Pope Benedict reflects on the 'Defender of Images'
Images and the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict reflects on the 'Defender of Images'

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Benedict XVI dedicated this morning's general audience to teaching on St. Germanus of Constantinople, the defender of icons. St. Germanus’ teaching, he explained, invites people to follow Christ in order to become the image of God again, to love the Church and to develop a love for the beauty of the liturgy.

The Pope recounted for the 35,000 faithful in St. Peter’s Square how during Germanus’ patriarchate "the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople, was subject to a threatening siege by the Saracens.”

On that occasion, St. Germanus led a procession with the image of the Mother of God ... and the relic of the Holy Cross. The faithful called upon the Most High to defend the city, and Constantinople was liberated from the siege.

This event, the Holy Father said, convinced the patriarch "that God's intervention was to be interpreted as evident approval of the reverence people showed towards holy icons.” The Holy Father went on: "Patriarch Germanus' appeals to Church tradition and to the real effectiveness of certain images, unanimously recognized as 'miraculous', were all to no avail.”

After a drawn out battle over the veneration of icons with Emperor Leo III, Germanus was forced to resign as patriarch, exiling himself to a monastery, where he died in 733.

Of Germanus’ works, Benedict XVI continued, "certain homilies on Marian themes have survived, of which some have had a profound influence on the piety of entire generations of faithful, both in the East and the West." One of these, Benedict XVI recalled, is cited by Pius XII in the constitution with which he proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption.

The pope indicated three elements that the saint has left for Christians. The first is that "there is a certain visibility of God in the world and in the Church, which we must learn to see." "God created man in His image but that image was covered with dirt and sin," Pope Benedict said. “Christ invites us to become like him in such a way that in every man, the face of God may shine through again."

Secondly, Germanus shows us "the beauty and dignity of the liturgy." The liturgy, the Holy Father underscored, must be celebrated "with the awareness of the presence of God."

The third aspect is that of "love for the Church." "It may be," he explained, "that we see more the sin of man and the negative, but with the light of faith that makes us capable of seeing the good, still today and always we can rediscover in the Church the divine beauty.”

Germanus writes that in the Church, God talks with Christians and walks with Christians. The Pope recalled, “It is in the Church that God makes himself present, and remains present in adoration, it is in the Church that he speaks with us, it is in the Church that we receive the forgiveness of God, we learn to forgive."

"Let us pray to God," the Pontiff concluded, "that he may teach us to see in the Church his beauty and his hope in the world, and help us as well to be transparent for his light."