the life of prayer of all Christians, in every place and in every time, especially when people of different traditions meet and work together for the victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice, and that violates human dignity.

From the time the modern ecumenical movement was born over a century ago, there has always been a clear recognition of the fact that the lack of unity among Christians prevents the Gospel from being proclaimed more effectively, because it jeopardizes our credibility. How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided? Certainly, as regards the fundamental truths of the faith, much more unites us than divides us. But divisions remain, and they concern even various practical and ethical questions — causing confusion and distrust, and weakening our ability to hand on Christ’s saving Word. In this regard, we do well to remember the words of Blessed John Paul II, who in the Encyclical Ut unum sint, speaks of the damage caused to Christian witness and to the proclamation of the Gospel by the lack of unity (cf. no. 98,99). This is a great challenge for the new evangelization, which can be more fruitful if all Christians together announce the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give a common response to the spiritual thirst of our times.

The Church’s journey, like that of all peoples, is in the hands of the Risen Christ, who is victorious over the death and injustice that He bore and suffered on behalf of all mankind. He makes us sharers in His victory. Only He is capable of transforming us and changing us — from being weak and hesitant — to being strong and courageous in working for good. Only He can save us from the negative consequences of our divisions. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite everyone to be more intensely united in prayer during this Week for Unity, so that common witness, solidarity and collaboration may grow among Christians, as we await the glorious day when together we may profess the faith handed down by the Apostles, and together celebrate the Sacraments of our transformation in Christ. Thank you.

[In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which begins today invites all the Lord’s followers to implore the gift of unity. This year’s theme – We Will All Be Changed By The Victory Of Our Lord Jesus Christ – was chosen by representatives of the Catholic Church and the Polish Ecumenical Council. Poland’s experience of oppression and persecution prompts a deeper reflection on the meaning of Christ’s victory over sin and death, a victory in which we share through faith. By his teaching, his example and his paschal mystery, the Lord has shown us the way to a victory obtained not by power, but by love and concern for those in need. Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity. During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel. In this way we will contribute to the new evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.

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I offer a cordial welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. My special greeting goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Finland. I also greet the group of sailors and marines from the United States. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Dear brothers and sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to all Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet priests belonging to the Focolare Movement, and I hope that these days of study help you to persevere in the generous following of Christ and in the joyous witness of the Gospel. I greet the students from the diocese of Caserta who are accompanied by their Bishop Pietro Farina: may this meeting strengthen the faith and commitment to Christian life in each one of you. I warmly greet the young patients of the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment of Milan, and I assure you of my fervent prayers that the Lord may sustain each of you by His grace.  I greet the large representation of the Bar of Rome and, while I thank them for their presence, I wish to encourage them to carry out their delicate profession by always remaining faithful to the truth, the fundamental prerequisite for the implementation of justice.

I also offer a cordial greeting to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. I invite you, dear young people, always to witness generously to your faith in Christ, who illumines the journey of life. May faith be a constant comfort in suffering to you, dear sick. And may the light of Christ be for you, dear newlyweds, an effective guide in your family life.

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 Jerusalem

August 20, 2008

“His Catechesis Spans God’s Entire Plan of Salvation”

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

He was ordained a priest by Bishop Maximus. When Maximus died and was buried, in 348, Cyril was ordained a bishop by Acacius, the influential metropolitan of Caesarea in Palestine, a follower of Arius who was convinced he had an ally in Cyril. Hence, Cyril was suspected to have received the episcopal nomination through concessions given to Arianism.

Cyril soon found himself at odds with Acacius for doctrinal as well as juridical reasons, because Cyril reinstated the autonomy of his own see, separating it from that of the metropolitan of Caesarea. During 20 years or so, Cyril suffered three exiles: the first in 357, by decree of a synod of Jerusalem; a second in 360 by Acacius; and a third in 367 — the longest, lasting 11 years — by Emperor Valens, a follower of Arianism. Not until 378, after the death of the emperor, was Cyril able to resume possession of his see, bringing back unity and peace to the faithful.

Despite certain writings from his day that call into question his orthodoxy, others of the same epoch defend it. Among the most authoritative is the synodal letter of 382, after the ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381, in which Cyril had a significant role. In that letter, sent to the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern bishops officially recognize the absolute authority of Cyril, the legitimacy of his episcopal ordination and the merits of his pastoral service, which death brought to an end in 387.

We have 24 of his celebrated catecheses, which he wrote as a bishop around the year 350. Introduced by a “Procatechesis” of welcome, the first 18 are addressed to catechumens or illuminandi (in Greek “photizomenoi”) and were kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

The first five deal with the dispositions required to receive baptism, conversion from pagan customs, the sacrament of baptism and the ten dogmatic truths contained in the creed or symbol of faith.

The following catecheses, Nos. 6-18, make up a “continual catechesis” of the Symbol of Jerusalem, which is anti-Arian. Of the last five, Nos. 19-23, the so-called mystagogical ones, the first two develop a commentary on the rites of baptism, the last three deal with confirmation, the Body and Blood of Christ and the Eucharistic liturgy. There is also an explanation of the Our Father (“Oratio Dominica”), which establishes a path of initiation to prayer that develops parallel to the initiation with the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

The foundation of instruction in the Christian faith developed, although amid controversy against the pagans, Judeo-Christians and followers of Manichaeism. The development of the instruction was based on the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament, with a language rich with images. Catechesis was an important moment, inserted into the broad context of the entire life, and especially the liturgical life, of the Christian community. Within this maternal womb, the gestation of the future Christian took place, accompanied by the prayer and witness of the brethren.

Taken together, Cyril’s homilies make up a systematic catechesis on the rebirth of the Christian through baptism. To the catechumen, Cyril says: “You have fallen into the nets of the Church (cfr. Matthew 13:47). Let yourself be taken alive: Do not run away, because it is Jesus who takes you to his love, not to give you death but the resurrection after death. You must die and rise again (cfr. Romans 6:11-14). … Die to sin, and live for justice, starting today” (Pro-Catechesis, No. 5).

From a “doctrinal” point of view, Cyril comments on the symbol of Jerusalem with recourse to the use of typology in the Scriptures, in a “symphonic” relationship between the two Testaments, pointing to Christ, the center of the universe. Typology will later be wisely described by Augustine of Hippo with these words: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New” (“De Catechizandis Rudibus,” 4:8).

His catechesis on morality is anchored in profound unity to the doctrinal one: Dogma slowly descends into souls, which are asked to change their pagan ways to adopt new life in Christ, the gift of baptism. The “mystagogical” catechesis, was the height of instruction that Cyril imparted, no longer to catechumens, but to the newly baptized and neophytes during Easter week. He led them to discover the mysteries still hidden in the baptismal rites of the Easter vigil. Enlightened by the light of a faith, deepened in the strength of baptism, the neophytes were finally able to better understand the mysteries, having just celebrated the rites.

In particular, with the neophytes of Greek origin, Cyril focused on visual aspects, most suited to them. It was the passage from rite to mystery, which availed of the psychological effect of surprise and the experience lived in the Easter vigil. Here is a text explaining the mystery of baptism: “You were immersed in water three times and from each of the three you re-emerged, to symbolize the three days that Christ was in the tomb, imitating, that is, with this rite, our savior, who spent three days and three nights in the womb of the earth (cfr. Matthew 12:40).

“With the first emersion from the water you celebrated the memory of the first day that Christ spent in the tomb, with the first immersion you witnessed to the first night spent in the tomb: As he who in the night is unable to see, and he who in the day enjoys the light, you too experience the same thing. While at first you were immersed in the night and unable to see anything, reemerging, you found the fullness of day. Mystery of death and of birth, this water of salvation was for you a tomb and mother. … For you … the time to die coincides with the time to be born: One is the moment that achieved both events” (“Second Mystagogical Catechesis,” No. 4).

The mystery to behold is God’s design; this is achieved through the salvific actions of Christ in the Church. The mystagogical dimension complements that of symbols, expressing the lived spiritual experience that they cause to “explode.” From St. Cyril’s catechesis, based on the three components described previously — doctrinal, moral and mystagogical — there results a global catechesis in the Spirit. The mystagogical dimension brings about the synthesis of the first two, directing them to the sacramental celebration, in which the salvation of the entire person is realized.

It is an integral catechesis, which — involving the body, soul and spirit — remains emblematic of the catechetical formation of today’s Christians.

The Holy Father then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the great teachers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril is best known for his Catecheses, which reveal his orthodox doctrine and his pastoral wisdom. The Catecheses prepared the catechumens of the Church of Jerusalem first to receive the sacraments of Christian initiation, and then, after their Baptism, to understand more deeply the Church’s faith as expressed in the sacred mysteries. Based on the “symphonic” harmony of the Old and the New Testaments, and centered on the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Catecheses explained the articles of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, the reality of Baptism as an event of spiritual rebirth, and the importance of the sacramental life and personal prayer for every Christian. Cyril’s catechesis spans God’s entire plan of salvation, accomplished through the work of Christ in the Church. With their rich doctrinal, moral and mystagogical teaching, the Catecheses remain a model for instruction today, leading the whole person — body, soul and spirit — to a living experience of Christ’s gift of salvation.

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking visitors here today, including pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Kampala in Uganda, led by Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga. I also greet the group of supporters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and participants in the Jewish-Christian dialogue symposium organized by the Focolari Movement, as well as various groups from Wales, Norway, Malawi Australia, India and the United States. Upon you all and your families at home, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

On St. Athanasius

July 26, 2008


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

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

I welcome the participants in the course organized by Foyer Unitas Lay Center. My greetings also go to the Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis Seraphicus. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Australia and the United States, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Today we celebrate the “World Day of the Refugee,” promoted by the United Nations in order to promote attention for those who are forced to escape from their countries because they are in fear for their lives. Welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is gesture of human solidarity, so that they will not feel isolated because of intolerance and disinterest. For Christians it is a concrete way to show evangelical love. I wish with all my heart that our brothers and sisters who suffer will be guaranteed exile and the recognition of their rights, and I invite the leaders of all nations to offer protection to those who find themselves in need.

I wish every good thing, to everyone. Thank you for your presence!

On Eusebius of Caesarea

June 4, 2008

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 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 Eusebius of Caesarea.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome the participants in the leadership course organized by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. My greetings also go to the Buddhist members of Rissho Kosei-Kai, and the representatives of the Apostolate for Family Consecration. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Nigeria, Japan and the United States, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.