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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 20 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Benedict XVI returned to his catechesis on St. Augustine in the Wednesday general audience. The Pope greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Basilica and then moved to the Paul VI audience hall where the rest of those attending the audience waited.

  St. Augustine, the Holy Father said, was "a great witness of Christ, much loved by my predecessors and whom I also have studied and meditated upon often. He is the Father of the Church who has left us the most works, some of which are of vital importance for the history of Christianity."

  Benedict XVI first cited the "Confessions", in which "we can follow, step by step, the inner journey of this extraordinary man who was passionate about God". He also mentioned the "Retractions" in which an aged Augustine returned to everything that he had written, noting revisions and "leaving a unique and precious literary document that was also a teaching of sincere intellectual humility".

  "On the City of God" was "a decisive work for the development of Western political thought and in the history of Christian theology". It was written between 413 and 416 to respond to the accusations made by pagans who ascribed the fall of Rome in 410 to the Christian God and the apostles who could not protect the city, while under the pagan divinities Rome was the "caput mundi" and it was unimaginable that it could have fallen into enemy hands.

  As the Pope explained, many thought that Rome "was not safe with the God of the Christians" and that "the Christian God could not offer protection, which is why they could not trust in Him". Augustine responded to this objection, "which touched the hearts of the Christians profoundly, with his illustrious "On the City of God", clarifying what we can and what we cannot hope for from God, referring to the relationship between the political sphere and that of the faith of the Church". "Even today", he continued, "this text is a source for defining the lay life and the Church's duty, the true and great hope that gives us faith".

 In the text Augustine "presents the history of humanity governed by divine providence, which is, however, divided between the two opposing loves that give origin to the two cities: the earthly one that originates in self love and indifference toward God, and the celestial one born of love of God and indifference to self".

  "On the Trinity", the Pope continued, "deals with the nucleus of the Christian faith", while "On Christian Doctrine" is a cultural introduction to the interpretation of the Bible, and thus to Christianity itself, and was of great importance in the formation of Western culture".

  The saint, "aware of his intellectual stature (…) always gave preference to the spread of the Christian message to ordinary persons over learned theological works. This concern is evident in his "On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed" dedicated to the problems of teaching illiterate Christians" and the "Psalm Against the Donatists".

Benedict XVI explained that the Donatists, who the book was aimed at, held that the true Church was the African one. He noted that St. Augustine had fought his whole life against this schism, sustaining that only in the unity of the Church was an African Church also possible. The "Psalm Against the Donatists", therefore, although it is a doctrinal treatise, is written in an accessible manner so that all might understand that it is "only in the unity of the Church that our relationship with God and others comes to be and that peace in the world grows".

  In his "Expositions on the Book of Psalms", the Holy Father added, are found many homilies "that were collected by scribes while the saint preached (…) Their fame ensured their wide distribution and they served as models that were always adaptable to new contexts".

  "Even today," the Pope finished, "St. Augustine lives through his works and is present among us. We thus see the lasting vitality of the faith for which he spent his entire life."
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