The Holy Father marked the 16th centenary of the death of St. John Chrysostom today with a letter in which he pointed to the saint's "shining figure," and proposed his example "for the joint edification" of the universal Church.
The letter was read this morning at the opening of an international congress entitled, "St. John Chrysostom 1600 years after his Death," being held at Rome's "Augustinianum" patristic institute from November 8 to 10.
"The life and doctrinal teaching of this saintly bishop and Doctor ring out in every century," the Pope writes, "and even today they still induce universal admiration. The Roman Pontiffs have always recognized in him a living source of wisdom for the Church and their interest in his teaching became more intense over the course of last century."
Among the notable characteristics of St. Chrysostom, Pope Benedict cited, “his capacity to interpret Scripture in a manner the faithful could understand." He also sought "to strengthen the unity of the Church, ... at a historical moment in which it was threatened both internally and externally. He rightly felt that unity among Christians depends above all on a correct understanding of the central mystery of the Church's faith: that of the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation of the Divine Word."
"Having served the Church in Antioch as a priest and preacher for 12 years, John was consecrated bishop of Constantinople in 398, remaining there for five and a half years. In that role, he concerned himself with the reform of the clergy, encouraging priests by word and example to live in conformity with the Gospel."
St. John Chrysostom "tirelessly denounced the contrast that existed in the city between the extravagant wastefulness of the rich and the indigence of the poor." At the same time, he encouraged the wealthy "to welcome homeless people into their own houses." He also "stood out for his missionary zeal" and built hospitals for the sick.
He Strove for Church Unity
Talking of the bishop of Constantinople's ministry, Benedict XVI recalled how "[s]pecial mention must also be made of the extraordinary efforts undertaken by St. John Chrysostom to promote reconciliation and full communion between Christians of East and West. In particular, his contribution proved decisive in putting an end to the schism separating the See of Antioch from the See of Rome and from other Western Churches."
The Pope went on to highlight how "both in Antioch and Constantinople John spoke passionately of the unity of the Church throughout the world. ... For John, the unity of the Church is rooted in Christ, the Divine Word Who with His Incarnation united Himself to the Church as a head is united to its body."
Church Unity is Expressed in the Eucharist
The Pope also explained that "For John Chrysostom the ecclesial unity achieved in Christ finds unique expression in the Eucharist." His "profound veneration" for this Sacrament was "particularly nourished in the celebration of the divine liturgy. In fact, one of the richest expressions of Eastern liturgy bears his name: 'The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom'."
The Holy Father indicated how, "with great profundity, John Chrysostom develops his ideas on the effects of sacramental communion in believers. ... He tirelessly repeats that preparation for Holy Communion must include penitence for sins and gratitude for the sacrifice Christ made for our salvation. Thus, he exhorts the faithful to participate fully and devotedly in the rites of divine liturgy and to receive Holy Communion in the same way."
Benedict XVI expressed his hope that this centenary will be a good occasion to increase studies on the saint, "recovering his teachings and encouraging his devotion."
"May the Fathers of the Church," the Pope concludes, "become a stable point of reference for all Church theologians." And may theologians themselves discover "a renewed commitment to recover the heritage of wisdom of the holy Fathers. The result can only be a vital enrichment of their ideas, even on the problems of our own times."