Audiences 2005-2013 30129

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 - Peter Lombard


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this last Audience of the year I would like to speak to you about Peter Lombard: he was a theologian who lived in the 12th century and enjoyed great fame because one of his works, entitled the Sentences, was used as a theological manual for many centuries.

So who was Peter Lombard? Although the information on his life is scarce it is possible to reconstruct the essential lines of his biography. He was born beween the 11th and 12th centuries near Novara, in Northern Italy, in a region that once belonged to the Lombards. For this very reason he was nicknamed "the Lombard". He belonged to a modest family, as we may deduce from the letter of introduction that Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to Gilduin, Superior of the Abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris, asking him to give free accomodation to Peter who wanted to go to that city in order to study. In fact, even in the Middle Ages not only nobles or the rich might study and acquire important roles in ecclesial and social life but also people of humble origin such as, for example, Gregory vii, the Pope who stood up to the Emperor Henry vi, or Maurice of Sully, the Archbishop of Paris who commissioned the building of Notre-Dame and who was the son of a poor peasant.

Peter Lombard began his studies in Bologna and then went to Rheims and lastly to Paris. From 1140 he taught at the prestigious school of Notre-Dame. Esteemed and appreciated as a theologian, eight years later he was charged by Pope Eugene ii to examine the doctrine of Gilbert de la Porrée that was giving rise to numerous discussions because it was held to be not wholly orthodox. Having become a priest, he was appointed Bishop of Paris in 1159, a year before his death in 1160.

Like all theology teachers of his time, Peter also wrote discourses and commentaries on Sacred Scripture. His masterpiece, however, consists of the four Books of the Sentences. This is a text which came into being for didactic purposes. According to the theological method in use in those times, it was necessary first of all to know, study and comment on the thought of the Fathers of the Church and of the other writers deemed authoritative. Peter therefore collected a very considerable amount of documentation, which consisted mainly of the teachings of the great Latin Fathers, especially St Augustine, and was open to the contribution of contemporary theologians. Among other things, he also used an encyclopedia of Greek theology which had only recently become known to the West: The Orthodox faith, composed by St John Damascene. The great merit of Peter Lombard is to have organized all the material that he had collected and chosen with care, in a systematic and harmonious framework. In fact one of the features of theology is to organize the patrimony of faith in a unitive and orderly way. Thus he distributed the sentences, that is, the Patristic sources on various arguments, in four books. In the first book he addresses God and the Trinitarian mystery; in the second, the work of the Creation, sin and Grace; in the third, the Mystery of the Incarnation and the work of Redemption with an extensive exposition on the virtues. The fourth book is dedicated to the sacraments and to the last realities, those of eternal life, or Novissimi. The overall view presented includes almost all the truths of the Catholic faith. The concise, clear vision and clear, orderly schematic and ever consistent presentation explain the extraordinary success of Peter Lombard's Sentences. They enabled students to learn reliably and gave the educators and teachers who used them plenty of room for acquiring deeper knowledge. A Franciscan theologian, Alexandre of Hales, of the next generation, introduced into the Sentences a division that facilitated their study and consultation. Even the greatest of the 13th-century theologians, Albert the Great, Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Thomas Aquinas began their academic activity by commenting on the four books of Peter Lombard's Sentences, enriching them with their reflections. Lombard's text was the book in use at all schools of theology until the 16th century.

I would like to emphasize how the organic presentation of faith is an indispensable requirement. In fact, the individuals truths of faith illuminate each other and, in their total and unitive vision appears the harmony of God's plan of salvation and the centrality of the Mystery of Christ. After the example of Peter Lombard, I invite all theologians and priests always to keep in mind the whole vision of the Christian doctrine, to counter today's risks of fragmentation and the debasement of the single truths. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the Compendium of this same Catcehism, offer us exactly this full picture of Christian Revelation, to be accepted with faith and gratitude. However I would like to encourage the individual faithful and the Christian communities to make the most of these instruments to know and to deepen the content of our faith. It will thus appear to us as a marvellous symphony that speaks to us of God and of his love and asks of us firm adherence and an active response.

To get an idea of the interest that the reading of Peter Lombard's Sentences still inspires today I propose two examples. Inspired by St Augustine's Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Peter wonders why woman was created from man's rib and not from his head or his feet. And Peter explains: "She was formed neither as a dominator nor a slave of man but rather as his companion" (Sentences 3, 18, 3). Then, still on the basis of the Patristic teaching he adds: "The mystery of Christ and of the Church is represented in this act. Just as, in fact, woman was formed from Adam's rib while he slept, so the Church was born from the sacraments that began to flow from the side of Christ, asleep on the Cross, that is, from the blood and water with which we are redeemed from sin and cleansed of guilt" (Sentences 3, 18, 4). These are profound reflections that still apply today when the theology and spirituality of Christian marriage have considerably deepened the analogy with the spousal relationship of Christ and his Church.

In another passage in one of his principal works, Peter Lombard, treating the merits of Christ, asks himself: "Why, then does [Christ] wish to suffer and die, if his virtues were sufficient to obtain for himself all the merits?". His answer is incisive and effective: "For you, not for himself!". He then continues with another question and another answer, which seem to reproduce the discussions that went on during the lessons of medieval theology teachers: "And in what sense did he suffer and die for me? So that his Passion and his death might be an example and cause for you. An example of virtue and humility, a cause of glory and freedom; an example given by God, obedient unto death; a cause of your liberation and your beatitude" (Sentences 3, 18, 5).

Among the most important contributions offered by Peter Lombard to the history of theology, I would like to recall his treatise on the sacraments, of which he gave what I would call a definitive definition: "precisely what is a sign of God's grace and a visible form of invisible grace, in such a way that it bears its image and is its cause is called a sacrament in the proper sense" (4, 1, 4). With this definition Peter Lombard grasps the essence of the sacraments: they are a cause of grace, they are truly able to communicate divine life. Successive theologians never again departed from this vision and were also to use the distinction between the material and the formal element introduced by the "Master of the Sentences", as Peter Lombard was known. The material element is the tangible visible reality, the formal element consists of the words spoken by the minister. For a complete and valid celebration of the sacraments both are essential: matter, the reality with which the Lord visibly touches us and the word that conveys the spiritual significance. In Baptism, for example, the material element is the water that is poured on the head of the child and the formal element is the formula: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". Peter the Lombard, moreover, explained that the sacraments alone objectively transmit divine grace and they are seven: Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, the Unction of the sick, Orders and Matrimony (cf. Sentences 4, 2, 1).

Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is important to recognize how precious and indispensable for every Christian is the sacramental life in which the Lord transmits this matter in the community of the Church, and touches and transforms us. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, the sacraments are "powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit" (n. 1116). In this Year for Priests which we are celebrating I urge priests, especially ministers in charge of souls, to have an intense sacramental life themselves in the first place in order to be of help to the faithful. May the celebration of the sacraments be impressed with dignity and decorum, encourage personal recollection and community participation, the sense of God's presence and missionary zeal. The sacraments are the great treasure of the Church and it is the task of each one of us to celebrate them with spiritual profit. In them an ever amazing event touches our lives: Christ, through the visible signs, comes to us, purifies us, transforms us and makes us share in his divine friendship.

Dear friends, we have come to the end of this year and to the threshold of the New Year. I hope that the friendship of Our Lord Jesus Christ will accompany you every day of this year that is about to begin. May Christ's friendship be our light and guide, helping us to be people of peace, of his peace. Happy New Year to you all!

To special groups

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the pilgrimage groups from Ireland, Switzerland and the United States of America, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, I invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ, our Newborn Saviour!

I now greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims and, in particular, the young people, the sick, and the couples of newlyweds, expressing the wish that for all the new year will be peaceful and rich in every desired good.

Dear young people, especially you Scouts from Soviore, may you live the New Year as a precious gift, striving to build your lives in the light of the truth that shines out from the holy grotto of Bethlehem. May you sick people be heralds of the hidden riches of the mystery of suffering that in Christ became the event of Redemption. May you, newlyweds, be able to build a family that is truly a Church in miniature and that is always able to proclaim with its words and example the Good News brought by the Angels to human beings beloved by God.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 13 January 2010 - The Mendicant Orders


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the beginning of the New Year let us look at the history of Christianity, to see how history develops and how it can be renewed. It shows that saints, guided by God's light, are the authentic reformers of the life of the Church and of society. As teachers with their words and witnesses with their example, they can encourage a stable and profound ecclesial renewal because they themselves are profoundly renewed, they are in touch with the real newness: God's presence in the world. This comforting reality namely, that in every generation saints are born and bring the creativity of renewal constantly accompanies the Church's history in the midst of the sorrows and negative aspects she encounters on her path. Indeed, century after century, we also see the birth of forces of reform and renewal, because God's newness is inexhaustible and provides ever new strength to forge ahead. This also happened in the 13th century with the birth and the extraordinary development of the Mendicant Orders: an important model of renewal in a new historical epoch. They were given this name because of their characteristic feature of "begging", in other words humbly turning to the people for financial support in order to live their vow of poverty and carry out their evangelizing mission. The best known and most important of the Mendicant Orders that came into being in this period are the Friars Minor and the Friars Preachers, known as Franciscans and Dominicans. Thus they are called by the names of their Founders, respectively Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán. These two great saints were able to read "the signs of the times" intelligently, perceiving the challenges that the Church of their time would be obliged to face.

A first challenge was the expansion of various groups and movements of the faithful who, in spite of being inspired by a legitimate desire for authentic Christian life often set themselves outside ecclesial communion. They were profoundly adverse to the rich and beautiful Church which had developed precisely with the flourishing of monasticism. In recent Catecheses I have reflected on the monastic community of Cluny, which had always attracted young people, therefore vital forces, as well as property and riches. Thus, at the first stage, logically, a Church developed whose wealth was in property and also in buildings. The idea that Christ came down to earth poor and that the true Church must be the very Church of the poor clashed with this Church. The desire for true Christian authenticity was thus in contrast to the reality of the empirical Church. These were the so-called paupers' movements of the Middle Ages. They fiercely contested the way of life of the priests and monks of the time, accused of betraying the Gospel and of not practising poverty like the early Christians, and these movements countered the Bishops' ministry with their own "parallel hierarchy". Furthermore, to justify their decisions, they disseminated doctrine incompatible with the Catholic faith. For example, the Cathars' or Albigensians' movement reproposed ancient heresies such as the debasement of and contempt for the material world the opposition to wealth soon became opposition to material reality as such, the denial of free will and, subsequently, dualism, the existence of a second principle of evil equivalent to God. These movements gained ground, especially in France and Italy, not only because of their solid organization but also because they were denouncing a real disorder in the Church, caused by the far from exemplary behaviour of some members of the clergy.

Both Franciscans and Dominicans, following in their Founders' footsteps, showed on the contrary that it was possible to live evangelical poverty, the truth of the Gospel as such, without being separated from the Church. They showed that the Church remains the true, authentic home of the Gospel and of Scripture. Indeed, Dominic and Francis drew the power of their witness precisely from close communion with the Church and the Papacy. With an entirely original decision in the history of consecrated life the Members of these Orders not only gave up their personal possessions, as monks had done since antiquity, but even did not want their land or goods to be made over to their communities. By so doing they meant to bear witness to an extremely modest life, to show solidarity to the poor and to trust in Providence alone, to live by Providence every day, trustingly placing themselves in God's hands. This personal and community style of the Mendicant Orders, together with total adherence to the teaching and authority of the Church, was deeply appreciated by the Pontiffs of the time, such as Innocent III and Honorious III, who gave their full support to the new ecclesial experiences, recognizing in them the voice of the Spirit. And results were not lacking: the groups of paupers that had separated from the Church returned to ecclesial communion or were gradually reduced until they disappeared. Today too, although we live in a society in which "having" often prevails over "being", we are very sensitive to the examples of poverty and solidarity that believers offer by their courageous decisions. Today too, similar projects are not lacking: the movements, which truly stem from the newness of the Gospel and live it with radicalism in this day and age, placing themselves in God's hands to serve their neighbour. As Paul VI recalled in Evangelii Nuntiandi, the world listens willingly to teachers when they are also witnesses. This is a lesson never to be forgotten in the task of spreading the Gospel: to be a mirror reflecting divine love, one must first live what one proclaims.

The Franciscans and Dominicans were not only witnesses but also teachers. In fact, another widespread need in their time was for religious instruction. Many of the lay faithful who dwelled in the rapidly expanding cities, wanted to live an intensely spiritual Christian life. They therefore sought to deepen their knowledge of the faith and to be guided in the demanding but exciting path of holiness. The Mendicant Orders were felicitously able to meet this need too: the proclamation of the Gospel in simplicity and with its depth and grandeur was an aim, perhaps the principal aim, of this movement. Indeed, they devoted themselves with great zeal to preaching. Great throngs of the faithful, often true and proper crowds, would gather to listen to the preachers in the churches and in the open air; let us think, for example, of St Anthony. The preachers addressed topics close to people's lives, especially the practice of the theological and moral virtues, with practical examples that were easy to understand. They also taught ways to cultivate a life of prayer and devotion. For example, the Franciscans spread far and wide the devotion to the humanity of Christ, with the commitment to imitate the Lord. Thus it is hardly surprising that many of the faithful, men and women, chose to be accompanied on their Christian journey by Franciscan or Dominican Friars, who were much sought after and esteemed spiritual directors and confessors. In this way associations of lay faithful came into being, which drew inspiration from the spirituality of St Francis and St Dominic as it was adapted to their way of living. In other words, the proposal of a "lay holiness" won many people over. As the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council recalled, the call to holiness is not reserved to the few but is universal (cf. Lumen Gentium
LG 40). In all the states of life, in accordance with the demands of each one of them a possibility of living the Gospel may be found. In our day too, each and every Christian must strive for the "high standard of Christian living", whatever the class to which he or she belongs!

The importance of the Mendicant Orders thus grew so vigorously in the Middle Ages that secular institutions, such as the labour organizations, the ancient gilds and the civil authorities themselves, often had recourse to the spiritual counselling of Members of these Orders in order to draw up their regulations and, at times, to settle both internal and external conflicts. The Franciscans and Dominicans became the spiritual animators of the medieval city. With deep insight they put into practice a pastoral strategy suited to the social changes. Since many people were moving from the countryside to the cities, they no longer built their convents in rural districts but rather in urban zones. Furthermore, to carry out their activities for the benefit of souls they had to keep abreast of pastoral needs. With another entirely innovative decision, the Mendicant Orders relinquished their principle of stability, a classical principle of ancient monasticism, opting for a different approach. Friars Minor and Preachers travelled with missionary zeal from one place to another. Consequently they organized themselves differently in comparison with the majority of monastic Orders. Instead of the traditional autonomy that every monastery enjoyed, they gave greater importance to the Order as such and to the Superior General, as well as to the structure of the Provinces. Thus the Mendicants were more available to the needs of the universal Church. Their flexibility enabled them to send out the most suitable friars on specific missions and the Mendicant Orders reached North Africa, the Middle East and Northern Europe. With this adaptability, their missionary dynamism was renewed.

The cultural transformations taking place in that period constituted another great challenge. New issues enlivened the discussion in the universities that came into being at the end of the 12th century. Minors and Preachers did not hesitate to take on this commitment. As students and professors they entered the most famous universities of the time, set up study centres, produced texts of great value, gave life to true and proper schools of thought, were protagonists of scholastic theology in its best period and had an important effect on the development of thought. The greatest thinkers, St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure, were Mendicants who worked precisely with this dynamism of the new evangelization which also renewed the courage of thought, of the dialogue between reason and faith. Today too a "charity of and in the truth" exists, an "intellectual charity" that must be exercised to enlighten minds and to combine faith with culture. The dedication of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the medieval universities is an invitation, dear faithful, to make ourselves present in the places where knowledge is tempered so as to focus the light of the Gospel, with respect and conviction, on the fundamental questions that concern Man, his dignity and his eternal destiny. Thinking of the role of the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, of the spiritual renewal they inspired and of the breath of new life they communicated in the world, a monk said: "At that time the world was ageing. Two Orders were born in the Church whose youth they renewed like that of an eagle" (Burchard of Ursperg, Chronicon).

Dear brothers and sisters, at the very beginning of this year let us invoke the Holy Spirit, the eternal youth of the Church: may he make each one aware of the urgent need to offer a consistent and courageous Gospel witness so that there may always be saints who make the Church resplendent, like a bride, ever pure and beautiful, without spot or wrinkle, who can attract the world irresistibly to Christ and to his salvation.

To special groups:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from Denmark, Australia and the United States of America. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present and to the faculty members. Upon all of you I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace!

Lastly, as always, I address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds present. Today's Liturgy commemorates Bishop St Hilary of Poitiers, who lived in France in the fourth century and firmly "defended the divinity of Christ" (Liturgy) and was a champion of the faith and a teacher of truth. May his example sustain you, dear young people, in the constant and courageous search for Christ; especially you students from the Diocese of Caserta, thank you for coming and thank you for your commitment to faith, I see and hear the strength of your faith; I encourage you, dear sick people, to offer up your suffering so that the Kingdom of God may spread throughout the world; and may he help you, dear newlyweds, to be witnesses of Christ's love in family life.


I would now like to make an appeal for Haiti, in a dramatic plight. My thoughts turn in particular to the population severely hit, a few hours ago, by a devastating earthquake that has reaped a heavy toll of human lives, caused a multitude of homeless, displaced people and done untold material damage. I invite everyone to join in my prayer to the Lord for the victims of this catastrophe and for those who mourn their loss. I assure my spiritual closeness to all those who have lost their homes and to all the people tried in various ways by this grave disaster, as I implore from God comfort and relief for them in their suffering. I appeal to everyone's generosity not to let these brothers and sisters who are experiencing a time of need and sorrow go without our practical solidarity and the effective support of the International Community. The Catholic Church will not fail to take immediate action through her charitable institutions in order to meet the people's most urgent needs.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an ecumenical initiative which has now been making progress for more than a century. Every year it focuses attention on the theme of the visible unity of Christians, which involves the consciences and stimulates the commitment of all who believe in Christ. And it does so first of all with the invitation to pray, in imitation of Jesus who asks the Father on his disciples' behalf: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (
Jn 17,21). The persistent call to prayer for full communion between the followers of the Lord expresses the most genuine and profound approach of the whole ecumenical search because, in the first place, unity is a gift of God. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council states: "this holy objective the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends human powers" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 24). Hence, confident and harmonious prayer to the Lord is necessary, in addition to our effort to develop brotherly relations and to promote dialogue to clarify and to solve the divergences that separate the Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

This year's theme is taken from Luke's Gospel, from the last words of the Risen One to his disciples: "You are witnesses of these things" (Lc 24,48). The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in agreement with the Faith and Constitution Commission of the World Council of Churches asked a Scottish ecumenical group to propose the theme. A century ago the World Missionary Conference: To Consider Missionary Problems in Relation to the Non-Christian World, was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 13 to 24 June 1910. Among the problems discussed then was that of the practical difficulty of proposing in a credible way to the non-Christian world the Gospel proclamation by Christians who were divided among themselves. If Christians present themselves divided, or indeed often at odds, to a world that does not know Christ, that has distanced itself from him or that has shown itself to be indifferent to the Gospel, will the proclamation of Christ as the one Saviour of the world and our peace be credible? From that time the relationship between unity and mission has represented an essential dimension of all ecumenical action, as well as its starting point. And it is because of this specific contribution that the Edinburgh Conference remains a reference point for modern ecumenism. At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church took up and vigorously reaffirmed this aim, asserting that the division among Jesus' disciples not only "openly contradicts the will of Christ, but scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 1).

The theme proposed in this Week for meditation and prayer fits into this theological and spiritual context: the need for a common testimony to Christ. The brief text proposed as a theme, "You are witnesses of these things", must be interpreted in the context of the whole of chapter 24 of the Gospel according to Luke. Let us briefly recall the content of this chapter. First the women go to the tomb, they see the signs of Jesus' Resurrection and tell the Apostles and the other disciples what they have seen (Lc 24,8); then the Risen One himself appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he appears to Simon Peter and subsequently to the "Eleven gathered together and those who were with them" (Lc 24,33). He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures about his redeeming death and his Resurrection, saying that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (Lc 24,47). To the disciples who were "gathered" together and who were witnesses of his mission, the Risen Lord promised the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lc 24,49), so that together they might bear witness to him to all the peoples. For us, from this imperative, "of all these things", of which you are witnesses (cf. Lc 24,48) the theme of this Week for Christian Unity two questions arise. The first is: what are "all these things"? The second: how can we be witnesses of "all these things"?

If we look at the context of the chapter "all these things", means first and foremost the Cross and the Resurrection: the disciples have seen the Lord's crucifixion, they see the Risen One and thus begin to understand all the Scriptures that speak of the mystery of the Passion and the gift of the Resurrection. "All these things", therefore, refers to the mystery of Christ, to the Son of God made man, who died for us and rose, who lives for ever and thus guarantees our eternal life. However, by knowing Christ this is the essential point we know the Face of God. Christ is above all the revelation of God. In all epochs human beings have perceived the existence of God, one God, but a God who is distant and does not show himself. In Christ this God shows himself, the distant God becomes close. "All these things", therefore, especially with the mystery of Christ, God made himself close to us. This implies another dimension: Christ is never alone; he came among us, he died alone but was raised to draw us all to him. Christ, as Scripture says, created a body for himself, he gathered all humanity in his reality of immortal life. Thus, in Christ who reunites humanity, we know humanity's future: eternal life.

All this, therefore, is very simple, in the last instance: we know God by knowing Christ, his Body, the Mystery of the Church and the promise of eternal life. We now come to the second question. How can we be witnesses of "all these things"? We can only be witnesses by knowing Christ, and in knowing Christ, also knowing God. However, knowing Christ implies, of course, an intellectual dimension learning what we know of Christ but it is always much more than an intellectual process: it is an existential process, a process of the opening of my ego, of my transformation by the presence and power of Christ. Thus it is also a process of openness to all the others who must be the Body of Christ. In this way, it is obvious that knowing Christ, as an intellectual and, especially, an existential process, is a process that makes us witnesses. In other words, we can only be witnesses if we know Christ personally and not solely through others from our own lives and from our own personal encounter with Christ. In truly meeting him in our life of faith we become witnesses and thus can contribute to the newness of the world, to eternal life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us a clue to the content of "all these things". The Church has gathered together and summed up the essential of all that the Lord gave us in the Revelation in the "Niceno-Constantinopolitan or Nicene Creed", which "draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two ecumenical Councils (in 325 and 381)" (CEC 195). The Catechism explains that this Creed "remains common to all the great Churches of both East and West to this day" (ibid. CEC 195). Consequently in this Creed the truths of faith are found that Christians can profess and witness to together, so that the world may believe, expressing, with their desire and commitment to overcome the existing divergences, the will to walk together towards full communion, the unity of the Body of Christ.

The celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings us to consider other important aspects for ecumenism and first of all the great progress achieved in the relations between Churches and Ecclesial Communities since the Edinburgh Conference more than a century ago. The modern ecumenical movement has developed so significantly that over the past century it has become an important element in the life of the Church, recalling the problem of unity among all Christians and sustaining the growth of communion between them. Not only does it encourage fraternal relations between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in response to the commandment of love, but it also encourages theological research. In addition, it involves the practical life of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities with topics that touch on pastoral and sacramental life, such as, for example, the mutual recognition of Baptism, questions concerning mixed marriages, the partial cases of comunicatio in sacris in specific, well-defined situations. Following the trajectory of this ecumenical spirit, contacts have continued to broaden so as to include Pentecostal, Evangelical and Charismatic movements for greater reciprocal knowledge, despite the many serious problems in this sector.

Since the Second Vatican Council and thereafter the Catholic Church has entered into fraternal relations with all the Churches of the East and with the Ecclesial Communities of the West, in particular by organizing bilateral theological dialogues with most of them. These have led to finding convergences or even consensus on various points, thereby deepening the bonds of communion. In the year that has just ended the groups in dialogue have recorded some positive steps. At the 11th Plenary Session that was held in Paphos, Cyprus, in October 2009, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches embarked on the examination of a crucial topic in the Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox: The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, that is, during the time in which the Christians of East and West lived in full communion. This study will later be extended to the second millennium. I have several times asked Catholics to pray for this delicate and essential dialogue for the whole ecumenical movement. The same Joint Commission also met from 26 to 30 January last year with the Ancient Orthodox Churches of the East (Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Armenian). These important initiatives testify that a profound dialogue full of hope is continuing with all the Churches of the East which are not in full communion with Rome, in their own specificity.

In the course of the past year, the results achieved by the various dialogues that have taken place in the past 40 years with the Western Ecclesial Communities were examined. Special thought was given to those with the Anglican Communion, with the Lutheran World Federation, with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and with the World Methodist Council. In this regard the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity made a survey to list the points of convergence which have been reached in the relative bilateral dialogues and at the same time to point out the problems that remain open on which it will be necessary to start a new phase of discussions.

Among the recent events I would like to mention the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, celebrated by Catholics and Lutherans together on 31 October 2009 to encourage the pursuit of the dialogue, as well as the visit to Rome of Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who also had meetings about the specific situation of the Anglican Communion at the present time. The common commitment to continue relations and dialogue are a positive sign that show the strong desire for unity despite all the problems that stand in its way. Thus we see that a dimension of our responsibility exists in doing everything possible to attain real unity, but there is the other dimension, that of divine action, because God alone can give unity to the Church. A "self-made" unity would be human but we want the Church of God, made by God, who will create unity when he wishes and when we are ready. We must also bear in mind how much real progress has been achieved in collaboration and brotherhood in all these years, in the past 50 years. At the same we must realize that ecumenical work is not a linear process. Indeed, old problems that arose in the context of another epoch lose their relevance while in today's context new problems and new difficulties arise. We must therefore always be open to a process of purification, in which the Lord will make us capable of being united.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask everyone to pray for the complex ecumenical reality, for the promotion of dialogue, as well as in order that the Christians of our time may give a new common witness of faithfulness to Christ in the eyes of this world of ours, May the Lord hear our invocation and that of all Christians which we are raising to him with special intensity during this Week.

To special groups:

I extend warm greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially to the groups from Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity it is a particular joy to welcome the members of the Continuation Committee of Ecumenism in the Twenty-first Century. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Audiences 2005-2013 30129