Living Six Months with St. Augustine
Pray for us, my dear and noble friend. Pray for us, St. Augustine. Or in words you would have understood while on earth: Sancte Pater Augustine, ora pro nobis.
It's perhaps not common to take a bishop to bed with you in the evening, to share a cup of coffee with him in the morning, to write about him in your journal, sit on a couch with him in the evenings with a glass of wine, lie down with him on a hammock on a sultry Saturday afternoon while smoking a cigar, or to introduce your new ancient friend to all your old new friends on Facebook. But one thing I learned during my six month venture with St. Augustine: wherever and whenever you read his sermons, St. Augustine is there.
The 'restless heart' of St Augustine is depicted
The sermons, however, are a resounding witness to St. Augustine's dedication to the ministry of the Word and to the love of his flock. He viewed his duty to preach the Gospel in season and out of season seriously. Often in his sermons he expresses the view that he had an obligation to his flock in the form of a debt, a debt to which he was accountable to them and to God. As a result of this debt, St. Augustine stated that his flock is owed the truth of God to be preached to them unfailingly and unflaggingly, and to the best of his abilities with the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even today we are the beneficiaries of his heroic pastoral efforts.
The sermons span St. Augustine's long life first as a priest and then later as Bishop of Hippo. Most are addressed to his flock, but on occasion these sermons were made when visiting other sees, for example at Carthage, or at shrines of martyrs and saints. They span all liturgical seasons. They touch on all sorts of historical events, and so they are colored with real-life issue that confronted the civil society and the Church in Augustine's time.
So we have him dealing with the bizarre shenanigans of the Donatist thugs called circumcellions and pleading for mercy when some of them were caught and tried. We see him dedicated constantly to the efforts of the Catholic Church to reconcile with the heretical Donatists, and these efforts contain both his pleas to understanding and his grudging assent to the use of the force of law against them ("love and do what you will").
There are some dealing with the discipline of his fellow clergy, and making sure they conform to the rule of poverty. There are several where he harangues the laymen in his congregation who suffered to think--in some sort of hubristic male chauvinism which was part of social convention--that the laws of adultery applied to women, but not to them. In one sermon, he speaks poignantly of the fall of Rome, and the problem with the barbarians, the destruction of culture, and the appropriate Christian response.
There is really no way to summarize my romp through the product of the consummate rhetorical, homiletical, exegetical, theological, and pastoral skills of one of Christianity's great teaching, preaching, and saintly bishops. St. Augustine is a Christian colossus. His footprint is found in every Christian age. If Western philosophy is nothing but a series of footnotes on Plato as A. N. Whitehead quipped in his book Process and Reality, theology, at least in the Western Church, may be said to be nothing but a series of footnotes on Augustine. And indeed this is what Jaroslav Pelikan in his History of Christian Tradition suggested.
He is under any measure a huge figure. Even Protestants cannot avoid him. And if you ever want to disabuse a Protestant of the notion that the Catholic Church is not a "Bible Church," just show him the plethora of Scripture quoted, cited, paraphrased, referred to, or intimated at by St. Augustine in even one his simplest sermons. St. Augustine's sermons drip with Scripture. The Scriptures were so much a part of him, it was as if he drank them in with his mother's milk. Wring the Bible passages out of a sermon of St. Augustine, and you will have very little, if anything at all, left in your hands.
The corpus of St. Augustine's written works is, of course, unbelievably vast. He was, to understate the problem, unbelievably prolific. St. Isidore of Seville famously stated that he who claimed to have read all of St. Augustine' works was--presumably because of their quantity, though perhaps also because of their lack of availability--manifestly a liar.
The sermons are but a small part of his vast literary corpus. Even those works in the 11 volumes entitled "Sermons," however, do not include all his sermons. Some of these sermons--where they methodically treated certain books or topics, e.g., the Psalms, or the Gospel of St. John, or the Sermon on the Mount, are called "expositions" or enarrationes or "homilies" or tractatus, and bound separately. So though these other works are sermons, they are not traditionally ...
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