Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Fathers Have Spoken

This year, beginning during Lent and continuing throughout, Pope Benedict has been presenting a series of addresses, lessons if you will, on the teachings of the Church Fathers. There have been a number of interesting “coincidences” between the specific writings that Benedict has chosen, and issues that are more, how might we say, contemporary. Of course, it makes sense to choose writings relevant to the lives of Catholics today, but today’s message had to be one of the most striking yet. I have highlighted what I consider to be the most interesting statements:


VATICAN CITY, JUN 6, 2007 (VIS) - St. Cyprian, "the first African bishop to achieve the crown of martyrdom," was the subject of Benedict XVI's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square in the presence of 40,000 people. Cyprian, said the Pope, "was born in Carthage to a rich pagan family" and "converted to Christianity at the age of 35. ... He became a priest and later a bishop. In the brief period of his episcopate, he had to face the first two persecutions authorized by imperial edict, that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258)," following which many faithful "renounced their faith, or at least failed to comport themselves correctly when undertrial. These were the so-called 'lapsi,' that is, the 'lapsed'."
Cyprian was "severe but not inflexible towards the 'lapsi,' giving them the chance of forgiveness after an exemplary penance." The saint also "showed great humanity and was pervaded by the most authentic evangelical spirit in exhorting Christians to offer fraternal help to pagans during the plague." But he was "irremovable in combating the corruption and sins that devastated the moral life, especially that of avarice."
‘Cyprian wrote many treatises and letters, all of them associated with his pastoral ministry. Little given to theological speculations, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the faithful to good behavior."
In the saint's works, the Holy Father explained, "the Church is by far the topic most dear to him. He distinguishes between the visible hierarchical Church and the invisible mystical Church, at the same time forcefully affirming that the Church is one, founded upon Peter. He never tires of repeating that 'whoever abandons the chair of Peter, upon which the Church is founded, deludes himself if he believes he remains in the Church'."
Hence, "the indispensable characteristic of the Church is unity, as symbolized by the seamless robe of Christ; a unity that finds its foundation in Peter and its perfect realization in the Eucharist," said the Holy Father. He then referred to Cyprian's teaching on prayer "which highlights how in the Our Father Christians are shown the correct way to pray." That prayer refers to "us" and "our" rather than to "me" and "mine," said the Pope, "so that he who prays does not pray only for himself. Ours is a public and community prayer. ... The Christian does not say 'my Father,' but 'our Father,' even when praying in the privacy of a closed room, because he knows that everywhere and in all circumstances, he is a member of the one Body."
"Cyprian, then, lies at the origins of that fruitful theological-spiritual tradition that sees the heart as the privileged place of prayer. ... It is there that God meets and talks to man, ... and man listens to God. Let us make our own that 'understanding heart' about which the Bible and the Fathers speak," the Pope concluded. "We have such great need of it."
Ok… so can we all agree that Benedict was not merely teaching a history lesson about the Third Century “lapsi” when he includes a quote like 'whoever abandons the chair of Peter, upon which the Church is founded, deludes himself if he believes he remains in the Church'… now who could he be talking about? Could it possibly, just possibly be connected somehow to a particular document that is rumored to be released very soon? Granted, the pressures which caused the “lapsi” to renounce their faith were maybe more compelling (wild beasts in the Coliseum, etc…), and even so, Cyprian was “severe but not inflexible towards the 'lapsi,' giving them the chance of forgiveness after an exemplary penance” , holding out an olive branch to them because he understood why they renounced their allegiance to the Chair of Peter.
If you have a chance, use the following links and read some of Benedict’s other lessons on the Church Fathers that have been given this year. I can’t help but feel that these are not merely academic history lessons, but are in fact the "Church Fathers Speaking" to us…and we would be wise to listen! I will leave it to you to draw what parallels might exist…
Benedict’s lessons on the Church Fathers:
Origen Part I
Origen Part II
Clement of Alexandria:
Saint Iraneaus of Lyons:
Saint Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: (note particularly the last four passages here speaking about“customs”)
Saint Ignatius of Antioch:
Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome:
Benedict’s lessons on the Early Christians:
Priscilla and Aquila:
Barnabas, Silas and Apollos:
Stephen, the Protomartyr:
An interesting address for the Week of Christian Unity (A theme that runs throughout all of these addresses):

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