Bring the Gospel to people using their language and customs, Pope urges

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today's general audience to the example of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs and co-patrons of Europe, who modeled the importance of bringing the Gospel to new cultures using their own language and customs.

The Pope began by sketching a brief biography of the saints for the 25,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. Cyril, born in Thessalonica around the year 826, was ordained at an early age. His older brother Methodius, born about the year 815, abandoned his own administrative career soon after his brother's ordination and retired to a monastery on Mount Olympus, where he was joined by Cyril.

Some years later the imperial government entrusted Cyril with a mission to the peoples living around the Sea of Azov who had asked to be sent "a man of letters capable of discussing with Jews and Saracens." During his time there, Cyril learned Hebrew and found the tomb and relics of Pope Clement I, who had been exiled there.

On his return to Constantinople, the emperor Michael III, who had been a school friend of Cyril, sent the two brothers to Moravia where Prince Ratislav had requested "a teacher capable of explaining the true faith to us in our own language. It was at this point that Cyril began translating the Gospel into Slavic.

"Their mission," the Holy Father explained, "soon met with unexpected success. By translating the liturgy into Slavic the two brothers earned great affection among the people. This, however, also aroused the hostility of the Frankish clergy who had arrived in Moravia earlier and considered the territory as part of their own ecclesial jurisdiction."

Travelling to Rome to justify their actions, the brothers stopped in Venice where they opposed the so-called trilingual heresy, which sustained that there were only three languages in which God could legitimately be praised: Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

The brothers eventually reached Rome, where Pope Hadrian II welcomed them. That Pope recognized the importance of their “ecclesial mission,” to the extent that he saw in the Slavic peoples a bridge between the two parts of the Empire. He did not hesitate to approve the use of Slavic in the liturgy.

While in Rome, Cyril fell seriously ill and died on February 14, 869.

Methodius was ordained a bishop, and a year later he returned to Moravia and Pannonia, only to be  imprisoned by the Frankish missionaries. He died on April 6, 885.

"To give a brief spiritual profile of the two brothers," Pope Benedict XVI continued, "we must first note the passion with which Cyril studied the writings of St. Gregory of Nazianzus from whom he learnt the importance of language in transmitting the Revelation."

Pope Benedict recalled: "Cyril and Methodius were convinced that individual peoples could not claim to have fully received the Revelation until they had heard it in their own language and read it in the letters of their own alphabet."

The brothers’ example, the Pope concluded, “is a classic example of that which today is defined enculturation: every nation must set the revelation in their own language and express the salvific truth with a language that is their own.”

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