Audiences 2005-2013 23018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will be ending this Friday, 25 January, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. In these days, Christians of various Churches and Ecclesial Communities are joining in a unanimous chorus of entreaty to ask the Lord Jesus to re-establish full unity among all his disciples. It is a plea made with one accord by one soul and one heart in response to the desire of the Redeemer himself, who prayed to the Father at the Last Supper with these words: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17,20-21). In asking for the grace of unity Christians join in Christ's own prayer and engage to work actively so that all humanity may accept and recognize him as the one Pastor and one Lord, and thus experience the joy of his love.
This year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity acquires special value and significance because it is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Indeed, when it was introduced, it proved a truly fruitful intuition. Fr Paul Wattson was an American Anglican who later entered the communion of the Catholic Church and founded the Society of the Atonement (Community of Brothers and Sisters of the Atonement); in 1908, with another Episcopalian, Fr Spencer Jones, he launched the prophetic idea of an octave of prayer for Christian unity. The idea found favour with the Archbishop of New York and with the Apostolic Nuncio. Later, in 1916, the appeal to pray for unity was extended to the entire Catholic Church, thanks to the intervention of my venerable Predecessor, Pope Benedict XV, with the Brief Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam. The initiative, which had given rise to much interest in the meantime, gradually continued to put down roots and, with time, increasingly perfected its structure. Its celebration developed thanks to Abbé Couturier's contribution (1936). Then, when the prophetic wind of the Second Vatican Council began to blow, the urgent need for unity was felt even more deeply. The patient journey of the search for full communion between all Christians continued after the Council; it was a patient ecumenical journey which from one year to the next found the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to be precisely one of its most appropriate and fruitful events. A hundred years after the first appeal to pray together for unity, this Week of Prayer has now become a solid tradition which preserves the spirit and dates chosen at the outset by Fr Wattson. Indeed, he chose them for their symbolic character. In the calendar at that time, the Feast of the Chair of St Peter, who is the firm foundation and sure guarantee of the unity of the entire People of God, was celebrated on 18 January, while on 25 January, then as today, the liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. As we thank the Lord for these 100 years of prayer and common commitment among so many disciples of Christ, let us remember with gratitude Fr Wattson, the initiator of this providential spiritual initiative, and with him, those who promoted and enriched it with their contributions and made it the common patrimony of all Christians.
I mentioned just now that the Second Vatican Council paid great attention to the topic of Christian unity, especially in the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio ), in which, among other things, the role and importance of prayer for unity is forcefully emphasized. Prayer, the Council observed, is at the very heart of the entire ecumenical process. "This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8). Thanks precisely to this spiritual ecumenism - holiness of life, conversion of heart, private and public prayer - the common search for unity has in recent decades recorded considerable development. This has been diversified in multiple initiatives: from mutual knowledge to brotherly contact between the members of different Churches and Ecclesial Communities, from ever more friendly conversations to collaboration in various fields, from theological dialogue to the search for concrete forms of communion and collaboration. What has enlivened and continues to enliven this journey towards the full communion of all Christians is first and foremost prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (1Th 5,17) is the theme of the Week this year; at the same time, it is an invitation that never ceases to ring out in our communities to make prayer the light, strength and orientation of our footsteps, in an attitude of humble and docile listening to our common Lord.
Secondly, the Council places the emphasis on prayer in common, prayer raised jointly to the one Heavenly Father by Catholics and by other Christians. The Decree on Ecumenism says in this regard: "Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 8). And this is because, in praying together, Christian communities place themselves before the Lord and, becoming aware of the contradictions to which division has given rise, manifest their desire to obey the Lord's will with trusting recourse to his almighty assistance. The Decree then adds that such prayers "are a genuine expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated (seiuncti)brethren" (ibid.). Prayer in common is not, therefore, a voluntaristic or purely sociological act, but rather an expression of faith that unites all Christ's disciples. In the course of the years, fertile collaboration has been established in this field, and since 1968, the then Secretariat for Christian Unity, which subsequently became the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the World Council of Churches prepare jointly these booklets for the Week of Prayer for Unity; they then distribute them throughout the world, covering areas that they never would have managed to reach on their own.
The conciliar Decree on Ecumenism refers to prayer for unity when, at the very end, its states that the Council realizes that "this holy objective - the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ - transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church" (n. 24). It is the consciousness of our human limitations that impels us to trusting abandonment in the hands of the Lord. Clearly, the profound meaning of this Week of Prayer is precisely that of relying entirely on the prayer of Christ, who continues to pray in his Church that "they may all be one... so that the world may believe..." (Jn 17,21). Today, we feel the weight of these words strongly. The world is suffering from the absence of God, from inaccessibility to God; it longs to know God's Face. But how could and can people today recognize this Face of God in the Face of Jesus Christ if we Christians are separated, if one contradicts the other, if one is against the other? Only in unity can we truly show to this world - which needs it - God's Face, Christ's Face. It is also obvious that it is not with our own policies, with dialogue and all that we do - which is nevertheless so necessary - that we shall be able to obtain this unity. What we can obtain is our willingness and ability to welcome this unity when the Lord gives it to us. This is the meaning of prayer: to open our hearts, to create within us this willingness that paves the way to Christ. In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily the Bishop or the one who presided at the celebration, the principal celebrant, would say: "Conversi ad Dominum". Then he and everyone would rise and turn to the East. They all wanted to look towards Christ. Only if we are converted, only in this conversion to Christ, in this common gaze at Christ, will we be able to find the gift of unity.
We can say that it was the prayer for unity which enlivened and accompanied the various stages of the ecumenical movement, especially after the Second Vatican Council. In this period, the Catholic Church came into contact with the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities of East and West with different forms of dialogue, and with each one tackled the theological and historical problems that had emerged down the centuries and had taken root as elements of separation. The Lord has ensured that these friendly relations have improved our reciprocal knowledge and intensified communion, while at the same time sharpening the perception of the problems that are still open-ended and foment division. Today, during this Week, let us thank God who has sustained and illuminated us on the journey we have made thus far, a fruitful journey which the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism described as "fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit" and which "increases from day to day" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 1).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation to "pray without ceasing", which the Apostle Paul addressed to the first Christians of Thessalonica, a community which he himself had founded.
And precisely because he heard that disagreements had arisen, he counselled them to be patient with everyone, abstain from returning evil for evil and on the contrary to always seek good among themselves and with everyone, joyful in every circumstance, joyful because the Lord is near. The advice that St Paul gave to the Thessalonians can still inspire the behaviour of Christians in the context of ecumenical relations today. Above all he said: "Be at peace among yourselves", and then, "pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances" (1Th 5,13 1Th 5,18). Let us also accept the Apostle's pressing exhortation, both to thank the Lord for the progress achieved and to implore full unity. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, obtain for all disciples of her divine Son that they may be able to live in peace and reciprocal charity as soon as possible, so as to bear a convincing witness of reconciliation before the whole world, in order to make accessible the Face of God in the Face of Christ, who is God-with-us, the God of peace and unity.
I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience, including students and staff from Saint Mary’s High School in Sydney, and members of a delegation from the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. May God bestow abundant blessings upon all of you!
Paul VI Audience Hall
After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we return today to the important figure of St Augustine. In 1986, the 16th centenary of his conversion, my beloved Predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long, full Document to him, the Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponensem. The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "a thanksgiving to God for the gift that he has made to the Church, and through her to the whole human race". I would like to return to the topic of conversion at another Audience. It is a fundamental theme not only for Augustine's personal life but also for ours. In last Sunday's Gospel the Lord himself summed up his preaching with the word: "Repent". By following in St Augustine's footsteps, we will be able to meditate on what this conversion is: it is something definitive, decisive, but the fundamental decision must develop, be brought about throughout our life.
Today's Catechesis, however, is dedicated to the subject of faith and reason, a crucial, or better, the crucial theme for St Augustine's biography. As a child he learned the Catholic faith from Monica, his mother. But he abandoned this faith as an adolescent because he could no longer discern its reasonableness and rejected a religion that was not, to his mind, also an expression of reason, that is, of the truth. His thirst for truth was radical and therefore led him to drift away from the Catholic faith. Yet his radicalism was such that he could not be satisfied with philosophies that did not go to the truth itself, that did not go to God and to a God who was not only the ultimate cosmological hypothesis but the true God, the God who gives life and enters into our lives.
Thus, Augustine's entire intellectual and spiritual development is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of every human being. These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated or placed in opposition; rather, they must always go hand in hand. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us to knowledge" (Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). In this regard, through the two rightly famous Augustinian formulas (cf. Sermones, 43, 9) that express this coherent synthesis of faith and reason: crede ut intelligas ("I believe in order to understand") - believing paves the way to crossing the threshold of the truth - but also, and inseparably, intellige ut credas ("I understand, the better to believe"), the believer scrutinizes the truth to be able to find God and to believe.
Augustine's two affirmations express with effective immediacy and as much corresponding depth the synthesis of this problem in which the Catholic Church sees her own journey expressed. This synthesis had been acquiring its form in history even before Christ's coming, in the encounter between the Hebrew faith and Greek thought in Hellenistic Judaism. At a later period this synthesis was taken up and developed by many Christian thinkers. The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God is not remote: he is not far from our reason and our life; he is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.
Augustine felt this closeness of God to man with extraordinary intensity. God's presence in man is profound and at the same time mysterious, but he can recognize and discover it deep down inside himself. "Do not go outside", the convert says, but "return to within yourself; truth dwells in the inner man; and if you find that your nature is changeable, transcend yourself. But remember, when you transcend yourself, you are transcending a soul that reasons. Reach, therefore, to where the light of reason is lit" (De vera religione, 39, 72). It is just like what he himself stresses with a very famous statement at the beginning of the Confessions, a spiritual biography which he wrote in praise of God: "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (I, 1, 1).
God's remoteness is therefore equivalent to remoteness from oneself: "But", Augustine admitted (Confessions, III, 6, 11), addressing God directly, "you were more inward than my most inward part and higher than the highest element within me", interior intimo meo et superior summo meo; so that, as he adds in another passage remembering the period before his conversion, "you were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you" (Confessions, V, 2, 2). Precisely because Augustine lived this intellectual and spiritual journey in the first person, he could portray it in his works with such immediacy, depth and wisdom, recognizing in two other famous passages from the Confessions (IV, 4, 9 and 14, 22), that man is "a great enigma" (magna quaestio)and "a great abyss" (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss that only Christ can illuminate and save us from. This is important: a man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, alienated from himself, and can only find himself by encountering God. In this way he will come back to himself, to his true self, to his true identity.
The human being, Augustine stresses later in De Civitate Dei (XII, 27), is social by nature but antisocial by vice and is saved by Christ, the one Mediator between God and humanity and the "universal way of liberty and salvation", as my Predecessor John Paul II said (Augustinum Hipponensem, n. 3). Outside this way, "which has never been lacking for the human race", St Augustine says further, "no one has been set free, no one will be set free" (De Civitate Dei, X, 32, 2). As the one Mediator of salvation Christ is Head of the Church and mystically united with her to the point that Augustine could say: "We have become Christ. For, if he is the Head, we, the members; he and we together are the whole man" (In Iohannis evangelium tractatus, 21, 8).
People of God and house of God: the Church in Augustine's vision is therefore closely bound to the concept of the Body of Christ, founded on the Christological reinterpretation of the Old Testament and on the sacramental life centred on the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his Body and transforms us into his Body. It is then fundamental that the Church, the People of God in a Christological and not a sociological sense, be truly inserted into Christ, who, as Augustine says in a beautiful passage, "prays for us, prays in us and prays by us; he prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, and he prays by us as our God: let us therefore recognize him as our voice and ourselves as his" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 85, 1).
At the end of the Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponensem, John Paul II wished to ask the Saint himself what he would have to say to the people of today and answers first of all with the words Augustine entrusted to a letter dictated shortly after his conversion: "It seems to me that the hope of finding the truth must be restored to humankind" (Epistulae, 1, 1); that truth which is Christ himself, true God, to whom is addressed one of the most beautiful prayers and most famous of the Confessions (X, 27, 38): "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. "You called and cried aloud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours".
Here then, Augustine encountered God and throughout his life experienced him to the point that this reality - which is primarily his meeting with a Person, Jesus - changed his life, as it changes the lives of everyone, men and women, who in every age have the grace to encounter him. Let us pray that the Lord will grant us this grace and thereby enable us to find his peace.
To special groups
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, including groups from England, Scotland, Hong Kong and the United States of America. I greet especially the representatives of the Pontifical Mission Societies and the group who are preparing to be ordained deacons. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Tomorrow is the liturgical Memorial of St John Bosco, a priest and educator. Look to him, dear young people, especially you candidates for Confirmation from Serroni di Battipaglia, as an authentic teacher of life. You, dear sick people, learn from his spiritual experience and trust in every circumstance in the Crucified Christ. And you, dear newly-weds, have recourse to his intercession to take on your mission as spouses with generous commitment.
Paul VI Audience Hall60208
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we are taking up our Lenten journey, as we do every year, motivated by a more intense spirit of prayer and reflection, penance and fasting. We are entering a "strong" liturgical season which, while we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter - the heart and centre of the liturgical year and of our entire existence - invites us, indeed we might say challenges us, to impress a more decisive impetus upon our Christian existence. The reason is that our commitments, anxieties and preoccupations cause us to relapse into habit, exposing us to the risk of forgetting what an extraordinary adventure Jesus has involved us in. We need to begin our demanding journey of evangelical life every day anew, re-entering ourselves by pausing for restorative thought. With the ancient rite of the imposition of Ashes, the Church ushers us into Lent as if into a long spiritual retreat that lasts for 40 days.
So let us enter the Lenten atmosphere which helps us to rediscover the gift of faith received with Baptism and impels us to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, putting our commitment to conversion under the banner of divine mercy. In the primitive Church at the outset Lent was the privileged time for preparing catechumens to receive the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, which were celebrated at the Easter Vigil. Lent was considered as the period in which to become a Christian which was not brought about in an instant but required a long journey of conversion and renewal. The baptized also joined in this preparation, reviving the memory of the Sacrament they had received with renewed communion with Christ, available to them at the joyful celebration of Easter. Thus, Lent had and still has today preserved the character of a baptismal process in the sense that it helps keep alive the awareness that being Christians is always achieved by becoming Christians over and over again: it is never a story that is over once and for all but rather a journey which requires us to start out constantly anew.
As he places the Ashes on the person's forehead the celebrant says "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (cf. Gn Gn 3,19), or he repeats Jesus' exhortation "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (cf. Mc 1,15). Both formulas are a reminder of the truth about human life: we are limited creatures, sinners always in need of repentance and conversion. How important it is to listen to and accept this reminder in our time! When contemporary man proclaims his total autonomy from God, he enslaves himself and often finds himself in comfortless loneliness. The invitation to conversion, therefore, is an incentive to return to the embrace of God, the tender and merciful Father, to entrust oneself to him, to entrust oneself to him as adoptive sons, regenerated by his love. With wise pedagogy the Church repeats that conversion is first and foremost a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God's infinite goodness. He himself anticipates with his grace our desire for conversion and accompanies our efforts for full adherence to his saving will. Therefore, to convert is to let oneself be won over by Jesus (cf. Phil Ph 3,12) and "to return" with him to the Father.
Conversion thus entails placing oneself humbly at the school of Jesus and walking meekly in his footsteps. In this regard the words with which he himself points out the conditions for being his true disciples are enlightening. After affirming: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it", he adds: "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mc 8,35-36). To what extent does a life that is totally spent in achieving success, longing for prestige and seeking commodities to the point of excluding God from one's horizon, truly lead to happiness? Can true happiness exist when God is left out of consideration? Experience shows that we are not happy because our material expectations and needs are satisfied. In fact, the only joy that fills the human heart is that which comes from God: indeed, we stand in need of infinite joy. Neither daily concerns nor life's difficulties succeed in extinguishing the joy that is born from friendship with God. Jesus' invitation to take up one's cross and follow him may at first sight seem harsh and contrary to what we hope for, mortifying our desire for personal fulfilment. At a closer look, however, we discover that it is not like this: the witness of the saints shows that in the Cross of Christ, in the love that is given, in renouncing the possession of oneself, one finds that deep serenity which is the source of generous dedication to our brethren, especially to the poor and the needy, and this also gives us joy. The Lenten journey of conversion on which we are setting out today together with the entire Church thus becomes a favourable opportunity, "the acceptable time" (2Co 6,2) for renewing our filial abandonment in the hands of God and for putting into practice what Jesus continues to repeat to us: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mc 8,34) and this is how one ventures forth on the path of love and true happiness.
In the Lenten Season the Church, echoing the Gospel, proposes some specific tasks that accompany the faithful in this process of inner renewal: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In the Message for Lent this year, published just a few days ago, I wished to dwell "on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods" (Message for Lent, 30 October 2007). We know how the aspect of material riches unfortunately pervades modern society in depth. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called not to idolize earthly goods, but to use them as a means to live and to help others who are in need. By pointing out to us the practice of almsgiving, the Church teaches us to meet our neighbour's needs, in the imitation of Jesus who, as St Paul observed, made himself poor to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2Co 8,9). "In his school", I also wrote in the Message quoted, "we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves". And I continued, "Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. "In freely offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence" (cf. Message for Lent, n. 5).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask Our Lady, Mother of God and of the Church, to accompany us on our way through Lent, so that it may be a journey of true conversion. May we let ourselves be led by her, and inwardly renewed we will arrive at the celebration of the great mystery of Christ's Pasch, the supreme revelation of God's merciful love.
A good Lent to you all!
To special groups
This morning I am especially pleased to greet the delegation of government leaders from Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and I offer my prayerful good wishes for their efforts to promote reconciliation, justice and peace in the region. My warm greeting and prayerful encouragement also go to the participants in the Graduate School of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England and the United States, I cordially invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds, and invite them all to accept promptly and to put into practice with generous perseverance the invitation to conversion which the Church uniquely addresses to us today.
* * *
APPEAL FOR CHAD
In these days I am particularly close to the beloved peoples of Chad, overwhelmed by grievous internal fighting which has reaped numerous victims and caused thousands of civilians to flee the Capital. I also commend these brothers and sisters who are suffering to your prayers and solidarity, as I ask that they be spared further violence and be assured the humanitarian assistance they need, while I address a heartfelt appeal to them to put down their weapons and take the path of dialogue and reconciliation.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After the interruption for the Spiritual Exercises last week, today we return to the important figure of St Augustine, about whom I have repeatedly spoken at the Wednesday Catecheses. He is the Father of the Church who left us the greatest number of works and I intend to speak briefly of them today. Some of Augustine's writings were of major importance, not only for the history of Christianity but also for the formation of the whole of Western culture. The clearest example is the Confessiones, undoubtedly one of the most widely read books of Christian antiquity. Like various Fathers of the Church in the first centuries but on an incomparably larger scale, the Bishop of Hippo in fact exercised an extensive and persistent influence, as already appears from the superabundant manuscript transcriptions of his works, which are indeed extremely numerous.
He reviewed them himself in the Retractationum several years before he died, and shortly after his death they were correctly recorded in the Indiculus ("list") added by his faithful friend Possidius to his biography of St Augustine, Vita Augustini. The list of Augustine's works was drafted with the explicit intention of keeping their memory alive while the Vandal invasion was sweeping through all of Roman Africa, and it included at least 1,030 writings numbered by their Author, with others "that cannot be numbered because he did not give them any number". Possidius, the Bishop of a neighbouring city, dictated these words in Hippo itself - where he had taken refuge and where he witnessed his friend's death -, and it is almost certain that he based his list on the catalogue of Augustine's personal library. Today, more than 300 letters of the Bishop of Hippo and almost 600 homilies are extant, but originally there were far more, perhaps even as many as between 3,000 and 4,000, the result of 40 years of preaching by the former rhetorician who had chosen to follow Jesus and no longer to speak to important figures of the imperial court, but rather, to the simple populace of Hippo.
And in recent years the discoveries of a collection of letters and several homilies have further enriched our knowledge of this great Father of the Church. "He wrote and published many books", Possidius wrote, "many sermons were delivered in church, transcribed and corrected, both to refute the various heresies and to interpret the Sacred Scriptures for the edification of the holy children of the Church. These works", his Bishop-friend emphasized, "are so numerous that a scholar would find it difficult to read them all and learn to know them" (Vita Augustini, 18, 9).
In the literary corpus of Augustine - more than 1,000 publications divided into philosophical, apologetic, doctrinal, moral, monastic, exegetic and anti-heretical writings in addition precisely to the letters and homilies - certain exceptional works of immense theological and philosophical breadth stand out. First of all, it is essential to remember the Confessiones mentioned above, written in 13 books between 397 and 400 in praise of God. They are a sort of autobiography in the form of a dialogue with God. This literary genre actually mirrors St Augustine's life, which was not one closed in on itself, dispersed in many things, but was lived substantially as a dialogue with God, hence, a life with others. The title "Confessiones" indicates the specific nature of this autobiography. In Christian Latin this word, confessiones, developed from the tradition of the Psalms and has two meanings that are nevertheless interwoven. In the first place confessiones means the confession of our own faults, of the wretchedness of sin; but at the same time, confessiones also means praise of God, thanksgiving to God. Seeing our own wretchedness in the light of God becomes praise to God and thanksgiving, for God loves and accepts us, transforms us and raises us to himself. Of these Confessiones, which met with great success during his lifetime, St Augustine wrote: "They exercised such an influence on me while I was writing them and still exercise it when I reread them. Many brothers like these works" (Retractationum, II, 6); and I can say that I am one of these "brothers". Thanks to the Confessiones, moreover, we can follow step by step the inner journey of this extraordinary and passionate man of God. A less well-known but equally original and very important text is the Retractationum, composed in two books in about 427 A.D., in which St Augustine, by then elderly, set down a "revision" (retractatio) of his entire opus, thereby bequeathing to us a unique and very precious literary document but also a teaching of sincerity and intellectual humility.
De Civitate Dei - an impressive work crucial to the development of Western political thought and the Christian theology of history - was written between 413 and 426 in 22 books. The occasion was the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410. Numerous pagans still alive and also many Christians said: Rome has fallen; the Christian God and the Apostles can now no longer protect the city. While the pagan divinities were present, Rome was the caput mundi, the great capital, and no one could have imagined that it would fall into enemy hands. Now, with the Christian God, this great city no longer seemed safe. Therefore, the God of the Christians did not protect, he could not be the God to whom to entrust oneself. St Augustine answered this objection, which also touched Christian hearts profoundly, with this impressive work, De Civitate Dei, explaining what we should and should not expect of God, and what the relationship is between the political sphere and the sphere of faith, of the Church. This book is also today a source for defining clearly between true secularism and the Church's competence, the great true hope that the faith gives to us.
This important book presents the history of humanity governed by divine Providence but currently divided by two loves. This is the fundamental plan, its interpretation of history, which is the struggle between two loves: love of self, "to the point of indifference to God", and love of God, "to the point of indifference to the self" (De Civitate Dei XIV, 28), to full freedom from the self for others in the light of God. This, therefore, is perhaps St Augustine's greatest book and is of lasting importance. Equally important is the De Trinitate, a work in 15 books on the central core of the Christian faith, faith in the Trinitarian God. It was written in two phases: the first 12 books between 399 and 412, published without the knowledge of Augustine, who in about 420 completed and revised the entire work. Here he reflects on the Face of God and seeks to understand this mystery of God who is unique, the one Creator of the world, of us all, and yet this one God is precisely Trinitarian, a circle of love. He seeks to understand the unfathomable mystery: the actual Trinitarian being, in three Persons, is the most real and profound unity of the one God. De Doctrina Christiana is instead a true and proper cultural introduction to the interpretation of the Bible and ultimately of Christianity itself, which had a crucial importance in the formation of Western culture.
Despite all his humility, Augustine must certainly have been aware of his own intellectual stature. Yet it was far more important to him to take the Christian message to the simple than to write lofty theological works. This deepest intention of his that guided his entire life appears in a letter written to his colleague Evodius, in which he informs him of his decision to suspend the dictation of the books of De Trinitate for the time being, "because they are too demanding and I think that few can understand them; it is therefore urgent to have more texts which we hope will be useful to many" (Epistulae 169, 1, 1). Thus, it served his purpose better to communicate the faith in a manner that all could understand rather than to write great theological works. The responsibility he felt acutely with regard to the popularization of the Christian message was later to become the origin of writings such as De Catechizandis Rudibus, a theory and also a method of catechesis, or the Psalmus contra Partem Donati. The Donatists were the great problem of St Augustine's Africa, a deliberately African schism. They said: true Christianity is African Christianity. They opposed Church unity. The great Bishop fought against this schism all his life, seeking to convince the Donatists that only in unity could "Africanness" also be true. And to make himself understood by the simple, who could not understand the difficult Latin of the rhetorician, he said: I must even write with grammatical errors, in a very simplified Latin. And he did so, especially in this Psalmus, a sort of simple poem against the Donatists, in order to help all the people understand that it is only through Church unity that our relationship with God may be truly fulfilled for all and that peace may grow in the world.
The mass of homilies that he would often deliver "off the cuff", transcribed by tachygraphers during his preaching and immediately circulated, had a special importance in this production destined for a wider public. The very beautiful Enarrationes in Psalmos, read widely in the Middle Ages, stand out among them. The practice of publishing Augustine's thousands of homilies - often without the author's control - precisely explains their dissemination and later dispersion but also their vitality. In fact, because of the author's fame, the Bishop of Hippo's sermons became very sought after texts and, adapted to ever new contexts, also served as models for other Bishops and priests.
A fresco in the Lateran that dates back to the fourth century shows that the iconographical tradition already depicted St Augustine with a book in his hand, suggesting, of course, his literary opus which had such a strong influence on the Christian mentality and Christian thought, but it also suggests his love for books and reading as well as his knowledge of the great culture of the past. At his death he left nothing, Possidius recounts, but "recommended that the library of the church with all the codes be kept carefully for future generations", especially those of his own works. In these, Possidius stresses, Augustine is "ever alive" and benefits his readers, although "I believe that those who were able to see and listen to him were able to draw greater benefit from being in touch with him when he himself was speaking in church, and especially those who experienced his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31). Yes, for us too it would have been beautiful to be able to hear him speaking. Nonetheless, he is truly alive in his writings and present in us, and so we too see the enduring vitality of the faith to which he devoted his entire life.
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I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims gathered here in the Basilica of Saint Peter. Lent is a privileged time for all Christians to recommit themselves to conversion and spiritual renewal. In this way, we rekindle a genuine faith in Christ, a life-giving relationship with God and a more fervent dedication to the Gospel. Strengthened by the conviction that love is the distinguishing mark of Christian believers, I encourage you to persevere in bearing witness to charity in your daily lives.
Paul VI Audience Hall
I cordially greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience. I extend a particular welcome to parishioners from the Church of Our Lady of Loretto in New York, as well as Benedictines participating in an intensive course on the rule of their order. A blessed Lent to you all!
Paul VI Audience Hall
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