Weekly General Audience December 9, 2009
During 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 God.
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.