Wednesday's Audience - On St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Pope, Benedict
"A Wise Teacher and a Zealous Pastor"
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall. The reflection focused on St. Chromatius, bishop of Aquileia.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
In the last two catecheses we ventured through the Eastern Semitic Churches, meditating on Aphraates the Persian and St. Ephrem the Syrian; today we return to the Latin world, to the north of the Roman Empire, with St. Chromatius of Aquileia.
This bishop carried out his ministry in the ancient Church of Aquileia, a devout center of Christian life situated in the 10th region of the Roman Empire, "Venetia et Histria."
In 388, when Chromatius ascended to the episcopal chair of the town, the local Christian community already had a splendid history of faith in the Gospel. Between the middle of the third century and the early fourth century, persecutions by Decius, Valerianus and Diocletian had caused a large number of martyrs. Besides, the Church in Aquileia, like many other Churches at that time, was confronted with the threat of the Arian heresy.
Even Athanasius -- the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy, whom the Arians had sent to exile -- found shelter in Aquileia for some time. Under the guidance of its bishops, the Christian community withstood the snares of heresy, and fortified its ties to the Catholic faith.
In September 381, Aquileia hosted a synod, which was attended by roughly 35 bishops from the African coasts, the valley of Rhodes and the entire 10th region. The synod's proposition was to destroy what was left of Arianism in the West. The priest Chromatius attended the council as an expert of the bishop of Aquileia, Valeriano (370/1-387/8). The years around the synod in 381 represent "the golden age" of the Aquileian community. St. Jerome, native of Dalmatia, and Rufino from Concordia speak with nostalgia of their stay in Aquileia (370-373), of a sort of theological coterie that Girolamo defines "tamquam chorus beatorum" (like a chorus of blessed) (Cronaca: PL XXVII,697-698).
From this coterie -- that to some extents recalls the communitarian experiences of Eusebius of Vercelli and Augustine -- arose the most relevant personalities of the Northern Adriatic Churches.
Within his family Chromatius had already learned to know and love Christ. Jerome himself admiringly speaks about this, comparing Chromatius' mother to the prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the virgins of the Gospel parable, Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius to young Samuel (cf. Ep VII: PL XXII,341). Jerome further wrote of Chromatius and Eusebius: "The blessed Chromatius and holy Eusebius were as much brothers by blood ties as by the identity of ideals" (Ep. VIII: PL XXII,342).
Chromatius was born in Aquileia around 345. He was ordained deacon, then presbyter and finally pastor of that Church (388). After receiving the episcopal consecration from Bishop Ambrose, he devoted himself to a task that was challenging due to the vastness of the territory entrusted to his pastoral care: Aquileia's ecclesiastical jurisdiction extended in fact from the present territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, up to the borders of Hungary.
From an episode of St. John Chyrsostom's life we can deduce how much Chromatius was well appreciated in the Church of his times. When the bishop of Constantinople was exiled, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important bishops of the West, in order to obtain the emperors' support: The first letter went to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the bishop of Milan and the third to the bishop of Aquileia, that is to Chromatius (Ep. CLV: PG LII, 702).
Due to the precarious political situation, those were difficult times for him too. Most likely Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while attempting to escape from the raids of the barbarians in 407, the same year Chrysostom died.
In prestige and importance, Aquileia was the fourth town of the Italian peninsula, and the ninth of the Roman Empire: This is also the reason why it was so attractive for the Goths and the Huns. Besides causing grave wars and destruction, the barbarian invasions seriously compromised the circulation of the works of the Fathers preserved in the episcopal library, which had a wealth of codices.
St. Chromatius' writings were dispersed, appearing here and there, often credited to other authors such as John Chrysostom (mostly because both names start the same, Chromatius and Chrysostom), Ambrose, Augustine and even to Jerome himself, whom Chromatius had helped significantly in the textual revision and Latin translation of the Bible.
Most of Chromatius' work was rediscovered thanks to fortunate events that has allowed in recent years the reconstruction of a consistent body of writings: more than 40 sermons (10 of which are incomplete), and ...
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