Today, 28 Aug 2012, is the feast day of St Augustine of Hippo, well-known convert, bishop and doctor of the Church. Following the success of the prayers of his mother, St Monica, Augustine went on to become a prolific writer about all kinds of Christian subject matter and the instructions he wrote for the clergy who lived a monastic life with him at Hippo formed the basis of the Rule of St Augustine upon which many religious orders have modelled their own Rules. So important are St Augustine’s 5th century writings that the Church includes them in Her Office of Readings about once a week on average; which is twice as often as other Saintly writers.
St Augustine of Hippo was born in late 354 in North Africa, and was blessed with considerable gifts of intellect and rhetoric. From his late teens until the Grace of God won him over completely in his baptism in Milan at the Easter vigil of 387, Augustine lived a pagan life and found heretical sects more to his taste than the disciplines of Catholicism. Returning to North Africa soon afterwards, he spent the rest of his life there until his death at Hippo on 28 August 430.
Even translated into English the works of St Augustine are a delight to read. His arguments are cogent and help us rediscover the wonder and the power of God. St Teresa of Avila had a special devotion to him. From St Augustine comes the tradition of reciting the 7 penitential Psalms in preparation for death – he arranged for them to be written about the walls. He also had a strictly enforced rule that no one was to say anything negative about anyone. What I didn’t know until recently was how much St Augustine valued humility and how often he wrote about it.
Now for a few gems from his heart and pen, to whet our appetites for more….
From The Confessions of St Augustine, Book X, Chapter I : ‘Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known. Power of my soul, enter into it, and fit it for Thee, that Thou mayest have and hold it without spot or wrinkle. This is my hope, therefore do I speak; and in this hope do I rejoice, when I rejoice healthfully. Other things of this life are the less to be sorrowed for, the more they are sorrowed for; and the more to be sorrowed for, the less men sorrow for them. For behold, Thou lovest the truth, and he that doth it, cometh to the light. This would I do in my heart before Thee in confession: and in my writing, before many witnesses.’
From St Augustine’s explanation of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter 5: Chapter VII, Section 18: ‘ “Let your light,” says He, “so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” If He had merely said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,” He would seem to have fixed an end in the praises of men, which hypocrites seek, and those who canvass for honours and covet glory of the emptiest kind. Against such parties it is said, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ;” and, by the prophet, “They who please men are put to shame, because God hath despised them;” and again, “God hath broken the bones of those who please men;” and again the apostle, “Let us not be desirous of vainglory;” and still another time, “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” Hence our Lord has not said merely, “that they may see your good works,” but has added, “and glorify your Father who is in heaven:” so that the mere fact that a man by means of good works pleases men, does not there set it up as an end that he should please men; but let him subordinate this to the praise of God, and for this reason please men, that God may be glorified in him. For this is expedient for them who offer praise, that they should honour, not man, but God; as our Lord showed in the case of the man who was carried, where, on the paralytic being healed, the multitude, marvelling at His powers, as it is written in the Gospel, “feared and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.” And His imitator, the Apostle Paul, says, “But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed; and they glorified God in me.” ‘
From St Augustine’s ‘On Christian Doctrine, in Four Books’, Book 1, Chapter 24, Section 24: ‘No man, then, hates himself. On this point, indeed, no question was ever raised by any sect. But neither does any man hate his own body. For the apostle says truly, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh.” And when some people say that they would rather be without a body altogether, they entirely deceive themselves. For it is not their body, but its corruptions and its heaviness, that they hate. And so it is not no body, but an uncorrupted and very light body, that they want. But they think a body of that kind would be no body at all, because they think such a thing as that must be a spirit. And as to the fact that they seem in some sort to scourge their bodies by abstinence and toil, those who do this in the right spirit do it not that they may get rid of their body, but that they may have it in subjection and ready for every needful work. For they strive by a kind of toilsome exercise of the body itself to root out those lusts that are hurtful to the body, that is, those habits and affections of the soul that lead to the enjoyment of unworthy objects. They are not destroying themselves; they are taking care of their health.’
To read more, go to http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine?show=biography and then choose ‘Works By (13)’.
We thank You, Lord, for Your Grace which transformed St Augustine from a talented yet troubled young man into a powerhouse of holiness and an inspiration for centuries of believers.
Novena to Saint Augustine
Saint Augustine, great Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church, may your life of conversion to the Catholic Faith be an example to both those who have never been a part of the Church, and to those who have fallen away from Christ’s Church. Through your closeness with Our Lord in Heaven, intercede for us and bring to the One True Faith the following people (mention names).
May your conversion centuries ago continue to inspire those who are lost today and with the help of your prayers, may God bring them to a full understanding of the Faith. Most importantly, may your struggle to find Truth, through many sins and failings be an example of the Lord Jesus’ forgiveness and eternal saving Grace. Amen.
Oh Merciful God, hear the prayer of Your servant, St Augustine, and bring the message of salvation to all who seek You in sincerity. Amen.
St Augustine, pray for us.
Our Father, Who art in heaven hallowed be Your Name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen. (3 times)