the more than 20,000 people crowded into St. Peter’s Square for today’s
General Audience, Pope Benedict continued his catechesis on Saints of
the early Church, turning today to St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons and
"the first great theologian of the Church." The Holy Father recalled
that this great fighter of heresy, who was born in Smyrna in the second
century, is a reminder that the true teaching of Christ continues to be
imparted by the bishops, who themselves received it from the Apostles,
and is readily available to all the faithful.
Irenaeus was a disciple of Bishop Polycarp, who had known St. John the Evangelist. Moving to Gaul, he became one of the priests of the young Christian community of Lyons and, having been sent on a mission to Rome, managed to escape the persecution of Marcus Aurelius in which his predecessor, Bishop Pothinus, was martyred.
Irenaeus, said the Pope, was above all a pastor "who defended true doctrine," in particular against the gnostic heresy "which considered the faith taught by the Church as a form of symbolism for simple people ... while [Gnostic] initiates and intellectuals, understanding what lay behind the symbols, would be able to create an elitist and intellectualist form of Christianity."
Another feature of gnosticism was its dualism, the Holy Father noted. "In order to explain the existence of evil in the world they held that alongside the good God was a negative force which produced material things."
However Irenaeus, "solidly rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation ... defended the divine origin of matter, of the body ... no less than that of the Spirit." And "the heart of his doctrine is the 'rule of faith' and its transmission, which coincides with the Apostles' Creed."
"Thus, authentic teaching is not that invented by intellectuals over and above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is the one imparted by the bishops who received it from the Apostles in an uninterrupted chain. They taught no more than this simple faith, which is also the real profundity of God's revelation.”
“There is no secret doctrine behind the shared creed of the Church, there is no superior form of Christianity for intellectuals," the Pope emphasized.
"In adhering to the faith publicly transmitted by the Apostles to their successors, Christians must follow what bishops say, they must especially consider the teaching of the Church of Rome ... which because of her antiquity has the greatest degree of apostolicity ... and has her origins in the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul.”
According to Irenaeus, "apostolic tradition is 'public,' not private or secret. The contents of the faith transmitted by the Church were received from the Apostles and Jesus. The apostolic tradition is 'unique,'” he said, “despite the diversity of languages and cultures."
The transmission of apostolic tradition "does not depend upon the capacity of more or less learned men." It is "pneumatic," guided by the Holy Spirit "which makes the Church alive and young, rich in her many charisms."
In his Italian-language greetings at the end of the audience, the Pope addressed bishops and faithful from dioceses in Sicily. The Sicilian bishops are currently undertaking their "ad limina" visit to Rome.
"Through your example, support priests, consecrated people and the lay faithful of Sicily that they may continue to bear witness to Christ and His Gospel with renewed enthusiasm and zeal," the Holy Father told the prelates. "May no fear ever enter your hearts to agitate you. Those who follow Christ are not afraid of difficulties, those who trust in Him move forward confidently. Be builders of peace in legality and love, offering light to the men and women of our time who, though oppressed by the cares of everyday life, hear the call of the eternal truths."