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Pope Benedict on Apostolic Tradition

"The Living Gospel, Proclaimed in its Integrity"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday general audience, which he dedicated to a continuing catechesis on the theme of "apostolic Tradition."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this catechesis we wish to understand a little more what the Church is. Last time we reflected on the topic of apostolic Tradition. We have seen that it is not a collection of things or words, like a box of dead things. Tradition is the river of new life that proceeds from the origins, from Christ to us, and makes us participate in God's history with humanity. This topic of Tradition is so important that I would like to reflect on it again today. In fact, it is of great importance for the life of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council stated in this connection that Tradition is apostolic above all in its origins: "In his gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what he had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts" (dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum," No. 7).

The Council continues to point out that "This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing."

Leaders of the eschatological Israel -- they were also 12, like the tribes of the Chosen People -- the apostles continued the "meeting" begun by the Lord and they did so above all by faithfully transmitting the gift received, the Good News of the Kingdom that came to men with Jesus Christ. Their number not only expresses continuity with the holy root, the Israel of the 12 tribes, but also the universal destiny of their ministry, which brings salvation to the ends of the earth. It is expressed by the symbolic value that numbers have in the Semitic world: 12 results from the multiplication of 3, a perfect number, times 4, a number that makes reference to the four cardinal points, therefore, the whole world.

The community, born from the Gospel proclamation, feels called by the word of the first who experienced the Lord and who were sent by him. It knows that it can count on the guidance of the Twelve, as well as that of those who later are associated as successors in the ministry of the Word and in the service of communion.

Therefore, the community feels committed to transmit to others the "joyful news" of the actual presence of the Lord and of his paschal mystery, which operates in the Spirit. This is underlined in some passages of the letters of St. Paul: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" (1 Corinthians 15:3). And this is important.

As is known, St. Paul, originally called by Christ with a personal vocation, is an authentic apostle and yet, also in his case, what counts fundamentally is fidelity to what he has received. He did not want to "invent" a new, so to speak, "Pauline" Christianity. Therefore, he insists: "I deliver to you what I also received." He transmitted the initial gift that comes from the Lord, as it is truth that saves. Later, toward the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy: "guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (2 Timothy 1:14).

It is also shown with efficacy by this ancient testimony of the Christian faith, written by Tertullian around the year 200: "After first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, and rounding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They [the apostles] then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches" ("De praescriptione Haereticorum," 20: PL: 2, 32).

The Second Vatican Council comments: "Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase of faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes" ("Dei Verbum," No. 8). The Church transmits all that she is and all that she believes; she transmits it in worship, in life, in doctrine.

Tradition is, therefore, the living Gospel, proclaimed by the apostles in its integrity, in virtue of the plentitude of her unique and unrepeatable experience: By her work, faith is communicated to others, until it reaches us, until the end of the world. Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit that acts in the history of the Church through the mediation of the Apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience of the origins.

It is what Pope St. Clement of Rome explained toward the end of the first century: "The Apostles," he wrote, "proclaimed the Gospel to us sent by the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, comes from God, the Apostles from Christ: Both proceed in an orderly way from the will of God. Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that disputes would arise around the episcopal function. Therefore, foreseeing the future perfectly, they established the chosen ones and ordered them that at their death other men of proven virtue assume their service" [Ad Corinthios," 42.44: PG 1, 292.296].

This chain of service continues to our day; it will continue until the end of the world. In fact, the mission entrusted by Jesus to the apostles has been transmitted by them to their successors. Beyond the experience of personal contact with Christ, unique and unrepeatable, the apostles transmitted to their successors the solemn sending to the world received from the Master. The word apostle comes in fact from the Greek term "apostellein," which means to send.

The apostolic sending -- as the text of Matthew 28:19 and following shows -- "implies a pastoral service ('make disciples of all nations') a liturgical service ('baptizing them'), and a prophetic service ('teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you') guaranteeing closeness to the Lord until the end of the ages (I am with you always until the end of time')."

Thus, though in a manner different from the apostles, we also have an authentic and personal experience of the presence of the Risen Lord. Thanks to the apostolic ministry, Christ himself comes to one who is called to the faith, overcoming the distance of the ages and offering himself, living and working, today in the Church and the world.

This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not separated from us by 2,000 years of distance, but is really present among us and gives us Truth, gives us Light and makes us live and find the Way to the future.

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

In today's catechesis, we continue our reflections on the Church's apostolic Tradition. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, God willed that everything he had revealed in Christ for our salvation should remain in its entirety and be transmitted to all generations.

The Twelve Apostles were chosen and sent forth to proclaim the Gospel and the living presence of the Risen Lord in his Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, they and their associates handed on, by their preaching, example and institutions, and by the inspired Scriptures, all that they themselves had received from Christ for the salvation of the world.

The Church in every age preserves and transmits what St. Paul calls the "rich deposit of faith" (cf. 2 Timothy 1:14). Tradition can thus be understood as the living voice of the Gospel, proclaimed in its integrity by the apostles and passed down by their successors. This apostolic Tradition includes "all that helps God's people to live in holiness and grow in faith." Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Britain and Ireland, from Asia and from the United States of America. In this month of May, I entrust you to the maternal protection of Our Blessed Lady, Queen of Peace. Upon all of you I invoke the abundant blessings of our Risen Savior.

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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