Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Augustinian Influence...

I wish that some bright theologian would write a substantial article or book on the theme of The Augustinianism of Joseph Ratzinger because one frequently comes across ideas and insights in his preaching and writing which have a distinct Augustinian stamp. Take the following little snippet from his homily at today's priestly ordinations:
Cari Ordinandi, in futuro dovrete sempre ritornare a questo momento, a questo gesto che non ha nulla di magico, eppure è così ricco di mistero, perché qui è l’origine della vostra nuova missione. In quella preghiera silenziosa avviene l’incontro tra due libertà: la libertà di Dio, operante mediante lo Spirito Santo, e la libertà dell’uomo. L’imposizione delle mani esprime plasticamente la specifica modalità di questo incontro: la Chiesa, impersonata dal Vescovo in piedi con le mani protese, prega lo Spirito Santo di consacrare il candidato; il diacono, in ginocchio, riceve l’imposizione della mani e si affida a tale mediazione. L’insieme dei gesti è importante, ma infinitamente più importante è il movimento spirituale, invisibile, che esso esprime; movimento ben evocato dal sacro silenzio, che tutto avvolge all’interno e all’esterno.

[Those who read Italian will note that my translation is a little less than literal in places - some Italian concepts don't translate exactly into English]

Dear Ordinandi, in future, you must always return to this moment, to this gesture which has nothing magical about it, but rather is so rich in mystery, because it is at the origin of your new mission. In this silent prayer there comes about the meeting of two freedoms: the freedom of God, operating by means of the Holy Spirit and the freedom of man. The imposition of the hands expresses the specific form of of this encounter: the Church, 'in-personated' by the bishop, standing up with hands outstretched, prays the Holy Spirit to consecrate the candidate; the deacon, kneeling, received the imposition of the hands and entrusts himself to that mediation. The overall significance of the gestures is important, but infinitely more important is the invisible spiritual movement, well evoked by the sacred silence which encloses everything, interiorly and exteriorly.
The symbolic reading of the gestures of ordination, along with the emphasis on the more important spiritual/interior action of the sacrament (which is both concealed and revealed by the external gestures) is frightfully Augustinian. In his treatment of the liturgical sacraments and the mysteries of the faith, Augustine frequently treated the external significance of the visible as the door to a deeper and more significant spiritual meaning, which in turn renews man 'from the inside' and enables him to make real that which is symbolized externally. Likewise, Benedict is pointing out that the new service of the priest is symbolized by the gestures of the ordination rite. However, beneath these gestures is a deeper spiritual change which makes it possible for the priest to fulfill the new mission of service. Without this deeper sacramental aspect, the exterior sign would lack efficacy.
Similarily, the emphasis on memory (always return to this moment) and the relationship between human and divine freedoms were themes which occupied Augustine greatly.

More distinctively 'Benedictine' is his reference to Sacred Silence. This ties into his overall liturgical vision which emphasizes an interior and exterior silence, which allows those who participate in the Sacred Liturgy to grasp the deeper meaning we've already mentioned.

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