Audiences 2005-2013 21117
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our excursion into the world of the Fathers of the Church, I would like to guide you today to a little-known part of this universe of faith, in the territories where the Semitic-language Churches flourished, still uninfluenced by Greek thought. These Churches developed throughout the fourth century in the Near East, from the Holy Land to Lebanon and to Mesopotamia. In that century, which was a period of formation on the ecclesial and literary level, these communities contributed to the ascetic-monastic phenomenon with autochthonous characteristics that did not come under Egyptian monastic influence. The Syriac communities of the fourth century, therefore, represent the Semitic world from which the Bible itself has come, and they are an expression of a Christianity whose theological formulation had not yet entered into contact with different cultural currents, but lived in their own way of thinking. They are Churches in which asceticism in its various hermitic forms (hermits in the desert, caverns, recluses, stylites) and monasticism in forms of community life, exert a role of vital importance in the development of theological and spiritual thought.
I would like to introduce this world through the great figure of Aphraates, known also by the sobriquet "the Sage". He was one of the most important and at the same time most enigmatic personages of fourth century Syriac Christianity. A native of the Ninive-Mossul region, today in Iraq, he lived during the first half of the fourth century. We have little information about his life; he maintained, however, close ties with the ascetic-monastic environment of the Syriac-speaking Church, of which he has given us some information in his work and to which he dedicates part of his reflection. Indeed, according to some sources he was the head of a monastery and later consecrated a Bishop. He wrote 23 homilies, known as Expositions or Demonstrations, on various aspects of Christian life, such as faith, love, fasting, humility, prayer, the ascetic life, and also the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old and New Testaments. He wrote in a simple style with short sentences and sometimes with contrasting parallelisms; nevertheless, he was able to weave consistent discourses with a well-articulated development of the various arguments he treated.
Aphraates was from an Ecclesial Community situated on the frontier between Judaism and Christianity. It was a community strongly-linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem, and its Bishops were traditionally chosen from among the so-called "family" of James, the "brother of the Lord" (cf. Mc 6,3). They were people linked by blood and by faith to the Church of Jerusalem. Aphraates' language was Syriac, therefore a Semitic language like the Hebrew of the Old Testament and like the Aramaic spoken by Jesus himself. Aphraates' Ecclesial Community was a community that sought to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition, of which it felt it was a daughter. It therefore maintained a close relationship with the Jewish world and its Sacred Books. Significantly, Aphraates defines himself as a "disciple of the Sacred Scripture" of the Old and New Testaments (Expositions 22, 26), which he considers as his only source of inspiration, having recourse to it in such abundance as to make it the centre of his reflection.
Aphraates develops various arguments in his Expositions. Faithful to Syriac tradition, he often presents the salvation wrought by Christ as a healing, and thus Christ himself as the physician.
Sin, on the other hand, is seen as a wound that only penance can heal: "A man who has been wounded in battle", Aphraates said, "is not ashamed to place himself in the hands of a wise doctor...; in the same way, the one who has been wounded by Satan must not be ashamed to recognize his fault and distance himself from it, asking for the medicine of penance" (Expositions 7, 3). Another important aspect in Aphraates' work is his teaching on prayer, and in a special way on Christ as the teacher of prayer. The Christian prays following Jesus' teaching and example of oration: "Our Saviour taught people to pray like this, saying: "Pray in secret to the One who is hidden, but who sees all'; and again: "Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you' (Mt 6,6).... Our Saviour wants to show that God knows the desires and thoughts of the heart" (Expositions 4, 10).
For Aphraates, the Christian life is centred on the imitation of Christ, in taking up his yoke and following him on the way of the Gospel. One of the most useful virtues for Christ's disciple is humility. It is not a secondary aspect in the Christian's spiritual life: man's nature is humble and it is God who exalts it to his own glory. Aphraates observed that humility is not a negative value: "If man's roots are planted in the earth, his fruits ascend before the Lord of majesty" (Expositions 9, 14). By remaining humble in the earthly reality in which one lives, the Christian can enter into relationship with the Lord: "The humble man is humble, but his heart rises to lofty heights. The eyes of his face observe the earth and the eyes of his mind the lofty heights" (Expositions 9, 2).
Aphraates' vision of man and his physical reality is very positive: the human body, in the example of the humble Christ, is called to beauty, joy and light: "God draws near to the man who loves, and it is right to love humility and to remain in a humble state. The humble are simple, patient, loving, integral, upright, good, prudent, calm, wise, quiet, peaceful, merciful, ready to convert, benevolent, profound, thoughtful, beautiful and attractive" (Expositions 9, 14). Aphraates often presented the Christian life in a clear ascetic and spiritual dimension: faith is the base, the foundation; it makes of man a temple where Christ himself dwells. Faith, therefore, makes sincere charity possible, which expresses itself in love for God and neighbour. Another important aspect in Aphraates' thought is fasting, which he understood in a broad sense. He spoke of fasting from food as a necessary practice to be charitable and pure, of fasting understood as continence with a view to holiness, of fasting from vain or detestable words, of fasting from anger, of fasting from the possession of goods with a view to ministry, of fasting from sleep to be watchful in prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters, to conclude, we return again to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. According to this ancient "Sage", prayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the Christian's heart, and invites him to a coherent commitment to charity towards one's neighbour. In fact, he wrote:
"Give relief to those in distress, visit the ailing,
help the poor: this is prayer.
Prayer is good, and its works are beautiful.
Prayer is accepted when it gives relief to one's neighbour.
Prayer is heard when it includes forgiveness of affronts.
Prayer is strong
when it is full of God's strength" (Expositions 4, 14-16).
With these words Aphraates invites us to a prayer that becomes Christian life, a fulfilled life, a life penetrated by faith, by openness to God and therefore to love of neighbour.
To special groups
To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I extend a warm welcome. In a special way I greet Senior Staff members of the USS Harry S. Truman, diaconate candidates from the Diocese of Brownsville and members of the All-American Star Dance Team. May your visit to Rome be a time of growth and renewal. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lastly, I greet the youth, the sick and the newly-weds. This Sunday, the last of Ordinary Time, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. Dear young people, put Jesus at the centre of your life. May Christ, who has made his Cross a royal throne, teach you, dear sick people, to comprehend the redemptive value of suffering lived in union with him. I invite you, dear newly-weds, to place Jesus at the centre of your matrimonial journey.
Distressing news is being reported about the precarious humanitarian situation in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, ever more gravely afflicted by social insecurity and poverty. I am anxiously watching the evolution of events and I appeal to those who have political responsibility on the local and the international levels to find peaceful solutions and to bring relief to that beloved population. In addition, I encourage the efforts of those who, even amid insecurity and discomfort, remain in that region in order to bring help and relief to the inhabitants.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Common opinion today supposes Christianity to be a European religion which subsequently exported the culture of this Continent to other countries. But the reality is far more complex since the roots of the Christian religion are found in the Old Testament, hence, in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. Christianity is still nourished by these Old Testament roots. Furthermore, its expansion in the first centuries was both towards the West - towards the Greco-Latin world, where it later inspired European culture - and in the direction of the East, as far as Persia and India. It thus contributed to creating a specific culture in Semitic languages with an identity of its own. To demonstrate this cultural pluralism of the one Christian faith in its origins, I spoke in my Catechesis last Wednesday of a representative of this other Christianity who is almost unknown to us: Aphraates, the Persian sage. Today, along the same lines, I would like to talk about St Ephrem the Syrian, who was born into a Christian family in Nisibis in about 306 A.D. He was Christianity's most important Syriac-speaking representative and uniquely succeeded in reconciling the vocations of theologian and poet. He was educated and grew up beside James, Bishop of Nisibis (303-338), and with him founded the theological school in his city. He was ordained a deacon and was intensely active in local Christian community life until 363, the year when Nisibis fell into Persian hands. Ephrem then emigrated to Edessa, where he continued his activity as a preacher. He died in this city in 373, a victim of the disease he contracted while caring for those infected with the plague. It is not known for certain whether he was a monk, but we can be sure in any case that he remained a deacon throughout his life and embraced virginity and poverty. Thus, the common and fundamental Christian identity appears in the specificity of his own cultural expression: faith, hope - the hope which makes it possible to live poor and chaste in this world, placing every expectation in the Lord - and lastly, charity, to the point of giving his life through nursing those sick with the plague.
St Ephrem has left us an important theological inheritance. His substantial opus can be divided into four categories: works written in ordinary prose (his polemic works or biblical commentaries); works written in poetic prose; homilies in verse; and lastly, hymns, undoubtedly Ephrem's most abundant production. He is a rich and interesting author in many ways, but especially from the theological point of view. It is the fact that theology and poetry converge in his work which makes it so special. If we desire to approach his doctrine, we must insist on this from the outset: namely, on the fact that he produces theology in poetical form. Poetry enabled him to deepen his theological reflection through paradoxes and images. At the same time, his theology became liturgy, became music; indeed, he was a great composer, a musician. Theology, reflection on the faith, poetry, song and praise of God go together; and it is precisely in this liturgical character that the divine truth emerges clearly in Ephrem's theology. In his search for God, in his theological activity, he employed the way of paradoxes and symbols. He made ample use of contrasting images because they served to emphasize the mystery of God.
I cannot present much of his writing here, partly because his poetry is difficult to translate, but to give at least some idea of his poetical theology I would like to cite a part of two hymns. First of all, and also with a view to the approach of Advent, I shall propose to you several splendid images taken from his hymns On the Nativity of Christ. Ephrem expressed his wonder before the Virgin in inspired tones:
"The Lord entered her and became a servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her and his voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered her; he became a Lamb in her, and came forth bleating.
"The belly of your Mother changed the order of things, O you who order all! Rich he went in, he came out poor: the High One went into her [Mary], he came out lowly. Brightness went into her and clothed himself, and came forth a despised form....
"He that gives food to all went in, and knew hunger. He who gives drink to all went in, and knew thirst. Naked and bare came forth from her the Clother of all things [in beauty]"
(Hymn De Nativitate 11: 6-8).
To express the mystery of Christ, Ephrem uses a broad range of topics, expressions and images. In one of his hymns he effectively links Adam (in Paradise) to Christ (in the Eucharist):
"It was by closing with the sword of the cherub that the path to the tree of life was closed. But for the peoples, the Lord of this tree gave himself as food in his (Eucharistic) oblation.
"The trees of the Garden of Eden were given as food to the first Adam. For us, the gardener of the Garden in person made himself food for our souls. Indeed, we had all left Paradise together with Adam, who left it behind him.
"Now that the sword has been removed here below (on the Cross), replaced by the spear, we can return to it"
(Hymn 49: 9-11).
To speak of the Eucharist, Ephrem used two images, embers or burning coal and the pearl. The burning coal theme was taken from the Prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 6,6). It is the image of one of the seraphim who picks up a burning coal with tongs and simply touches the lips of the Prophet with it in order to purify them; the Christian, on the other hand, touches and consumes the Burning Coal which is Christ himself:
"In your bread hides the Spirit who cannot be consumed; in your wine is the fire that cannot be swallowed. The Spirit in your bread, fire in your wine: behold a wonder heard from our lips.
"The seraph could not bring himself to touch the glowing coal with his fingers, it was Isaiah's mouth alone that it touched; neither did the fingers grasp it nor the mouth swallow it; but the Lord has granted us to do both these things.
"The fire came down with anger to destroy sinners, but the fire of grace descends on the bread and settles in it. Instead of the fire that destroyed man, we have consumed the fire in the bread and have been invigorated"
(Hymn De Fide 10: 8-10).
Here again is a final example of St Ephrem's hymns, where he speaks of the pearl as a symbol of the riches and beauty of faith:
"I placed (the pearl), my brothers, on the palm of my hand, to be able to examine it. I began to look at it from one side and from the other: it looked the same from all sides. (Thus) is the search for the Son inscrutable, because it is all light. In its clarity I saw the Clear One who does not grow opaque; and in his purity, the great symbol of the Body of Our Lord, which is pure. In his indivisibility I saw the truth which is indivisible"
(Hymn On the Pearl 1: 2-3).
The figure of Ephrem is still absolutely timely for the life of the various Christian Churches. We discover him in the first place as a theologian who reflects poetically, on the basis of Holy Scripture, on the mystery of man's redemption brought about by Christ, the Word of God incarnate. His is a theological reflection expressed in images and symbols taken from nature, daily life and the Bible. Ephrem gives his poetry and liturgical hymns a didactic and catechetical character: they are theological hymns yet at the same time suitable for recitation or liturgical song. On the occasion of liturgical feasts, Ephrem made use of these hymns to spread Church doctrine. Time has proven them to be an extremely effective catechetical instrument for the Christian community.
Ephrem's reflection on the theme of God the Creator is important: nothing in creation is isolated and the world, next to Sacred Scripture, is a Bible of God. By using his freedom wrongly, man upsets the cosmic order. The role of women was important to Ephrem. The way he spoke of them was always inspired with sensitivity and respect: the dwelling place of Jesus in Mary's womb greatly increased women's dignity. Ephrem held that just as there is no Redemption without Jesus, there is no Incarnation without Mary. The divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our redemption can already be found in Ephrem's texts; poetically and with fundamentally scriptural images, he anticipated the theological background and in some way the very language of the great Christological definitions of the fifth-century Councils.
Ephrem, honoured by Christian tradition with the title "Harp of the Holy Spirit", remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. It was a crucial and emblematic decision: he was a deacon, a servant, in his liturgical ministry, and more radically, in his love for Christ, whose praises he sang in an unparalleled way, and also in his love for his brethren, whom he introduced with rare skill to the knowledge of divine Revelation.
* * *
To special groups:
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Australia, Canada and the United States. I offer a special welcome to the students from the University of Sunbury, Melbourne; and to the students and staff of the University of Dallas, Texas. I also greet the members of the pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, led by their Archbishop. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I greet those in charge of distribution of L'Osservatore Romano across the world, accompanied by Prof. Giovanni Maria Vian, Editor-in-Chief, and Fr Elio Torrigiani, the General Director. Dear friends, I thank you for your commitment to promoting the Pope's teachings throughout the world and I accompany you with a special remembrance in prayer, so that the Lord may fill you with abundant spiritual gifts.
World AIDS Day will be celebrated this coming 1 December. I am spiritually close to all who suffer from this terrible disease as well as to their families, especially those afflicted by the loss of a spouse. I assure all of them of my prayers.
I would also like to urge all people of good will to multiply their efforts to prevent the spread of the HIV virus, to oppose the contempt that often affects those who have the disease and to care for the sick, especially when they are still children.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last two Catecheses we made an excursion through the Eastern Churches of Semitic tongue, meditating on Aphraates the Persian and Ephrem the Syrian. Today, we return to the Latin world, to the North of the Roman Empire with St Chromatius of Aquileia. This Bishop exercised his ministry in the ancient Church of Aquileia, a fervent centre of Christian life located in the Roman Empire's Decima regione, the Venetia et Histria. In 388 A.D., when Chromatius assumed the Episcopal throne of the city, the local Christian communities had already developed a glorious history of Gospel fidelity. Between the middle of the third century and the early years of the fourth, the persecution of Decius, Valerian and Diocletian had taken a heavy toll of martyrs. Furthermore, the Church of Aquileia, like so many other Churches of that time, had had to contend with the threat of the Arian heresy. Athanasius himself - a standard-bearer of Nicene orthodoxy whom the Arians had banished to exile - had for some time been in Aquileia, where he had taken refuge. Under the guidance of its Bishops, the Christian community withstood the snares of the heresy and reinforced their own attachment to the Catholic faith.
In September 381, Aquileia was the seat of a Synod that gathered about 35 Bishops from the coasts of Africa, the Rhone Valley and the entire Decima regione. The Synod intended to eliminate the last remnants of Arianism in the West. Chromatius, a priest, also took part in the Council as peritus for Bishop Valerian of Aquileia (370/1 to 387/8). The years around the Synod of 381 were the "Golden Age" of the inhabitants of Aquileia. St Jerome, a native of Dalmatia, and Rufinus of Concordia, spoke nostalgically of their sojourn in Aquileia (370-73), in that sort of theological cenacle which Jerome did not hesitate to define "tamquam chorus beatorum", "like a choir of blesseds" (Cronaca: PL XXVII, 697-698). It was in this Upper Room - some aspects of which are reminiscent of the community experiences directed by Eusebius of Vercelli and by Augustine - that the most outstanding figures of the Church of the Upper Adriatic were formed.
Chromatius, however, had already learned at home to know and love Christ. Jerome himself spoke of this in terms full of admiration and compared Chromatius' mother to the Prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the Wise Virgins of the Gospel Parable, and Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius to the young Samuel (cf. Ep.VII: PL XXII, 341). Jerome wrote further of Chromatius and Eusebius: "Blessed Chromatius and St Eusebius were brothers by blood, no less than by the identity of their ideals" (Ep. VIII: PL XXII, 342).
Chromatius was born in Aquileia in about 345 A.D. He was ordained a deacon, then a priest; finally, he was appointed Bishop of that Church (388). After receiving episcopal ordination from Bishop Ambrose he dedicated himself courageously and energetically to an immense task because of the vast territory entrusted to his pastoral care: the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Aquileia, in fact, stretched from the present-day territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, as far as Hungary. How well known and highly esteemed Chromatius was in the Church of his time we can deduce from an episode in the life of St John Chrysostom. When the Bishop of Constantinople was exiled from his See, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important Bishops of the West seeking to obtain their support with the Emperors: he wrote one letter to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the Bishop of Milan and the third to the Bishop of Aquileia, precisely, Chromatius (Ep. CLV: PG LII, 702). Those were difficult times also for Chromatius because of the precarious political situation. In all likelihood Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while he was attempting to escape the incursions of the Barbarians in 407, the same year when Chrysostom also died.
With regard to prestige and importance, Aquileia was the fourth city of the Italian peninsula and the ninth of the Roman Empire. This is another reason that explains why it was a target that attracted both Goths and Huns. In addition to causing serious bereavements and destruction, the invasions of these peoples gravely jeopardized the transmission of the works of the Fathers preserved in the episcopal library, rich in codices. St Chromatius' writings were also dispersed, ending up here and there, and were often attributed to other authors: to John Chrysostom (partly because of the similar beginning of their two names, Chromatius and Chrysostom); or to Ambrose or Augustine; or even to Jerome, to whom Chromatius had given considerable help in the revision of the text and in the Latin translation of the Bible. The rediscovery of a large part of the work of Chromatius is due to fortunate events, which has made it possible only in recent years to piece together a fairly consistent corpus of his writings: more than 40 homilies, 10 of which are fragments, and more than 60 treatises of commentary on Matthew's Gospel.
Chromatius was a wise teacher and a zealous pastor. His first and main commitment was to listen to the Word, to be able to subsequently proclaim it: he always bases his teaching on the Word of God and constantly returns to it. Certain subjects are particularly dear to him: first of all, the Trinitarian mystery, which he contemplated in its revelation throughout the history of salvation.
Then, the theme of the Holy Spirit: Chromatius constantly reminds the faithful of the presence and action in the life of the Church of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. But the holy Bishop returns with special insistence to the mystery of Christ. The Incarnate Word is true God and true man: he took on humanity in its totality to endow it with his own divinity. These truths, which he also reaffirmed explicitly in order to counter Arianism, were to end up about 50 years later in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon. The heavy emphasis on Christ's human nature led Chromatius to speak of the Virgin Mary. His Mariological doctrine is clear and precise. To him we owe evocative descriptions of the Virgin Most Holy: Mary is the "evangelical Virgin capable of accepting God"; she is the "immaculate and inviolate ewe lamb" who conceived the "Lamb clad in purple" (cf. Sermo XXIII, 3: Scrittori dell'area santambrosiana 3/1, p. 134). The Bishop of Aquileia often compares the Virgin with the Church: both, in fact, are "virgins" and "mothers". Chromatius developed his ecclesiology above all in his commentary on Matthew. These are some of the recurring concepts: the Church is one, she is born from the Blood of Christ; she is a precious garment woven by the Holy Spirit; the Church is where the fact that Christ was born of a Virgin is proclaimed, where brotherhood and harmony flourish. One image of which Chromatius is especially fond is that of the ship in a storm - and his were stormy times, as we have heard: "There is no doubt", the Holy Bishop says, "that this ship represents the Church" (cf. Tractatus XLII, 5: Scrittori dell'area santambrosiana 3/2, p. 260).
As the zealous pastor that he was, Chromatius was able to speak to his people with a fresh, colourful and incisive language. Although he was not ignorant of the perfect Latin cursus, he preferred to use the vernacular, rich in images easy to understand. Thus, for example, drawing inspiration from the sea, he compared on the one hand the natural catching of fish which, caught and landed, die; and on the other, Gospel preaching, thanks to which men and women are saved from the murky waters of death and ushered into true life (cf. Tractatus XVI, 3: Scrittori dell'area santambrosiana 3/2, p. 106). Again, in the perspective of a good Pastor, during a turbulent period such as his, ravaged by the incursions of Barbarians, he was able to set himself beside the faithful to comfort them and open their minds to trust in God, who never abandons his children.
Lastly, as a conclusion to these reflections, let us include an exhortation of Chromatius which is still perfectly applicable today: "Let us pray to the Lord with all our heart and with all our faith", the Bishop of Aquileia recommends in one of his Sermons, "let us pray to him to deliver us from all enemy incursions, from all fear of adversaries. Do not look at our merits but at his mercy, at him who also in the past deigned to set the Children of Israel free, not for their own merits but through his mercy. "May he protect us with his customary merciful love and bring about for us what holy Moses said to the Children of Israel: The Lord will fight to defend you, and you will be silent. It is he who fights, it is he who wins the victory.... And so that he may condescend to do so, we must pray as much as possible. He himself said, in fact, through the mouth of the prophet: Call on me on the day of tribulation; I will set you free and you will give me glory" (Sermo XVI, 4: Scrittori dell'area santambrosiana 3/2, pp. 100-102).
Thus, at the very beginning of the Advent Season, St Chromatius reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer in which it is essential to enter into contact with God. God knows us, he knows me, he knows each one of us, he loves me, he will not abandon me. Let us go forward with this trust in the liturgical season that has just begun.
To special groups
I am pleased to welcome the Marist and Marianist Brothers visiting Rome for a programme of spiritual renewal. I also greet the African-Methodist Choir, with gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Sweden and the United States, I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. We are preparing to celebrate in a few days time the Solemnity of the Immaculate Virgin. May it be she who guides you, dear young people, on your way of adherence to Christ. For you, dear sick people, may she be a support in your suffering and awaken new hope within you, and guide you, dear newly-weds, to increasingly discover Christ's love.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Father of the Church to whom we turn our attention today is St Paulinus of Nola. Paulinus, a contemporary of St Augustine to whom he was bound by a firm friendship, exercised his ministry at Nola in Campania, where he was a monk and later a priest and a Bishop. However, he was originally from Aquitaine in the South of France, to be precise, Bordeaux, where he was born into a high-ranking family. It was here, with the poet Ausonius as his teacher, that he received a fine literary education. He left his native region for the first time to follow his precocious political career, which was to see him rise while still young to the position of Governor of Campania. In this public office he attracted admiration for his gifts of wisdom and gentleness. It was during this period that grace caused the seed of conversion to grow in his heart. The incentive came from the simple and intense faith with which the people honoured the tomb of a saint, Felix the Martyr, at the Shrine of present-day Cimitile. As the head of public government, Paulinus took an interest in this Shrine and had a hospice for the poor built and a road to facilitate access to it for the many pilgrims.
While he was doing his best to build the city on earth, he continued discovering the way to the city in Heaven. The encounter with Christ was the destination of a laborious journey, strewn with ordeals. Difficult circumstances which resulted from his loss of favour with the political Authorities made the transience of things tangible to him. Once he had arrived at faith, he was to write: "The man without Christ is dust and shadow" (Carm. X, 289). Anxious to shed light on the meaning of life, he went to Milan to attend the school of Ambrose. He then completed his Christian formation in his native land, where he was baptized by Bishop Delphinus of Bordeaux. Marriage was also a landmark on his journey of faith. Indeed, he married Therasia, a devout noblewoman from Barcelona, with whom he had a son. He would have continued to live as a good lay Christian had not the infant's death after only a few days intervened to rouse him, showing him that God had other plans for his life. Indeed, he felt called to consecrate himself to Christ in a rigorous ascetic life.
In full agreement with his wife Therasia, he sold his possessions for the benefit of the poor and, with her, left Aquitaine for Nola. Here, the husband and wife settled beside the Basilica of the Patron Saint, Felix, living henceforth in chaste brotherhood according to a form of life which also attracted others. The community's routine was typically monastic, but Paulinus, who had been ordained a priest in Barcelona, took it upon himself despite his priestly status to care for pilgrims. This won him the liking and trust of the Christian community, which chose Paulinus, upon the death of the Bishop in about 409, as his successor in the See of Nola. Paulinus intensified his pastoral activity, distinguished by special attention to the poor. He has bequeathed to us the image of an authentic Pastor of charity, as St Gregory the Great described him in chapter III of his Dialogues, in which he depicts Paulinus in the heroic gesture of offering himself as a prisoner in the place of a widow's son. The historical truth of this episode is disputed, but the figure of a Bishop with a great heart who knew how to make himself close to his people in the sorrowful trials of the barbarian invasions lives on.
Paulinus' conversion impressed his contemporaries. His teacher Ausonius, a pagan poet, felt "betrayed" and addressed bitter words to him, reproaching him on the one hand for his "contempt", considered insane, of material goods, and on the other, for abandoning his literary vocation. Paulinus replied that giving to the poor did not mean contempt for earthly possessions but rather an appreciation of them for the loftiest aim of charity. As for literary commitments, what Paulinus had taken leave of was not his poetic talent - which he was to continue to cultivate - but poetic forms inspired by mythology and pagan ideals. A new aesthetic now governed his sensibility: the beauty of God incarnate, crucified and risen, whose praises he now sang. Actually, he had not abandoned poetry but was henceforth to find his inspiration in the Gospel, as he says in this verse: "To my mind the only art is the faith, and Christ is my poetry" (At nobis ars una fides, et musica Christus: Carm., XX, 32).
Paulinus' poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and great events is seen as a history of salvation, a history of God with us. Many of these compositions, the so-called Carmina natalicia, are linked to the annual feast of Felix the Martyr, whom he had chosen as his heavenly Patron. Remembering St Felix, Paulinus desired to glorify Christ himself, convinced as he was that the Saint's intercession had obtained the grace of conversion for him: "In your light, joyful, I loved Christ" (Carm. XXI, 373). He desired to express this very concept by enlarging the Shrine with a new basilica, which he had decorated in such a way that the paintings, described by suitable captions, would constitute a visual catechesis for pilgrims. Thus, he explained his project in a Poem dedicated to another great catechist, St Nicetas of Remesiana, as he accompanied him on a visit to his basilicas: "I now want you to contemplate the paintings that unfold in a long series on the walls of the painted porticos.... It seemed to us useful to portray sacred themes in painting throughout the house of Felix, in the hope that when the peasants see the painted figure, these images will awaken interest in their astonished minds" (Carm. XXVII, vv. 511, 580-583). Today, it is still possible to admire the remains of these works which rightly place the Saint of Nola among the figures with a Christian archaeological reference.
Life in accordance with the ascetic discipline of Cimitile was spent in poverty and prayer and was wholly immersed in lectio divina. Scripture, read, meditated upon and assimilated, was the light in whose brightness the Saint of Nola examined his soul as he strove for perfection. He told those who were struck by his decision to give up material goods that this act was very far from representing total conversion. "The relinquishment or sale of temporal goods possessed in this world is not the completion but only the beginning of the race in the stadium; it is not, so to speak, the goal, but only the starting point. In fact, the athlete does not win because he strips himself, for he undresses precisely in order to begin the contest, whereas he only deserves to be crowned as victorious when he has fought properly" (cf. Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicius Severus).
After the ascetic life and the Word of God came charity; the poor were at home in the monastic community. Paulinus did not limit himself to distributing alms to them: he welcomed them as though they were Christ himself. He reserved a part of the monastery for them and by so doing, it seemed to him that he was not so much giving as receiving, in the exchange of gifts between the hospitality offered and the prayerful gratitude of those assisted. He called the poor his "masters" (cf. Ep. XIII, 11 to Pammachius) and, remarking that they were housed on the lower floor, liked to say that their prayers constituted the foundations of his house (cf. Carm. XXI, 393-394).
St Paulinus did not write theological treatises, but his poems and ample correspondence are rich in a lived theology, woven from God's Word, constantly examined as a light for life. The sense of the Church as a mystery of unity emerges in particular from them. Paulinus lived communion above all through a pronounced practice of spiritual friendship. He was truly a master in this, making his life a crossroads of elect spirits: from Martin of Tours to Jerome, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Delphinus of Bordeaux to Nicetas of Remesiana, from Victricius of Rouen to Rufinus of Aquileia, from Pammachius to Sulpicius Severus and many others, more or less well known. It was in this atmosphere that the intense pages written to Augustine came into being. Over and above the content of the individual letters, one is impressed by the warmth with which the Saint of Nola sings of friendship itself as a manifestation of the one Body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Here is an important passage that comes at the beginning of the correspondence between the two friends: "It is not surprising if, despite being far apart, we are present to each other and, without being acquainted, know each other, because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road and we dwell in the same house" (Ep. VI, 2). As can be seen, this is a very beautiful description of what it means to be Christian, to be the Body of Christ, to live within the Church's communion. The theology of our time has found the key to approaching the mystery of the Church precisely in the concept of communion. The witness of St Paulinus of Nola helps us to perceive the Church, as she is presented to us by the Second Vatican Council, as a sacrament of intimate union with God, hence, of unity among all of us and, lastly, among the whole human race (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 1). In this perspective I wish you all a happy Advent Season.
To special groups
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially the newly professed Missionaries of Charity. In this Advent season, may your hearts be filled with hope as you prepare for the coming of our Saviour. Upon all of you, and upon those who have travelled here from Sweden, Malta, Australia, Singapore, Canada and the United States, I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. I hope that you, dear young people, will dispose your hearts to welcome Jesus, who saves us with the power of his love. Dear sick people, who in your illness experience the weight of the cross even more, may the forthcoming Christmas festivities bring you serenity and comfort. And dear newly-weds who have recently formed your family, may you grow increasingly in that love which Jesus came to give us in his Nativity.
Paul VI Audience Hall
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