On St. Germanus

«There Is a Certain Visibility of God in the World»

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, part of a catechetical series he is giving about great writers of the Church in the Middle Ages.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

The patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, of whom I would like to speak today, does not belong to the most characteristic figures of the Eastern Christian world, and yet, his name appears with a certain solemnity in the list of the great defenders of sacred images, compiled in the Second Council of Nicaea, the 7th ecumenical council (787).

The Greek Church celebrates his feast in the liturgy of May 12. He had a significant role in the complex history of the fight for images, during the so-called iconoclast crisis: He knew how to effectively resist pressure from an iconoclast emperor, that is, an adversary of icons, such as was Leo III.

During Germanus’ time as patriarch (715-730), Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, suffered a very dangerous besiegement from the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718), a solemn procession was organized in the city with the showing of the image of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, and a relic of the holy cross, to invoke from on high the defense of the city. In fact, Constantinople was liberated from the besiegement. The adversaries decided to permanently let go of the idea of establishing their capital in the city that was the symbol of the Christian empire, and the appreciation for divine help was extremely great among the people.

Patriarch Germanus, after that event, became convinced that the intervention of God should be considered evident approval of the piety shown by the people toward the holy icons. Of an entirely different opinion, on the other hand, was Emperor Leo III, who precisely that year (717), was enthroned as the indisputable emperor in the capital, in which he would reign until 741. After the liberation of Constantinople and after a series of further victories, the Christian emperor began to show ever more openly the conviction that the consolidation of the empire should begin precisely with a reordering of the manifestations of the faith, with particular reference to the risk of idolatry, which according to his opinion, the people were exposed to due to an excessive devotion to icons.

Nothing was gained by Patriarch Germanus’ references to the tradition of the Church and the efficacy of certain images, which were unanimously recognized as «miraculous.» The emperor became more and more staunch in the application of his restoration project, which included the elimination of icons. And when, on Jan. 7, 730, during a public meeting he openly took a position against devotion to images, Germanus did not want in any way to yield to the will of the emperor on questions that he considered determinant for the Orthodox faith, to which, according to him, belongs precisely the devotion to and love for images. As a result of that, Germanus found himself obligated to turn in his resignation as patriarch and to condemn himself to exile in a monastery where he died forgotten by everyone. His name came to light again precisely in the Second Council of Nicaea (787), when the Orthodox Fathers decided in favor of icons, recognizing the merits of Germanus.

Patriarch Germanus gave much attention to the liturgical celebrations, and for a certain time, he was also considered the one who began the feast of Akathist. As is known, Akathist is an ancient and famous hymn which arose in the Byzantine circle and was dedicated to the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Despite the fact that from the theological point of view, Germanus cannot be classified as a great thinker, some of his works had a certain echo above all because of certain of his intuitions regarding Mariology. From him, in fact, we have various homilies about Marian themes and some of them have profoundly marked the piety of entire generations of faithful, as much in the East as in the West.

His splendid homilies on the Presentation of Mary in the temple are still-living testimonies of the non-written tradition of the Christian Churches. Generations of nuns and monks, and members of countless institutes of consecrated life, continue finding even today precious treasures of spirituality in these texts.

Some Marian texts from Germanus that are part of his homilies pronounced on SS. Deiparae dormitionem, corresponding to our feast of the assumption, still create awe. Among these texts, Pope Pius XII used one that he set as a pearl in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950), with which he declared the dogma of faith, the assumption of Mary. Pope Pius XII cited this text in that constitution, presenting it as one of the arguments in favor of the permanent faith of the Church in the corporal assumption of Mary into heaven. Germanus wrote: «Could it ever happen, most holy Mother of God, that heaven and earth feel honored by your presence, and you, with your departure, would leave man deprived of your protection? No. It is impossible to think of such a thing. In fact when you were in the world you did not feel that the things of heaven were foreign, in the same way, after having emigrated from this world, you have not felt removed from the possibility of communicating in spirit with men. … In fact you have not abandoned those to whom you have guaranteed salvation … indeed your spirit lives eternally, nor has your flesh suffered the corruption of the tomb.

«You, oh Mother, are close to everyone and protect everyone, and even though our eyes cannot see you, we completely know, oh One on high, that you live in the midst of all of us and that you make yourself present in the most varied of ways … You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.

«In fact it was impossible that that which had been converted into the vase of God and the living temple of the most holy divinity of the Only Begotten would be enclosed in the sepulcher of the dead. Again we believe with certainty that you continue walking with us» (PG 98, coll. 344B-346B, passim).

It has been said that for the Byzantines, the decorum of the rhetorical form in preaching, and even more in hymns or poetic compositions that they call tropari, is as important in the liturgical celebration as the beauty of the sacred building in which the celebration takes place. Patriarch Germanus was recognized, in this tradition, as one of those who has contributed much to keeping alive this conviction, that is, that the beauty of the word, of the language and the beauty of the building and the music should coincide.

I cite, to conclude, the inspired words with which Germanus described the Church at the beginning of this small work of art: «The Church is the temple of God, sacred space, house of prayer, convocation of the people, body of Christ … It is heaven on earth, where the transcendent God dwells as in his house and walks [about] in her, but it is also the fulfilled image (antitype) of the Crucifixion, of the tomb and of the Resurrection. The Church is the house of God in which the life-giving mystical sacrifice is celebrated, at the same time the most intimate part of the sanctuary and the holy grotto. Within her is found those true and authentic precious pearls that are the divine dogmas of the teaching offered directly by the Lord to his disciples» (PG 98, coll. 384B-385A).

At the end remains this question: What does this saint have to tell us today, [being] chronologically and also culturally very far from us? I think substantially three things. The first: There is a certain visibility of God in the world, in the Church, which we
should learn to perceive. God has created man in his image, but this image has been covered in so much filth from sin that consequently God is almost not seen anymore in it. Thus the Son of God became true man, perfect image of God: In Christ we can thus contemplate the face of God and learn to ourselves be true men, true images of God.

Christ invites us to imitate him, to come to be similar to him, so that in each man the face of God, the image of God, again shines through. In truth, God had prohibited in the Ten Commandments making images of God, but this was caused by the temptations to idolatry that believers could be exposed to in the context of paganism. Nevertheless, when God became visible in Christ through the incarnation, it became legitimate to reproduce the face of Christ. Holy images teach us to see God in the form of the face of Christ. After the incarnation of the Son of God, it has therefore become possible to see God in the images of Christ and also in the face of the saints, in the face of all men in whom the holiness of God shines.

The second [lesson] is the beauty and dignity of the liturgy. To celebrate the liturgy in the awareness of the presence of God, with this dignity and beauty that allows one to see a bit of his splendor, is the task of every Christian formed in his faith.

The third [lesson] is to love the Church. Precisely concerning the Church, we men are inclined to see above all its sins, the negative; but with the help of faith, which makes us capable of seeing authentically, we can also, today and always, rediscover in her the divine beauty. It is in Church where God makes himself present, offers himself in the holy Eucharist and remains present for adoration. In the Church, God speaks with us, in the Church, «God walks with us,» as St. Germanus says. In the Church, we receive the forgiveness of God and we learn to forgive.

Let us pray to God so that he teaches us to see in the Church his presence, his beauty, to see his presence in the world, and that he helps us also to be transparent for his light.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we turn to Saint Germanus, Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople, whose feast day is celebrated in the Greek Church on 12 May. In 717, while Constantinople was under siege by Saracen armies, Germanus led a procession with the venerated image of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and relics of the Holy Cross. The siege was lifted, convincing him that God had responded to the people’s devotion. Some time later however, Emperor Leo III initiated his campaign against the use of sacred images, judging them to be a source of idolatry. When Germanus opposed the Emperor publicly in 730 he was forced to retire in exile to a monastery, where he later died. His memory was not forgotten, and in the Second Council of Nicea, which restored devotion to sacred images, his name was honoured. The writings of Germanus, steeped in an ardent love of the Church and devotion to the Mother of God, have had a wide influence on the piety of the faithful both of the East and the West. He promoted a solemn and beautiful Liturgy and is also known for his insights in Mariology. In homilies on the Presentation and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Germanus extols her virtue and her mission. A text which sees the source of her bodily incorruption in her virginal maternity was included by Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. I pray that through the intercession of Saint Germanus we may all be renewed in our love of the Church and devotion to the Mother of God.

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Canada and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Lord’s Easter blessings of joy and peace!

© Copyright 2009 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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