Audiences 2005-2013 10807
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After this three-week break, we are continuing with our Wednesday meetings. Today, I would simply like to resume my last Catechesis, whose subject was the life and writings of St Basil, a Bishop in present-day Turkey, in Asia Minor, in the fourth century A.D. The life and works of this great Saint are full of ideas for reflection and teachings that are also relevant for us today.
First of all is the reference to God's mystery, which is still the most meaningful and vital reference for human beings. The Father is "the principal of all things and the cause of being of all that exists, the root of the living" (Hom. 15, 2 de fide: PG 31, 465c); above all, he is "the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Anaphora Sancti Basilii). Ascending to God through his creatures, we "become aware of his goodness and wisdom" (Basil, Adversus Eunomium 1, 14: PG 29, 544b).
The Son is the "image of the Father's goodness and seal in the same form" (cf. Anaphora Sancti Basilii). With his obedience and his Passion, the Incarnate Word carried out his mission as Redeemer of man (cf. Basil, In Psalmum 48, 8; PG 29, 452ab; cf. also De Baptismo 1, 2: SC 357,158).
Lastly, he spoke fully of the Holy Spirit, to whom he dedicated a whole book. He reveals to us that the Spirit enlivens the Church, fills her with his gifts and sanctifies her.
The resplendent light of the divine mystery is reflected in man, the image of God, and exalts his dignity. Looking at Christ, one fully understands human dignity.
Basil exclaims: "[Man], be mindful of your greatness, remembering the price paid for you: look at the price of your redemption and comprehend your dignity!" (In Psalmum 48, 8: PG 29, 452b).
Christians in particular, conforming their lives to the Gospel, recognize that all people are brothers and sisters; that life is a stewardship of the goods received from God, which is why each one is responsible for the other, and whoever is rich must be as it were an "executor of the orders of God the Benefactor" (Hom 6 de avaritia: PG 32, 1181-1196). We must all help one another and cooperate as members of one body (EP 203,3).
And on this point, he used courageous, strong words in his homilies. Indeed, anyone who desires to love his neighbour as himself, in accordance with God's commandment, "must possess no more than his neighbour" (Hom. in divites: PG 31, 281b).
In times of famine and disaster, the holy Bishop exhorted the faithful with passionate words "not to be more cruel than beasts... by taking over what people possess in common or by grabbing what belongs to all (Hom. tempore famis: PG 31, 325a).
Basil's profound thought stands out in this evocative sentence: "All the destitute look to our hands just as we look to those of God when we are in need".
Therefore, Gregory of Nazianzus' praise after Basil's death was well-deserved. He said: "Basil convinces us that since we are human beings, we must neither despise men nor offend Christ, the common Head of all, with our inhuman behaviour towards people; rather, we ourselves must benefit by learning from the misfortunes of others and must lend God our compassion, for we are in need of mercy" (Gregory Nazianzus, Orationes 43, 63; PG 36, 580b).
These words are very timely. We see that St Basil is truly one of the Fathers of the Church's social doctrine.
Furthermore, Basil reminds us that to keep alive our love for God and for men, we need the Eucharist, the appropriate food for the baptized, which can nourish the new energies that derive from Baptism (cf. De Baptismo 1, 3: SC 357,192).
It is a cause of immense joy to be able to take part in the Eucharist (cf. Moralia 21, 3: PG 31, 741a), instituted "to preserve unceasingly the memory of the One who died and rose for us" (Moralia 80, 22: PG 31, 869b).
The Eucharist, an immense gift of God, preserves in each one of us the memory of the baptismal seal and makes it possible to live the grace of Baptism to the full and in fidelity.
For this reason, the holy Bishop recommended frequent, even daily, Communion: "Communicating even daily, receiving the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is good and useful; for he said clearly: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life' (Jn 6,54). So who would doubt that communicating continuously with life were not living in fullness?" (EP 93, PG 32, 484b).
The Eucharist, in a word, is necessary for us if we are to welcome within us true life, eternal life (cf. Moralia 21, 1: PG 31, 737c).
Finally, Basil was of course also concerned with that chosen portion of the People of God, the youth, society's future. He addressed a Discourse to them on how to benefit from the pagan culture of that time.
He recognized with great balance and openness that examples of virtue can be found in classical Greek and Latin literature. Such examples of upright living can be helpful to young Christians in search of the truth and the correct way of living (cf. Ad Adolescentes 3).
Therefore, one must take from the texts by classical authors what is suitable and conforms with the truth: thus, with a critical and open approach - it is a question of true and proper "discernment"- young people grow in freedom.
With the famous image of bees that gather from flowers only what they need to make honey, Basil recommends: "Just as bees can take nectar from flowers, unlike other animals which limit themselves to enjoying their scent and colour, so also from these writings... one can draw some benefit for the spirit. We must use these books, following in all things the example of bees. They do not visit every flower without distinction, nor seek to remove all the nectar from the flowers on which they alight, but only draw from them what they need to make honey, and leave the rest. And if we are wise, we will take from those writings what is appropriate for us, and conforms to the truth, ignoring the rest" (Ad Adolescentes 4).
Basil recommended above all that young people grow in virtue, in the right way of living: "While the other goods... pass from one to the other as in playing dice, virtue alone is an inalienable good and endures throughout life and after death" (Ad Adolescentes 5).
Dear brothers and sisters, I think one can say that this Father from long ago also speaks to us and tells us important things.
In the first place, attentive, critical and creative participation in today's culture.
Then, social responsibility: this is an age in which, in a globalized world, even people who are physically distant are really our neighbours; therefore, friendship with Christ, the God with the human face.
And, lastly, knowledge and recognition of God the Creator, the Father of us all: only if we are open to this God, the common Father, can we build a more just and fraternal world.
To special groups
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Iceland, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. I extend a special welcome to the musicians present and to the large group from Cherry Hill, Colorado. May the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and may God bless you all!
I greet the group of European Scouts, who with their presence this morning desire to reaffirm their membership in the Church, after renewing their scout promise which binds them to doing their duty to God and serving others generously. My thoughts also turn to all the scouts and guides in the world who are renewing their promise this very day, the centenary of the Scout movement, founded on 1 August 1907 with the first scout camp in history on Brownsea Island. I warmly hope that this educational movement, which was born from the profound insight of Lord Robert Baden Powell, will continue to bear fruit in the spiritual and civil formation of human beings in all countries in the world.
Lastly, as usual I would like to greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds, and to express to them the wish that enlivened by Christ's charity they will lead a life that sets an example for all. May Jesus sustain you in your hope, dear young people, in your suffering, dear sick people, and in your fruitful love, dear newly-weds.
I impart my Blessing to you all.
After greeting the faithful, the Holy Father said:
At the end of the General Audience, I would like to record some good news about Iraq which has sparked an explosion of popular joy throughout the Country. I am referring to the victory of the Iraqi football team, which won the Asian Cup and for the first time has become the football champion of Asia. I was happily impressed by the enthusiasm that infected all the inhabitants, driving them out onto the streets to celebrate the event. Just as I have so often wept with the Iraqis, on this occasion I rejoice with them. This experience of joyful sharing shows a people's desire to have a normal, quiet life. I hope that the event may help in building in Iraq a future of authentic peace with the contribution of all, in freedom and reciprocal respect. Congratulations!
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday, I talked about St Basil, a Father of the Church and a great teacher of the faith.
Today, I would like to speak of his friend, Gregory Nazianzus; like Basil, he too was a native of Cappadocia. As a distinguished theologian, orator and champion of the Christian faith in the fourth century, he was famous for his eloquence, and as a poet, he also had a refined and sensitive soul.
Gregory was born into a noble family in about 330 A.D. and his mother consecrated him to God at birth. After his education at home, he attended the most famous schools of his time: he first went to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he made friends with Basil, the future Bishop of that city, and went on to stay in other capitals of the ancient world, such as Alexandria, Egypt and in particular Athens, where once again he met Basil (cf. Orationes 43: 14-24; SC SC 384,146-180).
Remembering this friendship, Gregory was later to write: "Then not only did I feel full of veneration for my great Basil because of the seriousness of his morals and the maturity and wisdom of his speeches, but he induced others who did not yet know him to be like him.... The same eagerness for knowledge motivated us.... This was our competition: not who was first but who allowed the other to be first. It seemed as if we had one soul in two bodies" (Orationes 43: 16, 20; SC 384,154-156, 164].
These words more or less paint the self-portrait of this noble soul. Yet, one can also imagine how this man, who was powerfully cast beyond earthly values, must have suffered deeply for the things of this world.
On his return home, Gregory received Baptism and developed an inclination for monastic life: solitude as well as philosophical and spiritual meditation fascinated him.
He himself wrote: "Nothing seems to me greater than this: to silence one's senses, to emerge from the flesh of the world, to withdraw into oneself, no longer to be concerned with human things other than what is strictly necessary; to converse with oneself and with God, to lead a life that transcends the visible; to bear in one's soul divine images, ever pure, not mingled with earthly or erroneous forms; truly to be a perfect mirror of God and of divine things, and to become so more and more, taking light from light...; to enjoy, in the present hope, the future good, and to converse with angels; to have already left the earth even while continuing to dwell on it, borne aloft by the spirit" (Orationes 2: 7; SC 247,96).
As he confides in his autobiography (cf. Carmina [historica] 2: 1, 11, De Vita Sua 340-349; PG 37: 1053), he received priestly ordination with a certain reluctance for he knew that he would later have to be a Bishop, to look after others and their affairs, hence, could no longer be absorbed in pure meditation.
However, he subsequently accepted this vocation and took on the pastoral ministry in full obedience, accepting, as often happened to him in his life, to be carried by Providence where he did not wish to go (cf. Jn 21,18).
In 371, his friend Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, against Gregory's own wishes, desired to ordain him Bishop of Sasima, a strategically important locality in Cappadocia. Because of various problems, however, he never took possession of it and instead stayed on in the city of Nazianzus.
In about 379, Gregory was called to Constantinople, the capital, to head the small Catholic community faithful to the Council of Nicea and to belief in the Trinity. The majority adhered instead to Arianism, which was "politically correct" and viewed by emperors as politically useful.
Thus, he found himself in a condition of minority, surrounded by hostility. He delivered five Theological Orations (Orationes 27-31; SC 250,70-87) in the little Church of the Anastasis precisely in order to defend the Trinitarian faith and to make it intelligible.
These discourses became famous because of the soundness of his doctrine and his ability to reason, which truly made clear that this was the divine logic. And the splendour of their form also makes them fascinating today.
It was because of these orations that Gregory acquired the nickname: "The Theologian".
This is what he is called in the Orthodox Church: the "Theologian". And this is because to his way of thinking theology was not merely human reflection or even less, only a fruit of complicated speculation, but rather sprang from a life of prayer and holiness, from a persevering dialogue with God. And in this very way he causes the reality of God, the mystery of the Trinity, to appear to our reason.
In the silence of contemplation, interspersed with wonder at the marvels of the mystery revealed, his soul was engrossed in beauty and divine glory.
While Gregory was taking part in the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, he was elected Bishop of Constantinople and presided over the Council; but he was challenged straightaway by strong opposition, to the point that the situation became untenable. These hostilities must have been unbearable to such a sensitive soul.
What Gregory had previously lamented with heartfelt words was repeated: "We have divided Christ, we who so loved God and Christ! We have lied to one another because of the Truth, we have harboured sentiments of hatred because of Love, we are separated from one another" (Orationes 6: 3; SC SC 405,128).
Thus, in a tense atmosphere, the time came for him to resign.
In the packed cathedral, Gregory delivered a farewell discourse of great effectiveness and dignity (cf. Orationes 42; SC 384,48-114). He ended his heartrending speech with these words: "Farewell, great city, beloved by Christ.... My children, I beg you, jealously guard the deposit [of faith] that has been entrusted to you (cf. 1Tm 6,20), remember my suffering (cf. Col Col 4,18). May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" (cf. Orationes 42: 27; SC 384,112-114).
Gregory returned to Nazianzus and for about two years devoted himself to the pastoral care of this Christian community. He then withdrew definitively to solitude in nearby Arianzo, his birthplace, and dedicated himself to studies and the ascetic life.
It was in this period that he wrote the majority of his poetic works and especially his autobiography: the De Vita Sua, a reinterpretation in verse of his own human and spiritual journey, an exemplary journey of a suffering Christian, of a man of profound interiority in a world full of conflicts.
He is a man who makes us aware of God's primacy, hence, also speaks to us, to this world of ours: without God, man loses his grandeur; without God, there is no true humanism.
Consequently, let us too listen to this voice and seek to know God's Face.
In one of his poems he wrote, addressing himself to God: "May you be benevolent, You, the hereafter of all things" (Carmina [dogmatica] 1: 1, 29; PG 37: 508).
And in 390, God welcomed into his arms this faithful servant who had defended him in his writings with keen intelligence and had praised him in his poetry with such great love.
To special groups
I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, including groups from Ireland, Israel, the Far East and North America. I extend a special welcome to the pilgrims who have travelled here from Da Nang in Vietnam. May the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and may God bless you all!
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today is the Memorial of St Dominic Guzman, a tireless preacher of the Gospel, and tomorrow will be the Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, Co-Patroness of Europe.
May these two Saints help you, dear young people, to trust in Christ always. May their example sustain you, dear sick people, so that you participate with faith in the saving power of his Cross. I encourage you, dear newly-weds, to be a luminous image of God through your reciprocal fidelity. I impart my Blessing to you all.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the course of portraying the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church whom I seek to present in these Catecheses, I spoke last time of St Gregory Nazianzus, a fourth-century Bishop, and today I would like to fill out this portrait of a great teacher. Today, we shall try to understand some of his teachings.
Reflecting on the mission God had entrusted to him, St Gregory Nazianzus concluded: "I was created to ascend even to God with my actions" (Orationes 14, 6 De Pauperum Amore: PG 35, 865).
In fact, he placed his talents as a writer and orator at the service of God and of the Church. He wrote numerous discourses, various homilies and panegyrics, a great many letters and poetic works (almost 18,000 verses!): a truly prodigious output.
He realized that this was the mission that God had entrusted to him: "As a servant of the Word, I adhere to the ministry of the Word; may I never agree to neglect this good. I appreciate this vocation and am thankful for it; I derive more joy from it than from all other things put together" (Orationes 6, 5: SC 405,134 cf. also Orationes 4,10).
Nazianzus was a mild man and always sought in his life to bring peace to the Church of his time, torn apart by discord and heresy. He strove with Gospel daring to overcome his own timidity in order to proclaim the truth of the faith.
He felt deeply the yearning to draw close to God, to be united with him. He expressed it in one of his poems in which he writes: "Among the great billows of the sea of life, here and there whipped up by wild winds... one thing alone is dear to me, my only treasure, comfort and oblivion in my struggle, the light of the Blessed Trinity" (Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 15: PG 37, 1250ff.). Thus, Gregory made the light of the Trinity shine forth, defending the faith proclaimed at the Council of Nicea: one God in three persons, equal and distinct - Father, Son and Holy Spirit -, "a triple light gathered into one splendour" (Hymn for Vespers, Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 32: PG 37, 512).
Therefore, Gregory says further, in line with St Paul (1Co 8,6): "For us there is one God, the Father, from whom is all; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom is all; and one Holy Spirit, in whom is all (Orationes 39, 12: SC 358,172).
Gregory gave great prominence to Christ's full humanity: to redeem man in the totality of his body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the elements of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.
Disputing the heresy of Apollinaris, who held that Jesus Christ had not assumed a rational mind, Gregory tackled the problem in the light of the mystery of salvation: "What has not been assumed has not been healed" (EP 101,32, SC 208, 50), and if Christ had not been "endowed with a rational mind, how could he have been a man?" (EP 101,34, SC 208, 50). It was precisely our mind and our reason that needed and needs the relationship, the encounter with God in Christ.
Having become a man, Christ gave us the possibility of becoming, in turn, like him. Nazianzus exhorted people: "Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us: to become gods through him since he himself, through us, became a man. He took the worst upon himself to make us a gift of the best" (Orationes 1, 5: SC 247,78).
Mary, who gave Christ his human nature, is the true Mother of God (Theotokos: cf. EP 101,16, SC 208, 42), and with a view to her most exalted mission was "purified in advance" (Orationes 38, 13: SC 358, 132, almost as a distant prelude to the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception). Mary is proposed to Christians, and especially to virgins, as a model and their help to call upon in times of need (cf. Orationes, 24, 11: SC 282,60-64).
Gregory reminds us that as human persons, we must show solidarity to one another. He writes: ""We are all one in the Lord' (cf. Rm 12,5), rich and poor, slaves and free, healthy and sick alike; and one is the head from which all derive: Jesus Christ. And as with the members of one body, each is concerned with the other, and all with all".
He then concludes, referring to the sick and to people in difficulty: "This is the one salvation for our flesh and our soul: showing them charity" (Orationes 14, 8 De Pauperum Amore: PG 35, 868ab).
Gregory emphasizes that man must imitate God's goodness and love. He therefore recommends: "If you are healthy and rich, alleviate the need of whoever is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, go to the aid of whoever has fallen and lives in suffering; if you are glad, comfort whoever is sad; if you are fortunate, help whoever is smitten with misfortune. Give God proof of your gratitude for you are one who can benefit and not one who needs to be benefited.... Be rich not only in possessions but also in piety; not only in gold but in virtue, or rather, in virtue alone. Outdo your neighbour's reputation by showing yourself to be kinder than all; make yourself God for the unfortunate, imitating God's mercy" (Orationes 14, 26 De Pauperum Amore: PG 35, 892bc).
Gregory teaches us first and foremost the importance and necessity of prayer. He says: "It is necessary to remember God more often than one breathes" (Orationes 27, 4: PG 250, 78), because prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. God is thirsting for us to thirst for him (cf. Orationes 40, 27: SC 358,260).
In prayer, we must turn our hearts to God, to consign ourselves to him as an offering to be purified and transformed. In prayer we see all things in the light of Christ, we let our masks fall and immerse ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, feeding the fire of love.
In a poem which is at the same time a meditation on the purpose of life and an implicit invocation to God, Gregory writes: "You have a task, my soul, a great task if you so desire. Scrutinize yourself seriously, your being, your destiny; where you come from and where you must rest; seek to know whether it is life that you are living or if it is something more. You have a task, my soul, so purify your life: Please consider God and his mysteries, investigate what existed before this universe and what it is for you, where you come from and what your destiny will be. This is your task, my soul; therefore, purify your life" (Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 78: PG 37, 1425-1426).
The holy Bishop continuously asked Christ for help, to be raised and set on his way: "I have been let down, O my Christ, by my excessive presumption: from the heights, I have fallen very low. But lift me now again so that I may see that I have deceived myself; if again I trust too much in myself, I shall fall immediately and the fall will be fatal" (Carmina [historica] 2, 1, 67: PG 37, 1408).
So it was that Gregory felt the need to draw close to God in order to overcome his own weariness. He experienced the impetus of the soul, the vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of transient happiness.
For him, in the drama of a life burdened by the knowledge of his own weakness and wretchedness, the experience of God's love always gained the upper hand.
You have a task, soul, St Gregory also says to us, the task of finding the true light, of finding the true nobility of your life. And your life is encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially the groups from England, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Japan, Australia and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I invoke Almighty God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, as usual, a cordial greeting to the young people, to the sick and to the newly-weds. Let us raise our eyes to Heaven to contemplate the splendour of the Holy Mother of God, whom today the liturgy invites us to invoke as our Queen.
Dear young people, place yourselves and all your projects under the motherly protection of the One who gave the Saviour to the world.
Dear sick people, as you wait to recover your health, pray to her every day to obtain the strength to face patiently the trial of suffering.
Dear newly-weds, develop a sincere devotion to her, so that she may be near you in your daily life.
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last Catecheses, I spoke of two great fourth-century Doctors of the Church, Basil and Gregory Nazianzus, a Bishop in Cappadocia, in present-day Turkey. Today, we are adding a third, St Gregory of Nyssa, Basil's brother, who showed himself to be a man disposed to meditation with a great capacity for reflection and a lively intelligence open to the culture of his time. He has thus proved to be an original and profound thinker in the history of Christianity.
He was born in about 335 A.D. His Christian education was supervised with special care by his brother Basil - whom he called "father and teacher" (EP 13,4, SC 363, 198) - and by his sister Macrina. He completed his studies, appreciating in particular philosophy and rhetoric.
Initially, he devoted himself to teaching and was married. Later, like his brother and sister, he too dedicated himself entirely to the ascetic life.
He was subsequently elected Bishop of Nyssa and showed himself to be a zealous Pastor, thereby earning the community's esteem.
When he was accused of embezzlement by heretical adversaries, he was obliged for a brief period to abandon his episcopal see but later returned to it triumphant (cf. Ep 6, SC 363, 164-170) and continued to be involved in the fight to defend the true faith.
Especially after Basil's death, by more or less gathering his spiritual legacy, Gregory cooperated in the triumph of orthodoxy. He took part in various Synods; he attempted to settle disputes between Churches; he had an active part in the reorganization of the Church and, as a "pillar of orthodoxy", played a leading role at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Various difficult official tasks were entrusted to him by the Emperor Theodosius, he delivered important homilies and funeral discourses, and he devoted himself to writing various theological works. In addition, in 394, he took part in another Synod, held in Constantinople. The date of his death is unknown.
Gregory expressed clearly the purpose of his studies, the supreme goal to which all his work as a theologian was directed: not to engage his life in vain things but to find the light that would enable him to discern what is truly worthwhile (cf. In Ecclesiasten hom. 1: SC 416,106-146).
He found this supreme good in Christianity, thanks to which "the imitation of the divine nature" is possible (De Professione Christiana: PG 46, 244c).
With his acute intelligence and vast philosophical and theological knowledge, he defended the Christian faith against heretics who denied the divinity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (such as Eunomius and the Macedonians) or compromised the perfect humanity of Christ (such as Apollinaris).
He commented on Sacred Scripture, reflecting on the creation of man. This was one of his central topics: creation. He saw in the creature the reflection of the Creator and found here the way that leads to God.
But he also wrote an important book on the life of Moses, whom he presents as a man journeying towards God: this climb to Mount Sinai became for him an image of our ascent in human life towards true life, towards the encounter with God.
He also interpreted the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father", as well as the Beatitudes. In his "Great Catechetical Discourse (Oratio Catechetica Magna) he developed theology's fundamental directions, not for an academic theology closed in on itself but in order to offer catechists a reference system to keep before them in their instructions, almost as a framework for a pedagogical interpretation of the faith.
Furthermore, Gregory is distinguished for his spiritual doctrine. None of his theology was academic reflection; rather, it was an expression of the spiritual life, of a life of faith lived. As a great "father of mysticism", he pointed out in various treatises - such as his De Professione Christiana and De Perfectione Christiana - the path Christians must take if they are to reach true life, perfection.
He exalted consecrated virginity (De Virginitate) and proposed the life of his sister Macrina, who was always a guide and example for him (cf. Vita Macrinae), as an outstanding model of it.
Gregory gave various discourses and homilies and wrote numerous letters. In commenting on man's creation, he highlighted 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).
Yet, we see that man, caught in the net of sin, often abuses creation and does not exercise true kingship. For this reason, in fact, that is, to act with true responsibility for creatures, he must be penetrated by God and live in his light.
Indeed, man is a reflection of that original beauty which is God: "Everything God created was very good", the holy Bishop wrote. And he added: "The story of creation (cf. Gn Gn 1,31) witnesses to it. Man was also listed among those very good things, adorned with a beauty far superior to all of the good things. What else, in fact, could be good, on par with one who was similar to pure and incorruptible beauty?... The reflection and image of eternal life, he was truly good; no, he was very good, with the radiant sign of life on his face" (Homilia in Canticum 12: PG 44, 1020c).
Man was honoured 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 which 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 true light, that when you look upon it you become what he is, 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 the human being. Let us also see how man was degraded by sin. And let us try to return to that original greatness: only if God is present, does man attain his true greatness.
Man therefore recognizes in himself the reflection of the divine light: by purifying his heart he is once more, as he was in the beginning, a clear image of God, exemplary Beauty (cf. Oratio Catechetica 6: SC 453,174).
Thus, by purifying himself, man can see God, as do the pure of heart (cf. Mt 5,8): "If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you 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). We should therefore wash away the ugliness stored within our hearts and rediscover God's light within us.
Man's goal is therefore the contemplation of God. In him alone can he find his fulfilment.
To somehow anticipate this goal in this life, he must work ceaselessly 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 has bequeathed to us - total human fulfilment consists in holiness, in a life lived in the encounter with God, which thus becomes luminous also to others and to the world.
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, including participants in the Summer University programme sponsored by the European Union of Jewish Students, as well as pilgrims from Sweden and from Indonesia. Upon all of you, I invoke God's abundant Blessings of peace and joy.
My thoughts now turn to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the heroic example of St John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we are celebrating today, spur you, dear young people, to plan your future in full fidelity to the Gospel. May it help you, dear sick people, to face suffering with courage, finding serenity and comfort in the Crucified Christ. May it lead you, dear newly-weds, to deep love for God and each other, and to experience every day the comforting joy that flows from the reciprocal gift of self.
In these days, some geographical areas have been devastated by grave disasters: I am thinking of the flooding in certain Eastern countries as well as the disastrous fires in Greece, in Italy and in other European nations.
In the face of such dramatic emergencies, which have taken a heavy toll of victims and caused immense material damage, it is impossible not to be concerned about the irresponsible behaviour of some, who threaten people's safety and destroy the environmental patrimony, a precious good of all humanity.
I join those who justly stigmatize these criminal acts and I invite everyone to pray for the victims of these tragedies.
Saint Peter's Square
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