Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2008
Benedict discusses St. Augustine's influence on his life
Pope says Christ was the key to the North African bishop's conversion
By Catholic News Service
"St. Augustine's primary concern was always to spread the Christian message."
"He understood that this verse at that moment was addressed personally to him," Pope Benedict said.
His conversion "culminated in Baptism, but did not conclude there," the pope said, because following Jesus is a lifelong process of drawing nearer to him.
Pope Benedict said Christ was the key to St. Augustine's search for truth and his search for God, who appeared to be far off and beyond human reach. But St. Augustine realized that in Christ God is near. "He drew close to us by becoming one of us," he said.
"Only God, who made himself touchable, one of us, is a God to whom one can pray, a God for whom and with whom one can live," the pope said.
After his Baptism in 387, St. Augustine returned to Africa and founded a small monastery with some friends.
The second stage of his conversion, the pope said, consisted in giving up his "beautiful dream" of dedicating his life to prayer and study by being ordained to the priesthood and assigned to pastoral work.
The pope said the third stage of St. Augustine's conversion was realizing that each day he must ask God's forgiveness for his sins and renew his commitment to following Christ.
"We always need to be washed by Christ," and to humbly recognize "that we are sinners," the pope said.
In his audience talk a week earlier, the pope cited numerous works by St. Augustine that have influenced the life of the Church and helped form Western culture.
St. Augustine's best-known work was Confessions, in which he confessed his own weaknesses and praised God's grace and mercy.
The Confessions had a great impact even in St. Augustine's day. The pope quoted the saint as acknowledging that the work had "pleased many of my brothers."
Looking up from his text, the pope said with a smile, "And I have to say that I am one of these brothers." The packed audience hall broke into applause.
The pope wrote his doctoral thesis on the notion of the people of God in St. Augustine, and the fifth-century theologian and bishop has influenced deeply the pope's own writings.
The pope explained that while St. Augustine was a great intellectual he dedicated much of his life to more simple pastoral works and sermons.
The saint once suspended his dictation of the great work, De Trinitate (On the Trinity), because he thought the writing was too difficult for all but a few people, and he wanted to spend more time on pastoral tracts, the pope said.
"So it was more useful for him to communicate the faith in a comprehensive way to everyone rather than write great theological works," the pope said.
Rather than closing himself off from others, St. Augustine lived his life in dialogue with God and with other people, he said. "Although Augustine is renowned for his towering intellect and vast body of writings, his primary concern was always to spread the Christian message," he said.
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