GENERAL AUDIENCE 1978
When the Holy Father John Paul I spoke to participants in the General Audience on Wednesday 27 September, no one could imagine that it was for the last time. His death—after thirty-three days of pontificate—surprised the whole world and filled it with a deep sense of loss. He who brought forth such great joy in the Church and inspired such hope in men's hearts, consummated and terminated his mission, in such a short time. In his death the words so often repeated in the Gospel came true: "... be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Mt 24,44). John Paul I always kept watch. The Lord's call did not take him by surprise. He followed it with the same trembling joy with which he had accepted the election to St Peter's throne on 26 August.
Today John Paul II presents himself to you, for the first time. Four weeks after that General Audience, he wishes to greet you and speak to you. He wishes to carry on with the subjects already started by John Paul I. We remember that he spoke of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. He ended with charity. As St Paul teaches (1Co 13,13), charity—which constituted his last teaching—is the greatest virtue here on earth; it is the one that crosses the threshold of life and death. For when the time of faith and hope ends, love continues. John Paul I has already passed through the time of faith, hope and charity, charity which has been expressed so magnificently on this earth, and the fullness of which is revealed only in eternity.
Today we must speak of another virtue, since I have learned from the notes of the late Pontiff that it was his intention to speak not only of the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, but also of the four so-called cardinal virtues. John Paul I wished to speak of the "seven lamps" of the Christian life, as Pope John XXIII called them. Well, today I wish to continue this plan, which the late Pope had prepared, and to speak briefly of the virtue of prudence. The ancients spoke a great deal of this virtue. We owe them, for this reason, deep gratitude and thanks. In a certain dimension, they taught us that the value of man must be measured with the yardstick of the moral good which he accomplishes in his life. It is just this that ensures the virtue of prudence first place. The prudent man, who strives for everything that is really good, endeavours to measure every thing, every situation and his whole activity according to the yardstick of moral good. So a prudent man is not one who—as is often meant—is able to wangle things in life and draw the greatest profit from it; but one who is able to construct his whole life according to the voice of upright conscience and according to the requirements of sound morality.
So prudence is the key for the accomplishment of the fundamental task that each of us has received from God. This task is the perfection of man himself. God has given our humanity to each of us. We must meet this task by planning it accordingly.
But the Christian has the right and the duty to look at the virtue of prudence also in another perspective. It is, as it were, the image and likeness of the Providence of God himself in the dimensions of concrete man. For man—as we know from the book of Genesis—was created in the image and likeness of God. And God carries out his plan in the history of creation, and above all in the history of mankind. The purpose of this plan is—as St Thomas teaches—the ultimate good of the universe. The same plan in the history of mankind becomes simply the plan of salvation, the plan that embraces us all. At the central point of its realization is Jesus Christ, in whom was expressed the eternal love and solicitude of God himself, the Father, for the salvation of man. This is at the same time the full expression of Divine Providence.
Well, man who is the image of God, must—as St Thomas again teaches—in some way be providence: but within the proportions of his life. He can take part in this great march of all creatures towards the purpose, which is the good of creation. He must—expressing ourselves even more in the language of faith—take part in the divine plan of salvation. He must march towards salvation, and help others to save themselves. By helping others, he saves himself.
I pray in order that, in this light, those who are listening to me will think now of their own lives. Am I prudent? Do I live consistently and responsibly? Does the programme I am realizing serve the real good? Does it serve the salvation that Christ and the Church want for us? If a boy or girl student, a son or a daughter, is listening to me today, let such a person look in this light at the homework, reading, interests, pastimes, the circle of friends, boys and girls. If a father or a mother of a family is listening to me, let such a person think a little of the conjugal and parental commitments. If a minister or statesman is listening to me, let him look at the range of his duties and responsibilities. Is he pursuing the real good of society, of the nation, of mankind? Or only particular and partial interests? If a journalist or publicist is listening to me, one who exercises an influence on public opinion, let such a person reflect on the value and purpose of this influence.
I, too, who am speaking to you, I the Pope, what must I do to act prudently? There come into my mind the letters to St Bernard' of Albino Luciani, then Patriarch of Venice. In his answer to Cardinal Luciani, the Abbot of Chiaravalle—a Doctor of the Church—recalls emphatically that he who governs must be "prudent". What, then, must the new Pope do in order to operate prudently? Certainly he must do a great deal in this direction. He must always learn and always meditate on these problems. But in addition to this, what can he do? He must pray and endeavour to have that gift of the Holy Spirit which is called the gift of counsel. And let all those who wish the new Pope to be a prudent Pastor of the Church, implore for him the gift of counsel. And for themselves, let them also ask for this gift through the special intercession of the Mother of Good Counsel. For it ought to be very greatly desired that all men will behave prudently and that those who wield power will act with true prudence. So may the Church—prudently strengthening herself with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, in particular, with the gift of counsel—take part effectively in this great march towards the good of all, and so may she show to everyone the way to eternal salvation.
8 November 1978
1. During these first audiences in which I have the fortune to meet you, who come here from Rome, Italy, and from so many other countries, I wish, as I said already on 25 October, to continue to develop the subjects chosen by John Paul I, my Predecessor. He wished to speak not only of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, but also of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. He saw in them—all together—seven lamps, as it were, of sanctification. God called him to eternity, and he was able to speak only of the three principal ones: faith, hope and charity, which illuminate the Christian's whole life. His unworthy Successor, in meeting with you to reflect, in the spirit of his late Predecessor, on the cardinal virtues, wishes to light, in a certain sense, the other lamps at his tomb.
2. Today, it falls to me to speak of justice. It is perhaps well that this should be the subject of the first catechesis in the month of November. This month, in fact, induces us to fix our gaze on the life of every man, and at the same time on the life of the whole of mankind, in the perspective of final justice. We are all aware, somehow, that in this transitory world, it is not possible to achieve the full measure of justice. The words so often heard: "There is no justice in this world" are, perhaps, the fruit of an oversimplification that is too facile. But they contain a principle of deep truth all the same.
Justice is, in a certain way, greater than man, than the dimensions of his earthly life, than the possibilities of establishing in this life fully just relations among men, environments, societies and social groups, nations, and so on. Every man lives and dies with a certain sense of an insatiable hunger for justice, since the world is not able to satisfy fully a being created in the image of God, either in the depths of his person or in the various aspects of his human life. And thus, by means of this hunger for justice, man turns to God who "is justice itself". Jesus expressed this very clearly and concisely in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." (Mt 5,6).
3. Having this evangelical sense of justice before our eyes, we must consider it at the same time a fundamental dimension of man's life on earth: the life of man, of society, of humanity. This is the ethical dimension. Justice is the fundamental principle of the existence and the coexistence of men, as well as of human communities, societies and peoples. Furthermore, justice is the principle of the existence of the Church, as the People of God, and the principle of coexistence of the Church and the various social structures; in particular of the state, as well as of international organizations. In this wide and differentiated area, man and mankind are continually seeking justice: this is a perennial process and it is a task of supreme importance.
According to the different relationships and different aspects, justice has obtained more appropriate definitions throughout the centuries. Hence the concept of justice: communicative, distributive, legal and social. All this testifies what a fundamental significance justice has for the moral order among men, in social and international relations. It can be said that the very meaning of man's existence on earth is bound up with justice. To define correctly "how much is due" to each one from all and at the same time to all from each one, "what is due" (debitum) to man from man in different systems and relationships—to define, and above all to put into practice!—is a great thing, through which every man lives, and thanks to which his life has a meaning.
Therefore there remains, during the centuries of human existence on earth, a continual effort and a continuous struggle to organize in accordance with justice the whole of social life in its various aspects. It is necessary to view with respect the multiple programmes and the activity, sometimes reformative, of various trends and systems. It is necessary, at the same time, to be aware that here it is not a question in the first place of systems, but of justice and of man. The system must be for man, not man for the system.
Therefore defence is necessary against the hardening of the system. I am thinking of social, economic, political and cultural systems, which must be sensitive to man, to his complete good. They must be able to reform themselves, their own structures, according to what the full truth about man requires. The great effort of our times, which aims at defining and consolidating "human rights" in the life of present-day mankind, peoples, and states, must be evaluated from this point of view.
The Church of our century remains in continual dialogue on the great front of the modern world, as is testified to by many encyclicals of the Popes and the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. The present Pope will certainly have to return repeatedly to these matters. In today's brief exposition, all that can be done is to draw attention to this vast and differentiated area.
4. Each of us, then, must be able to live in a context of justice and, even more, each of us must be just and act justly with regard to those near us and those who are far away, with regard to the community, to the society of which one is a member... and with regard to God.
Justice has many references and many forms. There is also a form of justice which regards what man "owes" God. This is a vast subject in itself. I will not develop it now, although I cannot abstain from indicating it.
3 Let us give our attention, meanwhile, to men. Christ left us the commandment to love our neighbour. In this commandment, everything that concerns justice is also contained. There can be no love without justice. Love" surpasses" justice, but at the same time it finds its verification in justice. Even a father and a mother, loving their own child, must be just in his regard. If justice is uncertain, love, too, runs a risk.
To be just means giving each one what is due to him. This concerns temporal goods, of a material nature. The best example here can be remuneration for work or the so-called right to the fruits of one's own work or of one's own land. But to man is due also his good name, respect, consideration, the reputation he has deserved. The more we know a man, the more his personality, his character, his intellect and his heart are revealed to us. And the more we realize—and we must realize!—with what criterion to "measure him" and what it means to be just towards him.
It is necessary, therefore, to deepen our knowledge of justice continually. It is not a theoretical science. It is virtue, it is capacity of the human spirit, of the human will and also of the heart. It is also necessary to pray in order to be just and to know how to be just.
We cannot forget Our Lord's words: "The measure you give will be the measure you get" (Mt 7,2).
A just man is a man of a "just measure".
May we all be so!
May we all strive constantly to become so!
My blessing to all.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Speaking from the loggia of St Peter's Basilica, on the day after his election, Pope John Paul I recalled, among other things, that during the Conclave on 26 August, when everything already seemed to indicate that he himself would be chosen, the Cardinals beside him whispered in his ear: "Courage!" Probably this word was necessary for him at that moment and had been imprinted on his heart, since he recalled it immediately the next day.
John Paul I will forgive mc if I use this story of his now. I think it can better introduce all of us present here to the subject which I intend to develop. I wish, in fact, to speak today of the third cardinal virtue, that of fortitude. It is precisely to this virtue that we refer, when we wish to exhort some one to be courageous, as John Paul's neighbour did at the Conclave, when he said to him: "Courage".
Whom do we regard as a strong, courageous man? This word usually conjures up the soldier who defends his homeland, exposing to danger his health, and in wartime, even his life. We realize, however, that we need fortitude also in peacetime. And so we highly esteem persons who distinguish themselves for socalled "civil courage". A testimony of fortitude is offered to us by anyone who risks his own life to save some one who is about to drown, or by one who provides help in natural calamities, such as fire, floods, etc. St Charles, my patron saint, certainly distinguished himself for this virtue when, during the plague in Milan, he carried out his pastoral ministry among the inhabitants of that city. But we think also with admiration of those men who climb the peaks of Everest or of the cosmonauts who set foot on the moon for the first time.
As can be seen from all this, the manifestations of the virtue of fortitude are numerous. Some of them are well known and enjoy a certain fame. Others are less known, although they often call for even greater virtue. Fortitude, in fact, as we said at the beginning, is a virtue, a cardinal virtue. Allow me to draw your attention to examples that are generally not well known, but which bear witness in themselves to great, sometimes even heroic, virtue. I am thinking, for example, of a woman, already mother of a large family, who is "advised" by so many to suppress a new life conceived in her womb, by undergoing "the operation" of interruption of pregnancy; and she replies firmly: "no". She certainly feels all the difficulty that this "no" brings with it, difficulty for herself, for her husband, for the whole family, and yet she replies: "no". The new human life conceived in her is a value too great, too "sacred", for her to be able to give in to such pressure.
Another example: a man who is promised freedom and also an easy career provided he denies his own principles, or approves of something that is against his sense of honesty towards others. And he, too, replies "no", though faced by threats on the one side, and attractions on the other. Here we have a courageous man!
There are many, a great many manifestations of fortitude, often heroic, of which nothing is written in the newspapers, or of which little is known. Only human conscience knows them ... and God knows!
I wish to pay tribute to all these unknown courageous people. To all those who have the courage to say "no" or "yes", when they have to pay a price to do so! To the men who bear an extraordinary witness to human dignity and deep humanity. Just because they are unknown, they deserve a tribute and special recognition.
According to the teaching of St Thomas, the virtue of fortitude is found in the man,
— who is ready "aggredi pericula", that is, to face danger;
— who is ready "sustinere mala", that is, to put up with adversities for a just cause, for truth, for justice, etc.
The virtue of fortitude always calls for a certain overcoming of human weakness and particularly of fear. Man, indeed, by nature, spontaneously fears danger, affliction and suffering. Therefore courageous men must be sought not only on battlefields, but also in hospital wards or on a bed of pain. Such men could often be found in concentration camps or in places of deportation. They were real heroes.
Fear sometimes deprives of civil courage men who are living in a climate of threats, oppression or persecution. The men who are capable of crossing the so-called barrier of fear, to bear witness to truth and justice, have then a special value. To reach such fortitude, man must in a certain way "go beyond" his own limits and "transcend" himself, running "the risk" of an unknown situation, the risk of being frowned upon, the risk of laying himself open to unpleasant consequences, insults, degradations, material losses, perhaps imprisonment or persecution. To attain this fortitude, man must be sustained by a great love for truth and for good, to which he dedicates himself.
5 The virtue of fortitude proceeds hand in hand with the capacity of sacrificing oneself. This virtue had already a well-defined contour among the Ancients. With Christ it acquired an evangelical, Christian contour. The Gospel is addressed to weak, poor, meek and humble men, peacemakers and to the merciful, but, at the same time, it contains a constant appeal to fortitude. It often repeats: "Fear not" (Mt 14,27). It teaches man that, for a just cause, for truth, for justice, one must be able to "lay down one's life" (Jn 15,13).
I wish here to refer to yet another example, which goes back 400 years ago, but which still remains alive and relevant today. It is the case of St Stanislaus Kostka, the patron saint of the young, whose tomb is in the church of S. Andrea al Quirinale, in Rome. Here, in fact, he ended his life at the age of eighteen. By nature he was very sensitive and tender, yet very courageous. Fortitude led him, coming from a noble family, to choose to be poor, following the example of Christ, and to put himself in his exclusive service. Although his decision met with firm opposition on the part of his circle, he succeeded with great love, but also with great firmness, in realizing his resolution, contained in the motto: "Ad maiora natus sum" ("I was born for greater things"). He arrived at the novitiate of the Jesuits, travelling from Vienna to Rome on foot and trying to escape from his pursuers who wished by force to turn this "obstinate" youth from his intentions.
I know that in the month of November many young people from all over Rome, and especially students, pupils and novices, visit the tomb of St Stanislaus in St Andrew's church. I am together with them, because our generation, too, needs men who can repeat with holy "obstinacy": "Ad maiora natus sum". We need strong men!
To be men we need fortitude. The truly prudent man, in fact, is only he who possesses the virtue of fortitude; just as also the truly just man is only he who has the virtue of fortitude.
Let us pray for this gift of the Holy Spirit which is called the "gift of fortitude". When man lacks the strength to "transcend" himself, in view of higher values, such as truth, justice, vocation, faithfulness in marriage, this "gift from above" must make each of us a strong man and, at the right moment, say to us "deep down": Courage!
At the end of his General Audience address on 15 November Pope John Paul II had a special greeting and a word of comfort for the sick. He referred to the case of Mrs Marcella Boroli Balestrini who had been kidnapped at Milan on 9 October, and who has not yet been released despite her advanced state of pregnancy.
The Pope wishes to give special attention to the sick, to bring them an affectionate greeting and a word of comfort and encouragement. You, dear sick people, have an important place in the Church, if you can interpret your difficult situation in the light of faith and if, in this light, you are able to live your illness with a generous and strong heart. Each of you can then affirm with St Paul: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1,24).
Speaking of human suffering, my thought goes also to all the painful events which depend on the bad will of unscrupulous men, who for ideological reasons or for the sake of profit give themselves up to forms of violence, which do not stop even in the face of those human situations which have been regarded as worthy of particular respect by every people and in all times. How could I fail to mention, in this connection, the case of Mrs Marcella Boroli Balestrini, kidnapped in Milan on 9 October last and not yet returned to the love of her dear ones, in spite of her state of advanced pregnancy and precarious conditions of health? The Pope addresses his heartfelt prayer to the Lord to instil in the hearts of the kidnappers, and of all the persons involved in episodes of violence all over Italy and the world, thoughts of human sensitivity, so that they will end so many, too many, atrocious sufferings, unworthy of civilized countries. In the meantime, let the comfort of my fatherly Blessing go to the victims and to their relatives.
1. In the course of the Audiences of my pontifical ministry I have tried to carry out the "testament" of my beloved Predecessor John Paul I. As is known, he did not leave a written testament, because death took him unexpectedly and suddenly, but he left some notes which showed that he had intended, at the first Wednesday meetings, to speak of the fundamental principles of Christian life. That is, he had intended to speak of the three theological virtues (he had time to do this) and then of the four cardinal virtues, (this is being done by his unworthy Successor). Today the turn has come to speak of the fourth cardinal virtue, "temperance", thus completing, in a some way, John Paul I's programme, in which we can see the testament, as it were, of the late Pope.
2. When we speak of virtues—not only these cardinal ones, but all of them, every virtue—we must always have in mind the real man, the actual man. Virtue is not something abstract, detached from life, but, on the contrary, it has deep "roots" in life itself, it springs from the latter and forms it. Virtue has an impact on man's life, on his actions and behaviour. It follows that, in all these reflections of ours, we are speaking not so much of the virtue as of man living and acting "virtuously"; we are speaking of the prudent, just and courageous man, and finally, precisely today, we are speaking of the "temperate" (or "sober") man.
Let us add at once that all these attributes, or rather attitudes of man, coming from the single cardinal virtues, are connected with one another. So it is not possible to be a really prudent, man, or an authentically just one, or a truly strong one, unless one also has the virtue of temperance. It can be said that this virtue indirectly conditions all other virtues, but it must also be said that all the other virtues are indispensable for man to be "temperate" (or "sober").
3. The term "temperance" itself seems in a certain way to refer to what is "outside man". We say, in fact, that a temperate man is one who does not abuse food, drinks, pleasures, who does not drink alcohol to excess, who does not deprive himself of consciousness by the use of drugs, etc. This reference to elements external to man has its basis, however, within man. It is as if there existed in each of us a "higher self" and a "lower self". In our "lower self", our "body" and everything that belongs to it is expressed: its needs, its desires, its passions of a sensual nature particularly. The virtue of temperance guarantees every man mastery of the "lower self" by the "higher self". Is this a humiliation of our body? Or a disability? On the contrary, this mastery gives higher value to the body. As a result of the virtue of temperance, the body and our senses find the right place which pertains to them in our human condition.
A temperate man is one who is master of himself. One in whom passions do not prevail over reason, will, and even the "heart". A man who can control himself! If this is so, we can easily realize what a fundamental and radical value the virtue of temperance has. It is even indispensable, in order that man may be fully a man. It is enough to look at some one who, carried away by his passions, becomes a "victim" of them—renouncing of his own accord the use of reason (such as, for example, an alcoholic, a drug addict)—to see clearly that "to be a man" means respecting one's own dignity, and therefore, among other things, letting oneself be guided by the virtue of temperance.
4. This virtue is also called "sobriety". And rightly so! In fact, to be able to control our passions, the lust of the flesh, the explosions of sensuality (for example in relations with the other sex) etc., we must not go beyond the rightful limit with regard to ourselves and our "lower self". If we do not respect this rightful limit, we will not be able to control ourselves. This does not mean that the virtuous, sober man cannot be "spontaneous", cannot enjoy, cannot weep, cannot express his feelings; that is, it does not mean that he must become insensitive, "indifferent", as if he were made of ice or stone. No, not at all! It is enough to look at Jesus to be convinced of this. Christian morality has never been identified Stoic morality. On the contrary, considering all the riches of affections and emotivity with which every man is endowed—each in a different way, moreover: man in one way, woman in another owing to her own sensitivity—it must be recognized that man cannot reach this mature spontaneity unless by means of continuous work on himself and special "vigilance" over his whole behaviour. The virtue of "temperance", of "sobriety" consists, in fact in this.
5. I think, too, that this virtue demands from each of us a specific humility with regard to the gifts that God has put in our human nature. I would say "humility of the body" and that "of the heart". This humility is a necessary condition for man's interior "harmony": for man's "interior" beauty. Let everyone think it over carefully; and in particular young men, and even more young women, at the age when one is so anxious to be handsome or beautiful in order to please others! Let us remember that man must above all be beautiful interiorly. Without this beauty, all efforts aimed at the body alone will not make—either him or her—a really beautiful person.
Is it not just the body, moreover, that undergoes considerable and often even serious damage to health, if man lacks the virtue of temperance, of sobriety? In this connection, the statistics and files of hospitals all over the world, could say a great deal. Also doctors who work on the advisory bureaus to which married couples, fiancés and young people apply, have great experience of this. It is true that we cannot judge virtue on the exclusive basis of the criterion of psychophysical health; there are many proofs, however, that the lack of the virtue, of temperance, sobriety, damages health.
6. I must end here, although I am convinced that this subject is interrupted rather than exhausted. Perhaps there will be an opportunity one day to return to it.
For the present this is enough. I have tried in this way, as well as I could, to follow John Paul I's testament.
I ask him to pray for me, when I shall have to pass to other topics during the Wednesday audiences.
The Pope then addressed a special greeting to the sick and to newly-weds.
Let a specially affectionate greeting now go to the sick. All of you who are suffering, know that the Pope has a predilection for you because you are called to take part more closely in the Saviour's redeeming Passion and because the evangelical beatitude: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (cf. Mt 5,4), belongs to you. Take heart! The Pope is with you: your suffering is not vain, but constitutes the riches of the Church. May my special blessing comfort you.
I am happy to address a word now to the newly-weds present here and to all young couples who with their love, blessed and sanctified by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage, have started a new life. To you I say: do not be afraid to give a Christian stamp to your new family: Christ is with you! He is near you to make stable and indissoluble the bond that unites you in mutual donation. He is near you to sustain you in the midst of the difficulties and trials that are, indeed, inevitable but not insuperable, and never destructive of married love when it is authentic and not selfish. With these happy wishes, the Pope blesses you in the Lord's joy.
1. Even if the liturgical time of Advent begins only next Sunday, I wish to speak to you of this cycle from today.
We are now accustomed to the term "advent"; we know what it means, but precisely because of the fact that we have become so familiar with it, we do not succeed, perhaps, in understanding all the riches that this concept contains.
Advent means "coming".
We must therefore ask ourselves: who comes? And for whom does he come?
We find the answer to this question at once. Even children know that it is Jesus who comes, for them and for all men. He comes one night at Bethlehem, He is born in a grotto, which was used as a cowshed.
The children know this, and so do the adults who participate in the children's joy, and who on Christmas Night seem to become children too. There are many questions, however, that are asked. Man has the right, and even the duty, to question in order to know. There are also those who doubt and, although they take part in the joy of Christmas, seem extraneous to the truth it contains.
For this very reason we have the time of Advent, so that every year we can penetrate again into this essential truth of Christianity.
2. The truth of Christianity corresponds to two fundamental realities which we can never lose sight of. Both are closely connected. And this precise link, such a deep one that one reality seems to explain the other, is the characteristic note of Christianity. The first reality is called "God", the second one "man". Christianity arises from a special mutual relationship between God and man. In recent times—particularly during the Second Vatican Council—there have been long discussions as to whether this relationship is theocentric or anthropocentric. There will never be a satisfactory answer to this question if we continue to consider the two terms of the question separately. In fact Christianity is anthropocentric precisely because it is fully theocentric; and simultaneously it is theocentric, thanks to its extraordinary anthropocentrism.
But it is just the mystery of the Incarnation which, in itself, explains this relationship.
8 It is for this reason that Christianity is not only a "religion of Advent", but Advent itself. Christianity lives the mystery of God's real coming to man, and throbs and pulsates constantly with this reality. It is simply the very life of Christianity. It is a question of a reality that is at once deep and simple, that is near the understanding and sensitiveness of every man and especially of those who, on the occasion of Christmas night, are able to become children. Not in vain did Jesus once say: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18,3).
3. To understand thoroughly this double reality with which Christianity throbs and pulsates every day, it is necessary to go back to the very beginnings of Revelation, in fact almost to the beginnings of human thought.
At the beginnings of human thought there can be various conceptions; the thought of every individual has its own history in his life from childhood. However, speaking of the "beginning", we do not intend to deal with the history of thought. We wish, on the contrary, to ascertain that at the very foundations of thought, that is, at its sources, there is the concept of "God': and the concept of "man". Sometimes they are covered up with a layer of many other different concepts (in particular in the presentday civilization of "materialistic" and also "technocratic reification")—but that does not mean that those concepts do not exist or are not at the foundation of our thought. Even the most elaborate atheistic system makes sense only on the supposition that it knows the meaning of the idea of "Theos", that is, God. In this connection the pastoral Constitution of Vatican II rightly teaches us that many forms of atheism are derived from lack of an adequate relationship with this concept of God. They are therefore, or at least may be, negations of something or rather of Some one other who does not correspond to the true God.
4. Advent—as a liturgical period of the ecclesial year—takes us back to the beginnings of Revelation. And at the very beginning we at once meet the fundamental connection of these two realities: God and man.
Picking up the first book of Holy Scripture, that is Genesis, we begin to read the words: "Beresit bara!—In the beginning he created ... " There follows the name of God, which in this biblical text reads "Elohim". In the beginning he created, and the one who created is God. These words constitute, as it were, the threshold of Revelation. At the beginning of the book of Genesis, God is defined not only with the name "Elohim"; other parts of this book also use the name "Yahweh".
The verb "created" speaks of him even more clearly. This verb, in fact, reveals God, who God is. It expresses his substance not so much in itself, as in relation to the world that is, to all creatures subject to the laws of time and space. The circumstantial adverbial phrase "in the beginning" indicates God as the One who exists before this beginning, who is not limited either by time or space, and who "creates", "gives a beginning" to everything that is not God, and which constitutes the visible and invisible world (according to Genesis: the heavens and the earth).
In this context the verb "created" says of God in the first place that he himself exists, that he is, that he is the fullness of being, that this fullness is manifested as Omnipotence, and that this Omnipotence is at once Wisdom and Love. The first sentence of Holy Scripture tells us all this about God. In this way the concept of "God" is formed in our intellect, if we refer to the beginnings of Revelation.
It would be significant to examine what is the relationship between the concept of "God", as we find it at the beginning of Revelation, and the one that we find at the basis of human thought (even in the case of the denial of God, that is, of atheism). Today, however, we do not intend to develop this subject.
5. We wish on the contrary to note that at the beginning of Revelation—in the same book of Genesis—and already in the first chapter we find the fundamental truth about man, whom God (Elohim) creates in his "image and likeness". We read, in fact: "God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gn 1,26), and further on: "God created man in his own in the image of God he created him; l male and female he created them" (Gn 1,27).
We will return to the problem of man next Wednesday. But already today we must point out this special relationship between God and his image, that is, man.
This relationship enlightens us on the very foundations of Christianity.
It also enables us to give a fundamental answer to two questions: first, what is the meaning of "Advent", second, why precisely is "Advent" a part of the very substance of Christianity?
I leave these questions to your reflection. We will come back to them in our future meditations and more than once. The reality of Advent is full of the deepest truth on God and on man.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1978