03/14/2007, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: Ignatius of Antioch, the irrepressible desire of Christians for Unity

Benedict XVI dedicates the general audience to the figure of the martyr, “doctor of unity”. In his city of Antioch, Christ’s disciples were first called Christians and he was the first to refer to the Church as “Catholic”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A strong urge within the Church and believers, their “intense desire for union” was the central theme of today’s general audience, in which Benedict XVI reflected on the figure of St Ignatius, “Doctor of unity”. Following on from his example the Pope “beseeched the Lord for the grace of unity”.

 

The audience returned to St Peter’s Square, where a multitude of coloured caps marked the sunny spring day.  Over 30 thousand people were present applauding the Pope at great length as he made his way around the square to greet them before beginning his weekly address, on board his white open top car.  

 

Continuing his reflections on the lives of the figures of the early Church, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St Ignatius of Antioch.  The Pope noted that he was the third bishop of Antioch – the first bishop was Peter – from 70 to 107 the date of his martyrdom.

 

The was a flowering Christian Community in that great metropolis of the Empire, and it was there that the disciples were first called Christians. “While travelling to Rome to face martyrdom”, he wrote the seven letters to different Churches, in which “he defines Christian life as an imitation of the divine”. “In the towns where he stopped along the way he strengthened the Churches”, “urging believers to be on their guard against emerging heresies, to remain faithful to the apostolic tradition, and to maintain ecclesial harmony and co-operation”.

 

“St. Ignatius is called the ‘doctor of unity’” : “unity in God, unity in Christ, unity of the Church and unity among believers”, “Among the Fathers of the Church, Ignatius is renowned for his intense desire for union with Christ,”. He even expresses when pleading that his martyrdom “come quickly in order to be with Jesus.  Let me imitate the passion of my Lord”. “His intense desire for union with Christ, taught that unity is a prerogative of God, and so for Christians is an imitation of the divine”. But there is a vision of unity in the Church too, he insists on communion among believers and with their Bishops.  “Such harmony precludes any sense of opposition between ecclesial roles”.

 

Benedict XVI underlined how in the very language used by Ignatius terms linked to unity can be found: “the guitar cords, the unity of voices in a choir, the harmony of instruments”.  But there is also the concept of unity between communion and mission.

 

The Pope recalled that we also owe Ignatius respect for being the first to attribute the term “Catholic” that is “Universal” to the Church.  And he was also convinced that the Roman Christian Community “exercises a type of primacy in love and presides over charity”.

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