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from issue no. 12 - 2007

The heart and grace in Saint Augustine. Distinction and correspondence

by Vincenzo Milanesi

The conference “The heart and grace” held in the Aula Magna of the Palazzo del Bo, Padua, 27 November 2007; from the left: Don Giacomo Tantardini, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Vincenzo Milanesi and Pietro Calogero

The conference “The heart and grace” held in the Aula Magna of the Palazzo del Bo, Padua, 27 November 2007; from the left: Don Giacomo Tantardini, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Vincenzo Milanesi and Pietro Calogero

Your Eminence,
distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, I am particularly happy to welcome you in our historical Aula Magna, the hall in which Galileo lectured four hundred years ago, for this extraordinary meeting to mark the tenth anniversary of the Conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine. A decade of activity is not a common landmark for a program initiated by the students. I hope, however, that you will forgive me if I set aside the celebratory tones that the occasion would merit in order to try to think with you about the nature of these lectures, by now so familiar to us. There are four original features on which I would like quickly to dwell: the contribution from the students, the interpretative emphasis chosen by the chair, the participation of university staff and the presence of the public. The Conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine are first of all a testimony to the overall maturity of the student body of our University. It did not come about by accident that from 1998 up to the present the organizers of this series have managed to associate other student groups, university colleges, educational and cultural associations, institutions such as the Aloisianum Philosophical Institute, even publishing firms such as Città Nuova or various bodies not of the university in the strict sense, such as the city University Pastoral. I believe that this is a positive sign. The student body – and the consideration can be extended also to the main student organizations that do not participate directly in the organization of these Conferences – has in these years grown in the ability to exchange views, collaborate and make constructive contribution to the life of the University, that does not consist only of lectures and research.
In the second place one of the reasons, perhaps the greatest one, for the success of these courses, is due to the interpretative approach chosen by Don Giacomo Tantardini, who we again thank affectionately for his presence here. Let me explain myself by means of a perhaps not very academic reference. One of the great revolutionary figures in the history of 20th century music, the jazzman Charlie Parker, often said that to play well one must learn everything about music and one’s instrument and then forget it all to go on and express something truly personal. It is what was meant by the old epigram that says culture is what you know when you think you’ve forgotten everything. In like fashion I think these lectures would be inconceivable without the solid culture, the intimacy with Augustine’s writings and the wide knowledge of the secondary literature that Don Giacomo possesses. Despite that I believe that Don Giacomo has felt the need, if not to forget, at least in part to set aside a specific scholarly apparatus in favor of the most direct approach possible to Augustine’s bare page, a face-to-face that restores to us the living voice of this great classic of thought, as well as Doctor and Father of the Church, who speaks to our time without the need of ulterior mediation. It is a choice that we have several times described as lectio, reading rather than lecture, and that it would be interesting to repeat on other occasions and with other authors, because it enhances and integrates, without replacing, the more analytical approach of traditional university lecture.
As for the lecturers, Cardinal Scola will probably already know that over these years every single conference has been introduced by university teachers, chosen by the organizers – with an intuition I consider felicitous – from scholars in a whole variety of disciplines. We have heard representatives of all the disciplines – statisticians, engineers, clinicians, political scientists, jurists, psychoanalysts, as well as historians and philosophers – taking on Augustine. Today we are gladdened by the launch of a book by Don Tantardini, Il cuore e la grazia [The heart and grace], that brings together his papers from three academic years of Conferences. It would be interesting, however, to revisit again today in analogous way all the lectures from the university teachers since 1998. I think it would be interesting evidence of the way that many teachers of our University, following the example of Don Tantardini, let themselves be put to the question by the figure of Augustine in a direct, sincere and often startling way, opening probably unexpected vistas on their respective disciplines.
The last aspect to which I would like to draw your attention is the participation of the city of Padua in an endeavour organized within the University for a university public. The Conferences began in the early months of 1998 as extracurricular lectures by Don Giacomo Tantardini within the History course given by Professor Giuseppe Butturini, of the History Department, on the Church in the modern and contemporary period. Gradually, however the lectures took on a life of their own, so to speak, attracting students from other faculties and also outsiders, including figures in public life: the most significant example from this point of view is the District Attorney Pietro Calogero, seated here at the table – we welcome him with particular fondness and affection – who has more than once regaled us with the fruits of his long acquaintance with Augustine’s thinking. There are by now many public and Church figures, businessmen and representatives of cultural life, but also simple enthusiasts, who assiduously attend these encounters: it is an important moment of the University’s opening to the city. This I believe depends also on the fact that our University is very ready to welcome, in the name of patavina libertas, the exchange of views that is the fabric of contemporary culture. And the voice of Augustine, that Don Giacomo transmits to us, has full title to citizenship in this exchange of views, this symphony, as hospitality in this Aula Magna means to show.
Permit me one last remark. It is not frequently that we hear a lecture from a cardinal in the Aula Magna of Padua University, but I am glad it should be so. Defining the concept of secularity is difficult and I shall not venture to do so. However, secularity to me certainly does not mean secularism, but rather an openness to dialogue, willingness to listen, awareness of the need, for people who want to be such, of a quest that is also a continuous demand for meaning, that can and perhaps should last a lifetime and to which one does not know what the answer may be until the end. There, if that is the way of it, we can truly tell ourselves this evening also that the University of Padua is so deeply secular as not to fear, indeed to be glad, as well as being honored, to listen to Cardinal Scola, whom we welcome with deferential respect and sincere cordiality.

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