Dearest Saint Augustine of Hippo
"Our Hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and it finds no rest till it rests in Thee."
-St. Augustine, d.430 A.D.
By Father J. Heyrman, S.J.
ST AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354 – 430)
1. St. Augustine is perhaps the most eminent and most genial Doctor of the Church; at the same time he is one of the most humble. He was a learned man, endowed with a most keen intellect: but not one of those learned men from whom God keeps hid His secrets. He was a learned men, but also one of those little ones to whom the heavenly Father has vouchsafed a profound insight into the mysteries of the Deity.
He is represented as wearing a mitre, and carrying a crozier, holding a burning heart in one hand. Whatever he said, whatever he wrote, flowed from his burning heart, and therefore his message appeals to men of all centuries.
2. Petition: That we may admire the working of God’s grace in this Saint; that following his example, we may with tireless love seek God, until we find rest in Him.
I. The Humility of St. Augustine
As a child, St. Augustine had been instructed in the Christian religion by his pious mother, St. Monica; but, according to the custom of those days, he had not received Baptism. He became a brilliant student, and a noted professor; but he fell victim to the temptations of the flesh, and to heresy. At the age of thirty-three, not without a fierce struggle, and owing to the many tears and prayers of his mother, he was converted and baptized by St. Ambrose at Milan, where he held a chair of rhetoric.
No convert has ever written a more sincere and a more humble account of his laborious ascent from the depths into which he had sunk, than did Augustine in his “Confessions”. As he himself tells us, these Confessions are rather a hymn of praise in honour of God’s mercy, than an avowal of sin.
He never forgot from what an abyss God’s grace had rescued him; that is why he became the “Doctor Gratiae”, the herald of God’s grace, of the all-powerful grace which makes man’s weak will victorious.
He died at the age of 76, on 28th August, 430, after having been for 35 years bishop of the little town of Hippo in North Africa. In his day he was acclaimed as the greatest theologian of his age, and universally venerated as a Saint. But till the last day he remained as humble as he was on the day of his conversion. During his last illness he had the penitential psalms written out in large characters, and hung up on the walls of his cell, that he might have them continually before his eyes.
II. The Searcher for Truth and Beauty
All his life Augustine was a passionate searcher for truth and beauty: at first he trod the path of error, and was driven to the brink of despair, till he met on his way Christ, the Word of God made Man, and in His school learnt to be humble, and to “seek devoutly”. “Till then,” he says, “I was not humble and failed to understand the humble Jesus.” Later, he would write to one who was in search of truth: “In order to understand truth, we first need humility, and then again humility, and finally humility.” Yet with another he insisted: “Hold the intellect in high regard”. The powerful intellect of Augustine never ceased, devoutly and humbly, to study the deepest mysteries of the faith. His mind and his heart could find rest only in the possession of Truth and Beauty, that is, God!
Remembering his conversion, fourteen years after the event, he cried out: “Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty, ever ancient ever new! Too late have I loved Thee.” During too many years he had tried to find Beauty in things that perish. These had led him astray, but had never satisfied his soul. Then he discovered the Beauty that perishes not; but still he keeps yearning for the complete and secure possession of It. This explains a mysterious word in one of his letters, “My peace is a screen for much internal turmoil.”
III. “My Weight Is My Love”
Thus Augustine expresses what, in his opinion, makes the value of a man: his love, which is the most powerful lever in the human heart. “My weight is my love: what impels me, in whatever direction it be, is my love.” Throughout life he had manifold experience of its power: the dead weight of sensual love, that pulled him down, until he was lifted up on high by divine love: here he found the eternal Truth after which he had yearned all the while, and the imperishable Beauty, which his heart had longed for. But this one love, as he himself reminds us, is expressed in two commandments: Love God with thy whole heart, and love thy neighbour as thyself; and for Augustine too, the second was like unto the first. This love enabled him to devote himself to his engrossing pastoral duties (as Bishop he had often to act a judge, when he was delighted to promote peace and harmony); gladly he reverted to the solitude of his beloved theological studies, which he called his “sacred rest” after the fulfillment of the duties of state”.
For the clergy who lived with him and whom he had formed into a religious community he wrote a short rule of life. Which later on he adapted to the needs of the community of virgins over which his sister presided. This celebrated rule of St. Augustine (Regula Sancti Patris Nostri Augustini) forms the essence of the Rule of very many religious Orders and Congregations. It begins thus, “First of all, dearly beloved, you should love God, and then the neighbour. These are the chief commandments that Christ gave us. This, therefore, is the rule which you shall follow in the cloister: the first aim of your life, in community is to live together in peace, to have one heart and one soul in God.”
Prayer to God:
O God, from whom to turn
away is to fall, to whom to return is to rise, in whom to remain is to stand
fast … God, whom no one forsakes unless he be misled; whom no one seeks unless
he be called; whom no one finds unless he be cleansed; whom to forsake is to
perish; whom to heed is to love; whom to see is to possess: O that I might know
Thee, that I might know myself …” (Soliloquy of St. Augustine).