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from issue no. 10 - 2003

Conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine

The benefit of justice and the resurrection of the Lord

The papers of Pietro Calogero, Chief Procurator of the Republic at the Court of Padua, and of Don Giacomo Tantardini, at the University of Padua 20 May 2003

by Pietro Calogero and Giacomo Tantardini

From the right, Dr. Pietro Calogero, 
Chief Procurator of the Republic at the Court 
of Padua, Don Giacomo Tantardini and, behind Calogero, Professor Vincenzo Milanese, 
Rector of the University of Padua, 20 May

From the right, Dr. Pietro Calogero, Chief Procurator of the Republic at the Court of Padua, Don Giacomo Tantardini and, behind Calogero, Professor Vincenzo Milanese, Rector of the University of Padua, 20 May

Good evening and welcome to you all.
I don’t think it will be necessary to stand on ceremony in introducing this evening’s gathering. I allow myself to speak to you so directly given that conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine are by now at home in the University of Padua: I speak with personal knowledge, having participated several times over the years, from the start of these gatherings.
I said last January, introducing the first lecture, that this cycle by now represents a tradition for our University. If it continues to be followed with attention and constancy by students and staff, I believe that results from the fact that it responds to a demand ever more widespread in our University, indeed throughout the Italian university.
In a world in which knowledge is ever more fragmented, a gathering like yours, that moves crosswise through the various disciplines, answers to a quite precise need: that for a space, in the metaphorical sense, in which each, with his/her wealth of skills, character, sensibility, opinions, may find a chance to match with those of other people on the basis of the text of an auctoritas not accepted acritically but set in relation to the needs and requirements of today. The University, as a place of synthesis among the various disciplines, can only encourage and promote similar initiatives.
That is why I agree with the choice of entrusting the introduction of the individual conferences not to experts in Augustine’s thinking but to lecturers and heads of the various faculties, humanistic and scientific. That is also the reason for an authoritative guest such the Chief Procurator of the Republic at the Court of Padua, Doctor Pietro Calogero, who has several times attended these conferences.
I also find valuable the fact that the conferences take the form of readings, of lectiones. It is the most ancient didactic mode in our University tradition, and has not lost its relevance even today, especially if the starting point is the pages of the great classic writers – and Augustine is certainly one – that is, of those authors who at a distance of centuries continue to fascinate the human mind and intelligence.
The lectures of Don Tantardini, which from the starting point of Augustine, reinterpret fundamental nodal points in the history of the Church and the modern world, are a demonstration of it. To a native of Brescia like myself, then, it can’t help but be a pleasure to see that one of the most quoted authorities is Giovanni Battista Montini [PaoloVI] who with the passage of the years emerges ever more as a central figure, one of the most authoritative presences in the history of the century just ended.
Finally, I find it important that around initiatives such as this there is a coming together of diverse cultural and student realities, even of divergent inspiration. It is a dialogue that we as a University can only encourage, outside and inside the study halls. And it is therefore with the wish for profitable continuation that I give the word to Dr. Calogero, assuring the maximum welcome and attention of the University, as well as my own, for future occasions of the conferences.
Vincenzo Milanese
Rector of the University of Padua
Marcus Tullius Cicero addressing a learned public from the podium, illumination from a 15th century copy of the Sermons, in the Vatican Apostolic Library

Marcus Tullius Cicero addressing a learned public from the podium, illumination from a 15th century copy of the Sermons, in the Vatican Apostolic Library

Pietro Calogero

My thanks first of all to those who invited me, thanks to all the people present, thanks to Don Giacomo Tantardini and thanks to the Rector, because all of you have given me the chance of recalling a woefully distant experience, that of my high school years, when the shared dream of being able, each of us, to do something useful or important towards a juster society was illuminated by the words of Augustine, who proclaimed in his works the centrality of the hope that redeems and of the truth that dwells in each of us. Words that stirred us, because they made us believe firmly in the possibility of individual commitment for a future of well being.
Trusting in the patience and understanding of those here and particularly of Don Giacomo, an enlightened scholar of Augustine’s thought, I shall in these few introductory minutes limit myself to recalling some aspects of Augustine’s thinking on justice, to then look with you at its lasting relevance. Specifically, on justice applied to politics, that is to the field of relations between the authority that governs and community of the governed, and more in general of the action of government covering all aspects of the civitas. Keeping in mind, however, what experts on the subject well know: that Augustine wasn’t interested in formulating a theory of politics nor of setting out a doctrine of the State. For him, politics is in no way abstract: part of the life of man, of every man (ruler or subject), it is one of the rivulets that flow and are channeled along the paths that accompany man’s journey from the earthly city to the city of God and, in the afterlife, to immortal enjoyment of the Creator and to eternal peace.
It is only for this reason, practical and not theoretical, that Augustine reflects on politics and on justice in politics.
In book II, chapter 21 of the De civitate Dei the thinking centers on three sayings of Scipio (the conqueror of Carthage) given in Cicero’s De re publica on the themes of the organization of the State (res publica) and of the relations with civil society (civitas), thereby giving definitive expression to the mature thinking of Rome (and to similar Greek thinking) on the subject in question.
«What is by musicians in song called harmony,» Scipio begins, «is in civil society called concord; and the latter, in which is mirrored that intense and deep bond of unity that guarantees the wholeness and survival [vinculum incolumitatis] of every state organism, absolutely cannot exist without justice [sine iustitia nullo pacto esse posse]». Invited a little later to give his opinion on the widespread popular belief that it is impossible to govern without committing injustices, Scipio states firmly that «not only is it false that the State cannot be administered without recourse to unjust actions but that, on the contrary, it is absolutely true that it cannot hold together without performing great justice».
The conclusion, cogent and rigorous, to which Scipio comes is lapidary: «Thus the State [res publica], in the sense of thing of the people [res populi], only exists when it is administered with honesty and with justice whether by a king, by a few optimates, by the whole people. If instead the king is unjust, such as to deserve in the Greek usage the name of tyrant, or if the optimates are unjust, to the point of forming a faction, or if it is the people who are unjust... then the State can not only be rotten but indeed non-existent, because it will not be identified with the thing of the people [res populi] and the tyrant or the faction have taken it over. The people themselves, if unjust, would no longer be the people, because they would not consist of a plurality of persons associated (held together) by agreement on the mutual recognition of rights and by the commonality of interests [multitudo iuris consensu et utilitas communione sociata]». These ideas, that extend the importance and the purposive role of justice from the field of morals (individual and collective) to political behavior and to the constitution of the structures of the State, to the point of proposing itself as the basis of a model of widely shared and potentially universal civilization, are the expression of a cultural tradition, both secular and sacred, widespread in the ancient world, that Augustine not only adopts but develops and details in book IV, chapter 4 and in book XIX, chapter 21 of De civitate Dei.
The first of the passages cited is famous because, against any ritual treatment, it narrates the encounter between Alexander the Great and a pirate who has fallen into his power and, in a seeming paradox, the realm of the former is compared to the band of thieves led by the latter.
Augustine’s premise is: «Remota iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? / Justice abandoned, to what would realms be reduced if not to great thievery?».
This is the leading idea, and Augustine explains it thus: a band of thieves is still, in reality, an association of men in which there is a head who commands, a social pact that binds is in force, booty sustains, which is divided according to already agreed rules. And yet, if this band grows through the association of other lawbreakers, if it manages to occupy lands and cities, if it sets up its center of operations in them, if it subjects peoples, it can even boast the title of realm, which is assured it by the impunity acquired, not by the suppression of greed (thirst for power): but nevertheless – this is the implicit conclusion – it does not cease to be the band of evildoers which was and remains extraneous to the idea of justice.
Justice is thus, for Augustine, the only value that really differentiates: not only one person from another but also one people from another and above all a “civitas constituta”, a community organized into a State, from another. That is why he judges «subtle and truthful» the answer given by the pirate to Alexander: «Asked by the king why he infests the seas, he answered with frankness and boldness: for the same reason that you infest the earth; but because I do it with a small ship I am called pirate, whereas because you do it with a large fleet you are called emperor».
By pushing the idea of the determining role of justice in the formation of States and the fundamental structures of government to its extreme, Augustine sets out in book XIX a seemingly improbable argument: the thesis according to which, following the definition given by Scipio himself in the De re publica, there never was a Roman republic because the State of Rome was never identified with the “thing of the people” (res populi) not having managed to achieve an ordinance based on just rules.
If – as we learn from the Roman jurist Ulpian –«justice is that virtue that gives each his own, / iustitia ea virtus est quae sua cuique distribuit/ what justice then,» Augustine asks himself, «is that of the man who distances man from the real God and makes him subject of monstrous demons?» That was what happened instead, in their republic, to the Romans: to serve and even to make sacrifice to evil and foul demons; and thus not having rendered his own to the only God, creator of man, they made no profession of justice.
Widening his perspective, Augustine proclaims in categorical fashion: «Where there is no real justice there cannot be association of men based on the consensual recognition of the rights of each and therefore not even a people, according to the definition of Scipio and Cicero; and if there is no people there is not even the thing of the people but that of any mere multitude that doesn’t merit the name of people. So then: if the republic is the thing of the people and there is no people where there is no association of men sharing the mutual recognition of rights, if there are no rights where there is no justice, one has to conclude that where there is no justice there is no republic / ubi non est vera iustitia, iuris consensu sociatus coetus hominum non potest esse et ideo nec populus iuxta illam Scipionis vel Ciceronis definitionem; et si non populus, nec res populi, sed qualiscumque multitudinis quae populi nomine digna non est. Ac per hoc, si res publica res est populi et populus non est qui consensu non sociatus est iuris, non est autem ius ubi nulla iustitia est: procul dubio colligitur, ubi iustitia non est non esse rem publicam».
Here are set out, in an extremely precise and compressed way, key concepts worked out by Augustine on justice applied to politics and understood by him – note well – in a human sense (not theological or supernatural), that is to say as bonum of earthly life that, within the limits of what man can achieve, must be pursued by all, governed and rulers, as model of behavior and irreplaceable viaticum for entry into the civitas Dei.
The moment has come, at this point, to go into some brief considerations on the theme of the current validity of the concepts set out above.
First, it follows consistently from Augustine’s idea that justice is not only a regulatory principle of politics and the action of government but is something more ample and profound, that is the principle constitutive of the moral and social life of the person, that, in the order of the values offerable to the conscience and will of man, justice comes before politics and differently from it, that it is a means or a function for the realization of the just and the common good, it is an end to which both the constituted (constituta), that is the organizational structures of the State, and the legislative, administrative and judicial actions produced by State organs must conform.
There is no doubt that, among other things, the position of those who, active in the present managerial class, not only in Italy, encourage and pursue, for market reasons or personal interest or out of concern for power, models of behavior cut off from the safeguarding of general interests or even the primacy of politics over any competing value, with the consequent extrusion of principles and rules of justice from important politico-institutional, economic and financial options, must today measure themselves against this concept.
Second consideration: among the different values that have purposive valence justice is the only one endowed with comprehensiveness, performing functions of completion and enhancement of the content of other values (as remarked by the unforgotten philosopher of Law, Enrico Opocher, in a famous essay on “Giustizia” published in the Enciclopedia del Diritto, vol. XIX, in 1970).
It is easy in fact to see that, for example, freedom without justice could lead – as history teaches us – to oppression, subjugation, corruption and become, at the extreme, a system of violence and of terror. Only when it is associated with justice, does freedom lose these negative potentialities. It may well be said then that justice is the positive content of freedom.
Order and security are also values that are understood as such when justice enters as their content: indeed, order without justice can only guarantee a security of the mercantile or formal or indeed hierarchical and authoritarian type and is far from satisfying the egalitarian and humanitarian aspirations that stir our conscience.
The same can be said of peace. Which, stripped of the content of justice, is only apparent, indeed worse: it can be a peace that covers injustices, that legitimates intolerance and so on.
Unchallengeably true, therefore, is the argument of Augustine that identifies in justice the inescapable rule (virtus) not only of the individual and collective behavior of individuals but also of the organization and of the operation of States, to the point of linking their very survival to neglect of it.
«Iustitia omnium virtutum comes/ Justice is companion of all the virtues», Augustine states elsewhere, re-echoing Cicero’s well-known definition of justice «omnium domina et regina virtutum/ mistress and queen of all the virtues».
Third consideration: in all Augustine’s formulations of the role of justice in private as well as in the public sphere there is always present, and indeed fundamentally so, the centrality of the person as recipient of rights, as well as of duties, the satisfaction of which is essential for the attainment of the ultimate end (the establishment, precisely, of justice) both in ethical and political action.
In each man, not generically understood but historically determined, not only does truth dwell («in interiore homine habitat veritas») but also justice which, knitting into a single fabric the extreme articulations that come together to characterize the dignity of man (that is to say, many of those that are known in modern terminology as basic human rights), stands, in the wake of the ideal represented by Augustine, as the highest attainment to which the righteous civil conscience can aspire or the commitment of those who honestly weave the woof of politics and institutions.
In Augustine’s thinking, as in the most advanced political culture of today, the person is caput et fundamentum of the legal and institutional system of States: in consequence a politics that for the pursuit of its own ends sacrifices even one of the fundamental rights of the person to whom it belongs has no justification, all the more so if the person is extraneous to the interests at stake, or innocent. No claim, in fact, could legitimate an injustice towards even one single man who is uninvolved.
Fourth and last consideration. Speaking of justice as a value that dwells in the heart of every man and that, when outwardly achieved, constitutes a good from which all draw delight, as well evidenced by Don Giacomo in his lectures, it is obvious that Augustine understands it not as a transcendent, changeless and immovable value but as category of history, as category of the human: hence as value in movement, in process, that tends to accomplish itself gradually as the life of the man unfolds and that goes from the earthly city toward the city of God, reaching ever higher thresholds of perfection.
From the configuration of justice as category of the human two fundamental features of it are drawn: a historical character and an individualistic character. From this an uneliminable character of relativity, that does not, however, lead to a weakening of the idea of justice but on the contrary offers a fertility whereby one may well say that there isn’t just one idea of justice but there are as many ideas of justice as there are ideologies professed, in given times and places, on the basis of Ulpian «unicuique suum tribuere» or of Augustine’s «iuris consensus».
As model of individual, social and institutional life justice is built day by day, through the doings of all, under the responsibility of all. And identifying itself, by reason of the historical and personal character mentioned, with the history of each man, it resembles an inverted pyramid whose summit is sunk in the depths of the conscience and will of the being, of each human being, wherever he lives and acts. Each person has the means (intellectual, volitional, moral) for contributing, both as individual and as associate in a community or a body, to the construction of the work of justice; which, precisely for the characters highlighted above, cannot be delegated to any structure, not even a structure of government.
In conclusion, if – following the extremely relevant reflections of Augustine – the awareness grows and ripens in each of us that there is no single human model of justice but that the models worked out by other cultures and other people are to be considered, respected and compared with our own, the way to communication, to dialogue and to comparison can well open up, to the point of building a higher form of justice. One, finally, instrument and vehicle of peace, of unity and of concord between human beings even very different in culture, race, tongue, religion; and, finally, attainment of that supreme glory that, for Augustine, consisted in «obtinere pacem pace non bello/ in achieving peace with peace, not with war».

Giacomo Tantardini

I thank Dr. Calogero for words so germane to the things that we discuss in these gatherings. I’m tempted to put aside the passages that I’ve prepared for today and concentrate on the value of what the Procurator has now set before us. Three things in particular struck me in what I heard and they seem to me profoundly Augustinian and profoundly relevant.
The first was the Procurator’s reference to the fact that justice in a human sense, the task of which is to give each his own1, is a bonum of the earthly city. It is a good thing, a good of the earthly city, of the city Augustine depicts with the realism that the episode of the emperor Alexander the Great with the pirate exemplifies.

The second thing that particularly struck me was that this justice has human nature, the human person, as its root. Augustine, witness to the Tradition of the Church, knew very well that human nature is historically wounded, knew very well that original sin wounds human nature as such. And yet Augustine defends human nature, stating that no sin is such as to be able to destroy extrema vestigia naturae2, that last trace of human nature created good, created with original characteristics and needs; that human nature in which truth dwells3, not in the sense that human nature creates the truth, but in the sense that in human nature there is the capacity to recognize the truth, there is the capacity to recognize beauty, there is the capacity to recognize the good. That then was the second thing that struck me while I was listening to the Procurator speak, that justice, bonum of the earthly city, has its root in the nature of the man, in the human person.
Then the last thing, for which I am truly thankful, were the concluding references to the historicity of human justice and to its relativity. I believe that is what Augustine most brings out, in original fashion even compared to other emphases given in Christian philosophy: the historicity and relativity of justice of the earthly city compared to the justice that is the gratuitous gift of God. But this historicity and this relativity, as the Procurator suggested, are possibilities of fertility, are possibilities for valorizing all the historic models without imposing anything on the others, are facilitation of dialogue and valorization.
So, among the many things we have heard, and that will then be good to re-read in the notes, the first is that justice is a bonum, a good of the earthly city, of that city that here on the earth has its goods, relative yet real, from which to draw delight in so far as we can4. Augustine describes the concrete condition of the earthly city with extreme realism, stating, for example, on the one hand that the Roman State, persecutor of the Christians, should not be considered a true res publica because there was never true justice in it5; on the other going so far as to say that the same State has its own beauty: «habet modum quendam pulchritudinis suae6». He speaks precisely of the beauty of human justice, of the beauty of human co-existence, of the beauty of the attempt to organize civil society.
The agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

The agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

The second thing is that this bonum of the earthly city is rooted in human nature, a human nature wounded by original sin, but in which the image of the Creator is not at all destroyed7. A human nature in which the openness to beauty, to truth, to goodness, to justice remains. In a word a human nature wounded, yet capax Dei.
Third thing: the historicity of all this discourse. Precisely for its historicity the De civitate Dei is of a continual immediacy and clarity. Augustine depicts things with realism as they are. This realism makes it possible to impose nothing, and to valorize every positive possibility. This is what most struck me among the things I heard, together with the ample quotations from Cicero’s dialogue on the res publica. One of the things we have already stressed and that seems very interesting to me, very relevant, is that in the conception of man, in the conception of bona naturae, the goods of nature, Augustine does not valorize the neo-platonist tradition but does valorize the Roman tradition of Varro and Cicero. It seems to me really one of the most interesting and relevant things we have stressed also on the cultural level. Augustine – who is normally made to pass as a Platonist Christian – valorizes in his conception of human nature and the essential goods of human nature the Roman relativist tradition (I mean relativist in the sense in which first Procurator Calogero spoke earlier of historicity and relativity) and not the tradition of neo-platonism8. This aspect is also of amazing relevance (and I’m speaking of the last references made by the Procurator).

1.Tractatus in Ioannis Evangelium 60, 2-3.5

Also in testimony to the valorizing of this Roman philosophical tradition, we go on to the first passage that I shall read some of and which in part I try to summarize. It is Augustine’s commentary on a verse of John’s Gospel (John 13,21), where John writes that Jesus seeing Judas leave the cenacle was deeply moved. The Latin uses the term turbari. «Turbatus est ergo potestatem habens ponendi animam suam, et potestatem habens iterum sumendi eam. / Is he therefore anguished who has the power to give his life and has the power to take it back. / Turbatur tam ingens potestas, / Does such great power feel anguished, / turbatur petrae firmitas, / is the steadfastness of the stone anguished, / an potius in eo nostra turbatur infirmitas? / or rather our frailty anguished in him?». Augustine clearly says that Jesus is anguished not as God, but as man, in that he has taken on the frailty of human nature; and adds that he is anguished, and he will repeat this so that we also are not afraid of this anguish.
«... Qui mortuus est pro nobis, turbatus est idem ipse pro nobis. / He who died for us, he also was anguished for us». I like translating the turbatus est with “was anguished”, a term that expresses this humanity as frail. He took on this human frailty for us;
«... transfiguravit etiam in se affectum infirmitatis nostrae. / he also transfigured in himself our so frail affection [the expression affectum infirmitatis nostrae is very fine]. /... nos ipsos in illius perturbatione videamus, ut quando turbamur, non desperatione pereamus. / We must see ourselves in his being anguished, so that when we are anguished we may not perish in desperation. /... Pereant argumenta philosophorum, qui negant in sapientem cadere perturbationes animorum. / The arguments perish of those philosophers who deny that a wise man may fall into perturbation of mind». The philosophers are those who speak about the inperturbability of the wise man. Earlier, when I was speaking with the Procurator, he mentioned to me his friendship with Falcone, the famous Italian judge killed in an attack in Sicily in 1992, and the last months of Falcone’s life and the fear he felt. It is this humanity (the humanity of a man who in the face of signs of dangers feels fear) that the Only Begotten Son of God took on; it is this humanity, that feels fear in the face of death, that the Son of God has transfigured, so that we in the face of feeling fear should not fall into desperation.
«... Turbetur plane animus christianus/ Let the Christian mind plainly be anguished». We could translate: «Let the Christian mind be unafraid of this frail sensibility». Here Augustine, harking back to Varro and Cicero, highlights and valorizes the four passions of the human mind: fear, sadness, desire, joy;
«... timeat ne pereant homines Christo,/ Let it [the Christian mind] fear that men may perish away from Christ,/ contristetur.../ let it feel sadness...». How relevant the term contristetur is even in relation to a certain Catholic formalism whereby it seems as if an artificial smile on the face is the badge of some Catholics. “Professionals of enthusiasm” Pavese calls them in his diary9. That smile is, for those who remark them, more temptation to desperation that a real sadness;
«contristetur cum perit aliquis Christo; / let it feel sadness when anyone perish away from Christ; / concupiscat adquiri Christo homines, / let it yearn men be gained to Christ, / laetetur cum adquiruntur Christo homines: / let it rejoice when men are gained to Christ: / timeat et sibi ne Christo pereat, / let it fear also for itself to perish away from Christ,/ contristetur peregrinari se a Christo; / let it feel sadness when itself strays from Christ; / concupiscat regnare cum Christo / let it yearn to reign with Christ». Reign with Christ already here on the earth. Augustine in book XX of De civitate Dei affirms that already here on earth his people reign with Him, already here on earth his people feel in spe, in awe, this gratuitous possibility of possession, of joy10;
«laetetur dum sperat... / let it be glad since it hopes...». And Augustine adds: Christians, like every man, experience these four passions, joy, desire, sadness and fear. And they don’t confuse insensitivity with health of mind.
The risen Jesus with the apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

The risen Jesus with the apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

Continuing, Augustine wonders how it is possible for the Christian to be afraid of death. And after quoting Saint Paul who wished to be rid of the body so as to be with Christ, speaks of the fear of Jesus in his agony. He writes: «... Firmissimi quidem sunt christiani, si qui sunt, / They are thus very steadfast those Christians, those who are, / qui nequaquam morte imminente turbantur: / who are not anguished by looming death: / sed numquid Christo firmiores? / but any way more steadfast than Christ? / Quis hoc insanissimus dixerit? / Who will be mad enough to say it? / Quid est ergo quod ille est turbatus...? / What therefore is the reason for his anguish?». Because Jesus has felt the anguish in the face of death. Those who, during Holy Week, attended the meditation we have held in the Basilica del Santo, may remember the reading of that stupendous passage by Péguy on the fear of the man Jesus in the face of death, when he says that his whole body did not want to die11.
Allow me to read a passage, quoted last time, from book XIX of De civitate Dei12. Earlier the Procurator mentioned this book to me for its great relevance and, even poetic, beauty. Augustine is speaking precisely of Cicero and Varro, hence of relativist philosophers. «Cum dicant et verum dicant/ Since [these philosophers] say, and they speak the truth, / hanc esse naturae primam quodam modo et maximam vocem / that this is the primary and in some way the largest voice [that is, largest demand] of nature, / ut homo concilietur sibi et propterea mortem naturaliter fugiat/ that man be in harmony with himself [take care of himself] and thereby naturally may escape death, / et sibi amicus/ and be friend to himself / ut esse se animal et in hac coniunctione corporis atque animae vivere velit vehementer atque appetat / so as to seek and vehemently desire to be animate and live in this conjunction of soul and body». Thus it is against nature to claim, as Gnosticism claims, that the soul must free itself of body. The voice, the cry of nature is that man wants strongly and desires to live in this unity of soul and body and hence wants to escape death with all his strength, because death is the separation of this friendship between the soul and the body13.
Then the Jew Jesus, as Péguy tells us, was afraid of death. «Quid est ergo quod ille turbatus est, / What then was the reason for his being anguished [afraid of death], / nisi quia infirmos in suo corpore, est hoc in sua Ecclesia, suae infirmitatis voluntaria similitudine consolatus est? / unless so the infirm [the frail, the weak, hence all of us] in his body, which is his Church, be consoled by the voluntary similitude of his infirmity? / Ut si qui suorum adhuc morte imminente turbantur in spiritu, / So that those of his who are anguished in spirit in the face of looming death / ipsum intueantur, / may look to him, /... ne nobis desperatio salutis oriatur. /... so that despair of salvation not rise in us. /... Carnis quippe ille gerebat infirmitatem, quae infirmitas resurrectione consumpta est. /... For he accomplished the infirmity of the flesh, which infirmity is consumed by resurrection».

Sermo 229/ J, 2-5

The second passage I mean to read is on the resurrection of the Lord. I read it first of all because «this is the faith of Christians, the resurrection of Christ»14, and also because it sums up many of the things that we have discussed in these meetings. It is a homily for Wednesday of the week after Easter. Augustine is arguing against Gnosticism and in peculiar against the Gnosticism of the Manichees.
«Solent autem, quando illis haec obiciuntur, ita respondere: / They are used when these objections are made to them [the Gnostics], to answer thus: / “Quid mali credimus, quia Christum Deum credimus spiritum fuisse? / “What evil do we believe, if we believe that Christ God was spirit? / Spiritum credimus, carnem non credimus: / We believe that He is spirit, we do not believe that He is flesh: / melior est spiritus quam caro. / the spirit is more valuable than the flesh. / Quod est melius, credimus; quod est deterius, credere nolumus. / In that which is more valuable [the spirit] we believe; in that which is worse we do not want to believe. / Quid mali facimus?”/ What evil do we do [if we believe that Christ is spirit alone]?” / Si nihil mali est in isto sermone, dimittat Iesus discipulos suos in isto errore. / If there is no evil in these words, let Jesus leave his disciples in this error. / Et discipuli Christum spiritum crediderunt, / And the disciples [Augustine here is commenting on the passage in Luke’s Gospel, when after the resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples] supposed that Christ was a spirit, / non enim putaverunt esse illum, sed spiritum. / they did not suppose it to be him, but a spirit. / Dimittat illis Dominus ... / Let the Lord [if the Gnostics were right] leave the disciples in this belief... / Dominum audi: / Hear the Lord: / “Quid turbatis estis et quare cogitationes ascendunt in cor vestrum?”/ “Why are you anguished, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?”»
Throughout this very fine argument Augustine brings out that the faith doesn’t arise from us, the faith doesn’t arise as a thought originating from us.
«Quales utique cogitationes, nisi falsae, morbidae, perniciosae? / What thoughts in fact arise in your hearts, if not false, unwholesome, pernicious?».
And here Augustine pronounces a phrase that sums up the whole of Christianity: «Perdidit enim Christus fructum passionis, si non est veritas resurrectionis. / Christ lost the fruit of his passion, if the truth, the reality of the resurrection does not exist». If he is not truly risen, his passion, his cross, is without all effect.
And Augustine repeats the words of Jesus: «“Quid turbati estis, et quare cogitationes ascenderunt in cor vestrum?”/ Why are you afraid and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?”/... In cor vestrum descendit fides /... In your hearts faith has descended». It is very fine. The heart, the inner man (in interiore homine the Procurator said earlier) is essential to faith, but faith is not caused by the heart. Faith is welcomed by the heart, is recognized by the heart, but it doesn’t originate from the human heart. Otherwise it would be delusion, it would not be faith. Faith descends into the heart «quia desuper est / because [the faith] comes from above».
And here Augustine answers the question of how the faith descends from above into the heart: «“Videte manus meas et pedes meos”. / “Look at my hands and my feet”». From an encounter faith is born. And Augustine adds: «Si parum est videre, / If looking is too little, / palpate; / touch; / non creditis oculis, credite manibus / You don’t believe eyes? Believe your hands». More concrete than that, more real than, more capable of valorizing the senses than that!
And then Augustine goes on: Not only did he make himself seen, not only did he let himself be touched, but he ate with them: «Manducavit, et ipse erat. / He ate and it was himself. / Ipse erat/ It was him»: in his body transfigured by the power of resurrection, without the weakness of beforehand;
«ipse qui visus est et suspensus / the one who was seen and him hanging up».
And Augustine adds: It was him that was touched, he that offered food to them, he that ate before the eyes of his disciples: «Visus est, tactus est, manducavit: ipse certe erat / He was seen, he was touched, he ate: it was certainly he himself».
Now Augustine refers to the human senses. The human senses do not deceive. Man can deceive himself, man can neglect all the indications. Man can deceive himself out of interest, but of themselves the senses don’t deceive. This, too, belongs to those prima naturae, the original dynamics of human nature which I mentioned earlier. There’s all the anti-Gnostic tradition in the Church that valorizes sense data. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons and martyr in the second century, whom von Balthasar describes as the father of the Church who was in no way infected by Platonism, refers on more than one occasion to “well-seeming” and several times writes «quod apparebat hoc erat» («what seemed was the thing»).
At this point Augustine puts in the question. They saw, they touched, they ate with the Lord after his resurrection. And we who haven’t seen the risen Lord? We who haven’t touched with our hands, as Thomas did, his glorious wounds? We who haven’t eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection, as Saint Peter was to relate? Already in his first stab at answering this very obvious question, Augustine does not exclude seeing. «Audi et vide / Hear and see». «Fides ex auditu», writes Paul. The faith for us is born from hearing. The expression «ex auditu» for Paul comprehends the testimony of those who already live by the grace of faith. Thus hearing is not disjunct from seeing. We could translate «ex auditu» as: faith is born from an encounter.
«Audi praedicta, vide completa... / Hear what has been foretold, see what has been accomplished... / caput Ecclesiae erat, quod se vivum, verum, integrum, certum persuadebat/ it was the head of Church who convinced his own he was alive, real, entire, certain / et ad fidem credentium perducebat / and [by letting himself be seen and touched] led them to the faith of those who believe».
Our Lady and John, the beloved apostle, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

Our Lady and John, the beloved apostle, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

Augustine continues. You who have not seen the risen Lord, you who have not touched the risen Lord, you «audi verba, cerne facta / hear the words [hear the Tradition of Church that tells you he is risen], look at the facts with intelligence». Look at what the Risen one is doing in the present. The looking with intelligence is essential to the faith. It is not a blind faith. It is fully reasonable and fully free. Listen to his promise, look at its accomplishment: «veritas plena fides certa / the promise was completely verified, faith is certain».
Then there is a passage that takes us back to the last things mentioned by the Procurator. Augustine wonders what distinguishes those who believe from those who don’t believe. «Gratia Domini fecit separationem / The grace of the Lord made the distinction». Christianity is not against anybody. What distinguishes you from whoever doesn’t believe? Not your ability, not your cleverness. What distinguishes you is having received a gift that another person has not received: the grace of the Lord. In this Christian experience is rooted all possibility of dialogue with any man, no matter what ideology he may belong to. «Gratia Domini fecit separationem». The thing that distinguishes you is having received a gratuitous gift. And so you can’t glorify yourself, you can’t say you’re better than others, you can’t challenge others, to use a term that unfortunately is also used in ecclesiastical language, because what distinguishes you from others is that you, without any deserving, have received a gift.
«Ecce gratia, ecce resurgit, ecce se oculis ostendit Apostolorum, / Behold grace: behold he resurrects, behold he shows himself to the eyes of Apostles, / qui non est dignatus se ostendere oculis Iudaeorum. / he who did not deign to show himself to the eyes of the Jews. / Ecce praebet se videndum oculis,/ Behold he offers himself to eyes to be seen,/ praebet manibus contrectandum/ he offers to hands to be touched».
« Apostoli videbant caput, sed futuram Ecclesiam non videbant; / The Apostles saw the head, but they didn’t see the future Church; / aliud videbant, aliud credebant / one thing they saw, another they believed
». The Apostles saw the head, Jesus Christ, and they believed in the promise that the Church would spread through the world; «caput videbant, de corpore credebant. / they saw the head, they believed about the body. / Nos videmus corpus, de capite credamus/ We see the body, let us believe in the head». We see his Church, we see what he alive accomplishes today in his people. For that reason we also can believe in the head.

3. De sancta virginitate 35

The last passage is taken from De sancta virginitate and sums up, so to speak, the heart with which we have spoken, a student’s heart as the Procurator remarked to me. We are all disciples, we are all students of something greater that manifests itself essentially in the encounters of life, in the encounters that shape the life of a man. In encounters something greater manifests itself, that the heart of man awaits, by which the heart of man is awed and thankful.
«Ille, ille cui omnia tradidit Pater, et quem nemo agnoscit nisi Pater, / Him, Him to whom the Father has given all and whom no one knows except the Father, / et qui Patrem solus agnoscit, / and who alone knows the Father / et cui voluerit revelare, / and those to whom he wished to reveal Him, / non dicit: Discite a me mundum fabricare aut mortuos suscitare; / He does not say: Learn from me to create the world or to resuscitate the dead; / sed: “quia mitis sum et humilis corde”. / but: “[learn from me] because I am meek and humble of heart”. / O doctrinam salutarem! O Magistrum Dominumque mortalium, / O salvific doctrine, O Teacher and Lord of os mortals, / quibus mors poculo superbiae propinata atque transfusa est! / to whom death has been pledged and poured from the cup of pride! / Noluit docere quod ipse non esset, / He did not wish to teach if not that which He Himself was, / noluit iubere quod ipse not faceret / He did not wish to order what He Himself did not do».
And Augustine concludes with this prayer: «Video te, bone Iesu, oculis fidei, quos aperuisti mihi/ I see you, good Jesus, with the eyes of faith that you opened for me»: the eyes of faith do not create the object of faith. It would be a delusion, an obsession, a folly. Faith, from the starting point of what one sees with the eyes of the flesh, recognizes what eyes here on the earth now do not see;
« tamquam in concione generis humani clamantem ac dicentem: /
[I see you, good Jesus as] in the concourse of all human kind [as in this very important hall that the Rector, to whom we are grateful, has kindly granted us] calling and saying: / “Venite ad me et discite a me”. / “Come to me and learn from me”. / Quid, obsecro te, per quem facta sunt omnia, Fili Dei, et idem qui factus es inter omnia, Fili hominis/ What, I beg you, Son of God, by whom all things are made and you yourself, Son of man, made among all»; because Jesus Christ, as true God, is creator and, as true man is a creature among the other creatures, a man;
«quid ut discamus a te, venimus ad te? / to learn what from you do we come to you? / “Quoniam mitis sum”, inquit, “et humilis corde”. / [To learn] that I am meek, he said, and humble of heart”. / Huccine redacti sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae absconditi in te, ut hoc pro magno discamus a te, quoniam mitis es et humilis corde? / It is to this that all the treasures of learning and of science hidden in you come back, that we learn from you above all this, that you are meek and humble of heart? / Ita plane magnum est esse parvum, ut nisi a te qui tam magnus es fieret, disci omnino non posset? / Is it really so great a thing to be small that it can be learnt in no other way except from you who are so great?»
How fine that is: «Ita plane/ Yes, it really is». It really is a great thing to be small.
«Non enim aliter invenitur requies animae, / In no other way in fact does the soul find rest»: if you do not become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven;
«nisi inquieto tumore digesto, quo magna sibi erat, quando tibi sana non erat / nor the uneasy swelling [of pride] digested wherewith it [the soul] was great to itself, while for you it was unhealthy».
It is such a great thing to be small that it can be learned only if you, Jesus, who are so great, impart it.


1 Cf. Augustine, De civitate Dei XIX, 4, 4: «iustitia cuius munus est sua cuique tribuere».
2 Augustine, De civitate Dei XIX, 12, 2: «Nullius quippe vitium ita contra naturam est, ut naturae deleat etiam extrema vestigia».
3 Augustine, De vera religione 39, 72: « In interiore homine habitat veritas».
4 Cf. Augustine, De civitate Dei XV, 4: «Terrena porro civitas, quae sempiterna non erit (neque enim, cum extremo supplicio damnata fuerit, iam civitas erit), hic habet bonum suum, cuius societate laetatur, qualis esse de talibus laetitia rebus potest».
5 Cf. Augustine, De civitate Dei, II 21, 4.
6 Augustine, De vera religione 26, 48: «Hic dicitur vetus homo et exterior et terrenus, etiamsi obtineat eam quam vulgus vocat felicitatem, in bene constituta terrena civitate sive sub regibus sive sub principibus sive sub legibus sive sub his omnibus. Aliter enim bene constitui populus non potest, etiam qui terrena sectatur. Habet quippe et ipse modum quendam pulchritudinis suae».
7 Cf. Augustine, De Trinitate XIV, 8, 11: «Diximus enim eam etsi amissa Dei participatione obsoletam atque deformem, Dei tamen imaginem permanere. Eo quippe ipso imago eius est, quo eius capax est, eiusque particeps esse potest; quod tam magnum bonum, nisi per hoc quod imago eius est, non potest».
8 Cf. N. Cipriani, Lo schema dei tria vitia (voluptas, superbia, curiositas) nel De vera religione: antropologia soggiacente e fonti, in Augustinianum XXXVIII, I, 1998, pp. 157-195.
9 Cf. C. Pavese, Il mestiere di vivere, 9 February 1940: «In general people are professionally willing to sacrifice themselves who can’t otherwise give a meaning to their lives. The professionalism of enthusiasm is the most nauseating of insincerities».
10 Augustine, De civitate Dei XX, 9, 1.
11 Cf. Charles Péguy, Véronique. Dialogo della storia e dell’anima carnale, 30Giorni-Piemme, Rome 2002.
12 Augustine, De civitate Dei XIX, 4, 5.
13 Cf. N. Cipriani, op. cit., p. 178: «In short we are faced with a conception of man and of life very far removed from that neo-platonist one that could in no way inspire Augustine».
14 Augustine, Enarratio in psalmum 120, 6: «Hoc omnes credunt quia mortuus est: fides christianorum resurrectio Christi est: hoc pro magno habemus quia credimus eum resurrexisse».

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