Tag Archives: Saint Augustine

13 September. Augustine: A Kingdom without Justice is Robbery.


“How like kingdoms without justice are to robberies. Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on.

“If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity.

“Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

City of God by Saint Augustine via Kindle.

Hundreds of years later, France occupied Augustine’s homeland, which we know as Algeria, to get rid of the Barbary pirates, and less officially, to occupy the fertile land ‘by the addition of impunity’. Brute force. Alexander’s pirate was right to say that the Emperor was another hostile pirate, while the French occupation of Algeria would descend into bloody conflict during the 1960s.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 5:3.

My kingdom is not of this world. John 18:36.

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9 September: Augustine and Anon on the Suicide of Judas

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. Whenever I think about suicide, I have this image before my inward eye: the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, undoing the knot by which Judas hanged himself, ready to remove him from the influence of the mocking demons at Hell’s Gate. The Gospels tell us that Judas betrayed Jesus to the collaboration rulers of the Jewish people, which led to the crucifixion on Good Friday. Augustine says that Judas’ suicide did not wipe away his guilt for Jesus’ death but added another wrong to that overwhelming transgression. Yet there would still have been room for healing penitence if he had been open to it.

The anonymous mediaeval sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral clearly believed that Judas was forgiven, even after his suicide; sometimes the artist can convey the message more clearly than the philosopher!

But here is Augustine*:

Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence?

How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime.

Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent?

We are still asking the same question today. Part of the answer is there in Matthew’s Gospel; Judas felt he was on his own and past redemption:

 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-5

Judas was alone when he most needed a friend. The disciples were too immersed in their own grief to look out for him. The Councillors made it perfectly clear that Judas was no longer of use to them and dissociate themselves from him. With no-one at hand to help, he went away and hanged himself. Tomorrow we visit the Grief Project, aiming to strengthen and comfort those bereaved by suicide, and to prevent its occurring in the first place.

*City of God by Saint Augustine, Marcus Dods.

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28 August: Augustine on respect for the bodies of the dead, II.

This early XIX Century angel watched over a grave in Wales which was accidentally broken during works to the Churchyard. It serves as an introduction to this extract from the City of God by the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine. He is writing as the Roman Empire is collapsing across Europe and the Mediterranean, including his native North Africa. There is much violence and bodies of the dead lie unburied, much to the distress of his people. But God can and will restore and reunite soul and body, however broken, scattered and desecrated the latter may have been.

Before turning to Augustine, let’s pray for all those buried in Saint Tydfil’s churchyard, and all buried without a marker, even without a mourner. Augustine begins his reflection with the story of Dives and Lazarus from Luke 16.

His crowd of domestics furnished the purple-clad Dives with a funeral gorgeous in the eye of man; but in the sight of God that was a more sumptuous funeral which the ulcerous pauper received at the hands of the angels, who did not carry him out to a marble tomb, but bore him aloft to Abraham’s bosom.

The men against whom I have undertaken to defend the city of God laugh at all this. But even their own philosophers have despised a careful burial; and often whole armies have fought and fallen for their earthly country without caring to inquire whether they would be left exposed on the field of battle, or become the food of wild beasts. Of this noble disregard of entombment poetry has well said: “He who has no tomb has the sky for his vault.” How much less ought they to insult over the unburied bodies of Christians, to whom it has been promised that the flesh itself shall be restored, and the body formed anew, all the members of it being gathered not only from the earth, but from the most secret recesses of any other of the elements in which the dead bodies of men have lain hid!

From “City of God: 1:12 by Saint Augustine, via Kindle.

Strasbourg Cathedral, Christ triumphant rescuing Adam and Eve from Hell.

The artists of Strasbourg Cathedral certainly believed that, ‘He descended into Hell, on the Third Day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father from whence he shall judge the living and the dead’. Here it is, the harrowing of Hell, and our first parents the first to be rescued, blessed with beautiful, renewed bodies; a powerful envisioning of the threshold of eternal life.

Perhaps we find it harder to imagine that moment than our forebears did, but perhaps we should go past the abstract in thinking about eternity. There is still room in this brave new world for Christ to lead Adam by the hand, physically; and for Adam to half turn to his wife, to hold her hand, and feel her physical arm encircling his back. They are just as human, and more so, than when they first lived upon earth. And so will we be transformed.

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29 August: On the seventh day.

Today we share a passage from Saint Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, 11.8. It is Saint Augustine’s feast day, and it is holiday time, so when better to ask,

What we are to understand of God’s resting on the seventh day, after the six days’ work?

Augustine’s answer to this question may surprise us, coming from a man of the 4th and 5th Centuries. God does not need to rest from toil, as we humans do, for he created all things by his Word – he spake and it was done. So God’s rest is the rest he created for us – and other parts of his creation – and it is part of his plan of creation, even before the Fall. As Augustine says in The Confessions:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

When it is said that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, and hallowed it, we are not to conceive of it in a childish fashion, as if work were a toil to God, who “spake and it was done,”—spake by the spiritual and eternal, not audible and transitory word. But God’s rest signifies the rest of those who rest in God, as the joy of a house means the joy of those in the house who rejoice, though not the house, but something else, causes the joy.

How much more intelligible is such phraseology, then, if the house itself, by its own beauty, makes the inhabitants joyful! For in this case we not only call it joyful by that figure of speech in which the thing containing is used for the thing contained (as when we say, “The theatres applaud,” “The meadows low,” meaning that the men in the one applaud, and the oxen in the other low), but also by that figure in which the cause is spoken of as if it were the effect, as when a letter is said to be joyful, because it makes its readers so. Most appropriately, therefore, the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest.

And this the prophetic narrative promises also to the men to whom it speaks, and for whom it was written, that they themselves, after those good works which God does in and by them, if they have managed by faith to get near to God in this life, shall enjoy in Him eternal rest. This was prefigured to the ancient people of God by the rest enjoined in their sabbath law.

But rest is not idleness: it comes after ‘those good works which God does in and by them’. As we read recently, Thomas Traherne reminds us that, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed.’

Let’s pray for the grace to get on with our task in life, and to observe a Sabbath for our soul’s sake, however and whenever circumstances allow.

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16 May: World Communications Day.

The reader, Zakopane, Poland.

From a homily of Saint Oscar Romero, 1978, as relevant now as then.

Today the universal church celebrates World Communications Day. Let me say a few words to make all Catholics mindful of the importance of using the media of social communication in a critical and conscientious way. Through these marvellous means of communication—such as newspapers, radio, television, cinema—many ideas are communicated to large numbers of people, but often the media serve as tools of confusion. These instruments, as creators of public opinion, are often manipulated by materialist interests and are used to maintain an unjust state of affairs through falsehood and confusion. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each person must defend this right for himself or herself by using the media critically. Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything that is heard on the radio is true. Often it is just the opposite, a lie.


That is why critical people must know how to filter the media to avoid being poisoned with whatever falls into their hands. This is the type of awareness that the church wants to awaken today as we celebrate World Communications Day. We want people to read the newspapers critically and be able to say, «This is a lie! This is not the same thing that was said yesterday! This is a distortion because I have seen the opposite stated!» Being critical is a vital characteristic in our day, and because the church attempts to implant this critical awareness, she is facing some very serious conflicts. The reason is that the dominant interests want to keep people half-asleep. They do not want people who are critical and know how to discern between truth and falsehood. I believe that never before has there existed in the world, especially in a setting like ours, such a struggle—a struggle unto death—between the truth and the lie. The conflict at this time can be reduced to this: either truth or lies. Let us not forget that great saying of Christ: «The truth will set you free» (John 8:32). Let us always seek the truth!

There is a saying of Saint Augustine that I believe is very appropriate for these times: Libenter credimus quod credere volumus, which means, «We gladly believe what we want to believe». That is why it is so difficult to believe the truth: often we don’t want to believe the truth because it disturbs our conscience. But even though the truth may disturb us, we must accept it, and we must want to believe in it so that the Lord will always bless us with the freedom of those who love the truth. We should not be among those who sell the truth or their pens or their voices or their media to the highest bidder or to materialist interests. How sad it is to see so many pens being sold, so many tongues being fed through the slanderous words broadcast on the radio. Often the truth produces not money but only bitterness, yet it is better to be free in the truth than to have great wealth in mendacity.

St Oscar Romero, Ascension of the Lord. 7 May 1978
Read or listen to the homilies of St Oscar Romero at romerotrust.org.uk

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9 December: Saint Ambrose

This is the ancient baptistry of Milan Cathedral; here it was that Saint Ambrose baptised Augustine, back in the fourth century. This area, adjacent to today’s Cathedral, was rediscovered when the Metro was being excavated after World War II. Ambrose was a good pastoral bishop, working to reconcile different bodies of Christians and to present the faith as a reasonable life choice in an age of scepticism. We just skipped his feast to accommodate Sister Johanna’s One Good Deed posts, which tied in nicely with Mary’s feast yesterday. Ambrose was great, but not that great!

Ambrose was also a poet, who wrote this evening hymn, still very much used today; this is J.M. Neale’s translation.

Before the ending of the day,
Creator the world, we pray,
that with thy wonted favour thou
wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
from nightly fears and fantasies;
tread under foot our ghostly foe,
that no pollution we may know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
through Jesus Christ thine only Son,
who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

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27 October: Dylan’s birthday

A Tale of Two Singers

Saint Augustine opens his Confessions with these words:

‘To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’+

Some 1500 years later the prologue of Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems tells how, through his poetic imagination, he would overcome his fears to:

'... build my bellowing ark 
To the best of my love 
As the flood begins, 
Out of the fountainhead 
Of fear, rage, red, manalive. +

Dylan’s work is religious, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’.* It is confessional, in the meaning Augustine intended: a recounting of his experiences and a praise of God.

Under Milk Wood portrays Llaggerub, Dylan’s imaginary Welsh town with its roots in Laugharne where he and his family were based in the last years of his life. Is it the Chosen Land? Reading the play as a parable, Llaggerub intertwines Dylan’s earthly and heavenly towns. Dylan drank at the same source as Augustine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry served the ‘spinning man’ with a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, indeed, Dylan’s work gives hope that ‘the flood flowers now’, for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ that was his life.

+ Augustine: ‘Confessions’, Tr. Henry Chadwick, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p3.

+ All Dylan Thomas quotations from: ‘Prologue’ to Collected Poems, p1–3.

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28 August: A Bishop’s lot

The_Saint_Augustin_Church (1)

I went to the Bishop’s office because she needed to change an appointment: an unexpected engagement out of town that she was very much expected to attend. Her secretary apologised: ‘when we make an appointment, we keep it, no matter what comes up. As well I had set aside the day before yours, in case it was needed, so let’s fill it in.’

I could not help seeing the blocks of colour on the computer screen, showing engagement after engagement. Clearly the bishop does not work only on Sundays, as the unfair jibe would have it. ‘And it’s like that every week’, said the secretary, scrolling through screen after screen. ‘Being with people is her strength.’ As Pope Francis would say, she will smell of her sheep.

Augustine of Hippo seems to have been as busy; he was pastor and writer, producing far more than Will Turnstone ever will, and more cogently argued and more poetically expressed. So on his feast, let’s pray for all bishops, that they may be given the wisdom to do their work, capable, caring secretaries to make sure their lives are ordered without strain and stress, and friends who will make sure they know when to stop!

Of course, that meeting took place before the corona virus put a stop to any idea of pilgrimage in May, and Bishop Rose found herself in a new job where she had to put out into deep water. Hanging about the shoreline leads to rocks through the hull. But that’s a tale for another day.

The basilica of St Augustine, Annabar, Algeria: today is his feast day.

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29 August: Augustine on Love II.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Continuing Saint Augustine’s sermon on 1John 4:4-12. The image of the ass running away from the safety offered by its rider bears further reflection.

May that virtue which ought never to depart from the heart, never depart from the tongue.

Jesus had no need to come except charity: and the charity we are commending is that which the Lord Himself commends in the Gospel: Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13. How was it possible for the Son of God to lay down His life for us without putting on flesh in which He might die? Whosoever therefore violates charity, let him say what he will with his tongue, his life denies that Christ has come in the flesh; and this is an antichrist, wherever he may be, wherever he have come in. But the Apostle says, you have overcome him. And whereby have they overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in this world.

Every man now, at hearing this saying, You have overcome, lifts up the head, lifts up the neck, wishes himself to be praised. Do not extol yourself; see who it is that in you has overcome. Why have you overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. Be humble, bear your Lord; be the beast for Him to sit on. Good is it for you that He should rule, and He guide. For if you have not Him to sit on you, you may lift up the neck, may strike out the heels: but woe to you without a ruler, for this liberty sends you among the wild beasts to be devoured!

For more reflections on a donkey, not directly relevant to this post, see here:  and see tomorrow’s post.

 

 

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28 August: Saint Augustine on Love I.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Yesterday we celebrated the mother; today the son, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Here is the opening of his sermon on love, his text being 1John 4:4-12.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome [the false spirits]: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

To all the faithful seeking their own country, this world is as the desert was to the people of Israel. They wandered, seeking their own country: but with God for their guide they could not wander astray. Their way was God’s bidding. For where they went about during forty years, the journey itself is made up of a very few stations, and is known to all. They were delayed because they were in training, not because they were forsaken. By temporal work we are exercised, and by the temptations of this present life we are trained.

And so, if you would not die of thirst in this wilderness, drink charity. It is the fountain which God has been pleased to place here lest we faint on the way: and we shall more abundantly drink thereof, when we have come to our own land.

Now to speak of the words of the lesson, what other thing heard ye but concerning charity? For we have made an agreement with our God in prayer that if we would that He should forgive us our sins, we also should forgive the sins which may have been committed against us. [Matthew 6:12.] Now that which forgives is none other than charity. Take away charity from the heart and hatred possesses it, it knows not how to forgive. Let charity be there, and she fearlessly forgives, not being hindered.

As for this whole epistle of Saint John: see whether it commends anything else than this one thing, charity. Nor need we fear lest by much speaking thereof it might come to be hateful. For what is there to love, if charity becomes hateful? It is by charity that other things come to be rightly loved; then how must itself be loved!

 

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