There are numerous associations in the life of the new Pope with Saint Augustine.
His doctoral thesis at the University of Munich in Germany was centred on a topic from Saint Augustine.
There in 1953 he received a doctorate in theology under Professor Gottlieb Sohngen by completing a dissertation on "The People of God and the House of God in the Teaching of Augustine about the Church."
About Augustine, the Pope wrote, " Saint Augustine was in dialogue with Roman ideology, especially after the occupation of Rome by the Goths in 410, and so it was very fascinating for me to see how in these different dialogues and cultures he defines the essence of the Christian religion. He saw Christian faith, not in continuity with earlier religions, but rather in continuity with philosophy as a victory of reason over superstition.So, to understand the original idea of Augustine and many other Fathers about the position of Christianity in this period of the history of the world was very interesting and, if God gives me time, I hope to develop this idea further."
In a letter to all members of the Order of Saint Augustine on 26th April 2005, Robert Prevost O.S.A., the Augustinian Prior General, referred to the new pope's love of Saint Augustine.
When the new Pope was elected the Dean of the College of Cardinals in 2002, he was appointed made the first made a bishop but did not yet have a diocese to administer, he was appointed the Cardinal-bishop of the Augustinian Church of Sant' Aurea at Ostia Antica.
(This place is just outside of Rome, where Monica, the mother of Augustine died. This church site is possibly where Monica's remains were kept before being transferred to Rome in the year 1430.)
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict was cardinal-bishop of Velletri (1993-2005) at the time of his election as Dean, at which point he added the title of
Ostia which he held from 2002 until his election as Supreme Pontiff in 2005.
In recent years while a Curial official in Rome, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger visited the Augustinianum - the official institution in the Church for the study of the early Fathers of the Church, which is conducted by the Augustinians.
The Pope has also quoted Saint Augustine in his sermons, and in his first universal Pastoral Letter, Deus caritas est ("God is Love").
His recognition of Augustine is evident in his new papal coat of arms (see drawing, at right). A third of its shield is taken up by a shell, with primary significance to a legend about Augustine.
The legend, which comes to us from the Middle Ages in a variety of versions, is that Augustine was walking along the seashore, meditating about the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity. There he met a boy who was using a shell to pour sea water into a hole he had made in the sand.
When asked what he was doing, the boy explained, "I am emptying the sea into this hole." Augustine said that the task was impossible, to which the boy replied that for Augustine to explain the Blessed Trinity was equally impossible.
Thus the shell on the coat of arms of the Pope is a symbol for plunging into the unfathomable sea of the Blessed Trinity.
(Continued on the next page.)