|Our Mother walks with us
29 April , at the General Audience in St Peter's Square the Holy
Father commented on St Germanus Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople
in the eighth century. The following is a translation of the Pope's
Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, whom I would
like to talk about today, does not belong among the most representative
figures of the Greek-speaking world of Eastern Christianity. Yet, his
name appears with a certain solemnity in the list of the great champions
of sacred images drafted by the Second Council of Nicaea, the seventh
Ecumenical Council (787). The Greek Church celebrates his Feast in the
liturgy of 12 May.
He played an important role in the overall history of
the controversy over images during the "Iconoclastic Crisis": he was
able to resist effectively the pressures of an Iconoclast Emperor, in
other words opposed to icons, such as Leo III.
During the patriarchate of Germanus (715-730) the
capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was subjected to a
dangerous siege by the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718), a solemn
procession was organized in the city displaying the image of the Mother
of God, the Theotokos, and the relic of the True Cross, to invoke
protection for the city from on high. In fact, Constantinople was
liberated from the siege. The enemy decided to desist for ever from the
idea of establishing their capital in the city that was the symbol of
the Christian Empire and the people were extremely grateful for the
After that event, Patriarch Germanus was convinced
that God's intervention must be considered as obvious approval of the
devotion shown by the people for the holy icons. However, the Emperor
Leo was of the absolute opposite opinion; that very year (717) he was
enthroned as the undisputed Emperor in the capital, over which he
reigned until 741. After the liberation of Constantinople and after a
series of other victories, the Christian Emperor began to show more and
more openly his conviction that the consolidation of the Empire must
begin precisely with a reordering of the manifestations of faith, with
particular reference to the risk of idolatry to which, in his opinion,
the people were prone because of their excessive worship of icons.
Patriarch Germanus' appeal to the tradition of the
Church and to the effective efficacy of certain images unanimously
recognized as "miraculous" were to no avail. The Emperor more and more
stubbornly applied his restoration project which provided for the
elimination of icons. At a public meeting on 7 January 730, when he
openly took a stance against the worship of images, Germanus was in no
way ready to comply with the Emperor's will on matters he himself deemed
crucial for the Orthodox faith, of which he believed worship and love
for images were part.
As a consequence, Germanus was forced to resign from
the office of Patriarch, condemning himself to exile in a monastery
where he died forgotten by almost all. His name reappeared on the
occasion of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), when the Orthodox
Fathers decided in favour of icons, recognizing the merits of Germanus.
Patriarch Germanus took great care of the liturgical celebrations
and, for a certain time, was also believed to have introduced the feast
of the Akathistos. As is well known, the Akathistos is a
famous ancient hymn to the Theotokos, the Mother of God, that
came into being in the Byzantine context. Despite the fact that from the
theological viewpoint Germanus cannot be described as a great thinker,
some of his works had a certain resonance, especially on account of some
of his insights concerning Mariology.
In fact, various of his homilies on Marian topics are extant, and
some of them profoundly marked the piety of entire generations of
faithful, both in the East and in the West. His splendid Homilies on
the Presentation of Mary at the Temple are still living testimony of
the unwritten tradition of the Christian Churches.
Generations of nuns and monks and the members of a great number of
institutes of consecrated life continue still today to find in these
texts the most precious pearls of spirituality.
Some of Germanus' Mariological texts still give rise
to wonder today. They are part of the homilies he gave In SS.
Deiparae dormitionem, a celebration that corresponds with our Feast
of the Assumption. Among these texts Pope Pius XII picked out one that
he set like a pearl in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus
Deus (1950), with which he declared Mary's Assumption a Dogma of
Pope Pius XII cited this text in the above-mentioned
Constitution, presenting it as one of the arguments in favour of the
permanent faith of the Church concerning the bodily Assumption of Mary
Germanus wrote: "May it never happen Most Holy Mother
of God, that Heaven and earth, honoured by your presence, and you, with
your departure, leave men and women without your protection? No. It is
impossible to think of such things. In fact, just as when you were in
the world you did not feel foreign to the realities of Heaven so too
after you had emigrated from this world, you were not foreign to the
possibility of communicating in spirit with mankind.... You did not at
all abandon those to whom you had guaranteed salvation... in fact, your
spirit lives in eternity nor did your flesh suffer the corruption of the
tomb. You, O Mother, are close to all and protect all, and although our
eyes are unable to see you, we know, O Most Holy One, that you dwell
among all of us and make yourself present in the most varied ways....
You (Mary, reveal your whole self, as is written, in your beauty. Your
virginal body is entirely holy, entirely chaste, entirely the dwelling
place of God so that, even for this reason, it is absolutely
incorruptible. It is unchangeable since what was human in it has been
taken up in incorruptibility, remaining alive and absolutely glorious,
undamaged, and sharing in perfect life. Indeed, it was impossible that
the one who had become the vase of God and the living temple of the most
holy divinity of the Only Begotten One be enclosed in the sepulchre of
the dead. On the other hand, we believe with certainty that you continue
to walk with us" (PG 98, coll. 344B-346B, passim).
It has been said that for the Byzantines
the decorum of the rhetorical form in preaching and especially in hymns
or in the poetic compositions that they call troparia is equally
important in the liturgical celebration as the beauty of the sacred
building in which it takes place. Patriarch Germanus was recognized, in
that tradition, as one who made a great contribution to keeping this
conviction alive, that is, that the beauty of the words and language
must coincide with the beauty of the building and the music.
I quote, to conclude,
the inspired words with which Germanus described the Church at the
beginning of his small masterpiece: "The Church is the temple of God, a
sacred space, a house of prayer, the convocation of people, the Body of
Christ.... She is Heaven on earth where the transcendent God dwells as
if in his own home and passes through, but she is also an impression
made (antitypos) of the Crucifixion, the tomb and the
Resurrection.... The Church is God's house in which the life-giving
mystical sacrifice is celebrated, at the same time the most intimate
part of the shrine and sacred grotto. Within her in fact the sepulchre
and the table are found, nourishment for the soul and a guarantee of
life. In her, lastly, are found those true and proper precious pearls
which are the divine dogmas of teaching that the Lord offered directly
to this disciples" (PG 98, coll. 384B-385A).
Lastly, the question
remains: what does this Saint
chronologically and also culturally rather distant from us
have to tell us today? I am thinking mainly
of three things. The first: there is a certain visibility of God in the
world, in the Church, that we must learn to perceive. God has created
man in his image, but this image was covered with the scum of so much
sin that God almost no longer shines through it. Thus the Son of God was
made true man, a perfect image of God: thus in Christ we may also
contemplate the Face of God and learn to be true men ourselves, true
images of God. Christ invites us to imitate him, to become similar to
him, so in every person the Face of God shines out anew.
To tell the truth, in
the Ten Commandments God forbade the making of images of God, but this
was because of the temptations to idolatry to which the believer might
be exposed in a context of paganism. Yet when God made himself visible
in Christ through the Incarnation, it became legitimate to reproduce the
Face of Christ. The holy images teach us to see God represented in the
Face of Christ. After the Incarnation of the Son of God, it therefore
became possible to see God in images of Christ and also in the faces of
the Saints, in the faces of all people in whom God's holiness shines
The second thing is the
beauty and dignity of the liturgy. To celebrate the liturgy in the
awareness of God's presence, with that dignity and beauty which make a
little of his splendour visible, is the commitment of every Christian
trained in his faith.
The third thing is to
love the Church. Precisely with regard to the Church, we men and women
are prompted to see above all the sins and the negative side, but with
the help of faith, which enables us to see in an authentic way, today
and always we can rediscover the divine beauty in her. It is in the
Church that God is present, offers himself to us in the Holy Eucharist
and remains present for adoration. In the Church God speaks to us, in
the Church God "walks beside us" as St Germanus said. In the Church we
receive God's forgiveness and learn to forgive.
Let us pray God to teach
us to see his presence and his beauty in the Church, to see his presence
in the world and to help us too to be transparent to his light.
The Holy Father then said:
Lastly my thoughts turn
to the young people, the sick and the newly weds.
The Liturgy today celebrates St Catherine of Siena, a Dominican Virgin
and Doctor of the Church as well as Co-Patroness of Italy, together with
St Francis of Assisi.
Dear young people,
especially you, altar-servers of the Roman Parish of "Santi Antonio
e Annibale Maria", be in love with Christ as Catherine was, in order to
follow him with fervour and faithfulness. You, dear sick people,
immerse your sufferings in the mystery of the love of the Redeemer's
Blood, contemplated with special devotion by the great Siennese Saint.
And you, dear newly weds, with your reciprocal and faithful love,
may you be an eloquent sign of Christ's love for the Church.