VATICAN CITY, JUNE 3, 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:
Today I would like to speak about a truly extraordinary personality of the Latin West: the monk Rabanus Maurus. Together with men such as Isidore of Seville, the Venerable Bede and Ambrose Auperto, of whom I have already spoken in previous catechesis, [Rabanus Maurus] knew how to stay in contact with the great culture of the ancient scholars and the Christian fathers during the centuries of the Early Middle Ages. Often remembered as “praeceptor Germaniae,” Rabanus Maurus was extraordinarily productive. With his entirely exceptional capacity for work, he was perhaps the person who most contributed to maintaining alive the theological, exegetical and spiritual culture to which successive centuries would pay recourse. Great personalities from the world of the monks, such as Peter Damian, Peter the Venerable and Bernard Clairvaux, make reference to him, as do an ever more consistent number of “clerics” of the secular clergy, who in the 12th and 13th centuries gave life to one of the most beautiful and fruitful flourishing of human thought.
Born in Mainz around the year 780, Rabanus entered the monastery when he was still very young: the name Maurus was given him precisely in reference to the young Maurus who, according to the second book of St. Gregory the Great’s “Dialogues,” had been given at a very young age to the abbot Benedict of Nursia by his own parents, who were Roman nobles. This precocious introduction of Rabanus as “puer oblatus” in the Benedictine monastic world, and the fruits that it gave for his human, cultural and spiritual growth, opened up very interesting possibilities not only for the life of the monks, but also for the whole of society of his time, normally referred to as “Carolingian.” Speaking of them, or perhaps of himself, Rabanus Maurus writes: “There are some who have had the fortune of having been introduced in the knowledge of Scripture from a very young age (‘a cunabulis suis’) and have been nourished so well by the food that the holy Church has offered them that they can be promoted, with an adequate education, to the most elevated sacred orders” (PL 107, col 419BC).
The extraordinary culture that distinguished Rabanus Maurus very quickly brought the attention of the greats of his time. He became a counselor of princes. He committed himself to guaranteeing the unity of the empire, and on a wider cultural level, he never denied one who asked for a well-thought-out answer, preferentially inspired in the Bible and in the texts of the holy fathers. Despite the fact that he was first elected abbot of the famous monastery of Fulda, and afterward archbishop of his native city of Mainz, he did not leave aside his studies, demonstrating with the example of his life that one can be at the same time available for others without neglecting because of this an adequate time of reflection, study and meditation.
In this way, Rabanus Maurus became an exegete, philosopher, poet, pastor and man of God. The dioceses of Fulda, Mainz, Limburgo and Breslau venerate him as a saint or blessed. His works fill six volumes of the “Patrologia Latina” of Migne. He probably composed one of the most beautiful and well-known hymns of the Latin Church, the “Veni Creator Spiritus,” an extraordinary synthesis of Christian pneumatology. The first theological commitment of Rabanus is expressed, in fact, in the form of poetry and had as a theme the mystery of the holy cross in a work titled, “De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis,” conceived to propose not only conceptual content, but also exquisitely artistic motivations using both the poetic form and the pictorial form within the same manuscript codex. Iconographically proposing between the lines of his writing the image of the crucified Christ, he writes: “This is the image of the Savior who, with the position of his members, makes sacred for us the most sweet and dear form of the cross so that, believing in his name and obeying his commandments, we might obtain eternal life thanks to his passion. Because of this, each time that we raise our eyes to the cross, we remember him who suffered for us to sever us from the power of darkness, accepting death to make us heirs of eternal life (Lib. 1, Fig. 1, PL 107 col 151 C).
This method of harmonizing all the arts, the intelligence, the heart and the sentiment, which came from the East, would be highly developed in the West, reaching unreachable heights in the miniate codices of the Bible and in other works of faith and of art, which flourished in Europe until the invention of the press and even afterward. In any case, it shows that Rabanus Maurus had an extraordinary awareness of the need to involve in the experience of faith, not only the mind and the heart, but also the sentiments through these other elements of aesthetic taste and the human sensitivity that brings man to enjoy truth with all of his being, “spirit, soul and body.” This is important: The faith is not only thought; it touches the whole being. Given that God made man with flesh and blood and entered into the tangible world, we have to try to encounter God with all the dimensions of our being. In this way, the reality of God, through faith, penetrates in our being and transforms it.
For this reason, Rabanus Maurus concentrated his attention above all on the liturgy, as the synthesis of all the dimension of our perception of reality. This intuition of Rabanus Maurus makes him extraordinarily relevant to our times. He also left the famous “Carmina” proposals to be used above all in liturgical celebrations. In fact, Rabanus’ interest for the liturgy can be entirely taken for granted given that before all, he was a monk. Nevertheless, he did not dedicate himself to the art of poetry as an end in itself, but rather he used art and whatever other type of knowledge to go deeper in the Word of God. Because of this, he tried with all his might and rigor to introduce to his contemporaries, but above all to the ministers (bishops, priests and deacons), to the understanding of the profound theological and spiritual significance of all the elements of the liturgical celebration.
In this way, he tried to understand and present to the others the theological meanings hidden in the rites, paying recourse to the Bible and the tradition of the fathers. He did not hesitate to cite, out of honesty and also to give greater weight to his explanations, the patristic sources to which he owed his knowledge. He made use of them freely and with attentive discernment, continuing the development of the patristic thought. At the end of the “First Letter,” addressed to a chorbishop of the Diocese of Mainz, for example, after having responded to requests to clarify the behavior that should be had in the carrying out of pastoral responsibility, he writes: “We have written you all of this just as we have deduced it from the sacred Scriptures and from the canons of the fathers. Now then, you, most holy man, make your decisions as seems best to you, case by case, trying to moderate your evaluation in such a way that discretion is guaranteed in everything, since she is the mother of all virtues” (“Epistulae”, I, PL 112, col 1510 C). In this way is seen the continuity of the Christian faith, which has its beginnings in the Word of God: It is, nevertheless, always alive, it develops and is expressed in new ways, always in harmony with the entire construction, the whole edifice of the faith.
Given that the word of God is an integral part of the liturgical celebration, Rabanus Maurus dedicated himself to the latter with the greatest effort during his entire existence. He wrote exegetical explanations for almost all of the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments with a clearly pastoral objective, which he justified with words s
uch as this: “I have written this, … synthesizing explanations and proposals of many others, to offer a service to the poor reader who doesn’t have many books at his disposal, but also to help those who haven’t yet completely understood the meanings discovered by the fathers” (“Commentariorum in Matthaeum praefatio,” PL 107, col. 727D). In fact, in commenting on the biblical texts he resorts quite often to the ancient fathers, with a special predilection for Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great.
His sharp pastoral sensibility carried him afterward to confront one of the problems that most interested the faithful and sacred ministers of his time: that of penance. He compiled “Penitentials” — that’s what he called them — in which, according to the sensibilities of the age, he enumerated the sins and their corresponding penance, using, in the measure possible, motivations taken from the Bible, of the decisions of the councils, and of the decrees of the popes. Of these texts the “Carolingians” are also useful in his intention to reform the Church and society. Works such as “De disciplina ecclesiastica” and “De institutione clericorum” respond to this pastoral objective. In these, citing above all Augustine, Rabanus explained to simple people and to the clergy of his own diocese the fundamental elements of Christian faith: They were a type of small catechisms.
I would like to conclude the presentation of this great “man of the Church” citing some of his words that reflect his deep conviction: “He who neglects contemplation is deprived of the vision of the light of God; he who is carried away with worry and allows his thoughts to be crushed by the tumult of the things of the world is condemned to the absolute impossibility of penetrating the secrets of the invisible God” (Lib. I, PL 112, col. 1263A). I believe that Rabanus Maurus addressed these words to us today: while at work, with its frenetic rhythms, and during vacation, we have to reserve moments for God. [We have to] open our lives up to him, directing a thought to him, a reflection, a brief prayer. And above all, we mustn’t forget that Sunday is the day of Our Lord, the day of the liturgy, [the day] to perceive in the beauty of our churches, in the sacred music and in the Word of God, the same beauty of our God, allowing him to enter into our being. Only in this way is our life made great; it is truly made a life.[Translation by ZENIT] [At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with another great monastic figure of the High Middle Ages, Rabanus Maurus. Rabanus entered monastic life at a young age as an oblate, was trained in the liberal arts and received a broad formation in the Christian tradition.
As the Abbot of Fulda and then as Archbishop of Mainz, he contributed through his vast learning and pastoral zeal to the unity of the Empire and the transmission of a Christian culture deeply nourished by the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church. From his youth he wrote poetry, and he is probably the author of the famous hymn Veni Creator Spiritus.
Indeed, his first theological work was a poem on the Holy Cross, in which the poetry was accompanied by an illuminated representation of the Crucified Christ. This medieval method of joining poetry to pictorial art sought to lift the whole person — mind, heart and senses — to the contemplation of the truth contained in God’s word. In the same spirit Rabanus sought to transmit the richness of the Christian cultural tradition through his prolific commentaries on the Scriptures, his explanations of the liturgy and his pastoral writings. This great man of the Church continues to inspire us by his example of an active ministry nourished by study, profound contemplation and constant prayer.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, the Philippines and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart. I also greet the many student groups present. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
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