Speeches 2005-13 7198
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
I receive you with great affection and joy at this meeting which brings your ad limina visit to a close. It has given you the opportunity to make your bonds of communion with the Successor of Peter even closer and to renew, at the tombs of the Apostles, your faith in the Risen Jesus Christ, the true hope of all humankind.
I would like to express my warm gratitude to Bishop Ignacio Gogorza Izaguirre of Encarnación, President of your Bishops' Conference, for his kind words on behalf of all. I too, prompted by anxiety for all the Churches (cf. 2Co 11,28), share in your worries and in your desires as Pastors of Christ, and I ask the Lord to support all your priests, religious, seminarians and lay faithful who are dedicated with true love to the Gospel cause.
The pastoral challenges you must face are truly immense and complex. In confronting a cultural context that is seeking to distance God from individuals and from society or that views him as an obstacle to personal happiness, a vast-scale missionary effort is urgently needed which, by placing Jesus Christ at the centre of all pastoral action, will succeed in introducing the beauty and truth of his life and message of salvation to everyone. People are in need of this personal encounter with the Lord who opens to them the door to a life illuminated by God's grace and love. In this sense, the presence of true witnesses of authentic Christian life, together with the holiness of pastors, is a requirement that is ever timely, both in the Church and in the world. For this reason, dear Brothers, aware that one of the most precious gifts you can offer your communities is your own pastoral ministry, I encourage you, by means of a holy life woven of love for God, of ecclesial fidelity and of generous self-giving to the Gospel, to become true examples to your flock (cf. 1P 5,3).
Bishops, together with the Pope and under his authority, are sent to perpetuate the work of Christ (cf. Christus Dominus CD 2). In addition to being the visible principle and foundation of unity in his own particular Church, the Bishop himself is also the bond of ecclesial communion and the point of convergence between his particular Church and the universal Church (cf. Pastores Gregis ). As Successor of the Apostle Peter, I encourage you to continue to work sparing no effort to increase unity in your diocesan communities and also with this Apostolic See. The unity for which the Lord Jesus prayed, especially at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 17,20-21), is a source of authentic pastoral and spiritual fruitfulness.
Priests rightly occupy a very important place in your hearts. With the imposition of hands they were configured more closely to the Good Shepherd and share in his priesthood as true administrators of the divine mysteries (cf. 1Co 4,1) for the good of the brethren. I encourage you to offer them, together with your nearness and esteem for their work, a satisfactory continuing formation that will help them to revitalize their spiritual life (cf. 1Tm 4,14-16). Thus motivated by a profound feeling of love and obedience to the Church, they may work tirelessly, offering to all the only food that can appease the human thirst for fulfilment: Jesus Christ Our Saviour. At the same time, the joy, conviction and fidelity with which priests live their vocation every day will inspire in many young people the desire to follow Christ in the priesthood, responding generously to his call. I am glad to note that one of your priorities is indeed the pastoral care of youth and vocations. To this end, it is necessary to provide seminarians with the human and material means they need to help them acquire a sound inner life and an adequate intellectual and doctrinal training, especially with regard to the nature and identity of the priestly ministry.
My recognition and gratitude also extend to the religious for the zeal and love with which they have proclaimed the Christian faith from the beginning of the evangelization of your regions. I ask them to continue to be witnesses of an authentically evangelical life with their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
For the Christian message to reach the furthest corners of the earth, the indispensable collaboration of the lay faithful is essential. Their specific vocation consists in imbuing the temporal order with the Christian spirit and transforming it in accordance with the divine plan (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 31). Pastors in turn are duty-bound to offer them all the spiritual and formative means they need (cf. ibid., n 37) so that by living their own Christian faith consistently they may truly be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5,13).
A significant aspect of the mission proper to lay people is their service to society through the exercise of politics. According to the Church's doctrinal ministry, "The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful" (Deus Caritas Est ). Lay people must therefore be encouraged to live this important dimension of social charity with responsibility and dedication, so that the human community to which they belong with every right may progress in justice, rectitude and in the defence of true and authentic values - such as the protection of human life, marriage and the family - thereby contributing to the true human and spiritual good of all society.
I know how many efforts you are making to alleviate the needs of your people that sadden your hearts as Pastors. Taking into account that the charitable activity of the Church is "a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs" (ibid., n. 31), I ask you, in your ministry, to be a living image of Christ's love within reach for all your brethren, especially those who suffer the most, the marginalized, the elderly, the sick and prisoners.
Before concluding, I would like to reaffirm, dear Brothers, my gratitude and my affection for your daily efforts at the service of the Church. I pray the Lord that this meeting may reinforce your reciprocal communion and strengthen you in faith, hope and charity. I would also like to entrust to you the task of bringing back to your priests, religious, seminarians and all your diocesan faithful, the greeting, closeness and prayers of the Pope.
As I entrust you yourselves, your intentions and your pastoral projects to the Virgin Mary of Caacupé, I impart with my affection a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: "France, are you faithful to your Baptismal promises?" John Paul II asked in 1980 during his first trip there. Today, what will your message be to the French? Do you think that, due to secularism, France is losing its Christian identity?
Benedict XVI: It seems to me obvious today that secularism in itself is not in opposition to the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith because the Christian faith was a universal religion from the very start and consequently could not be identified with any single State; it is present in all States and different in these States. It has always been clear to Christians that religion and faith are not politics but another sphere of human life.... Politics, the State, were not a religion but rather a secular reality with a specific role... and the two must be open to each other. In this regard, I would say that today, for the French, and not only for the French, for us Christians in today's secularized world, it is important to live the freedom of our faith joyfully, to live the beauty of faith and to make visible in the world today that it is beautiful to be a believer, that it is beautiful to know God, God with a human face in Jesus Christ... thus to show that it is possible to be a believer today and even that it is necessary for contemporary society that people exist who know God and can therefore live in accordance with the great values he has given to us and contribute to the presence of values that are fundamental to the construction and survival of our States and our societies.
Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: You know and love France... what connects you most particularly to this country? Which are the French authors, secular or Christian, which have made the greatest impression on you or have left you with the most moving memories of France?
Benedict XVI: I would not dare to say that I know France well. I know it a little, but I love France, the great French culture, especially of course the great cathedrals and also the great French art... the great theology that begins with St Irenaeus of Lyons through until the 13th century, and I have studied the 13th century University of Paris: St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas. This theology was crucial for the development of theology in the West.... And naturally the theology of the century of the Second Vatican Council. I had the great honour and joy of being a friend of Fr de Lubac, one of the most important figures of the past century, but I also had a good working relationship with Fr Congar, Jean Daniélou and others. I had very good personal relationships with Etienne Gilson and Henri-Irénée Maroux.
Thus, I truly had very profound, very personal and enriching contact with the great theological and philosophical culture of France. This was truly decisive for the development of my thought. But there was also the rediscovery of the original Gregorian chant with Solesmes, the great monastic culture... and of course great poetry. As a man of the Baroque, I am very partial to Paul Claudel, to his joie de vivre, and also to Bernanos and the great French poets of the past century. Thus it is a culture which truly determined my personal, theological, philosophical and human development.
Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: What do you say to those who, in France, fear that the "Motu proprio' Summorum Pontificum signals a step backwards from the great insights of the Second Vatican Council? How can you reassure them?
Benedict XVI: Their fear is unfounded, for this "Motu Proprio' is merely an act of tolerance, with a pastoral aim, for those people who were brought up with this liturgy, who love it, are familiar with it and want to live with this liturgy. They form a small group, because this presupposes a schooling in Latin, a training in a certain culture. Yet for these people, to have the love and tolerance to let them live with this liturgy seems to me a normal requirement of the faith and pastoral concern of any Bishop of our Church. There is no opposition between the liturgy renewed by the Second Vatican Council and this liturgy.
On each day [of the Council], the Council Fathers celebrated Mass in accordance with the ancient rite and, at the same time, they conceived of a natural development for the liturgy within the whole of this century, for the liturgy is a living reality that develops but, in its development, retains its identity. Thus, there are certainly different accents, but nevertheless [there remains] a fundamental identity that excludes a contradiction, an opposition between the renewed liturgy and the previous liturgy. In any case, I believe that there is an opportunity for the enrichment of both parties. On the one hand the friends of the old liturgy can and must know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, etc.... On the other, the new liturgy places greater emphasis on common participation, but it is not merely an assembly of a certain community, but rather always an act of the universal Church in communion with all believers of all times, and an act of worship. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time.
Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: What is your frame of mind as you begin your pilgrimage to Lourdes and have you been there before?
Benedict XVI: I was in Lourdes for the International Eucharistic Congress in 1981, after the attack on the Holy Father [John Paul II]. And Cardinal Gantin was the Holy Father's Delegate. It is a very beautiful memory for me.
The day of St Bernadette's Feast is also my birthday. This fact already makes me feel very close to the little Saint, this little girl, young, pure and humble, with whom our Virgin spoke.
To encounter this reality, this presence of the Blessed Virgin in our times, to see the traces of this young girl who was a friend of the Virgin and moreover, to meet the Virgin, her Mother, is a very important event for me. Naturally, we are not going there in search of miracles.
I am going in order to find there the love of our Mother which is the true cure for all illnesses, all sorrows. I go to be in solidarity with all those who are suffering; I go in a sign of love for our Mother. This seems to me a very important sign for our epoch.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Standing here on French soil for the first time since Providence called me to the See of Peter, I am moved and honoured by the warm reception which you have extended to me. I am particularly grateful to you, Mr President, for the cordial invitation to visit your country and for the courteous words of welcome which you have just offered me. The visit which Your Excellency paid to me in the Vatican nine months ago is still fresh in my memory. Through you I extend my greetings to all the men and women who live in this country, which boasts a history of a thousand years, a present marked by a wealth of activity, and a future of promise. I wish them to know that France is often at the heart of the Pope’s prayers; he cannot forget all that she has contributed to the Church in the course of twenty centuries! The principal reason for my visit is the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. It is my desire to join the multitude of countless pilgrims from the whole world who during this year are converging on the Marian shrine, filled with faith and love. It is this faith and this love that I will celebrate here in your land during these four days of grace which have been granted to me.
My pilgrimage to Lourdes has included a stop in Paris. Your capital city is familiar to me, and I know it rather well. I have stayed here often and over the years, because of my studies and in my former roles, have developed good personal and intellectual friendships. I return with joy, glad to have this occasion to pay tribute to the impressive heritage of culture and faith that has shaped your country’s outstanding history, and has nurtured great servants of the Nation and the Church, whose teaching and example have naturally reached far beyond the geographical borders of your nation, leaving their mark on the course of world history. During your visit to Rome, Mr President, you called to mind that the roots of France – like those of Europe – are Christian. History itself offers sufficient proof of this: from its origins, your country received the Gospel message. Even though documentary evidence is sometimes lacking, the existence of Christian communities in Gaul is attested from a very early period: it is moving to recall that the city of Lyons already had a Bishop in the mid-second century, and that Saint Irenaeus, the author of Adversus Haereses, gave eloquent witness there to the vigour of Christian thought. Saint Irenaeus came from Smyrna to preach faith in the Risen Christ. This Bishop of Lyons spoke Greek as his mother tongue. Could there be a more beautiful sign of the universal nature and destination of the Christian message? The Church, established at an early stage in your country, played a civilizing role to which I am pleased to pay tribute on this occasion. You yourself made reference to it during your address at the Lateran Palace last December, and again today. The transmission of the culture of antiquity through monks, professors and copyists, the formation of hearts and spirits in love of the poor, the assistance given to the most deprived by the foundation of numerous religious congregations, the contribution of Christians to the establishment of the institutions of Gaul, and later France, all of this is too well known for me to dwell on it. The thousands of chapels, churches, abbeys and cathedrals that grace the heart of your towns or the tranquillity of your countryside speak clearly of how your fathers in faith wished to honour him who had given them life and who sustains us in existence.
Many people, here in France as elsewhere, have reflected on the relations between Church and State. Indeed, Christ had already offered the basic principle for a just solution to the problem of relations between the political sphere and the religious sphere when, in answer to a question, he said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mc 12,17). The Church in France currently benefits from a “regime of freedom”. Past suspicion has been gradually transformed into a serene and positive dialogue that continues to grow stronger. A new instrument of dialogue has been in place since 2002, and I have much confidence in its work, given the mutual good will. We know that there are still some areas open to dialogue which we will have to pursue and redevelop step by step with determination and patience. You yourself, Mr President, have used the fine expression “laïcité positive” to characterize this more open understanding. At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité is now necessary. In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to – among other things – the creation of a basic ethical consensus in society.
The Pope, as witness of a God who loves and saves, strives to be a sower of charity and hope. All of human society needs hope. This hope is all the more necessary in today’s world which offers few spiritual aspirations and few material certainties. My greatest concern is for young people. Some of them are struggling to find the right direction, or are suffering from a loss of connection with their families. Still others are experiencing the limits of religious communitarianism. Sometimes on the margins and often left to themselves, they are vulnerable and must come to terms on their own with a reality that often overwhelms them. It is necessary to offer them a sound educational environment and to encourage them to respect and assist others if they are to develop serenely towards the age of responsibility. The Church can offer her own specific contribution in this area. I am also concerned by the social situation in the Western world, marked sadly by a surreptitious widening of the distance between rich and poor. I am certain that just solutions can be found that go beyond the necessary immediate assistance and address the heart of the problems, so as to protect the weak and promote their dignity. The Church, through her many institutions and works, together with many other associations in your country, often attempts to deal with immediate needs, but it is the State as such which must enact laws in order to eradicate unjust structures. From a broader perspective, Mr President, I am also concerned about the state of our planet. With great generosity, God has entrusted to us the world that he created. We must learn to respect and protect it more. It seems to me that the time has come for more constructive proposals so as to guarantee the good of future generations.
Your country’s Presidency of the European Union gives France the opportunity to bear witness – in accord with her noble tradition – to human rights and to their promotion for the good of individuals and society. When Europeans see and experience personally that the inalienable rights of the human person from conception to natural death – rights to free education, to family life, to work, and naturally those concerned with religion – when Europeans see that these rights, which form an inseparable unity, are promoted and respected, then they will understand fully the greatness of the enterprise that is the European Union, and will become active artisans of the same. The responsibility entrusted to you, Mr President, is not easy. These are uncertain times, and it is an arduous task to find the right path among the meanderings of day-to-day social, economic, national and international affairs. In particular, as we face the danger of a resurgence of old suspicions, tensions, and conflicts among nations – which we are troubled to be witnessing today – France, which historically has been sensitive to reconciliation between peoples, is called to help Europe build up peace within her boarders and throughout the world. In this regard, it is important to promote a unity that neither can nor desires to become a uniformity, but rather is able to guarantee respect for national differences and different cultural traditions, which amount to an enrichment of the European symphony, remembering at the same time that “national identity itself can only be achieved in openness towards other peoples and through solidarity with them” (Ecclesia in Europa, 112). I express my confidence that your country will contribute increasingly to the progress of this age towards serenity, harmony and peace.
Mr President, dear friends, I wish to express once again my gratitude for this gathering. Be assured of my fervent prayers for your beautiful country, that God may grant her peace and prosperity, freedom and unity, equality and fraternity. I entrust these prayers to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, principal patron of France. May God bless France and all her people!
Dear friends, it is with great pleasure that I meet with you this evening. Our meeting auspiciously coincides with the vigil of the weekly celebration of the shabbat, the day which from time immemorial has occupied a significant position in the religious and cultural life of the people of Israel. Every pious Jew sanctifies the shabbat with the reading of the Scriptures and the reciting of the Psalms. Dear friends, as you know, the prayer of Jesus also was nourished by the Psalms. Regularly he went to the temple and the synagogue. There he too listened to the word on the Sabbath. There he wanted to underline the goodness with which God cares for man, even in the arrangement of time. Does not the Talmud Yoma (85b) say: the Sabbath is offered to you, but you are not offered to the Sabbath? Christ has asked the people of the Covenant to recognize always the unprecedented greatness and love of the Creator for all humanity. Dear friends, because of that which unites us and that which separates us, we share a relationship that should be strengthened and lived. And we know that these fraternal bonds constitute a continual invitation to know and to respect one another better.
By her very nature the Catholic Church feels obliged to respect the Covenant made by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Indeed, the Church herself is situated within the eternal Covenant of the Almighty, whose plans are immutable, and she respects the children of the Promise, the children of the Covenant, as her beloved brothers and sisters in the faith. She compellingly repeats, through my voice, the words of the great Pope Pius XI, my beloved predecessor: Spiritually, we are Semites (Allocution to the Belgian Pilgrims, 16 September 1938). The Church therefore is opposed to every form of anti-Semitism, which can never be theologically justified. The theologian Henri de Lubac, in a time of darkness, as Pius XII (Summi Pontificatus, 10 October 1939) described it, added that to be anti-Semitic also signifies being anti-Christian (cf. Un nuovo fronte religioso in: Israele e la Fede Cristiana ). Once again I feel the duty to pay heartfelt recognition to those who have died unjustly and to those that have dedicated themselves to assure that the names of these victims may always be remembered. God does not forget!
I cannot neglect, on an occasion such as this, to recall the eminent role played by the Jews of France in the building up of the whole nation and of their prestigious contribution to her spiritual patrimony. They have given - and continue to give - great figures to the spheres of politics, culture and the arts. To each one of them I extend affectionate and respectful wishes and with fervour I invoke upon all of your families and upon all of your communities a special Blessing of the Lord of time and of history. Shabbat shalom!
Madam Minister of Culture,
Mr Chancellor of the French Institute,
I thank you, Your Eminence, for your kind words. We are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which Your venerable predecessor, the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. In particular, I greet the Minister of Culture, who is here representing the Government, together with Mr Giscard d’Estaing and Mr Jacques Chirac. I likewise greet all the Ministers present, the Representatives of UNESCO, the Mayor of Paris, and all other Authorities in attendance. I do not want to forget my colleagues from the French Institute, who are well aware of my regard for them. I thank the Prince of Broglie for his cordial words. We shall see each other again tomorrow morning. I thank the delegates of the French Islamic community for having accepted the invitation to participate in this meeting: I convey to them by best wishes for the holy season of Ramadan already underway. Of course, I extend warm greetings to the entire, multifaceted world of culture, which you, dear guests, so worthily represent.
I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism’s historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?
First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were “eschatologically” oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional. Quaerere Deum: because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or – as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. L’amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu). The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a dominici servitii schola. The monastery serves eruditio, the formation and education of man – a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason – education – through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.
Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Ac 2,37). Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to the essential reality, to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. “But if legere and lectio are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit”, says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).
And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him. The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the Gloria, which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the Sanctus, which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject: “The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates. The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes” (cf. ibid. p. 229).
For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine – in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) – are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis. Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God’s likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the “zone of dissimilarity” – into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private “creativity”, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the “ears of the heart” the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.
In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply a book, but a collection of literary texts which were redacted over the course of more than a thousand years, and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately apparent. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as “the Scripture” but as “the Scriptures”, which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that the word of God only comes to us through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the humanity of human agents, through their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: littera gesta docet – quid credas allegoria … (cf. Augustine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.
We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the Word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity and the reality of a human history. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. The Word of God and his action in the world are revealed only in the word and history of human beings.
The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Co 3,6). And he continues: “Where the Spirit is … there is freedom (cf. 2Co 3,17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: “The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is … there is freedom” (2Co 3,17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete’s own idea, the exegete’s own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. This tension presents itself anew as a challenge for our own generation as we face two poles: on the one hand, subjective arbitrariness, and on the other, fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today’s European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.
Thus far in our consideration of the “school of God’s service”, as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word – towards the “ora”. Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life. But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the “labora”. In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit. The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate. Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. In his Regula, Saint Benedict does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen. However, in one chapter of his Rule, he does speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus’s saying in Saint John’s Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (5:17). The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The “making” of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history. In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. “My Father is working still, and I am working.” God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God works, ergázetai! Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God’s activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.
We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was quaerere Deum – setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him. So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks’ seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God’s word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith’s intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have” (3:15). (The Logos, the reason for hope must become apo-logía; it must become a response). In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation—indeed, the obligation—to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.
The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation “outwards” – towards searching and questioning mankind – is seen in Saint Paul’s address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: “he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” (Ac 17,18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: ‘to an unknown god’. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know – the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason – not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation does not consist in a thought, but in a deed: God has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind deed, but one which is itself Logos – the presence of eternal reason in our flesh. Verbum caro factum est (Jn 1,14): just so, amid what is made (factum)there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man’s humility, which responds to God’s humility.
Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. Quaerere Deum – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture. Thank you.
Speeches 2005-13 7198