Saturday, June 19, 2004

Augustine Day by Day - June 18 - Not on Your Own

There are some people who consider themselves able to refine themselves on their own [i.e., in isolation - EBB], in order to contemplate and remain in God. Accordingly, they look down upon the mass of Christians who live on faith alone as not being able to do as they do.

-- The Trinity 4, 15

Prayer. Give me strength to seek you, Lord, for you have already enabled me to find you and have given me hope of finding you ever more fully.

-- The Trinity15, 51

These are among the finer words I've ever gotten from Augustine (no small feat). Appropriately enough, they come from one of his richest books, De Trinitate. The first quote is notable because Augustine had a tremendously deep love for his friends. Friendship was, for him, one of the highest virtues possible. It suffuses his Confessions, a work in which God is both the Holy One above all mortals and the best friend of little Augustinus.

More than that, friendship was fueled his view of monasticism (which is still practiced mutatis mutandis today by the Augustinian order). Hence, we can see a slight challenge to the heritage of desert-monasticism (a la St. Anthony and his lucid nightmares of satanic seduction) in favor of a more communal mode of monasticism. In whatever sense we are saved by "faith alone," we are most certainly not saved by faith to be alone.

The second quote is notable just because, well, just because it's awesome. Augustine explains in the preface to De Trinitate that the scriptural basis for the work is Psalm 105:4, "Seek His face always." The aim of that watershed meditation on our Triune God was nothing less than to seek the face of God as far as possible by retracing the outline of it which God had impressed in humans as his unique image bearers.

The idea of this second quote - of God providing what he requires - is all throughout Augustine's work. One of the most fundamental passages of Scripture for Augustine was 1 Corinthians 3:7, "What do you have that you have not been given?" Perhaps the most famous formulation of this idea - and the one that most scandalized Pelagius - was (roughly paraphrased), "Command, O Lord, what You will; but first give what you demand." In the same vein, Augustine is famous for saying, "Even when God crowns our virtues, He is merely crowning His gifts." We hear echoes of this Augustinian "desperation" for grace as far as twelve centuries later in Theresa of Avila's equally famous prayer, "I desire to desire You."

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