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from issue no. 05 - 2012

A friendship that blossomed under the sign of St Augustine

The conferences on the relevance of Saint Augustine of Hippo at the University of Padua became the occasion for friendship, profound and enduring, between a priest, the late Don Giacomo Tantardini, and a magistrate, Pietro Calogero, who consigned his heartfelt remembrance to 30Days

by Pietro Calogero

Don Giacomo Tantardini with Pietro Calogero

Don Giacomo Tantardini with Pietro Calogero


He greeted me, Don Giacomo, with a shy caress of the eyes and a slight childish blush when on 1 April 2003 I was introduced to him in the Aula Magna of the University of Padua, just before he started the third lesson of the cycle of conferences devoted to the relevance of St Augustine.

The hall was full of young people waiting on his word. Don Giacomo’s face was also young, on which the watercolor hues of the skin formed a magical weave, of purple and amber. Even his voice was attuned to the color, a very mobile and refined distillate of an inexhaustible source of ideas.

The reading and comment on the Augustinian texts on grace and on the beauty of the Christian faith echoed in the auditorium for about an hour. In my imagination the figure of Don Giacomo grew enormously and when, at the end of the lecture, he asked me to prepare a contribution for the next lesson I did not feel, though conscious of my limitations, I could deny him that.

So it was that on 20 May 2003, introducing in the same auditorium the fourth lecture to be given by Don Giacomo, I dealt with the subject of earthly justice in St Augustine and I illustrated its relevance especially in its relations with politics.

Before addressing the arguments prepared for the lecture, dealing with a completely different subject, Don Giacomo, wanted to intervene on the Augustinian conception of justice.

I confess that I listened with admiring wonder at his ability to achieve in a very short time an exalted and complete summary of the topic just treated.

A sign, I thought, of genuine speculative talent and profound knowledge of the thought of the Bishop of Hippo which, having matured at the culmination of a process of identification with the latter, it is necessary that I recall it here in its essential features.

Don Giacomo said, “I was especially struck by three things which the Attorney indicated to us, which seem to me profoundly Augustinian and profoundly relevant. The first is the suggestion that justice in the human sense, whose obligation it is to give each his own, is a bonum of the earthly city, is a good thing of that city that Augustine describes with the realism highlighted in the episode of the encounter of the Emperor Alexander the Great with the pirate” (commenting on which he asks: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”, thus setting justice aside, what would the kingdoms be reduced to if not to large bands of robbers?).

“The second thing that particularly struck me”, continued Don Giacomo, “is that this justice has as its basis human nature, the human person. Augustine knows that original sin wounds human nature as such. Yet he defends human nature affirming that no sin is such that it can destroy extrema vestigia naturae, that last threshold of human nature created good and in which habitat veritas, not in the sense that it creates truth but in the sense that in human nature there is the possibility of recognizing the truth, there is the possibility of recognizing beauty, there is the possibility of recognizing the good. A human nature in which, even though wounded by original sin, the image of the Creator is not destroyed. A human nature in which the openness to beauty, truth, goodness, justice remains. A wounded human nature, yet capax Dei”.

The baptism of St Augustine in a fourteenth-century fresco preserved in the Church of the Hermits in Padua

The baptism of St Augustine in a fourteenth-century fresco preserved in the Church of the Hermits in Padua

“The last thing for which I’m really grateful to the Attorney”, concluded Don Giacomo, “are the final suggestions about the historicity of human justice and its relativity. I think this is the thing that Augustine places more in evidence, in an original way, also in respect to other emphases also present in Christian philosophy: the historicity and relativity of the justice of the earthly city as compared to that justice that is a free gift of God. But this historicity and this relativity are possibilities of productiveness, are opportunities to improve all historical models without imposing anything on others, they are facilitators of dialogue. Precisely because of this historicity the De civitate Dei is of a continuous immediacy and evidence. Augustine describes with realism things as they are. This realism allows that nothing be imposed and optimizes every positive possibility. This suggestion is what struck me most of the things heard, along with the extensive quotations of Cicero in his dialogue on the res publica.

It is very interesting and relevant that in the concept of man, the concept of the bona naturae, of the goods of nature, Augustine does not emphasise the Neoplatonic tradition, but exalts the Roman tradition of Varro and Cicero. Even at the cultural level this strikes me as really one of the most interesting and relevant things. Augustine, who is normally taken for a Platonic Christian, in regard to the concept of human nature and of the essential goods of human nature values the relativist Roman tradition (I say relativist in the sense that first the Attorney Calogero spoke of historicity and relativity) and not the tradition of Neoplatonism”.

To conclude: a great teacher, Don Giacomo, who was able to reawaken in me by the enchanting force of his culture and the engaging art of communication the old passion for ideas, life experiences, the highest sense of the human and the just of Augustine, landmark figure of the militant Christianity of the early centuries.

And at the same time a friend: a most sensitive friend, forever young, humble, shy, reserved, transparent as the most transparent porcelain manufactured by human hands never was.

Teacher and friend that I frequented tenderly until a few weeks before the great void dug by his unexpected death, and that now, with eyes raised to heaven, I remember with regret.


Venice, 31 May 2012






Pietro Calogero, as a young assistant prosecutor in Treviso, investigated the massacre of Piazza Fontana, discovering the so-called ‘black track’ and exposing the false leads and coverups carried out by elements of the Italian secret services, outlining the subversive project commonly known as the ‘strategy of tension’. In Padua, in the ’seventies, he led the investigation that led to the arrest of the leaders of Workers Autonomy (Negri, Scalzone Piperno), revealing the links between this organization and the Red Brigades. He is currently Attorney General at the Court of Appeal of Venice.

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