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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


VATICAN CITY, NOV 21, 2007 (VIS) - At his general audience this morning Benedict XVI turned his attention to Aphraates, known as "the Sage," an important Christian figure from 4th century Syria. The audience, held in St. Peter's Square, was attended by around 15,000 people.

  The Pope explained how Christian communities in Syria at that time were essentially part of "the Semitic world from which the Bible itself emerged," an expression of a form of Christianity "with theological formulations that had not yet come into contact with different cultural trends but lived off its own forms of thought. These were Churches," he continued, "in which asceticism, under various forms of hermitic life, ... played an important role."

  "Aphraates was from an ecclesial community located on the frontier between Judaism and Christianity" that was "strongly linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem and ... sought to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition of which it felt itself to be a product."

  The Holy Father noted the significance of the fact that "Aphraates defined himself as a 'disciple of Sacred Scripture,' ... which he considered to be his only source of inspiration." In his works "he often presents the salvation achieved by Christ as healing and, hence, Christ Himself as doctor. Sin on the other hand is seen as a wound which only penance can heal." Another important aspect of his writings is "his teaching on prayer and in particular on Christ as master of prayer."

  For Aphraates, "Christian life is focussed on the imitation of Christ," and he considered "humility to be one of the most appropriate virtues for the disciple of Christ" because "man's nature is humble and it is God who exalts it with His own glory. ... By remaining humble, even in their earthly surroundings, Christians may establish a relationship with the Lord."

  His vision of human beings and their corporeal reality, said the Pope, "is very positive: the human body ... is called to beauty, to joy and to light." And it is faith that "enables sincere charity, expressed in love for God and for others."

  Another key concept in Aphraates' thought is that of fasting, which the Syrian "Sage" understood "in its widest sense: ... abstention from food as a practice necessary in order to be charitable, ... abstention from vain or abhorrent words, abstention from anger and from the ownership of goods."

  Benedict XVI concluded by returning to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. "Prayer is achieved," he said, "when Christ dwells in the heart of Christians, inviting them to a coherent commitment of charity towards their fellows."
AG/APHRAATES/...                            VIS 20071121 (440)

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