Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Odo
"He Was Austere, But Above All He Was Good"
H.H. Benedict XVI
September 2, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters:
After a long pause, I would like to take up again the presentation of
the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church of the Medieval era
because, as though in a mirror, in their lives and writings we see what
it means to be Christians.
Today I propose to you the luminous figure of St. Odo, abbot of Cluny.
He is situated in the monastic Middle Ages that saw in Europe the
amazing spread of life and spirituality inspired in St. Benedict's Rule.
During those centuries there was a prodigious rise and multiplication of
cloisters that, branching out over the continent, spread through it the
Christian spirit and sensibility. St. Odo takes us, in particular, to a
monastery, Cluny, which during the Middle Ages was one of the most
illustrious and celebrated. Even today it reveals with its majestic
ruins the footprint of a glorious past because of its intense dedication
to ascesis, study, and, in a special way, divine worship, enveloped in
decorum and beauty.
Odo was the second abbot of Cluny. He was born around 880, on the border
between Maine and Touraine, in France. He was consecrated by his
[spiritual] father, the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent
shadow and memory Odo passed all his life, ending it at last near his
tomb. His choice to consecrate himself in the religious life was
preceded by an experience of a special moment of joy, which he mentioned
to another monk, John the Italian, later his biographer. Odo was still
an adolescent, around 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he sensed how
a prayer to the Virgin came spontaneously to his lips: "My Lady, Mother
of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May
your glorious and singular birth be, Oh most merciful, my refuge" (Vita
Sancti Odonis, I,9: PL 133, 747).
The name "Mother of Mercy," with which the young Odo then invoked the
Virgin, was the one he always wished to use when addressing Mary, also
calling her "only hope of the world ... thanks to whom the doors of
paradise have been opened to us" (In Veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae:
PL 133, 721).
Around that time he began to reflect more profoundly on the Rule of St.
Benedict and to observe some of its mandates, "bearing, though not being
a monk, the light yoke of the monks" (ibid., I,14: PL 133, 50). In one
of his sermons, Odo referred to Benedict as "light that shines on the
dark stage of this life" (De Sancto Benedicto Abbate: PL 133, 725), and
described him as "teacher of spiritual discipline" (ibid.: PL 133, 727).
He revealed with affection that Christian piety "with most lively
gentleness remembers" him, aware that God has raised him "among the
highest and chosen Fathers of the Holy Church" (ibid.: PL 133, 722).
Fascinated by the Benedictine ideal, Odo left Tours and entered as a
monk in the Benedictine abbey of Baume, to move later to that of Cluny,
where he became abbot in the year 927. From that center of spiritual
life, he was able to exert great influence on other monasteries of the
continent. Benefiting from his guidance and reform were also several
monasteries in Italy, among them that of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Odo visited Rome more than once, also going to Subiaco, Montecassino and
Salerno. It was in fact in Rome where, in the summer of the year 942, he
fell ill. Sensing he was close to death, he made every effort to return
to his St. Martin, in Tours, where he died during the saint's octave, on
Nov. 18, 942.
Underlining Odo's "virtue of patience," his biographer gives a long list
of his other virtues, such as contempt for the world, zeal for souls,
commitment to peace for the Churches. Abbot Odo greatly aspired to
concord between the king and princes, the observance of the
Commandments, care of the poor, correction of youth, and respect for the
elderly (cf. Vita Sancti Odonis, I,17: PL 133, 49). He loved the cell
where he resided, "far from the eyes of everyone, concerned with
pleasing God alone" (ibid., I,14: PL 133, 49).
However, he did not fail to exercise as "superabundant source" the
ministry of the word and of example, "weeping over this world as
immensely wretched" (ibid., I,17: PL 133, 51). United in only one monk,
comments his biographer, were the different virtues existing in a
scattered way in other monasteries: "Jesus, in his goodness, basing
himself in the monks' different gardens, was forming in a small place a
paradise, to water from his source the hearts of the faithful" (ibid.,
I,14: PL 133, 49).
In a passage of a sermon in honor of Mary Magdalene, the abbot of Cluny
reveals how he conceived monastic life: "Mary who, seated at the Lord's
feet, with an attentive spirit listened to his word, is the symbol of
the sweetness of contemplative life, whose taste, the more it is
savored, so much more induces the soul to be detached from visible
things and from the tumult of preoccupations of the world" (In ven. S.
Mariae Magd., PL 133, 717). This is a concept that Odo confirms in other
writings, which reflect his love for the interior life, his idea that
the world is a fragile and precarious reality from which one must be
uprooted, a constant inclination to detachment from things regarded as
sources of unrest, an acute sensitivity to the presence of evil in the
different classes of people, a profound eschatological aspiration. This
vision of the world might seem quite far from ours and yet, Odo's is a
conception that, seeing the fragility of the world, values interior life
open to the other, the love of neighbor, and precisely thus he
transforms life and opens the world to the light of God.
Meriting particular attention is the "devotion" to the Body and Blood of
Christ that Odo always cultivated with conviction, in face of widespread
neglect which he sharply deplored. He was firmly convinced of the real
presence, under the Eucharistic species, of the Body and Blood of the
Lord, in virtue of the "substantial" conversion of the bread and wine.
He wrote: "God, the Creator of everything, took bread, saying that it
was his Body, and that he would offer it for the world, and distributed
the wine, calling it his Blood; therefore, it is the law of nature that
the mutation take place according to the Creator's mandate,
consequently, nature immediately changes its usual condition: Without a
doubt, the bread becomes flesh, and the wine becomes blood"; at the
Lord's command "the substance changes" (Odonis Abb. Cluniac. occupatio,
ed. A. Swoboda, Lipsia, 1900, p. 121).
Unfortunately, notes our abbot, this "sacrosanct mystery of the Body of
the Lord, in which consists the whole salvation of the world" (Collationes,
XXVIII: PL 133, 572), is celebrated with negligence. "Priests," he
warns, "who approach the altar unworthily stain the bread, that is, the
Body of Christ" (ibid., PL 133, 572-573). Only one who is spiritually
united to Christ can participate worthily in his Eucharistic Body: In
the opposite case, to eat his flesh and drink his blood would not be to
his benefit, but to his condemnation (cf. ibid., XXX, PL 133, 575).
All this invites us to believe with renewed force and depth in the real
presence of the Lord. The presence of the Creator among us, who gives
himself in our hands and transforms us as he transforms the bread and
wine, thus transforms the world.
St. Odo was a real spiritual guide both for monks and for the faithful
of his time. In face of the "vastness of vices" in society, the remedy
he proposed with determination was a radical change of life, based on
humility, austerity, detachment from ephemeral things and adherence to
the eternal (cf. Collationes, XXX, PL 133, 613). Despite the realism of
his time, Odo did not yield to pessimism: "We do not say this," he
specifies, "to precipitate those who wish to convert into despair.
Divine mercy is always available; it awaits the hour of our conversion"
(ibid.: PL 133, 563). And he exclaims: "Oh ineffable core of divine
mercy! God persecutes faults but protects sinners" (ibid.: PL 133, 592).
Supported by this conviction, the abbot of Cluny loved to reflect on the
contemplation of the mercy of Christ, the Savior whom he evocatively
described as "lover of man": "amator hominum Christus" (ibid., LIII: PL
133, 637). Jesus has taken upon himself the scourges that correspond to
us -- he observes -- thus to save the creature who is his work and who
he loves (cf. ibid.: PL 133, 638).
A characteristic of the holy abbot appears here that at first glance is
almost hidden under the rigor of his austerity as reformer: the profound
goodness of his soul. He was austere, but above all he was good, a man
of great goodness, a goodness that comes from contact with divine
goodness. Odo, his contemporaries say, spread all around the joy with
which he was filled. His biographer attests to never having heard from
the mouth of man "such sweetness of word" (ibid., I,17: PL 133, 31). His
biographer recalls that he used to invite children whom he met on the
road to sing and then give them a small gift, and he adds: "His words
were full of exultation ... his mirth infused in our heart a profound
joy" (ibidem, II, 5: PL 133, 63).
In this way the vigorous and, at the same time, amiable Medieval abbot,
passionate about reform, nourished with incisive action in the monks, as
well as in the faithful of his time, the intention to advance with
diligent step on the way of Christian perfection.
May his goodness, the joy that comes from faith, united to austerity and
opposition to the vices of the world, also touch our heart, so that we
too will be able to find the source of joy that springs from the
goodness of God.
[The Holy Father then addressed pilgrims in several languages. In
English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with another great monastic figure of the
Middle Ages, Saint Odo of Cluny. Attracted by the Benedictine ideal, Odo
became a monk, and later the second abbot, of Cluny. At the beginning of
the ninth century, Cluny was the center of an influential movement of
Church reform, and Odo, by his example and teaching did much to further
this spiritual renewal throughout Europe. His writings reveal how deeply
he was influenced by the monastic virtues of contemplation, detachment
from this world and longing for the world to come. Odo was particularly
devoted to the Eucharist, emphasizing the real and substantial presence
of Christ under the species of bread and wine. This conviction of faith
led him to work for the reform of the clergy and to stress the need for
a worthy reception of the Sacrament. An authentic spiritual guide for
his troubled times, Odo blended the personal austerity of a great
reformer with a constant and joyful contemplation of Christ’s infinite
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at
today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland,
Nigeria and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the
Servants of the Holy Spirit, as well as the young people from The Holy
Study House of Prayer. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy
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