In an interview with the Catholic organization “Early Christians,” Giovanni Maria Vian, director of L’Osservatore Romano, explained why Pope Benedict XVI is dedicating his Wednesday catechesis to the lives and witnesses of the early Christians.
During the interview, Vian called the early Christians “a light that comes from afar,” as Paul VI called them, and explained that they constitute “the Christian tradition, and this is the reason for the Pope’s decision to speak about them in the weekly meetings he has with the faithful and with visitors.” He has chosen to speak “first about the apostles and the very first generations of Christians, and after about the Fathers of the Church.”
Vian also explained the significance of the fact that Pope Benedict’s reflections help preserve the Church’s tradition. “Tradition means ‘to transmit,’ and tradition is a fundamental and essential concept of the Christian faith. This choice by the Pope is important because it is an invitation to Christians to renew their relationship with the tradition of the faith,” he said.
“It’s evident that the Fathers of the Church are above all intellectuals, masters of the faith, and in speaking of the first Christians one usually thinks of these authors. ‘Fathers’ is a word that in the tradition of the Church means ‘authorized person,’ someone who has authority. On the other hand, the martyrs are witnesses of Christ, because martyr means that, witness.”
Vian said the Fathers of the Church “are exceptional figures, but at the same they are figures who know how to convey their experience of Christ. In his first encyclical the Pope wrote that Christianity is not an ideology or an ethic. It is an encounter with a person, Christ. What the Fathers convey is an experience of Christ, but they do so in a way that is very creative and very simple. That is what the Pope himself is doing,” Vian continued.
He went on to point out that one of the main characteristics of Benedict XVI is that he is “so imbued with Christian tradition that he does not need to include many quotes; rather, he himself is so immersed that he speaks as a Father of the Church, what he says is understood, even though they are profound discourses. It is a way of drawing close to the Christian experience in a very lofty but understandable way.”
“In an age such as ours in which secularism is more and more rampant, it is essential that Christians acquire greater maturity in order to be more responsible and to be able to face these challenges,” Vian said. “The patristic period is essential for Christian thinking and culture.”