Ecclesiology was a primary focus in many of Joseph Ratzinger's writings, while a central theme of his pontificate, of course, has been love. As both Frs. de Souza and Nichols indicate, the effect of Augustine's thought on Pope Benedict has been profound.
And while there are many obvious differences between two bishops who lived so many centuries apart, there are, I think, several intriguing parallels, or commonalities: the theological and philosophical erudition, the deep knowledge of both Christian and non-Christian beliefs and philosophies, the interaction with non-Christian philosophies, an ability to both be open to such systems while at the same time defending Catholic doctrine, the ability to be both theologian and pastor, a theological focus on ecclesiology, and so forth.
In his Encyclical of 2007
The Pope alluded to St. Augustine in a passage in his encyclical letter of November 2007, Spe Salvi. It is a a passage which seems to murmur with a bit of autobiographical implications:
(Section 28.) Yet now the question arises: are we not in this way falling back once again into an individualistic understanding of salvation, into hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others? Indeed we are not! Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6).
Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole. In this regard I would like to quote the great Greek Doctor of the Church, Maximus the Confessor († 662), who begins by exhorting us to prefer nothing to the knowledge and love of God, but then quickly moves on to practicalities: “The one who loves God cannot hold on to money but rather gives it out in God’s fashion … in the same manner in accordance with the measure of justice”.
Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others. This same connection between love of God and responsibility for others can be seen in a striking way in the life of Saint Augustine. After his conversion to the Christian faith, he decided, together with some like-minded friends, to lead a life totally dedicated to the word of God and to things eternal.
His intention was to practise a Christian version of the ideal of the contemplative life expressed in the great tradition of Greek philosophy, choosing in this way the “better part” (cf. Lk 10:42). Things turned out differently, however. While attending the Sunday liturgy at the port city of Hippo, he was called out from the assembly by the Bishop and constrained to receive ordination for the exercise of the priestly ministry in that city.
Looking back on that moment, he writes in his Confessions: “Terrified by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had resolved in my heart, and meditated flight into the wilderness; but you forbade me and gave me strength, by saying: ‘Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15)”. Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right).
Augustinians in Manila area, Philippines, October 2007.