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Pope Benedict on John, the Theologian

8/25/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"He Proclaims With Radiant Insight That 'God Is Love'"

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is Benedict XVI's address at the General Audience on Wednesday, August 9, 2006, held in the Paul VI Auditorium in the Vatican, in which he presented the figure of the Apostle John, "the Theologian."

With the meditation, the Holy Father resumed the series of catecheses on the Apostles, which on previous occasions he dedicated to the figures of Peter, Andrew, James the Lesser, James the Elder and John, son of Zebedee.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before the holidays I had begun sketching small portraits of the Twelve Apostles.

The apostles were Jesus' traveling companions, Jesus' friends. Their journey with Jesus was not only a physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but an interior journey during which they learned faith in Jesus Christ, not without difficulty, for they were people like us.

But for this very reason, because they were Jesus' traveling companions, Jesus' friends, who learned faith on a journey that was far from easy, they are also guides for us, who help us to know Jesus Christ, to love him and to have faith in him.

I have already commented on four of the Twelve Apostles: Simon Peter; Andrew, his brother; James, the brother of St. John; and the other James, known as "The Less," who wrote a letter that we find in the New Testament.

And I had started to speak about John the Evangelist, gathering together in the last catechesis before the holidays the essential facts for this apostle's profile.

I would now like to focus attention on the content of his teaching. The writings that we want to examine today, therefore, are the Gospel and the letters that go under his name.

If there is one characteristic topic that emerges from John's writings, it is love. It is not by chance that I wanted to begin my first encyclical letter with this apostle's words, "God is love (Deus caritas est); he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). It is very difficult to find texts of this kind in other religions. Thus, words such as these bring us face to face with an element that is truly peculiar to Christianity.

John, of course, is not the only author of Christian origin to speak of love. Since this is an essential constituent of Christianity, all the New Testament writers speak of it, although with different emphases.

If we are now pausing to reflect on this subject in John, it is because he has outlined its principal features insistently and incisively. We therefore trust his words. One thing is certain: He does not provide an abstract, philosophical or even theological treatment of what love is.

No, he is not a theoretician. True love, in fact, by its nature is never purely speculative but makes a direct, concrete and even verifiable reference to real persons. Well, John, as an apostle and a friend of Jesus, makes us see what its components are, or rather, the phases of Christian love, a movement marked by three moments.

The first concerns the very source of love which the apostle identifies as God, arriving at the affirmation that "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16). John is the only New Testament author who gives us definitions of God. He says, for example, that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) or that "God is light" (1 John 1:5). Here he proclaims with radiant insight that "God is love."

Take note: It is not merely asserted that "God loves," or even less that "love is God!" In other words: John does not limit himself to describing the divine action but goes to its roots.

Moreover, he does not intend to attribute a divine quality to a generic and even impersonal love; he does not rise from love to God, but turns directly to God to define his nature with the infinite dimension of love.

By so doing, John wants to say that the essential constituent of God is love and hence, that all God's activity is born from love and impressed with love: All that God does, he does out of love and with love, even if we are not always immediately able to understand that this is love, true love.

At this point, however, it is indispensable to take another step and explain that God has concretely demonstrated his love by entering human history through the person of Jesus Christ, incarnate, dead and risen for us.

This is the second constitutive moment of God's love. He did not limit himself to verbal declarations but, we can say, truly committed himself and "paid" in the first person.

Exactly as John writes, "God so loved the world," that is, all of us, "that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). Henceforth, God's love for humanity is concretized and manifested in the love of Jesus himself.

Again, John writes: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them ...

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