Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The First Historian

No, it's not a case of the Incredible Shrinking Pope; amid a general audience crowd of 30,000, B16 was given a puppet... of himself.

More to the point, today's entry in the Papa Ratzi's series of Wednesday catecheses on early church writers focused on the historian Eusebius of Cesarea -- whose lessons, said the pontiff, remain just as insightful today as his research:
What is our reaction to Church events: “one of curiosity, perhaps an impulse to search for the sensational the scandal at all costs” or maybe “one of love, open to the mystery”, an impulse to “search for God’s great work of salvation for mankind”. This was the question that Benedict XVI today put to the pilgrims present in St Peter’s square for the general audience.

The source of the Pope’s reflection was Eusebius of Caesarea, “tireless scholar and author from the IV century”, as he continued his catechesis on the writers of the early Church.

In the “fundamental distinction between the first three centuries and those that followed the Nicean Council of 325”, Eusebius emerges “almost at its close”. Bishop of Caesarea and a great admirer of Constantine who returned the favour, today he is above all remembered as the first Church historian, but he was also a great philologist of the ancient Church. Eusebius attended the Nicean Council and subscribed its teaching on the Son’s divinity and consubstantiality with the Father, as is expressed in the “Credo we recite every Sunday”.

Benedict XVI defined Eusebius, who died circa 370, as a “tireless scholar”, who gathered together three centuries of Christianity, lived under persecution, drawing on Christian and pagan sources preserved in the great library of his city. His fame is directly linked to the 10 books he wrote on ecclesial history. They are fundamental due to the sources in which they are grounded, “which saved the events, stories and works of the ancient Church from oblivion”. At the beginning of the first book in his historic series, he lists the arguments examining the times that have passed from Our Lord, through Apostolic Succession, “backbone of the Church”, the spreading of the Word, the errors, the persecutions and the “great witness of light which emerges from this story of the first 300 years of the Churches life”. In all “the benevolent presence of the Lord is felt”.

The theologian-pope underlines that in his work, there is a characteristic that will become constant in ancient ecclesial histography: moral intent. His analyses of history “continue to inspire Christians in every age to let their study of history bear fruit in a greater appreciation of God’s saving works, a deeper conversion to Christ and a more generous witness to the Gospel in everyday life”. Thus calling on Christians to consider their attitude to events in the Church.
While Benedict said all this, borrowing a page from his own playbook, the bishops in attendance were treated to the shade of umbrellas in the papal colors.... about your "Ultimate Vatican Souvenir."

Reuters/Max Rossi
PHOTO 2: AP/Pier Paolo Cito