Audiences 2005-2013 20507

Wednesday, 2 May 2007 - Origen of Alexandria: The Thought (2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday's Catechesis was dedicated to the important figure of Origen, the second-to-third-century doctor of Alexandria. In that Catechesis, we examined the life and literary opus of the great Alexandrian teacher, identifying his threefold interpretation of the Bible as the life-giving nucleus of all his work. I set aside - to take them up today - two aspects of Origenian doctrine which I consider among the most important and timely: I intend to speak of his teachings on prayer and the Church.

In fact, Origen - author of an important and ever timely treatise On Prayer - constantly interweaves his exegetical and theological writings with experiences and suggestions connected with prayer.

Notwithstanding all the theological richness of his thought, his is never a purely academic approach; it is always founded on the experience of prayer, of contact with God. Indeed, to his mind, knowledge of the Scriptures requires prayer and intimacy with Christ even more than study.

He was convinced that the best way to become acquainted with God is through love, and that there is no authentic scientia Christi without falling in love with him.

In his Letter to Gregory, Origen recommends: "Study first of all the lectio of the divine Scriptures. Study them, I say. For we need to study the divine writings deeply... and while you study these divine works with a believing and God-pleasing intention, knock at that which is closed in them and it shall be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, "To him the gatekeeper opens'.

"While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures. And do not be content with knocking and seeking, for what is absolutely necessary for understanding divine things is oratio, and in urging us to this the Saviour says not only "knock and it will be opened to you', and "seek and you will find', but also "ask and it will be given you'" (Ep. Gr. 4).

The "primordial role" played by Origen in the history of lectio divina instantly flashes before one's eyes. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who learned from Origen's works to interpret the Scriptures, later introduced them into the West to hand them on to Augustine and to the monastic tradition that followed.

As we have already said, according to Origen the highest degree of knowledge of God stems from love. Therefore, this also applies for human beings: only if there is love, if hearts are opened, can one person truly know the other.

Origen based his demonstration of this on a meaning that is sometimes attributed to the Hebrew verb to know, that is, when it is used to express the human act of love: "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived" (
Gn 4,1).

This suggests that union in love procures the most authentic knowledge. Just as the man and the woman are "two in one flesh", so God and the believer become "two in one spirit".

The prayer of the Alexandrian thus attained the loftiest levels of mysticism, as is attested to by his Homilies on the Song of Songs. A passage is presented in which Origen confessed: "I have often felt - God is my witness - that the Bridegroom came to me in the most exalted way. Then he suddenly left, and I was unable to find what I was seeking. Once again, I am taken by the desire for his coming and sometimes he returns, and when he has appeared to me, when I hold him with my hands, once again he flees from me, and when he has vanished I start again to seek him..." (Hom. in Cant. 1, 7).

I remember what my Venerable Predecessor wrote as an authentic witness in Novo Millennio Ineunte, where he showed the faithful "how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart".

"It is", John Paul II continues, "a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications.... But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by mystics as "nuptial union'" (n. 33).

Finally, we come to one of Origen's teachings on the Church, and precisely - within it - on the common priesthood of the faithful. In fact, as the Alexandrian affirms in his ninth Homily on Leviticus, "This discourse concerns us all" (Hom. in Lv 9,1). In the same Homily, Origen, referring to Aaron's prohibition, after the death of his two sons, from entering the Sancta sanctorum "at all times" (Lv 16,2), thus warned the faithful: "This shows that if anyone were to enter the sanctuary at any time without being properly prepared and wearing priestly attire, without bringing the prescribed offerings and making himself favourable to God, he would die....

"This discourse concerns us all. It requires us, in fact, to know how to accede to God's altar. Oh, do you not know that the priesthood has been conferred upon you too, that is, upon the entire Church of God and believing people? Listen to how Peter speaks to the faithful: "chosen race', he says, "royal, priestly, holy nation, people whom God has ransomed'.

"You therefore possess the priesthood because you are "a priestly race' and must thus offer the sacrifice to God.... But to offer it with dignity, you need garments that are pure and different from the common clothes of other men, and you need the divine fire" (ibid.).

Thus, on the one hand, "girded" and in "priestly attire" mean purity and honesty of life, and on the other, with the "lamp ever alight", that is, faith and knowledge of the Scriptures, we have the indispensable conditions for the exercise of the universal priesthood, which demands purity and an honest life, faith and knowledge of the Scriptures.

For the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, there is of course all the more reason why such conditions should be indispensable.

These conditions - a pure and virtuous life, but above all the acceptance and study of the Word - establish a true and proper "hierarchy of holiness" in the common priesthood of Christians. At the peak of this ascent of perfection, Origen places martyrdom.

Again, in his ninth Homily on Leviticus, he alludes to the "fire for the holocaust", that is, to faith and knowledge of the Scriptures which must never be extinguished on the altar of the person who exercises the priesthood.

He then adds: "But each one of us has within him" not only the fire; he "also has the holocaust and from his holocaust lights the altar so that it may burn for ever. If I renounce all my possessions, take up my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God; and if I give up my body to be burned with love and achieve the glory of martyrdom, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God" (Hom. in Lv 9,9).

This tireless journey to perfection "concerns us all", in order that "the gaze of our hearts" may turn to contemplate Wisdom and Truth, which are Jesus Christ. Preaching on Jesus' discourse in Nazareth - when "the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him" (cf. Lc 4,16-30) - Origen seems to be addressing us: "Today, too, if you so wished, in this assembly your eyes can be fixed on the Saviour.

"In fact, it is when you turn the deepest gaze of your heart to the contemplation of Wisdom, Truth and the only Son of God that your eyes will see God. Happy the assembly of which Scripture attests that the eyes of all were fixed upon him!

"How I would like this assembly here to receive a similar testimony, and the eyes of all - the non-baptized and the faithful, women, men and children - to look at Jesus, not the eyes of the body but those of the soul!...

"Impress upon us the light of your face, O Lord, to whom be the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen!" (Hom. in Lc 32,6).

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially the Delegates to the 19th General Assembly of the Society of African Missions and also the girls and staff from Hekima Place, Karen, Kenya. May your pilgrimage renew your love for Christ and his Church, and fill your hearts with joy in the Lord. God bless you all!

My upcoming Pastoral Visit to Brazil to inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate is now approaching. Let us ask the Lord through the intercession of the Virgin Mary to bless this ecclesial meeting with abundant fruits, so that all Christians may experience themselves as true disciples of Christ, sent by him to evangelize their brothers and sisters with the divine Word and the witness of their own lives.

St Peter's Square

Wednesday, 23 May 2007 - Apostolic Journey to Brazil

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At this General Audience I would like to dwell on the Apostolic Journey that I made to Brazil from the 9th to the 14th of this month. After two years of my Pontificate, I have finally had the joy to go to Latin America, which I love dearly and where, in fact, a great part of the world's Catholics live.

Although the goal was Brazil, I felt as if I were embracing the whole of the great Latin American subcontinent, also since the ecclesial event that called me there was the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences.

I would again like to express to my dear Brother Bishops, and in particular to those of São Paulo and of Aparecida, my profound gratitude for the welcome I received. I thank the President of Brazil and the other civil Authorities for their cordial and generous collaboration; with great affection I thank the Brazilian People for the warmth with which they welcomed me - it was truly grand and moving - and for the attention they paid to my words.

First of all, my Journey had the character of an act of praise to God for the "wonders" worked in the Latin American peoples, for the faith that has animated their life and their culture during more than 500 years. In this sense it was a pilgrimage that had its climax in the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, principal Patron of Brazil.

The theme of the relationship between faith and culture was always very close to the heart of my venerable Predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II. I wished to take it up again, confirming the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean on the journey of faith that has made and makes living history, as seen in popular piety and art in dialogue with the rich pre-Columbian traditions as well as in many European influences and those of other continents.

Certainly, the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompany the work of evangelization of the Latin American Continent: it is not possible, in fact, to forget the suffering and the injustice inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled upon.

But the obligation to recall such unjustifiable crimes - crimes, however, already condemned at the time by missionaries like Bartolomé de Las Casas and by theologians like Francisco de Vitoria of the University of Salamanca - must not prevent noting with gratitude the wonderful works accomplished by divine grace among those populations in the course of these centuries.

The Gospel has thus become on the Continent the supporting element of a dynamic synthesis which, with various facets and according to the different nations, nonetheless expresses the identity of the Latin American People.

Today, in the age of globalization, this Catholic identity is still present as the most adequate response, provided that it is animated by a serious spiritual formation and by the principles of the social doctrine of the Church.

Brazil is a great Country that holds deeply rooted Christian values, but also faces enormous social and economic problems. To contribute to their solution, the Church must mobilize all the spiritual and moral strength of her communities, seeking appropriate common policies with the other healthy energies of the Country.

Among the positive elements, I must certainly mention the creativity and the fecundity of that Church, in which new Movements and Institutes of consecrated life are continuously born. Not less praiseworthy is the generous dedication of so many lay faithful, who are very active in the various initiatives promoted by the Church.

Brazil is also a Country that can offer the world the witness of a new development model: the Christian culture can, in fact, facilitate a "reconciliation" between man and creation, beginning with the recovery of personal dignity in its relationship to God the Father.

In this sense, a good example is the "Fazenda da Esperança", a network of rehabilitation centres for youth who want to exit the dark tunnel of drugs. In the one I visited, which made a deep impression that I keep alive in my heart, the presence of a monastery of Poor Clares is very meaningful. I think this is emblematic for today's world, which certainly needs a psychological and social, and even more so, a profound spiritual "recovery".

The joyful celebration of the canonization of the first native-born Saint of the Country: Friar Anthony of St Anne Galvão, has also been symbolic. This 18th century Franciscan priest devoted to the Virgin Mary, apostle of the Eucharist and of Confession, was called during his lifetime a "man of peace and charity". His witness is further confirmation that holiness is the true revolution that can promote the authentic reform of the Church and society.

In the Cathedral of São Paulo I met the Bishops of Brazil, the largest Bishops' Conference in the world. To show them the support of the Successor of Peter was one of the principal aims of my mission, because I know the great challenges that the Gospel proclamation must face in that Country.

I encouraged my confreres to go forward and strengthen the commitment to the new evangelization, exhorting them to develop a capillary and methodical way to spread the Word of God so that the innate and widespread religiosity of the populations can take root and become a mature faith, a personal and communal adherence to the God of Jesus Christ.

I encouraged them to recover everywhere the style of the first Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles: assiduous in catechesis, the sacramental life and charitable works. I know the dedication of these faithful servants of the Gospel who want to present it fully without confusion, watching over the deposit of the faith with discernment; it is also their constant duty to promote social development, principally through the formation of the laity, called to assume responsibility in the field of politics and economics.

I thank God for permitting me to deepen communion with the Brazilian Bishops, and I shall always remember them in my prayer.

Another important moment of the Journey was without doubt the meeting with the young people, hope not only of the future, but a vital force for the Church and society of today. The vigil they held in São Paulo, Brazil, was a festival of hope, illuminated by the words of Christ addressed to the "rich young man" who had asked: "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" (
Mt 19,16).

Jesus first of all indicated to him to "keep the commandments" as the way of life, and then invited him to leave all to follow him. The Church still does the same today: first of all, it reproposes the commandments, true path of education of freedom for personal and social good; and above all, it proposes the "first commandment" of love, because without love even the commandments cannot give full meaning to life and procure true happiness.

Only the one who meets the love of God in Jesus and sets himself upon this way to practice it among men, becomes his disciple and missionary. I have invited the youth to be apostles of their contemporaries; and for this reason, to always care for their human and spiritual formation; to have a high esteem of marriage and of the way that leads to it, in chastity and responsibility; to be open also to the call to consecrated life for the Kingdom of God. In summary, I encouraged them to put to good use the "wealth" of their youth, to be the young face of the Church.

The culmination of the Visit was the inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences in the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. The theme of this great and important assembly, which will conclude at the end of the month, is "Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him - I am the Way, the Truth and the Life".

The binomial "disciples and missionaries" corresponds to what Mark's Gospel says in regard to the call of the Apostles: "[Jesus] appointed twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach" (Mc 3,14-15). The word "disciples" recalls, therefore, the formative dimension and following, the communion and friendship with Jesus; the term "missionary" expresses the fruit of discipleship, the witness and the communication of the lived experience, of the truth and love known and assimilated.

To be a disciple and a missionary implies a close bond with the Word of God, the Eucharist and the other sacraments, in order to live in the Church in obedient listening to her teachings.

To renew with joy the will to be Jesus' disciples, to "remain with him", this is the fundamental condition to being a missionary "starting afresh from Christ", according to what Pope John Paul II consigned to the entire Church after the Jubilee of 2000.

My venerable Predecessor always insisted on an evangelization "new in its ardour, methods and expression", as he affirmed speaking to the CELAM Assembly on 9 March 1983 in Haiti (cf. L'Osservatore Romano [ORE] English edition, 18 April, p. 9).

I wished my Apostolic Journey to be an exhortation to follow along this way, offering the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est as a unifying perspective, an inseparably theological and social perspective summarized in this expression: it is love that gives life."[T]he presence of God, friendship with the Incarnate Son of God, the light of his Word: these are always fundamental conditions for the presence and efficacy of justice and love in our societies" (Inaugural Address of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, 13 May 2007; ORE, 16 May, p. 18).

To the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, venerated under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe as patron of all of Latin America, and to the new Brazilian Saint, Friar Anthony of St Anne Galvão, I entrust the fruit of this unforgettable Apostolic Journey.

To special groups

I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including members of the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs as well as the young artists from Nairobi. I thank all of you for your prayers during my Visit to Brazil. May God bless you all!

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. In preparation for the Solemnity of Pentecost that we will celebrate this coming Sunday, I exhort you, dear young people, to constantly invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will make you intrepid witnesses of the Risen Christ. May the Spirit of God help you, dear sick people, to welcome with faith the weight of suffering and to offer it for the salvation of all people; may he grant you, dear newly-weds, the grace to announce with joy and conviction the Gospel of life and to build your families on solid Gospel foundations.

St Peter's Square

Wednesday, 30 May 2007 - Tertullian

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With today's Catechesis we return to the catechetical series we interrupted due to the Journey to Brazil and continue to speak of the ancient Church's great personalities. They are teachers of the faith also for us today and witnesses of the perennial timeliness of the Christian faith.

Today, we speak of an African, Tertullian, who from the end of the second and beginning of the third century inaugurated Christian literature in the Latin language. He started the use of theology in Latin. His work brought decisive benefits which it would be unforgivable to underestimate. His influence covered different areas: linguistically, from the use of language and the recovery of classical culture, to singling out a common "Christian soul" in the world and in the formulation of new proposals of human coexistence.

We do not know the exact dates of his birth and death. Instead, we know that at Carthage, toward the end of the second century, he received a solid education in rhetoric, philosophy, history and law from his pagan parents and tutors. He then converted to Christianity, attracted, so it seems, by the example of the Christian martyrs.

He began to publish his most famous writings in 197. But a too individualistic search for the truth, together with his intransigent character - he was a rigorous man - gradually led him away from communion with the Church to belong to the Montanist sect. The originality of his thought, however, together with an incisive efficacy of language, assured him a high position in ancient Christian literature.

His apologetic writings are above all the most famous. They manifest two key intentions: to refute the grave accusations that pagans directed against the new religion; and, more proactive and missionary, to proclaim the Gospel message in dialogue with the culture of the time.

His most famous work, Apologeticus, denounces the unjust behaviour of political authorities toward the Church; explains and defends the teachings and customs of Christians; spells out differences between the new religion and the main philosophical currents of the time; and manifests the triumph of the Spirit that counters its persecutors with the blood, suffering and patience of the martyrs: "Refined as it is", the African writes, "your cruelty serves no purpose. On the contrary, for our community, it is an invitation. We multiply every time one of us is mowed down. The blood of Christians is effective seed" (semen est sanguis christianorum!, Apologeticus, 50: 13).

Martyrdom, suffering for the truth, is in the end victorious and more efficient than the cruelty and violence of totalitarian regimes.

But Tertullian, as every good apologist, at the same time sensed the need to communicate the essence of Christianity positively. This is why he adopted the speculative method to illustrate the rational foundations of Christian dogma. He developed it in a systematic way, beginning with the description of "the God of the Christians": "He whom we adore", the Apologist wrote, "is the one, only God". And he continued, using antitheses and paradoxes characteristic of his language: "He is invisible, even if you see him, difficult to grasp, even if he is present through grace; inconceivable even if the human senses can perceive him, therefore, he is true and great!" (cf. ibid., 17: 1-2).

Furthermore, Tertullian takes an enormous step in the development of Trinitarian dogma. He has given us an appropriate way to express this great mystery in Latin by introducing the terms "one substance" and "three Persons". In a similar way, he also greatly developed the correct language to express the mystery of Christ, Son of God and true Man.

The Holy Spirit is also considered in the African's writings, demonstrating his personal and divine character: "We believe that, according to his promise, Jesus Christ sent, by means of his Father, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of all those who believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (ibid., 2: 1).

Again, there are in Tertullian's writings numerous texts on the Church, whom he always recognizes as "mother". Even after his acceptance of Montanism, he did not forget that the Church is the Mother of our faith and Christian life.

He even considers the moral conduct of Christians and the future life. His writings are important as they also show the practical trends in the Christian community regarding Mary Most Holy, the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Matrimony and Reconciliation, Petrine primacy, prayer.... In a special way, in those times of persecution when Christians seemed to be a lost minority, the Apologist exhorted them to hope, which in his treatises is not simply a virtue in itself, but something that involves every aspect of Christian existence.

We have the hope that the future is ours because the future is God's. Therefore, the Lord's Resurrection is presented as the foundation of our future resurrection and represents the main object of the Christian's confidence:"And so the flesh shall rise again", the African categorically affirms, "wholly in every man, in its own identity, in its absolute integrity. Wherever it may be, it is in safe keeping in God's presence, through that most faithful Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, who shall reconcile both God to man, and man to God" (Concerning the Resurrection of the Flesh, 63: 1).

From the human viewpoint one can undoubtedly speak of Tertullian's own drama. With the passing of years he became increasingly exigent in regard to the Christians. He demanded heroic behaviour from them in every circumstance, above all under persecution.

Rigid in his positions, he did not withhold blunt criticism and he inevitably ended by finding himself isolated.

Besides, many questions still remain open today, not only on Tertullian's theological and philosophical thought, but also on his attitude in regard to political institutions and pagan society.
This great moral and intellectual personality, this man who made such a great contribution to Christian thought, makes me think deeply. One sees that in the end he lacked the simplicity, the humility to integrate himself with the Church, to accept his weaknesses, to be forbearing with others and himself.

When one only sees his thought in all its greatness, in the end, it is precisely this greatness that is lost. The essential characteristic of a great theologian is the humility to remain with the Church, to accept his own and others' weaknesses, because actually only God is all holy. We, instead, always need forgiveness.

Finally, the African remains an interesting witness of the early times of the Church, when Christians found they were the authentic protagonists of a "new culture" in the critical confrontation between the classical heritage and the Gospel message.

In his famous affirmation according to which our soul "is naturally Christian" (Apologeticus 17: 6), Tertullian evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian ones. Also in his other reflection borrowed directly from the Gospel, according to which "the Christian cannot hate, not even his enemies" (cf. Apologeticus 37), is found the unavoidable moral resolve, the choice of faith which proposes "non-violence" as the rule of life. Indeed, no one can escape the dramatic aptness of this teaching, also in light of the heated debate on religions.

In summary, the treatises of this African trace many themes that we are still called to face today. They involve us in a fruitful interior examination to which I exhort all the faithful, so that they may know how to express in an always more convincing manner the Rule of faith, which - again, referring to Tertullian - "prescribes the belief that there is only one God and that he is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through his own Word, generated before all things" (cf. Concerning the Prescription of Heretics, 13: 1).

To special groups

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims, including participants in a seminar organized by the Lay Centre "Foyer Unitas", graduates of the Classical Lyceum of Turku and pilgrims from the parish of the Immaculate Conception in Devizes. Upon you and your loved ones, I invoke the grace and peace of Almighty God.

Lastly, I greet the sick, newly-weds and young people.... Recalling Pentecost, which we just celebrated last Sunday, I exhort you, dear young people, to constantly invoke the Holy Spirit, so that you may be Christ's intrepid apostles among your contemporaries. May the Consoler Spirit help you, dear sick people, to accept suffering and sickness, offering it to God with faith for the salvation of all people, and may he grant you, dear newly-weds, the joy to build your family on the Gospel's solid foundation.

St Peter's Square

Wednesday, 6 June 2007 - Saint Cyprian

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the series of our catecheses on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we come to an excellent African Bishop of the third century, St Cyprian, "the first Bishop in Africa to obtain the crown of martyrdom".

His fame, Pontius the Deacon his first biographer attests, is also linked to his literary corpus and pastoral activity during the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 19, 1; 1, 1).

Cyprian was born in Carthage into a rich pagan family. After a dissipated youth, he converted to Christianity at the age of 35.

He himself often told of his spiritual journey, "When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night", he wrote a few months after his Baptism, "I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God's mercy was suggesting to me. "I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins....

"But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart... a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade.... I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly" (Ad Donatum, 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion, despite envy and resistance, Cyprian was chosen for the priestly office and raised to the dignity of Bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy he had to face the first two persecutions sanctioned by imperial decree: that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258).

After the particularly harsh persecution of Decius, the Bishop had to work strenuously to restore order to the Christian community. Indeed, many of the faithful had abjured or at any rate had not behaved correctly when put to the test. They were the so-called lapsi - that is, the "fallen" - who ardently desired to be readmitted to the community.

The debate on their readmission actually divided the Christians of Carthage into laxists and rigorists. These difficulties were compounded by a serious epidemic of the plague which swept through Africa and gave rise to anguished theological questions both within the community and in the confrontation with pagans. Lastly, the controversy between St Cyprian and Stephen, Bishop of Rome, concerning the validity of Baptism administered to pagans by heretical Christians, must not be forgotten.

In these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian revealed his choice gifts of government: he was severe but not inflexible with the lapsi, granting them the possibility of forgiveness after exemplary repentance. Before Rome, he staunchly defended the healthy traditions of the African Church; he was deeply human and steeped with the most authentic Gospel spirit when he urged Christians to offer brotherly assistance to pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful - excessively afraid of losing their lives and their earthly possessions - that true life and true goods are not those of this world; he was implacable in combating corrupt morality and the sins that devastated moral life, especially avarice.

"Thus he spent his days", Pontius the Deacon tells at this point, "when at the bidding of the proconsul, the officer with his soldiers all of a sudden came unexpectedly upon him in his grounds" (Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 15, 1).

On that day, the holy Bishop was arrested and after being questioned briefly, courageously faced martyrdom in the midst of his people.

The numerous treatises and letters that Cyprian wrote were always connected with his pastoral ministry. Little inclined to theological speculation, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the good conduct of the faithful.

Indeed, the Church was easily his favourite subject. Cyprian distinguished between the visible, hierarchical Church and the invisible mystical Church but forcefully affirmed that the Church is one, founded on Peter.

He never wearied of repeating that "if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?" (cf. De unit. [On the unity of the Catholic Church], 4).

Cyprian knew well that "outside the Church there is no salvation", and said so in strong words (Epistles 4, 4 and 73, 21); and he knew that "no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother" (De unit., 6). An indispensable characteristic of the Church is unity, symbolized by Christ's seamless garment (ibid.,7): Cyprian said, this unity is founded on Peter (ibid., 4), and finds its perfect fulfilment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63, 13).

"God is one and Christ is one", Cyprian cautioned, "and his Church is one, and the faith is one, and the Christian people is joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of concord. Unity cannot be severed. And what is one by its nature cannot be separated" (De unit., 23).

We have spoken of his thought on the Church but, lastly, let us not forget Cyprian's teaching on prayer. I am particularly fond of his treatise on the "Our Father", which has been a great help to me in understanding and reciting the Lord's Prayer better.

Cyprian teaches that it is precisely in the Lord's Prayer that the proper way to pray is presented to Christians. And he stresses that this prayer is in the plural in order that "the person who prays it might not pray for himself alone. Our prayer", he wrote, "is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people, are one (De Dom. orat. [Treatise on the Lord's Prayer], 8).

Thus, personal and liturgical prayer seem to be strongly bound. Their unity stems from the fact that they respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say "my Father" but "our Father", even in the secrecy of a closed room, because he knows that in every place, on every occasion, he is a member of one and the same Body.

"Therefore let us pray, beloved Brethren", the Bishop of Carthage wrote, "as God our Teacher has taught us. It is a trusting and intimate prayer to beseech God with his own word, to raise to his ears the prayer of Christ. Let the Father acknowledge the words of his Son when we pray, and let him also who dwells within our breast himself dwell in our voice....

"But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God's sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the position of the body and with the measure of voice....

"Moreover, when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God's priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline - not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart (non vocis sed cordis auditor est)" (3-4). Today too, these words still apply and help us to celebrate the Holy Liturgy well.

Ultimately, Cyprian placed himself at the root of that fruitful theological and spiritual tradition which sees the "heart" as the privileged place for prayer.

Indeed, in accordance with the Bible and the Fathers, the heart is the intimate depths of man, the place in which God dwells. In it occurs the encounter in which God speaks to man, and man listens to God; man speaks to God and God listens to man. All this happens through one divine Word. In this very sense - re-echoing Cyprian - Smaragdus, Abbot of St Michael on the Meuse in the early years of the ninth century, attests that prayer "is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words but at the heart of the person praying" (Diadema monachorum [Diadem of the monks], 1).

Dear friends, let us make our own this receptive heart and "understanding mind" of which the Bible (cf.
1R 3,9) and the Fathers speak. How great is our need for it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and that the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother.
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To special groups

I am pleased to greet the officers and cadets from the New York Maritime College and the members of the European Ophthalmic Pathology Society. I am also happy to welcome the pilgrims who have travelled to Rome for the Canonizations last Sunday. May we all continue to be inspired by the lives of these saints. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Finland, England, Scotland, New Zealand and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.


Today in Heiligendamm, Germany, under the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Annual Summit of Heads of State and Heads of Government of the G8 – that is, the seven most industrialized countries of the world plus the Russian Federation – has begun. On 16 December last I had occasion to write to Chancellor Angela Merkel, thanking her, in the name of the Catholic Church, for the decision to keep the theme of world poverty on the agenda of the G8, with specific reference to Africa. Doctor Merkel kindly replied to me on 2 February last, assuring me of the G8’s commitment to attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Now, I should like to make a further appeal to the leaders meeting at Heiligendamm, not to retreat from their promises to make a substantial increase in development aid in favour of the most needy populations, especially those of the African Continent.

In this regard, the second Millennium goal merits special attention: "to achieve universal primary education – to ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015". This is an integral part of the attainment of all the other Millennium Goals: it is a guarantee of the consolidation of goals already reached; it is the starting-point for autonomous and sustainable processes of development.

It must not be forgotten that the Catholic Church has always been at the forefront in the field of education, reaching places, particularly in the poorest countries, that State structures often fail to reach. Other Christian Churches, religious groups and organizations of civil society share this educational commitment. According to the principle of subsidiarity, this reality should be recognized, valued and supported by Governments and International Organizations, among other things by the allocation of sufficient funding, so that greater efficacy may be guaranteed in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Let us hope that serious efforts be made to reach these objectives.

St Peter's Square

Audiences 2005-2013 20507