Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of teachings on the relationship between Christ and the Church during his general audience on April 5, highlighting the “service of communion” that exists within the Church.
The Holy Spirit is the source of the communion uniting Christ’s disciples among themselves and with God, the Holy Father explained. “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace, since the Spirit is truth,” he said, quoting St. Irenaeus of Lyon. But Pope Benedict also addressed the great paradox of Christianity. On the one hand, he said, “there is an intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church.” But on the other hand, he acknowledged, “this intimate relationship with the Spirit does not eliminate our humanity with all its weaknesses.”
Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that the Church’s communion in love has coexisted with human division and disunity from the very beginning of the Church and the First Letter of John addresses this issue in a forthright manner. However, the ministry of the apostles, by maintaining the Church in God’s saving truth and leading her with authority, is ultimately a service to her communion in love.
“The apostolic ministry safeguards and promotes the gift of communion in a special way, which, in turn, is a gift for the entire community,” he noted. This service is a service of truth and love, the Holy Father explained. “Truth and love are two facets of the same gift that comes from God and that, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded within the Church and reaches down to us in our present time.”
Pope Benedict XVI concluded his teaching by urging everyone to pray for the apostles’successors so that they will truly be custodians of truth and love and so that the light of truth and love will always shine forth in the Church and the world.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this new series of teachings that we began a few weeks ago, we would like to reflect on the Church’s origins in order to comprehend Jesus’original plan and thereby understand what is essential in the Church — what endures with the passing of time. We also want to understand the why we are in the Church and how we must make a commitment to live this out at the beginning of a new Christian millennium.
Truth and Love
Reflecting on the early Church, we can discover two aspects. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, a martyr and a great theologian at the end of the second century who was the first to leave us a somewhat systematic theology, strongly emphasized the first aspect. As St. Irenaeus wrote: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace, since the Spirit is truth” (Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1: Pg 7, 966). Thus, there is an intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit builds up the Church and gives it truth and, as St. Paul says, pours out love into the hearts of believers (see Romans 5:5).
But there is also a second aspect. This intimate relationship with the Spirit does not eliminate our humanity with all its weakness. Therefore, the community of disciples experienced from the beginning not only the joy of the Holy Spirit — the grace of truth and love — but also trials that were mainly the result of differences over the truths of faith, along with the wounds of division in communion that ensued. Just as a communion of love has existed from the very beginning and will exist until the very end (see 1 John 1:1-10), divisions, unfortunately, have also existed from the very beginning. We should not be surprised that they exist even today. “They went out from us,” says the First Letter of John, “but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number” (1 John 2:19). Therefore, amid the daily events of the world and even the weaknesses of the Church, there is always the danger of losing the faith and also of losing love and fraternal relationships. Therefore, those who believe in the Church of love and wish to dwell within her have a specific duty to recognize this danger and to accept the fact that communion with those who have strayed from the doctrine of salvation is not possible (see 2 John 9-11).
The First Letter of John clearly shows that the early Church was well aware of these potential tensions in living out this communion. No other voice in the New Testament cries out with such force in order to show the reality and the duty of fraternal love among Christians. Yet, this same voice addresses its adversaries — those who were members of the community but no longer are — with drastic severity. The Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood above all as faithfulness to the Gospel that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his followers. The fact that we have been made children of the same Father by the Spirit of truth gives birth to a fraternal relationship among Christians: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14). However, in order to live in unity and peace, the family of the children of God needs someone who will shepherd them in the truth and guide them with wise and authoritative discernment: This is what the ministry of the apostles is called to do. Here we come to an important point. The Church is entirely of the Spirit, but has a structure — apostolic succession — that has the responsibility to safeguard that the Church always abides in Christ’s gift of truth, from which the capacity to love also proceeds.
The first summary from the Acts of the Apostles expresses with great effectiveness how these values converged in the life of the early Church: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the koinonia (communal life), to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Communion arises from a faith inspired by apostolic preaching; it is nourished by the breaking of bread and by prayer, and it is expressed in fraternal love and in service. We have here before us a description of the communion of the early Church with the richness of her internal dynamics and her visible expressions: the apostolic ministry safeguards and promotes the gift of communion in a special way, which, in turn, is a gift for the entire community
The apostles and their successors are, therefore, the custodians and the authoritative witnesses of the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, just as they are also the ministers of love: two aspects that go together. They must always be aware of the inseparable nature of this twofold service, which, in reality, is only a single service — the gift of truth and love that our Lord Jesus revealed and gave us. In this way, their service is above all a service of love: The love they must live and promote is inseparable from the truth they safeguard and transmit. Truth and love are two facets of the same gift that comes from God and that, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded within the Church and reaches down to us in our present time. Through the service of the apostles and their successors, the love of the triune God also reaches down to us in order to give us the truth that makes us free (see John 8:32). Everything we see in the early Church inspires us to pray for the apostles’successors — for all the bishops and for the successors of Peter — so that together they will truly be custodians of truth and love, so that they will truly be apostles of Christ and so that their light, the light of truth and love, will never be extinguished in the Church and the world.
- April 16-22, 2006