Audiences 2005-2013 28019
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The last of the Pauline Letters, which I would like to talk about today, are known as "Pastoral Letters", because they were sent to individual Pastors of the Church: two to Timothy and one to Titus, both close collaborators of St Paul. In Timothy, the Apostle saw almost an "alter ego"; in fact he entrusted him with important missions (to Macedonia: cf. Ac 19,22 to Thessalonica: cf. Ac 1 Thes Ac 3,6-7 to Corinth: cf. 1Co 4,17 1Co 16,10-11), and then wrote a flattering eulogy on him: "I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare" (Ph 2,20). According to the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth century historian, Timothy was the first Bishop of Ephesus (cf. 3: 4). Titus, too, must have been very dear to the Apostle, who explicitly describes him as "full of zeal... my partner and fellow worker" (2Co 8,17-23), and further "my true son in the common faith" (Tt 1,4). He had been assigned a few very delicate missions in the Church of Corinth, whose results heartened Paul (cf. 2Co 7,6-13 2Co 8,6). After this, according to the tradition handed down to us, Titus joined Paul in Nicopolis in Epirus, in Greece (cf. Ti Tt 3,12), and was then sent by him to Dalmatia (cf. 2Tm 4,10). The Letter sent to him suggests that he was later made Bishop of Crete (cf. Ti Tt 1,5).
The Letters addressed to these two Pastors occupy a very particular place within the New Testament. Most exegetes today are of the opinion that these Letters would not have been written by Paul himself, but would have come from the "Pauline School", and that they reflect his legacy for a new generation, perhaps including some words or brief passages written by the Apostle himself. Some parts of the Second Letter to Timothy, for example, appear so authentic that they could have come only from the heart and mouth of the Apostle.
Without a doubt, the situation of the Church as it emerges from these Letters is very different from that of Paul's middle years. He now, in retrospect, defines himself as the "herald, apostle, and teacher" of faith and truth to the Gentiles (cf. 1Tm 2,7 2Tm 1,11); he presents himself as one who has received mercy he writes "so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life" (1Tm 1,16). So it is of essential importance that in Paul, a persecutor converted by the presence of the Risen One, the Lord's magnanimity is really shown to encourage us, and lead us to hope and to have faith in the Lord's mercy who, notwithstanding our littleness, can do great things. The new cultural contexts that are assumed here go beyond the middle years of Paul's life. In fact reference is made to the appearance of teachings that must be considered quite erroneous and false (cf. 1Tm 4,1-2 2Tm 3,1-5), such as those [teachings] which held that marriage was not a good thing (cf. 1Tm 4,3). We can see a modern equivalent of this worry, because today, too, the Scriptures are sometimes read as an object of historical curiosity and not as the word of the Holy Spirit, in which we can hear the voice of the Lord himself and recognize his presence in history. We could say that, with this brief list of errors presented in the three Letters, there are some precocious early traces of that later erroneous movement which goes by the name of Gnosticism (cf. 1Tm 2,5-6 2Tm 3,6-8).
The writer faces these doctrines with two basic reminders. The first consists in an exhortation to a spiritual reading of Sacred Scripture (cf. 2Tm 3,14-17), that is to a reading which considers them truly "inspired" and coming from the Holy Spirit, so that one can be "instructed for salvation" by them. The correct way to read the Scriptures is to enter into dialogue with the Holy Spirit, in order to derive a light "for teaching for reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness" (2Tm 3,16). This, the Letter adds: is "so that the man of God may be fully complete and equipped for every good work" (2Tm 3,17). The other reminder is a reference to the good "deposit" (parathéke): a special word found in the Pastoral Letters and used to indicate the tradition of the apostolic faith which must be safeguarded with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This "deposit" is therefore to be considered as the sum of the apostolic Tradition, and as a criterion of faithfulness to the Gospel message. And here we must bear in mind that the term "Scriptures", when used in the Pastoral Letters, as in all the rest of the New Testament, means explicitly the Old Testament, since the writings of the New Testament either had not yet been written or did not yet constitute part of the Scriptural canon. Therefore the Tradition of the apostolic proclamation, this "deposit", is the key to the reading of the Scriptures, the New Testament. In this sense, Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and the apostolic proclamation as a key, are set side by side, and almost merge to form together the "firm foundation laid by God" (cf. 2Tm 2,19). The apostolic proclamation that is, Tradition is necessary in order to enter into an understanding of the Scriptures, and to hear the voice of Christ in them. We must, in fact, "hold firm to the sure word as taught" by the teaching received (Tt 1,9). Indeed, at the basis of everything is faith in the historical revelation of the goodness of God, who in Jesus Christ materially manifested his "love for men", a love which in the original Greek text is significantly expressed as filanthropěa (Tt 3,4 cf. 2Tm 1,9-10); God loves humanity.
Altogether, it is clear that the Christian community is beginning to define itself in strict terms, according to an identity which not only stands aloof from incongruous interpretations, but above all affirms its ties to the essential points of faith, which here is synonymous with "truth" (1Tm 2,4, 18, 2Tm 25 2Tm 3,7-8 2Tm 4,4 Tt 1,1). In faith the essential truth of who we are, who God is, and how we must live is made clear. And of this truth (the truth of faith), the Church is described as the "pillar and bulwark" (1Tm 3,15). In any case, she remains an open community of universal breadth who prays for everyone of every rank and order, so that all may know the truth: God "wants all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth", because Christ Jesus "gave himself as a ransom for all" (1Tm 2,4-5). Therefore the sense of universality, even if the communities are still small, is strong and conclusive in these Letters. Furthermore, those in the Christian community "speak evil of no one", and "show perfect courtesy toward all men" (Tt 3,2). This is the first important component of these Letters: universality and faith as truth, as a key to the reading of Sacred Scripture, of the Old Testament, thereby defining a unified proclamation of Scripture, a living faith open to all and a witness to God's love for everyone.
Another component typical of these Letters is their reflection on the ministerial structure of the Church. They are the first to present the triple subdivision into Bishops, priests and deacons (cf. 1Tm 3,1-13 1Tm 4,13 2Tm 1,6 Tt 1,5-9). We can observe in the Pastoral Letters the merging of two different ministerial structures, and thus the constitution of the definitive form of the ministry in the Church. In Paul's Letters from the middle period of his life, he speaks of "bishops" (Ph 1,1), and of "deacons": this is the typical structure of the Church formed during the time of the Gentile world.
However, as the figure of the Apostle himself remains dominant, the other ministries only slowly develop. If, as we have said, in the Churches formed in the ancient world we have Bishops and deacons, and not priests, in the Churches formed in the Judeo-Christian world, priests are the dominant structure. At the end of the Pastoral Letters, the two structures unite: now "the bishop" appears (cf. 1Tm 3,2 Tt 1,7), used always in the singular with the definite article "the bishop". And beside "the bishop" we find priests and deacons. The figure of the Apostle is still prominent, but the three Letters, as I have said, are no longer addressed to communities but rather to individuals, to Timothy and Titus, who on the one hand appear as Bishops, and on the other begin to take the place of the Apostle.
This is the first indication of the reality that later would be known as "apostolic succession". Paul says to Timothy in the most solemn tones: "Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophesy, the presbyters laid their hands on you (1Tm 4,14). We can say that in these words the sacramental character of the ministry is first made apparent. And so we have the essential Catholic structure: Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and proclamation, form a whole, but to this structure a doctrinal structure, so to speak must be added the personal structure, the successors of the Apostles as witnesses to the apostolic proclamation.
Lastly, it is important to note that in these Letters, the Church sees herself in very human terms, analogous to the home and the family. Particularly in 1Tm 3,2-7 we read highly detailed instructions concerning the Bishop, like these: he must be "irreprehensible, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control and respectful in every way, for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's Church?.... Moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders". A special note should be made here of the importance of an aptitude for teaching (cf. also 1Tm 5,17), which is echoed in other passages (cf. 1Tm 6,2c 2Tm 3,10 Tt 2,1), and also of a special personal characteristic, that of "paternity". In fact the Bishop is considered the father of the Christian community (cf. also 1Tm 3,15). For that matter, the idea of the Church as "the Household of God" is rooted in the Old Testament (cf. Nm NM 12,7) and is repeated in He 3,2 He 3,6, while elsewhere we read that all Christians are no longer strangers or guests, but fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God (cf. Ep 2,19).
Let us ask the Lord and St Paul that we too, as Christians, may be ever more characterized, in relation to the society in which we live, as members of the "family of God". And we pray that the Pastors of the Church may increasingly acquire paternal sentiments tender and at the same time strong in the formation of the House of God, of the community, and of the Church.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including the groups from England and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I willingly invoke God’s blessings of peace and joy!
* * *
Before greeting the Italian pilgrims, I have three more announcements to make.
The first: I have received with joy the news of the election of Metropolitan Kirill as the new Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. I invoke the light of the Holy Spirit upon him for a generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church, entrusting him to the special protection of the Mother of God.
The second: in the Homily pronounced on the occasion of the solemn inauguration of my Pontificate, I said that an "explicit" duty of the Pastor is the "call to unity", and commenting on the Gospel passage about the miraculous catch, I said: "although the fish were so many, the net was not torn". I then followed with these Gospel words: "Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn!". I continued, "But no we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised.... Do not allow your net to be torn, and help us to be servants of unity!" (Installation Mass, 24 April 2005).
Precisely in fulfillment of this service to unity, which qualifies my ministry as Successor to Peter in a specific way, I decided several days ago to grant the remission of the excommunication to which the four Bishops, ordained in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre without a Papal mandate, were subject. I fulfilled this act of paternal compassion because these Bishops repeatedly manifested their active suffering for the situation in which they had found themselves. I hope that this gesture of mine will be followed by an earnest commitment on their behalf to complete the necessary further steps to achieve full communion with the Church, thus witnessing true fidelity to, and true recognition of, the Magisterium and the authority of the Pope and the Second Vatican Council.
The third statement: in these days when we remember the Shoah, images come to mind from my repeated visits to Auschwitz, one of the concentration camps in which the heinous slaughter of millions of Jews occurred, innocent victims of a blind racial and religious hatred. As I affectionately renew the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our fellow receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah will lead humanity to reflect upon the unfathomable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man.
May the Shoah be a warning for all against forgetfulness, denial or reductionism, because violence committed against one single human being is violence against all. No man is an island, as a famous poet wrote. May the Shoah teach both old and new generations that only the arduous path of listening and dialogue, of love and forgiveness leads peoples, cultures and religions of the world to the desired goal of fraternity and peace in truth. May violence no longer degrade the dignity of man!
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The series of our Catecheses on St Paul has come to its conclusion; today we shall speak of the end of his earthly life. The ancient Christian tradition witnesses unanimously that Paul died as a consequence of his martyrdom here in Rome. The New Testament writings tell us nothing of the event. The Acts of the Apostles end their account by mentioning the imprisonment of the Apostle, who was nevertheless able to welcome all who went to him (cf. Ac 28,30-31). Only in the Second Letter to Timothy do we find these premonitory words: "For I am already on the point of being sacrificed"; the time to set sail has come (2Tm 4,6 cf. Phil Ph 2,17). Two images are used here, the religious image of sacrifice that he had used previously in the Letter to the Philippians, interpreting martyrdom as a part of Christ's sacrifice, and the nautical image of casting off: two images which together discreetly allude to the event of death and of a brutal death.
The first explicit testimony of St Paul's death comes to us from the middle of the 90s in the first century, thus more than three decades after his actual death. It consists precisely in the Epistle that the Church of Rome, with its Bishop Clement I, wrote to the Church of Corinth. In that epistolary text is an invitation to keep her eyes fixed on the example of the Apostles and, immediately after the mention of Peter's martyrdom, one reads: "Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and the west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into a holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience" (1 Clem 5: 2). The patience of which Clement speaks is an expression of Paul's communion with the Passion of Christ, of the generosity and constancy with which he accepted a long journey of suffering so as to be able to say "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Ga 6,17). In St Clement's text we heard that Paul had arrived at the "extreme limit of the west". Whether this is a reference to a voyage in Spain undertaken by Paul is open to discussion. There is no certainty on it, but it is true that in his Letter to the Romans St Paul expresses his intention to go to Spain (cf. Rm Rm 15,24).
The sequence in Clement's letter of the two names of Peter and Paul is, however, very interesting, even if they were to be inverted in the testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century. Referring to the Emperor Nero, Eusebius was to write: "It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified during Nero's reign. This account is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemetery of that place even to the present day" (Ecclesiastical History, 2, 25, 5). Eusebius then goes on to reference the earlier declaration of a Roman priest named Gaius that dates back to the early second century: "I can show the trophies of the Apostles. For if you go to the Vatican or on the Ostian Way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this Church" (ibid.,2, 25, 6-7). "Trophies" are sepulchral monuments; these were the actual tombs of Peter and Paul which we still venerate today, after 2,000 years, in those same places: that of St Peter here in the Vatican and that of the Apostle to the Gentiles in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls on the Ostian Way.
It is interesting to note that the two great Apostles are mentioned together. Although no ancient source speaks of a contemporary ministry of both in Rome, subsequent Christian knowledge, on the basis of their common burial in the capital of the Empire, was also to associate them as founders of the Church of Rome. In fact this can be read in Irenaeus of Lyons, toward the end of the second century, concerning apostolic succession in the various Churches: "Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches... [we do this] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul" (Adversus Haereses, 3, 3, 2).
However let us now set Peter aside and concentrate on Paul. His martyrdom is recounted for the first time in the Acts of Paul, written towards the end of the second century. They say that Nero condemned him to death by beheading, an order which was carried out immediately (cf. 9: 5). The date of his death already varies in the ancient sources which set it between the persecution unleashed by Nero himself after the burning of Rome in July 64 and the last year of his reign, that is, the year 68 (cf. Jerome, De viris ill. 5, 8). The calculation heavily depends on the chronology of Paul's arrival in Rome, a discussion into which we cannot enter here. Later traditions specify two other elements. One, the most legendary, is that his martyrdom occurred at the Acquae Salviae, on the Via Laurentina, and that his head rebounded three times, giving rise to a source of water each time that it touched the ground, which is why, to this day, the place is called the "Tre Fontane" [three fountains] (Acts of Peter and Paul by the Pseudo-Marcellus, fifth century). The second version, in harmony with the ancient account of the priest Gaius mentioned above, is that his burial not only took place "outside the city... at the second mile on the Ostian Way", but more precisely "on the estate of Lucina", who was a Christian matron (Passion of Paul by the Pseudo-Abdias, fourth century). It was here, in the fourth century, that the Emperor Constantine built a first church. Then, between the fourth and fifth centuries it was considerably enlarged by the Emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius and Arcadius. The present-day Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was built here after the fire in 1800.
In any case, the figure of St Paul towers far above his earthly life and his death; in fact, he left us an extraordinary spiritual heritage. He too, as a true disciple of Christ, became a sign of contradiction.
While he was considered apostate by Mosaic law among the "Ebionites", a Judaeo-Christian group, great veneration for St Paul already appears in the Acts of the Apostles. I would now like to prescind from the apocryphal literature, such as the Acts of Paul and Thekla and an apocryphal collection of Letters between the Apostle Paul and the philosopher Seneca. It is above all important to note that St Paul's Letters very soon entered the liturgy, where the structure prophet-apostle-Gospel is crucial for the form of the Liturgy of the Word. Thus, thanks to this "presence" in the Church's liturgy, the Apostle's thought immediately gave spiritual nourishment to the faithful of every epoch.
It is obvious that the Fathers of the Church, and subsequently all theologians, were nourished by the Letters of St Paul and by his spirituality. Thus he has remained throughout the centuries and up to this day the true teacher and Apostle to the Gentiles. The first patristic comment on a New Testament text that has come down to us is that of the great Alexandrian theologian, Origen, who comments on Paul's Letter to the Romans. Unfortunately, only part of this comment is extant. St John Chrysostom, in addition to commenting on Paul's Letters, wrote seven memorable Panegyrics on him. It was to Paul that St Augustine owed the crucial step of his own conversion, and to Paul that he returned throughout his life. His great catholic theology derives from this ongoing dialogue with the Apostle, as does the Protestant theology in every age. St Thomas Aquinas has left us a beautiful comment on the Pauline Letters, which represents the ripest fruit of medieval exegesis.
A true turning point was reached in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation. The decisive moment in Luther's life was the "Turmerlebnis" (1517), the moment in which he discovered a new interpretation of the Pauline doctrine of justification. It was an interpretation that freed him from the scruples and anxieties of his previous life and gave him a new radical trust in the goodness of God who forgives all, unconditionally. From that time Luther identified Judaeo-Christian legalism, condemned by the Apostle, with the order of life of the Catholic Church. And the Church therefore appeared to him as an expression of the slavery of the law which he countered with the freedom of the Gospel. The Council of Trent, from 1545 to 1563, profoundly interpreted the question of justification and found the synthesis between law and Gospel to be in line with the entire Catholic tradition, in conformity with the message of Sacred Scripture read in its totality and unity.
The 19th century, gathering the best heritage of the Enlightenment, underwent a new revival of Paulinism, now developed by the historical-critical interpretation of Sacred Scripture, above all at the level of scientific work. Here we shall prescind from the fact that even in that century, as later in the 20th century, a true and proper denigration of St Paul emerged. I am thinking primarily of Nietzsche, who derided the theology of St Paul's humility, opposing it with his theology of the strong and powerful man. However, let us set this aside and examine the essential current of the new scientific interpretation of Sacred Scripture and of the new Paulinism of that century. Here, the concept of freedom has been emphasized as central to Pauline thought; in it was found the heart of Pauline thought, as Luther, moreover, had already intuited. Yet the concept of freedom was then reinterpreted in the context of modern liberalism. The differentiation between the proclamation of St Paul and the proclamation of Jesus was thus heavily emphasized. And St Paul appears almost as a new founder of Christianity. It is true that in St Paul the centrality of the Kingdom of God, crucial for the proclamation of Jesus, was transformed into the centrality of Christology, whose crucial point is the Paschal Mystery. And it is from the Paschal Mystery that the Sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist derive, as a permanent presence of this mystery from which the Body of Christ grows and the Church is built. However, I would say, without going into detail here, that precisely in the new centrality of Christology and of the Paschal Mystery the Kingdom of God is realized and the authentic proclamation of Jesus becomes concrete, present and active. We have seen in our previous Catecheses that this Pauline innovation is truly the deepest fidelity to the proclamation of Jesus. In the progress of exegesis, especially in the past 200 years, the points of convergence between Catholic exegesis and Protestant exegesis have increased, thereby achieving a notable consensus precisely on the point that was the origin of the greatest historical dissent. There is thus great hope for the cause of ecumenism, so central to the Second Vatican Council.
Finally, I would like to mention briefly the various religious movements named after St Paul that have come into being in the Catholic Church in modern times. This happened in the 16th century with the "Congregation of St Paul", known as the Barnabites; in the 19th century with the "Missionaries of St Paul", or Paulist Fathers; in the 20th century with the polyform "Pauline Family" founded by Bl. Giacomo Alberione, not to mention of the secular institute of the "Company of St Paul". Essentially, we still have before us the luminous figure of an Apostle and of an extremely fruitful and profound Christian thinker, from whose approach everyone can benefit. In one of his panegyrics St John Chrysostom established an original comparison between Paul and Noah. He says: Paul "did not put beams together to build an ark; rather, instead of joining planks of wood he wrote Letters and thus rescues from the billows not two, three or five members of his own family but the entire ecumene that was on the point of perishing" (Paneg. 1, 5). The Apostle Paul can still and will always be able to do exactly that. Drawing from him as much from his example as from his doctrine will therefore be an incentive, if not a guarantee, for the reinforcement of the Christian identity of each one of us and for the rejuvenation of the entire Church.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today's audience. I particularly welcome students from the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies in Geneva, as well as pilgrims from Hong Kong and the United States of America. God bless you all!
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. The liturgical Memorials of several martyrs St Blaise, St Agatha and the St Paul Miki and his Japanese companions are being celebrated in these days. May the courage of these intrepid witnesses of Christ help you, dear young people, to open your hearts to the heroism of holiness; may it sustain you, dear sick people, in offering up the precious gift of prayer and of suffering for the Church; and may it give to you, dear newlyweds, the strength to impress upon your families the perennial Christian values.
Appeal for an end to violence and terrorism in Sri Lanka:
The situation in Sri Lanka is continuing to give rise to concern. The news that the conflict is escalating and of the number of innocent victims prompts me to address a pressing appeal to those who are fighting to respect humanitarian law and the freedom of movement of the population. May they do their utmost to guarantee assistance to the injured, security to the civilians and permit their urgent need for food and medical treatment to be satisfied.
May the Blessed Virgin of Madhu, widely venerated by Catholics and also by members of other religions, hasten the day of peace and reconciliation in this beloved country.
Paul VI Audience Hall11029
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After 20 Catecheses dedicated to the Apostle Paul, today I would like to return to presenting the great writers of the Church of the East and of the West in the Middle Ages. And I am proposing the figure of John known as Climacus, a Latin transliteration of the Greek term klimakos, which means of the ladder (klimax). This is the title of his most important work in which he describes the ladder of human life ascending towards God. He was born in about 575 a.d. He lived, therefore, during the years in which Byzantium, the capital of the Roman Empire of the East, experienced the greatest crisis in its history. The geographical situation of the Empire suddenly changed and the torrent of barbarian invasions swept away all its structures. Only the structure of the Church withstood them, continuing in these difficult times to carry out her missionary, human, social and cultural action, especially through the network of monasteries in which great religious figures such as, precisely, John Climacus were active.
John lived and told of his spiritual experiences in the Mountains of Sinai, where Moses encountered God and Elijah heard his voice. Information on him has been preserved in a brief Life (PG 88, 596-608), written by a monk, Daniel of Raithu. At the age of 16, John, who had become a monk on Mount Sinai, made himself a disciple of Abba Martyr, an "elder", that is, a "wise man". At about 20 years of age, he chose to live as a hermit in a grotto at the foot of the mountain in the locality of Tola, eight kilometres from the present-day St Catherine's Monastery. Solitude, however, did not prevent him from meeting people eager for spiritual direction, or from paying visits to several monasteries near Alexandria. In fact, far from being an escape from the world and human reality, his eremitical retreat led to ardent love for others (Life, 5) and for God (ibid.,7). After 40 years of life as a hermit, lived in love for God and for neighbour years in which he wept, prayed and fought with demons he was appointed hegumen of the large monastery on Mount Sinai and thus returned to cenobitic life in a monastery. However, several years before his death, nostalgic for the eremitical life, he handed over the government of the community to his brother, a monk in the same monastery.
John died after the year 650. He lived his life between two mountains, Sinai and Tabor and one can truly say that he radiated the light which Moses saw on Sinai and which was contemplated by the three Apostles on Mount Tabor!
He became famous, as I have already said, through his work, entitled The Climax, in the West known as the Ladder of Divine Ascent (PG 88, 632-1164). Composed at the insistent request of the hegumen of the neighbouring Monastery of Raithu in Sinai, the Ladder is a complete treatise of spiritual life in which John describes the monk's journey from renunciation of the world to the perfection of love. This journey according to his book covers 30 steps, each one of which is linked to the next. The journey may be summarized in three consecutive stages: the first is expressed in renunciation of the world in order to return to a state of evangelical childhood. Thus, the essential is not the renunciation but rather the connection with what Jesus said, that is, the return to true childhood in the spiritual sense, becoming like children. John comments: "A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is: innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ (cf. 1Co 3,1) begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes" (1, 20; 636). Voluntary detachment from beloved people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience which is the way to humility through humiliations which will never be absent on the part of the brethren. John comments: "Blessed is he who has mortified his will to the very end and has entrusted the care of himself to his teacher in the Lord: indeed he will be placed on the right hand of the Crucified One!" (4, 37; 704).
The second stage of the journey consists in spiritual combat against the passions. Every step of the ladder is linked to a principal passion that is defined and diagnosed, with an indication of the treatment and a proposal of the corresponding virtue. All together, these steps of the ladder undoubtedly constitute the most important treatise of spiritual strategy that we possess. The struggle against the passions, however, is steeped in the positive it does not remain as something negative thanks to the image of the "fire" of the Holy Spirit: that "all those who enter upon the good fight (cf. 1Tm 6,12), which is hard and narrow,... may realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them" (1,18; 636). The fire of the Holy Spirit is the fire of love and truth. The power of the Holy Spirit alone guarantees victory. However, according to John Climacus it is important to be aware that the passions are not evil in themselves; they become so through human freedom's wrong use of them. If they are purified, the passions reveal to man the path towards God with energy unified by ascesis and grace and, "if they have received from the Creator an order and a beginning..., the limit of virtue is boundless" (26/2, 37; 1068).
The last stage of the journey is Christian perfection that is developed in the last seven steps of the Ladder. These are the highest stages of spiritual life, which can be experienced by the "Hesychasts": the solitaries, those who have attained quiet and inner peace; but these stages are also accessible to the more fervent cenobites. Of the first three simplicity, humility and discernment John, in line with the Desert Fathers, considered the ability to discern, the most important. Every type of behaviour must be subject to discernment; everything, in fact, depends on one's deepest motivations, which need to be closely examined. Here one enters into the soul of the person and it is a question of reawakening in the hermit, in the Christian, spiritual sensitivity and a "feeling heart", which are gifts from God: "After God, we ought to follow our conscience as a rule and guide in everything," (26/1,5; 1013). In this way one reaches tranquillity of soul, hesychia, by means of which the soul may gaze upon the abyss of the divine mysteries.
The state of quiet, of inner peace, prepares the Hesychast for prayer which in John is twofold: "corporeal prayer" and "prayer of the heart". The former is proper to those who need the help of bodily movement: stretching out the hands, uttering groans, beating the breast, etc. (15, 26; 900). The latter is spontaneous, because it is an effect of the reawakening of spiritual sensitivity, a gift of God to those who devote themselves to corporeal prayer. In John this takes the name "Jesus prayer" (Iesou euche), and is constituted in the invocation of solely Jesus' name, an invocation that is continuous like breathing: "May your remembrance of Jesus become one with your breathing, and you will then know the usefulness of hesychia", inner peace (27/2, 26; 1112). At the end the prayer becomes very simple: the word "Jesus" simply becomes one with the breath.
The last step of the ladder (30), suffused with "the sober inebriation of the spirit", is dedicated to the supreme "trinity of virtues": faith, hope and above all charity. John also speaks of charity as eros (human love), a symbol of the matrimonial union of the soul with God, and once again chooses the image of fire to express the fervour, light and purification of love for God. The power of human love can be reoriented to God, just as a cultivated olive may be grafted on to a wild olive tree (cf. Rm Rm 11,24) (cf. 15, 66; 893). John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros will help the soul to advance far more than the harsh struggle against the passions, because of its great power. Thus, in our journey, the positive aspect prevails. Yet charity is also seen in close relation to hope: "Hope is the power that drives love. Thanks to hope, we can look forward to the reward of charity.... Hope is the doorway of love.... The absence of hope destroys charity: our efforts are bound to it, our labours are sustained by it, and through it we are enveloped by the mercy of God" (30, 16; 1157). The conclusion of the Ladder contains the synthesis of the work in words that the author has God himself utter: "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the summit of the ladder, and as my great initiate (St Paul) said: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1Co 13,13)!" (30, 18; 1160).
At this point, a last question must be asked: can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us? At first glance it would seem that the answer must be "no", because John Climacus is too remote from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection. The fact that the top of the "ladder", the final steps, are at the same time the fundamental, initial and most simple virtues is particularly important to me: faith, hope and charity. These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes; rather they are gifts of God to all the baptized: in them our life develops too. The beginning is also the end, the starting point is also the point of arrival: the whole journey towards an ever more radical realization of faith, hope and charity. The whole ascent is present in these virtues. Faith is fundamental, because this virtue implies that I renounce my arrogance, my thought, and the claim to judge by myself without entrusting myself to others. This journey towards humility, towards spiritual childhood is essential. It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I know better, in this my time of the 21st century, than what people could have known then. Instead, it is necessary to entrust oneself to Sacred Scripture alone, to the word of the Lord, to look out on the horizon of faith with humility, in order to enter into the enormous immensity of the universal world, of the world of God. In this way our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart grows toward God. Rightly, John Climacus says that hope alone renders us capable of living charity; hope in which we transcend the things of every day, we do not expect success in our earthly days but we look forward to the revelation of God himself at last. It is only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, that our life becomes great and that we are able to bear the effort and disappointments of every day, that we can be kind to others without expecting any reward. Only if there is God, this great hope to which I aspire, can I take the small steps of my life and thus learn charity. The mystery of prayer, of the personal knowledge of Jesus, is concealed in charity: simple prayer that strives only to move the divine Teacher's heart. So it is that one's own heart opens, one learns from him his own kindness, his love. Let us therefore use this "ascent" of faith, hope and charity. In this way we will arrive at true life.
To special groups
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially pilgrims from Japan, Taiwan, Denmark, England, Ireland and the United States. God bless you all!
Lastly I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Today we are celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I invite you, dear young people, always to entrust yourselves to the motherly protection of Mary, so that she may help you to preserve a heart that is generous, open and full of apostolic enthusiasm. May Our Lady of Lourdes, to whose intercession numerous people sick in body and mind turn with trust, direct her gaze of consolation and hope to you, dear sick brothers and sisters, and sustain you in carrying your daily cross in close union with the redeeming Cross of Christ. May Mary accompany you, dear newlyweds, on your way, so that your families may be communities of intense spiritual life and effective Christian witness.
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