“The Apostles: Illustrated Edition” is a compilation of Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audiences given from March 15, 2006 to October 18, 2006. The first thing one notices about this illustrated edition is the incredible beauty of the book. Almost every page features a painting or mosaic of the apostles by some of the greatest artists of all time. Works by Vasari, Raphael, Caravaggio, Giotto, Tintoretto, and many others provide a visual catechesis to accompany the insightful text.
Part one of the book focuses on “The Origins of the Church.” Pope Benedict explains how the number twelve was highly symbolic to the Israelites. “The system of the twelve tribes had long since faded out. . .In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with himself and involving them in the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom . . .Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God . . .which now becomes a universal people, his Church.” At the Last Supper, Jesus created “a new community, a community united in communion with himself.” The focus of this new communion is love. By virtue of the Church, we are invited into a relationship with the Trinity. “It is communion of men and women with the Trinitarian God and communion of men and women with one another.” Pope Benedict then turns his attention to the ways in which the Holy Spirit continues to inspire and sustain the Church, with a special focus on the importance of apostolic succession.
In the second part, Pope Benedict explores what we know about each of the original twelve apostles plus Matthias (who replaced Judas Iscariot). He offers very interesting insights such as how all Rabbis were expected to have five disciples, but when he increased that number to twelve, “the newness of his mission became evident.” He examines the ups and downs of the spiritual journey of Peter who would ultimately become the first leader of the new Church. He emphasizes the unique role of Andrew as the “first called,” a role that is emphasized in the Byzantine tradition. He acknowledges the discussion that swirls around the apostle John – was he really “the one Jesus loved?” but focuses on John’s unique theological insights revealed in scripture and his emphasis on love. He reflects on the status of Matthew as a tax collector, a job held in total disdain by the Jewish people. In choosing Matthew, Jesus clearly offers “God’s grace to the sinner.”
“The Apostles: Illustrated Edition” is fascinating reading, beautifully packaged. Pope Benedict is a wonderful teacher, eager to share the faith and our faith’s history with anyone willing to listen. He has once again created a marvelous work, worth reading and rereading. He invites us into friendship with these chosen twelve as well as reflection on how we are called to continue the apostolic mission today.