Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
Role of Church Tradition
"Communion Embraces All Times and All Generations"
H.H. Benedict XVI
April 26, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Thank you for your affection! In the new series of catechesis initiated
a short time ago, we tried to understand the original design of the
Church desired by the Lord to comprehend better our participation, our
Christian life, in the great communion of the Church. Until now we have
understood that ecclesial communion is aroused and sustained by the Holy
Spirit, guarded and promoted by the apostolic ministry. And this
communion, which we call Church, does not extend only to all believers
of a certain historical moment, but embraces also all times and all
generations. Therefore, we find ourselves before a double universality:
the synchronic universality -- we are united with believers in all parts
of the world -- and the universality called diachronic, that is, all
times belong to us: Believers of the past and of the future form with us
only one and great communion.
The Spirit appears as the guarantor of the active presence of mystery in
history, who assures its realization through the centuries. Thanks to
the Paraclete, the experience of the Risen One, made by the apostolic
community in the origins of the Church, will always be able to be lived
by successive generations, in the measure that it is transmitted and
actualized in faith, in worship and in the communion of the People of
God, pilgrim in time. And, in this way, we, now, in Eastertide, live the
encounter with the Risen One not only as something of the past, but in
the present communion of the faith, of the liturgy, of the life of the
The Church's apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the
goods of salvation, which makes of the Christian community the permanent
actualization, with the force of the Spirit, of the original communion.
It is called thus because it was born from the testimony of the apostles
and of the community of the disciples in the early years, was given
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the writings of the New
Testament, and in the sacramental life, in the life of faith, and the
Church makes constant reference to it -- to this Tradition that is the
always present reality of the gift of Jesus -- as its foundation and
norm through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.
In his historical life, Jesus limited his mission to the House of
Israel, but he already made it understood that the gift was destined not
only for the people of Israel, but for the whole world and for all
times. The Risen One then entrusted, explicitly to the apostles (cf.
Luke 6:13) the task to make disciples of all nations, guaranteeing his
presence and help until the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:19ff).
The universality of salvation calls for, among other things, that the
Easter memorial be celebrated in history without interruption until
Christ's glorious return (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). Who will actualize
the salvific presence of the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the
apostles, heads of the eschatological Israel (cf. Matthew 19:28) -- and
of the whole life of the people of the New Covenant? The answer is
clear: the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles -- continuing with the
plan of Luke's Gospel -- present the mutual understanding between the
Spirit, those sent by Christ, and the community gathered by them.
Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the apostles and their successors
can realize in time the mission received through the Risen One: "You are
witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my
Father upon you" (Luke 24:48-49). "But you will receive power when the
holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
And this promise, initially incredible, was already realized in the time
of the apostles: "We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy
Spirit that God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32).
Therefore, it is the same Spirit who, through the imposition of hands
and the prayer of the apostles, consecrates and sends the new
missionaries of the Gospel (for example, in Acts 13:3ff and 1 Timothy
4:14). It is interesting to observe that, whereas in some passages it is
said that Paul establishes the presbyters in the Churches (cf. Acts
14:23), in others it is affirmed that it is the Holy Spirit who
constitutes the pastors of the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).
In this way, the action of the Spirit and of Paul is profoundly fused.
In the hour of solemn decisions for the life of the Church, the Spirit
is present to guide her. This presence-guide of the Holy Spirit was
experienced particularly in the Council of Jerusalem, in whose
conclusive words resounded the affirmation: "It is the decision of the
holy Spirit and of us" (Acts 15:28); the Church grows and walks "in the
fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts
This permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in
his people, realized by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church
through the apostolic ministry and fraternal communion, is what is
understood by the term Tradition in the theological sense: It is not the
mere material transmission of what was given at the beginning to the
apostles, but the efficacious presence of the Lord Jesus, crucified and
risen, which accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community gathered
Tradition is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate
pastors in the course of history, a communion that the Holy Spirit
nurtures assuring the nexus between the experience of the apostolic
faith, lived in the original community of the disciples, and the present
experience of Christ in his Church.
In other words, Tradition is the organic continuity of the Church, holy
temple of God the Father, built on the foundation of the Spirit: "So
then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow
citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built
upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus
himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held
together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are
being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit"
Thanks to Tradition, guaranteed by the ministry of the apostles and
their successors, the water of life that flowed from the side of Christ
and his saving blood comes to the women and men of all times. In this
way, Tradition is the permanent presence of the Savior who comes to
meet, redeem and sanctify us in the Spirit through the ministry of his
Church for the glory of the Father.
Concluding and summarizing, we can therefore say that Tradition is not
the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things.
Tradition is the living river that unites us to the origins, the living
river in which the origins are always present, the great river that
leads us to the port of eternity. In this living river, the word of the
Lord that we heard at the beginning from the lips of the reader: "And
behold, I am with you always, until the eng of the age" is fulfilled
again (Matthew 28:20).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in 12
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ecclesial communion embraces all times and all generations. Thanks to
the action of the Holy Spirit, the early apostolic community experienced
the Risen Lord. Successive generations do the same, as the faith is
transmitted and lived through worship and the communion of the pilgrim
People of God.
From the beginning, Jesus intended that this saving work should extend
to all the world and indeed, as we have heard today, the Risen Lord
entrusted to the apostles the task of making disciples of all nations
while guaranteeing his own presence with them.
This ongoing actualization of the presence of Jesus -- through the work
of the Spirit and through the Church's apostolic ministry and fraternal
communion -- is what we mean by the term Tradition; it is not just a
transmission of "things," but the efficacious presence of the Lord who
accompanies and guides the gathered community.
The Holy Spirit nurtures this communion, assuring the connection between
the apostolic faith experienced by the first communities of disciples,
and our experience today of Christ in his Church. Let us rejoice in the
presence of the Savior who comes to meet us, to redeem us, and to
sanctify us through the ministry of his Church!
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present, including the
pupils and staff from Holy Faith Convent School in Dublin. May your
Easter pilgrimage be a time of deep spiritual renewal. Upon you and your
families I invoke an abundance of God's blessings of peace and joy!
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