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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pope Benedict and the Theology of Saints

Piero della Francesca (c. 1420–1490)
Saint Augustine c.1465
Tempera on oak panel
133 x 59,5 cm
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

One of Pope Benedict`s favourite saints is Saint Augustine, one of the great Doctors of the Church. He rarely fails to quote from his many works.

In his most recent catechesis winding up his two year cycle on the Lives of the Saints, he admitted that he admires many saints, canonised and non-canonised.

"In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, to say it somehow, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.

In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life."

Hagiography, the study of the lives of saints, has a pejorative edge in the minds of many these days. In the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, saints were no longer regarded as subjects worthy of study. The study had the stench of "medievalism" and carried the taint of being uncritical, too reverential, associated with the medieval traffic in relics and corruption and probably as a distraction from a direct relationship with Christ.

One of the great criticisms of the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II was his emphasis on the veneration of the saints, and his great promotion of the processes of beatification and canonisation.

He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds; and 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints. He made Thérèse of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict talks of "saints" as being "beacons of many generations" worthy of study and veneration and means of intercession:

"We have gotten to know them up close and to understand that the whole history of the Church is marked by these men and women, who with their faith, their charity, and their lives were the beacons of many generations, as they are also for us.

The saints manifest in many ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One; they let Christ possess their lives completely, being able to affirm as St. Paul, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Following their example, taking recourse to their intercession, entering into communion with them, "joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God" (Lumen Gentium 50)."

Pope Benedict`s great talent is to sum up or distill in a concise cogent form theological concepts, in this case, the theology of saints.

Sigismondo Caula (1637- 1724)
St Charles Borromeo giving communion to the plague victims in Milan in 1576 (1685)
Oil on canvas
Galleria Estense, Modena

Charles-Henri Hilaire Michel (1817-1905)
La Sainte Communion
1866
Oil on canvas
40 x 32.5cm
Musée Alfred Danicourt , Péronne