Continuing his cycle of catecheses on the Apostolic Fathers, Benedict XVI dedicated the general audience today to the figure of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The audience, held in St. Peter's Square, was attended by around 25,000 people.
From the year 70 to 107 St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, "the city in which the disciples first received the name of Christians," said the Pope. Condemned to be thrown to wild beasts, he was taken to Rome for the sentence to be carried out and took advantage of his journey through the various cities of the empire to confirm the Christians living there in their faith.
"No Father of the Church expressed with the same intensity as Ignatius the longing for union with Christ and for life in Him," said the Pope, explaining that "two spiritual currents come together in St. Ignatius: that of Paul, which tends towards union with Christ, and that of John, which focuses on life in Him. In their turn, these two currents lead to the imitation of Christ."
"Ignatius' irresistible attraction towards union with Christ is the foundation for a true mysticism of unity," Benedict XVI went on. And he recalled how in the seven letters the bishop of Antioch wrote during his journey to Rome "he frequently repeats that God, existing in three persons, is One in absolute unity, ... and that the unity Christians must create in this world is no more than an imitation, as near as possible to the divine archetype."
In St. Ignatius' letters we find "a constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community and, on the other, the fundamental unity that binds the faithful to one another in Christ. Consequently, the [various different] roles cannot conflict. On the contrary, the insistence on the communion of believers among themselves and with their pastors is continually reformulated" using musical images such as "the lyre, chords ... symphonies."
Benedict XVI highlighted the "special responsibility of bishops, priests and deacons in the edification of the community," which must translate, above all, into "a proposal of love and unity."
"It is clear, then, that St. Ignatius was the 'doctor of unity'," said the Pope. "The 'realism' of Ignatius invites us all to undertake a progressive synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with Him, life in Him) and commitment to His Church (unity with the bishop, generous service to the community and the world), ... between interior communion of the Church and mission, which is the proclamation of the Gospel for others."