Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Greed at the Root

Before a crowd of 35,000 at today's General Audience, the Pope dedicated his talk to Ambrosius Autpertus, linking the largely-unknown 8th century monk and writer's insights to today's economic meltdown... and some aspects of contemporary ecclesial life, to boot:
Greed, which views possession and appearance as the most important things in the world, is the real root of the current global economic crisis. Benedict XVI again today pointed to a "vice" of the human heart as the profound cause of the economic situation. He has expressed this view repeatedly, most recently in Luanda, during his trip to Africa, when he spoke of "the greed that corrupts the heart of man," or at the beginning of April, when in a message addressed to the G20 summit he wrote that the origin of the crisis there is also a "failure of correct ethical behavior."...

Autpertus was from a "distinguished family" in Provence, and served in the court of Pepin as the tutor of the future emperor Charlemagne. After joining the entourage of Pope Stephen II, who had gone to visit the Franks, he went to Italy, and stayed at the Benedictine abbey of San Vincenzo in Volturno "an oasis of classical and Christian culture." He entered the religious life there, and in 771 was ordained a priest. Seven years later he became abbot, with the support of the Frankish monks, while the Lombards supported another candidate. "Political rivalry had even entered the life of the monasteries"; the "nationalistic tensions" did not die down, and in 778 Autpertus decided to leave the monastery and go with some Frankish monks to Spoleto, under the patronage of Charlemagne. But the tensions returned, with the abbot denouncing Charlemagne and the calling of a pontifical tribunal. Called as a witness, he died during the trip, possibly by murder, in 784.

Among his works "of high theological and moral caliber," the pope recalled his "De Cupiditate," dedicated to the conflict between virtues and vices, and his commentary on Revelation. In the former work, "he intends to give the monks practical lessons about how to conduct spiritual warfare every day," and taking up Timothy's statement that those who want to live in faithfulness to Jesus Christ will be persecuted, reveals that today "there is no longer an external persecution, but internal: the struggle against the forces of evil." Autpertus denounced that "the greed of the rich and powerful in the society of his time also existed within the souls of the monks," and defined greed "as the root of all evil, the only root of all the vices, and" - the pope commented - "in the light of the present global economic crisis, this analysis reveals all of its relevance: we see, in fact, that it is precisely from this root of greed that the entire crisis was born."

Autpertus told the monks that "the disdain of the world becomes important in their spirituality, a disdain not for the beauty of creation, but for the false view of the world presented to us by greed, which insinuates that possessing and appearing to be wealthy are the highest values of our existence." In our time, he added, "there is a widespread false concept of freedom," understood as "having everything in one's disposal," but as Autpertus wrote, "even for those who are not monks, the Lord has proposed only two paths, one narrow and one wide, one steep and one easy."

Autpertus's time, Benedict XVI continued, was one in which "political opportunism, nationalism and tribalism disfigured the true face of the Church," "difficulties with which we also are familiar." But in his commentary on Revelation, Autpertus showed the true face of the Church. To those who saw it as "a divided body, one part belonging to Christ and one to the devil," he responds that "the Church can never be separated from Jesus Christ." He knew how to "discover the true face of the Church in the saints, and above all in Mary," and "knew what it means to be a Christian: living by the Word of God, entering into the abyss of the mystery, giving new life to the Word of God, and offering it our flesh in order to give it new life in our time."
PHOTO: Reuters