the quest for peace
At the General Audience
on Wednesday, 14 October , in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father
commented on Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, an outstanding
churchman of the early 12th century. The following is a translation of
the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Peter the Venerable who I
would like to present at today's Catechesis takes us back to the famous
Abbey of Cluny, to its decor (decorum) and nitor (clarity)
to use terms that recur in the Cluny
a decorum and splendour that were admired especially in the beauty of
the liturgy, a privileged way for reaching God.
Even more than these
aspects, however, Peter's personality recalls the holiness of the great
abbots of Cluny: in Cluny "there was not a single abbot who was not a
saint", Pope Gregory VII said in 1080. These holy men include Peter the
Venerable who possessed more or less all the virtues of his predecessors
although, under him, in comparison with the new Orders such as Cîteaux,
Cluny began to feel some symptoms of crisis.
Peter is a wonderful
example of an ascetic strict with himself and understanding of others.
He was born in about 1094 in the French region of Auvergne, he entered
the Monastery of Sauxillanges as a child and became a monk there and
then prior. In 1122 he was elected Abbot of Cluny and remained in this
office until he died, on Christmas day 1156, as he had wished.
"A lover of peace", his
biographer Rudolph wrote, "he obtained peace in the glory of God on the
day of peace" (Vita, 1, 17; PL 189, 28).
All who knew him praised
his refined meekness, his serene equilibrium, rectitude, loyalty,
reasonableness and his special approach to mediation.
"It is in my nature" he
wrote, "to be particularly inclined to indulgence; I am urged to this by
my habit of forgiveness. I am accustomed to toleration and forgiveness"
(Ep. 192, in: The Letters of Peter the Venerable, Harvard
University Press, 1967, p. 446).
He said further: "With
those who hate peace let us always seek to be peacemakers" (Ep.
100, loc. cit., p. 261).
And he wrote of himself: "I
am not the type who is discontented with his lot... whose mind is always
tormented by anxiety or doubt and who complains that everyone else is
resting while they are the only ones working" (Ep. 182, p. 425).
With a sensitive and
affectionate nature, he could combine love for the Lord with tenderness
to his family members, especially his mother, and to his friends. He
cultivated friendship, especially with his monks who used to confide in
him, certain that they would be heard and understood.
According to his
biographer's testimony: "he did not look down on anyone and never turned
anyone away" (Vita, 3: PL 189, 19); "he appeared
friendly to all; in his innate goodness he was open to all" (ibid.,
1,1: PL. 189, 17).
We could say that this holy
Abbot also sets an example to the monks and Christians of our day,
marked by a frenetic pace, when episodes of intolerance,
incommunicability, division and conflict are common. His testimony
invites us to be able to combine love of God with love of neighbour and
not to tire of building relations of brotherhood and reconciliation.
Effectively Peter the
Venerable acted in this way. He found himself in charge of the Monastery
of Cluny in years that were far from tranquil for various reasons, both
within the Abbey and outside it, and managed to be at the same time both
strict and profoundly human.
He used to say: "One may
obtain more from a man by tolerating him than by irritating
him with reproach" (Ep. 172, loc. cit., p. 409).
By virtue of his office he
had to undertake frequent journeys to Italy, England, Germany and Spain.
He found it hard to be wrenched from the quiet of contemplation. He
confessed: "I go from one place to the next, I hurry, I am anxious, I am
tormented, dragged here and there: my mind now on my own affairs and now
on those of others, not without great mental agitation" (Ep. 91,
loc. cit., p. 233).
Although he was obliged to
navigate between the powers and nobles who surrounded Cluny, he
succeeded in preserving his habitual calm, thanks to his sense of
measure, magnanimity and realism.
Among the important figures
with whom he came into contact was Bernard of Clairvaux with whom he
maintained a relationship of increasing friendship, despite the
differences of their temperaments and approaches. Bernard described him
as: "an important man, occupied with important affairs" and held him in
high esteem (Ep. 147, ed.
Scriptorium Claravallense, Milan 1986, VI/1, pp. 658-660), while
Peter the Venerable described Bernard as a "lamp of the Church" (Ep
164, p. 396), and a "strong and splendid pillar of the monastic order
and of the whole Church" (Ep. 175, p. 418).
With a lively sense of
Church, Peter the Venerable affirmed that the vicissitudes of the
Christian people must be felt in the "depths of the heart" by those who
will be numbered "among the members of Christ's Body" (Ep. 164,
ibid., p. 397). And he added: "those who do not smart from
the wounds of Christ's body are not nourished by the Spirit of Christ",
wherever they may be produced (ibid.).
In addition, he also showed
care and concern for people outside the Church, in particular Jews and
Muslims: to increase knowledge of the latter he provided for the
translation of the Qur'an.
A historian recently
remarked on this subject: "In the midst of the intransigence of medieval
people, even the greatest among them, we admire here a sublime example
of the sensitivity to which Christian charity leads" (J. Leclercq,
Pietro il Venerabile, Jaca Book, 1991, p. 189).
Other aspects of Christian
life dear to him were love for the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin
Mary. On the Blessed Sacrament he has left passages that constitute "one
of the masterpieces of Eucharistic literature of all time" (ibid.,
p. 267) and on the Mother of God he wrote illuminating reflections,
contemplating her ever closely related to Jesus the Redeemer and his
work of salvation.
It suffices to present his
inspired prayer: "Hail, Blessed Virgin, who put execration to flight.
Hail, Mother of the Most High, Bride of the meekest Lamb. You have
defeated the serpent, you crushed its head, when the God you bore
destroyed it.... Shining Star of the East who dispelled the shadows of
the west. Dawn who precedes the sun, day that knows no night.... Pray
God who was born of you to dissolve our sin and, after pardoning it, to
grant us his grace and his glory" (Carmina, PL 189,
Peter the Venerable also
had a predilection for literary activity and a gift for it. He noted his
reflections, persuaded of the importance of using the pen as if it were
a plough, "to scatter the seed of the Word on paper" (Ep. 20, p.
Although he was not a
systematic theologian, he was a great investigator of God's mystery. His
theology is rooted in prayer, especially in liturgical prayer, and among
the mysteries of Christ he preferred the Transfiguration which
prefigures the Resurrection. It was Peter himself who introduced this
feast at Cluny, composing a special office for it that mirrors the
characteristic theological devotion of Peter and of the Cluniac Order,
which was focused entirely on contemplation of the glorious Face (gloriosa
facies) of Christ, finding in it the reasons for that ardent
joy which marked his spirit and shone out in the monastery's liturgy.
Dear brothers and sisters,
this holy monk is certainly a great example of monastic holiness,
nourished from the sources of the Benedictine tradition. For him, the
ideal of the monk consists in "adhering tenaciously to Christ" (Ep.
53, loc. cit., p. 161), in a cloistered life
distinguished by "monastic humility" (ibid.) and hard work
(Ep. 77, loc. cit., p. 211) as well as
an atmosphere of silent contemplation and constant praise of God. The
first and most important occupation of the monk, according to Peter of
Cluny, is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office — "a heavenly
action and the most useful of all" (Statutes, I, 1026) —
to be accompanied by reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance
observed with discretion (cf. Ep. 20, loc. cit., p.
In this way the whole of
life is pervaded by profound love of God and love of others, a love that
is expressed in sincere openness to neighbour, in forgiveness and in the
quest for peace.
We might say, to conclude,
that if this lifestyle, combined with daily work, was the monk's ideal
for St Benedict, it also concerns all of us and can be to a large extent
the lifestyle of the Christian who wants to become an authentic disciple
of Christ, characterized precisely by tenacious adherence to him and by
humility, diligence and the capacity for forgiveness and peace.