In today's Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the mendicant orders of the Middle Ages and explained how they were able to bring about the renewal of the Church and society.
"The saints," said the Pope, "guided by the light of God, are the true reformers of the life of the Church and society. Teachers by their words and witnesses by their example, they are able to promote stable and profound ecclesial renewal."
Holding up the Franciscans and Dominicans as prime examples, the Holy Father spoke of the lively debates which would take place in the universities, noting that the friars did not hesitate “to enter the universities themselves, as students and teachers, erecting study centers of their own and profoundly influencing the development of thought.”
The Pope said that these orders imparted to those around them “an 'intellectual charity,' that must be brought into play in order to illuminate minds and associate faith with culture.”
“The commitment shown by Franciscans and Dominicans in medieval universities is an invitation to us to remain present in the places where knowledge is produced in order to throw the light of the Gospel, with respect and with conviction, on the fundamental questions that concern man, his divinity and his eternal destiny,” continued the Holy Father.
He also mentioned that these orders gave religious instruction that dealt “with topics close to people's lives,” using “concrete and easily understood arguments.”
Pope Benedict continued to praise the orders' “complete adherence to Church teaching and authority” as well as their commitment to shun the materialism of their day by vows of poverty and community living. “Today too, though we live in a society in which 'having' often prevails over 'being', we are still receptive to examples of poverty and solidarity,” said Benedict XVI, who recalled the the words of Pope Paul VI, saying “the world is willing to listen to teachers when they are also witnesses.”
“There is a lesson that must never be forgotten in the work of spreading the Gospel: we must ourselves live what we announce, be mirrors of divine charity.”
Saints such as Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzman “were able to read the 'signs of the times' and discern the challenges the Church of their time had to face,” the Holy Father pointed out, which made them influential in the surrounding culture. Because of the importance of the mendicant orders, civil authorities and other lay institutions often consulted them, making the Franciscans and Dominicans “the spiritual animators of medieval cities...putting into effect a pastoral strategy that was adapted to the transformation of society.”