Pope Benedict XVI’s Catechesis on St. Augustine of Hippo

(Click here for a PDF of the 5 Catecheses)

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated 5 Wednesday audiences to St. Augustine of Hippo in February of 2008 as part of an ongoing meditation on the lives of the saints of the Catholic Church that he began in 2006 with the saints of the New Testament. Pope Benedict XVI must have a strong affinity for St. Augustine. Both of them wanted to live a life of intense prayer and study yet both were called to serve the people of God and had to adapt their language to suit the people they were serving. He reflects on this in his 5th talk.

9 January 2008, Saint Augustine of Hippo (1)

In his Confessions, St. Augustine’s “attention to the spiritual life, to the mystery of the “I”, to the mystery of God who is concealed in the “I”, is something quite extraordinary, without precedent, and remains forever, as it were, a spiritual “peak”.”

Cicero’s Hortensius gave Augustine a love of wisdom. He said: “This book changed my feelings to the extent that every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart” (Confessions, III, 4, 7).

Augustine got the penitental psalms to be transcribed in large letters and put on the wall of his bedroom as he prepared for his death.

16 January 2008, Saint Augustine of Hippo (2)

30 January 2008, Saint Augustine of Hippo (3)

Augustine’s entire intellectual and spiritual development is a valid model today for the relationship between faith and reason. Augustine said that faith and reason “are 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.

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.

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.

20 February 2008, Saint Augustine of Hippo (4)

“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.”

On the City of God – “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.”

27 February 2008, Saint Augustine of Hippo (5)

Contrary to what many think, “Augustine’s conversion was not sudden or fully accomplished at the beginning, but can be defined, rather, as a true and proper journey that remains a model for each one of us.”

He described his conversion to Jesus as “your converting me to yourself” (Confessions, VIII, 12, 30).

“In a beautiful passage, St Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God (cf. In I Ioannis 4, 6).”

 

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