At today's general audience Pope Benedict XVI returned to his catechesis on St. Augustine of Hippo saying that his works are able to teach Catholics even now. Before going into the Paul VI audience hall, the Pope greeted an overflow crowd of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Augustine, the Holy Father began, 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 turned to Augustine’s "Confessions" first, saying that in them "we can follow, step by step, the inner journey of this extraordinary man who was passionate about God".
"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 sack 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 "head of the world" (“caput mundi”) and it was unthinkable 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".
St. Augustine responded to this objection, "which touched the hearts of the Christians profoundly, with his illustrious work "On the City of God", clarifying what we can and what we cannot expect 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 jurisdiction, the true and great hope that gives us faith".
In the text Augustine, describes the tension between two cities: the earthly city that springs from love of self and indifference to God, and the heavenly city, born from 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 to Christianity itself, and was of great importance in the formation of Western culture".
The Holy Father also shared his admiration for the intellectual humility of St. Augustine. He explained that while he was "aware of his intellectual stature”, Augustine “always gave preference to the spread of the Christian message to ordinary persons over learned theological works.”
In his "Expositions on the Book of Psalms", the Pope 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 concluded, "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."