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Pope Benedict on Apostolic Tradition

5/4/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"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 ...

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