Tag Archives: St Augustine

St Augustine and the Order of Preachers

Today, we are liturgically recalling the feast of St Augustine of Hippo. The Byzantine Church also honors Augustine today along with St Moses the Black. Augustine is a masterful theologian, preacher and pastor that no series Christian can dismiss or avoid. He is the Preacher of Truth.

St Augustine’s Rule is the source for various religious orders such as those who carry his own name, the Sisters of Christian Charity, the Trinitarians, the Pauline Hermits, the Order of Mercy and the Norbertines and not least the Order of Preachers who regard him as their father (alongside St Dominic and St Francis!). It is speculated that about 150 religious congregations follow Augustine’s Rule.

Pope Benedict XVI is a great loved of Augustine and said the following:

“In this regard, through the two rightly famous Augustinian formulas (cf. Sermones, 43, 9) that express this coherent synthesis of faith and reason: crede ut intelligas (“I believe in order to understand”) believing paves the way to crossing the threshold of the truth but also, and inseparably, intellige ut credas (“I understand, the better to believe”), the believer scrutinizes the truth to be able to find God and to believe.

“The harmony between faith and reason means above all that God is not remote: he is not far from our reason and our life; he is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.

“Precisely because Augustine lived this intellectual and spiritual journey in the first person, he could portray it in his works with such immediacy, depth and wisdom, recognizing in two other famous passages from the Confessions (IV, 4, 9 and 14, 22), that man is “a great enigma” (magna quaestio) and “a great abyss” (grande profundum), an enigma and an abyss that only Christ can illuminate and save us from. This is important: a man who is distant from God is also distant from himself, alienated from himself, and can only find himself by encountering God. In this way he will come back to himself, to his true self, to his true identity.”

Concerning the Augustinian Rule, Blessed Humbert of Romans, 5th Master of the Order of Preachers said: “There are many rules which impose a multitude of physical observance; but the Rule of Saint Augustine is built more on spiritual deeds, such as the love of God and neighbour, the unity of hearts, the harmony of customs, and other such things. Who does not know that spiritual deeds are of more importance than physical exercises? The more a rule deals with spiritual matters rather than physical ones, the more worthy it is of greater praise. Likewise the Rule of Saint Augustine observes such moderation that it avoids the dangerous extremes of too many or too few regulations. It takes the middle way where all virtue lies…

Since under this Rule Saint Dominic, father of the Friars Preachers, acquired perfection in every good and bore fruit as far as the salvation of souls is concerned, how fitting it is that his sons imitate him in this and so come to a similar perfection.”

3 conversions of St Augustine

Today’s Doctor and Father of the Church St Augustine has been an object of study of the emeritus Pope, Benedict XVI. In a teaching on the saint, Benedict notes 3 conversions in Augustine’s life that are relevant to us today, especially on his feast day. In fact, I would say that what the Pope says is rather critical for Christians to consider with a certain degree of seriousness. Early in his papacy Benedict made a pilgrimage to Pavia, Italy to honor the relics of Augustine.

St Augustine was a passionate seeker of truth: he was from the beginning and then throughout his life. The first step of his conversion journey was accomplished exactly in his progressive nearing to Christianity. Actually, he had received from his mother Monica, to whom he would always remain very closely bound, a Christian education, and even though he lived an errant life during the years of his youth, he always felt a deep attraction to Christ, having drunk in with his mother’s milk the love for the Lord’s Name, as he himself emphasizes (cf. Confessions, III, 4, 8). But also philosophy, especially that of a Platonic stamp, led him even closer to Christ, revealing to him the existence of the Logos or creative reason. Philosophy books showed him the existence of reason, from which the whole world came, but they could not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so distant. Only by reading St Paul’s Epistles within the faith of the Catholic Church was the truth fully revealed to him. This experience was summarized by Augustine in one of the most famous passages of the Confessions: he recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, withdrawing to a garden, he suddenly heard a child’s voice chanting a rhyme never heard before: tolle, lege, tolle, lege, “pick up and read, pick up and read” (VIII, 12, 29). He then remembered the conversion of Anthony, the Father of Monasticism, and carefully returned to the Pauline codex that he had recently read, opened it, and his glance fell on the passage of the Epistle to the Romans where the Apostle exhorts to abandon the works of the flesh and to be clothed with Christ (cf. 13: 13-14). He understood that those words in that moment were addressed personally to him; they came from God through the Apostle and indicated to him what he had to do at that time. Thus, he felt the darkness of doubt clearing and he finally found himself free to give himself entirely to Christ: he described it as “your converting me to yourself” (Confessions, VIII, 12, 30). This was the first and decisive conversion.

The African rhetorician reached this fundamental step in his long journey thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion that led him to seek God, the great and inaccessible One. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine’s long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself “tangible”, one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs. But with the Easter Vigil of 387, as we have said, Augustine’s journey was not finished.

He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends to dedicate himself to the contemplative life and study. This was his life’s dream. Now he was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is truth: a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until he was, against his will, ordained a priest at Hippo and destined to serve the faithful, continuing, yes, to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of all. This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he really live with Christ and for Christ.

Thus, renouncing a life solely of meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to make the fruit of his intelligence available to others. He learned to communicate his faith to simple people and thus learned to live for them in what became his hometown, tirelessly carrying out a generous and onerous activity which he describes in one of his most beautiful sermons: “To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone – it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort” (Sermon, 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, understanding that it was exactly in this way that he could be closer to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true second conversion.

But there is a last step to Augustine’s journey, a third conversion, that brought him every day of his life to ask God for pardon. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection bestowed by Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist. During the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount – that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently – was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be washed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need permanent conversion. Until the end we need this humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and introduces us into eternal life. It was in this final attitude of humility, lived day after day, that Augustine died.

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience
27 February 2008

St Augustine of Hippo

On the contribution of St. Augustine to the spiritual and intellectual history of the West, the great Yale patristic scholar Jaroslav Pelikan said:

In Augustine of Hippo Western Christianity found its most influential spokesman, and the doctrine of grace its most articulate interpreter. It has been said that although he may not have been the greatest of Latin writers, he was almost certainly the greatest man who ever wrote Latin. In any history of philosophy he must figure prominently; no history of post-classical Latin literature would be complete without a chapter on him; and there is probably no Christian theologian — Eastern or Western, ancient or medieval or modern, heretical or orthodox — whose historical influence can match his. Any theologian who would have written the Confessions or the City of God or On the Trinity would have to be counted a major figure in intellectual history. Augustine wrote them all, and vastly more. He was a universal genius.

In Christ we overcame the devil

In this First Week of Lent St Augustine gives us something worthy for our reflection: In Christ we suffered temptation, and in him we overcame the devil.

Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer. Who is speaking? An individual, it seems. See if it is an individual: I cried to you from the ends of the earth while my heart was in anguish. Now it is no longer one person; rather, it is one in the sense that Christ is one, and we are all his members. What single individual can cry from the ends of the earth? The one who cries from the ends of the earth is none other than the Son’s inheritance. It was said to him: Ask of me, and I shall give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession. This possession of Christ, this inheritance of Christ, this body of Christ, this one Church of Christ, this unity that we are, cries from the ends of the earth. What does it cry? What I said before: Hear, O God, my petition, listen to my prayer; I cried out to you from the ends of the earth. That is, I made this cry to you from the ends of the earth; that is, on all sides.

Why did I make this cry? While my heart was in anguish. The speaker shows that he is present among all the nations of the earth in a condition, not of exalted glory but of severe trial.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The one who cries from the ends of the earth is in anguish, but is not left on his own. Christ chose to foreshadow us, who are his body, by means of his body, in which he has died, risen and ascended into heaven, so that the members of his body may hope to follow where their head has gone before.

He made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. We have heard in the gospel how the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained life for you; he suffered insults in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you.

If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcame the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him. He could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.

From a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Ps. 60, 2-3: CCL 39, 766)

Celebrating Thanksgiving today 2017

Celebrating this day of Thanksgiving with loved ones and friends, I thought this morning at Divine Liturgy that what is crucial is diving into what really matters, what we’ve been given by the Lord —the most holy of giving thanks. It is the Holy Eucharist, instituted by the Lord Jesus “on the night he was betrayed and entered willingly into his passion.”

Here we see the root of our life: The Lord in His Life-Giving sacrifice shows us the relationship between His infinite mercy, justice and His love. We participate in Lord’s kenosis inviting us to assent to deification in the Life of the Trinity in a synergistic way. This is our sacred, divine Liturgy.

“I give thanks to you, my sweetness, my honor,
my confidence;
to you, my God, I give thanks for your gifts.
Do you preserve them for me.
So will you preserve me too,
and what you have given me will grow and reach perfection,
and I will be with you; because this too is your gift to me
—that I exist.”

-Saint Augustine, Confessions

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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