He was decades ahead in anticipating the main features of the current pontificate. And now his greatness is being discovered, thanks in part to an exhibit dedicated to him. He lived in Florence, right in the thick of the turmoil of the Council and the period following it.
At this year's international meeting held in Rimini, as it is each August, Communion and Liberation dedicated an exhibit to a Christian personality of great significance who is far too little known: "Divo Barsotti, the last mystic of the twentieth century."
Divo Barsotti – who died at the age of 92 on February 15, 2006, at his hermitage of Saint Sergius in Settignano, north of Florence – was a priest, a theologian, the founder of the Community of the Children of God, and an extraordinary mystic and spiritual master.
One year before his death, the founder of Communion and Liberation, Fr. Luigi Giussani, died in Milan. The two never met in person, but they had great respect for each other.
This year, Communion and Liberation chose this theme for the Rimini Meeting: "The truth is the destiny for which we were made."
And it was precisely on the primacy of the truth that Fr. Barsotti founded all of his life and teaching, in prophetic harmony with the major outlines of the current pontificate. One more reason to rediscover and accentuate his legacy.
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In life, Divo Barsotti often found himself alone and misunderstood. When he was a young priest, isolated in his diocese of San Miniato. When he arrived in Florence, understood and supported by few. He again remained alone, for years, in his hermitage in Settignano, abandoned by his first followers. And so also later, ignored and undervalued until the end of his life by much of the Catholic media and intelligentsia.
He was self-taught, with no theology degree. He wrote a great deal: 160 books and countless articles and scattered papers, but no systematic work. And yet his written and oral production bears witness to a depth, a consistency, a foresightedness, a critical acumen, a freedom of spirit that stand out today as absolutely out of the ordinary.
There is a very strong resemblance between the diagnosis of the Council and the period following it formulated by Barsotti and the one made by Ratzinger both before and after his election as pope, most recently in the conversation he held last July 24 with the priests of Cadore.
There is a noteworthy affinity between the two in their seeking out nourishment in the Church's great tradition and breaking this bread among the great numbers of ordinary Christians. In the case of Benedict XVI, it should be enough to think of his two cycles of Wednesday catecheses: the first, dedicated to the apostolic Church, with individual profiles of the apostles and the other main characters of the New Testament; the second, dedicated to the Greek and Latin fathers of the first centuries of the Church, which has now arrived at the depiction of the great bishops and theologians of Cappadocia – Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nissa.
There is perfect agreement between Barsotti and pope Ratzinger on the manner of reading the Sacred Scriptures and penetrating their profound meaning: not solely with the tools of the historical and philological sciences, but also in the light of their ultimate Author, the Holy Spirit, recognizable in the Church's tradition.
The two also share similar views on politics and history. Both are extremely opposed to the idea that in earthly history there is the progressive construction, almost by natural evolution, of a kingdom of peace and justice. Both are absolutely certain that the "eschaton," the ultimate and definitive act of salvation for man and for the world, is already present here and now, and is nothing other than the crucified and risen Jesus.
The "Christian mystery" is him, Jesus crucified and risen, who is seated at the right hand of the Father but at the same time becomes bread for man in the Eucharist. The events of the mystery are made real in the Mass. Here, too, there is extraordinary agreement between Barsotti's book "The Christian Mystery in the Liturgical Year" and the later reflections and homilies of Benedict XVI in the pontifical Masses.
From the book "Jesus of Nazareth," the chief work of this pontificate, to the centrality of the Eucharist, to the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," the magisterium of Benedict XVI presents a dazzling cohesion. It is the same cohesion that appeared in the life and works of Barsotti. In a footnote of his 1951 book "The Christian Mystery in the Liturgical Year," there is a reflection on eros and agape that is stunning for how it anticipates the heart of pope Ratzinger's encyclical.
In both of these, there is the awareness that the Church lives on the foundation of truth, and that it is only from "veritas" that "caritas" arises, just as the Spirit proceeds "ex Patre Filioque": from the Father and from the Son who is the Logos, the Word of God.