.- During today's general audience Benedict XVI continued with his series of catecheses on the origins of the Church, focusing on the Apostolic Fathers. The audience was held in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 16,000 people.
The Pope turned his attention to the figure of St. Clement, the third successor of St. Peter after Sts. Linus and Anacletus, who reigned in the late first century. Clement, as Bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes, had known the Apostles personally and "still had their preaching in his ears and their tradition before his eyes."
The author of an important Letter to the Corinthians, which represents "the first exercise of the primacy of Rome after the death of Peter," Clement returns to "the perennially important theological dialectic between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment." And he invites people to respond to "the announcement of salvation with a generous and courageous journey of conversion."
The Letter gives Clement the possibility to describe "the identity of the Church and her mission" and, recalling the liturgy of ancient Israel, he "unveils his idea of the Church," in which "the clear distinction between the laity and the hierarchy does not mean conflict but the organic interconnection of a body, an organism with various functions."
For this Apostolic Father, the Pope went on, "the Church is not a place of confusion and anarchy," but "an organized structure in which each member undertakes his or her mission according to their vocation. ... St. Clement highlights how the Church has a sacramental and not a political structure. The action of God, which we draw near to in the liturgy, precedes our own decisions and our own ideas."
The "great prayer" with which the Letter ends is particularly important, said the Holy Father, being "an invocation on behalf of political leaders. After the texts of the Old Testament this is the oldest prayer for political institutions," and contains "a teaching that, down the centuries, has guided the attitude of Christians towards politics and the State."
Clement wrote his Letter shortly after the death of the emperor Domitian and his persecution of Christians who, "though aware that the persecutions would continue, did not cease to pray for those same authorities that had unjustly condemned them.
"Praying for the authorities," the Holy Father added in conclusion, "Clement recognized the legitimate authority of political institutions in the order established by God. At the same time he expressed his concern that those authorities ... should exercise their power with peace and gentleness, Caesar is not everything. There is another kingship, the origin and essence of which are not of this world."