Interessante studio comparatistico, alla luce dell'insegnamento di S. Agostino, tra il magistero ratzingeriano e quello bergogliano.
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A Study in Contrasts: Francis, Benedict, Augustine
In the delivered at the end of the Synod, Pope Francis said something puzzling. It was another one of those invocations of “the God of surprises,” this time in the midst of a stark opposition between “the letter” and “the spirit”:
When I read this, I scratched my head, recalling the quite different way in which the Pope’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, had spoken of the spirit and the letter of the Second Vatican Council, in the he delivered only nine years ago today, December 22, 2005:
One notices how clearly Benedict XVI warns against the arbitrary exaltation of a “spirit” and “newness” that are in tension with, if not simply contrary to, the “text” and the “old things”—things that, when rightly understood, can never really be opposed. He warns against the temptation of subjectivism and the inevitable power play that results from it. Who gets to determine “spirit” is the true expression of the Holy Spirit and of the Council? Benedict XVI went on to say that those who speak this way fundamentally misunderstand what a council is all about. It’s not a matter of might makes right, as if the truth were subject to a vote and the constitution of the Church to a democratic assembly:
Certainly for Pope Benedict, there could be no question whatsoever of eliminating the God-given “constitution” of the Church or creating a new one for it; and similarly, as he said and wrote many times, there could be no question of eliminating the traditional liturgy of the Church or creating a new one whole cloth, as if the Church had the ability to repudiate her heritage on the grounds of a surprising new spirit that compelled her to leave behind the old ways.
One of Pope Benedict’s favorite authors is
and pondering these matters led me to open up again that great treatise of the
Doctor of Grace, to
see if this work could give me a clue about Pope Francis’s turn of phrase. I
found what I was expecting, namely, that Augustine, like Benedict XVI, never
pits “letter” and “spirit” one
another, but sees the latter as the means by which the former can be actualized
and fully lived. The Spirit vivifies the letter and makes it life-giving rather
than death-dealing. For Augustine, we are saved not by the spirit alone, nor by
the letter, but by following the letter the
spirit. Here are some characteristic texts: St. Augustine
For Augustine as for the entire Christian tradition, the law, the letter, the written word, Tradition and traditions, all of these are surpassingly good, useful, and salutary—as long as they are received by one who, raised up by grace, can the demands of these things Conversely, the Christian life is inconceivable without these gifts of God that give shape and structure to it. Christianity is not just about love; it is about law animated by love and love directed by law. Thus, to oppose the letter to the spirit as if a zealous maintenance of what is lawful or a certitude about divine law could ever be opposed to following Christ with a generous spirit and a love for one’s neighbors is to commit not just a fallacy, but a blasphemy against the goodness of God who gave us the letter the spirit, law charity. Moreover, to suggest that God has in store for us the “surprise” of compromising or undoing His own letter and making adherence to His revealed word a form of hostile inflexibility is to surrender Christian doctrine to the philosophical system of Hegel, where we can expect a steady flow of contradictions as the Absolute Spirit works itself out in history through a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
Exotic fantasies, the sound of which, on a bishop’s tongue, is, to be sure, an unexpected (and undesired) surprise. But the real “surprise” that we need, today and every day of our lives, is the grace to perceive and embrace the unfathomable wisdom contained in the letter—that is, the definite truths of faith and morals that have been revealed for our salvation and handed down faithfully by the Church of all ages. Using their intellects to the full, Catholics zealously follow the definitive letter, the Word of God, thanks to the gratuitous gift of the Spirit. Hegel, as far as we are concerned, may be shown the door.