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Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.
BY The Editors
his general audience on June 3, Pope Benedict XVI continued his teachings on
the great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages with Rabanus Maurus.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak about a
monk named Rabanus Maurus, a truly extraordinary figure of the Latin Church in
During the era known as the High
Middle Ages, he, along with Isidore of Seville, Bede the Venerable and Ambrose
Autpert, of whom I have spoken in previous catecheses, was able to preserve
contact with the great culture of the ancient scholars and the Christian
Often referred to as the praeceptor
Germaniae (teacher of Germany), Rabanus Maurus was extraordinarily
prolific. With his absolutely exceptional capacity for work, he contributed
perhaps more than anybody else to keeping alive the theological, exegetical and
spiritual culture from which subsequent centuries would draw.
Famous monastic figures like Peter
Damian, Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux make reference to him, as
do a good number of the secular clergy who, in the 12th and 13th centuries,
gave life to one of the most beautiful and fruitful flourishings of human
Born in Mainz about the year 780,
Rabanus entered the monastery at a very young age. He acquired the name of
Maurus from a young man named Maurus whose noble Roman parents, according to
the second book of St. Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, entrusted
him to Abbot Benedict of Nurcia while he was still a little boy. His precocious
entry into the world of Benedictine monasticism, and the fruit that he derived
from it for his own human, cultural and spiritual development, provides a very
interesting glimpse not only of the life of the monks and the Church, but also
of society as a whole at that time, which is usually referred to as the
Referring to these monks, or perhaps
referring to himself, Rabanus Maurus wrote the following words: “There are some
people who have had the good fortune of being introduced to knowledge of
Scripture from a very early age (a cunabulis suis) and
who have been nourished so well by the food that our holy Church offers them that
they have been promoted, after an appropriate education, to the highest holy
orders” (PL, 107, col 419BC).
Rabanus Maurus’ extraordinarily
broad cultural background, for which he was noted, brought him to the attention
of some great figures of his era. He became an adviser to princes. He was
committed to working for unity within the empire and, on the wider cultural
level, never refused a well-reasoned response to those who had questions for
him, preferably drawn from the Bible or from the writings of the Fathers of the
Despite being elected abbot, first
of all, of the famous monastery of Fulda and later as archbishop of Mainz, the
city of his birth, he continued his studies, demonstrating through the example
of his own life that it is possible to be at the service of others without
depriving oneself of adequate time for reflection, study and meditation.
Thus, Rabanus Maurus was an exegete,
philosopher, poet, pastor and man of God. The Dioceses of Fulda, Mainz, Lemberg
and Wroclaw venerate him as a saint or as blessed.
His works completely fill six
volumes of Migne’s Patrologia Latina. In
all probability, one of the most beautiful and well-known hymns of the Latin
Church can be attributed to him: the “Veni Creator Spiritus”
(Come Holy Spirit), an extraordinary summary of Christian teaching on the Holy
Rabanus’ first theological work, in
fact, was in the form of a poem, a work called “De
Laudibus Sanctae Crucis,” the topic of which was the mystery of the
holy cross. He conceived it in a manner that combined the conceptual content
with the stimulus of a more exquisitely artistic nature, where he uses not only
poetry, but also pictorial forms within the manuscript itself.
For example, he included an image of
the crucified Christ — much like an icon — amid the lines of his manuscript and
wrote the following: “This is the image of our Savior who, by the position of
his limbs, made holy the life-giving and most sweet and most beloved form of
the cross so that, believing in his name and obeying his commandments, we might
obtain eternal life thanks to his passion. Therefore, every time we gaze on the
cross, let us remember him who suffered for us in order to snatch us from the
power of darkness, accepting death so that we might be heirs of eternal life”
(Lib. 1, Fig. 1, PL 107 col 151C).
This method of combining art,
intellect, heart and the senses, which comes from the East, was widely
developed in the West and attained unequalled heights in illuminated
manuscripts of the Bible and in other works of faith and art that flourished in
Europe up to the invention of printing, and even afterwards.
In any case, this reveals in Rabanus
Maurus an extraordinary awareness of the need to involve not only the mind and
heart in the experience of faith, but also the senses — through other elements
such as aesthetic taste and human sensitivity that help man to savor the truth
with all his being: “spirit, soul and body.”
This is very important because faith
is not simply thought, but something that touches our entire being. Since God
became man in flesh and bone and came down to enter this tangible world of
ours, we, in all the dimensions of our being, need to seek God and encounter
him. In this way, the reality of God, through faith, will penetrate our being
and transform it.
For this reason, Rabanus Maurus
concentrated his attention, above all, on the liturgy as the synthesis of all
the dimensions of our perception of reality. His insights are extraordinarily
relevant for our time.
His famous Carmina,
which he intended to be used above all in liturgical celebrations, has been
handed down to us. Indeed, since Rabanus was above all a monk, his interest in
liturgical celebration was only to be expected.
However, he did not devote himself
to poetry as an end in itself, but used art, as well as every other form of
knowledge, to grow deeper in knowledge of God’s word. For this reason, he
strove with extreme rigor and commitment to introduce his contemporaries —
especially bishops, priests and deacons — to an understanding of the profoundly
theological and spiritual significance of all elements of the celebration of
Thus, he tried to understand and
explain to others the hidden theological significances of the liturgical rites,
drawing from the Bible and the tradition of the Fathers of the Church.
He did not hesitate to cite — both
out of honesty and to give greater weight to his explanations — the patristic
sources to which he owed his own knowledge. He continued to avail himself of
these sources freely yet with careful discernment in order to continue the
development of patristic thought.
At the end of the his First Epistle
addressed to a fellow bishop in the Diocese of Mainz, for example, after
responding to requests for clarification on the rules to follow in the exercise
of pastoral responsibility, he writes: “We have written you all this just as we
have deduced it from sacred Scripture and the canons of the fathers. But you,
most holy man, must make your decisions as you think best for you, case by
case, seeking to temper your own opinion in a way that will guarantee
discretion in all things because that is the mother of all virtues” (Epistulae,
I, PL 112, col 1510 C).
Thus, we can see the continuity of
Christian faith, which has its beginnings in the word of God. However, this
word is always a living word. It develops and is expressed in new ways, yet it
is always consistent with the entire structure, the entire edifice, of our
Since the word of God is an integral
part of liturgical celebration, throughout his life Rabanus Maurus dedicated
his greatest efforts to the word of God.
He produced appropriate exegetical
explanations for nearly all the books of the Old and New Testaments with a
clearly pastoral aim, which he justified in the following words: “I wrote these
things ... synthesizing explanations and proposals from many others in order to
offer a service to the poor reader who does not have many books at his
disposal, and also to make it easy for those who are unable to enter into a
deeper understanding of the significant discoveries of the fathers” (Commentariorum
in Matthaeum praefatio, PL 107, col. 727D).
In fact, when commenting on biblical
texts, he drew fully from the early Fathers of the Church, particularly Jerome,
Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great.
Because of his remarkable pastoral
sensitivity, he took a special interest in the problem of penance, one of the
problems of particular interest to the faithful and the sacred ministers of his
He compiled his Penitentiaries,
as he himself called them, in which, in keeping with the sensitivities of his
time, he listed sins and their corresponding penances, using, insofar as
possible, some motivating factors drawn from the Bible, from the decisions of
the councils, and from papal decrees. Indeed, the Carolingians used these texts
in their attempts to reform the Church and society.
Works like De
Disciplina Ecclesiastica and De Institutione Clericorum
have a similar pastoral aim. Drawing, above all, from Augustine, Rabanus
explained to the ordinary people and to the priests of his diocese the
fundamental elements of our Christian faith. His writings were like small
I wish to conclude the presentation
of this great “man of the Church” by citing some of his words, which are a good
reflection of his basic conviction: “Whoever is negligent in contemplation (qui
vacare Deo negligit) deprives himself of a vision of God’s light.
Likewise, whoever allows himself to be overtaken in an indiscreet way by
worries and concerns and allows himself to be overwhelmed in his thoughts by
the tumult of worldly events condemns himself to the absolute impossibility of
penetrating the secrets of the invisible God” (Lib. I, PL 112, col. 1263A).
I believe Rabanus Maurus also speaks
to us today. Whether immersed in the frenetic rhythms of work or on vacation,
we must set aside time for God. Only then can our lives become great; they
truly become life.