VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2007 (VIS) - In his general audience today Benedict XVI resumed his series of catecheses on leading figures of the early Church, turning his attention to Tertullian, the first great Christian author to write in Latin who was born in Carthage around the year 150. The audience was held in St. Peter's Square in the presence of 32,000 faithful.

The work of this North African writer, said the Pope, "yielded vital fruits that it would be inexcusable to undervalue." His influence extended "from language and the recovery of classical culture to the identification of a shared 'Christian soul' in the world and the formulation of new prospects for human coexistence."

Tertullian "converted to Christianity attracted, it seems, by the example of the martyrs. ... However, an overly individual search for the truth as well as the intemperance of his character gradually led him to abandon communion with the Church."

In his apologetic writings Tertullian set himself two objectives: "confuting the terrible accusations made by pagans against the new religion and, in a more constructive and missionary sense, communicating the Gospel message in dialogue with the culture of his time."

Tertullian also "made a significant contribution to the development of Trinitarian dogma," said the Pope. "Using Latin he gave us a language appropriate for expressing this great mystery, introducing the terms 'one substance' and 'three Persons'."

"No less important," the Pope added, "is Tertullian's Christology," as well as his writings "on the Holy Spirit, ... on the Church (which he always recognizes as mother), ... on the moral conduct of Christians and on the life to come, ... on Mary, ... on the Sacraments, ... on the Petrine primacy and on prayer."

Pope Benedict went on: "In particular this apologist exhorted Christians to hope, which according to his writings is not just a virtue in itself but something that invests every aspect of Christian life. Thus the resurrection of the Lord is presented as the foundation for our own future resurrection and represents the principal object of Christians' expectations."

Benedict XVI then went on to consider the "drama" of Tertullian's life. "With the passing of the years he became ever more demanding towards Christians expecting them to behave heroically in all circumstances and especially during persecution."

Commenting on the writer's eventual break with the Church, the Pope said: "I often think of this great moral and intellectual figure, this man who made such a great contribution to Christian thought. It is clear that in the end he lacked the simplicity and humility to be part of the Church, to accept her weaknesses. When one sees only one's own ideas, in all their greatness, in the end it is precisely this greatness that is lost. The essential characteristic of great theologians is the humility to remain with the Church, to accept her weaknesses and their own, because only God is truly holy. We, on the other hand, always have need of forgiveness."

Nonetheless Tertullian "remains an interesting witness of the early Church, when Christians found themselves as the real protagonists of 'new culture' in the encounter between classical heritage and the evangelical message." His work "evokes the perennial continuity between authentic human values and Christian values." Another important affirmation of Tertullian is that "Christians cannot hate even their own enemies" from which arises the "ineluctable moral consequence" that non violence is "a rule of life. And the dramatic pertinence of this teaching," the Pope concluded, "is also evident in the light of the animated debate over religions."

At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims from Spain, Mexico and Chile, particularly the Association of Knights and Dames of Our Lady of Guadalupe, accompanied by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, archbishop of Toledo, and faithful and bishops from dioceses in the Spanish region of Extremadura, who have come to Rome to mark the first centenary of the declaration of Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of Extremadura.

"May the image of the Most Holy Virgin that you bring to Rome today," said Benedict XVI, "continue to accompany your jubilee celebrations and bless all of that Spanish region which had such an active role in the evangelization of America."

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