Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
“He Humbled Himself”
June 1, 2005
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
1. In every Sunday celebration of Vespers the liturgy proposes anew
the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:
6-11) which is short but laden with meaning. We are examining the
first part of this hymn that has just resounded (vv. 6-8), in which
the paradoxical "self-emptying" of the Divine Word is described as
he divests himself of his glory and takes on the human condition.
Christ, incarnate and humiliated by the most shameful death of
crucifixion, is held up as a vital model for Christians. Indeed, as
is clear from the context, their "attitude must be that of Christ"
(v. 5), and their sentiments, humility and self-giving, detachment
2. He certainly possesses the divine nature with all its
prerogatives. But this transcendent reality is not interpreted or
lived out under the banner of power, greatness and dominion. Christ
does not use his equality with God, his glorious dignity or his
power as an instrument of triumph, a sign of remoteness or an
expression of incontestable supremacy (cf. v. 6). On the contrary,
he strips or "empties himself", immersing himself without reserve in
our weak and wretched human condition. In Christ the divine "form" (morphe)
is concealed beneath the human "form" (morphe), that is,
beneath our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and
death (cf. v. 7).
Consequently, it was not a mere disguise or a change in appearance
such as people believed the deities of the Greco-Roman culture could
assume. The form Christ took was divine reality in an authentically
human experience. God does not appear only as a man, but he makes
himself man and truly becomes one of us, he truly becomes the
"God-with-us" who is not satisfied with looking down kindly upon us
from the throne of his glory, but plunges in person into human
history, becoming "flesh" or, in other words, a fragile reality,
conditioned by time and space (cf. Jn 1: 14).
3. This radical and true sharing in the human condition, with the
exception of sin (cf. Heb 4: 15), leads Jesus to the boundary that
is a sign of our finite condition and transience: death. However, it
is not the product of an obscure mechanism or a blind fatalism. It
stems from his free choice of obedience to the Father's plan of
salvation (cf. Phil 2: 8).
The Apostle adds that the death Jesus encounters is death on a
cross, actually the most disgraceful death; he thereby desires to be
truly a brother to every man and every woman, also of those who are
forced to suffer an atrocious or ignominious end.
But it was precisely in his passion and death that Christ witnessed
to his free and conscious obedience to the Father's will, as we read
in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Son though he was, he learned
obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5: 8).
Let us conclude here our reflection on the first part of the
Christological hymn that is centred on the Incarnation and the
redeeming passion. We will have an opportunity later to examine the
subsequent paschal development that leads from the Cross to glory.
The basic element of this first part of the Canticle seems to me to
be the invitation to enter into Jesus' sentiments. Entering into the
sentiments of Jesus means not considering power, riches and prestige
as the supreme values in our lives, for basically they do not
respond to our most profound spiritual thirst, but rather, by
opening our hearts to the Other, carrying with the Other our life's
burden and opening ourselves to Our Heavenly Father with a sense of
obedience and trust, knowing that by such obedience to the Father,
we will be free. Entering into the sentiments of Jesus: this should
be our daily practice of living as Christians.
4. Let us conclude our reflection with a great witness of the
Eastern tradition, Theodoret, who was Bishop of Cyr, Syria, in the
fifth century. "The Incarnation of Our Lord is the most exalted
expression of divine concern for human beings. Indeed, neither
heaven nor earth nor the sea nor the air nor the sun nor the moon
nor the stars nor the whole visible and invisible universe, created
by his one word, or rather, brought to light by his word in
conformity with his will, show his immeasurable goodness as does the
fact that the Only-begotten Son of God, the One who subsisted in the
nature of God (cf. Phil 2: 6), a reflection of his glory, bearing
the stamp of his substance (cf. Heb 1: 3), who was in the beginning,
was with God and was God, through whom all things were made (cf. Jn
1: 1-3), after having taken on the nature of a slave, appeared in
the form of a man; because of his human figure he was considered a
man, he was seen on earth, he had relationships with people, he
burdened himself with our infirmities and took upon his own
shoulders our sicknesses" (Discorsi sulla provvidenza divina,
10: Collana di testi patristici, LXXV, Rome, 1988, pp.
Theodoret of Cyr continues his reflection by shedding light on the
close connection, highlighted in the hymn of the Letter to the
Philippians, between the Incarnation of Jesus and the redemption of
humanity. "The Creator worked with wisdom and justice for our
salvation. Since he did not wish to use his power alone to lavish
upon us the gift of freedom, nor solely to arm mercy against the one
who subjugated the human race, to ensure that they would not accuse
mercy of injustice; rather, he conceived of a way full of love for
human beings and at the same time adorned with justice. Indeed,
having united in himself human nature, henceforth overcome, he leads
it into battle and disposes that it shelter from defeat, to rout the
one who had once wickedly been victorious, to free it from the
tyranny of the one who had cruelly enslaved it and to recover its
original freedom" (ibid., pp. 251-252).
[To special groups:]
I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims
here today, including groups from England, Ireland, Sweden, Japan
and the United States of America. Thank you for the affection with
which you have greeted me. Upon all of you, I invoke the peace and
joy of Jesus Christ Our Lord!
I now greet the young people, the sick and the
newly-weds. This very day we begin the month of June, dedicated
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let us often stop to contemplate this
deep mystery of divine Love.
Dear young people, at the school of the Heart of Christ may
you learn to assume seriously the responsibilities that await you.
May you, dear sick people, find in this infinite source of
mercy the courage and patience to do God's will in every situation.
And may you, dear newly-weds, stay faithful to the love of
God and witness to it with your conjugal love.
The Holy Father then led the prayer of the "Our Father" and imparted
the Apostolic Blessing.
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