During his general audience this morning Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St. Germanus of Constantinople, who "played an important role in the complex history of the battle for images during the so-called iconoclastic crisis, and was able to resist the pressure of an iconoclastic emperor, ... Leo III.
"During Germanus' patriarchate (715-730)", the Pope added, "the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople, was subject to a threatening siege by the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718) a solemn procession was organised and passed through the streets carrying the image of the Mother of God ... and the relic of the Holy Cross to call upon the Most High to defend the city. In fact, Constantinople was freed from the siege".
This event convinced the patriarch "that God's intervention was to be interpreted as evident approval of the reverence people showed towards holy icons. Leo III on the other hand, who came to the throne in that year of 717, ... began ever more openly to show his conviction that the consolidation of empire had to begin by reorganising expressions of faith, with particular reference to idolatry, a risk to which, in his view, the people were exposed by their excessive veneration for icons".
The Holy Father went on: "Patriarch Germanus' appeals to Church tradition and to the real effectiveness of certain images, unanimously recognised as 'miraculous', were all to no avail. The emperor became ever more intractable in implementing his policies of reform. ... Germanus had no desire to bow to the emperor's will in matters he considered vital to orthodox faith. ... As a consequence he felt obliged to resign as patriarch, condemning himself to exile in a monastery where he died in obscurity. Nonetheless his name re- emerged at the Second Nicean Council ... of 787 where his merits were recognised".
Of Germanus' works "certain homilies on Marian themes have survived, of which some have had a profound influence on the piety of entire generations of faithful, both in the East and the West", including one which Pope Pius XII "set like a pearl in the 1950 Apostolic Constitution 'Munificentissimus Deus'", dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Benedict XVI went on to recall the "great contribution" this saint made to the Byzantine tradition in which "the rhetorical forms used in preaching, and even more so in hymns and poetical compositions, ... are as important to the celebration of the liturgy as the beauty of the sacred building in which it takes place".
The Holy Father concluded by considering three aspects in which St. Germanus still has something to say to modern man. Firstly, in the need to recognise "the visibility of God in the world and in the Church", because "God created man in His image but that image was covered with dirt and sin" and the Creator "could almost no longer see it. Thus the Son of God became man and ... in Christ, the true image of God, we too can ... learn to see ourselves as His image". If, to prevent idolatry and the danger of pagan images, God prohibited the Israelites from creating His image, yet "when He became visible in Christ through the Incarnation it became legitimate to reproduce the face of Christ. ... Holy images teach us to see God in the face of Christ, ... of the saints and of all human beings".
Secondly, Germanus shows us "the beauty and dignity of the liturgy", which must be celebrated "with an awareness of the presence of God and with a beauty and dignity that enable us to glimpse His splendour".
The third aspect is that of "love for the Church", the Pope concluded. "It may be that in the Church, as in ourselves, we see sin and other negative things, yet with the help of faith ... we can always rediscover divine beauty in the Church. In the Church, God offers Himself to us in the Eucharist, He speaks to us, ... He forgives us and He teaches us to forgive. Let us pray that God may teach us to see His presence and His beauty in the Church, to see His presence in the world"
From the Vatican, 29 April 2009
Benedictus PP XVI
Pope Benedict XVI. "Germanus of Constantinople - Defender of Holy Images." April 29, 2009.
Pope Benedict XVI's April 29, 2009 Wednesday Audience.
Pope Benedict XVI is the author of Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol I, Caritas in Veritate: Charity in Truth, Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi, God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est,The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking about God, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, Salt of the Earth: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church at the End of the Millennium, God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, The Spirit of the Liturgy, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Introduction to Christianity, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, Behold the Pierced One, and God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life.Copyright © 2009 Pope Benedict XVI
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