VATICAN CITY, JAN. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus occupy a unique place in the New Testament, showing both the importance of tradition and the Church’s developing ministry, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this today in his general audience in Paul VI Hall, during which he continued with his teachings on Paul the Apostle.
He considered today the so-called pastoral letters, sent to people instead of communities — two people who were close collaborators with Paul and two of the Church’s first bishops.
As these three letters already touch on errors cropping up in the Church — errors that the Holy Father pointed to as a foretaste of Gnosticism — the author responds with a two-faceted call: He invites Christians to return to a “spiritual reading of sacred Scripture.”
In this regard, the Pontiff explained, “Scripture is read correctly by putting oneself in dialogue with the Holy Spirit, to take from it light ‘for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.'”
And as a second invitation, Benedict XVI said, the author makes reference to the “tradition of the apostolic faith that must be protected with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This so-called deposit should be considered as the sum of apostolic Tradition and as the standard for fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Thus the Pauline letters present tradition as the key to understanding Scripture, the Pope said: “The apostolic proclamation, that is, Tradition, is necessary to introduce oneself in the understanding of Scripture and capture in it the voice of Christ.”
The Pontiff said that another “typical component” of the letters to Timothy and Titus is “a reflection on the ministerial structure of the Church.”
He explained how in the letters, it can be seen that the structure of the Church’s ministry is developing. In the Church of the pagan world, the figure of the apostle was still dominant, and Paul spoke of bishops and deacons.
In the Judeo-Christian world, presbyters are the dominant figure.
The Pope explained: “At the end in the pastoral letters, the two structures unite: Now appears the […] bishop. […] And together with the ‘episcopo’ we find the presbyters and deacons. Still now the figure of the apostle is determinant, but the three letters, as I have said, are directed not now to communities, but to people: Timothy and Titus, who on one hand appear as bishops, and on the other, begin to be in the place of the Apostle.
“Thus is noted initially the reality that will later be called ‘apostolic succession.'”
And Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate” is the appearance of “the sacramental character of the ministry,” the Holy Father added.
Benedict XVI concluded with an exhortation to prayer that Christians will be “ever more characterized, in relation with the society in which we live, as members of the ‘family of God.’ And let us pray also that the pastors of the Church have more and more paternal sentiments, simultaneously gentle and strong, in the formation of the house of God, of the community, of the Church.”