Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Into the streets & universities- transforming our world like the mendicants did to the 13th century.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his general audience this morning, reflected on how the Dominicans and Franciscans brought a transforming example of gospel lifestyle to the intellectual hubs of 13th century society. He had some advice for us 21st century disciples also:

"Today too, though we live in a society in which 'having' often prevails over 'being', we are still receptive to examples of poverty and solidarity", Pope Benedict observed, and he recalled how Paul VI had affirmed that "the world is willing to listen to teachers when they are also witnesses. There is a lesson that must never be forgotten in the work of spreading the Gospel: we must ourselves live what we announce, be mirrors of divine charity".

The mendicant orders responded to the widespread need for religious instruction felt at the time, preaching and "dealing with topics close to people's lives, especially the practice of the theological and moral virtues, using concrete and easily understood arguments".

Because of the importance of the mendicant orders, lay institutions such as the guilds and civil authorities often consulted them. Thus Franciscans and Dominicans became "the spiritual animators of mediaeval cities, ... putting into effect a pastoral strategy that was adapted to the transformations of society".

At a time in which the cities were expanding they built their monasteries in urban areas and travelled from place to place "abandoning the principle of stability which had characterised monastic life for many centuries". To this end they adopted a new form of organisation, "giving greater importance to the order per se and to the superior general" as opposed to the autonomy which individual monasteries had enjoyed until then. "Thus they were better prepared to meet the needs of the universal Church".

Another great challenge of the age were the "cultural transformations", which gave rise to lively debate in universities. The friars did not hesitate "to enter the universities themselves, as students and teachers, erecting study centres" of their own "and profoundly influencing the development of thought".

The Holy Father concluded:
"Today too there is a 'charity of and in truth', an 'intellectual charity' that must be brought into play in order to illuminate minds and associate faith with culture. The commitment shown by Franciscans and Dominicans in mediaeval universities is an invitation to us to remain present in the places where knowledge is produced in order to throw the light of the Gospel, with respect and with conviction, on the fundamental questions that concern man, his divinity and his eternal destiny".

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