We were very loath to leave the old Venetian town of Castelfranco behind us. We should have liked to linger in the cool shade of the mediaeval walls; to wander through the old streets of the town; to inspect the cathedral with its famous altar-piece by Giorgione. But we had no time to spare for these pleasant occupations, so we turned our backs upon the town and set out along the road which leads to Riese.
It was an uninteresting road, dusty and sun-baked, and it seemed interminably long. Our thoughts went back to those days, more than a century ago, when a little peasant boy tramped through rain and sleet in winter and the scorching rays of the sun in summer, to and from school, fourteen kilometers every day, along this monotonous road. He was a sturdy little fellow with curly hair and a bright intelligent face. He did not seem to mind the roughness of the way, for he had taken off his shoes and had slung them over his shoulder. Of course, there was an added reason for that: he knew that his parents could not really afford to buy shoes for him so he made them last as long as possible. It was a pleasant sight to see him as he walked along merrily in his bare feet, not minding the dust or the frost, and holding in his hand a little satchel which contained his dinner, a piece of black bread. How easy it was to see in him the warm, generous heart, humble and self-sacrificing, which within a few years was to cast its glory over the whole Church.
So we trod in the footsteps of little Bepi Sarto until, turning a corner, we saw in front of us the little cluster of houses which is Riese, and above them the tall bell-tower of the village church.
And here on our right was the humble cottage which we had come so far to see. Our pilgrimage was at an end. We were crossing the doorstep of the house where Pius X was born.
It was on the 2nd of June in the year 1835 that a second son was born to Giovanni (Gian) Battista Sarto, the village postman, and his wife, Margherita Sanson. On the following day, according to the good custom of those parts, he was taken to the church to be baptised, receiving the names Giuseppe Melchiorre. Little did the old parish priest think that the baptismal book in which he made a note of the event would one day be bound in gold and guarded jealously, as one of the greatest treasures of Riese.
Of little Bepi’s childhood we need say little. Under the wise care of his mother, he was brought up to love God and His holy Mother. It was his great delight to serve Mass, and very often, when the church bell rang while he was in the fields, he would hasten to borrow the shoes of one of his companions, so that he might run and serve at the altar. It is no wonder, then, that before many years had passed he conceived a great desire to be a priest and to offer the holy sacrifice himself.
Up to this he had been frequenting the elementary classes at Riese, receiving special instruction in Latin from the curate, who noted with satisfaction his quick intellect and remarkable memory. In 1846, he was old enough to attend the grammar school at Castelfranco. He made great progress there so that at the examinations held in 1850 he was first in every subject.
The next thing to be done was to send him to a seminary, for he had now told the parish priest of his desire; and the good old man, full of joy and enthusiasm, had persuaded Gian Battista to submit to the divine will and to give his son to God. But where was the necessary money to come from? Neither Gian Battista nor the parish priest had any to spare. But little Bepi was not dismayed; he trusted in divine Providence and it was quick to come to his aid.
Cardinal Monico, the Patriarch of Venice at that time, had the privilege of nominating students for several free places in the seminary of Padua. When he was told of the plight of little Bepi Sarto, the Cardinal, who had himself been a poor boy of Riese, at once agreed to send him to the great seminary to continue his studies for the priesthood. So Bepi received the cassock, and was for eight years a student of Padua, doing all things well for the glory of God; striving all the time after that goal which was to be the ideal of his whole life — to be a holy priest.
CURATE AND PARISH PRIEST
Once again, Giuseppe Sarto passed along the road from Riese to Castelfranco, but this day of 1858 he did not notice the dust; he did not see the familiar landmarks which had relieved the monotony of the long road in his childhood. One thought filled his mind to the exclusion of everything else: “Today I shall be a priest of the Most High.” And he strained his eyes to catch a first glimpse of the old city where he was to be ordained.
For his mother that was the happiest day of her life. Many years afterwards, she was to see him clad in all the splendour of the Cardinalate, but her heart did not beat with the same intense joy as on that morning when he became one of the anointed of God — a priest.
A few days after his ordination he was appointed as curate to Don Antonio Costantini, the archpriest of Tombolo, a village of about 1,500 inhabitants. Don Antonio conceived an immediate liking for the young curate, and being a zealous man, determined that he should be as well prepared as possible to labour for souls. To this end, he tried to form him in the ways of parish life, paying special attention to the criticism of his sermons, and showing him how he might improve his delivery and manner of address. But in private, Don Antonio wrote delightedly to a friend: “They have sent me a young priest as curate with orders to form him to the duties of a parish priest, but I assure you that it is likely to be the other way about. He is so zealous, so full of good sense and other precious gifts that I could learn much from him; one day or another he will wear the mitre, of that I am certain, and afterwards? . . . Who knows?”
Gradually Don Giuseppe acquired quite a reputation for his preaching, and the neighbouring towns strove to secure him for their special sermons. This success, however, had no effect on the young priest except to make him humble himself and give all the glory to God, He saw in himself only a poor and unworthy disciple whom the Master was pleased to use as a humble instrument for the salvation of souls.
The young curate of such a parish did not receive much for his upkeep, but even out of his slender allowance, he gave the greater part to the poor. He found it impossible to refuse them anything, so that time and time again he had to pawn his watch. As for the fees which he received for his sermons, he never returned to Tombolo with them in his pocket: they had gone to the relief of some poor soul on the way. When Don Antonio remonstrated with him and pointed out that he should save some for his mother, he would reply: “These poor people were in greater need than she; our Lord will provide for her also.” So great was his faith in divine Providence.
Don Antonio at this time had very bad health, and was often so weak that he could not even rise to say Mass. Accordingly, all the work of the parish fell upon the curate. But no one would have imagined that it was hard work for him, so cheerfully did he fulfil all his duties. He was at the beck and call of everyone, especially of the sick and needy, for affliction of every kind made a deep impression on his tender heart. Well might the people of Tombolo apply to him the words used with reference to his divine Master “Pertransiit benefaciendo!” He went about doing good.
In May, 1867, Don Giuseppe was appointed parish priest of Salzano, an important parish of over 4,500 inhabitants. The heart of Don Antonio was full of sorrow at the departure of his young curate, and the peasants of Tombolo were inconsolable. The people of Salzano, on the other hand, were surprised that a curate from such a place should have been chosen as their parish priest, for they expected that as usual, some dignity of the diocese would receive the appointment. But when they had heard his first sermon, their admiration knew no bounds. “What was the Bishop thinking of to leave a man like this buried for so long among the yokels of Tombolo?” they said.
It was not long before his new parishioners discovered that the virtues of their parish priest were not confined to his sermons. His warm heart opened out and gathered in his new children, and they, in their turn, seeing his Christ-like charity and care for their souls and bodies, responded accordingly. Although he was now receiving more money than he had done before it was not sufficient for his inexhaustible almsgiving, so that on many occasions he found himself with no food in the larder and no money to buy any. No wonder that his sister, Rosa, who kept house for him, was almost at her wits end!
His people often saw him early in the morning, opening the church doors and performing many of the humblest offices of the sacristan. “When I am old and infirm it will be the sacristan who will have to get up early,” he would say, laughingly.
In the year 1873, however, when cholera broke out, his self- consuming charity shone forth in all its splendour. He nursed and tended his beloved people; prepared the sick for death, administered the sacraments, and comforted the living. “If it had not been for Don Giuseppe I would have died of fear and sorrow,” said one old man years later.
Not even at night did he get any rest, for he had to attend the funerals of the victims of the plague, who could not be buried during the daytime on account of the infection. Sometimes it happened that he had to help to carry the coffin and to dig the graves himself.
It is quite certain that his strength could not have lasted much longer under so great a strain. Fortunately, the Bishop had already been informed of his too great exertions, so that at the earliest opportunity he was moved from Salzano.
CANON OF TREVISO
Once more, a flock was deprived of the loving care of its pastor, but this time the people were consoled by the great honour which Don Giuseppe received. He was appointed Canon of the Cathedral of Treviso, Spiritual Director of the seminary, and Chancellor of the diocese.
As soon as he learned of the Bishop’s decision to promote him to the Canonry, he begged, with his customary humility, to be allowed to remain a simple parish priest. But the Bishop could not be persuaded to let him stay at Salzano, where he had been overworking and starving himself for his people. So Don Giuseppe went to Treviso and undertook his new labours cheerfully and with the self-sacrificing zeal which was characteristic of him. Perhaps the new work was not so congenial to him after the more active life at Tombolo and Salzano, but, if such was the case, he showed no sign of it. He did everything for the glory of God and not for his own satisfaction, so that he undertook every kind of work with the same cheerful readiness.
He threw himself with special ardour into his work as Spiritual Director for it was a task most dear to his heart, to form priests who would be worthy ministers of Christ and of His Church. As a professor who was there at the time tells us “He never wandered into vain speculations, but was always most practical, striving to form priests who would be able to face the world and its difficulties; to evangelise, correct, instruct, and counsel the faithful.” His opening discourse to the students was remarkable for its humility:
“You expect to find in me a man of great experience, of profound ascetical and theological knowledge, but I have none, or practically none of these qualities; I am only a poor country parish priest, who has come here by the will of God; but just because I am here by the will of God you must resign yourselves to listening to the words even of a poor parish priest, and bear with me.”
From the famous Encyclical which, as Pope, he addressed to the priests of the world, we can gather some of the thoughts which he must have impressed on the minds of the students at Treviso.
“A priest cannot stand alone; for good or for evil, his life and behaviour necessarily affect his people, and when that life is truly good how great a blessing it is to them.”
“Since you are merely God’s instruments in the salvation of souls, these instruments must be such as He can handle. And why? Do you think that God uses us to further His glory because of any inborn excellence or of any qualities acquired by our own personal effort? Not so, for it is written: ‘The foolish things of the world has God chosen that He may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world has God chosen that He may confound the strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, has God chosen, and things that are not that He might bring to nought things that are.’ There is one thing, however, which unites man to God, one thing which makes him pleasing, and His not unworthy coadjutor, in the dispensation of His mercy, and this one thing is sanctity of life. If this holiness, which is the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, be wanting to the priest, he lacks everything.”
Very soon, an even greater burden was laid upon the shoulders of Monsignor Sarto. In 1879, the Bishop died and he was elected Vicar Capitular, so that to him fell the administration of the diocese while it remained vacant. He filled this office until June of the following year when Monsignor Callegari, the new Bishop, took possession of the diocese. Two years later, in 1882, Monsignor Callegari was succeeded by Monsignor Apollonio. Both of these Bishops appreciated to the full the sterling qualities of their Chancellor. They noticed with admiration the prudent and competent way in which he solved the most intricate problems of the diocese. They found in him not only an efficient administrator, but also a trusted companion and counsellor. Slowly but surely the reputation of Monsignor Sarto began to spread, even beyond the limits of the diocese, and men looked upon him as one who would before long be called to the episcopate.
One day a friend said to Monsignor Sarto: “There is one thing which I cannot understand.”
“What is that?”
“Why they do not realize at Rome that you have all the qualities necessary for a Bishop?”
“Do you think that that is the kind of thing you should wish for a friend?”
“And why not? Doesn’t Saint Paul say . . .?”
“Leave Saint Paul alone! . . . The cross is a joyous burden so long as a priest wears it under his cassock; but as soon as he has to wear it outside, even though you attach it to a chain of gold, it becomes a real burden. Let us talk about something else.”
BISHOP OF MANTUA
It was towards the end of the summer of 1884 that Monsignor Apollonio summoned Monsignor Sarto one day to his private oratory.
“Let us kneel here before the Blessed Sacrament and pray about a matter which concerns us both.”
The poor Chancellor did not know what to think, and feared that something had happened at Riese; but when he had risen to his feet again, the Bishop said with emotion: “I am happy and yet at the same time sorry to tell you that the Holy Father has appointed you Bishop of Mantua.”
The humble soul of Monsignor Sarto was filled with dismay. Convinced as he was of his own unworthiness he felt that it was his duty to write to Pope Leo XIII and beg him to appoint some more suitable person. But his reputation had gone before him to the Vatican, and his efforts were of no avail. So, confessing his own weakness, and trusting in the divine strength to help him, he resigned himself to the will of God and set out for Rome.
After he had received episcopal consecration in the Eternal City, he returned to Treviso, where he remained for some time. Before taking possession of his diocese he addressed a letter to the Mayor of Mantua; it ended with these striking words: “Your new Bishop, poor in all things but rich in love, has no other desire than to procure the salvation of souls and to form among you one family of friends and brothers.
“For the advantage of souls I shall spare myself neither care, nor vigils, nor fatigues, and shall have nothing more at heart than your salvation. Perhaps someone will ask on what I am relying for the fulfilment of my promises. I reply: on hope . . . the hope of Christ . . . (Quoting Saint Paul,) I can do all things in Him who strengthens me!” Such was the message of the Bishop to his flock.
The new Bishop found Mantua in a lamentable condition. Innumerable political wrangles had uprooted all charity and brotherly love from among the citizens, and class was set against class. The people no longer observed the feast days, and were quite ignorant of Christian Doctrine. Many of the priests were imbued with the ideas of the “new Italy,” and had lost the ecclesiastical spirit: some of them had even gone so far as to embrace heretical doctrines and had made shipwreck of their faith.
Monsignor Sarto viewed with sorrow this terrible state into which his diocese had fallen, but did not allow himself to be disheartened. In exhorting his priests to join with him in fighting the evils which existed, he said: “Do not believe that there are such things as insurmountable difficulties; a strong will, a sincere love for the sacred ministry, as also an intelligent pastoral zeal, united to the grace of God, can accomplish everything.”
Under his firm but gentle rule, Mantua became once again a city of peace and concord. The seminary, which had been in a sorry plight, was re-organised and put on a firm basis, so that before long it held as many as 147 students; the priests who had been neglectful of their flocks were brought back to a realization of their priestly duties, and the sheep who had strayed were brought back to the fold by their zealous pastor. Not even the hardest hearts could withstand the onslaught made upon them by the noble example of their Bishop. How true were the words of Leo XIII! “If the diocese of Mantua does not love its new pastor, it is a sign that it is incapable of loving anyone, for he is the most worthy and the most lovable of Bishops.”
One morning a knock was heard at the door of the Bishop’s palace. Monsignor Sarto went to open the door himself, as he had no servants and his sisters had not returned from Mass. He found a young Monsignor waiting outside who had come to ask for permission to make some researches in the diocesan archives. He had just been to say Mass in the cathedral.
“Then you have not yet had breakfast? You must let me get you a cup of coffee ” — and the kindly Bishop led the young Monsignor into the kitchen.
Thus did the future Pius X prepare the breakfast of Monsignor Ratti, the future Pius XI. The following episode illustrates the Christ-like charity of Monsignor Sarto while he was Bishop of Mantua.
A certain business man of Mantua wrote an anonymous pamphlet full of libels against his Bishop. It was not long, however, before the latter discovered the author of the scandalous document. “That poor man has more need of prayers than of punishment,” he replied to those who advised him to take legal action.
Shortly afterwards the same man found himself in great financial straits. His creditors wished to have him declared guilty of fraudulent business transactions. All seemed lost, when some anonymous person sent him the sum of money necessary to cover the large deficit. Afterwards it was discovered that the generous friend was Monsignor Sarto, the Bishop whom he had maligned.
In this way, by charity and gentleness, did the Bishop of Mantua conquer for Christ.
IN THE CITY OF THE LAGOONS
On the death of Cardinal Agostini, Patriarch of Venice, in 1891, Monsignor Apollonio was appointed to succeed him. Owing to his weak state of health, he begged that he might be excused. The Pope agreed and nominated Monsignor Sarto as Patriarch in his stead. The dismayed prelate had no alternative but to accept, as the Cardinal Secretary of State had warned him beforehand that a refusal would be very displeasing to the Holy Father.
In the next Consistory, Monsignor Sarto, Bishop of Mantua, was raised to the Cardinalate and three days afterwards was promoted to the Patriarchate of Venice.
The new Patriarch found it impossible to take immediate possession of his diocese. On the pretext that the privileges conferred upon the Republic of Venice by the Papacy in times past had passed to the Italian Government, the latter claimed the right to nominate the Patriarch. They accordingly refused to recognize the appointment of Cardinal Sarto. In the meantime, the Cardinal returned to Mantua, intending to remain there until such time as it would be possible for him to go to Venice.
His first visit after his return was to Riese. Once again, Giuseppe Sarto passed along the dusty road from Castelfranco, but this time as he entered his native village all the bells were ringing and the whole countryside had turned out to meet him. He recognised many old familiar faces, while the young people whom he did not know cried out to him, “I am the daughter of Bartolomeo who was your friend; give me your blessing!” “I am the son of Andrew, your comrade . . .” His fine eyes shone with pleasure as he looked round on them all, while the merry smile, which they had known so well, played on his lips. But there was one face missing from the crowd, and he hastened to the little cottage where his mother, now too old and infirm to go to meet him, was awaiting her son.
On the following day, which was Sunday, the Cardinal celebrated Mass for the people. After the Gospel, he preached with such simplicity and feeling that many of the congregation were in tears. That night every house was decorated with lanterns and the whole village was filled with peasants from the outlying districts. It was a feast day in Riese.
On the third day, he robed himself in all the glory of the Cardinalate, and went to show himself to his mother. As he stood by her humble bedside, a Prince of the Church, she wept for joy; yet her heart was full of sorrow, for she knew that this would be their last meeting on earth. Later in the day, he embraced her tenderly for the last time, and so they parted; sadly, for the heart beneath the purple was as tender and as humble as ever.
At length, on the 24th of November, 1894, Cardinal Sarto made his entry into Venice. As he made a triumphal progress along the Grand Canal his launch was followed by a fleet of gondolas and boats of all descriptions, while the bridges and roofs were packed with a shouting and exultant multitude of citizens. Only the windows of the municipal buildings remained undecorated, and among the thousands of Venetians who went out, almost delirious with joy, to meet their Patriarch, the members of the anti-clerical municipality alone had no place.
The following day he addressed the people in these words: “I have not seen you before, but I will bear you all in my heart; parish priests, clergy, magistrates, nobles, rich men, sons of the people, and beggars, you are my family; my heart and my love are yours. From you I seek nothing but a corresponding affection. This is my only desire, that you will be able to say with all sincerity: our Patriarch is a man of upright intentions, who holds high the untarnished banner of the Vicar of Christ, who seeks nothing except to maintain and defend the truth and to do good.”
The new Patriarch set to work immediately to establish better relations between the civil authorities and himself. Although he was dealing with men who were bitter in their hatred of the Church, he always acted towards them with the greatest charity. His first letter to the Mayor of Venice was a manifestation of his fearless and apostolic spirit.
“Although our fields of action are far apart, in both of them we are striving after one end alone, namely, the good of the citizens. There can be no collision between the two powers since there is one Author of religion and of society. Accordingly, I hope to find in the representatives of the city the help which will render my pastoral duties less onerous. I hope for it and I feel sure of it.”
Within a short time, he had organised the Catholic forces so well, besides winning over the more moderate members of the opposition to his side, that at the forthcoming election a government more worthy of so Catholic a people was elected.
The Venetians were not slow to realize what a treasure they had in their midst. When they saw the crowds of beggars and poor suppliants who flocked daily to the Patriarch’s door, knowing that here at least they would find help and sympathy, it seemed to them as though the days of the Apostles had returned. But even they could not perceive the depths of his simplicity and humility. When they saw the grand figure receiving the dignitaries of the State with becoming splendour they did not realise that as soon as the ceremony was over he would retire to his little study to set about the business of the day, a humble priest once more. Nor did the visitors who dined with him realise that it was only by the efforts of the Patriarch’s sisters that the table had been set so elegantly and the food so daintily prepared. When he was alone he dined as frugally as in the old days and in the simplest possible manner. Even as a Patriarch he had very little money to spare, so that every penny that he could save by stinting himself was so much the more to give to his beloved poor. Once again, the Patriarch’s watch and ring found themselves in pawn, and the little presents which he had received disappeared one by one as some case more pitiful than the rest met his compassionate gaze.
When the Venetians saw the distinguished figure disappear into some miserable hovel or climb up the stone steps to a poverty-stricken attic, they would say to one another: “He never thinks of himself; he is wearing himself out for us.” So beloved was he by the rough gondoliers that his appearance among them was greeted by shouts of joy. “Here comes the Patriarch of the gondoliers,” they would cry.
The Eucharistic Congress, which was held at Venice in the month of August, 1897, gave Cardinal Sarto an opportunity of doing honour publicly to our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. His great love for the Blessed Sacrament manifested itself in his untiring efforts to make the Congress a great success, by fostering in the hearts of the people a fervent devotion for their Eucharistic Lord.
The people responded, and the Congress was the signal for an unparalleled outpouring of love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Never, even in the days of her glory, had Venice witnessed such scenes of splendour. As the final procession of the Blessed Sacrament passed by, men thought that they had never seen a sight so wonderful. Jesus Christ surrounded by His Cardinals, Bishops and priests, had come to reign among the people of Venice: they knelt in humble adoration, and the heart of the Patriarch was full of gratitude as he knelt with them to adore his Lord and Master.
ON THE CHAIR OF SAINT PETER
The death of Leo XIII on July 20th, 1903, filled the whole world with sorrow, but no one mourned the dead Pontiff more than Cardinal Sarto. As he spoke of the virtues of the late Pope, his eyes filled with tears. “If you only knew how much he had done for me. After our Lord I owe everything to him,” he said sorrowfully.
Six days afterwards, he had to leave for the Conclave. At the same time, he arranged to call for his sisters at Passagno on his way back from Rome. But his sisters, and indeed, the whole city, which turned out to greet him as he made his way to the station, seemed to have a premonition that they had seen him in Venice for the last time.
“Bless us once more,” they cried in a kind of anguish; and the eyes of the Patriarch were full of love as he
turned to give one last blessing to his people.
“Come back! Come back!” they cried.
“Alive or dead I will come back.” But he was not to be seen again in the city of the Lagoons.
At eight o’clock on the evening of July 31st, all the doors leading to the part of the Vatican where the Conclave was to be held were sealed up, not to be opened again until the Pope had been elected. In the Sistine Chapel, where the actual voting took place, thrones had been placed round the walls for the Cardinals. All was ready for the Conclave.
Next day after Mass, the Cardinals assembled and the voting began. Each in turn wrote the name of his candidate on a piece of paper and then placed it in a chalice on the altar, at the same time taking the following oath: “I call to witness the Lord Christ, who will be my Judge, that I am naming the one whom before God I think ought to be elected.” A majority of two-thirds of the votes was required.
The results of the first three scrutinies were as follows: 1st scrutiny: Rampolla, 24; Gotti, 17; Sarto, 5; other votes, 16 – total, 62. 2nd scrutiny: Rampolla, 29; Gotti, 16; Sarto, 10; other votes, 7 – total, 62. 3rd scrutiny: Rampolla, 29; Sarto, 21; Gotti, 9; other votes, 3 – total, 62.
After the second scrutiny, when it seemed likely that Cardinal Rampolla would be elected, Cardinal Puzyna rose during the voting for the third scrutiny, and delivered the veto of the Emperor of Austria against the election of Cardinal Rampolla. (One of the first acts as pope was to abolish right of veto.)
The Cardinals were astounded at this intolerable interference of the secular power, with the result that, far from the veto having the desired effect, the fourth scrutiny showed that the votes for Cardinal Rampolla had increased to 30. But the votes of Cardinal Sarto had also increased to 24. The humble Cardinal could stand it no longer and with tears in his eyes, he begged the other Cardinals not to think of him, who was so unworthy of this, the highest dignity on earth.
At last, it became quite obvious that before long he would be elected. After the fifth scrutiny, the Cardinal Dean sent young Monsignor Merry del Val, the Secretary of the Conclave, to persuade Cardinal Sarto not to persist in his refusal. The young man entered the Pauline Chapel and found the Cardinal kneeling alone before the Blessed Sacrament, with his face buried in his hands. He approached quietly and communicated to him the message of the Cardinal Dean. The older man turned imploring eyes upon him, while the tears ran down his cheeks. “No, no, tell him, I beseech you, not to think of me: tell him to do me this kindness, not to think of me,” was his only reply.
But at the seventh scrutiny, Cardinal Sarto was elected Pope, and with bowed head accepted the cross laid upon him. “If this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Your will be done,” he said in a low voice.
When he was asked what name he would take, he replied, “Because the Popes who have suffered most for the Church in these times have borne the name of Pius, I also will take that name.”
So on the 4th of August the windows on the balcony of Saint Peter’s opened, and Cardinal Macchi appeared before the thousands assembled in the Piazza of Saint Peter’s. In the breathless silence which followed, he said in a clear voice: “I announce to you tidings of great joy: we have a Pope, the most eminent and most reverend Cardinal Sarto, who has taken the name of Pius X.” In the thunderous acclamation which followed this announcement, only the great bell of the basilica could be heard sending forth the joyous news to the whole city. Habemus Pontificem. ‘We have a Pope – a bridge-builder – a Pontiff.’
No longer was Giuseppe Sarto the pastor and father of only one people. The paternal care which had strengthened and comforted so many must now be universal. His heart, which had embraced the villagers of Tombolo and the people of Salzano, had been large enough to enfold the diocese of Mantua and the Patriarchate of Venice. It was now to become evident that his love for souls knew no bounds. His protecting arms were to encircle the whole world, his tender glance was to rest affectionately upon every nation under heaven. He was to be the good shepherd, solicitous for the sheep that had strayed, and strong enough to withstand every danger that might threaten his flock. The wolves, and there were to be many of them, would never find the sheep deserted; the shepherd would always be there, ready to lay down his life, if necessary, for his flock.
When the election of Cardinal Sarto to the Papacy was first made known, the enemies of the Church rejoiced, thinking that they would soon be able to bend to their own wills a man so simple and unversed in international diplomacy. But they were soon undeceived. When his first Encyclical sent forth this message and challenge to the world, they were compelled to admit that with Pius X at any rate gentleness did not spell weakness. Sanctity may mean unworldiness, but it does not necessarily signify ignorance of the world.
“There will be no lack of men who, measuring divine things by human standards, will try to penetrate the innermost purposes of Our mind, wresting them to earthly ends and the aims of parties. To cut off every vain hope of theirs We declare to them with all sincerity that in the midst of human society, We desire to be nothing, and with the divine aid, We will be nothing, but the minister of God, whose authority We bear. The interests of God will be Our interests and We are resolved to devote all Our strength and life itself to them. Therefore, if any one should ask Us for some phrase to express Our purpose, We will always give this one and no other: ‘To restore all things in Christ’.”
A few days after the election had taken place, Monsignor Merry del Val presented himself before the Pope in order to pay his respects to Pius X before leaving the Vatican. Now that the Conclave was over the Secretary had no reason for remaining there any longer.
“What! Monsignor, do you wish to abandon me?” asked the Pope kindly.
“No, Holy Father,” replied Monsignor Merry del Val with emotion, “I do not wish to leave Your Holiness, but my task is finished. The Secretary of State, whom Your Holiness will appoint, will take my place.”
“Come, come, Monsignor, remain here as Pro-Secretary of State until I have time to make my decision.” Several days passed; the Pope consulted the Cardinals and finally appointed Monsignor Merry del Val as his Secretary of State, at the same time signifying his intention of creating him Cardinal at the next Consistory.
“Let us work together, let us suffer together for love of the Church,” were the words of Pius X to the young prelate. Thus were two noble souls joined together in one great work — the restoration of all things in Christ.
One of the first duties of the new Pope was to receive the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. After their audience with the Holy Father, they proceeded to the Borgia apartments, where the Pro-Secretary of State was waiting to receive them.
“What impression did the audience make upon you?” inquired Monsignor Merry del Val. The answers which he received astounded him. When they were all seated, the Prussian minister suddenly rose and put the question which was uppermost in the minds of them all: “What strange quality does this man possess which can attract us so strongly?”
The keen observer and great historian, Baron von Pastor, asks the same question, but he tries to find the answer himself. “There are some men,” he writes,” who exercise so strong a fascination that no one can resist them. Among these chosen men, we must number Pius X. It was not only his touching simplicity or his angelic goodness which conquered everyone: he united with these qualities a charm so irresistible that the only way to describe it is to say that everyone who came near to him felt that he was in the presence of a saint.”
The diplomats and great families were not the only ones who had the privilege of an audience with Pius X in those early days of the Pontificate. Every Sunday the people of each of the Roman parishes in turn came to the Vatican, and there the Pope received them in the open air, and preached them homely little sermons on the Gospels.
“The great parish priest of Rome and of the world,” writes Rene Bazin, “spoke like Saint Peter, with power and love. Those who heard him, the poor and those who were not quite so poor, were deeply moved, perceiving how the Pope loved them. When he had finished speaking and had given them his blessing, they sang the hymn: ‘Noi vogliam Dio,’ (‘We Long for God’) and so departed, bearing in their minds a great picture: that of a Pope whose countenance shone with regal majesty and infinite tenderness, like the face of Jesus as he gave to the multitudes the treasures of His divine world.”
“Pius X,” writes Father Fachinetti, “felt all the weight of the tiara and of the great responsibility which it signifies, and perhaps it was this which made him avoid all pomp even in the most solemn functions, at least as far as his own person was concerned. ‘What a punishment’ — he was heard exclaim one day — ‘what a punishment to have to follow all these usages of Court! I feel like Jesus captured in the Garden when they lead me along surrounded by soldiers!’ Thus he felt!” Wilfred Ward saw him during one of the functions in Saint Peter’s, and wrote: “His face amid the scene of triumph spoke of the vanity of all earthly glory. He had ever the look of one who is weighed down by the sins and sorrows of mankind — a look befitting the Vicar of Him of whom we speak as the Man of Sorrows.”
The heart of Pius X was often laden with sorrow. Day by day news reached him of persecutions, in Spain and Portugal, in Russia and Germany, and he wept as he thought of the sufferings which his children had to undergo. But it was on France that he turned his most anxious gaze, for it was in that country that the enemies of the Church were making their greatest efforts to tear the people from their allegiance to the Vicar of Christ.
PIUS X AND FRANCE
For many years, even before the ascension of Pope Pius X to the throne of Saint Peter, the anti-clerical governments of France in union with the French Freemasons had made it their aim to separate the Church and State, to seize the property of the Church and to make a complete and definite break with Rome.
With this end in view, religious instruction had been forbidden in the elementary schools, divorce was re-established in the civil code, prayers at the opening of Parliament were abolished, members of Religious Orders were not allowed to teach in public schools, clerics were not to be exempted from military service, children were compelled to read irreligious books in the schools, officers in the Army and Navy and other public officials, who practised their religion, were refused promotion or dismissed from their posts.
This was the situation which Pius X was called upon to face. In a letter which he addressed to the President of the French Republic he protested against the injuries inflicted upon the Church and reminded him that these acts were violations of the Concordat signed by the Holy See and Napoleon I. Monsieur Loubet replied by denying that the French Government had any intention of breaking the Concordat. This protestation brought no conviction with it, for it was obvious to everyone that the French Government was only waiting for an opportunity to break with Rome. As Monsieur Combes said in the previous March: “To denounce the Concordat just now without having sufficiently prepared men’s minds for it, without having clearly proved that the Catholic clergy themselves are provoking it and rendering it inevitable, would be bad policy on the part of the Government, by reason of the resentment which might be caused in the country.”
It was not long before they managed to trump up an excuse.
About this time, the Pope found it necessary to summon two French Bishops to Rome. The French Government, maintaining that the Pope had no right to correspond directly with any French prelates, pretended to find in this act a violation of the Concordat. Diplomatic relations with the Vatican were severed and on the 9th of December, 1905, the Law of Separation was passed, by which the annual revenue of the Church was suppressed, and lay “associations” were ordered to be set up in each parish to administer the Church property.
Then the Pope spoke: “We denounce and condemn this law passed in France on the separation of Church and State, as being injurious to God, whom it officially rejects by stating that the Republic should not recognise any cult. We denounce and condemn it because it violates the natural law, the law of nations, and the public fidelity which is owing to treaties. (We condemn it) as contrary to the divine constitution of the Church, to her essential rights and to her liberty . . . We denounce and condemn it because it is seriously injurious to the dignity of this Apostolic See, to Our person, to the Episcopate, to the clergy and to all French Catholics.”
The Pope then condemned in unequivocal terms the proposed “associations,” showing clearly that such lay administration would be most harmful to the Church.
The French Government replied to this condemnation by seizing all the property which remained to the Church, so that the clergy of France were rendered penniless.
Pius X had foreseen this and had deliberately rejected wealth and slavery, in favour of poverty with liberty. He had relied upon the fidelity of the French clergy and had called upon them to lose all for the good of the Church.
At a word from the Pope, the Bishops gave up their palaces and the priests their presbyteries; their incomes were gone, so that they had to depend on the charity of the faithful for their sustenance. But in their poverty, the poverty of Christ, the Church in France found its freedom, so that a few years later a French writer could say: “Our Church is truly and entirely Roman; and, therefore, all these attacks on its members have no effect except to attach them more securely to the fount and centre of their life. The religious life is everywhere increasing in depth and in intensity.”
The anti-clericals had tried to stamp out the Church, but their very efforts in that direction had only made her spring up with renewed life; they had tried to bind her, but they had failed because the ropes which they used were the goods of this world, and upon the throne of Saint Peter sat a man who despised the world and everything which it could offer.
PIUS X AND MODERNISM
We now come to what is always a sad page in the history of the Church — the defection of her own children.
Pius X had read with grave concern the writings of many intellectual men of various nations who were trying as they expressed it, to “modernise” the Church, “to form a new credo,” which, they thought, would be more in accordance with the discoveries of modern science. They wished to reject everything which they could not reconcile with their own preconceived ideas. They treated the Church not as an infallible and living body, but as some archaic document which they could change to suit their own convenience. But why should they respect the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, when they rejected our Lord Himself? They attacked Revelation and the Gospels, denying, not only the authority and inspiration of the Holy Scripture, but the divinity, miracles and teaching of Jesus Christ Himself; nay, even the very demonstrability of the existence of God.
But they did not state all this in so many words: at least not at first. They were much more subtle than that. Sometimes, as was the case with the Abbe Loisy, they published under assumed names pamphlets and articles against the Church and her doctrines, although at the same time they posed to the outside world as loyal sons of the Catholic Church.
But their tricks and stratagems could not deceive the vigilant Pontiff, who saw, under their protestations of loyalty, the spectre of heresy which lay hidden in their souls. On the 15th of April 1906, in a letter full of heavenly wisdom, Pius X defined Modernism as “the synthesis and poison of all heresies”: on the 3rd of July, 1907, he denounced as heretical 65 of the Modernist doctrines, and, finally on the 8th of September came the Encyclical, “Pascendi dominici gregis,” like a roll of thunder throughout the Catholic world. With calm and measured words, it tore the veil from the concealed heresies of the Modernists, and exposed their insidious doctrines to the light of day.
In an Encyclical Letter, which he wrote for the Centenary of Saint Anselm, Pius X has the following momentous passage: “The Modernists fell into so great a pit, not because they possessed a profound and solid culture, for in reality there can be no opposition between reason and the faith. The true cause was this: they had an extraordinary opinion of themselves.” And, as he wrote in another Encyclical, “True reformers are distinguished from false ones in this, that the latter seek their own good and not that of Christ.”
With words of fire, Pius X had cast out the serpent.
THE POPE OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
The Blessed Sacrament is and has always been the centre and mainspring of the Christian Life. The Apostles, gathered round the supper table, received from Our Lord His Body and Blood, and were united most closely with Him, and through Him with each other. The early Christians, dispersed by persecution, nevertheless met in the catacombs around the Eucharist table and were joined together once more by the sweet bond of Christ. From the Holy Eucharist they drew the strength and comfort which they needed, just as millions of Christians were to do after them.
Wherever devotion to the Blessed Sacrament waxed strong, the Faith burned with a clear and steady flame, but where this devotion was lacking the Christian life lost its inspiration and grew cold. Time and time again, the devil had attempted to crush this love for the Eucharist, but his efforts had all met with failure. Persecution had broken out and churches had been destroyed, but Catholics had met in cellars and on the bleak hillsides, risking life and fortune, in order to receive their Eucharistic Lord. Heretics had denied the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and had tried to poison the minds of men with their doctrines, but the lamp of faith was not extinguished and the Catholic people still approached the altar rails to receive the Bread of Life.
Then a new heresy arose; a much more subtle and dangerous heresy, for it made its appeal to the very reverence which Catholics had for the Holy Eucharist. Under a pretext of respect due to God, the Jansenists, for so the new heretics were called, demanded such conditions of perfection from the faithful before they could approach the Sacrament of the Altar, that it would have been impossible for most Catholics ever to receive Holy Communion.
The results of the heresy were widespread, and this despite the repeated condemnations of the Popes. Frequent Communion became an almost unheard of thing, and, as for the children, they were not allowed to make their first Holy Communion until their 12th or 14th year, with the result that many died without receiving the Holy Viaticum.
This deplorable attitude towards the Blessed Sacrament lasted for more than two centuries, so that even when the twentieth century dawned there were still to be found priests of the old school who were unwilling to give Holy Communion frequently to their people.
As Bishop of Mantua, Monsignor Sarto had striven vigorously to uproot the last traces of Jansenism from his diocese, and had unceasingly urged his priests to remember the words of our Lord: “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood ye shall not have life in you,” reminding them that it had been the custom in the early Church for the faithful to communicate frequently, even daily.
But when he became Pope, he no longer urged and begged that the people might be given the Bread of Life: he authoritatively put an end to all controversy and commanded that the faithful should be brought back to the practice of frequent Communion.
“Frequent and daily Communion since it is a thing most desired by Jesus Christ and His Church, cannot be denied to the faithful so long as they are in a state of grace and have the right intention, which consists in an ardent desire to please God, to unite oneself more closely with Him, and to make use of this remedy against the weaknesses and defects of human nature. And, although it is most desirable that those who receive Communion frequently should be free from venial sins, at least from those that are fully deliberate . . . nevertheless it is sufficient if they are free from mortal sins and have a firm resolve not to commit any in the future.”
This first decree on Frequent Communion evoked a storm of criticism. Even good and learned men murmured against it and openly accused the Pope of indiscretion, fearing that it would lead to a decrease of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. The Pope replied by pointing out that the primary reason for the institution of the Holy Eucharist was not that men might show honour to God, but that they might receive, through this close union with Christ, strength to conquer concupiscence, to wash out little everyday faults and to avoid the grave sins to which they might be tempted. So, undismayed by their criticism, he set out bravely once again to complete this part of his restoration of all things in Christ and issued a special invitation to the children, so that they also might be brought to the feet of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He did this by means of two further decrees.
The first decree established the right of all children to communicate frequently as soon as they had made their first Holy Communion; the second, the famous decree, “Quam Singulari,” fixed the age at which children should be allowed to make their first Holy Communion at the age of discretion; that is, the age when they can distinguish between ordinary bread and the Bread of Life. This, the decree stated, would normally be about the seventh year; of course, it might be much earlier than that.
All the biographers of Pius X describe how an English lady, together with her little boy of four years, received a private audience with the Holy Father.
The Pope watched him attentively and then, drawing the child to him, inquired how old he was.
“He is only four, Your Holiness.”
The Pope turned to the child and asked gently: “Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?”
“And who is Jesus Christ?”
“Jesus Christ is God,” answered the child without hesitation. The Pope was delighted.
“Bring him to me tomorrow and I will give him his first Holy Communion myself.”
The good effects of the Eucharistic decrees of Pius X, which constitute, as Rene Bazin says, “one of the greatest acts of the Papacy at all times,” became most evident in the increased and ever-increasing love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament which manifested itself all over the world. At the Vatican, hundreds of letters were received from people of all classes, including many from children who wrote to thank the Vicar of Christ for giving Jesus to them. They delighted the heart of the aged Pontiff who read them all with tears of thankfulness that he had been chosen as the humble instrument of bringing Jesus into their hearts.
Undoubtedly one of the happiest days of his life was when, in the spring of 1912, four hundred little first Communicants came from France to thank the Pope personally in the name of the children of France. Their audience with the angelic Pontiff made a lasting impression on them. They had not been at all shy — they said — that had not been possible, he was so kind. “There were tears in his eyes; but many of us cried too.” Almost all who could get near enough to speak to him asked him for some favour: ‘Heal my sister, Holy Father’; ‘convert my father’; ‘I want to be a priest’; ‘and I a missionary’. It must have been like that when the people flocked round Jesus in Galilee.
“Suffer little children to come unto me,” had been the words of our divine Saviour. Pius X, in leading them to the feet of Jesus, received from His divine Master an aureola of glory which will surround his name for ever.
“The Pope of the Eucharist”: “the Pope of the Blessed Sacrament”: could there be more glorious titles?
THE WONDER WORKER
“These signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils . . . . They shall lay their hands upon the sick and they shall recover.” This was the final promise of our divine Lord to the Apostles. It does not astonish us then when we read in the Acts of the Apostles that the people of Judea ” brought forth their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that, when Peter came, his shadow at the least might overshadow any of them and they might be delivered from their infirmities.” Why therefore should we be astonished if nineteen centuries later the 258th successor of Saint Peter brought the sick back to health by the power of his word and healed the infirm with the touch of his garment?
It had already been murmured at Mantua and at Venice that the saintly Bishop and Cardinal had laid his hands upon the sick whom he visited, and that many of them had recovered immediately. When he was elected Pope, and prodigies of the same nature were witnessed by hundreds of people in audience, it was not so easy as it had been before to hush them up. Before long all Rome spoke of the graces and miracles which had been obtained by his prayers or by his blessing.
Pius X turned away with some laughing remark all references to these marvellous happenings. “At present,” he said on one occasion, “they are saying in the newspapers that I am working miracles, as though I have nothing else to do.” But when they insisted, he said quietly: “I have nothing to do with it; it is the power of the keys.”
On the 8th of September, 1912, the wife of the Belgian Consul in Rome went to the Vatican to ask the Pope to bless her husband, who for a long time had been suffering from a malignant disease. The Holy Father raised his eyes to heaven: “Have faith, have faith, my child; the Lord will hear you.” She hurried home and found her husband waiting to tell her the joyful news that he was completely cured.
On another occasion, a poor man who was paralysed went to one of the public audiences. When the Pope drew near, he implored him to heal him. The Pope smiled kindly and touched the crippled arm, saying in a gentle voice: “Yes, yes, yes!” At the same moment, the man felt a strange sensation in his arm. Hardly daring to hope, he tried to raise it and found to his amazement that it had regained all its vigour. Before he could cry out with joy, the Pope motioned to him to keep quiet. Then, blessing him once more, Pius X moved on in silence.
In the diocese of Nimes in France lived a little girl who had been paralysed from birth so that she could make no movement except with her lips. In the year 1909, her parents took her to Rome, as she had expressed a wish to go there. In her own mind, she was convinced that if she could speak to Pius X she would be cured.
Her father took her to a public audience, unconscious of her purpose. When she had kissed the Pope’s ring, the child said trustingly: “Holy Father, I have a favour to ask.”
“May God grant you all that you desire,” replied the Pope simply. At these words, the child sat up and immediately walked down the audience hall, to the amazement of the people present.
In Spain, there was a nun who for fifteen years had had cancer of the stomach. Eventually it spread to the throat and prevented her from taking food, so that her life was despaired of. But she applied a collar worn by Pius X to the affected part and drank a few drops of water in which she had placed a few threads drawn from another relic of the Pope.
Within a few days, the cancer had disappeared.
Miracles do not make saints, but they make manifest their singular virtue and the power and efficacy of their intercession with God. Whether the wonders worked at the Vatican by the saintly Pontiff were true miracles it was for the Church to decide. Miracles were not needed to make men realise the astonishing sanctity of Pius X. His whole life spoke of the heights of perfection which he had reached. Poor with the poverty of Christ, humble with the humility of Christ, meek with the meekness of Christ, his soul was a flame of fire which swept the earth and kindled the love of God wherever it went. He was a man “beloved by God and men, whose memory will be held in benediction.”
THE DEATH OF THE POPE
On 2nd June, 1914, Pius X entered his eightieth year. It was to be a year of suffering for him. The war clouds were gathering on the horizon. “1914 will not pass without the outbreak of war,” he said to Cardinal Merry del Val. And on another occasion: “I would willingly give my life if I could banish this horrible scourge.”
On 28th June, the vigil of the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, a telegram arrived from the Nuncio in Vienna bearing the news of the assassination of the Archduke Francis of Austria. Pius X realised the full significance of the tragedy. “Here is the spark which will start the blaze,” he said sorrowfully. That evening he went down into Saint Peter’s to pray before the tomb of the Apostle. “We go to pray for the dead also,” he said. Slowly and sadly, he made his way to the Confessional, blessing with a weary hand the few guards who remained in the great basilica. Alone he knelt before the tomb of the Fisherman and poured forth his soul in prayer, imploring his divine Master to spare His people.
A few days afterwards the aged Pontiff was taken ill. “May the will of God be done,” he said, “I believe that all is over.” On the 18th of August, he received Holy Viaticum. He lost his power of speech, but his eyes were fixed on the figure of our Lord on the cross. For a long time he held the hands of the Secretary of State, who had served him so faithfully and so well. The great Cardinal was overwhelmed with grief. At a quarter past one on the morning of the 20th of August, the pure soul of Pius X passed to its eternal reward.
In the years since Pius X died, the fame of his sanctity has spread to the ends of the earth and many countries have striven to outdo one another in honouring his memory. The miracles attributed to him in Rome during his lifetime were few in comparison with those reported throughout the world after his death. His tomb in the Crypt of Saint Peter’s became a place of pilgrimage for countless thousands of all nationalities and petitions for his Beatification poured in from every corner of the earth. His Cause, introduced in 1923, proceeded slowly but surely. The war retarded its progress but as soon as the conflict ended and the Apostolic process began in Rome, it was rapidly brought to a happy conclusion. On June the 3rd, 1951, only 37 years after his death, Pius X was Beatified, to the joy of the whole Catholic world.
Three years later, on 29th May, 1954, Pope Pius XII, the ‘Pastor Angelicus’, the Angelic Shepherd’, descended into the Basilica of Saint Peter’s, to announce solemnly and authoritatively that his beloved predecessor, Pius X, was to be venerated as a Saint.
Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters: Greetings and the apostolic blessing!
Augustine of Hippo, who, scarcely one year after his death, was called “one of the best teachers” of the Church by my distant predecessor, Saint Celestine I, has been present ever since in the life of the Church and in the mind and culture of the whole western world. In a similar fashion, other Roman Pontiffs have proposed the example of his way of life and the writings that embody his teachings as an object of contemplation and imitation, and very many Councils have drawn copiously from his writings. Pope Leo XIII praised his philosophical teachings in the encyclical Aeterni Patris; later, Pius XI made a brief synthesis of his virtues and teachings in the encyclical Ad salutem humani generis, declaring that, of those who have flourished from the beginnings of the human race down to our own days, none – or, at most, very few – could rank with Augustine, for the very great acuteness of his genius, for the richness and sublimity of his teachings, and finally, for the holiness of life and defense of Catholic truth. Paul VI later affirmed: “Indeed, over and above the shining example he gives of the qualities common to all the Fathers, it may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages.”
22kb jpg painting of Saint Augustine I, too, have added my voice to those of my predecessors, when I expressed my strong desire “that his philosophical, theological and spiritual doctrine be studied and spread, so that he may continue … his teaching in the Church, a humble but at the same time enlightened teaching which speaks above all of Christ and love.” On another occasion, I urged in particular the spiritual sons of this great saint “to keep the fascination of Saint Augustine alive and attractive even in modern society.” This is an excellent ideal that must fire us with enthusiasm, because “the exact and heartfelt knowledge of his life awakens the thirst for God, the attraction of Christ, the love for wisdom and truth, the need for grace, prayer, virtue, fraternal charity, and the yearning for eternal happiness..”
I am very happy, accordingly, that the propitious circumstance of the sixteenth centenary of his conversion and baptism offers me the opportunity to evoke his brilliant figure once again. This commemoration will be at the same time a thanksgiving to God for the gift that he has made to the Church, and through her to the whole human race, with this wonderful conversion. It will also be a very fitting occasion to recall to all that this convert, when he had become a bishop, was a marvelous example to pastors in his intrepid defense of the true faith, or, as he would say, of the “virginity” of the faith. He was likewise the genius who constructed a philosophy that can truly be called Christian, because of its harmony with the faith, and a tireless promoter of spiritual and religious perfection.
I. We know the progress of his conversion from his own works written in the solitude of Cassiciacum before his baptism, and above all from the famous Confessions, a work that is simultaneously autobiography, philosophy, theology, mysticism and poetry; a work in which those who thirst for truth and know their own limitations have always discovered their own selves. Toward the end of his life, he wrote: “Which of my works succeeded more often in being known and loved than the books of my Confessions?” History has never contradicted this judgment, but has amply confirmed it. Even today, the Confessions of Saint Augustine are widely read, since the richness of their interior insight and religious emotion have a profound effect on the minds of men and women, stimulating them and disturbing them. This is true not only of believers; even one without faith, but in search at least of a certainty that will allow him to understand himself, his deep aspirations and his torments, reads this work with advantage. The conversion of Saint Augustine, an event totally dominated by the need to find the truth, has much to teach the men and women of today, who are so often mistaken about the greatest question of all life.
It is well known that this conversion took a wholly individual path, because it was not a case of arriving for the first time at the Catholic faith, but of rediscovering it. He had lost it, convinced that in so doing, he was abandoning only the Church, not Christ.
He had been brought up in a Christian manner by his mother, the pious and holy Monica. In virtue of this education, Augustine always remained not only a believer in God, in Providence and in the future life, but also a believer in Christ, whose name he “had drunk in,” as he says, “with my mother’s milk.” After he had returned to the faith of the Catholic Church, he said that he had returned “to the faith which was instilled in me as a child and which had entered into my very marrow.” If one wishes to understand his interior evolution, and what is perhaps the most profound aspect of his personality and his thought, one must take this fact as one’s starting-point.
He awoke at the age of nineteen to the love of wisdom, when he read the Hortensius of Cicero: “That book altered my way of thinking … and I desired wisdom’s immortality with an incredible ardor in my heart.” He loved the truth deeply, and sought it always with all the strength of his soul: “O Truth, Truth, how deep even then was the yearning for you in the inmost depths of my mind!”
Despite this love for truth, Augustine fell into serious errors. Scholars who look for the reasons for this indicate three directions: first, a mistaken account of the relationship between reason and faith, so that one would have to choose between them; second, in the supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ; and third, the desire to free himself from the consciousness of sin, not by means of the remission of sin through the working of grace, but by means of the denial of the involvement of human responsibility in the sin itself.
The first error consisted, therefore, in a certain spirit of rationalism which led Augustine to believe that “one should believe those who teach, rather than those who issue commands.” With this spirit, he read the Sacred Scriptures and felt himself repelled by the mysteries that they contained, mysteries that need to be accepted with humble faith. when he spoke later to his people about this period of his life, he said: “I who speak to you was once deceived, when I first came to the divine Scriptures as a youth, preferring to discuss intellectual points rather than to seek piety…. In my wretchedness, I thought that I could fly, and left the nest; and before I could fly, I fell.”
It was at this time that Augustine met the Manichaeans, heard them and followed them. The chief reason for this was that “they said that, having set aside the terrible authority, they would lead to God by pure and simple reason those willing to listen to them, freed from all errors.” Augustine then presented himself as “one wishing to grasp and imbibe the open and authentic truth” with the force of reason alone.
After long years of study, especially of philosophical study, he realized that he had been deceived, but the effect of the Manichaean propaganda was to keep him convinced that the truth was not to be found in the Catholic Church. He fell into a profound depression and indeed despaired of ever coming to know the truth: “the Academicians kept my rudder for long in the middle of the streams, resisting all winds.”
It was the same love for truth which he always had within him, that rescued him from this interior crisis. He realized that it was impossible that the path to truth should be closed to the human mind; if it is not found, it is because men neglect and despise the means that will lead to the discovery of truth. Strengthened by this conviction, he replies to himself: “Rather, let us seek more diligently, and not despair.” He therefore continued to search, and reached the harbor under the guidance of the divine grace which his mother implored for him in her supplications and abundant tears.
He understood that reason and faith are two forces that are to cooperate to bring the human person to know the truth, and that each of these has its own primacy: faith comes first in the sequence of time; reason has the absolute primacy: “the authority is first in the order of time, but in reality the primacy belongs to the reason.” He understood that if faith is to be sure, it needs a divine authority, and that this is none other than the authority of Christ, the supreme teacher – Augustine had never doubted this and that the authority of Christ is found in the Sacred Scriptures that are guaranteed by the authority of the Catholic Church.
With the help of the Platonist philosophers, he freed himself from the materialistic concept of being that he had taken from Manichaeism: “Admonished by them to return to myself, I entered within myself, under your guidance…. I entered, and I saw as with the eye of my soul … the inalterable light above my mind.” It was this unalterable light that opened to him the immense horizons of the spirit and of God.
He understood that the first question to be asked about the serious question of evil, which was his great torment, was not its origin, but what it was; and he saw that evil is not a substance, but the lack of good: “All that exists is good. The evil about the origin of which I asked questions is not a substance.” He concluded that God is the Creator of everything, and that no substance exists that was not created by him.
Taught by his own experience of life, he made the decisive discovery that sin has its origin in the will of the human person, a will that is free and weak: “It was I who willed and refused; it was I, I.”
Although he could assert at this time that he had reached the point of arrival, this was not yet the case, because he was caught in the tentacles of a new error, the presumption that he could attain the beatifying possession of the truth by natural powers alone. An unhappy personal experience changed his opinion on this point. He understood then that it is one thing to know the goal, another to reach it. In order to find the necessary powers and the path itself, he took up “most eagerly,” as he says, “the venerable Scripture of your Spirit, and above all the apostle Paul.” He found Christ the teacher in the letters of Paul, as he had always venerated him, but also Christ the Redeemer, the Incarnate Word, the only Mediator between God and men. He saw then in all its splendor “the face of philosophy” – the philosophy of Paul that has as its center Christ, “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), and has other centers in faith, humility and grace; the “philosophy” that is at once wisdom and grace, so that it becomes possible not only to know one’s homeland, but also to reach it.
Having rediscovered Christ the Redeemer and embraced him, Augustine had returned to the harbor of the Catholic faith, to the faith in which he had been brought up by his mother: “For I had heard while still a boy about the eternal life promised to us by the God who in his humility came down to our pride.” The love for the truth, nourished by divine grace, overcame all errors.
But the path was not yet at its end. A former plan was reborn in Augustine’s mind: to consecrate himself totally to wisdom once he had found it, abandoning every earthly hope in order to possess wisdom. Now he could no longer make excuses: the truth so long desired was now certain. Nevertheless, he hesitated, seeking reasons to put off the decision to do this. The bonds that tied him to the earthly hopes were strong: honors, money, marriage, especially the last, in view of the way of life that had become customary for him.
Augustine knew well that he was not forbidden to marry; but he did not want to be a Catholic Christian in any other way except by renouncing the excellent ideal of the family in order to dedicate himself with “all” his soul to the love and possession of wisdom. In taking this decision, which corresponded to his deepest aspirations but was in contrast to his most deeply-rooted habits, Augustine was prompted by the example of Anthony and of the monks who were beginning to spread in the West also, and whom he came to know by chance. He accused himself with great shame, “You could not do what these men and women do.” A deep and painful struggle ensued, which was brought to its close by divine grace once again.
Augustine related to his mother his serene and strong decision: “Then we went to my mother and related the matter to her: she rejoiced. We related how it had come about: she exulted in triumph and she blessed you, who are able to do more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20), because she saw that you had given her so much more, as regarded me, than she had been accustomed to ask with her unhappy and tearful groanings. For you converted me to yourself, so that I might seek neither wife nor any hope of this world.”
From this moment, Augustine began a new life. He finished the academic year – the harvest holidays were near – and withdrew to the solitude of Cassiciacum; at the end of the vacation, he gave up teaching, and returned to Milan at the beginning of 387. He enrolled among the catechumens and was baptized on the night of Holy Saturday – April 23-24 – by Ambrose, the bishop from whose preaching he had learned so much. “We were baptized, and the care of the past life fled from us. I could not have enough in those days of the wonderful sweetness of contemplating the sublimity of your plan of salvation for the human race.” He adds, bearing witness to the profound emotion of his mind, “How much I wept at the hymns and canticles, keenly moved by the sweet voices of your Church!”
After baptism, Augustine’s one desire was to find a suitable place to live with his friends according to his “holy resolution” to serve the Lord. He found it in Africa, at Tagaste, his native town, where he went after the death of his mother at Ostia Tibernia and after spending a few months at Rome to study the monastic movement. When he arrived at Tagaste, “having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night.” The passionate lover of the truth wanted to dedicate his life to asceticism, to contemplation, and to the intellectual apostolate. His first biographer indeed goes on to say: “In his discourses and his books, he taught about what God had revealed to his intellect as he pondered and prayed.” He wrote very many books at Tagaste, as he had done at Rome and Milan and at Cassiciacum.
After three years he went to Hippo, intending to look for a site to found a monastery, and to meet a friend whom he hoped to win for the monastic life. He found instead, in spite of himself, the priesthood. But he did not give up his ideal: he asked and obtained permission to found a monastery, the monastery of the laymen, in which he lived, and from which many priests and many bishops came from all of Africa. When he became bishop, five years later, he transformed the bishop’s house into a monastery, the monastery of the clerics. Not even as priest and bishop did he abandon the ideal conceived at the moment of his conversion. He wrote also a rule for the servants of God, which has had so much influence in the history of western religious life, and continues to play its part today.
II. I have dealt at some length with the essential points of the conversion of Augustine, because they offer so many useful teachings, not only for believers, but for all men and women of good will: They teach how easy it is to go astray on the path of life, and how difficult it is to rediscover the way of truth. But this wonderful conversion also helps us to understand better his life afterwards as monk, priest and bishop who always remained the great man who had been struck by the lightning flash of grace: “You had shot at our heart with the arrow of your love, and we bore your words transfixed in our breast.” Above all, the conversion helps us to penetrate more easily into his thought, which was so universal and profound that it rendered incomparable and imperishable service to Christian thought, so that we have good reason to call him the common father of Christian Europe.
The hidden force of his tireless search was assuredly the same force that had guided him on the path of his conversion: love for the truth. He himself indeed says: “What does the soul desire more strongly than the truth?” In a work of lofty theological and mystical speculation, written more out of personal need than for external requirements, he recalls this love and writes: “We are caught up by the love of seeking out the truth.” This time, the object of the search is the august mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of Christ, the Father’s revelation, “knowledge and wisdom” of the human person: thus was born the great work On the Trinity.
Two coordinates guided the research, which was unceasingly nourished by love: the deepening of the Catholic faith and its defense against those who denied it, such as the Manichaeans and the pagans, or who interpreted it erroneously, such as the Donatists, the Pelagians and the Arians. It is difficult to venture forth upon the sea of Augustine’s thought, and even more difficult to summarize it – this indeed is almost impossible. I may, however, be permitted to recall some illuminating insights of this mighty thinker, for the edification of all.
Reason and faith
First of all, there is the problem that occupied him most in his youth and to which he returned with all the force of genius and the passion of his spirit: the problem of the relationship between reason and faith. This is a perennial problem, no less acute today than yesterday, and the direction taken by human thought depends on its solution. It is a difficult problem, however, because one must pass safely between two extremes, between the fideism that despises reason and the rationalism that excludes faith. Augustine’s intellectual and pastoral endeavor aimed to show, beyond any shadow of doubt, that “since we are impelled by a twin pull of gravity to learn,” both forces, reason and faith, must work together.
He always listened to what faith had to say, but he exalted reason no less, giving each its own primacy in time or importance. He told all, “Believe that you may understand,” but he repeated also, “Understand that you may believe.” He wrote a work, perennially relevant, on the usefulness of faith, and explained that faith is the medicine designed to heal the eye of the spirit, the unconquerable fortress for the defense of all, especially of the weak, against error, the nest in which we receive the wings for the lofty flights of the spirit, the short path that permits one to know quickly, surely and without errors, the truths which lead the human person to wisdom. He also emphasizes that faith is never without reason, because it is reason that shows “in what one should believe.” “For faith has its own eyes, by means of which it sees in a certain manner that which it does not yet see is true.” Therefore “no one believes anything, unless he has first thought that it is to be believed,” because “to believe is itself nothing other than to think with assent … if faith is not thought through, it is no faith.”
The outcome of the discourse on the eyes of faith is the discourse on credibility, of which Augustine often speaks, reducing the reasons for credibility as if to confirm the consciousness with which he himself had returned to the Catholic faith. It is good to listen to one of these texts: “There are many things that most properly keep me in the bosom of the Catholic Church; to say nothing of the most genuine wisdom … let me therefore omit mention of this wisdom” (for this argument, which for Augustine was extremely strong, was not accepted by his opponents). “The consensus of peoples and races keeps me in the Church, as does the authority based on miracles, nourished by hope, increased by charity, strengthened by its ancient character; likewise the succession of the priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the care of his sheep after the resurrection, down to the episcopate of today; finally, the very name of the Catholic Church keeps me in her, because it is not without reason that this Church alone has obtained such a name amid so many heresies.”
In the great work on the City of God, which is at once apologetic and dogmatic, the problem of reason and faith becomes that of faith and culture. Augustine, who did so much to establish and promote Christian culture, solves this problem by developing three main arguments: the faithful exposition of Christian doctrine; the careful salvaging of pagan culture, to the extent that it had elements capable of being salvaged (in the area of philosophy, this was no small amount); and the insistent demonstration of the presence in Christian teaching of whatever was true and perennially valid in pagan culture, with the advantage of finding it perfected and exalted there. It was not for nothing that the City of God was widely read in the Middle Ages; and it greatly deserves to be read today as well, as an example and stimulus to deepen the encounter of Christianity with the cultures of the peoples. An important text of Augustine may be usefully quoted here: “The heavenly city … draws citizens from all peoples … taking no account of what is different in customs, laws and institutions; … she neither suppresses nor destroys anything of these, but rather preserves and fosters it. The diversities that may exist in the diverse nations work together for the single goal of earthly peace, unless they obstruct the practice of the religion that teaches the worship of the one, true and most high God.”
God and man
The other great word-pair which Augustine continuously studied is God and man. As I have said above, when he freed himself from the materialism which prevented him from having an exact concept of God – and hence, the true concept of man – he made this word-pair the center of the great themes of his study, and always studied the two together: man thinking of God, God thinking of man who is his image.
In the Confessions, he asks himself these two questions: “What are you for me?… What am I myself for you?” He brings all the resources of his thought and all the unwearying labor of his apostolate to bear on the search for an answer to these questions. He is fully convinced of the ineffability of God, so that he cries out: “Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, it is not God.” It follows that “it is no … small beginning of the knowledge of God, if before we are able to know what he is, we already begin to know what he is not.” It is necessary therefore to strive “that we should thus know God, if we are able and as far as we are able, the one who is good without quality, great without quantity, the creator not bound by necessity,” and thus going through all the categories of reality that Aristotle had described.
Although God is transcendent and ineffable, Augustine is nevertheless able, starting from the self-awareness of the human person who knows that he exists and knows and loves, and encouraged by Sacred Scripture, which reveals God as the supreme Being (Ex. 3:14), highest Wisdom (Wis., passim) and first Love (1 John 4:8), to illustrate this threefold notion of God; the Being from whom every being proceeds through creation from nothing, the Truth which enlightens the human mind so that it can know the truth with certainty, the Love that is the source and the goal of all true love. For God, as he so often repeats, is “the cause of what exists, the reason of thought and the ordering of living,” or, to use an equally famous formula, “the cause of the universe that has been created, and the light of the truth that is to be perceived, and the fountain from which happiness is to be drunk.”
But it was above all in studying the presence of God in the human person that Augustine used his genius. This presence is both profound and mysterious. He finds God as “the eternal internal,” most secret and most present – man seeks him because he is absent, but knows him and finds him because he is present. God is present as “the creative substance of the world,” as the truth that gives light, as the love that attracts, more intimate than what is most intimate in man, and higher than what is highest in him. Referring to the period before his conversion, Augustine says to God: “Where were you then for me, and how far away? And I was a wanderer far away from you … but you were more internal than what was intimate in me, and higher than what was highest in me”; “You were with me, and I was not with you.” Indeed, he insists: “you were in front of me; but I had gone away from myself and did not find myself, much less find you.” Whoever does not find himself does not find God, because God is in the depths of each one of us.
The human person, accordingly, cannot understand himself except in relationship to God. Augustine found ever new expressions of this great truth, as he studied the relationship of man to God and stated this in the most varied and effective way. He sees the human person as a tension directed toward God: his words, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart has no rest until it rests in you,” are very well known. He sees the human person as a capacity of existence elevated to the immediate vision of God, the finite who reaches the Infinite. He writes in the De Trinitate that man “is the image of the one whom he is capable of enjoying, and whose partner he can become.” This faculty “is in the soul of man, which is rational or intellectual … immortally located in his immortality,” and therefore the sign of his greatness: “he is a great nature, because he is capable of enjoying the highest nature and of becoming its partner.” He sees the human person also as a being in need of God, because he is in the need of the happiness that he can find only in God. Human nature “has been created in such an excellent state that even though it is itself mutable, it reaches happiness by cleaving to the unchangeable good, that is, to God. Nor can it satisfy its need unless it is totally happy; and only God suffices to satisfy it.”
It is because of this basic relationship between man and God that Augustine continually exhorts men to the life of the spirit. “Go back into yourself; the truth dwells in the inner man; and if you discover that your nature is mutable, transcend yourself also,” in order to find God, the source of the light that illuminates the mind. Together with the truth, there is in the inner man the mysterious capacity to love, which is like a weight (in Augustine’s celebrated metaphor) that draws him out of himself, toward the others and especially toward the Other, i.e., God. The force of attraction exercised by love makes him social by his very nature, so that, as Augustine writes, “there is nothing so social by nature … as the human race.”
Man’s interiority, where the inexhaustible riches of truth and love are stored, is “a great abyss,” which Saint Augustine never ceases to investigate with unfailing wonder. Here we must add that, for one who reflects on himself and on history, the human person appears as a great problem – as Augustine says, a “great question.” Too many enigmas surround him: the enigma of death, of the profound division that he suffers in himself, of the incurable imbalance between what he is and what he desires. These enigmas can be synthesized in the fundamental enigma of the greatness of the human person and his incomparable wretchedness. The Second Vatican Council spoke at length of these enigmas when it wished to cast light on the “mystery of the human person.” Augustine tackled these problems with passion and employed all the genius of his intellect, not only to discover the reality, which is often very sad – if it is true that no one is more social by nature than the human person, it is no less true, adds the author of the City of God, taught by history, that “no one is more prone to discord by vice than the human race” – but also and above all to seek and propose their solution. He finds only one solution, which had already appeared on the eve of his conversion: Christ, the Redeemer of Man. I, too, have felt it necessary in my first encyclical, called precisely Redemptor Hominis, to draw the attention of the Church’s children and of all men and women of good will to this solution; I was happy to take up with my own voice the voice of all of Christian tradition.
As Augustine’s thought penetrates these problems, it becomes more theological, while remaining fundamentally philosophical; and the word-pair Christ and Church, which he had at first denied and later recognized in his younger years, began to illuminate the more general word-pair of God and man.
Christ and the Church
One may rightly say that the summit of the theological thinking of the Bishop of Hippo is Christ and the Church; indeed, one could add that this is the summit of his philosophy too, in that he rebukes the philosophers for having done philosophy “without the man Christ.” The Church is inseparable from Christ. From the time of his conversion onwards, he recognized and accepted with joy and gratitude the law of providence which has established in Christ and in the Church “the entire summit of authority and the light of reason in that one saving name and in his one Church, recreating and reforming the human race.”
Without doubt, he spoke profusely and sublimely of the Trinitarian mystery, in his work on the Trinity and in his discourses, tracing the path that was to be taken by later theology. He insisted both on the equality and on the distinction of the divine Persons, illustrating these through his teaching on their relations: God “is what he has, with the exceptions that are predicated of each Person in respect of the other.” He developed the theology of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, but “principally” from the Father, because “the Father is the principle of all the divinity, or, to put it better, of the Godhead,” and he has granted to the Son the spiration of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds as Love and therefore is not begotten. To reply better to the “garrulous rationalists,” he proposed the “psychological” explanation of the Trinity, seeking its image in the memory, in the intellect and in the love of the human person, and studying thus the most august mystery of faith together with the highest nature of creation, the human spirit.
Yet when he speaks of the Trinity, he never removes his gaze from Christ who reveals the Father, nor from the work of salvation. Having come to understand the reason for the mystery of the Incarnate Word, shortly before his conversion, he did not cease to investigate this more deeply, summarizing his thought in formulas that are so full and effective that they are like an anticipation of the teaching of Chalcedon. In an important passage of one of his last works, he writes: “the believer … believes that in him there is the true human nature, that is our nature, although it is taken up in a unique way into the one Son of God when God the Word receives it, such that the one who received it and what he received formed one Person in the Trinity. The assumption of man did not make a quaternity, but the Trinity remained: this assumption wrought in an ineffable manner the truth of one person in God and man. Therefore, we do not say that Christ is only God … nor only man … nor man in such a way that he would lack something that certainly belongs to human nature … but we say that Christ is true God, born of God the Father … and the same is true man, born of a human mother … nor does his humanity, in which he is less than the Father, take away anything from his divinity, in which he is equal to the Father…. The one Christ is both of these.” He put it somewhat more briefly: “The same one who is man, is God; and the same one who is God, is man – not by the confusion of the nature, but in the unity of the person.” “One … person in both natures.”
With this solid vision of the unity of the person in Christ, who is called “wholly God and wholly man,” Augustine covers an immense ground in theology and history. If his eagle’s eye gazes on christ the Word of the Father, he insists no less on Christ the man; indeed, he asserts vigorously that without Christ the man there is neither mediation, nor justification, nor resurrection, nor membership of the Church, whose head is Christ. He returns often to his theme and develops it broadly, both to explain the faith which he had obtained again at the age of thirty- two and because of the needs of the Pelagian controversy.
Christ, the man-God, is the sole Mediator between the righteous and immortal God and the mortal and sinful human beings, because he is at once mortal and righteous. It follows that he is the universal way of liberty and salvation; outside this way, “which has never been lacking for the human race, no one has been set free, no one is set free, no one will be set free.”
The mediation of Christ is accomplished in the work of redemption, which consists not only in the example of righteousness, but above all in the sacrifice of reconciliation, which was supremely true, supremely free, and completely perfect. The essential characteristic of the redemption by Christ is its universality, which shows the universality of sin. This is how Augustine repeats and interprets the words of Saint Paul, “If one has died for all, then all have died” (2 Cor 5:14), i.e., dead because of sin: “The Christian faith, accordingly exists precisely because of these two men”; “One and one: one for death, one for life.” Therefore, “every man is Adam; likewise, for those who have believed, every man is Christ.”
In Augustine’s view, to deny this doctrine is the same as “emptying the cross of Christ” (1 Cor 1:17). To prevent this, he wrote and spoke much about the universality of sin, including the doctrine of original sin, “which the Catholic faith has believed from ancient times.” He teaches that “Jesus Christ came in the flesh for no other reason … than to give life and salvation to all, to free, redeem and enlighten those who beforehand were in the death of sins, in sickness, slavery, and darkness…. It follows that those who are not in need of life, salvation, liberation and redemption, cannot have anything to do with this dispensation of salvation by Christ.”
Because Christ, the only Mediator and Redeemer of men, is head of the Church, Christ and the Church are one single mystical person, the total Christ. He writes with force: “We have become Christ. Just as he is the head, we are the members; the whole man is he and ourselves.” This doctrine of the total Christ is one of the teachings that mattered most to the Bishop of Hippo, and one of the most fruitful themes of his ecclesiology.
Another fundamental theme is that of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Mystical Body: “what the soul is to the body of a man, the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, which is the Church.” The Holy Spirit is also the principle of community, by which the faithful are united to one another and to the Trinity itself. “By means of what is common to the Father and the Son, they willed that we should have communion both among ourselves and with them. They willed to gather us together, through that gift, into that one thing which both have in common; that is, by means of God the Holy Spirit and the gift of God.” He therefore says in the same text: “the fellowship of unity of the Church of God, outside of which there is no remission of sins, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, of course with the cooperation of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit himself is in a certain manner the fellowship of the Father and the Son.”
Contemplating the Church as body of Christ, given life by the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ, Augustine gave varied development to a concept which was also emphasized in a special way by the recent Council: that of the Church as a communion. He speaks in three different but converging ways: first, the communion of the sacraments, or the institutional reality founded by Christ on the foundation of the apostles. He discusses this at length in the Donatist controversy, defending the unity, universality, apostolicity and sanctity of the Church, and showing that she has as her center the See of Peter, “in which the primacy of the apostolic see has always been in force.” Second, he speaks of the communion of the saints, or the spiritual reality that unites all the righteous from Abel until the end of the ages. Third, he speaks of the communion of the blessed, or the eschatological reality that gathers in all those who have attained salvation, that is, the Church “without spot and wrinkle” (Eph 5:27).
Another theme dear to Augustine’s ecclesiology was that of the Church as mother and teacher, a theme on which he wrote profound and moving pages, because it had a close connection to his experience as convert and to his teaching as theologian. While he was on the path back to faith, he met the Church, no longer opposed to Christ as he had been made to believe, but rather as the manifestation of Christ, “most true mother of Christians” and authority for the revealed truth.
The Church is the mother who gives birth to the Christians: “Two parents have given us the birth that leads to death, two parents have given us the birth that leads to life. That parents who gave us birth for death are Adam and Eve: the parents who gave us birth for life are Christ and the Church.” The Church is a mother who suffers on account of those who have departed from righteousness, especially those who destroy her unity; she is the dove who moans and calls all to return or draw near to her wings; she is the manifestation of God’s universal fatherhood, by means of the charity which “is mild for some, severe for others; an enemy to none, but mother for all.”
She is a mother, but also, like Mary, a virgin: mother by the ardor of charity, virgin by the integrity of the faith that she guards, defends and teaches. This virginal motherhood is linked to her task of teacher, a task which the Church carries out in obedience to Christ. For this reason, Augustine looks to the Church as guarantor of the Scriptures, and attests that he will remain secure in her whatever difficulties arise for him, urgently exhorting others to do the same: “Thus, as I have often said and impress upon you with vehemence, whatever we are, you are secure if you have God as your Father and his Church as your mother.” From this firm conviction is born his passionate exhortation that one should love God and the Church – God as Father and the Church as Mother. Perhaps no one else has spoken of the Church with such great affection and passion as Augustine. I have pointed out a few of his statements, in the hope that these are sufficient to show the depth and the beauty of a teaching that will never be studied sufficiently, especially from the point of view of the love that animates the Church as the effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence within her. He writes, “We have the Holy Spirit, if we love the Church; we love the Church, if we remain in her unity and charity.”
Freedom and grace
Even to indicate briefly the various aspects of Saint Augustine’s theology would be an infinite task. Another important, indeed fundamental aspect, linked also to his conversion, is that of freedom and grace. As I have already mentioned, it was on the eve of his conversion that he grasped the responsibility of the human person in his actions, and the necessity of the grace of the sole Mediator, whose power he felt in the moment of the final decision, as the eighth book of his Confessions eloquently testifies. His personal reflections and the controversies he later experienced, particularly with the followers of the Manichaeans and the Pelagians, offered him the opportunity to study more deeply the individual facets of this problem and to propose a synthesis, although this was done with great modesty because of the highly mysterious nature of the problem.
He always defended freedom as one of the bases of a Christian anthropology, against his former correligionists, against the determinism of the astrologers whose victim he himself had once been, and against every form of fatalism; he explained that liberty and foreknowledge are not incompatible, nor liberty and the aid of divine grace. “The fact that free will is aided, does not destroy it; but because it is not taken away, it is aided.” And the Augustinian principle is well known: “He who made you without your participation, does not justify you without your participation. He has made you without your knowledge, he justifies you if you will it.”
With a long series of biblical texts, he demonstrates to those who doubted this compatibility or upheld the contrary view, that freedom and grace belong to divine revelation and that one must hold firmly to both of these truths. Few are capable of grasping this compatibility in its profundity, for this is an exceedingly difficult question which can cause many people anxiety, because while defending liberty one can give the impression of denying grace, and vice versa. One must therefore believe in their compatibility, just as one must believe in the compatibility of the two entirely necessary offices of Christ, who is at once Savior and Judge, for it is on these two offices that freedom and grace depend: “if then God’s grace does not exist, how does he save the world? And if free will does not exist, how does he judge the world?”
On the other hand, Augustine insists on the necessity of grace, which is the same thing as the necessity of prayer. To those who said that God does not command what is impossible, and that therefore grace is not necessary, he replied that “God does not command what is impossible; but when he commands, he exhorts you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot do,” and God gives help so that the command becomes possible, since “he does not abandon us unless we abandon him first.”
The doctrine of the necessity of the divine grace becomes the doctrine of the necessity of prayer, on which Augustine insists so much, because, as he writes, “it is certain that God has prepared some gifts even for those who do not pray, such as the beginning of faith; but other gifts only for those who pray, such as final perseverance.”
Grace is therefore necessary to remove the obstacles that prevent the will from fleeing evil and accomplishing what is good. These obstacles are two in number, “ignorance and weakness,” but especially the latter, because “although it begins to be clear what is to be done and what goal is to be striven for … one does not act, one does not carry it out, one does not live well.” Augustine calls this helping grace “the inspiration of love, so that we may carry out in holy love what we have recognized … must be done.”
The two obstacles of ignorance and weakness must be overcome if we are to breathe the air of freedom. It will not be superfluous to recall that the defense of the necessity of grace is, for Augustine, the defense of Christian freedom. Starting from Christ’s words, “If the Son sets you free, then you will be truly free” (Jn 8:36), he defends and proclaims this freedom which is inseparable from truth and love. Truth, love and freedom are the three great good things that fired the spirit of Augustine and exercised his genius; he shed much light on the understanding of these.
To pause briefly in consideration of this last good, that of freedom, we must observe that he describes and celebrates Christian freedom in all its forms, from the freedom from error – for the liberty of error is “the worst death of the soul” – through the gift of faith which subjects the soul to the truth, to the final and inalienable freedom, the greatest of all, which consists in the inability to die and in the inability to sin, i.e., in immortality and the fullness of righteousness. All other freedoms which Augustine illustrates and proclaims find their place among these two, which mark the beginning and the end of salvation: the freedom from the dominion of the disordered passions, as the work of grace that enlightens the intellect and gives the will so much strength that it becomes victorious in the combat with evil (as he himself experienced in his conversion when he was freed from the harsh slavery); the freedom from time that we devour and that devours us, in that love permits us to live anchored to eternity.
He sets forth the unutterable riches of justification – the divine life of grace, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and “deification” – and makes an important distinction between the remission of sins which is total, full and perfect on the one hand, and on the other hand the interior renewal which is progressive and will be full and total only after the resurrection, when the human person as a whole shares in the divine immutability.
In the case of the grace that strengthens the will, he insists that it operates by means of love and therefore makes the will invincible against evil, without removing from the will the possibility of refusal. Commenting on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John. “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him” (Jn 6:44), he writes, “Do not think that you are drawn against your will: the spirit is drawn also by love.” But love, as he also observes, works “with liberal sweetness,” so that “the one who observes the precept with love, observes it in freedom.” “The law of freedom is the law of love.”
Augustine teaches no less insistently freedom from time, a freedom that Christ, the eternal Word, has come to bring us by his entry into the world in the incarnation: “O Word that exists before time, through whom time was made,” he exclaims, “born in time although you are eternal life, calling those who exist in time and making them eternal!” It is well known that St. Augustine studied deeply the mystery of time and both felt and stated the need to transcend time in order to exist truly. “That you may be truly yourself, transcend time. But who shall transcend it by his own power? Let Christ lift him up, as he said to the Father: ‘I wish that they too may be one with me where I am.’”
Christian freedom, as I have briefly mentioned, is seen and meditated on in the Church, the city of God, which manifests the fruits of this freedom and, as far as is in her power, makes all people sharers in them, upheld by divine grace. For she is founded on the “social” love that embraces all people and wishes to unite them in justice and peace, unlike the city of the wicked, which divides and sets people against each other, because it is founded on “private” love.
It is good to mention here some of the definitions of peace which Augustine made according to the various contexts in which he was speaking. Starting from the idea that “the peace of mankind is ordered harmony,” he defines other kinds of peace, such as “the peace of the home, the ordered harmony of those who live together, in giving orders and in obeying them,” likewise the peace of the earthly city and “the peace of the heavenly city, the wholly ordered and harmonious fellowship in enjoying God and enjoying one another in God,” then “the universal peace that is the tranquility of good order,” and finally the order itself that is “the disposition that gives its place to each of the various equal and unequal things.”
“The pilgrimage of your people sighs” for this peace “from its departure until its return,” and for this peace it works.
Charity and the ascent of the spirit
This brief synthesis of Augustine’s teaching would remain seriously incomplete if we did not mention his spiritual teaching which, united closely to his philosophical and theological teaching, is no less rich than these. We must return once more to the conversion with which we began. It was then that he decided to dedicate himself totally to the idea of Christian perfection. He remained always faithful to this ideal; even more than this, he committed himself with all his power to showing others the path of perfection, drawing both on his own experience and on the Bible, which is for all the first nourishment of piety.
He was a man of prayer; one might indeed say, a man made of prayer – it suffices to recall the famous Confessions which he wrote in the form of a letter to God – and he repeated to all, with incredible persistence, the necessity of prayer: “God has willed that our struggle should be with prayers rather than with our own strength”; he describes the nature of prayer, which is so simple and yet so complex, the interiority which permits him to identify prayer with desire: “Your desire is itself your prayer; and if your desire is continuous, then your prayer too is continuous.” He brings out its social usefulness also: “Let us pray for those who have not been called, that they may be called. For perhaps God has predestined them in such a way that they will be granted and receive the same grace in answer to our prayers”; and he who speaks of its wholly necessary link to Christ “who prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us, as our head; he is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognize our voices in him, and his voice in us.”
He climbed with steady diligence the steps of the interior ascents, and described their program for all, an ample and well-defined program that comprises the movement of the spirit toward contemplation: purification, constancy and serenity; orientation toward the light, dwelling in the light; the stages of charity: incipient, progressing, intense, perfect – the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are linked to the beatitudes, the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the examples given by Christ himself.
If the Gospel beatitudes constitute the supernatural environment in which the Christian must live, the gifts of the Holy Spirit bring the supernatural touch of grace which makes this climate possible; the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, or in general, prayer which can be narrowed down to these petitions, gives the necessary nourishment; the example of Christ provides the model that is to be imitated; and charity is the soul of all, the source of radiation outwards and the secret power of the spiritual life. It is no small merit of Augustine to have narrowed all of Christian doctrine and life down to the question of charity. “This is true love: that we cling to the truth and live righteously.”
We are led to this by Sacred Scripture, which in its entirety “tells the story of Christ and admonishes us to charity,” and also by theology, which finds its own goal in charity, by philosophy, by pedagogy, and finally by the study of politics.
Augustine located the essence and the norm of Christian perfection in charity, because it is the first gift of the Holy Spirit and the reality which prevents one from being wicked. It is the good with which one possesses all goods, and without which the other goods are of no avail. “Have charity, and you will have them all; because without charity, whatever you have will be of no benefit.”
He indicated all the inexhaustible riches of charity: it makes easy whatever is difficult, gives newness to what has become habit; it gives irresistible force to the movement toward the supreme God, because charity is always imperfect here on earth; it frees from every interest that is not God; it is inseparable from humility – “where there is humility, there is charity” – and is the essence of every virtue, since virtue is nothing else but well-ordered love; it is the gift of God. This final point is crucial, because it separates and distinguishes the naturalistic and the Christian concepts of life. “Whence comes the love of God and of neighbor that exists in men, if not from God himself? Because if it is not from God, but from men, the Pelagians have won: but if it is from God, then we have defeated the Pelagians.”
Charity gave birth in Augustine to the anxious desire to contemplate divine things, a desire that belongs to wisdom. He frequently experienced the highest forms of contemplation, not only in his famous experience at Ostia, but in other forms too. He says of himself: “I often do this,” referring to his recourse to the meditation of Scripture so that his pressing cares may not oppress him: “this is my delight, and I take refuge in this pleasure as much as the things I must do permit me to relax…. Sometimes you lead me into an interior sentiment that is utterly unusual, to a sweetness I cannot describe: if this were to reach its perfection in me, I cannot say what that would be, but it would not be this life.” When these experiences are united to the theological and psychological acuteness of Augustine, and to his uncommon talent as a writer, we understand how he was able to describe the mystical ascents with such precision, so that he has been called by many people the prince of mystics.
Despite his predominating love for contemplation, Augustine accepted the burden of the episcopate and taught others to do likewise, responding thus with humility to the call of our mother the Church. But he also taught through his example and his writings how to preserve the taste for prayer and contemplation among the tasks of pastoral activity. It is worthwhile to recall the synthesis that he offers us in the City of God, which has become classical. “The love of the truth seeks the holy repose of leisure, but the necessity of love takes on the just duty. If no one imposes this burden, one should spend one’s time in perceiving and grasping the truth: but in this case, the delight in the truth must not be altogether abandoned, lest that sweetness be lost, and necessity become oppressive.”
III. It is not irrelevant to recall the pastoral activity of this bishop, who is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest pastors of the Church. This activity also had its origin in his conversion, because the conversion gave birth to his resolve to serve God alone. “Now I love you alone … I am ready to serve you alone.” When he then realized that this service must also include pastoral activity, he did not hesitate to accept it; he accepted it with humility and trepidation, but out of obedience to God and to the Church.
This apostolate had three fields which spread out like concentric circles: the local church of Hippo, which was not large, but was troubled and needy; the African Church, which was sadly divided between Catholics and Donatists; and the universal Church, which was attacked by paganism and Manichaeism, and disturbed by heretical movements.
He saw himself as the servant of the Church in every way: “Christ’s servant, and through him the servant of his servants.” He drew all the consequences of this, including the most taxing, such as risking his own life for the faithful; he asked the Lord for the strength to love them in such a way as to be ready to die for them “in reality or in disposition.” He was convinced that one who was placed at the head of the people without this disposition was “a scarecrow standing in the vineyard” rather than a bishop. He did not want to be saved without his faithful, and he was ready for any sacrifice, if it would bring those in error back to the way of truth. At a time of extreme danger because of the invasion by the Vandals, he taught his priests to stay among their faithful even at the risk of their own lives. In other words, he wished that bishops and priests should serve the faithful as Christ served them. “Let us therefore see in what sense the bishop who is set over others is a servant: in the same way as the Lord himself.” this was his constant program of action.
In his diocese, which he never left except in a case of necessity, he was assiduous in preaching – he preached on Saturday and Sunday, and frequently throughout the entire week – in catechesis; in what he called “the bishop’s audience,” which sometimes lasted for an entire day, so that he did not eat; in directing the monks, many of whom were later called to the priesthood and the episcopate, and in the guidance of the monasteries of nuns. When he died, “he left to the Church libraries and a very numerous clergy, and monasteries of men and women full of those consecrated to chastity under their superiors.”
He worked with equal tirelessness for the Church of Africa, accepting the task of preaching wherever he was asked. He took part in the frequent regional councils, despite the difficulties of travel, and undertook with intelligence, assiduity and passion the work of terminating the Donatist schism which divided that Church into two parties. He strove hard to achieve this success, which was his great merit. He recorded the history and the doctrine of Donatism in innumerable writings, explaining the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments and of the Church; he promoted an ecumenical conference between Catholic and Donatist bishops, and animated it by his presence. He proposed the removal of all obstacles to reunification, including that of the renunciation of the episcopate by the Donatist bishops, and obtained this. He published the conclusions of this conference, and brought the process of pacification to full success. When persecutors sought his death, he once escaped from the hands of the Donatist circumcelliones because their guide took the wrong way.
He composed very many works and wrote many letters for the universal Church, entering into many controversies. The Manichaeans, the Pelagians, the Arians and the pagans were the object of his pastoral concern in the defense of the Catholic faith. He worked untiringly by day and by night. Even in the last years of his life, he would dictate one work by night and another, when he was free, by day. When he died at the age of seventy-six, he left three works unfinished: these three works are the most eloquent testimony to his sleepless diligence and to his unconquerable love for the Church.
IV. Before concluding, let us ask this extraordinary man what he has to say to the modern man. I believe that he has indeed much to say, both by his example and by his teaching.
He teaches the person who searches for truth not to despair of finding it. He teaches this by his example – he himself rediscovered it after many years of laborious seeking – and by means of his literary activity, the program of which he had fixed in the first letter after his conversion. “It seems to me that one must bring men back … to the hope of finding the truth.” He teaches therefore that one must seek the truth “with piety, chastity and diligence,” in order to overcome doubts about the possibility of returning into oneself, to the interior realm where truth dwells; and likewise to overcome the materialism which prevents the mind from grasping its indissoluble union with the realities that are understood by the intelligence, and the rationalism that refuses to collaborate with faith and prevents the mind from understanding the “mystery” of the human person.
Augustine’s legacy to the theologians, whose meritorious task is to study more deeply the contents of the faith, is the immense patrimony of his thought, which is as a whole valid even now; above all, his legacy is the theological method to which he remained absolutely faithful. We know that his method implied full adherence to the authority of the faith, which is one in its origin – the authority of Christ – and is revealed through Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. His legacy includes the ardent desire to understand his own faith – “Be a great lover indeed of understanding,” is his command to others, which he applies to himself also; likewise the profound sense of the mystery – “for it is better,” he exclaims, “to have a faithful ignorance than a presumptuous knowledge” and likewise the sure conviction that the Christian doctrine comes from God and thus had its own original source which must not only be preserved in its integrity – this is the “virginity” of the faith, of which he spoke – but must also serve as a measure to judge the philosophies that conform to it or diverge from it.
It is well known how much Augustine loved Sacred Scripture, proclaiming its divine origin, its inerrancy, its depth and inexhaustible riches; and it is well known how much he studied Scripture. But the aim of his own study, and of his promotion of study by others, is the entirety of Scripture, so that the true thought, or as he says, the “heart” of Scripture may be indicated, harmonizing it where necessary with itself. He takes these two principles to be fundamental for the understanding of Scripture. For this reason he reads it in the Church, taking account of the Tradition, the nature and obligatory force of which he forcefully underlines. He made the celebrated statement: “I should not believe the Gospel, unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church.”
In the controversies that arose concerning the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, his recommendation was that one should discuss “with holy humility, with Catholic peace, with Christian charity,” until the truth itself be grasped, which God “has set … upon the throne of unity.” One will then be able to see that the controversy had not broken out in vain, because it “was the occasion for learning” and progress has been made in the understanding of the faith.
Another contribution of Augustine’s teaching to the men and women of today which we may briefly mention is his proposal of the twofold object of study that should occupy the human mind: God and man. “What do you wish to know?” he asks himself. And he replies: “God and the soul are what I wish to know.” Nothing more? Nothing at all. Confronted with the sad spectacle of evil, he reminds modern men and women that they must nevertheless have confidence in the final triumph of the good, i.e., of the City “where the victory is the truth; where dignity is holiness; where peace is happiness; where life is eternity.”
Further, he teaches scientists to recognize the signs of God in the things that have been created and to discover the “seeds” which God has sown in the harmony of the universe. He recommends above all to those who have control over the destinies of the peoples that they love peace, and that they promote it, not through conflict, but with the methods of peace, because, as he wisely writes, “there is more glory in killing the wars themselves with a word than in killing men with the sword, and there is more glory in achieving or maintaining peace by means of peace than by means of war.”
Finally, I should like to address the young people whom Augustine greatly loved as a professor before his conversion and as a pastor afterwards. He recalls three great things to them: truth, love and freedom – three supreme goods which stand together. He also invites them to love beauty, for he himself was a great lover of beauty. It is not only the beauty of bodies, which could make one forget the beauty of the spirit, nor only the beauty of art, but the interior beauty of virtue and especially the eternal beauty of God, from which is derived the beauties of bodies, of art and of virtue. Augustine calls God “the beauty of all beauties,” “in whom and from whom and through whom exist as good and beautiful everything that is good and beautiful.” when he looked back on the years before his conversion, he regretted bitterly that he had been late in loving this “beauty, ever ancient, ever new”; he admonished the young not to imitate him in this, but to love beauty itself always and above all else, and to preserve to the end the interior glory of their youth in beauty.
V. I have recalled the conversion of Saint Augustine and have sketched briefly a panorama of the thought of an incomparable man whose children and disciples we all are in a certain fashion, both in the Church and in the western world itself. I express once again my fervent desire that his teaching should be studied and widely known, and his pastoral zeal be imitated, so that the authoritative teaching of such a great doctor and pastor may flourish ever more happily in the Church and in the world, for the progress of the faith and of culture.
The sixteenth centenary of the conversion of Saint Augustine offers a highly favorable opportunity to increase the study of Saint Augustine and to spread devotion to him. I exhort in particular the religious Orders, male and female, which rejoice to bear his name, live under his patronage and follow his Rule in whatever way, to dedicate themselves to this task, so that this may be for them the occasion to follow Saint Augustine’s example of wisdom and holiness, and to spread this zealously to others.
I shall be present in spirit, with gratitude and best wishes, at the various initiatives that celebrate this centenary, invoking on each of them with all my heart the heavenly protection and the efficacious help of the Virgin Mary, whom the Bishop of Hippo proclaimed as Mother of the Church. As a pledge of grace I am happy to impart my apostolic blessing with this letter.
Given at Rome, at Saint Peter’s Basilica, on August 28, on the feast day of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in the year 1986, the eighth of my Pontificate.
To Our Venerable Brethren, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See. Venerable Brethren: Health and Apostolic Benediction.
1. It is eminently befitting the nature and necessity of the case, that Christ Jesus has been and shall continue to be ready to safeguard the Church, which His provident care established for the salvation of the human race. This certainty is warranted by the promise of her Divine Founder, which we read in the Gospel; and it must be clear to evidence from the annals of that Church, on which error has never set a stain, which no falling away—however widespread—of her sons has made to waver, which regains her youthful vigor and ceaselessly renews her strength despite the assaults of impious men, even when carried to the most shocking extremes. While our Lord in securing the stability and promoting the growth of His foundation, which belongs to all time, did not limit Himself to a single method nor proceed always in the selfsame way, yet it is noteworthy that in every age He raised up distinguished men, who, by talents and efforts suited to the times and their exigencies, should rejoice the heart of the Christian people, by successively curbing and conquering the “power of darkness.” This choice of Divine Providence, when it fell upon Augustine of Tagaste, was marked by a discrimination that was more than ordinarily striking. He was the light set upon the candlestick, he was the vanquisher of every heresy and a guide to eternal salvation for his contemporaries. What is more, he continued to teach and console Christians as age succeeded age. Nay, even in our time we owe it to him in large measure that among believers the truth of Faith maintains its luster, while love for God has not ceased to burn. Indeed, it is a matter of common knowledge that the writings of Augustine, by their exceptional sublimity and charm, cast a spell over many who are at variance with us or who seem utter strangers to the Faith. Hence it is, that since the current year brings in its course with happy auspices the fifteenth centennial anniversary of the death of this peerless Bishop and Doctor, Christians the world over are eager to hold his memory in honor and are preparing to give public proof of their admiration and devotion. Yielding, therefore, to a sense of Our Apostolic office and to the delight that stirs Our soul, while desirous of adding to the chorus of praise, We urge you all, Venerable Brethren, and the clergy and flock of each of you, to join Us in offering special thanks to the Heavenly Father for enriching His Church by means of Augustine with so many matchless blessings—the Saint who profited so much by the Divine gifts lavished on him and turned the current of this wealth upon the Catholics of the world. It beseems us all today not merely to exult that by a miracle, so to speak, was once united to the Mystical Body of Christ a genius so great and lofty, that in the judgment of history his superior can hardly be found anywhere in any age, but rather to steep and nourish ourselves with his learning and copy the model of his holy life.
2. The praise of Augustine has never ceased to be proclaimed in the Church of God, even by the Roman Pontiffs. While the holy Bishop was yet alive, Innocent I greeted him as a beloved friend and extolled the letter which he had received from the Saint and from four Bishops, his friends: “A letter instinct with faith and staunch with all the vigor of the Catholic religion.” Shortly after the death of Augustine, Celestine I defends him against his opponents in the following noble words: “We have ever deemed Augustine a man to be remembered for his sanctity, because of his life and services in our communion, nor has rumor at any time darkened his name with the suspicion of evil. So great was his knowledge, as we recall, that he was always reckoned by my predecessors also among our foremost teachers. All alike, therefore, thought highly of him as a man held in affection and honor by all.”
3. Gelasius I hailed Jerome and Augustine as “luminaries among ecclesiastical teachers.” Hormisdas wrote in answer to Bishop Possessor’s request for direction these weighty words: “What the Roman, that is, the Catholic Church follows and maintains touching free will and the grace of God, can be learned from the different works of blessed Augustine, those especially which he addressed to Hilary and Prosper, though the formal chapters are contained in the ecclesiastical records.” A like testimony was uttered by John II, when in refutation of heretics he appealed to the works of Augustine: “Whose teaching,” he said, “according to the enactments of my predecessors, the Roman Church follows and maintains.”
4. Can anyone be unaware how thoroughly familiar with the doctrine of Augustine were the Roman Pontiffs, during the ages that followed close upon his death, as Leo the Great, for example, and Gregory the Great? Thus Saint Gregory, thinking as highly of Augustine as he thought humbly of himself, wrote to Innocentius, prefect of Africa: “If you wish to feast on choice food, read the works of blessed Augustine, your fellowcountryman. His writings are as fine wheat. Seek not for our bran.” It is well known that Adrian I was in the habit of quoting passages from Augustine, whom he styled “an eminent doctor.” Again, Clement VIII, to throw light on the obscure features of abstruse debates, and Pius VI, in his Apostolic Constitution “Auctorem fidei,” to unmask the evasions of the condemned Synod of Pistoia, availed themselves of the support of Augustine’s authority.
5. It is a further tribute to the glory of the Bishop of Hippo, that more than once the Fathers in lawful Councils assembled, made use of his very words in defining Catholic truth. In illustration it is enough to cite the Second Council of Orange and the Council of Trent. Yet again, to cast a backward glance at the years of Our own youth, We wish at this point to recall and delightedly to ponder the words in which Our predecessor of immortal memory Leo XIII, after mentioning writers earlier than Augustine, lauded the help afforded by him to Christian philosophy: “But it is Augustine who seems to have borne off the palm from all. Of towering genius and thoroughly versed in sacred and profane knowledge, he waged relentless war on all the errors of his age with matchless faith and equal learning. What part of philosophy did he have untouched? Nay rather into what part did he not make thorough search as when he unfolded to the Faithful the deepest mysteries of the Faith or defended them against the mad attacks of foes; or again when, brushing away the false theories of Academics and Manicheans, he laid a sure and solid foundation for human knowledge, or studied in detail the nature and source and causes of the evils which harass mankind?”
6. Now before penetrating deeper into the study We have set Ourselves, We would note, for the benefit of all, that the lavish praises bestowed on our Saint by the writers of antiquity are to be understood in a proper sense, and not—as some, who do not share the Catholic sense, have thought—as though the weight of Augustine’s word were to be set ahead of the very authority of the teaching Church.
7. Oh, how “God is wonderful in His saints”! In words bursting from the inmost recesses of a grateful and most loving heart, Augustine avowed and ardently extolled in his book of confessions the Divine mercy in his regard. Obedient to an impulse of Divine Providence, the pious Monica inspired her son in his early childhood with so strong a love of Christ, that he could one day write: “Through Thy mercy, O Lord, this name of my Saviour, Thy Son, had already been drunk in with my mother’s milk by my infant heart and profoundly cherished; anything apart from this name, no matter how learned or exquisite or true, could not wholly carry me away.”
8. In youth, parted from his mother, and a pupil of pagan masters—so was it permitted by the Most High—he lost his early piety, became the unhappy slave of carnal pleasures and was ensnared in the toils of Manicheism, being for nearly nine years an adherent of that sect. God’s purpose was, that the destined Doctor of Grace should learn by experience and transmit to later ages how extreme is the weakness and frailty of even the noblest spirit, if it be not made strong in the way of virtue by the safeguard of Christian training and ceaseless application to prayer, especially during youth, when the mind is bewitched more readily by the lure of error and the soul is led astray by the first stirrings of sense. God further permitted his defection, that our Saint might realize in his own life how wretched is the man who tries to fill his heart to satiety with creatures; a truth that he later plainly confessed before the Lord. ‘For Thou wert ever present with compassionate anger, mingling the bitterness of distaste with all my lawless delights, that I might seek delight without distaste and should fail to find this in aught, save in Thee, O Lord.” Did not the Heavenly Father, then, abandon Augustine to his own devices, that Monica might ply Him with tearful entreaties and serve as a type of those mothers, who by their long-suffering and gentleness of temper, by their tireless supplication of the divine mercy, succeed at length in winning back their sons to virtue? For it was impossible that the sons would perish, for whom so many tears were shed. Our Saint thus writes to the point: “And in those same books containing the story of my conversion, telling how God converted me to the Faith which my unhappy and mad abuse of language was bent on destroying, do you not recall that the purpose of my narrative was to show that I was a boon granted to the loyal, daily tears of my mother, lest I be lost?”
9. Hence, Augustine was by degrees estranged from the Manichean heresy and, urged as it were by a Divine impulse, was led to Milan to meet Ambrose the Bishop there. The Lord “little by little with a touch of tender pity shaping and moulding his heart,” though the wise words of Ambrose brought him to believe in the Catholic Church and in the truth of the Bible. Then it was that the son of Monica, though not yet immune from anxiety and from the allurements of vice, still grasped firmly the truth that Divine Providence has set the way of salvation only in Christ Our Lord and in the Sacred Scriptures, which find the sole warrant of their truth in the authority of the Catholic Church. Yet how hard and toilsome is the complete conversion of a man, who has long been straying from the straight path. He was still the prey of his passions and of mental disquiet, which he was not strong enough to control. So far was he from deriving the strength from the teaching of Platonists concerning God and creatures, that he would have filled the measure of his misfortunes with the still greater one of pride, had he not learned at length from the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, that he who wishes to live like a Christian must build on a foundation of humility and depend on the aid of Divine grace. And now—we narrate a fact the story of which none can tell without tears—grieving over the deeds of his past life and inspired by the example of so many Christians, who were ready to make shipwreck of all created goods to gain the “one thing necessary,” he made his surrender to the Divine mercy, which had lovingly pursued him, at the moment when at prayer he was startled by a sudden voice that cried: “Take and read.” He opened a copy of the Epistles lying near and with Heaven’s grace effectively stirring his soul, the following passage met his eyes: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.” And it is certain that from that moment to his dying breath, Augustine gave himself wholly to God.
10. It soon became clear what sort of a “vessel of election” the Lord had wrought in Augustine and for what brilliant deeds he was destined. Ordained priest and later advanced to the bishopric of Hippo, he shed the light of his abundant learning not merely on Christian Africa, but on the entire Church, bestowing the while the blessings of his apostolate. He meditated on books of Holy Writ, long and earnestly did he offer to the Lord the prayers, whereof the meaning and the accent still live in his writings. That he might daily better fathom and understand the truths of Divine Revelation, he read through with close scrutiny the works of the Fathers and Doctors who preceded him and whom he regarded with humble veneration. Though he came after those holy men, like dazzling stars shed luster on the Catholic name— Clement of Rome, for example, and Irenaeus, Hilary and Athanasius, Cyprian and Ambrose, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom; though a contemporary of Jerome, nevertheless Augustine still excites in all men the greatest admiration because of the subtlety and depth of his thoughts and because of the marvelous wisdom breathing from the pages, which through long span of nearly fifty years he wrote and published. k would be too heavy a task to go over the many voluminous compositions which, belonging as they do to every sacred topic—both Biblical exegesis and moral instruction—are so varied that his commentators can with difficulty give a comprehensive survey of them in there entirety. However, may we not from this massive bulk of doctrine select for explicit mention some of his writings, which seem best suited to our age and most helpful to Christian society?
11. First of all, Augustine made it the object of his strenuous endeavor that all men should thoroughly learn and with conviction what was the chief end of their existence, what was the only way that led to true happiness. Could anyone, we ask, no matter how shallow and frivolous, have heard without being deeply stirred that avowal, made to God by a man who had lived for pleasure so long and was admirably endowed for winning this world’s prizes, when he cried: “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it rest in Thee”?
12. These words, while stating in sum the whole of wisdom, at the same time fittingly portray God’s love for us, the peerless dignity of man, and the unhappy plight of those who live estranged from their Maker. At any rate in these days of ours above all, when the wondrous nature of created things is being daily laid bare with greater clearness, when man’s inventive genius is bringing under his sway nature’s forces and energies, to make them serve his convenience and wait upon his luxury and pleasure—today, we repeat, when the creations of art and industry, products of mind or mechanical toil are being multiplied and with incredible speed are carried to every corner of the earth, our spirit, absorbed in creatures, grows too forgetful of its Creator, makes fleeting goods its goal to the neglect of eternal ones, and turns to personal and public harm, aye, to its own ruin, those gifts which it has received from a bountiful God for the purpose of extending the kingdom of Christ and of promoting its own salvation. Now lest we become engrossed in this purely human and civil progress, which is wholly bent on material objects and on the pleasures of sense, we must scan and ponder the principles of Christian wisdom so aptly stated and expounded by the Bishop of Hippo: “God, therefore, the wise Creator and just Disposer of every nature, who placed the mortal race of man at the head of the scale of earthly excellence, bestowed on man certain gifts suited to his life in the safety, security, and fellowship of humankind, together with all that is necessary for maintaining or regaining this peace; such are the things that fittingly fall within the realm of sense, as light, night, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and all else that serves to nourish, shelter, foster, and embellish the human frame. This He has done on the eminently fair understanding, that the mortal who makes a right use of blessings adapted to human peace, will receive greater and better favors, that is, the peace of immortality and the glory and honor befitting it in eternal life for happiness with God and with the neighbor in God; whereas whoever misuses his gifts, will lose those of time without winning those of eternity.”
13. When he addressed himself to discussing the last end appointed for man, he makes haste to lay down the principle that those who wish to arrive thereto will make a fruitless endeavor, unless they submit themselves with docile obedience to the Catholic Church, since it alone is destined by God to enrich souls with the light of virtue, without which one of necessity strays from the right path and is driven headlong to imperiling his eternal salvation. For God in His goodness has by no means suffered men to look for Him with wavering steps and sightless eyes: “That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after Him or find Him.” Rather banishing the darkness of ignorance, He makes Himself known by Revelation, and summons to the duty of repentance those who are wandering. “And God indeed having winked at the times of this ignorance, now declareth unto men, that all should everywhere do penance.” After God had granted the gift of inspiration to the sacred writers, He entrusted the Bible to the Church, which His only begotten Son founded, for its safekeeping and authentic interpretation. By appealing to the miracles wrought by Christ the Founder, Augustine proved the Divine origin of the Church for its very inception.
“The ailing are healed, lepers are cleansed; the lame walk, sight is restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf. The men of that day beheld water changed into wine, 5,000 fed to repletion with five loaves, the sea traversed on foot, the dead rising from the grave. Thus some miracles visibly benefited the body, others by a hidden marvel the soul, all gave testimony of the majesty of the Worker for the good of all. And so God’s authority stirred men’s errant souls to seek Him.”
14. True, miracles declined somewhat in number thereafter. But for this a manifest reason is found in the fact that the Divine testimony was strikingly confirmed as time went on by the marvelous spread of the Faith and by the uplifting of human society to the plane of Christian morality. When trying to bring his friend Honoratus back to the Church, Augustine writes to this effect: “Do you not think that a keen interest for human welfare is shown, not only in this, that many philosophers maintain that neither earth nor fire nor aught else within the range of sense should be worshipped as God—the only path to whom lies through the mind—but in the fact that an untaught multitude of men and women in so many different nations makes profession of its belief in the same truth? Witness an abstinence from food contenting itself with a meager diet of bread and water, fast not for a day but continued through many days. Witness a chastity so perfect as to be indifferent to wedlock and offspring, an enduring patience that scorns crucifixion and the stake, liberality that divides fortunes among the poor, in short, a contempt so intense of everything worldly as even to yearn for death. Not many do these things, fewer are they that do them well and wisely; but whole peoples approve, applaud, favor, aye, love such conduct. Nor is it without a closer approach of the mind to God, not without some spark of virtue, that whole peoples avow themselves too feeble to mount so high. This marvel has Divine Providence wrought by the oracles of the prophets, by the Incarnation and teaching of Christ, by the journeys of the Apostles, by the affronts and crosses and life-blood and death of martyrs, by the saintly lives we boast, and in all this can be discerned miracles suited to the needs of the time and worthy of such achievements and such virtues. Seeing, then, as we do such marked assistance from God, so much progress and fruit, shall we hesitate to nestle in the bosom of that Church which, as the human race confesses, stands a pillar of authority derived from the Apostolic See whereon successive Bishops have sat enthroned, while the rebel cry of heresy has been condemned in part by the popular voice, in part by the judgment of Councils, in part too by the majestic utterance of miracles?”
15. No one can gainsay that these words of Augustine, which have lost none of their force and energy since they were written, have been proved beyond cavil in the long lapse of fifteen centuries. As these ages sped, the Church of God, though afflicted by many a disaster and social upheaval, torn by many a heresy and schism, anguished by the treason of her followers and by the disloyalty of her sons, nevertheless, trusting in the promises of her Founder, while human institutions of varying origin that surrounded her fell in ruins, not only stood safe and unharmed, but also in every age glowed with brighter beauty in noble lives of holiness and devotion, while in many Christians she made the fire of charity burn with growing heat. Moreover, thanks to her missionaries and martyrs she brought into her Fold fresh nations, among whom the pristine glory of virginity renews its bloom and the rank of priest and Bishop keeps its vigor. In fine, so deeply has she imbued all peoples with her spirit of charity and justice, that the very men who treat her with indifference or hostility, cannot refrain from borrowing her way of speaking and acting. When our Saint, therefore, in refutation of the Donatists who dared to confine the true Church of Christ within the narrow bounds of a corner of Africa, maintained the universality or “catholicity” of a Church in which all men may find the help and protection of the aids of Divine grace, he rightly closed his reasoning with these solemn words: “The decision is sure in which the world concurs.” The reading of this phrase, not so very long ago, influenced to such a degree a man of high fame and noble nature, that he did not tarry long in entering the one Fold of Christ.
16. Furthermore, Augustine emphatically asserted that this unity of the universal Church and her absolute inerrancy as a teacher, is derived not only from her invisible Head, Christ Jesus, who from Heaven “rules His body” and speaks by the lips of His teaching Church, but also for her visible head on earth, the Roman Pontiff, to whom the chair of Peter belongs by the lawful right of succession. For this line of Peter’s successors “is that rock against which the haughty gates of hell do not prevail.” By incontestable right we “are kept within the bosom of the Church by a succession of priests from the chair of Peter the Apostle, to whom our Lord after His resurrection gave the charge of feeding His sheep, down to the episcopate of today.” Again, when the Pelagian heresy had launched its attack and its adherents were endeavoring by guile and deceit to unsettle the minds and hearts of the Faithful, the Fathers of the Council of Milevum, which with others owed much to the inspiration and leadership of Augustine, submitted to Innocent I for his approval their discussions and the decrees they framed in stating their conclusions. The Pope in reply praised the bishops because of their zeal for religion and because of their thoroughly loyal spirit towards the Roman Pontiff.
17. “They know,” he wrote, “that from the apostolic fountain-head issue answers to inquirers through all provinces. Particularly when a matter of Faith is in question, I think that our brothers and fellow-bishops should have recourse to Peter alone, namely to the author of the title and rank they hold, even as you, beloved Brethren, have now appealed, because he can give universal aid to all churches through the whole world.” When Augustine, accordingly, had learned of the Roman Pontiffs condemnation of Pelagius and Caelestius, he uttered the following memorable words in a sermon to the people: “The views of two councils touching this controversy have been transmitted to the Apostolic See, and the answer has been sent back. The case has been settled. God grant that the error be ended likewise.” These words of his, condensed a trifle, have passed into a proverb: “Rome has spoken, the cause is finished.” Again in another occasion, after citing the decision of Pope Zosimus put under the ban of his condemnation all Pelagians in all parts of the world, the saint wrote: “The Catholic doctrine is so ancient and well-grounded, so certain and clear in these words of the Apostolic See, that it would be criminal in a Christian to doubt of this truth.”
18. Now the Church has received from her Divine Spouse the treasures of heavenly grace conveyed mainly through the channel of the Sacraments. Hence, every loyal son of that Church, like the good Samaritan, pours oil and wine into the wounds of the sons of Adam, to free the guilty from sin, to strengthen the weak and feeble, to mould the lives of the virtuous nearer to the ideal of holiness. Even granting that some minister of Christ may at times fail in his duty, does it therefore follow that the power was rendered helpless and void of efficacy? Let us listen to the words of the Bishop of Hippo: “I assert [he writes] and we all assert, that the ministers of so great a Judge should be just men. Let the ministers be just, if they will. If, however, they who sit on the chair of Moses refuse to be just I find my warrant of security in my Master, of whom His Spirit said: “He it is who baptizes.”
19. Would that the words of Augustine had been accepted formerly and were accepted today by all those who, like the Donatists, allege the fall of a priest as a reason for rending the seamless garment of Christ and for unhappily abandoning the way of salvation!
20. We see how our Saint, for all his exalted genius, humbly submitted his judgment to the authority of the Church teaching. He knew that, as long as he did so, he would not swerve a finger’s breadth from Catholic doctrine. More than that, in pondering the sentence: “If you believe not, you will not understand,” he learned with certainty that a heaven-born light—denied to the proud—serves as a beacon to the minds of those who cling closely to the Faith and meditate the word of God in a mood of prayerful humility. He knew, besides, that it was the duty of priests—whose lips should keep knowledge—since they are bound to explain and defend aright the truths of Revelation and expound their meaning to the Faithful, to penetrate the truths of Faith to the depths—so far as is allowed by Divine permission. As a result, inspired by uncreated Wisdom, by prayer and by meditation on the Divine mysteries, he plied his pen to such purpose, as to bequeath to posterity a copious and excellent body of sacred teaching.
21. No one, Venerable Brethren, can read even cursorily these voluminous works without seeing how eagerly the Bishop of Hippo applied this spirit to advance in knowledge of God Himself. How true was his recognition of His Maker in the frame and the harmony of the created universe! How efficaciously he wrote and preached that his flock might attain to a like recognition!
“Earth’s beauty [he wrote] is the voice of the silent earth. You observe and see its beauty, its fertility, its energies. You see how it produces seed, how it often bears what was not sown. By your contemplation you put it to the question. Your scrutiny of the world is a form of questioning. When you have studied it in wonder and scanned it narrowly, when your search has revealed its mighty power, its dazzling beauty, its surpassing excellence, since it could not possess this excellence in itself and of itself, your mind straightway leaps to the thought that it could not have been self-caused, but is the handiwork of the creator. What you have found in it, is its speech avowing that you should praise the Creator. After you have pondered in its entirety the beauty of this world of ours, does not its very charm with one voice make answer: ‘I am not my own cause, God is my Maker’?”
22. Repeatedly he extolled in glowing language his Creator’s absolute perfection, beauty, goodness, eternity, immutability, and power. But he ceased not to point out that God is portrayed more truly in thought than in speech, though even thought fails to depict the true nature of His being, while the name best suited to the Creator was the one that God revealed to Moses, when he asked by whom he was being sent.
23. However, our Saint did not rest content with a study of the Divine Nature with the unaided resources of the human intellect merely. With Holy Writ lighting his way, and guided by the Spirit of Wisdom, he bent the powers of his lofty genius to a study of the greatest of all mysteries, one which so many Fathers who had gone before him, with well-nigh infinite perseverance and unexampled enthusiasm had maintained against the wicked assaults of heretics. We meant the adorable Trinity of Father and Son and Holy Ghost in the unity of the Divine Nature. Aided by light from on high, he treated this central, this fundamental truth of the Catholic Faith with such depth and acuteness, that the Doctors who came after him had only to draw from Augustine’s contributions their materials. From these they reared a staunch rampart of theological science to repel the missiles vainly aimed in every age by a perverse human reason, that opposed this mystery, the most baffling of all to the mind of man. Let us hear the Bishop and Doctor of Hippo in his own words: “In the Trinity we predicate as distinctive of the several Persons the relations that exist among them, as Father and Son, and Holy Spirit, the Gift of both. For the Father is not the Trinity, nor is the Son the Trinity, nor is the Gift the Trinity. But this distinction of Persons with respect to one another, is not to speak to them in the plural as three (in nature), but as one, namely, the Trinity itself. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God. So too the Father is good, the Son is good, the Holy Ghost is good. Again, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Ghost is almighty. But that does not mean that there are three gods, three good natures, three almighty natures; but one God, who is good, almighty, the Trinity. The same form is to be followed, when there is question not of their relations to one another, but of any attribute shared by each and all in common. For in this way they are described according to their essence. In the Trinity the essence, greatness, goodness, wisdom are without difference, and so of every absolute attribute predictable of a Person in Himself or of the whole Trinity.”
24. The style here is pithy and elusive. Elsewhere he makes use of well-chosen illustrations to enable us to arrive at some understanding to the mystery. Thus, for example, he dwells on the image of the Trinity reflected in the human soul, when it advances towards holiness; for, being mindful of God, it both thinks of Him and loves Him. In this way we catch a faint glimpse of the manner in which the Word is begotten by the Father, “Who in some sort has spoken in His coeternal Word all that belongs to Him substantially”; as also of the manner in which the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, for He “breathes into us the mutual love, with which Father and Son love each other.” Thereupon Augustine bids us render clearer and more beautiful this image of God within us day by day up to life’s close. Then, when God comes, the Divine image already impressed within us “will be made perfect by that vision which will be had after the Judgment face to face, but now avails us as a mirrored semblance in obscurity.”
25. Again, we can never sufficiently admire the language of the Doctor of Hippo, when he explains the mysteries that attend the clothing of the Only-begotten Son of God with human flesh. He asks us in explicit terms—quoted by Saint Leo the Great in his dogmatic epistle to the Emperor Leo: To recognize the two natures in Christ, that is to say, the Divine, by which He is equal to the Father; the human, by which the Father is greater. But both together are not two beings, for Christ is one; else, God would be a “quaternity,” not a Trinity. For as a single human being results from the union of a rational soul and human flesh, so Christ is one, God and man.”
26. It was a wise resolution of Theodosius the Younger to command that, with every mark of respect, our Saint be summoned to the Council of Ephesus, where the Nestorian heresy was crushed. However, the unexpected death of Augustine stilled that voice of vehemence and power ere it could swell the chorus of the assembled Fathers and utter its anathema against the heresiarch, who had the hardihood to cleave Christ asunder, if we may so speak, and to assail the Divine maternity of the Blessed Virgin. Nor should we overlook at this point, though it be with briefest mention, the fact that Augustine more than once brought out in clear relief the rank Christ holds as King. This truth We maintained and proposed to the devotion of the Faithful in Our Encyclical “Quas primas,” issued at the close of the Sacred Year. We saw fit to incorporate in the liturgy for the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Lessons selected from the writings of Augustine.
27. Everyone probably is acquainted with the matchless word De Civitate Dei, in which with surpassing skill he traces God’s guiding and ruling hand in the march of human history. There he brings as into a single focus the story of the world, availing himself of every aid that an assiduous study of Holy Writ and his knowledge of the culture of that epoch could furnish. In the successive steps that marked the growth of human society, his keen vision discerns and discriminates two cities, which “two loves” had founded, “namely, the earthly City, built by love of self even to contempt of God, the heavenly city, by love of God even to contempt of self.” Babylon is one, Jerusalem the other. The two “are intermingled and hold a mingled course from the beginning of the human race to the end of time.” But the issue of both is not one and the same, since at long last the citizens of Jerusalem will reign with God forever, while the subjects of Babylon in company with demons will eternally expiate their crimes. Accordingly, to the mind of Augustine the history of human society is nothing else than a portrayal of the uninterrupted outpouring of God’s love upon us. The heavenly city, of which He is the author, He bears onward through successes and reverses in such wise, that by His command the very madness and wickedness of the earthly City promote its growth, according to the text: “To them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.” Consequently we must admit that it is foolish and senseless to imagine, as some do, that the dominant power in the course of the ages, should be sought in the mocking jests of blind fortune, or in the grasping ambition of men stronger than their fellows, or in ceaseless efforts of minds and hearts to develop natural forces to foster the arts, to secure the comforts of this life. The truth rather is that human events serve only to extend the City of God, which means the spread of evangelical truth and the promotion of the salvation of souls, conformably to the hidden but profoundly merciful designs of Him, who “reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly.” Let us add a word further. Augustine set the mark, or more truly, the fiery brand of his condemnation on the moral infamy of Greek and Roman paganism. And yet yearning for such a religion has been seen to infatuate, even in our day, certain writers, shallow and even licentious, who extol such a cult for its beauty and fitness and attractiveness. Again, knowing thoroughly his contemporaries and their unhappy forgetfulness of God, with a pen at one time caustic, at another indignant, he scored in his pages all the compulsion and folly, all the outrages and lust, introduced into man’s life by the demons through the worship of false gods. There can be no salvation in the ideal of the earthly City, as it sets before its eyes a vain picture of completeness and perfection. For scarcely anyone will take such an ideal seriously or, if he does, the prize he wins will be only the satisfaction of empty and fleeting glory.
28. True, our Saint praises the ancient Romans, who “for the general welfare, the state, that is, and for the national treasure sacrificed their private fortunes, withstood greed, uplifted their country by a noble policy; so far as their laws went, they were innocent of crime and lewdness; these means and aims they took for the right path along which they pressed on in pursuit of honor, power, renown; they had the esteem of nearly all nations; many peoples bowed to their laws and their sway.” However, as he remarks further on, what else did they gain by so much toil and hardship, “than the worthless pinnacle of human glory, which was all the reward they reaped, for which they burned with overmastering ambition, waging wars that set the world a flame?” Furthermore, the fruit of the happy issue of their efforts and of their very sway itself, which our Creator employs to further the secret designs of His providence, does not fall into the grasp of those only who turn their backs on the heavenly City. For God “enriched the emperor Constantine—not a votary of demons, but a worshiper of the true God—with greater earthly blessings than any man would dare to crave in his dreams.” He granted prosperity and victory after victory to Theodosius, who “was happier in being a member of the Church than in wielding an earthly scepter.” Nay when rebuked by Ambrose for his slaughter of the people Thessalonica, “his penance was such that the multitude, who prayed for him, was more deeply moved to tears at sight of the imperial majesty abased, than to fear of his rage at their own offenses.” Now while it is true that no man is refused temporal blessings, be he good or bad, and while misfortunes can overtake all, the virtuous as well as the wicked, yet we may not doubt that benefits and adversities are allotted by God for the furtherance of the eternal salvation of souls and for the well-being of the heavenly city. Therefore the leaders and rulers of the nations have received their authority from God for his end, that in the regions subject to them they should—as His associates—lend their efforts to promoting the designs of Divine Providence. Clearly, then, it is their duty to keep their gaze riveted on the supreme end set for man’s attainment, and while active for the earthly prosperity of their citizens, to do and command nothing in abatement of the laws of Christian justice and charity, but rather to make it easier for those under them to recognize and pursue the prizes that never fail.
“We do not style certain Christian emperors happy [writes the Bishop of Hippo], because their reign was a long one, or because, after dying in peace themselves, their sons succeeded to the throne; nor yet again because they vanquished the State’s foreign foes or were able to forestall and crush revolt of seditious citizens against themselves. These and similar favors that enrich or cheer this life of hardship, have been bestowed even on clients of the demons, on men who have no part in the kingdom of God like those of whom we speak. This is a boon of the Divine mercy, to prevent those who believe in God from craving temporal blessings as though they were of highest value. Rather do we term them happy, when they rule justly; when they yield not to pride if men praise them to the skies or offer the tribute of cringing servility, but bear in mind that they are mortal; when they make their power the handmaid of the Divine majesty, to extend as far as possible the worship of God; when they fear, love, adore God; when they cherish more that other kingdom, which they are not afraid to share with others; when they are slow to punish, quick to forgive; when they chastise because constrained thereto in ruling and maintaining the State, and not to sate the hunger of hatred; when they pardon offenses, not that crime may go unpunished, but through hope of the evil-doer’s amendment; when they temper whatever severe measures they take by mercy, gentleness, and openhandedness; when they curb passion the more sternly, the freer it might have been; when they think it better to hold sway over unruly desires than over nations of any kind; finally when they do all this not at the bidding of idle ambition, but one of love of eternal happiness; when they fail not to offer the true God in atonement for their sins the sacrifice of humility, forgiveness, and prayer. Christian princes of this type we declare are happy, now in hope, later on in fact, when our expectations shall be fulfilled.”
29 Here indeed is an ideal protrait of a Christian sovereign, nor will you find anywhere a nobler or more perfect one. But it cannot be reproduced by the man who trusts the guidance of human wisdom, which often is slow-witted, oftener blinded by the emotions. The task is possible only for him, who, docile to the teaching of the Gospel, has come to learn that he cannot rule the state conformably to the Divine plan, that is, with good and happy issue, if he be not penetrated to the marrow with the spirit of justice joined with charity and humility. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that have power over them are called beneficent. But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth.” Hence all those are pitiably deluded, whose theory of government makes no account of man’s last and highest end, of the right use of the goods of this life. Others too in goodly number are in error, who hold that the laws of statecraft and of human progress cannot be made to square with the precept of Him who proclaimed: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” We mean the precepts of Christ Jesus, who has provided and strengthened His Church with a superb, an immortal constitution which so many vicissitudes of time and fortune, so many tribulations during the twenty centuries that have passed have been unable to shake, and will never cause to totter even to the day of doom. Why, then, do the rulers, who have at heart the good and welfare of their citizens, hamper the action of the Church? Ought they not rather give her their support, as far as circumstances permit? The State need not fear that the Church will trench on the domain of its aims and its rights. Indeed Christ’s followers, obedient to Him who gave them their name, have from the beginning held State rights in loyal reverence; so much so that, when victims of persecution and stripes, they could say with good warrant: “Princes have persecuted me without cause.” On this matter Augustine writes in his wonted masterly fashion: “What harm had Christians done to the kingdoms of earth? Did their King forbid His soldiers to pay the tribute and yield the loyalty that are due to earthly kings? When the Jews were scheming to slander Him on this score, did He not tell them: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s'? Did He not in person pay the tribute coin, taken from the mouth of a fish? When soldiers serving an earthly prince asked His Precursor what they should do to win eternal salvation, his answer was not: ‘Discard your uniform, cast your arms aside, abandon your king to take service under the Lord,’ but rather: ‘Do violence to no man, neither calumniate any man, and be content with your pay’ (Luke iii, 14). Did not one of His lieutenants and a beloved comrade say to his fellow-soldiers, to Christ’s liegemen, so to speak: ‘let every soul be subject to higher powers’ (Rom. xiii, 1)? Further on he adds: ‘Render therefore to all men their dues: tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honor, to whom honor. Owe no man anything, but to love one another’ (Rom. xiii, 7-8). Did not the Church enjoin prayer for sovereigns? In what, then, have Christians displeased them? What debt have they failed to pay? Wherein have Christians lacked submissiveness to earthly kings? Consequently, earthly kings have persecuted the Christians without cause.”
30. Surely no more is to be demanded of Christ’s disciples, than that they obey the just laws of the nation, provided, of course, it does not command what the law of Christ forbids, or forbid what the law of Christ commands, thus causing a severance between Church and State. Hence, it is hardly worth while to affirm a truth, that We think Our words have made sufficiently clear, namely, so far is the Church from harming the State, that it rather contributes generously to the help and profit of the state. On this topic there is no need of repeating here those golden words of the Bishop of Hippo quoted by Us in Our recent Encyclical on “The Christian Education of Youth”; nor those other equally persuasive, which Our immediate predecessor of happy memory, Benedict XV, cited in his Encyclical “Pacem Dei munus,” for the purpose of bringing into clear relief the fact, that the Church has striven ceaselessly to weld the nations together by Christian law, and has furthered every plan for securing to mankind the fruits of justice, charity, and universal peace, that the peoples of the world would make their goal that “unity which is the patroness of prosperity and renown.”
31. However, our Saint in his delineation of the workings of Providence, did not rest satisfied with setting forth in a general way all that might relate to Church and State. He goes further. His keen mind analyzes and surveys how the grace of God, by an inward and hidden action, moves the human mind and will. The efficacy of this Divine grace, he had himself experienced, when he saw vanish the darkness of doubt in the sudden change of mind he so wonderfully underwent at Milan.
“How sweet it became for me of a sudden [he writes] to lack the sweetness of vain pleasures! It was now a joy to renounce what I had dreaded losing. Thou, sweetness true and perfect, didst set me free from them. As Thou wast ridding my heart of them, so didst Thou enter in their stead, more delightful than any pleasure—though not to flesh and blood; brighter than any light, but deeper than any secret; loftier than any honor, but not to men lofty in their own conceit.”
32. Meanwhile the Bishop of Hippo found a master and a guide in Holy Writ, especially in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, who also in his time had been miraculously converted to follow Christ. He allied himself with the teaching handed down by holy men, and with the Catholic sense of the Faithful. Day by day he was impelled to attack more vigorously the Pelagians, who stubbornly maintained that the Redemption of man by Christ Jesus was wholly without effect. Finally by a Divine impulse, he carried over many years his study of the ruin of the human race after the sin of our first parents, of the relation between the grace of God and free will, and of what goes by the name of predestination. So closely did he study the subject and with such happy results, that he was deemed the Doctor of Grace and was so entitled. He led the way for all other Catholic writers of later ages, to whom he reached a helping and a restraining hand, lest in their discussion of these intricate problems they err one way or the other: either by teaching that free will in man, once his original justice was lost, is but a name and no more, as the early Protestants and the Jansenists held; or that divine grace was not a free gift and was not all-powerful, as the Pelagians kept repeating. Some helpful suggestions might be introduced here, on which the men of our day could reflect with marked advantage. It is abundantly clear that readers of Augustine will not be caught in the toils of that pernicious error, which was widespread during the eighteenth century, namely, that the inborn impulses of the will should neither be feared nor curbed, since all of them are right and sound. From its false principle sprang those educational methods, which We condemned not long ago in Our Encyclical on “The Christian Education of Youth.” Their effect is to allow a free mingling of the sexes and to employ no precaution in controlling the growing passions of boyhood and youth. From this false principle too comes that license in writing and reading, in presenting or frequenting plays, that do not merely threaten innocence and purity with dangerous occasions, but actually plot their ruin and destruction. From this source again are derived those immodest fashions of dress, which Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish.
33. Now our Saint teaches that, ever since our first parents sinned, man has lost the perfection with which he was created; for when he possessed it, he was borne easily and smoothly along the path of virtuous conduct. On the contrary, in the present condition of our mortal life, he must resist evil and master the desires that lead and lure him astray in the way described by the Apostle: “But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.” On this point, Augustine thus beautifully speaks to his flock:
“As long as we live here below, brethren, this holds true; yes, even we who have reached old age in this warfare, though our enemies are less fierce, still have foes to combat. Our enemies have grown wearied after a fashion, by the very passage of time; still, wearied though they are, they continue to harass the peace of our declining years by assaults of one kind or another. The young have a fiercer struggle; one we are acquainted with, through which we have passed. . . For as long as you bear about a mortal body, sin fights against you; only let it not rule in you. What do I mean by ‘let it not rule’? I mean by obeying its desires. Once you begin to obey, sin reigns. And what else is this obedience than to yield your members up to sin to serve iniquity…? Do not yield your members to sin to serve iniquity. God had given you through His Spirit power to keep your members in subjection. Passion rises in revolt: keep you the mastery over your members. What does the rebel aim at doing? Keep the mastery over your members; yield them not to sin to serve iniquity; do not give your adversary the weapons with which to fight you. Let not your feet wander to what is unlawful. Passion rebels: guard your members. Keep your hands free of every crime. Restrain your eyes from evil glances. Stop your ears, lest they willingly listen to lewd speech. Keep watch over the whole body, the whole frame, the noblest, the humblest parts. What can passion do? It knows how to rebel, but not how to conquer. Frequent and fruitless rebellion teaches it not to rebel.”
34. If only we encase ourselves in the armor of salvation against such a conflict, once we begin to refrain from sinning, we shall little by little blunt the edge of the enemy’s attack and sap his strength; until at length we shall wing our flight to that place of repose, where triumph and boundless joy will be ours. The credit of the victory is to be ascribed solely to the grace of God, which within us gives light to the mind and strength to the will, when we rise superior to so many hindrances and contests. It is the grace of God, We say. For as He created us, so is He able, through the treasures of His wisdom and power, to set aflame and fill our hearts wholly with His love. Hence the Church, which from the fountains of the Sacraments turns the stream of grace into our souls, is rightly entitled holy. For by her tireless, ceaseless influence she unites countless souls with God in the close bond of a friendship, in which they abide. What is more, many of these souls she guides and leads to an invincible fortitude, to perfect sanctity of life, to deeds of heroism. Why, is there not a growth year by year in the number of her martyrs, virgins, confessors, whom she holds up to her children for their admiration and imitation? Are not they so many fair flowers of staunch virtues of chastity and charity, transplanted by Divine grace from earth to heaven? To stay and wither in their native sickly state, is the lot only of those, who resist the Divine invitation and refuse to make a right use of their liberty. Again, the grace of God encourages us never to despair of anyone’s salvation while he lives, as well as to look hopefully for a daily increase of charity in all men. In the same grace is laid the foundation of humility and lowliness. For no matter how lofty a man’s perfection, he cannot fail to remember the words: “What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou has received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” How, again, can such a man help turning with gratitude to Him, who “has put it within the reach of weaklings to will invincibly by His gift what is good, and invincibly to refuse to forfeit the good.”
35. Christ Jesus, our kind Master, inspires us to implore the gifts of His grace, when he says: “Ask, and it shall be given to you: Seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” The very gift of perseverance “can be won by humble petition.” For that reason, public and private prayer never fails in God’s churches.
“When have prayers not been offered in the Church, to obtain the gift of faith for infidels and for her enemies? What believer, whose friend or neighbor or wife was an unbeliever, did not entreat of the Lord a mind docile to the Christian Faith for the loved one? Was there ever anyone, who did not beg for himself the grace of persevering in God’s favor?”
36. Therefore, Venerable Brethren, offer supplication to God, and let your clergy and people join in your supplication—under the patronage of the Doctor of Grace—in behalf of those especially who are either strangers to the Catholic Faith or have strayed from the truth. Moreover, spare no pains in giving an exemplary training to those who seem to have a vocation to the priesthood, for they are destined—agreeably to their office—to be the dispensers of Divine grace.
37. Possidius, the first to write the life of Augustine, declared that to a far greater degree than the readers of his works, the Saint “profited those who could see and hear him preaching in his church and were familiar with his dealings with men. Not only was he ‘a scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old,’ not only a merchant who sold all he had to buy the precious pearl he found, but he was of the number of those to whom were directed the words: ‘Thus speak ye, thus do ye’—one of those of whom our Saviour says: ‘He that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’”
38. For to begin with the queen of all the virtues, our Saint, leaving all else aside, made the love of God so completely the goal of his desires and efforts, and fed its flame so steadfastly in his soul, that he is fittingly portrayed as holding in his hand a burning heart. No one, who has even once turned the pages of the “confessions,” can forget the conversion between mother and son, at the window of the house in Ostia. The narrative, with its lifelike charm, makes us feel that we see Augustine and Monica there, side by side, absorbed in the contemplation of heavenly things. He writes: “Alone together we held most sweet converse. Forgetting the things that lay behind and stretching out to those that were before, we questioned each other, in the presence of Truth, which Thou art, about the nature of the eternal life of the Saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the mind of man to conceive. Mentally with parted lips we hung over the supernal rills of Thy fountain—the fountain of life with Thee—if happily we might be refreshed, so far as our condition would allow, and in some sort ponder so profound a mystery. . . And while we conversed with eager longing, with the heart’s supreme effort we made some approach thereto. We sighed and there left fettered the firstlings of the spirit, then to return to the sound of our voices, where the word begins and ends. Yet what bears any likeness to Thy Word, who is our Lord, who abides within Himself and ages not, who makes all things new?”
39. We must not imagine that it was an exceptional thing for Augustine thus to lift mind and heart above the life of the body. Any time he could spare from his daily duties and tasks, he devoted to meditation on the Sacred Scriptures he knew so well, that he might draw thence the relish and the light of truth. Rising on thought’s pinions from a consideration of the works and mysteries that reveal God’s surpassing love for us, he was borne aloft little by little to the Divine perfections themselves, into which he plunged—if we may so speak—as deeply as the heavenly grace given him allowed.
“Often I do this [he says, sharing with us his secret], this is my delight, and withdrawing from such activity as necessity imposes, I take refuge in this kind of pleasure. In all the things traversed by my mind, while I confer with Thee, I find no safe place for my soul except in Thee. In Thee are linked in unison my wandering strains. From Thee may nothing of mine depart. Sometimes, too, Thou dost admit me to a deep and unwonted interior emotion, to an indescribable sweetness. If that he brought to its perfection within me, I know of nothing which that life will not contain.”
40. Hence it was that he cried: “Too late have I loved Thee, O beauty so ancient, yet so new! Too late have I loved Thee!”
41. Again, how lovingly he contemplated the life of Christ, striving to reproduce an ever more perfect image of it in himself and to repay love with love. In his counsel to virgins, he impressed on them the same lesson: “Let Him be fixed deep in your heart, who for you was fastened to the cross.” As his love of God burned with a more ardent flame as days went on, so too did he make incredible progress in the rest of the virtues. No one can refuse his admiration to a man—whom all venerated, extolled, consulted, hearkened to for his lofty genius and sanctity—both in his writings destined for publication and in his letters, making it his great concern not only to refer to the Author of all good the praise offered himself, as being due to God alone, and to encourage and praise others, as far as truth allowed, but also to lavish honor and reverence on his colleagues in the episcopate. These were especially his mighty forerunners, such as Cyprian and Gregory of Nazianzus, Hilary and John Chrysostom, Ambrose—his master in the Faith—whom he revered as a father and whose teaching and life he was wont to recall. But especially there shone with luster in our Saint the love of souls, a love inseparable from love of God, of those souls particularly who were committed to his pastoral care.
42. From the day when—under Divine guidance—through the favor of bishop Valerius and the popular choice, he was first ordained priest and then raised to the See of Hippo, he became wholly engrossed in the task of nourishing his flock with the food of sound doctrine, of defending it from prowling wolves, of leading it to a happy eternity. With a courage that was combined with charity towards men in error, he fought against heresy. He took measures to protect his people against the wiles employed at the time by Manicheans, Donatists, Pelagians, and Arians. In his refutation of these heretics themselves, he not only checked the spread of false doctrine and recovered lost spoil, but even brought back his opponents to the Catholic Faith. To this end he was always equipped for controversy, even in public, for he trusted implicitly in the Divine aid, in the innate strength and efficacy of truth, and in the loyalty of his people. If any heretical writings came to his hands, he lost no time in refuting them one after the other. He was neither daunted nor worsted by the senselessness of error, by the pricks of controversy, by the stubbornness and unfairness of adversaries. Yet all the while, no matter how spiritedly he battled for the truth, never for a moment did he cease to implore from God the conversion of his foes, whom he cherished with the kindliness of Christian charity. His writings reveal with what humility and persuasiveness he addressed them: “Let those be angry with you, who know not how hard a task it is to find the truth and to keep clear of error. Let those be angry with you, who know not how exceptional and difficult it is, to subdue imaginations of the flesh by the serenity of a pious mind. . . Finally, let those be angry with you, who have never been misled by the error, which they see has misled you. But I, after being for a long time storm-tossed, could turn my gaze on that clear truth which tells its story with no admixture of falsehood. . . Those fictions, in short, which from long use hold you entangled in their coils, I once studied closely, listened to eagerly, believed heedlessly, urged insistently on all I could, maintained against others stubbornly and vigorously. Hence I can by no means be angry with you, for as I had to bear with myself in those days, so now must I bear with you and treat you with all the patience my friends showed me, when I blindly and madly groped in the darkness of your tenets.”
43. Consequently, hope could not fail, a happy issue was assured to the zeal for religion of the Bishop of Hippo, to his tireless activity and gentleness of soul. The Manicheans were brought to Christ’s Fold, the schism of Donatus was ended, the Pelagians were routed on every side. Hence, after the death of Augustine, Possidius could write of him: “This distinguished man, a most important member of the body of the Lord, was keenly alert in his concern for the welfare of the universal Church. Even in this life it was permitted him by the favor of God to rejoice over the fruit of his favors. This was true first in the Church of Hippo and its territory, where his jurisdiction chiefly lay, with its complete harmony and peace. Besides, in other parts of Africa he saw the rise and growth of Our Lord’s Church, either through his own efforts or through the efforts of others—of the priests he had ordained. He saw with joy Manicheans, Donatists, Pelagians, and pagans abandon their errors in great part and joined to the bosom of the Church. Then too he seconded and applauded the progress and zeal of all good men. The insubordination of his brethren he bore in a spirit of pious and holy tolerance. He mourned the abominations of the wicked, both within and without the Church; cheered, as I said, by the gain and saddened by the loss of the cause of the Lord.”
44. As our Saint displayed a courageous, an invincible spirit in the weighty interests of Africa or of the entire Church, so he excelled as a zealous and loving father of his flock. It was his practice to preach often to the people. At times he explained passages taken as a rule from the Psalms, from the gospel of Saint John, from the Epistles of Saint Paul, suiting himself to the capacity of the simpler and less intelligent of his hearers. At times he rebuked—and most fruitfully—any abuses or faults that might have crept in among the people of Hippo. In this function he toiled long and earnestly to win sinners back to God, to succor the poor, to plead the cause of the accused. Moreover, though he complained that this distracted and divided his mind, he endeavored to allay strife and litigation about secular matters among Christians, letting the exercise of episcopal charity win the day over his distaste for the world. His charity and courage shone with brightest muster amid the wreck of civilization, when the Vandals laid waste Africa, sparing neither priestly rank nor sacred temple. Some Bishops and priests were at a loss what course to pursue in the midst of so many crushing disasters. One of them asked Augustine his opinion, and the holy old man frankly wrote back, that it was not permissible for any priest, whose ministry was necessary to the Faithful, to leave his people, no matter what threatened.
“Surely we know [he said] that when such perils reach their crest and no escape is possible, people of both sexes and of all ages are wont to flock to the church. Some beg for Baptism, some for reconciliation, some for the performance of penance, all for consolation and for the Sacraments to be made available and administered. In such a crisis, if ministers be lacking, utter ruin is the lot of those who leave this world unregenerated or unshriven. How extreme is the grief of their brethren in the Faith, who cannot share with them the repose of eternal life! How piercing the lamentation of all, aye, and the bitter denunciation of some at the absence of sacred ministries and ministers! Consider what the fear of temporal evils does, and the eternal evils it entails. Whereas, if ministers be present, with the strength and means God gives them, succor is ready for all. Some are baptized, others are reconciled, none are robbed of Communion of the Body of the Lord; all are consoled, are edified, are exhorted to invoke the aid of God, who can avert whatever misfortune is feared. All are ready for either issue, so that, if that chalice may not pass from them, His will may be done who cannot will anything that is evil.”
45. He concludes in these terms: “If, however, anyone flees, so that the flock of Christ is deprived of the food by which it is nourished spiritually, that man is a hireling, who sees the wolf coming and flies, since he has no care for the sheep.” What is more, our Saint practised what he preached. For in the city which was his episcopal see, while the barbarians were besieging it, the great-souled shepherd who stayed with his flock, yielded up his soul to God.
46. Another fact may be now added to complete Our eulogy of Augustine. History avouches that this holy Doctor of the Church had seen at Milan, “outside the city walls under the fostering care of Ambrose,” a dwelling-place of holy souls. Again, a little after his mother’s death, he knew of monasteries “at Rome also in large number . . . not merely for men, but for women likewise.” Scarcely then had he landed on the shores of Africa, when he began to plan the progress of souls towards absolute perfection of life in the Religious state, and built a monastery in an estate of his. Here “he established himself for nearly three years, set himself free from all worldly cares, and with certain followers who attached themselves to him lived only for God, in the practice of fasting, prayer, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord day and night.” After his promotion to the priesthood, he founded another monastery at Hippo in the neighborhood of the church; “and began to live with the servants of God according to the manner and rule fixed under the holy Apostles: so that before all else no one in that society kept anything of his own, but they held all things in common, giving to each whatever he needed.” When he was raised to the episcopal dignity, since he was unwilling to sacrifice the blessings of community life himself, yet would not throw open his monastery to all who came as visitors or guests of the Bishop of Hippo, he established a community of clerics in the episcopal palace. He required that, after renouncing their family property, they should live in common a life which, while remote from the allurements of the world and from anything like luxury, would not be over-harsh or austere. The inmates too were to fulfil unitedly the duties imposed by the love of God and of the neighbor.
47. Not far away was a group of Religious women under the superiorship of his own sister. To these he gave an admirable rule, characterized at once by its wisdom and its moderation. This rule is followed today by a goodly number of religious congregations of both sexes, not only those who are called “Augustinians,” but others whose founders have added their individual constitutions to the original rule. These were the seed of a more perfect life in harmony with the evangelical counsels, which our Saint sowed among his contemporaries, and rendered a service not to Christian Africa alone, but to the universal Church; for it is from this spiritual militia that the Church has drawn during past centuries, and draws today, marked advantages and growth. Rich harvests of this sort sprang from the fruitful sowing of Augustine, even in the Saint’s life-time. Thus Possidius relates that, appealed to from every quarter, the Father and lawgiver permitted many Religious men to sally forth in all directions, in order that they might found new monasteries—as one fire kindles another—and might aid the churches of Africa by their learning and holiness of life.
48. Hence our Saint could rejoice in this robust activity of Religious life, so fully meeting his desires. We may quote his own words: “I, the writer of these lines, loved intensely the perfection our Lord spoke of, when He said to the rich young man: “Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have a treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” This I did, not of my strength, but with the help of His grace. Nor is my credit the less, because I was not a rich man. Neither were the Apostles rich men, who were the first to do this. He gives up the whole world, who gives up all he has and all he desires to have. As to the progress I have made along this road of perfection, I know better than any other man; but God knows better than I. To pursue this aim I urge others as best I can, and in the Lord’s name I am not without compeers, who have been won over by my means.”
49. In our day likewise We would like to see men arise all the world over, resembling the holy Doctor, many “sowers of chaste counsel,” who prudently, of course, but fearlessly and perseveringly, under God’s guidance would persuade others to adopt the Religious and priestly life. So would be provided a surer safeguard against the decline of the Christian spirit and the gradual decay of sound morality.
50. We have sketched the career and the deserts of our subject, Venerable Brethren; a man to whom none or very few can be compared from among those who have flourished from history’s dawn to the present, if we regard his soaring and subtle genius, his wealth and range of learning, his sanctity mounting to the topmost pinnacle, his invincible defense of Catholic truth. We have already cited more than one who spoke his praises. How charmingly, and how truly, Jerome writes to his contemporary and close friend; “My resolution is to love, to welcome, to cherish, to admire you, and to champion your words as though they were my own.” And again: “Well done! You are famous throughout the world. Catholics revere and receive you as another builder of the ancient Faith. A mark of greater glory it is, that heretics loathe you. Me too they assail with a like hatred. They would kill in desire those whom they cannot slay with the sword.”
51. Therefore, Venerable Brethren, as We have most gladly commemorated the Saint in this Encyclical, not long before the expiration of the year that marks the fifteenth century since his death, so we have it very much at heart that you would so extol his memory among your people, that everyone may venerate him, everyone—before all else—may strive to imitate him, everyone may render thanks to God for the benefits which have come to the Church through so great a Doctor. In this We know that Augustine’s noble sons—as is befitting—will take the lead. The ashes of their Father and Founder, given them through the kind grant of Leo XIII, Our predecessor of happy memory, they piously preserve at Pavia in the Church of Saint Peter in Caelo Aureo. May the Faithful flock in crowds to that shrine, to honor his sacred remains and to gain the indulgences We have bestowed. Then too We feel constrained to declare Our lively hope and desire that the Eucharistic Congress of the whole world, soon to be held at Carthage, besides contributing to the triumph of Christ Jesus hidden under the Sacramental Species, may also redound to the honor of Augustine. For since the Congress will meet in the city where our Saint once vanquished the heretics and strengthened the Christians in their faith; in Latin Africa, whose ancient glories time will never wither, which was the birthplace of that mind of surpassing wisdom; not far either from Hippo, which had the happy fortune of witnessing his virtues and profiting by his pastoral care; it must surely come to pass that the memory of the holy Doctor and his teaching about the august Sacrament—which We have omitted as being somewhat familiar to most readers from the Church’s liturgy—will present itself to the minds of those that assemble there, nay, will almost greet their gaze.
52. Finally, We exhort all the Christian faithful, and especially those who propose to visit Carthage, to make Augustine their intercessor with the Divine clemency, that brighter days may dawn hereafter upon the Church. Let them pray, too, that in the vast regions of Africa, natives and strangers—whether they are as yet ignorant of Catholic truth or are at a variance with Us—may not spurn the light of the Gospel teaching brought to them by our missionaries, may not defer to seek shelter in the bosom of their loving Mother, the Church.
May the Apostolic Benediction which We most lovingly bestow in the Lord on you, Venerable Brethren, and on all your clergy and people, win the bestowal of heavenly gifts and attest Our fatherly affection.
Given at Rome in Saint Peter’s the twentieth day of April, on the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the year 1930, the ninth year of Our Pontificate.
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Soothe Your suffering ones. Pity Your afflicted ones. Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your love’s sake. Amen.
O Lord my God, my sole hope, help me to believe and never to cease seeking you. Grant that I may always and ardently seek out your countenance. Give me the strength to seek you, for you help me to find you and you have more and more given me the hope of finding you.
Here I am before you with my firmness and my infirmity. Preserve the first and heal the second.
Here I am before you with my strength and my ignorance. Where you have opened the door to me, welcome me at the entrance; where you have closed the door to me, open to my cry; enable me to remember you, to understand you, and to love you. Amen.
Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily repay you with praise and thanks for having rescued a fallen world by your generous consent! Receive our gratitude, and by your prayers obtain the pardon of our sins. Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven and enable them to make our peace with God.
Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the discouraged, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God. May all who venerate you feel now your help and protection. Be ready to help us when we pray, and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual concern to pray for the people of God, foryou were blessed by God and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.
Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you – the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.
My God, let me know and love you, so that I may find my happiness in you. Since I cannot fully achieve this on earth, help me to improve daily until I may do so to the full Enable me to know you ever more on earth, so that I may know you perfectly in heaven. Enable me to love you ever more on earth, so that I may love you perfectly in heaven. In that way my joy may be great on earth, and perfect with you in heaven.
O God of truth, grant me the happiness of heaven so that my joy may be full in accord with your promise. In the meantime let my mind dwell on that happiness, my tongue speak of it, my heart pine for it, my mouth pronounce it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my entire being desire it until I enter through death in the joy of my Lord forever. Amen.
Let the just rejoice, for their Justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, for their Savior is born.
Let the captives rejoice, for their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free people rejoice, for their Liberator is born.
Let all Christians rejoice, for Jesus Christ is born.