Saturday, 28 August 2010

Saint Augustine of Hippo - 3 Cl.

Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church.

Born at Thagaste in Africa in the year 354. As a young man he led an unsettled life both in the philosophy he professed and in his moral behaviour, but later, in the year 386, he was converted and then in 387 received baptism at Milan from the bishop Saint Ambrose. He came back to his own country and led the life of an ascetic. Elected Bishop of Hippo, for thirty-four years he was an exemplary bishop to his flock, teaching his people by his sermons and writings, striving to combat the errors of the time and to make the faith understood. He died in the year 430.


Give heed, O almighty God, to our humble prayers, and since Thou givest us confident assurance in Thy loving kindness, deign to grant us, through the intercession of blessed Augustine, Thy Confessor and Bishop, the effect of Thy wonted mercy. Through our Lord...

'I charge thee, before God and Jesus Christ...preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.'


It is no secret that I have a great devotion to the Doctor of Grace, whom I rank as the Greatest of the Fathers. I wish to consider myself, although a son of Holy Mother Church, first and foremost, as a disciple and follower of the Bishop of Hippo. So much could be said about him, but I wish to settle for a few lines concerning his life and how we can learn from the Divine Providence which guarded and protected him and brought him to the truth which set Augustine free.

1) Holy Augustine the Blessed, returned to the Faith that he 'had drunk in with his mother's milk' as an infant, Like the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, who found the Divine Child in the Temple where they had last met, Augustine found the truth and beauty he was seeking, in the name of Jesus that his loving mother had taught him since the start, in the Catholic Faith. He had abandoned the Catholic Church (although he was not baptised as an infant as per custom) as he believed certain teachings were irreconcilable with true thinking. After years of supposedly aimless pursuit for truth, Augustine found that he had possessed it right from the beginning. How many of us take for granted the great mysteries that have been handed on to us? How many of us have set aside the saving doctrine of Christ for the latest novelty? How many of us have refused to bend the knee to Jesus as we have been 'imprisoned in wickedness'?

2) One of the most profound discoveries Augustine made before his conversion was the books of the Platonists (of the 'neo' variety). Although devoid of the saving Name of Jesus Christ, and His unique role as Mediator between God and man, he found providentially a world view in which he could make sense of the Christian gospel. This discovery made possible the great passages he wrote concerning the 'nature' of evil, privation of the good, the deficient will etc. It is through God's ordering, in His Wisdom for His glory, that He brings man to Himself gradually, allowing His creatures to pursue error so that in the long term, he will be readily disposed to grace and conversion. Many of us nowadays, particularly of the traditionalist sort will have a very negative view of secular thinking and philosophy, however all that is truly good descends from the Father, the Source of all. All good is 'mined from the providence' of God and must be used for His honour. Let us not shrink back from a truth that secular wisdom has discovered, but let us appropriate it for the Gospel, for which it truly belongs. Augustine affirms this with a Scriptural illustration. When the Israelites departed from Egypt, that land of slavery, they dispossessed the natives of gold and silver. Such materials had previously been used for the construction of idols to be worshipped in vanity, yet the Good Lord had handed them over to His people, so that they might serve Him instead. Certain evangelical Protestants will assert that these items are of pagan 'origin', and must be discarded lest the Faith of Christ become polluted. We must never let such an attitude take hold of us. However, not all secular thinking is actually true, no matter how loudly and boldly they proclaim so. We must never appropriate a teaching that is contrary to the Holy Catholic Faith 'passed onto the saints once for all', but must promptly discard it as erroneous.

3) Lastly, Augustine came to realise that what is incorruptible is vastly superior to what is corruptible. We all know the sins of Augustine, so I do not wish to state them here, however his life manifests the truth that no matter what intellectual capacity you have been gifted with, you are able to be blinded to the divine light and cling to filth, Let us discern the divine traces in creation as they all proclaim infallibly the goodness and power of the Godhead. Often we will see a beautiful woman and our eyes are drawn irresistibly to her form, yet let us acknowledge that she only, in a very finite manner, participates in the Supreme Beauty, Which is God of His Essence. One day she will be returned to the dust, unrecognisable. He will continue as that 'Beauty so ancient and so new'. We are able to love Him only because He has loved us first, and called us to share in His divine trinitarian communion of Love and life. This is what the human spirit longs for, an acceptance according to truth and perpetual felicity and peace that the world is unable to give.

I wish to finish with a quotation from this holy Doctor concerning the souls pursuit for He Who is and then an extract from the Psalmist:

'You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness: and you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness: you breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you: you touched me, and I have burned for your peace.'

'O God, you are my God, for you I long.
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry weary land without water...'

P.s. I believe this should be a First Class Feast (: