The Twelve Apostles
Jesus chose 12 disciples at the beginning of his public ministry: Peter, Andrew, James and John, James, Matthew (the tax collector), Philip, Thomas ('the twin'), Bartholomew, Simon, Jude and Judas. Also included in the list here is Matthias (who replaced Judas as 1 of the 12).
In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI began his series of catecheses on Jesus Christ and His Church, his saints. Before speaking in his Wednesday audiences about Jesus' 12 apostles individually, Papa Benedetto gave these opening talks:
1) The will of Jesus on the Church and the choice of the Twelve
2) The Apostles, witnesses and envoys of Christ
3) The Gift of 'Communion'
4) The service to communion
5) Communion in time: the Tradition
6) The Apostolic Succession
Introductory Catecheses by Papa Benedict XVI
1) The will of Jesus on the Church and the choice of the Twelve
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Dear brothers and sisters,
I would like to dedicate the upcoming Wednesday audiences to the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, reflecting upon it from the experience of the Apostles, in light of the duty entrusted to them. The Church was built on the foundation of the Apostles as a community of faith, hope and charity. Through the Apostles, we come to Jesus himself. The Church begins to establish herself when some fishermen of Galilee meet Jesus, allowing themselves to be won over by his gaze, his voice, his warm and strong invitation: "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mk 1: 17; Mt 4: 19). At the start of the third millennium, my beloved Predecessor John Paul II invited the Church to contemplate the face of Christ (cf Novo Millennio Ineunte). Continuing in the same direction, I would like to show, in the catechesis that I begin today, how it is precisely the light of that Face that is reflected on the face of the Church (cf Lumen Gentium), notwithstanding the limits and shadows of our fragile and sinful humanity. After Mary, a pure reflection of the light of Christ, it is from the Apostles, through their word and witness, that we receive the truth of Christ. Their mission is not isolated, however, but is situated within a mystery of communion that involves the entire People of God and is carried out in stages from the Old to the New Covenant.
In this regard, it must be said that the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People: like John the Baptist, his direct precursor, Jesus above all addresses Israel in order to "gather" it together in the eschatological time that arrived with him. And like that of John, the preaching of Jesus is at the same time a call of grace and a sign of contradiction and of justice for the entire People of God. And so, from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of Nazareth strives to gather together the People of God. Even if his preaching is always an appeal for personal conversion, in reality He continually aims to build the People of God whom He came to bring together, purify and save. As a result, therefore, an individualistic interpretation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom, specific to liberal theology, is unilateral and without foundation, as a great liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack summed it up in the year 1900 in his lessons on 'The essence of Christianity': "The Kingdom of God, insofar as it comes in single individuals, is able to enter their soul and is welcomed by them. The Kingdom of God is the dominion of God, certainly, but it is the dominion of the holy God in individual hearts." In reality, this individualism of liberal theology is a typically modern accentuation: in the perspective of biblical tradition and on the horizon of Judaism, where the work of Jesus is situated in all its novelty, it is clear that the entire mission of the Son-made-flesh has a communitarian finality. He truly came to unite dispersed humanity; He truly came to unite the People of God.
An evident sign of the intention of the Nazarene to gather together the community of the Covenant, to demonstrate in it the fulfilment of the promises made to the Fathers who always speak of convocation, unification, unity, is the institution of the Twelve. We heard about this institution of the Twelve in the Gospel reading. I shall read the central passage again: "And he went up into the hills and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. The names of the twelve Apostles are these..." (Mk 3: 13-16). On the site of the revelation, "the mount", taking initiative that demonstrates absolute awareness and determination, Jesus establishes the Twelve so that, together with him, they are witnesses and heralds of the coming of the Kingdom of God. There are no doubts about the historicity of this call, not only because of the antiquity and multiplicity of witnesses, but also for the simple reason that there is also the name of Judas, the Apostle who betrayed him, notwithstanding the difficulties that this presence could have caused the new community. The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, already reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implicit in the new initiative to re-establish the holy people. As the system of the 12 tribes had long since faded out, the hope of Israel awaited their restoration as a sign of the eschatological time (as referred to at the end of the Book of Ezekiel). In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with himself and involving them in his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom in words and works, Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the 12 tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.
With their very own existence, the Twelve - called from different backgrounds - become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfilment of the ancient one. The fact that he entrusted to his Apostles, during the Last Supper and before his Passion, the duty to celebrate his Pasch, demonstrates how Jesus wished to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the mandate to be a sign and instrument in history of the eschatological gathering begun by him. In a certain sense we can say that the Last Supper itself is the act of foundation of the Church, because He gives himself and thus creates a new community, a community united in communion with himself. In this light, one understands how the Risen One confers upon them, with the effusion of the Spirit, the power to forgive sins. Thus, the Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus' will regarding the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, they are inseparable. Therefore, a slogan that was popular some years back: "Jesus yes, Church no", is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus. We cannot have Jesus without the reality He created and in which He communicates himself. Between the Son of God-made-flesh and his Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in his people. He is always contemporary with us, he is always contemporary with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles. And his very presence in the community, in which He himself is always with us, is the reason for our joy. Yes, Christ is with us, the Kingdom of God is coming."
2) The Apostles, witnesses and envoys of Christ
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Dear brothers and sisters,
The Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church to us as a structure built "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (2: 20). In the Book of Revelation the role of the Apostles, and more specifically, of the Twelve, is explained in the eschatological perspective of the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as a city whose walls "had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (21: 14). The Gospels agree in mentioning that the call of the Apostles marked the first steps of Jesus' ministry, after the Baptism he received from John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.
According to the accounts of Mark (1: 16-20) and of Matthew (4: 18-22), the scene of the call of the first Apostles is the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just begun to preach about the Kingdom of God when his gaze came to rest upon two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John. They were fishermen busy with their daily work, casting their nets and mending them. But it was another sort of fishing that awaited them. Jesus purposefully called them and they promptly followed him: subsequently they will be "fishers of men" (cf Mk 1, 17; Mt 4, 19). Luke, while following the same tradition, gave a more elaborate account (5: 1-11). Luke's account illustrates the development of the first disciples' faith, explaining that Jesus' invitation to follow him came after they had heard his first preaching and had seen the first miraculous signs that He worked. In particular, the miraculous catch is the immediate context and offers the symbol of the mission of fishers of men, which was entrusted to them. The destiny of those who were "called" would henceforth be closely bound to that of Jesus. An apostle is one sent but, before that, he is an "expert" on Jesus.
This very aspect is highlighted by the evangelist John from Jesus' very first encounter with the future Apostles. Here the scene is different. The meeting takes place on the banks of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples, who, like Jesus, also came from Galilee to receive the baptism administered by John, sheds light on their spiritual world. They were men who were waiting for the Kingdom of God, anxious to know the Messiah whose coming had been proclaimed as imminent. It was enough for John the Baptist to point out Jesus to them as the Lamb of God (cf Jn 1, 36), to inspire in them the desire for a personal encounter with the Teacher. The lines of Jesus' conversation with the first two future Apostles are most expressive. To his question "What do you seek?", they replied with another question: ""Rabbi' (which means Teacher), where are you staying?" Jesus' answer is an invitation: "Come and see." Come, so that you will be able to see. This is how the Apostles' adventure began, as an encounter of persons who are open to one another. For the disciples, it was the beginning of a direct acquaintance with the Teacher, seeing where he was staying and starting to get to know him. Indeed, they were not to proclaim an idea, but to witness to a person. Before being sent out to preach, they had to "be" with Jesus (cf Mk 3,14), establishing a personal relationship with him. On this basis, evangelization was to be no more than the proclamation of what they felt and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ.
To whom would the Apostles be sent? In the Gospel Jesus seemed to limit his mission to Israel alone: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt 15: 24). In a similar way he seemed to restrict the mission entrusted to the Twelve: "These Twelve Jesus sent out, charging them: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (Mt 10: 5ff.). A certain rationally inspired modern criticism saw these words as showing a lack of universal awareness by the Nazarene. Actually, they should be understood in the light of his special relationship with Israel, the community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of salvation. According to the Messianic expectation, the divine promises directly addressed to Israel would reach fulfilment when God himself had gathered his people through his Chosen One as a shepherd gathers his flock: "I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey.... I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, shall be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them" (Ez 34: 22-24). Jesus is the eschatological shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of the house of Israel and goes in search of them because he knows and loves them (cf Lk 15, 4-7 & Mt 19, 12-14; cf also the figure of the good shepherd in Jn 10, 11 ss). Through this "gathering together", the Kingdom of God is proclaimed to all peoples: "I will set my glory among the nations; and all the nations shall see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand which I have laid on them" (Ez 39: 21).
And Jesus followed precisely this prophetic indication. His first step was to "gather together" the people of Israel, so that all the people called to gather in communion with the Lord might see and believe. Thus, the Twelve, taken on to share in the same mission as Jesus, cooperate with the Pastor of the last times, also seeking out the lost sheep of the house of Israel, that is, addressing the people of the promise whose reunion is the sign of salvation for all peoples, the beginning of the universalization of the Covenant. Far from belying the universal openness of the Nazarene's Messianic action, the initial restriction to Israel of his mission and of the Twelve thus becomes an even more effective prophetic sign. After the passion and resurrection of Christ, this sign was to be made clear: the universal character of the Apostles' mission was to become explicit. Christ would send the Apostles "to the whole creation" (Mk 16: 15), to "all nations", (Mt 28: 19, Lk 24: 47), "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1: 8). And this mission continues. The Lord's command to gather the peoples together in the unity of his love still continues. This is our hope and also our mandate: to contribute to this universality, to this true unity in the riches of cultures, in communion with our true Lord Jesus Christ."
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Through the apostolic ministry the Church, a community gathered by the Son of God who came in the flesh, will live on through the passing times, building up and nourishing communion in Christ and in the Spirit, to which all are called and in which they can experience the salvation given by the Father. The Twelve - as Pope Clement, third Successor of Peter, said at the end of the first century - took pains, in fact, to appoint successors (cf I Clem 42: 4), so that the mission entrusted to them would continue after their death. Over the course of the centuries the Church, organically structured under the guidance of her legitimate Pastors, has thus continued to live in the world as a mystery of communion, in which is reflected to a certain measure the trinitarian communion itself, the mystery of God himself.
The Apostle Paul was already referring to this supreme Trinitarian source when he wished his Christians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13: 14). These words, probably echoed in the worship of the newborn Church, emphasize how the free gift of the Father in Jesus Christ is realized and expressed in the communion brought about by the Holy Spirit. This interpretation, based on the close parallelism between the three genitives that the text establishes: ("the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ... the love of God... and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit), presents "fellowship" as a specific gift of the Spirit, the fruit of the love given by God the Father and the grace offered by the Lord Jesus.
Moreover, the immediate context, marked by the insistence on fraternal communion, guides us to perceiving the "koinonía" of the Holy Spirit not only as "participation" in the divine life more or less singularly, each one individually, but also, logically, as the "communion" among believers that the Spirit himself kindles as his builder and principal agent (cf Phil 2: 1). One might say that grace, love and communion, referring respectively to Christ, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, are different aspects of the one divine action for our salvation. This action creates the Church and makes the Church - as St Cyprian said in the third century - "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (De Orat. Dom. 23; PL 4, 553, cit in Lumen Gentium, 4).
The idea of communion as participation in Trinitarian life is illuminated with special intensity in John's Gospel. Here, the communion of love that binds the Son to the Father and to men is at the same time the model and source of the fraternal communion that must unite disciples with one another: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15: 12; cf 13: 34); "that they may all be one... even as we are one" (Jn 17: 21-22). Hence, it is communion of men with the Trinitarian God and communion of men for each other. During the time of his earthly pilgrimage, the disciple can already share through communion with the Son in his divine life and that of the Father: "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I Jn 1: 3). This life of fellowship with God and with one another is the proper goal of Gospel proclamation, the goal of conversion to Christianity: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (I Jn 1:2). Thus, this twofold communion with God and with one another is inseparable. Wherever communion with God, which is communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another is destroyed. And wherever we do not live communion among ourselves, communion with the Trinitarian God is not alive and true either, as we have heard.
Let us now go a step further. Communion - fruit of the Holy Spirit - is nourished by the eucharistic Bread (cf 1 Cor 10: 16-17) and is expressed in fraternal relations in a sort of anticipation of the future world. In the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us, He unites us with himself, with his Father, with the Holy Spirit and with one another. This network of unity that embraces the world is an anticipation of the future world in our time. Precisely in this way, since it is an anticipation of the future world, communion is also a gift with very real consequences. It lifts us from our loneliness, from being closed in on ourselves, and makes us sharers in the love that unites us to God and to one another. It is easy to understand how great this gift is if we only think of the fragmentation and conflicts that afflict relations between individuals, groups and entire peoples. And if the gift of unity in the Holy Spirit does not exist, the fragmentation of humanity is inevitable. "Communion" is truly the Good News, the remedy given to us by the Lord to fight the loneliness that threatens everyone today, the precious gift that makes us feel welcomed and beloved by God, in the unity of his People gathered in the name of the Trinity; it is the light that makes the Church shine forth like a beacon raised among the peoples. "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 Jn 1:6). Thus, the Church, despite all the human frailties that mark her historical profile, is revealed as a marvellous creation of love, brought into being to bring Christ close to every man and every woman who truly desires to meet him, until the end of time. And in the Church, the Lord always remains our contemporary. Scripture is not something of the past. The Lord does not speak in the past but speaks in the present, He speaks to us today, He enlightens us, He shows us the way through life, He gives us communion and thus He prepares us and opens us to peace."
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the new series of catecheses that began a few weeks ago, we are considering the origins of the Church so as to understand Jesus' original plan and thereby grasp the essential of the Church that lives on through the changing times. Thus, we also understand the reason for our being in the Church and how we must strive to live it at the dawn of a new Christian millennium.
In thinking about the newborn Church, we can discover two aspects: a first aspect is strongly highlighted by St Irenaeus of Lyons, a martyr and great theologian of the end of the 2nd century, the first to have given us a theology that was to a certain extent systematic. St Irenaeus wrote: "Wherever the Church is, God's Spirit is too; and wherever God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace; for the Spirit is truth" (Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1: PG 7, 966). Thus, a deep bond exists between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit builds the Church and gives her the truth; he pours out love, as St Paul says, into the hearts of believers (cf Rom 5: 5). Then there is a second aspect. This deep bond with the Spirit does not eradicate our humanity, with all of its weaknesses. So it is that from the start the community of the disciples has known not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace of truth and love, but also trials that are constituted above all by disagreements about the truths of faith, with the consequent wounds to communion. Just as the fellowship of love has existed since the outset and will continue to the end (cf 1 Jn 1:1), so also, from the start, division unfortunately arose. We should not be surprised that it still exists today. "They went out from us, but they were not of us", John says in his First Letter, "for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they are not of us" (1 Jn 2: 19). Thus, in the events of the world but also in the weaknesses of the Church, there is always a risk of losing faith, hence also love and brotherhood. Consequently, it is a specific duty of those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her to recognize this danger too and accept that communion is no longer possible with those who have drifted away from the doctrine of salvation (cf 2 Jn 9: 11).
That the newborn Church was well aware of the possible tensions in the experience of communion is clearly shown by John's First Letter: no voice is more forcefully raised in the New Testament to highlight the reality and duty of fraternal love among Christians; but the same voice is addressed with drastic severity to adversaries of the Church who used to be members of the community but now no longer belong to it. The Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood primarily as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his followers. It was being made children of the same Father by the Spirit of truth that gave rise to Christian brotherhood: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom 8: 14). However, if the family of God's children is to live in unity and peace, it needs someone to keep it in the truth and guide it with wise and authoritative discernment: this is what the ministry of the Apostles is required to do. And here we come to an important point. The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given by Christ, from whom the capacity to love also comes.
The first brief description in the Acts sums up very effectively the convergence of these values in the life of the newborn Church: "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2: 42). Communion is born from faith inspired by apostolic preaching, it is nourished by the breaking of bread and prayer, and is expressed in brotherly love and service. We have before us the description of fellowship in the newborn Church with the riches of its internal dynamism and visible expressions: the gift of communion is safeguarded and promoted in particular by the apostolic ministry, which in turn is a gift for all the community.
The Apostles and their successors are therefore the custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity. These are two aspects that go together. They must always be mindful of the inseparable nature of this twofold service which in fact is only one: truth and love, revealed and given by the Lord Jesus. In this regard, their service is first and foremost a service of love: and the charity they live and foster is inseparable from the truth they preserve and pass on. Truth and love are the two faces of the same gift that comes from God and, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our present time! And the love of the Trinitarian God also reaches us through the service of the Apostles and their successors, to communicate to us the truth that sets us free (cf Jn 8: 32)! All this, which we see in the newborn Church, impels us to pray for the Successors of the Apostles, for all the Bishops and for the Successors of Peter, so that together they may truly be at the same time custodians of truth and love; so that, in this regard, they may truly be apostles of Christ and that his light, the light of truth and love, may never be extinguished in the Church or in the world."
Communion in time: the Tradition
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for your affection! In the new series of catecheses, recently begun, we are seeking to understand the original plan of the Church which the Lord desired, in order to understand better our place, our Christian life, in the great communion of the Church. So far we have understood that ecclesial communion is inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit and preserved and promoted by the apostolic ministry. And this communion, which we call "Church", does not only extend to all believers in a specific historical period, but also embraces all the epochs and all the generations. Thus, we have a twofold universality: a synchronic universality - we are united with believers in every part of the world - and also a so-called diachronic universality, that is: all the epochs belong to us, and all the believers of the past and of the future form with us a single great communion. The Holy Spirit appears to us as the guarantor of the active presence of the mystery in history, the One who ensures its realization down the centuries. Thanks to the Paraclete, it will always be possible for subsequent generations to have the same experience of the Risen One that was lived by the apostolic community at the origin of the Church, since it is passed on and actualized in the faith, worship and communion of the People of God, on pilgrimage through time. And so it is that we today, in the Easter season, are living the encounter with the Risen One not only as something of the past, but in the present communion of the faith, liturgy and life of the Church. The Church's apostolic Tradition consists in this transmission of the goods of salvation which, through the power of the Spirit makes the Christian community the permanent actualization of the original communion. It is called "original" because it was born of the witness of the Apostles and of the community of the disciples at the time of the origins. It was passed on under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament writings and in the sacramental life, in the life of the faith, and to it - to this Tradition, which is the ever present whole reality of the gift of Jesus - the Church continuously refers to as her foundation and her rule through the uninterrupted succession of the apostolic ministry.
Jesus, still in his historical life, limited his mission to the house of Israel, but already made it clear that the gift was not only destined for the People of Israel but to everyone in the world and to every epoch. The Risen One then explicitly entrusted to the Apostles (cf Lk 6: 13) the task of making disciples of all the nations, guaranteeing his presence and help to the end of the age (cf Mt 28:19). The universalism of salvation, moreover, requires that the Easter memorial be celebrated in history without interruption until Christ's glorious return (cf 1 Cor 11: 26). Who will bring about the saving presence of the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Apostles - heads of the eschatological Israel (cf Mt 19: 28) - and through the whole life of the people of the New Covenant? The answer is clear: the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles - in continuity with the pattern of Luke's Gospel - show vividly the interpenetration between the Spirit, those sent out by Christ and the community they have gathered. Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the Apostles and their successors can realize in time the mission received from the Risen One. "You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24:48). "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1: 8). And this promise, which at first seems incredible, already came true in the Apostles' time: "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5: 32).
So it is the Spirit himself, who through the laying on of hands and prayers of the Apostles, consecrates and sends out new Gospel missionaries (as, for example, in Acts 13:3 & 1 Tm 4: 14). It is interesting to observe that whereas in some passages it says that Paul appointed elders in every Church (cf Acts 14: 23), elsewhere it says that it is the Spirit who has made them guardians of the flock (cf Acts 20: 28). The action of the Spirit and the action of Paul thus are deeply interwoven. At the time of solemn decisions for the life of the Church, the Spirit is present to guide her. This guiding presence of the Holy Spirit was particularly acutely felt in the Council of Jerusalem, in whose conclusive words resound the affirmation: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15: 28); the Church grows and walks "in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9: 31). This permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in his people, brought about by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church through the apostolic ministry and fraternal communion is what, in a theological sense, is meant by the term Tradition: it is not merely the material transmission of what was given at the beginning to the Apostles, but the effective presence of the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, who accompanies and guides in the Spirit the community gathered together by Him.
Tradition is the communion of the faithful around their legitimate Pastors down through history, a communion that the Holy Spirit nurtures, assuring the connection between the experience of the apostolic faith, lived in the original community of the disciples, and the actual experience of Christ in his Church. In other words, Tradition is the practical continuity of the Church, the holy Temple of God the Father, built on the foundation of the Apostles and held together by the cornerstone, Christ, through the life-giving action of the Spirit: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph 2: 19-22). Thanks to the Tradition, guaranteed by the ministry of the Apostles and by their successors, the water of life that flowed from Christ's side and his saving blood reach the women and men of all time. Thus, the Tradition is the permanent presence of the Saviour who comes to meet us, to redeem us and to sanctify us in the Spirit, through the ministry of his Church, to the glory of the Father.
Concluding and summing up, we can therefore say that the Tradition is not the transmission of things or words, a collection of dead things. Tradition is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present, the great river that leads us to the gates of eternity. And since this is so, in this living river the words of the Lord that we heard on the reader's lips to start with are ceaselessly brought about: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20)."
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last two audiences we meditated on what Tradition in the Church is and we saw that it is the permanent presence of the word and life of Jesus among his people. But in order to be present, the word needs a person, a witness. And so it is that this reciprocity comes about: on the one hand, the word needs the person, but on the other, the person, the witness, is bound to the word, entrusted to him and not invented by him. This reciprocity between the content - the Word of God, life of the Lord - and the person who carries on the work is characteristic of the Church's structure. Let us meditate today on this personal aspect of the Church.
The Lord founded the Church, as we have seen, by calling together the Twelve, who were to represent the future People of God. Faithful to the Lord's mandate, after his Ascension, the Twelve first made up their number by appointing Matthias in Judas' place (cf. Acts 1: 15-26), thereby continuing to involve others in the duties entrusted to them so that they might continue their ministry. The Risen Lord himself called Paul (cf. Gal 1: 1), but Paul, although he was called by the Lord to be an Apostle, compared his Gospel with the Gospel of the Twelve (cf. ibid., 1: 18), and was concerned to transmit what he had received (cf. I Cor 11: 23; 15: 3-4). In the distribution of missionary tasks, he was associated with the Apostles together with others, for example, Barnabas (cf. Gal 2: 9). Just as becoming an Apostle begins with being called and sent out by the Risen One, so the subsequent call and sending out to others was to be brought about, through the power of the Spirit, by those who are already ordained in the apostolic ministry. And this is the way in which this ministry, known from the second generation as the episcopal ministry, episcope, was to be continued.
Perhaps it would be useful to explain briefly what "Bishop" means. It is the Italian form of the Greek term, "episcopos". This word means one who has a vision from on high, who looks with the heart. This is what St Peter himself calls Jesus in his First Letter: bishop, "Shepherd and Guardian of your souls" (I Pt 2: 25). And according to this new model of the Lord, who was the first Bishop, Guardian and Pastor of souls, the successors of the Apostles were later called Bishops, "episcopoi". The role of "episcope" was entrusted to them. This specific role of the Bishop was gradually to evolve, in comparison with the origins, until it took the form - already clearly attested to by Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century (cf. Ad Magnesios, 6, 1: PG 5, 668) - of the threefold office of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. This development was guided by God's Spirit who helps the Church in the discernment of the authentic forms of Apostolic Succession, ever more clearly defined among the plurality of experiences and charismatic and ministerial forms present in the earliest communities.
In this way, succession in the role of Bishop is presented as the continuity of the Apostolic ministry, a guarantee of the permanence of the Apostolic Tradition, word and life, entrusted to us by the Lord. The link between the College of Bishops and the original community of the Apostles is understood above all in the line of historical continuity. As we have seen, first Matthias, then Paul, then Barnabas joined the Twelve, then others, until, in the second and third generations, the Bishop's ministry took shape. Continuity, therefore, is expressed in this historical chain. And in the continuity of the succession lies the guarantee of the permanence, in the Ecclesial Community, of the Apostolic College that Christ had gathered around him. This continuity, however, that we see first in the historical continuity of ministries, should also be understood in a spiritual sense, because Apostolic Succession in the ministry is considered a privileged place for the action and transmission of the Holy Spirit. We find these convictions clearly echoed in the following text, for example, by Irenaeus of Lyons (second half of the second century): "It is within the power of all... in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the Apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to count those who were by the Apostles instituted Bishops in the Churches and... the succession of these men to our own times.... [The Apostles] were desirous that these men, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, should be very perfect and blameless in all things, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon, but if they should fall away, the direst calamity" (Adversus Haereses, III, 3, 1: PG 7, 848).
Irenaeus, then, pointing to this network of Apostolic Succession as a guarantee of the permanence of the Lord's word, concentrated on that Church, "the very great, the very ancient and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul", highlighting the Tradition of faith that in her comes down to us from the Apostles through the succession of the Bishops. In this way, for Irenaeus and for the universal Church, the Episcopal Succession of the Church of Rome becomes the sign, criterion and guarantee of the unbroken transmission of apostolic faith: "For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of her pre-eminent authority (propter potiorem principalitatem) - that is, the faithful everywhere - inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously..." (ibid., III, 3, 2: PG 7, 848). Apostolic Succession, verified on the basis of communion with that of the Church of Rome, is therefore the criterion of the permanence of the particular Churches in the Tradition of the common apostolic faith, which from the origins has come down to us through this channel: "In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical Tradition from the Apostles and the preaching of the truth have come down to us. And this is a most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now, and handed down in truth" (ibid., III, 3, 3: PG 7, 851).
According to this testimony of the ancient Church, the apostolicity of ecclesial communion consists in fidelity to the teaching and praxis of the Apostles, through whom the historical and spiritual bond of the Church with Christ is assured. The Apostolic Succession of the episcopal ministry is a means of guaranteeing the faithful transmission of the Apostolic witness. What the Apostles represent in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and the Church of the origins is similarly represented by the ministerial succession in the relationship between the primitive Church and the Church of today. It is not merely a material sequence; rather, it is a historical instrument that the Spirit uses to make the Lord Jesus, Head of his people, present through those who are ordained for the ministry through the imposition of hands and the Bishops' prayer. Consequently, through Apostolic Succession it is Christ who reaches us: in the words of the Apostles and of their successors, it is he who speaks to us; through their hands it is he who acts in the sacraments; in their gaze it is his gaze that embraces us and makes us feel loved and welcomed into the Heart of God. And still today, as at the outset, Christ himself is the true Shepherd and Guardian of our souls whom we follow with deep trust, gratitude and joy."