Montini and the good of poverty, an unpublished text

A young Giovanni Battista Montini at his work table in 1923 at the apostolic nunciature in Warsaw

A young Giovanni Battista Montini at his work table, in 1923, at the apostolic nunciature in Warsaw – Archivio Paolo VI Institute

A handful of autographed sheets showing diagrams for the San Vincenzo Conferences. An unpublished text entitled “Beati pauperes” written before 1936 when the author – Giovanni Battista Montini – was a member of the Vatican Secretariat of State, taught the history of papal diplomacy at the Apollinare, held courses to various groups, recipients of educational proposals where the primacy of conscience was accompanied by that of charity in the Christian life.

The writing, kept in the archives of the Paolo VI Institute of Concesio, which publishes it with a comment by its president Don Angelo Maffeis in the new “Quaderno”, constitutes a truly profound reflection not only screwed to Luke’s formulation less precise than that of Matthew.

In it, the future Pontiff whose 44th anniversary of his death is remembered today (which took place in Castel Gandolfo on the evening of August 6, 1978), starting from considerations on the “value of goods”, ends up associating freedom with the discourse on evangelical poverty. , obedience to that on poverty of spirit. But first of all – Montini notes – what interests most of all is the consideration of goods in the light of the Gospel, indicative in revealing the very identity of the disciple of Jesus. the others salt and light, a living Gospel “and, for this reason” he must not worry, placing the needs of earthly life before those of evangelical service “.

Recalling the evangelical ideal, the text continues by questioning its real application: finding in the believing community not only the detachment from earthly goods, but even greed complicit in injustices. This can be found in centuries of history, at the origin of vast patrimonies of charitable institutes whose administrations are not free from risks in terms of “astute pursuit of riches”. If the criterion is that of evangelical poverty, does the good end pursued legitimize any means to increase goods? No, Montini replies: reiterating that Jesus exhorts a continuous conversion of the spirit, then defining the renunciations contemplated by poverty together with its very meaning.

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Poverty, therefore, as: “limitation of needs and therefore of the use of things”, “clarification of good ends”, “adaptation of necessary things to them”, “freedom of spirit and action in the face of material interests” which “must not hinder God’s free service; they must not constitute a second intention of their own work “; “Tolerance of privations, honest and moderate enjoyment of the goods that God sends”.

But poverty is also expressed in austere behavior that can be traced back to the commitment to work and the sober use of resources. And it is hard to understand if it is reduced to deprivation of goods in this land or renunciation of them, because it is based on the recognition of superior goods. In short: “the poverty of earthly goods is not possible without the richness of heavenly goods” and involves “a displacement of the spirit, from earth to heaven”: a reorientation of existence.

It’s not all. Montini adds that poverty is a “condition for giving”, “charity in action”. Understood in this way, poverty is found “in God himself, who is Charity, who lives in himself in subsistent relationships, and who, coming to us, gives himself as Father, as Redeemer, as” Gift of God “…”. Having deepened the theme of self-denial linked to the choice of poverty, in the awareness of often prevalent human impulses – underlines Maffeis – the future Pope mentions the virtue of obedience which in the renunciation of one’s will recognizes the way to poverty of spirit.

Quoting Saint Ignatius, Montini emphasizes that obedience to God makes us “indifferent” “to any bond that does not come from God”. It is a freedom that is configured as an excellent preparation for action, and which, if determined by obedience to God, is expressed in fullness by humbly contributing to his plans, explains Montini. Then harmonizing obedience and freedom in the figure of the child where the two elements are united. And it is again Maffeis who points out in the passages of this text, hints on the nature and mission of the Church, subsequently taken up by Paul VI. Even with different solutions.

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If as pontiff he will indicate in the reforms the answer to the infidelities of the Church, here, instead, his recommendation is to bear the tension by keeping together the opposite dimensions in the reality of the Church, without scandals.

For Monsignor Montini, unity remains the greatest value: “no matter how serious the inconveniences of ecclesiastical discipline may be, they will never be so serious or so unpleasant as the goods it guarantees are great and marvelous”.

“Freedom and obedience – summarizes the president of the Paul VI Institute – therefore represent the two opposite spiritual attitudes, which correspond to the paradox of a Church depositary of the divine mysteries and, at the same time, marked by human limitations and failures”. A paradox that even today continues to constitute a continuous challenge in the life of the Church.

The autograph text

Thus in his notes: «God is to be loved with all strength; therefore human life excels over every other good “

We are publishing the transcription of Giovanni Battista Montini’s page of notes, published here alongside. The theme is that of the “thought of the Master”.

The thought of the Master.

– a) The hierarchy of goods: in itself and / or relative to us: the Gospel wants the absolute value of beings to be more considered than that relative to us. Therefore God is to be loved with all strength; therefore human life takes precedence over every other good; therefore beings are dear as much as they speak to us of God (this is the principle of evangelical aesthetics), etc.

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– b) The usefulness of things. It is not how we are inclined to consider it. Meanwhile, it is not a “necessity” if not subordinated to other far more important ones (not in bread alone… quaerite primum… abundantia hominis…). More things are useful if reduced to the satisfaction of elementary needs (cf. Tolstoy). And also for this reason the disciple, that is, the one who must become for others salt and light, a living Gospel, must not worry, placing the needs of earthly life before those of evangelical service: an overwhelming trust in Providence must allow a system of life. risky, very free, absolutely disinterested. Neither these needs are ignored, nor their satisfaction forbidden, but only the search for such satisfaction is made remote, and almost removed from the concerns of the evangelical minister, to whom by other means than for work and gain and savings is given. provide for its maintenance (dignus est operarius …)

– c) The human illusion is that of believing that man is worth as much as he possesses and disposes in the material and temporal order. It represents a rebirth inclination in every condition and after every renunciation (cf. Judas). Poverty is therefore a hard and easily admissible thing, which only God’s help can make sustainable – d) The religious foundation. That is: relations of poverty with charity (cf. Zundel). – e) Prize of poverty, here and in the future.
Giovanni Battista Montini

Here the autograph text

The autograph page written by Montini in view of the San Vincenzo Conferences

The handwritten page written by Montini in view of the Conferences of the San Vincenzo – Archivio Istituto Paolo VI


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