Thursday, May 22, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 21 MAY 2008 (VIS) - During this morning's general audience, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to Romanus the Melodist, a Syrian "theologian, poet, composer and permanent deacon who resided in a monastery on the outskirts of Constantinople in the sixth century". Before delivering his catechesis in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father visited the Vatican Basilica to greet faithful gathered there.

Romanus, the Pope explained, belongs to "that sizeable group of theologians who transformed theology into poetry" and whose numbers include "St. Ephrem the Syrian, ... St. Ambrose, ... St. Thomas Aquinas, ... and St. John of the Cross. Faith is love and so creates poetry and music. Faith is joy and so creates beauty".

The Melodist "has gone down in history as one of the most characteristic authors of liturgical hymns" at a time in which "homilies were practically the only occasion for the faithful to receive catechistic guidance". His was "a lively and original way of presenting the catechesis. ... Through his compositions we get an idea of the creativity ... the theology, the aesthetics and the sacred hymns of that time".

In his musical homilies, known as "kontakia", Romanus "did not use the solemn Byzantine Greek of the court, but a simple Greek closer to the language of the people. ... The power of conviction of his preaching was founded on the great coherence between his words and his life".

Benedict XVI then went on to examine some of the focal points of the poet- theologian's teaching: "the unity of God's actions in history, ... the unity between creation and the history of salvation, the unity between the Old and New Testaments".

Another aspect the Pope highlighted was Romanus' "doctrine on the Holy Spirit". On the subject of the Pentecost, he said, the poet "underlined the continuity that exists between the ascended Christ and His Apostles, in other words the Church, and he exalted missionary activity in the world". In the Christological field, "he did not enter into the conceptual problem ... which so lacerated the unity not only of theologians but also of the Church". Instead, he preached "the Christology of the great Councils, remaining close to popular piety. ... The concepts of the Councils arose from popular piety, from the knowledge of the Christian heart. Hence he underlined the fact that Christ is true God and true man, ... a single person".

Romanus' moral teachings, the Holy Father observed, "were particularly concerned with the Final Judgement. He led us to that moment of truth of our lives - the meeting with the righteous Judge - and so advised conversion through penance, fasting and charity, which for him was the most important of all the virtues".

"Vibrant humanity, ardent faith and profound humility impregnate the music of Romanus the Melodist", said Pope Benedict. "This great poet and composer reminds us of all the wealth of Christian culture which was born of faith, born of hearts that encountered Christ. From this contact with the Truth that is love ... all great Christian culture came into being".

"If faith remains alive, this cultural heritage does not die, ... it remains. Icons also speak today to hearts that believe. They are not just things of the past. Cathedrals are not medieval monuments, but places where we can meet God and one another. Great music, Gregorian chants, Bach, Mozart, are not things of the past. They exist with the vitality of our liturgy and our faith. If faith is alive, Christian culture does not become a thing of the past".

"And if faith remains alive", the Holy Father concluded, "we too can respond to the constantly-repeated imperative: ... 'Sing to the Lord a new song!' Creativity, innovation, new song, new culture and the presence of all cultural heritage", he concluded, "are not things that exclude one another but a single reality. They are the presence of God's beauty, the joy of being His children".

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