St. Augustine, in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti

Pope Francis mentions the Bishop of Hippo four times in his new encyclical to show the importance of love in personal and social life.

The latest encyclical of Pope Francis Fratelli Tutti is a warning to all of society: only through love can we move forward. The Holy Father warns in his new writing that fraternity and care for the common house are the only paths to social peace. In the document, Francis deals with different problems that are still present in society: trafficking in persons, violation of human rights, excessive consumerism, migration or inequality of women and men, among other things. To all of them, the Pontiff proposes a human and necessary solution: fraternal love.

Pope Francis mentions in Fratelli Tutti thoughts of saints, relevant people or even his own speeches. Among them, the encyclical refers four times to St. Augustine. The Augustinian thought serves the Holy Father as a model to explain four of the relevant aspects of his document regarding social peace or Christian unity. As on other occasions, the Bishop of Hippo is a current reference for Francis.

Decisive Love

The first reference is point 91 of the encyclical. The Pope mentions St. Thomas Aquinas who, in the Summa Theologica, quotes St. Augustine to say “that the temperance of an avaricious person is not even virtuous”. Saint Thomas refers to Augustine’s letters Contra Julianum, in which he rejects the ideas of Bishop Juliano of Eclana about concupiscence, evil and wealth. In one of the letters, the Bishop of Hippo writes: “How many pleasures do the avaricious deprive themselves of in order to increase their treasures or for fear of seeing them diminish?

At this point, Pope Francis explains that the very acts of many people can be presented as virtues and moral values, but only if one considers the charity that God infuses in those acts can be understood or not as virtues that God grants to people.

People can develop certain habits that might appear as moral values: fortitude, sobriety, hard work and similar virtues. Yet if the acts of the various moral virtues are to be rightly directed, one needs to take into account the extent to which they foster openness and union with others. That is made possible by the charity that God infuses. Without charity, we may perhaps possess only apparent virtues, incapable of sustaining life in common. Thus, Saint Thomas Aquinas could say – quoting Saint Augustine – that the temperance of a greedy person is in no way virtuous.[69] Saint Bonaventure, for his part, explained that the other virtues, without charity, strictly speaking do not fulfil the commandments “the way God wants them to be fulfilled”.[70]Fratelli Tutti, 91

War with the word

Wars and confrontations are one of the issues on which Pope Francis puts his focus. The Holy Father recalls that on many occasions wars have been justified on humanitarian grounds or for preventive reasons. In this sense, he maintains that legitimate defense is enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, since the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, it makes no sense to speak of “just wars” because of the out-of-control destructive power they entail.

On this point, he refers to Saint Augustine in note 242. The Bishop of Hippo – understood in another social context -, like many other thinkers, went so far as to speak of a “just war”. Nevertheless, Fratelli Tutti includes Augustine’s phrase in his letter 229, sent to Count Darius around 428, governor of Africa: “To kill war with words, and to reach and achieve peace with peace and not with war, is greater glory than to give it to men with the sword”. In this letter, St. Augustine invited Count Dario to promote peace through dialogue. However, the epistle did not have a good outcome, as the tension led to a civil war between the same Roman troops, which facilitated the advance of the vandals in North Africa.

War can easily be chosen by invoking all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses, and even resorting to the manipulation of information. In recent decades, every single war has been ostensibly “justified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the possibility of legitimate defence by means of military force, which involves demonstrating that certain “rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy”[239] have been met. Yet it is easy to fall into an overly broad interpretation of this potential right. In this way, some would also wrongly justify even “preventive” attacks or acts of war that can hardly avoid entailing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated”.[240] At issue is whether the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the enormous and growing possibilities offered by new technologies, have granted war an uncontrollable destructive power over great numbers of innocent civilians. The truth is that “never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely”.[241] We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war![242]Fratelli Tutti, 258

Against the death penalty

Pope Francis also devotes several points to deal with the death penalty. The Holy Father affirms with determination that the Church is committed “to proposing that it be abolished throughout the world. In point 265 he gives several examples showing that, throughout her history, the Church has opposed the death penalty.

Among the examples, Francis mentions St. Augustine. In the Epistle to Marcellin, addressed to the imperial commissary, Marcellin In this letter, the bishop writes that he should not apply the death penalty to two Donatists (probably circumcelliones) who had killed two Catholic priests. St. Augustine always opposes the death penalty in order to give the criminal the opportunity to truly repent and save himself. The Pontiff introduces in his encyclical several phrases of the epistle, of which one stands out especially: “Do not satisfy against the atrocities of sinners an appetite for revenge”.

From the earliest centuries of the Church, some were clearly opposed to capital punishment. Lactantius, for example, held that “there ought to be no exception at all; that it is always unlawful to put a man to death”.[252] Pope Nicholas I urged that efforts be made “to free from the punishment of death not only each of the innocent, but all the guilty as well”.[253] During the trial of the murderers of two priests, Saint Augustine asked the judge not to take the life of the assassins with this argument: “We do not object to your depriving these wicked men of the freedom to commit further crimes. Our desire is rather that justice be satisfied without the taking of their lives or the maiming of their bodies in any part. And, at the same time, that by the coercive measures provided by the law, they be turned from their irrational fury to the calmness of men of sound mind, and from their evil deeds to some useful employment. This too is considered a condemnation, but who does not see that, when savage violence is restrained and remedies meant to produce repentance are provided, it should be considered a benefit rather than a mere punitive measure… Do not let the atrocity of their sins feed a desire for vengeance, but desire instead to heal the wounds which those deeds have inflicted on their souls”.[254] – Fratelli Tutti, 265

Unity despite differences

The last mention of St. Augustine in Fratelli Tutti is at point 280. Pope Francis speaks of Christian identity, of freedom to live the faith throughout the world. He also calls for unity within the Church itself, “a unity that is enriched by differences that are reconciled by the action of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, it recalls the vocation to unity in the Church, where each person makes his or her own distinctive contribution.

Here, Francis mentions St. Augustine: “The ear sees through the eye, and the eye hears through the ear”. The phrase is from the Commentaries on the Psalms of St. Augustine. Likewise, the Pope asks for unity also with the different Christian confessions, remembering what Jesus says in the Gospel of St. John: “May they all be one”.

At the same time, we ask God to strengthen unity within the Church, a unity enriched by differences reconciled by the working of the Spirit. For “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13), in which each member has his or her distinctive contribution to make. As Saint Augustine said, “the ear sees through the eye, and the eye hears through the ear”.[276] It is also urgent to continue to bear witness to the journey of encounter between the different Christian confessions. We cannot forget Christ’s desire “that they may all be one” (cf. Jn 17:21). Hearing his call, we recognize with sorrow that the process of globalization still lacks the prophetic and spiritual contribution of unity among Christians. This notwithstanding, “even as we make this journey towards full communion, we already have the duty to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity”. – Fratelli Tutti, 280