In this morning's general audience, the Pope continued with his series of catechesis on the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church in the Middle Ages, turning his attention today to St. Theodore the Studite.
Addressing more than 15,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Pope explained how St. Theodore was born in the year 759 "to a noble and religious family". At the age of twenty-two he embraced the monastic life in the monastery of Sakkudion but, because of his opposition to the adulterous marriage of the emperor Constantine VI, was exiled to Thessalonika in 796. He was able to return to Sakkudion the following year thanks to the intervention of the empress Irene, who also encouraged the saint to move to the monastery of Studios in order to evade the incursions of the Saracens.
St. Theodore "became the head of the resistance against the iconoclast emperor Leo V the Armenian". This again led "to his being exiled in various places in Asia Minor. Finally he was allowed to return to Constantinople, but not to his monastery". He died in the year 826. "Theodore stands out in Church history as one of the great reformers of monastic life", said Pope Benedict, "and, alongside Patriarch St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, as a defender of sacred images during the second stage of iconoclasm".
The saint also emphasised "the necessity for order and submission on the part of his monks ... so that the monastery could go back to being a truly organic community, a real family or, as he said, a true 'Body of Christ'". This was because persecutions had forced the monks to disband. The Holy Father went on: "One of Theodore's basic convictions was that monks, more than others, have a commitment to observe Christian duties with greater rigour and intensity in order to offer a sign, an indication, to all Christians. This is why they make a special profession, ... almost a 'new Baptism'".
"The commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience", said the Pope, "distinguishes monks from those who live in the world". Yet personal poverty, "an essential element of monasticism, also shows the rest of us a way to follow. The renunciation of private property, freedom from material things, sobriety and simplicity have radical validity only for monks, but the spirit of such renunciation is the same for everyone. We must not depend upon material things, we must learn renunciation, simplicity, austerity and sobriety. Only in this way can a united society develop and the great problem of poverty in this world be overcome".
"The main forms of renunciation are those imposed by obedience", which St. Theodore "describes as the 'martyrdom of submission'". In this context the Holy Father noted how "the social fabric cannot function if each exclusively follows his or her own path. ... Legality - in other words, submission and obedience to the rules of the common life and the common good - is the only thing that can heal a society, and ego itself, from the pride of being at the centre of the world".
"For Theodore the Studite, one important virtue - equal to the virtues of obedience and humility - was 'philergia', that is, love for work. ... He did not, then, allow monks, under the pretext of prayer or contemplation, to dispense themselves from work, which is in fact the means to discover God".
Benedict XVI also highlighted how St. Theodore was "the spiritual father of his monks", always ready "to listen to the confidences of everyone. He also gave spiritual advice to many people outside the monastery". Theodore's Rule, "known by the name of 'Hypotyposis'", was codified shortly after his death and "adopted with a few modifications on Mount Athos, ... It remains", noted the Pope, "highly relevant".
The Holy Father concluded by warning of the "numerous perils that today threaten the unity of the shared faith and push us towards a dangerous kind of spiritual individualism. It is necessary to work to defend and develop the perfect unity of the Body of Christ, a unity in which the peace of order and sincere personal relationships in the Spirit can come together harmoniously".