ne of the things that I have very much enjoyed about Benedict XVI is his Augustiniansim, that spirituality and theology so centered around Augustine of Hippo's strong and developed meditations on the nature of God revealed as Love Itself. catholic_heart
points out to me that Benedict has devoted three recent sessions of his Wednesday general audiences
to talking with people about Augustine. This is particularly timely and interesting to me as I've begun exploring Augustine and his mighty work The Confessions
with my own students.
So I'm copying here these first three audiences (though I see that the last, from this past Wednesday, has yet to be completely translated into English, which I'll update as it becomes available). The first is general biography tracing the rise of the great African teacher, and the second is similar but more focused on the end of Augustine's life and by extension to the ends of things and of life in general, while the third audience turns to that subject so near Benedict's heart here at the end of Modernity and the passage into whatever new phase of human history is before us: the relationship between faith and reason. Here he deals with that fusion in the passionate form Augustine gave to it.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Saint Augustine of Hippo (1)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After the great Christmas festivities, I would like to return to the meditations on the Fathers of the Church and speak today of the greatest Father of the Latin Church, St Augustine. This man of passion and faith, of the highest intelligence and tireless in his pastoral care, a great Saint and Doctor of the Church is often known, at least by hearsay, even by those who ignore Christianity or who are not familiar with it, because he left a very deep mark on the cultural life of the West and on the whole world. Because of his special importance St Augustine's influence was widespread. It could be said on the one hand that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo (today Annaba, on the coast of Algeria), the place where he was Bishop from 395 to his death in 430, and, on the other, that from this city of Roman Africa, many other roads of later Christianity and of Western culture itself branched out.
A civilization has seldom encountered such a great spirit who was able to assimilate Christianity's values and exalt its intrinsic wealth, inventing ideas and forms that were to nourish the future generations, as Paul VI also stressed: "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" (Inaugural Address at the Patristic Institute of the "Augustinianum", 4 May 1970; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 May 1970, p. 8). Augustine is also the Father of the Church who left the greatest number of works. Possidius, his biographer, said that it seemed impossible that one man could have written so many things in his lifetime. We shall speak of these different works at one of our meetings soon. Today, we shall focus on his life, which is easy to reconstruct from his writings, in particular the Confessions, his extraordinary spiritual autobiography written in praise of God. This is his most famous work; and rightly so, since it is precisely Augustine's Confessions, with their focus on interiority and psychology, that constitute a unique model in Western literature, and not only Western but even non-religious, to modern times. This attention to the spiritual life, to the mystery of the "I", to the mystery of God who is concealed in the "I", is something quite extraordinary, without precedent, and remains for ever, as it were, a spiritual "peak".
But to come back to his life: Augustine was born in Tagaste in the Roman Province of Numidia, Africa, on 13 November 354 to Patricius, a pagan who later became a catechumen, and Monica, a fervent Christian. This passionate woman, venerated as a saint, exercised an enormous influence on her son and raised him in the Christian faith. Augustine had also received the salt, a sign of acceptance in the catechumenate, and was always fascinated by the figure of Jesus Christ; indeed, he said that he had always loved Jesus but had drifted further and further away from ecclesial faith and practice, as also happens to many young people today.
Augustine also had a brother, Navigius, and a sister whose name is unknown to us and who, after being widowed subsequently became the head of a monastery for women. As a boy with a very keen intelligence, Augustine received a good education although he was not always an exemplary student. However, he learned grammar well, first in his native town and then in Madaura, and from 370, he studied rhetoric in Carthage, the capital of Roman Africa. He mastered Latin perfectly but was not quite as successful with Greek and did not learn Punic, spoken by his contemporaries. It was in Carthage itself that for the first time Augustine read the Hortensius, a writing by Cicero later lost, an event that can be placed at the beginning of his journey towards conversion. In fact, Cicero's text awoke within him love for wisdom, as, by then a Bishop, he was to write in his Confessions: "The book changed my feelings", to the extent that "every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart" (III, 4, 7).
However, since he was convinced that without Jesus the truth cannot be said effectively to have been found and since Jesus' Name was not mentioned in this book, immediately after he read it he began to read Scripture, the Bible. But it disappointed him. This was not only because the Latin style of the translation of the Sacred Scriptures was inadequate but also because to him their content itself did not seem satisfying. In the scriptural narratives of wars and other human vicissitudes, he discovered neither the loftiness of philosophy nor the splendour of the search for the truth which is part of it. Yet he did not want to live without God and thus sought a religion which corresponded to his desire for the truth and also with his desire to draw close to Jesus. Thus, he fell into the net of the Manicheans, who presented themselves as Christians and promised a totally rational religion. They said that the world was divided into two principles: good and evil. And in this way the whole complexity of human history can be explained. Their dualistic morals also pleased St Augustine, because it included a very high morality for the elect: and those like him who adhered to it could live a life better suited to the situation of the time, especially for a young man. He therefore became a Manichean, convinced at that time that he had found the synthesis between rationality and the search for the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Manicheanism also offered him a concrete advantage in life: joining the Manicheans facilitated the prospects of a career. By belonging to that religion, which included so many influential figures, he was able to continue his relationship with a woman and to advance in his career. By this woman he had a son, Adeodatus, who was very dear to him and very intelligent, who was later to be present during the preparation for Baptism near Lake Como, taking part in those "Dialogues" which St Augustine has passed down to us. The boy unfortunately died prematurely. Having been a grammar teacher since his twenties in the city of his birth, he soon returned to Carthage, where he became a brilliant and famous teacher of rhetoric. However, with time Augustine began to distance himself from the faith of the Manicheans. They disappointed him precisely from the intellectual viewpoint since they proved incapable of dispelling his doubts. He moved to Rome and then to Milan, where the imperial court resided at that time and where he obtained a prestigious post through the good offices and recommendations of the Prefect of Rome, Symmacus, a pagan hostile to St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
In Milan, Augustine acquired the habit of listening - at first for the purpose of enriching his rhetorical baggage - to the eloquent preaching of Bishop Ambrose, who had been a representative of the Emperor for Northern Italy. The African rhetorician was fascinated by the words of the great Milanese Prelate; and not only by his rhetoric. It was above all the content that increasingly touched Augustine's heart. The great difficulty with the Old Testament, because of its lack of rhetorical beauty and lofty philosophy was resolved in St Ambrose's preaching through his typological interpretation of the Old Testament: Augustine realized that the whole of the Old Testament was a journey toward Jesus Christ. Thus, he found the key to understanding the beauty and even the philosophical depth of the Old Testament and grasped the whole unity of the mystery of Christ in history, as well as the synthesis between philosophy, rationality and faith in the Logos, in Christ, the Eternal Word who was made flesh.
Augustine soon realized that the allegorical interpretation of Scripture and the Neo-Platonic philosophy practised by the Bishop of Milan enabled him to solve the intellectual difficulties which, when he was younger during his first approach to the biblical texts, had seemed insurmountable to him.
Thus, Augustine followed his reading of the philosophers' writings by reading Scripture anew, especially the Pauline Letters. His conversion to Christianity on 15 August 386 therefore came at the end of a long and tormented inner journey - of which we shall speak in another catechesis -, and the African moved to the countryside, north of Milan by Lake Como - with his mother Monica, his son Adeodatus and a small group of friends - to prepare himself for Baptism. So it was that at the age of 32 Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan on 24 April 387, during the Easter Vigil.
After his Baptism, Augustine decided to return to Africa with his friends, with the idea of living a community life of the monastic kind at the service of God. However, while awaiting their departure in Ostia, his mother fell ill unexpectedly and died shortly afterwards, breaking her son's heart. Having returned to his homeland at last, the convert settled in Hippo for the very purpose of founding a monastery. In this city on the African coast he was ordained a priest in 391, despite his reticence, and with a few companions began the monastic life which had long been in his mind, dividing his time between prayer, study and preaching. All he wanted was to be at the service of the truth. He did not feel he had a vocation to pastoral life but realized later that God was calling him to be a pastor among others and thus to offer people the gift of the truth. He was ordained a Bishop in Hippo four years later, in 395. Augustine continued to deepen his study of Scripture and of the texts of the Christian tradition and was an exemplary Bishop in his tireless pastoral commitment: he preached several times a week to his faithful, supported the poor and orphans, supervised the formation of the clergy and the organization of mens' and womens' monasteries. In short, the former rhetorician asserted himself as one of the most important exponents of Christianity of that time. He was very active in the government of his Diocese - with remarkable, even civil, implications - in the more than 35 years of his Episcopate, and the Bishop of Hippo actually exercised a vast influence in his guidance of the Catholic Church in Roman Africa and, more generally, in the Christianity of his time, coping with religious tendencies and tenacious, disruptive heresies such as Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism, which endangered the Christian faith in the one God, rich in mercy.
And Augustine entrusted himself to God every day until the very end of his life: smitten by fever, while for almost three months his Hippo was being besieged by vandal invaders, the Bishop - his friend Possidius recounts in his Vita Augustini - asked that the penitential psalms be transcribed in large characters, "and that the sheets be attached to the wall, so that while he was bedridden during his illness he could see and read them and he shed constant hot tears" (31, 2). This is how Augustine spent the last days of his life. He died on 28 August 430, when he was not yet 76. We will devote our next encounters to his work, his message and his inner experience.
* * *
I am pleased to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially the student groups from Australia and the United States. I greet the group of deacons from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and I thank the choir for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of joy and peace.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
Saint Augustine of Hippo (2)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, like last Wednesday, I would like to talk about the great Bishop of Hippo, St Augustine. He chose to appoint his successor four years before he died. Thus, on 26 September 426, he gathered the people in the Basilica of Peace at Hippo to present to the faithful the one he had designated for this task. He said: "In this life we are all mortal, and the day which shall be the last of life on earth is to every man at all times uncertain; but in infancy there is hope of entering boyhood... looking forward from boyhood to youth, from youth to manhood and from manhood to old age; whether these hopes may be realized or not is uncertain, but there is in each case something which may be hoped for. But old age has no other period of this life to look forward to with expectation: in any case, how long old age may be prolonged is uncertain.... I came to this town - for such was the will of God - when I was in the prime of life. I was young then, but now I am old" (Ep 213, 1). At this point Augustine named the person he had chosen as his successor, the presbyter Heraclius. The assembly burst into an applause of approval, shouting 23 times, "To God be thanks! To Christ be praise!". With other acclamations the faithful also approved what Augustine proposed for his future: he wanted to dedicate the years that were left to him to a more intense study of Sacred Scripture (cf. Ep 213, 6).
Indeed, what followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity: he brought important works to conclusion, he embarked on others, equally demanding, held public debates with heretics - he was always seeking dialogue - and intervened to foster peace in the African provinces threatened by barbarian southern tribes. He wrote about this to Count Darius, who had come to Africa to settle the disagreement between Boniface and the imperial court which the tribes of Mauritania were exploiting for their incursions: "It is a higher glory still", he said in his letter, "to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war. For those who fight, if they are good men, doubtlessly seek peace; nevertheless, it is through blood. Your mission, however, is to prevent the shedding of blood" (Ep 229, 2). Unfortunately, the hope of pacification in the African territories was disappointed; in May 429, the Vandals, whom out of spite Boniface had invited to Africa, passed the straits of Gibraltar and streamed into Mauritania. The invasion rapidly reached the other rich African provinces. In May or June 430, "the destroyers of the Roman Empire", as Possidius described these barbarians (Vita, 30, 1), were surrounding and besieging Hippo.
Boniface had also sought refuge in the city. Having been reconciled with the court too late, he was now trying in vain to block the invaders' entry. Possidius, Augustine's biographer, describes Augustine's sorrow: "More tears than usual were his bread, night and day, and when he had reached the very end of his life, his old age caused him, more than others, grief and mourning (Vita, 28, 6). And he explains: "Indeed, that man of God saw the massacres and the destruction of the city; houses in the countryside were pulled down and the inhabitants killed by the enemy or put to flight and dispersed. Private churches belonging to priests and ministers were demolished, sacred virgins and Religious scattered on every side; some died under torture, others were killed by the sword, still others taken prisoner, losing the integrity of their soul and body and even their faith, reduced by their enemies to a long, drawn-out and painful slavery" (ibid., 28, 8).
Despite being old and weary, Augustine stood in the breach, comforting himself and others with prayer and meditation on the mysterious designs of Providence. In this regard, he spoke of the "old-age of the world" - and this Roman world was truly old -, he spoke of this old age as years earlier he had spoken to comfort the refugees from Italy when Alaric's Goths had invaded the city of Rome in 410. In old age, he said, ailments proliferate: coughs, catarrh, bleary eyes, anxiety and exhaustion. Yet, if the world grows old, Christ is perpetually young; hence, the invitation: "Do not refuse to be rejuvenated united to Christ, even in the old world. He tells you: Do not fear, your youth will be renewed like that of the eagle" (cf. Serm. 81, 8). Thus, the Christian must not lose heart, even in difficult situations, but rather he must spare no effort to help those in need. This is what the great doctor suggested in his response to Honoratus, Bishop of Tiabe, who had asked him whether a Bishop or a priest or any man of the Church with the barbarians hot on his heels could flee to save his life: "When danger is common to all, that is, for Bishops, clerics and lay people, may those who need others not be abandoned by the people whom they need. In this case, either let all depart together to safe places or let those who must remain not be deserted by those through whom, in things pertaining to the Church, their necessities must be provided for; and so let them share life in common, or share in common that which the Father of their family appoints them to suffer" (Ep 228, 2). And he concluded: "Such conduct is especially the proof of love" (ibid., 3). How can we fail to recognize in these words the heroic message that so many priests down the centuries have welcomed and made their own?
In the meantime, the city of Hippo resisted. Augustine's monastery-home had opened its doors to welcome episcopal colleagues who were asking for hospitality. Also of this number was Possidius, a former disciple of Augustine; he was able to leave us his direct testimony of those last dramatic days. "In the third month of that siege", Possidius recounts, "Augustine took to his bed with a fever: it was his last illness" (Vita, 29, 3). The holy old man made the most of that period when he was at last free to dedicate himself with greater intensity to prayer. He was in the habit of saying that no one, Bishop, Religious or layman, however irreprehensible his conduct might seem, can face death without adequate repentance. For this reason he ceaselessly repeated between his tears, the penitential psalms he had so often recited with his people (cf. ibid., 31, 2).
The worse his illness became, the more the dying Bishop felt the need for solitude and prayer: "In order that no one might disturb him in his recollection, about 10 days before leaving his body, he asked those of us present not to let anyone into his room outside the hours in which the doctors came to visit him or when his meals were brought. His desire was minutely complied with and in all that time he devoted himself to prayer" (ibid., 31, 3). He breathed his last on 28 August 430: his great heart rested at last in God.
"For the last rites of his body", Possidius informs us, "the sacrifice in which we took part was offered to God and then he was buried" (Vita, 31, 5). His body on an unknown date was translated to Sardinia, and from here, in about 725, to the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia, where it still rests today. His first biographer has this final opinion of him: "He bequeathed to his Church a very numerous clergy and also monasteries of men and women full of people who had taken vows of chastity under the obedience of their superiors, as well as libraries containing his books and discourses and those of other saints, from which one learns what, through the grace of God, were his merits and greatness in the Church, where the faithful always find him alive" (Possidius, Vita, 31, 8). This is an opinion in which we can share. We too "find him alive" in his writings. When I read St Augustine's writings, I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith. In St Augustine who talks to us, talks to me in his writings, we see the everlasting timeliness of his faith; of the faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Incarnate Word, Son of God and Son of Man. And we can see that this faith is not of the past although it was preached yesterday; it is still timely today, for Christ is truly yesterday, today and for ever. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, St Augustine encourages us to entrust ourselves to this ever-living Christ and in this way find the path of life.
To special groups
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience, including the students from Australia, Ireland and the United States of America. May your time in Rome be one of uplifting spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the example of St Anthony Abbot, the distinguished Father of monasticism who worked hard for the Church by supporting martyrs during the persecution, encourage you, dear young people, to seek Christ constantly and follow him faithfully; may it comfort you, dear sick people, in bearing your suffering patiently and in offering it up so that the Kingdom of God may be spread throughout the world; and may it help you, dear newly-weds, to be witnesses of Christ's love in your family life.
The traditional Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins the day after tomorrow, Friday, 18 January. It is particularly important this year because 100 years have passed since it was introduced. The theme is St Paul's invitation to the Thessalonians: "Pray without ceasing" (I Thes 5: 17), an invitation that I gladly make my own and address to the whole Church. Yes, it is necessary to pray constantly, asking God insistently for the great gift of unity among all the Lord's disciples. May the inexhaustible power of the Holy Spirit encourage us to a sincere commitment to seeking unity, so that we may profess all together that Jesus is the one Saviour of the world.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Saint Augustine of Hippo (3)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we continue our catechesis on Saint Augustine of Hippo, I wish today to consider some of the teachings of this great Doctor of the Church. A passionate believer, he recognized the importance of bringing together faith and reason. It was he who taught that we should believe in order to understand, and understand in order to believe. God makes himself known to our reason, although he always transcends what we can know through reason alone. As Augustine beautifully expressed it, God is “more intimately present to me than my inmost being” and “higher than the highest element in me.” Saint Augustine taught that by belonging to the Church, we are so closely united to Christ that we “become” Christ, the head whose members we are. As our head, Christ prays in us, yet he also prays for us as our priest, and we pray to him as our God. If we ask what particular message Saint Augustine has for the men and women of today, it is perhaps his emphasis on our need for truth. Listen to the way he describes his own search for God’s truth: “You were within me and I sought you outside, in the beautiful things that you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called me, you cried out and broke open my deafness. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you.” Let us pray that we too may discover the joy of knowing God’s truth.
* * *
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including groups from England, Scotland, Hong Kong and the United States of America. I greet especially the representatives of the Pontifical Mission Societies and the group who are preparing to be ordained deacons. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Saint Augustine of Hippo (3)
After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we return today to the important figure of St Augustine. In 1986, the 16th centenary of his conversion, my beloved Predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long, full Document to him, the Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponensem. The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "a thanksgiving to God for the gift that he has made to the Church, and through her to the whole human race". I would like to return to the topic of conversion at another Audience. It is a fundamental theme not only for Augustine's personal life but also for ours. In last Sunday's Gospel the Lord himself summed up his preaching with the word: "Repent". By following in St Augustine's footsteps, we will be able to meditate on what this conversion is: it is something definitive, decisive, but the fundamental decision must develop, be brought about throughout our life.
Today's Catechesis, however, is dedicated to the subject of faith and reason, a crucial, or better, the crucial theme for St Augustine's biography. As a child he learned the Catholic faith from Monica, his mother. But he abandoned this faith as an adolescent because he could no longer discern its reasonableness and rejected a religion that was not, to his mind, also an expression of reason, that is, of the truth. His thirst for truth was radical and therefore led him to drift away from the Catholic faith. Yet his radicalism was such that he could not be satisfied with philosophies that did not go to the truth itself, that did not go to God and to a God who was not only the ultimate cosmological hypothesis but the true God, the God who gives life and enters into our lives.
Thus, Augustine's entire intellectual and spiritual development is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of every human being. These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated or placed in opposition; rather, they must always go hand in hand. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us to knowledge" (Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). In this regard, through the two rightly famous Augustinian formulas (cf. Sermones, 43, 9) that express this coherent synthesis of faith and reason: crede ut intelligas ("I believe in order to understand") - believing paves the way to crossing the threshold of the truth - but also, and inseparably, intellige ut credas ("I understand, the better to believe"), the believer scrutinizes the truth to be able to find God and to believe.
Augustine's two affirmations express with effective immediacy and as much corresponding depth the synthesis of this problem in which the Catholic Church sees her own journey expressed. This synthesis had been acquiring its form in history even before Christ's coming, in the encounter between the Hebrew faith and Greek thought in Hellenistic Judaism. At a later period this synthesis was taken up and developed by many Christian thinkers. The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God is not remote: he is not far from our reason and our life; he is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.
Augustine felt this closeness of God to man with extraordinary intensity. God's presence in man is profound and at the same time mysterious, but he can recognize and discover it deep down inside himself. "Do not go outside", the convert says, but "return to within yourself; truth dwells in the inner man; and if you find that your nature is changeable, transcend yourself. But remember, when you transcend yourself, you are transcending a soul that reasons. Reach, therefore, to where the light of reason is lit" (De vera religione, 39, 72). It is just like what he himself stresses with a very famous statement at the beginning of the Confessions, a spiritual biography which he wrote in praise of God: "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (I, 1, 1).
God's remoteness is therefore equivalent to remoteness from oneself: "But", Augustine admitted (Confessions, III, 6, 11), addressing God directly, "you were more inward than my most inward part and higher than the highest element within me", interior intimo meo et superior summo meo; so that, as he adds in another passage remembering the period before his conversion, "you were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you" (Confessions, V, 2, 2). Precisely because Augustine lived this intellectual and spiritual journey in the first person, he could portray it in his works with such immediacy, depth and wisdom, recognizing in two other famous passages from the Confessions (IV, 4, 9 and 14, 22), that man is "a great enigma" (magna quaestio) and "a great abyss" (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss that only Christ can illuminate and save us from. This is important: a man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, alienated from himself, and can only find himself by encountering God. In this way he will come back to himself, to his true self, to his true identity.
The human being, Augustine stresses later in De Civitate Dei (XII, 27), is social by nature but antisocial by vice and is saved by Christ, the one Mediator between God and humanity and the "universal way of liberty and salvation", as my Predecessor John Paul II said (Augustinum Hipponensem, n. 3). Outside this way, "which has never been lacking for the human race", St Augustine says further, "no one has been set free, no one will be set free" (De Civitate Dei, X, 32, 2). As the one Mediator of salvation Christ is Head of the Church and mystically united with her to the point that Augustine could say: "We have become Christ. For, if he is the Head, we, the members; he and we together are the whole man" (In Iohannis evangelium tractatus, 21, 8).
People of God and house of God: the Church in Augustine's vision is therefore closely bound to the concept of the Body of Christ, founded on the Christological reinterpretation of the Old Testament and on the sacramental life centred on the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his Body and transforms us into his Body. It is then fundamental that the Church, the People of God in a Christological and not a sociological sense, be truly inserted into Christ, who, as Augustine says in a beautiful passage, "prays for us, prays in us and prays by us; he prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, and he prays by us as our God: let us therefore recognize him as our voice and ourselves as his" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 85, 1).
At the end of the Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponensem, John Paul II wished to ask the Saint himself what he would have to say to the people of today and answers first of all with the words Augustine entrusted to a letter dictated shortly after his conversion: "It seems to me that the hope of finding the truth must be restored to humankind" (Epistulae, 1, 1); that truth which is Christ himself, true God, to whom is addressed one of the most beautiful prayers and most famous of the Confessions (X, 27, 38): "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. "You called and cried aloud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours".
Here then, Augustine encountered God and throughout his life experienced him to the point that this reality - which is primarily his meeting with a Person, Jesus - changed his life, as it changes the lives of everyone, men and women, who in every age have the grace to encounter him. Let us pray that the Lord will grant us this grace and thereby enable us to find his peace.
To special groups
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, including groups from England, Scotland, Hong Kong and the United States of America. I greet especially the representatives of the Pontifical Mission Societies and the group who are preparing to be ordained deacons. Upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones, I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Tomorrow is the liturgical Memorial of St John Bosco, a priest and educator. Look to him, dear young people, especially you candidates for Confirmation from Serroni di Battipaglia, as an authentic teacher of life. You, dear sick people, learn from his spiritual experience and trust in every circumstance in the Crucified Christ. And you, dear newly-weds, have recourse to his intercession to take on your mission as spouses with generous commitment.