Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4, 2008
Augustine's story also that of youth today
In series of talks, pope says Augustine's search for truth led him back to Christ
- CNS photo/Bob Roller
St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica, are depicted in a stained-glass window
Catholic News Service
As a young man, St. Augustine, like many young Catholics today, left the practice of the faith for a time, but his search for truth and meaning eventually led to his conversion, Pope Benedict said.
Briefly presenting St. Augustine's biography, the pope said he was "a man of passion, of faith, of very high intelligence and of untiring pastoral concern."
In addition, he said, St. Augustine is "the father of the Church that left us the greatest number of works" and, in fact, "it seems impossible that one man could have written so much in one lifetime."
Since Jan. 9, Pope Benedict has given three general audience talks kicking off a series about St. Augustine, who lived 354-430, and was the subject of his doctoral dissertation.
St. Augustine's mother, St. Monica, was a devout Christian and educated him in the faith. But in his adolescence, Augustine "abandoned the faith because he could no longer see its reasonableness."
Although "he always was fascinated by the figure of Jesus," St. Augustine increasingly distanced himself from the faith and the life of the Church, "just as happens today with many young people," the pope said.
Sought philosophical truth
But "even if he had left the practice of the faith he was always in search of the truth," read voraciously and "was convinced that without Jesus the truth could not be found," the pope said.
Disappointed at the lack of philosophical depth in the Bible, St. Augustine went in search of a religion that corresponded to his desire for truth and for Jesus, but one which also had a highly developed philosophy, the pope said.
He thought he found the answer among the Manichaeans, "who presented themselves as Christians and promised that their religion was completely rational.
"They affirmed that the world is divided into two principles - good and evil," which they believed explained all the struggles of human life, he said.
"Their dualistic morality pleased St. Augustine because there was a very strict morality for the elite, but the adherents like him could live in a way more convenient for the situation of a young man of that time," he said.
It also gave him important contacts for his career while "allowing him to pursue the relationship he had begun with a woman," with whom he had a son.
But the Manichaeans could not respond to all his doubts and, eventually, after listening repeatedly to the preaching of St. Ambrose in Milan, he was baptized.
For St. Augustine, the pope said Jan. 30, religions and philosophies that do not make sense of life and do not help people arrive at a truth valid for everyone are not worth pursuing.
St. Augustine was not looking for a God who was "simply the ultimate cosmological hypothesis, but was the true God, the God who gives life and enters into our lives," Pope Benedict said.
Faith and reason
Faith and reason are "the two forces that bring us to knowledge," the pope said. People must believe in God in order to understand, and they must use their understanding in order to believe, he said.
Pope Benedict said St. Augustine experienced the nearness of God "with extraordinary intensity." His own life story convinced him that those who move away from God move away from the truth of who they are themselves.
"One can find himself again only by encountering God; this is the way he arrives at his true self, his true identity."
St. Augustine's conviction that people need to seek and to approach truth and that truth is ultimately found through knowing God is a teaching that people today need to hear, the pope said.
"Augustine encountered God and throughout his life he experienced him so much that this reality, which is precisely an encounter with the person of Jesus, changed his life, just as it has changed the lives of all those men and women of every age who receive the grace to encounter him," Pope Benedict said.
Christ is eternally young
St. Augustine taught his faithful that they must not give up when life becomes difficult, but rather they must find ways to survive and to help those who are in an even more difficult situation.
As the Roman Empire crumbled in North Africa, the pope said, the saint taught that while the world was growing old Christ remains eternally young and constantly rejuvenates those who place their faith in him.
"When we read the writings of St. Augustine, we do not have the impression that they were written by a man who died about 1,600 years ago, but of a man of today, a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, to us, with a faith that is fresh and relevant still today."