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Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.
BY The Editors
Weekly General Audience December 9, 2009
his general audience on Dec. 9, Pope Benedict XVI continued his catechesis on
the Christian culture of the Middles Ages. He spoke about Rupert of Deutz, a
Benedictine monk who experienced firsthand the conflict between the Holy Roman
Empire and the Church over investiture and played a significant role in the
principal theological debates of his day.
Rupert defended the reality of
Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. He also contributed to the medieval
discussion on the purpose of the Incarnation. He was a staunch defender of the
dignity and privileges of the Virgin Mary.
Rupert’s ability to harmonize
the rational study of the mysteries of the faith with prayer and contemplation
makes him a typical representative of the monastic theology of his time, and
his example inspires us to draw nearer to Christ present among us in his word
and in the Eucharist.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we will learn about another
Benedictine monk from the 12th century. His name is Rupert of Deutz, a city
near Cologne where a famous monastery is located.
Rupert speaks of his life in one of
his most important works entitled The Glory and the Honor of the
Son of Man, which is a partial commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.
While Rupert was still a young boy,
he was accepted as an “oblate” at the Benedictine monastery of St. Lawrence in
Liège, according to a custom of that era where one of the sons in the family
was entrusted to the monks to receive his education with the intention of
offering him as a gift to God.
Rupert loved the monastic life. He
quickly learned Latin so that he could study the Bible and better appreciate
the various liturgical celebrations. He distinguished himself for his upright
moral integrity and for his strong attachment to the See of St. Peter.
Loyalty to the Pope
His era was marked by conflicts
between the papacy and the [Holy Roman] Empire, mainly due to the so-called
“investiture conflict,” in which, as I have said in previous catecheses, the
papacy wished to remove the nomination of bishops and the exercise of their
jurisdiction from the civil authorities, who were mainly motivated by political
and economic interests — not by pastoral interests.
The bishop of Liège, Otbert,
resisted the Pope’s directives and sent Berengarius, the abbot of St. Lawrence
monastery, into exile because of his loyalty to the Pope.
Rupert, who was living at that
monastery, did not hesitate to follow his abbot into exile. Rupert returned to
the monastery and agreed to ordination only when Otbert returned to full communion
with the Pope.
In fact, up to that point, Rupert
had avoided being ordained by a bishop who dissented with the Pope. Rupert
teaches us that when controversies arise in the Church, reliance on the
ministry of Peter is a guarantee of faithfulness to sound doctrine and is the
source of inner peacefulness and freedom.
After the dispute with Otbert,
Rupert was forced to leave his monastery on two more occasions. In 1116, his
adversaries brought him to trial.
Although he was acquitted of every
charge, Rupert chose to go to Siegburg for a while. However, since the
controversy had not ended by the time he returned to the monastery in Liège, he
decided to settle permanently in Germany.
He was named abbot of Deutz in 1120,
and he remained there until his death in 1129. He left Deutz only once — to
make a pilgrimage to Rome in 1124.
Defense of the Eucharist
A prolific writer, Rupert left
numerous works that are still of great interest today, since he was active in
various important theological discussions of his time.
For example, he intervened
forcefully in the controversy over the Eucharist, which had led in 1077 to the
condemnation of Berengarius of Tours. Berengarius downplayed the presence of
Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, describing it as merely symbolic.
The word “transubstantiation” had
not yet entered the language of the Church at the time, but Rupert, using
rather bold words at times, was a decisive supporter of the real presence of
Christ in the Eucharist.
In a work entitled De
Divinis Officiis (On the Divine Offices), he affirmed in a
particular way the continuity between the body of Christ as the incarnate Word
and the body of Christ present in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine.
Dear brothers and sisters, I believe
we should consider this point in our own time. The danger exists even today of
downplaying this reality of the Eucharist, considering the Eucharist merely as
a rite of communion or socialization, which easily leads us to forget that the
risen Christ is really present — with his risen body — in the Eucharist and
puts himself in our hands in order to draw us out of ourselves and incorporate
us into his own immortal body and lead us to new life.
This great mystery of the presence
of the Lord in all his reality in the Eucharistic species is a mystery to adore
and to love ever anew!
I would cite here the words from the
Catechism of the Catholic Church that are the fruit of 2,000 years of
theological reflection and meditation on the faith: “The mode of Christ’s
presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. … In the most Blessed
Sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and
divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly,
really and substantially contained’” (No. 1374). Rupert contributed to this
precise formulation by way of his reflections.
Good and Evil
Another controversy in which Rupert
was involved was the problem of reconciling the goodness and omnipotence of God
with the existence of evil.
If God is omnipotent and good, how
can we explain the reality of evil?
Actually, Rupert was reacting to the
position that the teachers at the theology school in Laon had taken. Through a
series of philosophical arguments, they made a distinction between “approving”
and “permitting” vis-à-vis God’s will, concluding that God allowed evil without
approving it and, therefore, without wishing it.
Rupert rejected the use of
philosophy, which he considered inadequate for a problem of such importance and
simply remained faithful to the narration found in the Bible.
He based himself on God’s goodness,
on the truth that God is supremely good and cannot want but what is good. Thus,
Rupert identified the origin of evil in man himself and in the erroneous use
man makes of his own human freedom.
In confronting this issue, Rupert
wrote pages full of religious inspiration in praise of the Father’s infinite
mercy — God’s patience and benevolence towards man as sinner.
Like other theologians of the Middle
Ages, Rupert questioned why the Word of God, the Son of God, became man. Some —
many in fact — answered by saying that the Word became man out of an urgent
need to repair man’s sin.
Rupert, on the other hand, with his
Christ-centered view of salvation history, offered a broader perspective. In a
work entitled The Glorification of the Trinity, he
maintained that the Incarnation, the central event of all history, had been foreseen
since eternity, independent of man’s sin, so that all creation could praise God
the Father and love him as a single family gathered around Christ, the Son of
Thus, he saw the entire history of
mankind in the woman with child who is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, a
history that is oriented towards Christ, just as conception is oriented towards
birth — a concept that would be developed by other thinkers and that
contemporary theology values, which affirms that the history of the world and
mankind is conception that is oriented towards the birth of Christ.
Christ is always at the center of
the exegetical explanations that Rupert makes in his commentaries on the books
of the Bible, to which he had devoted himself with great diligence and passion.
Thus, he rediscovered the admirable unity in all of the events of salvation
history, from creation to the final consummation of time.
“All Scripture,” he wrote, “is one
book that leads to the same end [the divine Word], that comes from one God, and
that was written by one Spirit” (De glorificatione Trinitatis et
processione Sancti Spiritus I,V, PL 169, 18).
Mary, the Mother of God
In interpreting the Bible, Rupert
did not simply repeat the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, but displayed
his own originality.
For example, he was the first writer
to identify the bride in the Song of Songs with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus,
his commentary on that book of Scripture may be seen as a kind of summa
mariologica presenting the privileges and excellent virtues of Mary.
In one of the most inspired passages
of his commentary, Rupert writes: “O most beloved among the beloved, Virgin of
virgins, what is it about you that the beloved Son praises and that the entire
choir of angels exalts? They praise your simplicity, purity, innocence,
doctrine, modesty, humility and integrity in mind and body — that is to say,
your uncorrupted virginity” (In Canticum Canticorum
4,1-6, CCL 26, pp. 69-70).
Rupert’s Marian interpretation of
the Song of Songs is a good example of the harmony between liturgy and
theology. Indeed, various passages of this book of the Bible were already used
in liturgical celebrations of the Marian feasts.
Moreover, Rupert was careful to
insert his own Mariological doctrine into ecclesiological doctrine.
In other words, in the Blessed
Virgin he saw the most sacred part of the entire Church. That is why my
venerated predecessor, Paul VI, in his closing address to the third session of
the Second Vatican Council, solemnly proclaiming Mary as the Mother of the
Church, quoted a sentence taken from Rupert’s works, which defines Mary as the portio
maxima, portio optima (the most excellent and the best part) of the
Church (see In Apocalypsem 1.7, PL 169, 1043).
Dear friends, we realize from this
brief sketch that Rupert was a fervent theologian who was gifted with great
depth. Like all representatives of monastic theology, he was able to unite the
rational study of the mysteries of the faith with prayer and contemplation,
which is considered the apex of any knowledge of God.
He himself spoke on several
occasions of his mystical experiences, as when he confides the ineffable joy of
having perceived the presence of the Lord.
“In that brief moment,” he says, “I
realized how true it is what he himself said: ‘Learn from me, for I am meek and
humble of heart’” (De gloria et honore Filii
hominis. Super Matthaeum 12, PL 168, 1601).
We, too, each in our own way, can
meet the Lord Jesus, who constantly accompanies us along our journey, making
himself present in the Eucharistic bread and in his word for our salvation.