Church Venerates Fathers of East and West

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus, 4 August 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. A great element of unity between Christianity of the East and the West is our common veneration of the Fathers of the Church. This expression refers to those saints of the early centuries, pastors for the most part, who by preaching and theological reflection defended the faith from heresies and had a decisive role in the encounter between the Gospel message and the culture of their time. The Church considers them distinguished witnesses to tradition. Some of them are authentic "giants" in the history of Christian thought and universal culture.

The fascination of the Fathers' era is also due to the fruitful exchange that occurred then between East and West.

Particularly influential were two schools that both arose in the East: at Alexandria in Egypt and at Antioch in Syria. In the one scriptural exegesis was conducted mainly according to the allegorical method, while in the other the historical and literary method was preferred. As a result the two schools developed two complementary viewpoints in their reflection on the truths of the faith and, in particular, on the mystery of the Incarnation. In Alexandria, where Origen's genius left an indelible mark the stress fell on the glory of the Word made man; in Antioch, the true humanity he assumed was emphasized. Both perspectives are essential to understanding the identity of Jesus Christ as it is professed by the Church's faith.

2. Most of this thinking reached the Christian West, giving rise to a vital exchange between the Eastern and Latin communities. Thus it would have been difficult in those centuries to distinguish clearly between the two traditions, and to set one against the other would have been forcing the issue. The Church willingly draws on both. Among the great figures of the East suffice it to recall the three holy "Hierarchs": St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nazianzen and St John Chrysostom. They made an invaluable contribution to deepening the Christian vision of God, stressing that by his ineffable nature he is beyond all our thoughts but, at the same time, he is the One who became close to us in the history of salvation, revealing to us the secrets of his Trinitarian life, giving himself to us in the Incarnate Word and in the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. It was at once a discourse about God and a discourse about the dignity of man, formed in the image of the Creator and called to live in Christ as a son in the Son.

The great fathers and doctors of the West, from St Ambrose to St Augustine from St Jerome to St. Gregory the Great, continued the journey, becoming no less praiseworthy in penetrating the mystery. They were different but converging voices, at the service of the one Christian truth. Patristic thought was truly a great symphony of thought and 1ife.

3. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow the Blessed Virgin to lead us to a rediscovery of this immense and ever timely patrimony. The Fathers still speak to us and deserve to be employed to ever greater benefit in theology and in Christian formation. True imitators of the Mother of God, they give us the example of an understanding which was never arid speculation but was joined with prayer and holiness. By following their teaching, it will be easier to hearken to the Spirit of God who forcefully calls believers to achieve the vision of full ecclesial unity.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7/14 August 1996

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