An Augustinian Approach
to the Living out of our Christian Spirituality
Spirituality is really a very practical part of our lives; in fact it is how our faith or values are expressed in the concrete, for, as Aristotle so succinctly put it, “We are what we repeatedly do”. Our spirituality depends on our personal character and temperament, on our experience and knowledge of life. But we can also be helped by the example and wisdom of certain figures in our Christian tradition.
Augustinian spirituality is a unique way of living the Gospel (the following of Christ) under the inspiration of Augustine of Hippo who famously wrote in his Confessions, “I looked for you everywhere, and you were within me all the time”. Once he realized that God was deeply at the centre of who he was, then he had to admit that this same God was at the centre of everyone he met and was to be reverenced there. From this insight flow three qualities that put a very human face on what it means to be a Christian.
The first is that we show Hospitality rather than hostility or wariness towards all those we meet. For Augustine, such hospitality took the form of welcoming guests to his table, sharing his knowledge (and at the same time learning from others), writing a Rule of life for lay people to live safely and happily together, and recognizing that no person is a stranger because of the glimpse he caught of God’s familiar presence dwelling in each one.
The second quality that Augustine possessed all his life but which deepened in him after his conversion was his capacity for Friendship. “When a person is without a friend then not a single thing in the world can appear friendly to them.” (Letter 130, 4) He felt that only an increase in friendship could heal our wounds. According to Augustine, true friendship is the welding together of two souls who seek the same goal, especially when that goal is Christ. In Letter 73 he writes: “I do confess that I find it easy to give myself entirely to the love of those who are my intimate friends. In this love I am completely at ease, because I believe that God is there, on whom I cast myself confidently and in whom I take my rest”.
Following from this it should come as no surprise that the third touchstone of Augustine’s spirituality lies in the importance he placed on Community. “The only way to bring love into the world is to show it.” He believed that the barometer of how well we were getting on with God was how well we were getting on with the members of both our immediate and wider community. “When you love Christ’s members, you love Christ himself. Love cannot be split up. Begin loving somewhere and the rest will follow.” (I John 10, 3) He sees our yearning for communion as really a reflection that God is communal – the Trinity in whose image we are made.“Let all of you then live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honouring God in yourselves, whose temples you have become.” (Rule 1, 8)