» 10/01/2008, 00.00
Christian freedom neither licentiousness nor whim, but conformance to Christ, says Pope
As he continues to talk about Saint Paul, Benedict XVI refers to the Council of Jerusalem and the so-called incident of Antioch. Paul’s “Gospel of freedom” is illustrated; “only dialogue can lead onto the path of the Church.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Christian freedom “never corresponds to licentiousness or the whim to do whatever one wants. It conforms to Christ, and so is authentic service to one’s brothers, especially the neediest.” This is the teaching that Saint Paul draws from the Council of Jerusalem which Benedict XVI proposed again to the 20,000 faithful in St Peter’s Square in today’s general audience, for as was the case between Peter and Paul, “only an open and sincere dialogue can lead onto the path of the Church.”
Back in the Vatican after his summer break in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope went on to talk about the Apostle of the Nations devoting his reflections to him in the last few Wednesday audiences. Today he focused on two episodes that show Paul’s respect for the Twelve Apostles, and his inner freedom.
The first episode is the so-called Council of Jerusalem which took place around 50 AD. “The assembly took place at a time of major tensions within the original community.” The debate was especially heated “over the issue of whether Pagans who joined the faith had to be circumcised or were instead exempt from the Law of Moses; closely related to this were dietary rules of purity and impurity and the Sabbath.”
Against those who saw justice in the respect of the law, Paul offered “his Gospel of freedom from the law after the encounter with the Risen Christ.”
As he wrote in the Letter to the Galatians “in the Gospel of freedom Christ is justice” for “he is fully expressed in serving his brothers.”
The Council of Jerusalem “expressed the action of the Holy Spirit,” which for Paul “is the decisive recognition that freedom is shared by all those who took part in it, which is the freedom Christ gave us” in order that “we not let the yoke the slavery be imposed upon us. [. . .] Paul had come to realise that the grace of Christ had released the Gentiles from the rules of the Law of Moses.”
The other episode the Pope mentioned was the “Cyrene incident” in Turkey, involving a dispute of whether “Jews and Pagans could eat at the same table.” This was “another crucial component of the Law of Moses that separated practicing Jews from Pagans over the issue of dietary purity and impurity.”
“Initially Peter shared the table with either group but when guests arrived James began avoiding the table of non-Jews and began telling Paul that ‘you who are Jews live with Pagans”. But for Paul “separation from Pagans is a reason to divide. [. . .] If justice is done in accordance with Christ what sense is there in these rules?”
For Peter what mattered was “not losing Jews who had joined Christianity, for Paul it was not belittling the salvific value of Christ’s death for all believers.”
The incident in Antioch taught “a lesson to both Peter and Paul,” which is “only an open and sincere dialogue can lead onto the Church’s path.”
“The kingdom of God is not about food, but about justice and peace,” said the Pope. “The lesson that we too must learn is to let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, trying to live in freedom, whose guidance becomes real in service.”
“Conforming more to Christ is essential so that we can be truly free. This way true certainty and the deep essence of the law can grow in us, which is the love of God and our fellow man.”
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