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The Spirit: safeguard of the Apostolic bond

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 9 January 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In illustrating the action of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Body of Christ, we saw in previous catecheses that he is the font and principle of the Church's unity, holiness, and catholicity (universality). Today we can add that he is also the source and principle of the apostolicity which is the Church's fourth property and characteristic: " unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam ," as we profess in the creed. Through the Holy Spirit the Church is apostolic, which means that she is "built upon the foundation of the apostles," with Christ himself as the cornerstone, as St. Paul says (Eph 2:20). This is a very interesting point of ecclesiology viewed in the light of pneumatology (cf. Eph 2:22).

2. St. Thomas Aquinas highlights this in his catechesis on the Apostles' Creed when he writes: "The Church's main foundation is Christ, as St. Paul affirms in his First Letter to the Corinthians (3:11): 'No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ.' But there is a secondary foundation, that is, the apostles and their teaching. Therefore we speak of the apostolic Church" (In Symb. Apost., a. 9).

Besides attesting to the ancient concept—of St. Thomas and the medieval era—of the Church's apostolicity, Aquinas' text reminds us that the foundation of the Church is the relationship between Christ and the apostles. Such a relationship comes about in the Holy Spirit. This manifests the theological (and revealed) truth of an apostolicity whose beginning and source is the Holy Spirit. He is the author of the communion in the truth which binds the apostles to Christ and through their teaching, binds Christian generations and the Church in all the centuries of her history to him.

3. We have many times repeated Jesus' announcement to the apostles at the Last Supper: "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will instruct you in everything and remind you of all that I told you" (Jn 14:26). These words which Christ spoke before his passion find their complement in Luke's text in which we read that Jesus "having first instructed the apostles...through the Holy Spirit...was assumed into heaven" (Acts 1:2). The Apostle Paul, in turn, writing to Timothy while facing his own death, reminds him: "Guard the rich deposit of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us" (2 Tim 1:14). It is the Spirit of Pentecost, the Spirit who fills the apostles and the apostolic communities, the Spirit who guarantees the handing on of the faith in the Church from generation to generation, helping the apostles' successors to guard the "rich deposit," as Paul says, of the truth revealed by Christ.

4. In the Acts of the Apostles we read the account of an episode in which we clearly see this truth of the Church's apostolicity in its pneumatological dimension. The Apostle Paul, "compelled by the Spirit," (Acts 20:22), went to Jerusalem feeling and knowing that those he evangelized at Ephesus would never see him again (cf. Acts 20:25). Then he addressed the priests of the church in that city who had gathered around him, saying to them: "Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock the Holy Spirit has given you to guard. Shepherd the Church of God, which he has acquired at the price of his own blood" (Acts 20:28). "Bishops" means inspectors and leaders. They are placed to shepherd, therefore, while remaining on the basis of the apostolic truth which, according to Paul's premonition, will undergo distortion and threats from those who spread "false doctrine" (cf. Acts 20:30). Such will seek to cut the disciples off from the Gospel truth preached by the apostles. Paul urged the pastors to watch over their flock, but with the certainty that the Holy Spirit who had placed them there as "bishops" would assist them and sustain them. He himself would guide the successors of the apostles in the munus in the power and responsibility of guarding the truth which the apostles received from Christ. There is the certainty that it is the Holy Spirit who safeguards the truth for the People of God and their perseverance in it.

5. Besides the task of guarding the truth of Christ, the apostles and their successors have the duty of bearing witness to it, and they perform this task with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to the apostles before his ascension: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria and to the very ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). It is a vocation that binds the apostles to the mission of Christ himself, whom the Book of Revelation refers to as "the faithful witness" (Rev 1:5). In his prayer for the apostles, he said to the Father: "As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world also" (Jn 17:18). In his apparition on Easter evening, before breathing upon them the breath of the Holy Spirit, he said to them: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (Jn 20:21). However, the testimony of the apostles, those who continue Christ's mission, is bound up with the Holy Spirit who in turn bears witness to Christ: "The Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, will bear witness to me, and you too will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning" (Jn 15:26-27). These words of Jesus from the Last Supper are echoed in his words to the apostles before the ascension. In the light of the eternal plan of Christ's death and resurrection, he said that "in his name penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all the nations.... You are witnesses of this. I send down upon you the promise of my Father" (Lk 24:48-49). And in a definitive manner he announced: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you; then you are to be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). It is the promise of Pentecost, not only in a historical sense, but also in the inner, divine dimension of the witness of the apostles and therefore, we can say, of the Church's apostolicity.

6. The apostles were aware of this association with the Holy Spirit in "bearing witness" to Christ crucified and risen. We can clearly see this in the response which Peter and his companions gave to the Sanhedrin which sought to silence them and prevent them from speaking about Christ: "The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus whom you put to death, hanging him on a tree. He whom God has exalted at his right hand as ruler and savior is to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. We testify to this. So too does the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:30-32). The Church, too, throughout the development of her history, has had the awareness that the Holy Spirit is with her in bearing witness to Christ. The Church is aware of the limitations and fragility of her people. With dedication in the search and vigilance which Paul recommended to the "bishops" in his farewell at Miletus, the Church knows that the Holy Spirit guards her and defends her from error in bearing witness to her Lord and in the doctrine which she has received from him to announce to the world. As the Second Vatican Council says: "This infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of divine revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded" (LG 25). The conciliar text clarifies in what way this infallibility extends to the entire college of bishops and particularly to the bishop of Rome, in that they are successors of the apostles and persevere in the truth inherited from them by virtue of the Holy Spirit.

7. The Holy Spirit is therefore the life-giving principle of this apostolicity. Thanks to him the Church can spread throughout the world, throughout the various epochs of history, becoming implanted in diverse cultures and civilizations, but always preserving her own Gospel identity. As we read in the Decree Ad Gentes of the same Council: "Christ sent from the Father his Holy Spirit, who was to carry on inwardly his saving work and prompt the Church to spread out. The Lord Jesus, before freely giving his life for the world, did so arrange the apostles' ministry and promise to send the Holy Spirit that both they and the Spirit might be associated in effecting the work of salvation always and everywhere. Throughout all ages, the Holy Spirit...equips her with various gifts of a hierarchical and charismatic nature, giving life, soul-like, to ecclesiastical institutions and instilling into the hearts of the faithful the same mission spirit which impelled Christ himself..." (AG 4). And the Constitution Lumen Gentium underlines that "the divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world, (cf. Mt 28:20), since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church" (LG 20).

In the next catechesis we shall see that the Holy Spirit intervenes in this Gospel mission, giving the Church a heavenly guarantee.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue avec joie les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. Je souhaite que leur visite à Rome les encourage à prendre une part toujours plus active à la vie de l’Eglise, dans le renouvellement de la grâce du baptême.

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I wish to welcome all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, including those from Korea. My special greeting also goes to the group of Palestinian children who are on pilgrimage to Rome. Dear young friends: It is in Jesus Christ, whose birth we are celebrating, that God shows the true path to the peace and joy that no one can take from us. Whatever trials you may experience, I pray that like Christ the Prince of Peace you will always seek to overcome evil with good. To you and your families, and to all present at today’s audience, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Ich grüße alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Con gran afecto saludo ahora a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos Países de América Latina y de Espańa, a quienes reitero mis mejores deseos de paz y felicidad cristiana en el ańo que estamos comenzando, mientras les imparto, en prenda de la constante asistencia divina, la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Saúdo afectuosamente os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, desejando a todos uma abundância de graças nos caminhos da sua vida e concedo de muito bom grado a minha Bęnção Apostólica.

Ai connazionali provenienti dalla Polonia

Pani Jasnogórska! Stajemy dziś przed Tobą w blasku Świętej Epifanii. Ogarnia ona całą tajemnicę Wcielenia, noc betlejemską, pokłon pasterzy, przybycie mędrców ze Wschodu - a także ucieczkę do Egiptu i życie ukryte Jezusa w Nazarecie aż po chrzest w Jordanie. Nasi bracia na Wschodzie nade wszystko uwydatniają właśnie Jordan, chrzest i mesjańską “inwestyturę” Jezusa z Nazaretu.

Epifania to tyle co objawienie: w Jezusie z Nazaretu stała się “jawną” niezgłębiona tajemnica Boga. A zarazem człowiek mógł się przekonać, że ma w tej tajemnicy swoje miejsce, że jest w nią odwiecznie wpisany. Dlatego też Sobór Watykański II uczy, że “tajemnica człowieka wyjaśnia się naprawdę dopiero w tajemnicy Słowa Wcielonego.  . . . Chrystus, nowy Adam, już w samym objawieniu tajemnicy Ojca i Jego miłości objawia w pełni człowieka samemu człowiekowi i okazuje mu najwyższe jego powołanie”.

Stajemy przeto wobec Ciebie, Pani Jasnogórska, Bogarodzico Dziewico naszych dziejów, z całą prawdą o człowieku, którą te dzieje niosą w sobie od tysiąca lat - podobnie jak dzieje tylu ludów i narodów na całej ziemi. Epifania człowieka w Chrystusie ma wymiar uniwersalny. Pragniemy uczestniczyć w uniwersalnym powołaniu człowieka na miarę naszej tradycji, naszej historycznej tożsamości oraz współczesnego wyzwania dziejów Europy i świata.

Wobec tej pełni prawdy o człowieku, jaka odsłania się przez Chrystusa, Kościół raz jeszcze potwierdza istotne swe posłannictwo wobec narodu i państwa. Jeśli bowiem “z racji swego zadania i kompetencji Kościół w żaden sposób nie utożsamia się ze wspólnotą polityczną ani nie wiąże się z żadnym politycznym systemem, to zarazem - w każdym systemie - jest i pozostaje znakiem i zabezpieczeniem transcendentnego charakteru ludzkiej osoby”.

Kościół na ziemi polskiej prosi, aby tak rozumiano jego posłannictwo i jego wkład w całe milenijne dzieje narodu, a w szczególności w ostatnie pięćdziesięciolecie. A równocześnie Kościół prosi Ciebie, Pani Jasnogórska, aby tak rozumiano jego posłannictwo i wkład w ten nowy okres, u progów którego stoi całe nasze społeczeństwo.

Z dawna Polski Tyś Królową . . . weź w opiekę naród cały . . . niech rozwija się.

Pozdrawiam wszystkich przybyszów zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji, w szczególności pielgrzymkę polonijną z Algierii.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Nel salutare tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, rivolgo il mio augurio anzitutto ai Capitolari della Congregazione della Divina Redenzione; una comunità giovane, ma già presente con i suoi membri in Italia, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, India.

Carissimi, auspico che codesto Capitolo generale sia un’occasione preziosa per l’ulteriore sviluppo della vostra Famiglia religiosa. Prego il Signore perché illumini i Padri Capitolari nel tracciare le linee del futuro impegno della Congregazione; ringiovanisca la loro generosa dedizione a Cristo nello spirito dei consigli evangelici; confermi il loro fervore missionario e il desiderio di operare incessantemente per la diffusione della Parola di Cristo.

Saluto anche con riconoscenza e stima la Direzione, gli Artisti ed il personale del Circo “Medrano”, attualmente a Roma per un ciclo di manifestazioni ricreative, volentieri invoco la continua protezione divina sulle famiglie che compongono la comunità del Circo e sulla loro testimonianza cristiana.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora il mio saluto ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Carissimi, la festa dell’Epifania continua a illuminare il cammino di tutti i credenti.

Offriamo anche noi “oro, incenso e mirra” al Signore nella vita di ogni giorno. “La tua buona volontà - afferma sant’Agostino -, la disponibilità, la gioia secondo l’uomo interiore, l’obbedienza al tuo Signore, la preghiera per il tuo nemico, tutto questo è oro”.

Dico a voi, giovani: impegnatevi ad essere “epifania” del Redentore, lasciandovi orientare dalla sua luce e dal suo amore.

Dico a voi, ammalati: sappiate trovare nell’amicizia di Cristo il conforto e lo stimolo per accettare la vostra particolare condizione di vita.

Dico a voi, sposi novelli: costruite la vostra comunità familiare sull’amore e sul servizio, sulla preghiera e sulla reciproca dedizione. “Tutto questo è oro”.

A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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