Imitate Aphraates “the Sage”, who believed that “Christian life is focused on the imitation of Christ" and grounded in humility, Pope Benedict XVI told the crowd of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience.
Aphraates, known as "the Sage," an important Christian figure from 4th century Syria came from a Christian community that was “essentially part of the Semitic world from which the Bible itself emerged," the Pope explained.
This early form of Christianity was one where “theological formulations that had not yet come into contact with different cultural trends but lived off its own forms of thought. In these churches, “…asceticism, under various forms of hermitic life, ... played an important role."
The Holy Father also pointed out the strong influence of Judaism saying, "Aphraates was from an ecclesial community located on the frontier between Judaism and Christianity" that was "strongly linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem and ... sought to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition of which it felt itself to be a product."
“The Sage” founded his life on the belief that, "Christian life is focused on the imitation of Christ," Pope Benedict told his listeners. He also considered "humility to be one of the most appropriate virtues for the disciple of Christ" because "man's nature is humble and it is God who exalts it with His own glory. ... By remaining humble, even in their earthly surroundings, Christians may establish a relationship with the Lord."
The Holy Father noted the significance of the fact that "Aphraates defined himself as a 'disciple of Sacred Scripture,' ... which he considered to be his only source of inspiration." In his works "he often presents the salvation achieved by Christ as healing and, hence, Christ Himself as doctor. Sin on the other hand is seen as a wound which only penance can heal."
“His vision of human beings and their corporeal reality”, said the Pope, "is very positive: the human body ... is called to beauty, to joy and to light." And it is faith that "enables sincere charity, expressed in love for God and for others."
Another key concept in Aphraates' thought is that of fasting, which the Syrian "Sage" understood "in its widest sense: ... abstention from food as a practice necessary in order to be charitable, ... abstention from vain or abhorrent words, abstention from anger and from the ownership of goods."
Benedict XVI concluded by turning to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. “Christ,” he taught, “is the master of prayer”…and "[p]rayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the heart of Christians, inviting them to a coherent commitment of charity towards their fellows."