Bookmark and Share

The Apostolic Tradition

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI
St Peter's Square, Wednesday 3 May 2006 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these Catecheses we wish to understand a little more what the Church is. The last time we meditated on the theme of Apostolic Tradition. We saw that it is not a collection of things or words, like a box of dead things. Tradition is the river of new life that flows from the origins, from Christ down to us, and makes us participate in God's history with humanity. This topic of Tradition is so important that I would like to reflect upon it again today: indeed, it is of great importance for the life of the Church. The Second Vatican Council pointed out in this regard that Tradition is primarily apostolic in its origins: "God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the Most High God is summed up (cf. II Cor 1: 20; and 3: 16-4, 6), commanded the Apostles to preach the Gospel... and communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline" (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, n. 7). The Council noted further that this was faithfully done "by the Apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit" (ibid.). The Council adds that there were "other men associated with the Apostles, who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing" (ibid.).

As heads of the eschatological Israel, and likewise as Twelve, the number of the tribes of the Chosen People, the Apostles continued the "gathering" begun by the Lord and did so first and foremost by transmitting faithfully the gift received, the Good News of the Kingdom that came to people in Jesus Christ. Their number not only expresses continuity with the holy root, the Israel of the 12 tribes, but also the universal destination of their ministry, which brought salvation to the very ends of the earth. This can be understood from the symbolic value that the numbers have in the Semitic world: twelve results from the multiplication of three, a perfect number, and four, a number that refers to the four cardinal points, hence, to the whole world.

The community, born from the proclamation of the Gospel, recognizes that it was called by the words of those who were the first to experience the Lord and were sent out by him. It knows that it can count on the guidance of the Twelve, as well as that of those who were gradually associated with them as their successors in the ministry of the Word and in the service of communion. Consequently, the community feels committed to transmit to others the "Good News" of the actual presence of the Lord and of his Paschal Mystery, brought about in the Spirit. This is clearly highlighted and visible in certain passages of the Pauline Letters: "I delivered to you... what I also received" (I Cor 15: 3). And this is important. St Paul, it is well-known, originally called by Christ with a personal vocation, was a real Apostle, yet for him too, fidelity to what he received was fundamentally important. He did not want "to invent" a new, so-to-speak, "Pauline" Christianity. Therefore, he insisted, "I have passed on to you what I too received". He passed on the initial gift that comes from the Lord and the truth that saves. Then, towards the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy: "Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (II Tm 1: 14). It is also effectively demonstrated by this ancient testimony of the Christian faith written by Tertullian in about the year 200: "(The Apostles) after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea and founding Churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded Churches in every city, from which all the other Churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become Churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic Churches" (Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 20: PL 2, 32).

The Second Vatican Council comments: "What was handed on by the Apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes" (Dei Verbum, n. 8). The Church transmits all that she is and believes, she hands it down through worship, life and doctrine. So it is that Tradition is the living Gospel, proclaimed by the Apostles in its integrity on the basis of the fullness of their unique and unrepeatable experience: through their activity the faith is communicated to others, even down to us, until the end of the world. Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit who acts in the Church's history through the mediation of the Apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience of the origins. This is what St Clement of Rome said towards the end of the first century: "The Apostles", he wrote, "have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, was sent forth by God, and the Apostles by Christ. "Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God.... Our Apostles also knew, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the episcopal office. "For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry" (Ad Corinthios, 42, 44: PG 1, 292, 296).

This chain of service has continued until today; it will continue to the end of the world. Indeed, the mandate that Jesus conferred upon the Apostles was passed on by them to their successors. Going beyond the experience of personal contact with Christ, unique and unrepeatable, the Apostles passed on to their successors the solemn mandate that they had received from the Master to go out into the world. "Apostle" comes precisely from the Greek term, "apostéllein", which means "to send forth". The apostolic mandate - as the text of Matthew shows (Mt 28: 19ff.) - implies a service that is pastoral ("Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..."), liturgical ("baptizing them"), and prophetic ("teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"), guaranteed by the Lord's closeness, until the end of time ("and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age"). Thus, but differently from the Apostles, we too have a true, personal experience of the presence of the Risen Lord. Therefore, through the apostolic ministry it is Christ himself who reaches those who are called to the faith. The distance of the centuries is overcome and the Risen One offers himself alive and active for our sake, in the Church and in the world today. This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not 2,000 years away but is really present among us and gives us the Truth, he gives us the light that makes us live and find the way towards the future."


"J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins de langue française, particulièrement les pèlerins de la via Francigena, de Suisse, la Communauté de l’Arche, de Belgique, les pèlerins de Saint-Brieuc, avec leur Évêque Mgr Fruchaud, les séminaristes de Metz et de Lyon, les groupes de prière Padre Pio, et les jeunes des Centres Daniélou. Que le Temps pascal soit pour vous tous l’occasion de renouveler votre foi dans le Christ ressuscité et de vivre en authentiques témoins de sa présence! Que Dieu vous bénisse!

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Britain and Ireland, from Asia and from the United States of America. In this month of May I entrust you to the maternal protection of Our Blesséd Lady, Queen of Peace. Upon all of you I invoke the abundant blessings of our Risen Saviour.

Frohen Herzens grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Gäste. Heute heiße ich besonders die Pilger vom Bund katholischer Unternehmer und die Journalistengruppe aus Bayern willkommen. Euch alle ermuntere ich, Christi Wort und Beispiel in der Welt lebendig zu halten und Boten seines Friedens für alle Menschen zu werden. Die Freude des Heiligen Geistes begleite euch durch die Zeit. Euch allen einen schönen und gesegneten Aufenthalt hier in Rom!

Saludo cordialmente a los visitantes de lengua española, de modo particular a la Guardia Real del Rey de España, a la Orden Ecuestre del Santo Sepulcro, a los Abogados del Estado, a la promoción de Guardiamarinas y demás grupos españoles. Saludo también a los peregrinos de México, al grupo de Guatemala y a los demás visitantes latinoamericanos. Agradezcamos al Señor que a través de la Tradición apostólica ha llegado íntegro hasta nosotros el mensaje de la salvación. Muchas gracias por vuestra atención.

Amados irmãos e irmãs, Cristo mandou aos apóstolos que o Evangelho (...) eles o pregassem a todos, como fonte de toda a verdade salutar e de toda a regra moral, (cf. Cons. dogm. Dei Verbum,7). A comunidade, nascida pelo anúncio do Evangelho, se reconhece convocada pela palavra daqueles que foram por Ele enviados. A Tradição é, por isso, Evangelho vivo, história do Espírito que age no seio da Igreja. Peço a Deus que reforceis a fé na Tradição Apostólica e recomendo ao Todo Poderoso os peregrinos aqui presentes de Portugal, nomeadamente do Colégio de Nossa Senhora de Assunção de Anadia, e um grupo de visitantes do Brasil. A todos concedo, extensível aos vossos parentes e amigos, a minha Benção Apostólica.

Pozdrawiam serdecznie pielgrzymów z Polski tak licznie dziś zgromadzonych. Zarówno dla Kościoła w Polsce, jak i dla całego narodu jest to dzień szczególnie uroczysty. Kościół obchodzi uroczystość Matki Bożej Królowej Polski. W tym roku minęło 350 lat od nadania jej tego tytułu przez króla Jana Kazimierza. Równocześnie naród polski wspomina ustanowienie w 1791 roku Konstytucji Trzeciego Maja i związane z nią wielkie nadzieje na odnowę życia politycznego i społecznego. Pozdrawiam Episkopat Polski zgromadzony na Jasnej Górze i wszystkich wiernych. Polecając waszym modlitwom przygotowania do bliskiej już mojej pielgrzymki do Polski, z serca wam błogosławię. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Sveikinu maldininkus iš Lietuvos! Tegul jūsų apsilankymas Romoje, kur Apaštalai Petras ir Paulus, kankinyste paliudijo ištikimybę Dievui, padeda branginti tikėjimo dovaną ir mylėti Kristaus Bažnyčią. Iš širdies laiminu jus ir jūsų šeimas. Garbė Jėzui Kristui!

Pozdravljam romarje iz župnije Breginj ter iz drugih krajev Slovenije! Kot nekoč apostoli, tudi vi veselo in pogumno oznanjajte vstalega Kristusa. Iz srca vas blagoslavljam!

Isten hozott Benneteket, kedves magyar hívek, akik Szabadkáról érkeztetek! Szeretettel köszöntelek Benneteket. Május a Szűzanya hónapja. Kérjétek imáitokban az ő közbenjárását. Szívből adom Rátok apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

* * *

Cari fratelli e sorelle, Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana e in particolare a voi, cari fedeli di Chieti-Vasto, accompagnati dall’Arcivescovo Mons. Bruno Forte, col quale ho collaborato per molto tempo nella Commissione Teologica Internazionale. Il vostro patrono San Giustino, la cui artistica effige avete portato in pellegrinaggio a Roma, perché fosse da me benedetta, vi guidi con la forza del suo esempio ad una costante e incisiva testimonianza cristiana. Saluto inoltre voi, fedeli di Frattamaggiore, qui convenuti per ricordare il XVII centenario del martirio del patrono San Sossio, ed auspico che questa fausta ricorrenza aiuti la vostra comunità cristiana ad essere sempre più un luogo privilegiato di formazione spirituale. Saluto poi voi che partecipate al pellegrinaggio promosso dalle Suore Marcelline, in occasione della Beatificazione del fondatore Mons. Luigi Biraghi, e vi invito ad imitare il nuovo Beato nel rispondere con prontezza alla chiamata di Dio alla santità nelle ordinarie circostanze della vita di ogni giorno.

I would now like to address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. We have just begun the month of May, dedicated especially to the Virgin Mary, and I urge you, dear young people, to study every day at her school, to learn from her to do God's will. Contemplating the Mother of the Crucified Christ, dear sick people, may you be able to accept the saving value of every cross, even those that are the heaviest. Lastly, I entrust you, dear newly-weds, to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin, so that you may create in your families the atmosphere of prayer and love of the House of Nazareth."