Day 24 – “One mind and one heart intent upon God”
Augustinian community life is described by a statement comprising of two phrases: “One mind and one heart,” which derives from Luke’s description of the Jerusalem community, and “in Deum” (= ‘intent upon God’25). It is interesting to note that the Lucan phrase “one in mind and heart” is closely linked with the description of the disciples not calling anything their own, selling what they possessed and placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles who would then distribute them to each as was needed (Acts 2:44; 4:32.33-34).
This sharing of goods was understood by Augustine as the visible sign of oneness of mind and heart. The following selection from Augustine’s commentary on Ps. 131 serves to illustrate this point: My brothers, how many thousands were they who believed, at the time when they brought to the feet of the apostles the price of their goods. And what does Scripture say of them? That they certainly became the temple of God. Not only each one alone, but all of them together, became God’s temple. They thus became a place for the Lord. In order that you may understand that all of them were made into one single place for the Lord, the Scripture says: “They had one mind and one heart intent upon God.” (Acts. 4:32-35)
There are many persons who do not create a place for the Lord, because they look out for their own interests; they love their own advantage; they rejoice in their possessions; they seek their personal good. Whoever wants to make a place for the Lord must be content, not with private goods, but with what is common … My brothers, let us too, abstain from private property at least in a spirit of detachment, if we cannot do it in fact, and we also shall prepare a place for the Lord.
Day 23 – Freedom
The concept of freedom is perhaps, like “love”, one of the ideas most affected by philosophical pluralism. Despite the varied and sometimes even divergent explanations of it, one can trace at least three basic notions: (a) self-possession, or the capacity of the subject to invest oneself in a given project; (b) self-definition, or the power of the subject to realize his/her possibilities, and (c) the capacity to choose among different options towards a goal.
All these notions are found in the Catechism’s definition of freedom: Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that (c), and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility (a). By free will one shapes one’s own life (b). (n. 1731, cf. 1744) Excluded is any equation between freedom and licentiousness or between freedom and “acting according to one’s whims and caprices.” Freedom after all, is related to the idea of “self-rule” inherent in the notion of self-possession. To be ruled by another, whether a person, or even one’s own drives and instincts is slavery.
The Gospel proclaims freedom. St. Paul tells the Galatians: “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1) John the Evangelist proclaims: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) This freedom results from the Christians’ new status as sharers in Christ’s sonship, a new dignity received from God’s grace. If freedom is self-rule, then what is the “rule?” By what does the self rule itself? Classical philosophy points to the natural law. Christian conviction while not denying this, responds that above the natural law, there is Christ’s commandment of love: My brothers, you were called, as you know, to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Gal. 5:13-14)
Day 22 – Two-Books Doctrine – encountering God
According to this teaching, the Word of God is echoed in two books, the Book of Scriptures and the Book of the World. Both are offered to man so that he may search for and love Him who has inspired the writing of Scriptures and has created the world. And it is Augustine’s conviction that Scriptures has been given to us in order to help us better understand the Book of the World. “Listen to the Book of the Scriptures; observe the Book of the World!”
God asks us to read the book of nature laid open before our eyes and to listen to what He wishes to say through the pages He has inspired … “To listen” and “to observe/see” cannot be attitudes that are merely receptive nor purely aesthetic. “To listen” to the Word means to heed God who speaks; “to observe/see” the world is to interpret history as that “place” where God reveals his intentions. “World” therefore, means “the inhabited earth,” it is “human history” wherein God intervenes in order to save man. This insight is important because it tells us that dedication to the branches of learning dealing with the “World” – physics, biology, chemistry, biology etc. – has a value that is rooted in God Himself.
To think that God can be encountered in creation is a Christian conviction, and it is not surprising that Christian scientists have had religious experiences as they worked in their laboratories! Augustine discusses the value of profane learning in his De doctrina christiana II, 25,38 -39,61. They are to be studied because wherever one finds the truth, there is God. The Christian however should not approach profane studies as if these have the absolute word on man and the world. Apart from this, Christians should always remember two things: study should be done with moderation (“Nothing too much.”), and the Pauline caveat: “Knowledge puffs up; charity builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1)
Day 21 – Faith and Reason
“Believe that you may understand,” says Augustine; but he also says, “understand that you may believe.” Belief is “to think with assent.” This is a conviction that comes from a basic classroom experience: one cannot progress much in one’s studies unless one learns first to trust in the teacher’s word. Understanding – the exercise of the faculty of reason – works on data that are often received on trust. Thus, reason is complemented by faith. It is also a given experience that what one has learned on the word of another, is deepened and perfected in research and inquiry. In this second case, reason builds on what has been heard, noted and memorized. This whole learning process applies even to the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “What am I here for?” “What is happiness?” “How can I be happy?” “Why is there so much evil?” etc. To these questions, the Church – Mother and Teacher – hands on what she herself has received from the deposit of faith entrusted to her. What the Church gives is not a product of human research done according to accepted scientific principles; rather, what she gives comes from quite another source, God – the Creator of all.
The reasoning of a Christian works within the ambit provided by God’s revelation regarding Himself, the world and man, as interpreted by the Church. This way, the Christian is assured of a way of looking at things that is not arbitrary but guaranteed by the authority of the Revealer Himself. “Faith” and “Science” cannot be in conflict so long as we remember that “Faith” answers the question “Why?” while “Science” answers the question “How?” This means that one can be a good scientist without ceasing to be a Christian. And, in fact, it is the Church’s conviction that real Christians make excellent scientists.
Day 20 – Devotion to Study and the Pursuit of Wisdom
The cultivation of the mind is an integral element in Augustinian values formation. But study and learning must not be understood as mere bookishness nor the pursuit for academic excellence. The reading of books, research and study were means by which Augustine, even as a young student at Carthage, deepened his own thirst for life. After his conversion, study and learning became the venue of his on-going formation in the Christian life. The life that he shared with his friends at Cassiciacum was, in the description of a scholar, more like an academic seminar rather than a spiritual retreat. Later, when he became Bishop of Hippo, reading and study became, not only his refreshment after a day of administrative work, but also a form of service to the Church of his times and to his contemporaries. Devotion to study must be understood within the perspective of the pursuit of Wisdom.
Wisdom is the capacity to understand the world, the self and others in the light of the Ultimate Reality, God. The pursuit of Wisdom coincides with the search for Truth for which every man longs. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute. For the Christian of Augustine’s days, Wisdom was equated with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word Incarnate. This insight though ancient is relevant until now. It is in fact the basis for the Christian conviction that the mystery of man and all that it encompasses is illumined by the mystery of Christ, the God-man. In Christ, man encounters the Truth for which he longs.
The Apostle reminds us: “Truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21; Col. 1:15-20). He is the eternal Word in whom all things are created, and he is the incarnate Word who in his entire person reveals the Father (cf. Jn. 1:14.18). What human reason seeks ‘without knowing it’ (cf. Acts 17:23) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is the ‘full truth’ (cf. Jn. 1:14-16) of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore in him finds its fulfilment. The Augustinian’s devotion to study – whether sacred or profane – finds its place within the context of the mind’s ascent to Truth.
Day 19 – Formation in authenticity
Formation in rightly ordered love involves formation in authenticity based on a deep knowledge of self and of one’s place in the design of God. This is what scholars have come to call Augustinian interiority (or inwardness). It is enshrined in the Augustinian imperative: Redi in te ipsum – Transcende te ipsum (Return into yourself – Transcend/Go beyond yourself). It involves, then, two movements, one negative and the other positive, that should make the person be ‘at home’ with his/her true nature as imago Dei, an image of God. Negatively, it involves a movement away from a mode of existence that is overly preoccupied with ‘having’ and ‘doing.’ Positively, it is attachment to Being itself, God, who is discovered in the depths of one’s own being.
Day 18 – Solidarity: Identification through Love
Incarnation is that process whereby God identifies Himself with man through Love. Augustine was moved especially by two biblical texts that illustrate this identification between God and Man. Matthew 25: 41.45 “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me… Whatever you refused to do for one these least ones, you refused to do to me.” and Acts 9: 4-5 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The latter is the Risen Lord’s question regarding Saul’s (later Paul) motive for persecuting the Christians of Damascus. What struck Augustine here is the identification of Christ with his persecuted community. In the former, the Son of Man (v. 31) (= King, v. 34; Lord, v. 37. 44) identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the sick, the naked, in such a way that one’s actions towards these are acts towards Him. Augustine does not use the term “solidarity” – a word that comes from Roman Law and has come to mean, in terms of social justice not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. But Augustine does render the idea – especially in its connotation in Latin American circles – in his insistence on recognizing Christ in the poor. “Turn your attention to Christ who lies in the street,” Augustine once said, “Look at Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ who is a stranger and in need!”
Day 17 – Love for God is verified in one’s love for the neighbour
Augustine has been accused of having spiritualized love, reducing it to a kind of personal intimacy with God. But we know that Augustine took seriously 1 Jn. 3:17: “If anyone has a brother in need but has no pity in him, how can the love of God be in him?.” Augustine knew the demands of love: If you want to live in love, you may be certain that love cannot be had either easily or cheaply. We cannot live in love just by being good-natured; actually this puts it too mildly, but cannot live in love by being lazy, indifferent, or negligent. Do not imagine that you love your servant because you do not chastise him; that your child is loved if you do not correct him; that you love your neighbours if you never speak to them. That is not love, but weakness. Progress in love is actually measured in terms of one’s growth in commitment to the needs of the other, and towards the common good.
Day 16 – Love and the Hierarchy of Values
Love, for Augustine, is not a static reality but a dynamic force. It is a movement that pulls the person from within towards the object loved. “My love is my weight” Augustine says. It is like the force which draws the falling leaves to rest on the ground. This mysterious force is experienced by man as a restlessness, a longing. But there is, according to Augustine, a false love and a true love. Augustine defines true love as “charity,” that love by which we love what we ought to love , or the “love of the thing which is to be enjoyed, and of the thing which is able to enjoy that thing together with us.” (De doc. chris. I, 35, 39). Love, to be true, must respect a hierarchy of goods (=values) wherein God alone is to be enjoyed for His sake, oneself and neighbour to be enjoyed for the sake of God (“in Deo”) and things are to be used. False love, on the other hand, is that love which does not respect this order.
Day 15 – PEACE and JUSTICE
It would not be Augustinian to condone arbitrary socio-economic inequality and exploitation of one’s brother, or to claim that economics is answerable only to itself and has nothing to do with universal brotherhood, unity and peace. Those who desire to have an Augustinian mode presence in the world take as their specific apostolate making unity and peace a reality in the Church and in human society: This requires us to rid ourselves of narrowness and selfishness, and become attuned to a broader social love, joining ourselves to others in such wise that we may have only “one mind, the mind of Christ.” If we are to realize the apostolate of unity and peace in love, we must tirelessly defend justice and denounce injustice in accord with Gospel values. Peace which is the hoped for good of everyone is “the tranquility of order,” and therefore peace itself, cannot exist, unless we succeed in having everything in its proper place according to its nature, and unless we act according to the will of God, seeing to it that the rights of every person are respected.
Every injustice no matter how small, is contrary to the cause of peace, for justice and peace cannot be separated. (Ps. 84:11; Rom. 14:17; Is. 32:7) Christian formation in Augustinian values, therefore, cannot be derived from an attitude that takes the common good seriously. Love, when it is true, is always directed away from oneself; it is transcendent. The two-fold commandment of love translates into working for the common good; working for the common good is service.