The Jesus attraction
The introduction to the book Il cuore e la grazia in sant’Agostino. Distinzione e corrispondenza [The heart and grace in Saint Augustine. Distinction and correspondence], published in Italy by Città Nuova. Some chapters of the book have also been published by 30Days no. 10, October 2003, pp. 55-66; no. 6/7, June/July 2004, pp. 56-66; no.6/7, June/July 2006, pp. 50-65
by Nello Cipriani
The lectures, given by Don Giacomo Tantardini at the Conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine at the University of Padua and collected here, constitute a “case” of great cultural interest. The rector of Padua University, Vincenzo Milanesi pointed it out himself when he spoke of «a quite singular and original initiative in the Italian university context, the outcome of the collaboration between various student associations and groups», emphasizing, on the one hand, the sage character of Don Giacomo’s thinking, «which, while true to the letter of Augustine’s works, goes beyond the purely philological and exegetical datum» (p. 340), and on the other, the secular nature of the location in which the lectures were given.
Giacomo Tantardini, The heart and grace in Saint Augustine. Distinction and correspondence, Città Nuova, Rome 2006, 364 pp., Euro 25.00
Having acknowledged the original, and in certain ways surprising, openness to dialogue demonstrated by the University of Padua, one has, however, also to recognize the extraordinary teaching skills of Don Giacomo, who, leaving aside the cold and detached lecture from the chair, humbly provided a voice for a classic of human and Christian experience of the stature of Saint Augustine, contenting himself with bringing out the depth and relevance of the thought. A faithful disciple of Don Giussani, Don Giacomo aims to help listeners and readers to discover or rediscover the beauty and the joy of genuine Christian experience, that, leaving aside theological doctrines and religious rituals, is above all a personal encounter with Christ, who, always alive and present, can still today stir deep attraction in the heart of mankind.
The idea that Don Giacomo wants to transmit more than any other runs through the lectures, covers all the lessons, but is stated clearly at the beginning of the first and at the end of the last lesson. He says at the beginning of the first: «Saint Augustine reaches the point of saying, following Saint Paul, that the whole of Christian doctrine without delectatio and dilectio, without the loving attraction of grace, is the letter that kills. It is not culture, nor even Christian doctrine, than can establish a relationship with a man for whom Christianity is a past that does not concern him. It is something anterior to culture. This something that comes before Saint Augustine calls delectatio and dilectio, that is the loving attraction of grace» (pp. 12-13). In the closing part of the last lecture he first refers to a discourse of the African bishop in which the latter declares he takes greater pleasure in the fact of having been redeemed by Christ with the faithful than in the fact of having been made their bishop. And then he comments: «This plus me delectet is the phrase that most accompanies and describes all the work of Augustine. This delight, this joy is the motive and the reason for which one becomes and remains Christian» (p. 350). I go along with the statement without reserve, but with an addition. The idea that one becomes and remains Christian because one feels a pleasure in cleaving to Jesus Christ is not only Augustine’s but also Don Giussani’s, the author of a book entitled L’attrattivà Gesù [The Jesus attraction]. I believe that Don Giacomo has grasped the deep consonance between the Christian experience lived and proposed so many centuries ago by Saint Augustine and that proposed today by Don Giussani and that is why he has chosen Augustine’s words as leading thread of his lectures. I set out the hope that the publication of the lectures may stir in the reader the same interest they provoked in the listener.