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Bishops need humility, Pope says June 04, 2008

Bishops must always be humble, Pope Benedict XVI told his weekly public audience on June 4.

Speaking to a large crowd in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father continued his remarks on the legacy of St. Gregory the Great. When St. Gregory assumed the papacy at the close of the 6th century, he did so with some reluctance, Pope Benedict recalled, because Gregory had wanted to continue his simple life as a monk.

The Pontiff now known as "Gregory the Great" did live very simply, the Pope noted; he preferred the title servus servorum Dei, "servant of the servants of God." Pope Gregory, the Holy Father said, was "inspired by the humility of God Who in Christ became our servant." His pontificate bore witness to the advice he gave to other prelates, "that a bishop must imitate such humility."

In his preaching and teaching, Pope Benedict observed, St. Gregory showed the same sort of humility. In his many written works he "never displays any concern with outlining a doctrine of his own. Rather, he seeks to echo the Church's traditional teaching on the path to follow to reach God."

The Pope called special attention to St. Gregory's approach to the Scriptures. From the Bible, St. Gregory taught, "Christians must not draw theoretical knowledge so much as daily nourishment for their souls." To that end, they must read the Bible with a sense of reverence and wonder, avoiding temptations to pride at esoteric learning. "Intellectual humility is the primary rule for people seeking to penetrate supernatural truth on the basis of the Holy Books."

In his "Pastoral Rule," St. Gregory sketched a portrait of an ideal bishop, who would be an effective preacher, teacher, and example to his flock. Pope Benedict said that his predecessor realized how "pastors have to recognize their own poverty, so that pride does not make the good achieved ineffective in the eyes of the supreme Judge."

In an observation that has implications for current ecumenical work, Pope Benedict observed that St. Gregory carefully maintained close relationships with the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, "constantly concerned with recognizing and respecting their rights, avoiding any form of interference that could limit their legitimate autonomy." It is true, Pope Benedict said, that St. Gregory opposed the use of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" in reference to the Patriarch of Constantinople. But the Pope added, "he did so because he was concerned for the fraternal unity of the universal Church and, above all, because he was profoundly convinced that humility was the fundamental virtue for all bishops."

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