Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Saint Augustine, a figure of "singular relevance" in the history of the Church and of Christian literature, and not only in these, was a bit like the young people of today - he had "extremely robust intelligence, but was not always a model student"'; he had widely varied experiences; he sought, at first, moral rules that were not too burdensome; he was anxious to know the Truth. Benedict XVI today illustrated the figure of the saint of Hippo to the six thousand persons present for the general audience in the Paul VI hall, and announced that he will dedicate his upcoming catecheses to this most prolific of the Fathers of the Church.
The pope today said of Augustine - who was an object of special study for him as a theologian, and the subject of his thesis - that "all the roads of Latin Christian literature lead to Hippo, where he was bishop", and he recalled the assertion of Paul VI, for whom "it may be said that all the thought of antiquity converges" in his work, and from this there branch out many of the roads travelled by Western culture, so much so that "he is known even by those who ignore Christianity".
Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in Tagaste, in the Roman part of Africa, to Patricius, a pagan, and Monica, a fervent Christian venerated as a saint who exerted a great influence on her son, raising him in the faith. He was an "absolute master of the Latin language", and from his reading of Cicero he was driven to "know the truth" and learned the "love of wisdom". But "the name of Jesus was missing" in Cicero, and this prompted him to read the Bible. This left him disappointed, not only because of its "insufficient" style, but also because it lacked a "lofty" philosophy.
His search for a religion that could satisfy his desire for truth and bring him close to Jesus made him "fall into the snares of the Manichaeans". Among other things, their morality left their members relatively free, something that, the pope observed, also happens today.
He went to Italy, first to Rome and then to Milan, where, disappointed by his experience with Manichaeism, he was fascinated by the preaching of Ambrose, "not only for its rhetorical style, but also for its contents". For Augustine, Ambrose "resolved the question of philosophical sophistication" in the Bible, with his reflection on the presence of the mystery of Christ in the Old Testament, and his meditation "on the Logos who became flesh".
At the summit of his tormented interior journey, Augustine converted in 386, and at the age of 32 was baptised by Ambrose. He became a priest after returning to Africa, and in 395 he was made a bishop. He was "exemplary in his tireless efforts", "very active in Church governance", and "entrusted himself to God every day, until the very end of his life". He died on August 28, 430, at the age of 75.