Thursday, August 28, 2014

On the Feast of Saint Augustine

Adest dies célebris, quo solútus nexu carnis sanctus praesul Augustínus, assumptus est cum Angelis, ubi gaudet cum Prophétis, laetátur cum Apóstolis; quorum plenus spíritu, quae prædixérunt mýstica, fecit nobis pervia; post quos secunda dispensandi verbi Dei primus refulsit gratia.(“The celebrated day has come, on which the holy bishop Augustine, released from the bond of the flesh, was taken up with the Angels; where he rejoices with the Prophets, is made glad with the Apostles; full of their spirit, he made clear to us what they mystically foretold; after them he shone forth as first in the grace that came after, to dispense the word of God.” Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers, from the Augustinian Order’s proper Office for the feast of St Augustine.)

I have long been especially fond of the modern Roman Missal's Preface I of the Saints - in particular because of the sentence in crowning their merits, you crown your own gifts, words taken directly from the writing (De gratia et libero arbitrio, VI, 15) of the most influential of the Western Church Fathers, Saint Augustine (354-430), whose festival the Church joyfully celebrates today. Rightly recognized as Doctor gratia, "the Doctor of Grace," for his anti-Pelagian theology concerning the absolute gratuity of divine grace, Augustine nonetheless energetically insisted on the reality of that grace, of the transformation grace effects in its recipients. And that, it seems to me, opens up all sorts of possibilities for human action to facilitate something authentically new in the world.

There is, of course, so much to admire and assimilate in the teaching of Saint Augustine. Consider, for example, his expansive treatment of friendship - an important theme in ancient thought, which seems to have become somewhat less prominent in contemporary reflections about human relationships. 

Necessities in this world amount to these two things: well-being and a friend. these are the things which we should value highly and not despise. well-being and a friend are goods of nature. God made man to be and to live; that's well-being; but so that he shouldn't be alone, a system of friendship was worked out. So friendship begins with married partner and children, and from there moves on to strangers. But if we consider that we all have one father and one mother, who will be a stranger? Ever human being is neighbor to every other human being. Ask nature; is he unknown? He's human. Is she an enemy? She's human? Is he a foe? He's human. Is she a friend? Let her stay a friend. Is he an enemy? Let him become a friend. (Sermon 299D, 1, tr. Edmund Hill, Saint Augustine, Essential Sermons, ed. Boniface Ramsey, 2007).

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