Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back to Hippo

After a three-week break first due to Ash Wednesday and then his retreat, the Pope returned to his series of talks on his favorite saint -- Augustine, also the subject of his doctoral dissertation -- at today's General Audience:
The bishop of Hippo was for the fourth time the subject of the remarks that Benedict XVI addressed to those present at the general audience, who because of the heavy attendance by the faithful - the prefecture of the pontifical household distributed 15,000 tickets - had to be "divided" today between Saint Peter's basilica and the Paul VI audience hall.

From among the extremely vast work of Augustine, the pope spoke in particular about the "Confessions", which is "still one of the most widely read books of Christian antiquity", the "Retractions", and the "De Civitate Dei".

First of all the Confessions, in 13 books, which "are a sort of autobiography, but in the form of a dialogue with God". This "reflects the life of Augustine substantially lived as a dialogue with God and thus lived together with others". Benedict XVI then highlighted how the word 'confessiones' in Christian Latin "has two meanings that are interwoven. In a preliminary sense it indicates the confession of one's weaknesses, of one's sins, but it also means the praise of God, recognition and thanksgiving because he loves us, accepts us, and transforms us, raising us up to himself". These writings met with great success even while Saint Augustine was still alive, and he himself wrote "my Confessions made a great impact upon me as I was writing them, and continue to do so. This means that they will be pleasing to my brothers". "This means", the pope said, smiling, "that I am one of these 'brothers'".

Less well known are the "Retractions", two books that represent a complete revision of his work, and described by Benedict XVI as "a unique and extremely valuable document", and an expression of "intellectual sincerity and humility". Also important for Western political thought is the "De Civitate Dei", which, "by clarifying what we must expect from God and what we must not, what is the relationship between the political sphere and the sphere of the faith and of the Church", "is still today the source for defining properly what are true secularism and the competency of the Church, and the great and true hope that is given to us by faith". It is the history of humanity governed by divine providence, it is "his interpretation of the history of humanity as the struggle between two loves: the love of self to the point of indifference toward God, and the love of God to the point of indifference toward oneself". "It may be the most important of Augustine's works".

"For us as well", the pope concluded, "it would have been wonderful to have been able to hear him in person, but he is certainly alive in his writings, and thus we see the permanent vitality of the faith for which he gave his whole life".
PHOTO: Reuters