Ten Characteristics of Augustinian Spirituality
1. The search for God
A longing, or desire, for a deeper meaning to life, a kind of homesickness for God is interwoven with our lives. Only when a person inquires about God, seeks him, desires him, and goes towards him, does he find meaning and fulfillment for his life. If Augustine were alive today he might say ‘ A religious is a person who has determined to seek God and God’s kingdom in everything.’ Augustine prayed once : “Let me not grow tired of seeking you “. (De Trinitate. XV 28, 51)
2. Love as the center of Christian life
Augustine’s spirituality is characterized by the fact that the light, in which he views the whole Gospel, is love, the New Song of the New Testament. Everything can be reduced to love. All forms of wrongdoing are to be reduced to false self-love. The opposite to this self-love is ‘agape’, the love that justifiably enjoys what is really enjoyable, both human and Divine. Every virtue can be reduced to love – if we are happy, is it not because we love someone? Love provides us with an orientation in life. For Augustine, true virtue consists in ordering love properly.
3. Love of God as love of each other
A change of vision for Augustine from a sharp distinction between love of God and of people, to, ‘authentic love for a human being is at the same time love of God’. ‘Honor God in each other’ is the worship of God. God is love; and love is the same as our human love. Our love for a human being is far more concrete than our love of God. It is harder to delude ourselves here, we become more conscious of our failures.
4. The parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25)
For Augustine the Christian Adventure consists in experiencing love of God as love for each other. Love of neighbor is the sole norm. We meet God in people. Building up community among people becomes the most important motif in Augustine’s spirituality.
5. Christian community and friendship
Poverty means a ‘community of goods’ or ‘sober living’ for Augustine – to share with the other person, both material goods and spiritual goods. Sober life helps the community to contribute to helping the needy outside the community. Chastity is seen as being totally available for the Other. Obedience, or willingness to listen, are acts of love, listening is an act of compassion, authority is the serving of a group. The communitarian ideal culminates in friendship which after love of neighbor (does not ask for a response) is the highest form of human relationship (mutual love, loving and being loved.)
6. The love of Scripture
One of the great services Augustine renders to the spiritual life of his followers is to bring them to Scripture and to help them develop a thirst for the Word of God. Paul and John are the focus of much of Augustine’s challenge from Scripture. The words of Paul, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” burned within him.
Augustine saw himself as a facilitator from without. The real teacher was within. “To me your ears, to Him your heart, that both may be filled.” [ John 1.7 ] Augustine’s conviction that a person must return to his heart if he hopes to find God. Returning to your heart has different shades of meaning. First, it is a return to your senses and stop wayward behavior. Secondly, it has to do with the image of God within. Generally it deals with not being able to find God if one does not find oneself. The God who dwells within is an active God.
8. The Total Christ
Augustine never stopped searching for the Christ he found a first time in so dramatic a way as the moment of conversion when he “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Augustine continued to find Him, to be possessed by Him more fully.
If Augustine can speak of Christians as other Christs, it is because he looks beyond the birth of the Child Jesus for the full meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus into the human race. Every Christian shares in the Incarnation. They are carriers of Christ in every aspect of their lives.
To know of Augustine’s sense of wonder and awe at the “Whole Christ” is to be ready to understand that his great drive in his life was to know man and to know God. To know man was to know God.
Augustine’s theology of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love is really the key to his entire spirituality. He sees these three virtues as both gifts and actions of God, the Almighty acting in creatures in ways they are incapable of acting on their own.
Through faith, God makes Himself present to human beings. This faith is bound up with hope and love. These three virtues or powers are divine actions that have their origin in eternity and their effect in time. They allow mere humans to be transformed and achieve an initial union with God while continuing to live in and be limited by the world.
10. Grace and Freedom
Perfect love gives perfect freedom and both are the result of grace. Augustine taught that every aspect of the spiritual life, every step of the way, is a gift of God. This is the first meaning of grace for him. The second is that grace is a person: Christ given to us that we may live.
Freedom comes to the faithful through grace. Christ makes people free. He is God’s love made present to humankind. The more He is allowed to take hold in the lives of Christians, the freer they become. For Augustine this freedom supersedes freedom of choice. For him, the greatest freedom is to have no choice at all.
Our thanks to our brothers and sisters in the Society of St. Augustine for this text.
Although the Order of Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Society of St. Augustine are both part of the communities that make up the great Augustinian family, we do not share any official or jurisdictional affiliation.