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The Church in the Old Testament

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 7 August 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The revelation of God's eternal plan for the universal community of men, who have been called in Christ to be his adopted children, had its beginnings in the Old Testament, the first phase of the divine word to the human race and the first part of Sacred Scripture for us Christians. For this reason, catechesis on the historical genesis of the Church should first of all search in the sacred books which we have in common with ancient Israel for the foreshadowings of the future People of God. Vatican II shows us the path to follow when it says that the Holy Church, in which the Father determined to call together those who should believe in Christ, was "prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the old covenant" (LG 2). In this catechesis we shall see how the Father's eternal plan is recognized especially as the revelation of a future kingdom of God, which will come to pass in the messianic and eschatological phase of the economy of salvation.

2. "The Lord must rule over you," we read in the Book of Judges (Jgs 8:23). After his victory over the Midianites, Gideon addressed these words to the Israelites living in the region of Shechem who wanted him to rule over them and even to found a dynasty (cf. Jgs 8:22). Gideon's response in which he refused to be their king perhaps should be seen in relationship to the antimonarchical currents of another section of the people (cf. 1 Sam 8:4-20). But it remains an eloquent expression of his thought, and that of a large part of Israel, regarding the unique kingship of God: "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The Lord must rule over you" (Jgs 8:23).

This double tendency is found later in Israel's history, when there were groups who wanted a king in an earthly and political sense. After the attempt of Gideon's sons (cf. Jgs 9:1ff.), we know from the First Book of Samuel that the elders of Israel asked the judge who by now was advanced in age: "Appoint a king over us to judge us" (1 Sam 8:5). Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they abused the power they received (cf. 1 Sam 8:1-3). However, Samuel was especially displeased because he saw in their request another attempt to take away from God his exclusive kingship over Israel. For this reason Samuel turned to God, consulting him in prayer. It is written: "The Lord said in answer: 'Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king'" (1 Sam 8:7). This is probably another example of a confrontation between the two tendencies--monarchical and antimonarchical--which belong to that period of Israel's formation as a politically united and established people. But it is interesting to note Samuel's partially successful effort, no longer as a judge but as a prophet, at reconciling the demand for a profane monarchy with the prerogatives of God's absolute kingship, which at least some of the people had forgotten. He anointed the kings given to Israel as a sign of their religious role, besides their political one. David would be the king who symbolizes this reconciliation of aspects and roles, and because of his great personal authority he will even become the anointed par excellence, a figure of the future Messiah and king of the new people, Jesus Christ.

3. One must note, however, this intersection of the two dimensions of kingship and rule: the temporal and political dimension, and the transcendent and religious one, which is already present in the Old Testament. The God of Israel is a king in the religious sense, even when those who rule the people in his name are the political heads. The idea of God as king and Lord of all, inasmuch as he is the Creator, appears in the historical and prophetic books of the Bible, as well as in the psalms. In the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah God is called three times "the king whose name is Lord of hosts" (Jer 46:18; 48:15; 51:57). Several psalms proclaim, "The Lord is king" (Ps 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1). This transcendent and universal kingship was first expressed in the covenant with Israel, the true act which established the proper and original identity of this people whom God chose and with whom he made a covenant. This is what we read in the Book of Exodus: "Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6).

Israel's belonging to God as his people demands obedience and love in an absolute sense: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:5). This first and supreme commandment represents the true constitutive principle of the old covenant. This commandment defines the destiny and vocation of Israel.

4. Israel is aware of this fact and experiences her relationship with God as a type of submission to her own king. Psalm 48 says: "Mount the city of the great king" (Ps 48:3). Even when Yahweh allows the establishment in Israel of a king and dynasty in a political sense, Israel knows that this institution retains a theocratic character. By divine inspiration the prophet Samuel designates Saul as the first king (cf. 1 Sam 10:24), and later David (cf. 1 Sam 16:12-13), from whom the Davidic dynasty descended. As we know from the books of the Old Testament, the kings of Israel, and later of Judah, often transgressed the commandments which were the fundamental principles of the covenant with God. The prophets intervened against these transgressions with their warning and reproaches. The history of these interventions shows clearly that there are divergences and conflicts between the demands of God's reign and the kingdom in an earthly and political sense. This explains the fact that, although Yahweh maintains his faithfulness to the promises made to David and his descendants (cf. 2 Sam 7:12), history also describes cases of plotting in order to rule over "the kingdom of the Lord commanded by the sons of David" (cf. 2 Chr 13:8). It is a conflict which continues to clarify the messianic meaning of the divine promises.

5. In fact, almost as a reaction to the disappointment experienced in regard to the political kings, there was a growing hope in Israel for a messianic king, an ideal sovereign, about whom we read in the prophets, especially in Isaiah, that "his dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever" (Is 9:6). Isaiah dwells on his prediction of this sovereign, to whom he gives the names of "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of peace" (9:5), and describes his kingdom as an earthly and utopian paradise: "Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.... There shall be no harm or ruin...for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea" (11:5-6, 9). These metaphors are intended to bring out the essential element of the prophecies regarding the messianic kingdom: a new covenant which God will make with man for his benefit and salvation.

6. After the exile and the Babylonian captivity, the vision of a "messianic" king takes on even more clearly the sense of a direct kingship on God's part. Almost as if to overcome all the disappointments which the people experienced with their political sovereigns, Israel's hope, nourished by the prophets, turns toward a reign in which God himself will be the king. It will be a universal kingdom: "The Lord shall become king over the whole earth; on that day the Lord shall be the only one, and his name the only one" (Zech 14:9). However, even in its universality this kingdom will retain a connection with Jerusalem. Isaiah predicts: "The Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem" (Is 24:23). "On this mountain he will provide for all peoples a feast of juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines" (Is 25:6). Here, too, one sees a metaphor for the new joy in the fulfillment of ancient hopes.

7. The eschatological dimension of God's kingdom is accentuated more and more as the time of Christ's coming approaches. In particular, the Book of Daniel emphasizes this aspect of the future age in the visions which it describes. We read: "As the visions during the night continued, I saw one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed" (Dan 7:13-14).

Thus, according to Daniel the future kingdom is closely connected with a person who is presented as one like a "son of man"; this is the origin of the title which Jesus will attribute to himself. At the same time Daniel writes that "the kingship and dominion and majesty of all the kingdoms under the heavens shall be given to the holy people of the Most High" (Dan 7:27). This text recalls another one in the Book of Wisdom which says: "The just...shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their king forever" (Wis 3:1, 8).

8. These sayings are all glances into the future, glimpses of the mystery toward which the history of the old covenant is heading, a history which now appears ready for the coming of the Messiah, who will bring it to completion. Beyond the enigmas, dreams and visions, a "mystery" continues to be more clearly delineated. Every hope is directed to this mystery, even in the darkest hours of defeat, captivity and exile.

That which arouses our interest and admiration in these texts is the fact that the hope for the kingdom of God continues to be clarified and purified in terms of a direct reign by the transcendent God. We know that this kingdom, which includes the person of the Messiah and the multitude of believers in him, as foretold by the prophets, has found on earth an initial realization. It is imperfect in its historical dimensions but is continually striving toward a full and definitive completion in the eternity of God. The Church of the new covenant moves toward this final fullness and all are called to take part as the children of God, heirs of the kingdom and co-workers of the Church which was founded by Christ as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies and promises. All are called to participate in this kingdom which is intended for them and, in a certain sense, is realized by means of them. Therefore, all of us are called to build up the body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:12). It is a great mission!"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones rassemblés ici. En particulier, j’adresse un chaleureux salut aux pèlerins coptes d’Alexandrie, ainsi qu’aux pèlerins venus du Cameroun. Et je voudrais offrir mes encouragements fervents aux membres de Claire-Amitié, en retraite spirituelle avec Mgr Sanon, aux Sœurs de la Charité de Saint-Louis, aux Sœurs de Kermaria, ainsi qu’aux Frères de la Charité.

J’assure tous ces pèlerins de mon union dans la prière pour leur santé spirituelle et leur activité apostolique. Et je prie le Seigneur de les combler de ses dons.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the Sisters of Christian Charity celebrating their Golden Jubilee of religious life. May you always find joy in serving Christ and his Church with generous and undivided hearts. My cordial greeting goes also to the pilgrim groups from Enugu and Ibadah in Nigeria and the Franciscan pilgrims from the United States. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I invoke God’s blessings of grace and peace.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Indem ich nach dieser Betrachtung dazu einlade, für das Kommen und die Vollendung des Gottesreiches im ”Vaterunser“ inständig zu beten, grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Ein besonderer Gruß gilt der Gruppe der Katholischen Pädagogischen Fachschule in Lingen-Laxten.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Junto con mi mensaje de hoy deseo presentar mi más cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, saludo al grupo de sacerdotes de la diócesis de Colima (México), que en unión de su Obispo han peregrinado a Roma para conmemorar sus veinticinco ańos de sacerdocio.

Igualmente, saludo a las religiosas Reparadoras del Sagrado Corazón así como a la numerosa peregrinación procedente de la Archidiócesis de Toledo.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di espressione portoghese

Amados Irmãos e Irmãs,

Queridos peregrinos brasileiros do Rio de Janeiro e Salvador, amados portugueses da paróquia de Nossa Senhora de Fátima em Viana do Castelo, abri os vossos corações, dedicai as vossas vidas ao serviço do Reino de Deus que chegou, mora em vós e realiza-se com o vosso empenho diário a favor dos mais desfavorecidos. O Senhor vos confirme no bem, em penhor do que estendo sobre vós, vossas famílias e vossas comunidades cristãs a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ad alcuni fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissime “Figlie di Maria Ausiliatrice” e carissimi studenti di Tokyo, in questo mese, coincidono lo scoppio della bomba atomica e la fine della guerra mondiale per voi giapponesi. Pregate ora, affinché il mondo non ripeta una guerra inutile e venga il più presto possibile la pace sulla terra. Affidandovi alla Regina della pace, vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Naprzód wyliczę liczne grupy: z parafii Świętych Piotra i Pawła ze Skoczowa; z parafii Wspomożenia Wiernych z Czechowic Dziedzic; z parafii św. Katarzyny z Jastrzębia i św. Floriana z Chorzowa; nauczyciele z Bielska -Białej-Wapiennicy; z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela z Łazisk Średnich; z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Rzeszowa - tam, gdzie była beatyfikacja; z parafii św. Michała Archanioła również z Rzeszowa; z parafii św. Antoniego z Ustrobnej k. Krosna; z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela z Kazimierza Dolnego; przedstawiciele Unii Chrześcijańsko -Społecznej z Lublina; prócz tego pielgrzymka młodzieży z Lublina; z parafii św. Marii Magdaleny z Czerska; duszpasterstwo rodzin z Warmii i Mazur; z parafii bł. Honorata z Białej Podlaskiej; z parafii Narodzenia Matki Bożej z Włocławka; z parafii Świętych Piotra i Pawła z Dąbrowej nad Czarną; pielgrzymka młodzieży z Dolic i Trzebiatowa z diecezji koszalińsko-kołobrzeskiej; z parafii św. Trójcy z Chojnej; z parafii: św. Wojciecha z Borui Kościelnej, Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa ze Śremu i Narodzenia Matki Bożej z Kazimierza; pielgrzymka rodzin z Leszna; “Caritas” z Gniezna; z parafii św. Jana Bosko z Lubina; z parafii św. Trójcy z Bytomia; współpracownicy misyjni księży pallotynów z całej Polski; Chór Akademii Rolniczo-Technicznej z Olsztyna; nauczyciele z Koła i z Bydgoszczy; młodzież z I Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z Chełma; grupa rowerowa z Mysłowic; instruktorzy ZHP z Katowic; nauczyciele z województwa piotrkowskiego; grupa Towarzystwa Polska-Ameryka Łacińska z Łodzi; nauczyciele z Puław; Towarzystwo Przyjaźni Polsko-Włoskiej z Katowic; grupy turystyczne: “Auto-Trans-Tours” z Bydgoszczy; “Euro-Tours” z Łosic; “Aneks” z Wrocławia; “Quo vadis” z Krosna; PTTK z Krakowa; “Monde-Tours” z Wałbrzycha; “ZawadaTours” z Lublina; “Glob-Tours” z Dolska; “Juventus-Takt” z Zamościa i Biłgoraja; “Grand-Tours” z Katowic; “Quo vadis” z Bielska-Białej; “Esperantur” z Płocka; “Auro-Włocławek”; Logos-Tours” z Rzeszowa; “Pielgrzym” ze Słupska; “Oltur” z Olsztyna; “LogosTours” z Wrocławia; “Cortina” z Warszawy; “Auto-Trans-Tourist” z Bydgoszczy; grupa ze szkoły samochodowej z Tomaszowa Mazowieckiego; grupa turystyczna “Kresy-Travel” z Chełma i Zamościa; ministranci z Myszkowa; nauczyciele i uczniowie z Zakładów Obuwia w Chełmie; grupa turystyczna “Vamis” z Warszawy oraz pielgrzymi indywidualni z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Rivolgo, adesso, il mio pensiero ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua italiana.

Saluto, in particolare, le Religiose dell’Istituto “Figlie di Maria Santissima dell’Orto”, convenute a Roma per celebrare rispettivamente il venticinquesimo, cinquantesimo e sessantesimo anniversario della loro Professione, e le Suore Benedettine della Divina Provvidenza, provenienti dal Brasile e dalla Guinea Bissau, che prendono parte, assieme ad altre Consorelle italiane, ad un corso di Formazione Permanente. Auspico che questo tempo di riflessione e di preghiera contribuisca a rinsaldare in ciascuna di voi un impegno sempre più generoso nella dedizione a Cristo e nel servizio alla Chiesa.

Do, poi, un cordiale benvenuto alla rappresentanza degli allevatori del Comune di Bagnolo San Vito. Nel grato ricordo della Visita da me compiuta recentemente a Mantova, auguro a voi tutti ogni bene nel Signore.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Saluto, infine, i giovani, gli ammalati e le coppie di sposi novelli, presenti a questa Udienza.

Chiedo a voi, carissimi giovani, e in particolare a voi, ragazzi e ragazze, che partecipate ai campi-scuola promossi dall’Opera per la Gioventù “Giorgio La Pira”, di unirvi spiritualmente ai vostri coetanei che incontrerò, fra pochi giorni, a Czestochowa. Nella vostra incondizionata e gioiosa adesione alla Parola di Cristo è riposta la speranza per la costruzione di un mondo nuovo, senza barriere.

A voi, ammalati, chiedo il dono prezioso della preghiera e dell’offerta della vostra sofferenza, affinché il prossimo pellegrinaggio che sto per intraprendere in Polonia ed Ungheria apporti frutti copiosi della grazia del Signore.

Auguro, infine, a voi, sposi novelli, una grande felicità, che sarà tanto più autentica nella misura in cui saprete attingere all’incontro quotidiano con Dio.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Al Vescovo albanese Nikollë Troshani

E adesso, concludendo questa Udienza, preghiamo tutti insieme cantando il Pater Noster in latino specialmente per il popolo e per la Chiesa in Albania. Oggi per la prima volta qui c’è un Vescovo albanese dopo tanti anni di sofferenze e di persecuzioni. Per la prima volta Monsignor Troshani è potuto venire a Roma per essere qui insieme a noi.

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