44 years ago death. Montini and the Good of Poverty, unpublished text

A young Giovanni Battista Montini at his desk in 1923 at the Apostolic Nunciature in Warsaw.

Young Giovanni Battista Montini at his desk, 1923, at the Apostolic Nunciature in Warsaw – Archivio Paolo VI Institute

Several autographed sheets showing the maps of the San Vincenzo conferences. Unpublished text entitled “Beati pauperes”, written before 1936, when the author – Giovanni Battista Montini – was a member of the Vatican Secretariat of State, taught the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 Apollinara, conducted courses for various groups who received educational offers, where the primacy of conscience was accompanied by the primacy of mercy in the Christian life.

The letter, preserved in the archives of the Paolo VI Concession Institute, which publishes it with the commentary of its president, Don Angelo Maffeis, in the new “Quaderno”, is a truly deep reflection, not only tied to a formulation of Luke, less precise than that of Luke. Matthew.

In it, the future pontiff, whose 44th death anniversary is commemorated today (it took place in Castel Gandolfo on the evening of August 6, 1978), begins with considerations about the “value of goods” and ends by linking freedom with a discourse on evangelical poverty. obedience to that because of the poverty of the spirit. But first of all, – notes Montini, – most of all, he is interested in considering the blessings in the light of the Gospel, revealing the very personality of the disciple of Jesus, other salt and light, the living Gospel “and, for this reason,” he should not worry, setting the needs of earthly life above the needs of the gospel ministry.”

Recalling the evangelical ideal, the text continues to question its real application: to find in the believing community not only non-attachment to earthly goods, but even greed involved in injustices. This can be found in centuries of history, in the birth of vast fiefdoms of charitable institutions whose administration is not free from risks in terms of “astute pursuit of wealth.” If the criterion is evangelical poverty, does the good end pursued legitimize any means to increase wealth? No, Montini replies: repeating that Jesus calls for a constant conversion of the spirit, then defining the renunciations contemplated by poverty along with its very meaning.

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Poverty, therefore, as: “restriction of needs and, consequently, the use of things”, “clarification of good goals”, “adapting necessary things to them”, “freedom of spirit and action in the face of material interests”, which “should not interfere with the free service of God ; they should not constitute the second intention of their own work”; “Patience with hardships, honest and moderate use of the blessings that God sends.”

But poverty also expresses itself in harsh behavior that goes back to a commitment to work and a sober use of resources. And it is difficult to understand whether it comes down to the deprivation of goods on this earth or to the rejection of them, because it is based on the recognition of superior goods. In short: “the poverty of earthly goods is impossible without the wealth of heavenly goods” and implies “the movement of the spirit from earth to heaven”: a reorientation of existence.

That’s not all. Montini adds that poverty is “a condition of giving,” “charity in action.” Poverty, understood in this way, is found “in God Himself, Who is Mercy, Who lives in Himself in substantive relations, and Who, having come to us, gives Himself as the Father, as the Redeemer, as the “Gift of God”…” . Deepening the theme of self-denial associated with the choice of poverty, in the awareness of often dominant human impulses, Maffeis emphasizes, the future Pope mentions the virtue of obedience, which in the renunciation of one’s will recognizes the path to poverty of the spirit.

Quoting St. Ignatius, Montini emphasizes that obedience to God makes us “indifferent” “to any connection that does not come from God.” It is a freedom that takes the form of excellent preparation for action and which, if defined by obedience to God, is expressed in its entirety, humbly contributing to his designs, explains Montini. Then harmonize obedience and freedom in the figure of a child, where these two elements are combined. Again, Maffeis points out in passages of this text allusions to the nature and mission of the Church, subsequently picked up by Paul VI. Even with different solutions.

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If, as pontiff, he indicates in the reforms the answer to the unbelief of the Church, then here, instead, his recommendation is to withstand the tension, 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, they will never be so serious or so unpleasant as the benefits that it guarantees are great and wonderful.”

“Freedom and obedience,” summarizes the president of the Paul VI Institute, “are therefore two opposing spiritual attitudes that correspond to the paradox of the ecclesiastical custodian of divine secrets and at the same time are marked by human limitations and failures.” A paradox that even today continues to be a continuous challenge in the life of the Church.

Autograph text

So, in his notes: “God must be loved with all your might; therefore human life surpasses all other goods.

We are publishing a transcription of Giovanni Battista Montini’s notes page published here side by side. This is the theme of “the thought of the Master”.

Thought of the Master.

– a) Hierarchy of goods: in itself and/or in relation to us: the Gospel wants the absolute value of beings to be considered more than the relative value in relation to us. Therefore God must be loved with all one’s strength; therefore human life takes precedence over all other goods; therefore, beings are dear as far as they tell us about God (this is the principle of evangelical aesthetics), etc.

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– b) Usefulness of things. This is not how we tend to think of it. Meanwhile, it is not a “necessity” if it is not subordinated to others, much more important (not in bread alone… quaerite primum… an abundance of hominins…). More things are useful if they are reduced to the satisfaction of elementary needs (cf. Tolstoy). And for this reason, the disciple, that is, the one who should become salt and light for others, the living Gospel, should not be worried, putting the needs of earthly life above the needs of the gospel ministry: an all-consuming hope in Providence should allow a system of life, risky, very free, absolutely disinterested. Neither these needs are ignored, nor their satisfaction is forbidden, but only the search for such satisfaction is made remote and almost excluded from the cares of the gospel minister, who is given other means than labor, profit and savings. his service (dignus est operarius…)

– c) The human illusion is that a person believes that a person is worth as much as he has and what he has in the material and temporal order. He represents the tendency to be reborn in every state and after every renunciation (cf. Jude). Poverty is thus a hard and easy thing to bear, which only God’s help can make stable. d) Religious basis. That is: the relationship of poverty with charity (cf. Zundel). – e) Poverty premium, here and in the future.
Giovanni Battista Montini

Here is the text of the autograph

An autographed page written by Montini in connection with the San Vincenzo conferences.

Handwritten page written by Montini in connection with the conferences of San Vincenzo – Archivio Istituto Paolo VI


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