In his general audience Benedict XVI illustrates the figure of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who fought Gnostic heresies, as an example of how the faith was transmitted by the apostles and their successors: it is “public, unique and inspired by the Holy Spirit”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – True Christian faith is taught by the bishops of the Church, in particular the bishop of Rome, in other words the Pope: it is public and unique, not intellectual in it’s nature in so far as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and destined for all people. The principles of the Apostolic tradition and the transmission of faith were addressed by Benedict XVI today in his catechesis to over 30 thousand pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s square for the weekly general audience, under a sun dappled sky.
Continuing in the catechesis on the Church Fathers from the first centuries, today the Pope spoke of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, probably born in Izmir Turkey between 135 and 140, a follower of bishop Policarp, disciple of John, who went on to become the bishop of the French city where he died between 202 and 203, perhaps by martyrdom.
“As a writer –said Benedict XVI – he had the twin aim of defending true doctrine from heretical attacks and of exposing with great clarity the truth of faith”. His works “can be defined as a most ancient Catechism”. At a time when the Church was threatened by Gnostic doctrine according to which “ the Church’s teachings of faith were merely symbolic for the simple incapable of true comprehension”, while the initiated were the only ones capable of understanding the meaning behind those symbols. But “in this way a Christianity for the elite, the intelligencia was being formed”, which risked diversifying itself into many different schools of thought with “strange curios yet attractive elements”.
A common element among the diverse Gnostic sects was their Dualism: The oneness of God was denied while the theory of evil caused by material wealth was counter posed to the idea of a kind God. Irenaeus contrasted the Gnostic pessimism which depreciated material reality. But his work “goes well beyond his confutation of heresy”. In the Popes description he is “ the first great Theologian who created systematic theology”, at the centre of which emerges the question of the “rule of faith ”, as well as it’s transmission. “The rule coincides with the apostles’ creed and gives us the key to interpreting the Gospel” “how it must be read”.
The Gospel Irenaeus preached was the Gospel preached by his teacher Polycarp, who in turn received it from the Apostle John in an unbroken line of succession going back to Christ himself” and that this faith was taught “simply” but at the same time with great “depth”. “There is no secret doctrine, a superior Christianity for intellectuals, does not exist”, the faith which is taught is faith for everybody, publicly transmitted by the apostles to their successors the bishops. Among these the teachings of the Church in Rome must be considered above all, as it traces its roots to the apostles Peter and Paul. All other Churches must agree themselves to it.
“In this teaching –underlined Benedict XVI – the theory that intellectuals posses a superior faith to the one taught by the Church is contested”; faith “is not a privilege of the few”, but anyone can pertain to reaching it through the teachings of the bishops, in particular the bishop of Rome.
The Pope affirmed, this is where the genuine concept of tradition, which is not traditionalization, comes from, and which has three essential characteristics. First “it is “public”, because it is available to all through the teaching of the Bishops; to know the true doctrine it is enough to know the faith as taught by the bishops successors.
Secondly , the apostolic tradition “is “one”, because its content remains the same despite the variety of languages and cultures;”. Benedict XVI here recalled some of the excerpts from Irenaeus book on heresies when he says “even though the Church is disseminated throughout the world, it holds the faith of the apostles as if it were one single home, spoken with one single tongue”.
And finally the apostolic tradition is, in the Greek word “pneumatic”, because, through it, the Holy Spirit continues to enliven and renew the Church even today”. “It is not a case of the transmission of faith being entrusted to men who are more or less capable, but it is the Spirit of God who guarantees the truth of faith”. At the same time this also guarantees a “freshness” of the Church. In short “a precious deposit, held within a valuable vase, which renews itself continuously also renewing the vase which contains it”.