The Bishop of Rome sits on his chair to give testimony of Christ. Thus the chair is the symbol of the “potestas docendi,” that teaching authority that is an essential part of the mandate to bind and to loose conferred by the Lord to Peter and, after him, to the twelve. In the Church, Sacred Scripture, whose comprehension grows under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of authentic interpretation, conferred to the apostles, belong mutually to one another in an indissoluble way.
Whenever Sacred Scripture is removed from the living voice of the Church, it becomes a victim of the experts’ disputes. Certainly all that the latter can tell us is important and precious; the work of the learned is of notable help to us to be able to understand the living process with which Scripture grew and thus understand its historical richness. But science on its own cannot offer us a definitive and binding interpretation; it is not able to give us, in the interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and also for which we can die. For this, the living voice of the Church is needed, of that Church entrusted to Peter and the college of apostles until the end of times.
This teaching authority frightens many men within and outside the Church. They wonder if it is not a threat to freedom of conscience, if it is not a presumption that is opposed to freedom of thought. It is not so. The power conferred by Christ on Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The teaching authority, in the Church, entails a commitment to service of the obedience of the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch, whose thought and will are law. On the contrary, the Pope’s ministry is guarantee of obedience to Christ and his word. The Pope must not proclaim his own ideas, but bind himself constantly and bind the Church to obedience to the Word of God, in face of attempts to adapt and water down, in face, as well, of all opportunism.
Pope John Paul II did so, when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he emphasized in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life from its conception until natural death. The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery. In his important decisions, the Pope is conscious of being linked to the great community of faith of all times, to binding interpretations developed through the Church’s journey of pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not above all, but at the service of the Word of God, and on him weighs the responsibility to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its grandeur and resonating in its purity, so that it will not be shattered with the constant changes of fashion.
The chair is — let us say it once again — symbol of the teaching authority, which is an authority of obedience and service, so that the Word of God — his truth! — may shine among us, indicating the way to us. However, when speaking of the chair of the Bishop of Rome, how can one not recall the words that St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Romans? Peter, coming from Antioch, his first see, went to Rome, his definitive see; a see that became definitive with the martyrdom that joined forever his succession with Rome as that “which presides in love,” an extremely significant expression.
We do not know with certainty what Ignatius really wished to say when using these words. But for the early Church, the word love, “agape,” made reference to the mystery of the Eucharist. In this mystery, the love of Christ is always made tangible among us. Here, he always gives himself again. Here, he always lets his heart be pierced again. Here, he keeps his promise, the promise according to which, from the Cross, he would attract all men to himself. In the Eucharist, we ourselves learn the love of Christ.
Thanks to this center and heart, thanks to the Eucharist, the saints have lived, bringing the love of God to the world in ever new forms and ways. Thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is always reborn. The Church is no more than that network — the Eucharistic community! — in which all of us, by receiving the same Lord, become only one body and embrace the whole world. To preside in doctrine and love, in the end, must be only one thing: all the doctrine of the Church, in the end, leads to love. And the Eucharist, as the present love of Jesus Christ, is the criterion of all doctrine. On love depend all the law and the prophets, says the Lord (Matthew 22:40). Love is the fulfillment of the law, wrote St. Paul to the Romans (13:10).
Dear Romans, now I am your bishop. Thank you for your generosity, thank you for your affection, thank you for your patience! As Catholics, in a certain sense, we are all Romans. With the words of Psalm 87, a hymn of praise to Zion, Mother of all peoples, Israel sang and the Church sings: “But of Zion it must be said: ‘They all were born here.'” (Psalm 87:5). In the same way, we might also say: as Catholics, in a certain sense, we have all been born in Rome. So, I want to try to be, with all my heart, your bishop, the Bishop of Rome. And all of us want to try to be ever more Catholics, more brothers and sisters in the great family of God, that family in which there are no strangers.
Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the vicar for the diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, as well as to the auxiliary bishops and all their collaborators. My heartfelt thanks to the parish priests, the clergy of Rome, and all those who, as faithful, offer their contribution to build here the living house of God. Amen.
VATICAN CITY, MAY 10, 2005 – This is part 2 of a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Saturday when taking possession of the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.