Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny
"I Am Not One of Those Who Is Not Happy With His Lot"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 14, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters,
The figure of Peter the Venerable, which I wish to present in today's
catechesis, takes us back to the famous abbey of Cluny, to its "decorum"
(decor) and its "lucidity" (nitor), to use terms that recur in the
Cluniac texts -- decorum and splendor-- which are admired above all in
the beauty of the liturgy, the privileged path to reach God.
Even more than these aspects, however, Peter's personality recalls the
holiness of the great Cluniac abbots: At Cluny "there was not a single
abbot who was not a saint," said Pope Gregory VII in 1080. Among these
is Peter the Venerable, who to some degree gathers in himself all the
virtues of his predecessors -- although already with him, Cluny, faced
with new orders such as that of Citeaux, began to experience symptoms of
Born around 1094 in the French region of Auvergne, he entered as a child
in the monastery of Sauxillanges, where he became a professed monk and
then prior. He was elected abbot of Cluny in 1122, and remained in this
office until his death, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1156, as he had
wished. "Lover of peace," wrote his biographer, Rudolph, "he obtained
peace in the glory of God on the day of peace" (Vita, I, 17; PL 189,
All those who knew him praised his elegant meekness, serene balance,
self-control, correctness, loyalty, lucidity and special attitude in
mediating. "It is in my very nature," he wrote, "to be somewhat led to
indulgence; I am incited to this by my habit of forgiving. I am used to
enduring and forgiving" (Ep. 192, in: "The Letters of Peter the
Venerable," Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 446).
He also said: "With those who hate peace we wish, possibly, to always be
peaceful" (Ep. 100, 1.c., p. 261). And of himself, he wrote: "I am not
one of those who is not happy with his lot ... whose spirit is always
anxious and doubtful, and who laments that all the others are resting
and he alone is working" (Ep. 182, p. 425).
Of a sensitive and affectionate nature, he was able to combine love of
the Lord with tenderness toward his family, particularly his mother, and
his friends. He was a cultivator of friendship, especially in his
meetings with his monks, who usually confided in him, certain of being
received and understood. According to the testimony of his biographer,
"he did not disregard or refuse anyone" (Vita, 1,3: PL 189,19); "he
seemed gracious to all; in his innate goodness, he was open to all"
(ibid., I,1: PL, 189, 17).
We could say that this holy abbot is an example also for the monks and
Christians of our time, marked by a frenetic rhythm of life, where
incidents of intolerance and lack of communication, division and
conflicts are not rare. His witness invites us to be able to combine
love of God with love of neighbor, and never tire of renewing relations
of fraternity and reconciliation. In this way, in fact, Peter the
Venerable behaved, finding himself guiding the monastery of Cluny in
years that were not very tranquil for several external and internal
reasons, succeeding in being simultaneously severe and gifted with
profound humanity. He used to say: "You will be able to obtain more from
a man by tolerating him, than by irritating him with complaints" (Ep.
172, 1.c., 409).
Because of his office, he had to make frequent trips to Italy, England,
Germany and Spain. Forced abandonment of contemplative stillness weighed
on him. He confessed: "I go from one place to another, I am anxious,
disturbed, tormented, dragged here and there; my mind is turned now to
my affairs, now to those of others, not without great agitation to my
spirit" (Ep. 91, 1.c., p. 233). Although having to maneuver between the
powers and lordships that surrounded Cluny, nevertheless, thanks to his
sense of measure, his magnanimity and his realism, he succeeded in
keeping his habitual tranquility. Among the personalities with whom he
interacted was Bernard of Clairvaux, with whom he enjoyed a relationship
of growing friendship, despite differences of temperament and
perspectives. Bernard described him as an "important man, occupied in
important affairs" and he greatly esteemed him (Ep. 147, ed. Scriptorium
Claravallense, Milan, 1986, VI/1, pp. 658-660), whereas Peter the
Venerable described Bernard as "lamp of the Church" (Ep. 164, p. 396),
"strong and splendid column of the monastic order and of the whole
Church" (Ep. 175, p. 418).
With a lively ecclesial sense, Peter the Venerable said that the affairs
of Christian people should be felt in the "depth of the heart" of those
who number themselves "among the members of the Body of Christ" (Ep.
164, 1.c., p. 397). And he added: "He is not nourished by Christ who
does not feel the wounds of the Body of Christ," wherever these are
produced (ibid.). Moreover, he showed care and solicitude even for those
who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to
foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated. In this
regard, a recent historian observed: "Amid the intransigence of the men
of Medieval times, also among the greatest of them, we admire here a
sublime example of the delicacy to which Christian charity leads" (J.
Leclercq, Pietro il Venerabile, Jaca Book, 1991, p. 189).
Other aspects of Christian life dear to him were love of the Eucharist
and devotion to the Virgin Mary. On the Most Holy Sacrament he has left
us pages that are "one of the masterpieces of Eucharistic literature of
all times" (ibid., p. 267), and on the Mother of God he wrote
illuminating reflections, always contemplating her in close relationship
with Jesus the Redeemer and his work of salvation. Suffice it to report
this inspired elevation of his: "Hail, Blessed Virgin, who put
malediction to flight. Hail, Mother of the Most High, spouse of the most
meek Lamb. You conquered the serpent, you have crushed his head, when
the God generated by you annihilated him ... Shining star of the East,
who puts to flight the shadows of the West. Dawn that precedes the sun,
day that ignores the night ... Pray to God born from you, so that he
will absolve us from our sin and, after forgiveness, grant us grace and
glory" (Carmina, Pl 189, 1018-1019).
Peter the Venerable also nourished a predilection for literary activity
and he had the talent. He wrote down his reflections, persuaded of the
importance of using the pen almost like a plough "to scatter on paper
the seed of the Word" (Ep. 20, p. 38). Although he was not a systematic
theologian, he was a great researcher of the mystery of God. His
theology sinks its roots in prayer, especially the liturgy, and among
the mysteries of Christ he favored the Transfiguration, in which the
Resurrection is already prefigured. It was in fact he who introduced
this feast at Cluny, composing a special office for it, in which is
reflected the characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the
Cluniac Order, wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa
facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that
marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.
Dear brothers and sisters, this holy monk is certainly a great example
of monastic sanctity, nourished at the sources of the Benedictine
tradition. For him, the ideal of the monk consisted in "adhering
tenaciously to Christ" (Ep. 53, 1.c., p. 161), in a cloistered life
marked by "monastic humility" (ibid.) and industriousness (Ep. 77, 1.c.,
p. 211), as well as by a climate of silent contemplation and constant
praise of God. According to Peter of Cluny, the first and most important
occupation of a monk is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office
--"heavenly work and of all the most useful" (Statuta, I, 1026) -- to be
supported with reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance observed
with discretion (cf. Ep. 20, 1.c., p. 40).
In this way the whole of life is pervaded by profound love of God and
love of others, a love that is expressed in sincere openness to one's
neighbor, in forgiveness and in the pursuit of peace. By way of
conclusion, we could say that if this style of life joined to daily work
is, for St. Benedict, the ideal of the monk, it also concerns all of us;
it can be, to a great extent, the style of life of the Christian who
wants to become a genuine disciple of Christ, characterized in fact by
tenacious adherence to him, by humility, by industriousness and the
capacity to forgive, and by peace.
[Translation by ZENIT] [The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today considers an outstanding churchman of the early
twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny. Despite his
pressing responsibilities and frequent travels in the service of the
Church, Peter maintained a contemplative spirit, deep inner tranquility,
rigorous asceticism and a capacity for warm friendships. His ability to
combine love of God with sincere love of neighbor found expression in a
lively sense of the Church. He urged all the members of Christ's Body to
be concerned for the trials and difficulties of the universal Church,
and he expressed an interest in those outside the Church, specifically
Jews and Muslims, in ways which were remarkable for his day. Prayer
stood at the heart of Peter's theology and spirituality, which were
nourished by the monastic liturgy and meditation on the mysteries of
Christ's life. At Cluny he introduced the feast of the Transfiguration
and composed its prayers, centered on the contemplation of the glorious
face of Christ. By his ability to combine prayer and contemplation with
love of neighbor and a commitment to the renewal of society, Peter the
Venerable reflected the Benedictine ideal and serves as an example to
Christian today in their efforts to live holy and integrated lives in
our often stressful society.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at
today's Audience, including the pupils and staff from Saint Andrew's
High School, Carntyne, Glasgow, and other school and university groups
from England and Norway. May your visit to Rome be a time of deep
spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God's blessings of joy and
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana [In Italian, he said:]
My thoughts go out finally to young people, the sick and newlyweds.
Beloved, tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, doctor
of the Church. May this great saint testify to you, dear young people,
that genuine love cannot be separated from truth; may she help you, dear
sick people, to understand that the cross of Christ is a mystery of love
that redeems human suffering. For you, dear newlyweds, may she be a
model of fidelity to God, who entrusts to everyone a special mission.
[Translation by ZENIT]
at the One they Pierced!
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