Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On St. Augustine's Search for Truth
"Faith and Reason Are the Two Forces That Lead Us to Knowledge "
H.H. Benedict XVI
January 30, 2008
After the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we return today to the
great figure of St. Augustine. In 1986, on the 1,600th anniversary of
his conversion, my beloved predecessor John Paul II dedicated a long and
detailed document to St. Augustine, the apostolic letter "Augustinium
The Pope himself chose to describe this text as "thanksgiving to God for
the gift he bestowed on the Church and on all humanity with that
wonderful conversion" (AAS, 74, 1982, p. 802). I would like to return to
the subject of his conversion in a future audience. It is a fundamental
subject, not only for St. Augustine's own personal life but for ours
too. In last Sunday's Gospel, the Lord himself summarized his preaching
with the words "be converted." In following the path of St. Augustine we
can consider what this conversion revolves around: It is definitive,
decisive, but the fundamental decision must be developed and must be
accomplished throughout our lives.
Today instead, the catechesis is dedicated to the subjects of faith and
reason, which are the defining themes of St. Augustine's biography. As a
child he learned the Catholic faith from his mother Monica. As an
adolescent he abandoned the faith because he could not see how it could
be reasoned out and did not want a religion that was not also for him an
expression of reason -- that is to say, truth.
His thirst for truth was radical and led him away from the Catholic
faith. His radicality was such that he was not satisfied with
philosophies that did not reach truth itself, and that did not reach God
-- not a God as a last cosmological hypothesis, but the true God, God
who gives life and joins our very lives.
The intellectual and spiritual itinerary of St. Augustine is also a
valid model for today in the relationship between faith and reason, a
topic not only for faithful individuals, but for every person who seeks
the truth, a central theme for the equilibrium and destiny of every
These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated nor
opposed, but rather go forward together. As Augustine himself wrote
after his conversion, faith and reason are "the two forces that lead us
to knowledge" ("Contra Academicos," III, 20, 43).
To this end the two famous Augustinian formulas ("Sermons," 43, 9)
express this coherent synthesis between faith and reason: "Crede ut
intelligas" (I believe in order to understand) -- faith opens the way to
step through the door of truth -- but also, and inseparably, "intellige
ut credas" (I understand in order to believe), in order to find God and
believe, you must scrutinize truth.
The two assertions of St. Augustine express the synthesis of this
problem in which the Catholic Church sees its own approach expressed
with depth and immediacy. Historically speaking, this synthesis was
formed even before the coming of Christ, with the coming together of the
Jewish faith and Greek thought in Hellenistic Judaism. Subsequently,
this synthesis was taken up again and developed by many Christian
thinkers. The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God
is not far away; he is not far from our reasoning or from our lives; he
is close to every human being, close to our hearts and close to our
reason if we truly follow his path.
It is precisely this closeness of God to man that Augustine experienced
with extraordinary force. The presence of God in man is deep and at the
same time mysterious. It can however be discovered and recognized deep
down in oneself: Don't look outside of yourself, says the converted one,
"but go back into yourself -- truth resides in the interior man, and if
you find that your nature is changeable, transcend yourself. But
remember, when you transcend yourself, that you transcend a soul which
reasons. Then reach beyond -- to where the light of reason is lit" ("De
vera religione," 39, 72).
He emphasizes this with a well-known assertion at the beginning of the
"Confessions," a spiritual autobiography written in the praise of God:
"You made us for you, and our heart is restless until it rests in you"
(I, 1, 1).
Distance from God means distance from oneself. Addressing his words
directly to God he acknowledges ("Confessions," III, 6, 11): "You are
more intimately present to me than my inmost being and higher than the
highest element in me," -- "interior intimo meo et superior summo meo"
-- so that, he adds in another passage remembering the time preceding
his conversion, "you were in front of me, but I, instead, had gone far
from myself and could not find myself again, and even less could I find
you again" (Confessiones, V, 2, 2).
Because Augustine personally experienced this intellectual and spiritual
journey, he managed to convey it in his writings with immediacy, depth
and wisdom; in another two famous passages of the "Confessions" (IV, 4,
9 and 14, 22), he acknowledged that man is "a great enigma" (magna
quaestio) and "a deep abyss" (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss
that Christ alone enlightens and saves.
This is important: A man who is distant from God is also distant from
himself, estranged from himself, he can find himself only by meeting
God. This path leads to himself, to his true self and identity.
In "De Civitate Dei" (XII, 27) Augustine underlines the fact that the
human being is by nature a social animal, but antisocial in his vices.
Man is saved by Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity, and
as repeated by my predecessor John Paul II ("Augustinium Hipponensem,"
21), he is "the universal path to freedom and salvation."
In the same text, Augustine affirms that "no one has ever found freedom
or will ever find freedom" ("De Civitate Dei," X, 32, 2) other than by
following this path which has always been accessible to man. Christ, as
the only route to salvation, is head of the Church and inscrutably
united with it. Augustine affirms, "We have become Christ. In fact, if
he is the head of man and we are the body, together we make up the
whole" ("In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus," 21, 8).
People of God and house of God: The Church in the Augustinian vision is
closely associated with the concept of the Body of Christ, based on the
Christological rereading of the Old Testament and on the sacramental
life centered on the Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his Body and
transforms us in his Body. It is then essential that the Church --
people of God in the Christological and not sociological sense -- be
really placed in Christ, who "prays for us, prays in us, is prayed to by
us," as Augustine affirms beautifully on the written page: "He prays for
us as our priest, he prays in us as our chief, he is prayed to by us as
our God: so we recognize in him our voice, and in ours, his" ("Enarrationes
in Psalmos," 85, 1).
In the conclusion of the apostolic letter "Augustinum Hipponensem," John
Paul II asked St. Augustine what he would say to the men of today, and
he answers with the words that Augustine dictated in a letter shortly
after his conversion: "It seems to me that men have to be guided toward
the hope of finding the truth" (Epistulae, 1, 1); that truth is Christ
himself, true God, to whom is dedicated one the most beautiful and
famous prayers of the Confessions (X, 27, 38):
"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness
I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you
they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace."
So Augustine found God and throughout his life experienced God to the
point that this reality -- which was above all an encounter with a
person, Jesus Christ -- changed his life, just as it changed the lives
of so many men and women who have had the grace to meet him.
Let us pray that God grants us this favor and in so doing allows us to
find his peace.
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six
languages. In Italian, he said:]
I extend a warm welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular,
I greet the bishops who came for the 40th anniversary of the foundation
of the Community of Sant'Egidio, I pray that everyone strengthens the
firm wish to announce Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world to all
I extend a particularly special welcome to the faithful of the Parish of
Santa Caterina of Nardo -- which I am told has a beautiful sea -- with a
special thought for the young musicians.
Dear friends, I thank you for your presence here and I hope that this
meeting increases in each of you the desire to witness with joy the
Gospel in your every day life. I accompany you with my prayer, so that
you may build your projects on the solid foundation of faithfulness to
God. I also greet the Caritas staff from the Diocese of Sabina-Poggio
Mirteto, and I encourage them to continue with generosity their work for
the those most in need.
Finally, I address the young, the sick and the newlyweds.
Tomorrow we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St. John Bosco, a
priest and educator. Dear young people, look to him as a true master of
life, especially those of you preparing for confirmation from Serroni di
Battipaglia. Dear sick ones, learn from his spiritual experience to
trust in Christ whatever the circumstances. And you, dear newlyweds, ask
for his intercession to help you engage in your mission of marriage with
[Translation by Laura Leoncini]
[In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we continue our catechesis on Saint Augustine of Hippo, I wish today
to consider some of the teachings of this great Doctor of the Church. A
passionate believer, he recognized the importance of bringing together
faith and reason. It was he who taught that we should believe in order
to understand, and understand in order to believe. God makes himself
known to our reason, although he always transcends what we can know
through reason alone. As Augustine beautifully expressed it, God is
"more intimately present to me than my inmost being" and "higher than
the highest element in me."
Saint Augustine taught that by belonging to the Church, we are so
closely united to Christ that we "become" Christ, the head whose members
we are. As our head, Christ prays in us, yet he also prays for us as our
priest, and we pray to him as our God. If we ask what particular message
Saint Augustine has for the men and women of today, it is perhaps his
emphasis on our need for truth. Listen to the way he describes his own
search for God's truth: "You were within me and I sought you outside, in
the beautiful things that you had made. You were with me, but I was not
with you. You called me, you cried out and broke open my deafness. I
tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you." Let us pray that we
too may discover the joy of knowing God's truth.
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
present at today's Audience, including groups from England, Scotland,
Hong Kong and the United States of America. I greet especially the
representatives of the Pontifical Mission Societies and the group who
are preparing to be ordained deacons. Upon all of you, and upon your
families and loved ones, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
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