In the last two catecheses we ventured through the Eastern Semitic Churches, meditating on Aphraates the Persian and St. Ephrem the Syrian; today we return to the Latin world, to the north of the Roman Empire, with St. Chromatius of Aquileia.
This bishop carried out his ministry in the ancient Church of Aquileia, a devout center of Christian life situated in the 10th region of the Roman Empire, "Venetia et Histria."
In 388, when Chromatius ascended to the episcopal chair of the town, the local Christian community already had a splendid history of faith in the Gospel. Between the middle of the third century and the early fourth century, persecutions by Decius, Valerianus and Diocletian had caused a large number of martyrs. Besides, the Church in Aquileia, like many other Churches at that time, was confronted with the threat of the Arian heresy.
Even Athanasius -- the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy, whom the Arians had sent to exile -- found shelter in Aquileia for some time. Under the guidance of its bishops, the Christian community withstood the snares of heresy, and fortified its ties to the Catholic faith.
In September 381, Aquileia hosted a synod, which was attended by roughly 35 bishops from the African coasts, the valley of Rhodes and the entire 10th region. The synod's proposition was to destroy what was left of Arianism in the West. The priest Chromatius attended the council as an expert of the bishop of Aquileia, Valeriano (370/1-387/8). The years around the synod in 381 represent "the golden age" of the Aquileian community. St. Jerome, native of Dalmatia, and Rufino from Concordia speak with nostalgia of their stay in Aquileia (370-373), of a sort of theological coterie that Girolamo defines "tamquam chorus beatorum" (like a chorus of blessed) (Cronaca: PL XXVII,697-698).
From this coterie -- that to some extents recalls the communitarian experiences of Eusebius of Vercelli and Augustine -- arose the most relevant personalities of the Northern Adriatic Churches.
Within his family Chromatius had already learned to know and love Christ. Jerome himself admiringly speaks about this, comparing Chromatius' mother to the prophetess Anna, his two sisters to the virgins of the Gospel parable, Chromatius himself and his brother Eusebius to young Samuel (cf. Ep VII: PL XXII,341). Jerome further wrote of Chromatius and Eusebius: "The blessed Chromatius and holy Eusebius were as much brothers by blood ties as by the identity of ideals" (Ep. VIII: PL XXII,342).
Chromatius was born in Aquileia around 345. He was ordained deacon, then presbyter and finally pastor of that Church (388). After receiving the episcopal consecration from Bishop Ambrose, he devoted himself to a task that was challenging due to the vastness of the territory entrusted to his pastoral care: Aquileia's ecclesiastical jurisdiction extended in fact from the present territories of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia, up to the borders of Hungary.
From an episode of St. John Chyrsostom's life we can deduce how much Chromatius was well appreciated in the Church of his times. When the bishop of Constantinople was exiled, he wrote three letters to those he considered the most important bishops of the West, in order to obtain the emperors' support: The first letter went to the Bishop of Rome, the second to the bishop of Milan and the third to the bishop of Aquileia, that is to Chromatius (Ep. CLV: PG LII, 702).
Due to the precarious political situation, those were difficult times for him too. Most likely Chromatius died in exile, in Grado, while attempting to escape from the raids of the barbarians in 407, the same year Chrysostom died.
In prestige and importance, Aquileia was the fourth town of the Italian peninsula, and the ninth of the Roman Empire: This is also the reason why it was so attractive for the Goths and the Huns. Besides causing grave wars and destruction, the barbarian invasions seriously compromised the circulation of the works of the Fathers preserved in the episcopal library, which had a wealth of codices.
St. Chromatius' writings were dispersed, appearing here and there, often credited to other authors such as John Chrysostom (mostly because both names start the same, Chromatius and Chrysostom), Ambrose, Augustine and even to Jerome himself, whom Chromatius had helped significantly in the textual revision and Latin translation of the Bible.
Most of Chromatius' work was rediscovered thanks to fortunate events that has allowed in recent years the reconstruction of a consistent body of writings: more than 40 sermons (10 of which are incomplete), and over 60 treatises commenting the Gospel of Matthew.
Chromatius was a wise teacher and a zealous pastor. His first and primary commitment was to listen to the Word, in order to announce it: In his teaching he always began from the word of God and returned to the word of God.
Certain themes are especially dear to him, especially the mystery of the Trinity, which he contemplated on as it is revealed throughout the history of salvation.
Second was the theme of the Holy Spirit: Chromatius constantly drew the faithful's attention to the presence and the action of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in the life of the Church.
Third, with special determination the holy bishop addressed the mystery of Christ: The Word made flesh is the real God and the real man: He became man so to confer to humankind the gift of deity. Fifty years later such truths, used as well against Arianism, contributed to the definition of the Council of Chalcedon.
The strong emphasis on Christ's human nature led Chromatius to talk about the Virgin Mary. His doctrine about Mary is clear and precise. To him we owe some evocative descriptions of the Holy Virgin: Mary is "the evangelical virgin was able of receiving God"; she is "the immaculate and inviolate lamb" who gave birth to the "lamb swaddled in purple" (cf. Sermo XXIII, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, p. 134).
The bishop of Aquileia often associated the Virgin to the Church: Both, in fact, are "virgin" and "mother." Chromatius' ecclesiology was especially developed in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew.
Some recurring concepts are: The Church is one and only; it was born from the blood of Christ; it is a precious garment woven by the Holy Spirit; the Church is the place which proclaims that Christ was born of the Virgin, and where brotherhood and harmony flourish.
Chromatius was particularly fond of the image of the ship on the stormy sea -- his were stormy times too, as we have heard. The holy bishop affirmed, "Without a doubt this ship represents the Church" (cf. Tract. XLII, 5: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 260).
As a zealous pastor, Chromatius knew how to speak to his people with fresh, colorful and sharp language. Even though he mastered Latin perfectly, he preferred to use the popular language, which was rich in easily understandable images.
Hence, for instance, taking inspiration from the sea, he compared the act of fishing in which fish -- once pulled to shore -- died, to the preaching of the Gospel, thanks to which men are saved from the muddy waters of death and are introduced to true life (cf. Tract. XVI, 3: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/2, p. 106).
Like a good Shepherd, in a tumultuous time like his own, where barbarian raids threatened the world, he stayed at the side of the faithful to comfort them and to open their souls to God, who never abandons his children.
At the conclusion of these reflections, let us reflect on one of Chromatius' exhortations, which is still valid today. "We pray to the Lord with all our heart and faith," recommended the bishop of Aquileia in a sermon, "let us pray that he free us from any attack of the enemy, from any fear of the opponents.
"May he not look at our merits, but at his mercy, he who in the past freed the children of Israel not for their merits, but for his mercy. May he protect us with his merciful love, and may he do what Holy Moses said to the children of Israel: The Lord will fight to defend you, and you will remain in silence. It is he who fights, it is he who carries the victory. [...]
"In order for him to deign to do so, we ought to pray as much as possible. He himself says from the mouth of the prophet: Invoke my name on the day of tribulation; I shall free you, and you shall give me glory" (Sermo XVI, 4: Writers of the Santambrosian area 3/1, pp. 100-102).
At the beginning of Advent, St. Chromatius reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer, and that it is necessary to be in contact with God. God knows us, he knows me, he knows all of us, he loves me, he won't leave me. Let us carry this faith during the liturgical time that has just begun.
[Translation by Laura Leoncini]
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on the writers of the early Church, we now turn to Saint Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia in northern Italy. At the end of the fourth century, the Church in Aquileia played a significant role in the struggle against Arianism, thanks to the celebrated Synod held there. Born of a devout Christian family, Chromatius became a priest, attended the Synod as an expert and was then ordained Bishop of Aquileia.
He was a zealous pastor, governing his enormous diocese during the turbulent time of the invasions of the Goths and the Huns. Chromatius assisted Saint Jerome in the preparation of the Vulgate and left behind a number of sermons and a series of tracts on the Gospel of Matthew. His teaching emphasized the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the work of the Holy Spirit, the divinity and integral humanity of Christ, the dignity of the Virgin Mary and the unity of the Church. In a lively Latin, filled with striking imagery, he proclaimed the truths of the faith, sustained his flock in hope amid the uncertainties of the times, and, above all, taught them to pray with confidence in the Lord's victory over evil and his unfailing mercy toward his holy ones.
I am pleased to welcome the Marist and Marianist Brothers visiting Rome for a programme of spiritual renewal. I also greet the African-American Methodist Choir, with gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Sweden and the United States, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
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