Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Germanus
"There Is a Certain Visibility of God in the World"
H.H. Benedict XVI
April 29, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters,
The patriarch Germanus of Constantinople, of whom I would like to speak
today, does not belong to the most characteristic figures of the Eastern
Christian world, and yet, his name appears with a certain solemnity in
the list of the great defenders of sacred images, compiled in the Second
Council of Nicaea, the 7th ecumenical council (787).
The Greek Church celebrates his feast in the liturgy of May 12. He had a
significant role in the complex history of the fight for images, during
the so-called iconoclast crisis: He knew how to effectively resist
pressure from an iconoclast emperor, that is, an adversary of icons,
such as was Leo III.
During Germanus' time as patriarch (715-730), Constantinople, the
capital of the Byzantine Empire, suffered a very dangerous besiegement
from the Saracens. On that occasion (717-718), a solemn procession was
organized in the city with the showing of the image of the Mother of
God, the Theotokos, and a relic of the holy cross, to invoke from on
high the defense of the city. In fact, Constantinople was liberated from
the besiegement. The adversaries decided to permanently let go of the
idea of establishing their capital in the city that was the symbol of
the Christian empire, and the appreciation for divine help was extremely
great among the people.
Patriarch Germanus, after that event, became convinced that the
intervention of God should be considered evident approval of the piety
shown by the people toward the holy icons. Of an entirely different
opinion, on the other hand, was Emperor Leo III, who precisely that year
(717), was enthroned as the indisputable emperor in the capital, in
which he would reign until 741. After the liberation of Constantinople
and after a series of further victories, the Christian emperor began to
show ever more openly the conviction that the consolidation of the
empire should begin precisely with a reordering of the manifestations of
the faith, with particular reference to the risk of idolatry, which
according to his opinion, the people were exposed to due to an excessive
devotion to icons.
Nothing was gained by Patriarch Germanus' references to the tradition of
the Church and the efficacy of certain images, which were unanimously
recognized as "miraculous." The emperor became more and more staunch in
the application of his restoration project, which included the
elimination of icons. And when, on Jan. 7, 730, during a public meeting
he openly took a position against devotion to images, Germanus did not
want in any way to yield to the will of the emperor on questions that he
considered determinant for the Orthodox faith, to which, according to
him, belongs precisely the devotion to and love for images. As a result
of that, Germanus found himself obligated to turn in his resignation as
patriarch and to condemn himself to exile in a monastery where he died
forgotten by everyone. His name came to light again precisely in the
Second Council of Nicaea (787), when the Orthodox Fathers decided in
favor of icons, recognizing the merits of Germanus.
Patriarch Germanus gave much attention to the liturgical celebrations,
and for a certain time, he was also considered the one who began the
feast of Akathist. As is known, Akathist is an ancient and famous hymn
which arose in the Byzantine circle and was dedicated to the Theotokos,
the Mother of God.
Despite the fact that from the theological point of view, Germanus
cannot be classified as a great thinker, some of his works had a certain
echo above all because of certain of his intuitions regarding Mariology.
From him, in fact, we have various homilies about Marian themes and some
of them have profoundly marked the piety of entire generations of
faithful, as much in the East as in the West.
His splendid homilies on the Presentation of Mary in the temple are
still-living testimonies of the non-written tradition of the Christian
Churches. Generations of nuns and monks, and members of countless
institutes of consecrated life, continue finding even today precious
treasures of spirituality in these texts.
Some Marian texts from Germanus that are part of his homilies pronounced
on SS. Deiparae dormitionem, corresponding to our feast of the
assumption, still create awe. Among these texts, Pope Pius XII used one
that he set as a pearl in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus
Deus (1950), with which he declared the dogma of faith, the assumption
of Mary. Pope Pius XII cited this text in that constitution, presenting
it as one of the arguments in favor of the permanent faith of the Church
in the corporal assumption of Mary into heaven. Germanus wrote: "Could
it ever happen, most holy Mother of God, that heaven and earth feel
honored by your presence, and you, with your departure, would leave man
deprived of your protection? No. It is impossible to think of such a
thing. In fact when you were in the world you did not feel that the
things of heaven were foreign, in the same way, after having emigrated
from this world, you have not felt removed from the possibility of
communicating in spirit with men. … In fact you have not abandoned those
to whom you have guaranteed salvation … indeed your spirit lives
eternally, nor has your flesh suffered the corruption of the tomb.
"You, oh Mother, are close to everyone and protect everyone, and even
though our eyes cannot see you, we completely know, oh One on high, that
you live in the midst of all of us and that you make yourself present in
the most varied of ways … You are she who, as it is written, appears in
beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the
dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from
dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the
heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged
and sharing in perfect life.
"In fact it was impossible that that which had been converted into the
vase of God and the living temple of the most holy divinity of the Only
Begotten would be enclosed in the sepulcher of the dead. Again we
believe with certainty that you continue walking with us" (PG 98, coll.
It has been said that for the Byzantines, the decorum of the rhetorical
form in preaching, and even more in hymns or poetic compositions that
they call tropari, is as important in the liturgical celebration as the
beauty of the sacred building in which the celebration takes place.
Patriarch Germanus was recognized, in this tradition, as one of those
who has contributed much to keeping alive this conviction, that is, that
the beauty of the word, of the language and the beauty of the building
and the music should coincide.
I cite, to conclude, the inspired words with which Germanus described
the Church at the beginning of this small work of art: "The Church is
the temple of God, sacred space, house of prayer, convocation of the
people, body of Christ … It is heaven on earth, where the transcendent
God dwells as in his house and walks [about] in her, but it is also the
fulfilled image (antitype) of the Crucifixion, of the tomb and of the
Resurrection. The Church is the house of God in which the life-giving
mystical sacrifice is celebrated, at the same time the most intimate
part of the sanctuary and the holy grotto. Within her is found those
true and authentic precious pearls that are the divine dogmas of the
teaching offered directly by the Lord to his disciples" (PG 98, coll.
At the end remains this question: What does this saint have to tell us
today, [being] chronologically and also culturally very far from us? I
think substantially three things. The first: There is a certain
visibility of God in the world, in the Church, which we should learn to
perceive. God has created man in his image, but this image has been
covered in so much filth from sin that consequently God is almost not
seen anymore in it. Thus the Son of God became true man, perfect image
of God: In Christ we can thus contemplate the face of God and learn to
ourselves be true men, true images of God.
Christ invites us to imitate him, to come to be similar to him, so that
in each man the face of God, the image of God, again shines through. In
truth, God had prohibited in the Ten Commandments making images of God,
but this was caused by the temptations to idolatry that believers could
be exposed to in the context of paganism. Nevertheless, when God became
visible in Christ through the incarnation, it became legitimate to
reproduce the face of Christ. Holy images teach us to see God in the
form of the face of Christ. After the incarnation of the Son of God, it
has therefore become possible to see God in the images of Christ and
also in the face of the saints, in the face of all men in whom the
holiness of God shines.
The second [lesson] is the beauty and dignity of the liturgy. To
celebrate the liturgy in the awareness of the presence of God, with this
dignity and beauty that allows one to see a bit of his splendor, is the
task of every Christian formed in his faith.
The third [lesson] is to love the Church. Precisely concerning the
Church, we men are inclined to see above all its sins, the negative; but
with the help of faith, which makes us capable of seeing authentically,
we can also, today and always, rediscover in her the divine beauty. It
is in Church where God makes himself present, offers himself in the holy
Eucharist and remains present for adoration. In the Church, God speaks
with us, in the Church, "God walks with us," as St. Germanus says. In
the Church, we receive the forgiveness of God and we learn to forgive.
Let us pray to God so that he teaches us to see in the Church his
presence, his beauty, to see his presence in the world, and that he
helps us also to be transparent for his light.
[Translation by ZENIT]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we
turn to Saint Germanus, Bishop and Patriarch of Constantinople, whose
feast day is celebrated in the Greek Church on 12 May. In 717, while
Constantinople was under siege by Saracen armies, Germanus led a
procession with the venerated image of the Theotokos, the Mother of God,
and relics of the Holy Cross. The siege was lifted, convincing him that
God had responded to the people’s devotion. Some time later however,
Emperor Leo III initiated his campaign against the use of sacred images,
judging them to be a source of idolatry. When Germanus opposed the
Emperor publicly in 730 he was forced to retire in exile to a monastery,
where he later died. His memory was not forgotten, and in the Second
Council of Nicea, which restored devotion to sacred images, his name was
honoured. The writings of Germanus, steeped in an ardent love of the
Church and devotion to the Mother of God, have had a wide influence on
the piety of the faithful both of the East and the West. He promoted a
solemn and beautiful Liturgy and is also known for his insights in
Mariology. In homilies on the Presentation and the Dormition of the
Virgin Mary, Germanus extols her virtue and her mission. A text which
sees the source of her bodily incorruption in her virginal maternity was
included by Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution
Munificentissimus Deus. I pray that through the intercession of Saint
Germanus we may all be renewed in our love of the Church and devotion to
the Mother of God.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Canada and the
United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the Lord’s Easter
blessings of joy and peace!
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