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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Augustine of Hippo

Monday is the Memorial of St. Augustine. Sadly, I've disliked him from the time before I was even a Christian.

In college, I read Augustine's Confessions, and my philosophy professor saw Augustine as a social-climber who had abandoned the mother of his child to become a clerical big-wig. When I later learned Augustine was the father of Predestination and also the Just War Theory, well, he dipped even lower in my estimation.

But this is his Memorial, and I think I perhaps have misjudged him, so I'll offer him a poem from Theology Today - Letter to St. Augustine, by Gene Fendt, who teaches philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Kearney ....

I have no questions for you,
only for me, but since they raised themselves
while listening to your sermons, or reading
your Confessions, De Trinitate, Enchiridion,
I write to you; you needn't answer, I know
your days are busy, ground to dust, to darkness
with the thousand things a bishop has to do
before he can retire for a moment-
to pray, to write, to think about a book.

But I wonder, if love's our weight,
are there people who are weightless? I don't ask
to judge my brother, but there are times I wonder
of myself, I seem so purely pulled
to nothing. Now, for instance: I ask,
but don't await an answer; do not, in fact,
expect it, but dream of wide free spaces, floating
like the gull on wide-winged air-

You say that God could not allow
any kind of evil in his works
unless he were so powerful, so good,
as to be able to turn all evil,
finally, to good, and so reveal
the weight of sin is grace, its gravity
a sign: res et sacramentum gloriae.
I cannot doubt this, only wonder.

I wonder, too, if when our souls are finally turned
to face that ever warming fire, if from our ashes
there might rise some new and unimagined way
of loving, some way we know not of, nor guess,
until whatever we are now has reached
the other side of fire, and life, and mercy's justice,
embodied and immortal, lives as it will.

Such are my meditations, such my prayer,
and so this letter, from many thousand miles,
near as many months, to you from your brother,
deep in the bowels of the good God's body-

- Death of St Monica (Augustine's mother) - 1464-65 Fresco
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano


Blogger Jeff said...


Good post and good poem. I can't say that I'm Augustine's hugest fan either, although there are some very beautiful quotes from him, and I liked what he wrote about free will early in his ecclesiastical career. I think that late in his life, with the barbarians closing in, and from being tired out from endless controversies with younger men, he started to fall back on his manichee rhetoric a bit.

I'll probably step into another minefield here, but what the heck... Although it is undeniable that there is a great deal that the wider world could learn from the Catholic Church regarding sexual morality, I often wonder if things are a bit off-kilter in the teaching due to the heavy influences of Augustine in Jerome on these matters, built upon their own mighty struggles with the flesh. Augustine, for example, actually proposed that Original Sin was sexually transmitted. The Eastern Church, which looks to them for nothing, doesn't seem to have quite the same degree of obsession with sex that developed in the West.

3:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

that's interesting about the transmission of original sin. One of the things I like best about Augustine are some his quotes ... I think he was the one who said that to sing once, was to pray twice. And what a dramatic way to check out - Vandalism :-)

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...


My name is Justin, I got to Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, Im in a 12U Philosophy class, and we had to pick a Philosopher to write a report on for our Independant Study...In all cases I would like to hear your full opinion of Augustine and his ways, so that I may understand more or less why you felt this way, and why you choose to like or dislike him, so that I may add it to My I.S. Please e-mail me your

Your Truly,
Justin Tomlinson

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Justin said...

7:08 AM  

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