The following article is an excerpt from an introduction to a biography of St. Augustine that the Religious Education Department of the Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod published for its students and teachers sometime in the year 2002. It was originally published at Ang Frayle but because of the changes in the site, this article was somehow forgotten. The article tries to answer the question “If Augustine is so well known in the Church, why is it that he isn’t well known in the Philippines?” The image of the saint is clickable, too. It will bring you to the Augustine Page1 which has excerpts of two papal documents on St. Augustine.

Whenever preachers would like to give an example of a wayward young man who later on changed his life to become a saint, they usually pick Augustine of Hippo, the playboy – they say — who became a saint. In circles where research is hallowed and philosophy, theology and the history of knowledge are the main agenda, Augustine of Hippo rises up as one of the greatest intellectual forces that has shaped the way men and women have thought from the Middle Ages until now. In places where silence and contemplation are regarded as an adventure into the depths of being, Augustine of Hippo is the guide, the master of Interiority. St. Augustine should not need any introduction, but the quirks of history has been such that even in the Philippines, where the first steps to Christianity were guided by the Augustinians, many do not know him.

The Filipino Church does not not know much of Augustine of Hippo except in areas where his memory is kept alive. Christianization in the Philippines was carried out under the influence of the Council of Trent — the Council which set forward the systematized theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Catechism of St. Charles Borromeo as quasi official expressions of its doctrine. St. Augustine, because he was being claimed as an inspiration by the leaders of the Lutheran revolt, was in a way set aside by Catholicism and replaced by thinkers that Protestants cannot claim as their own. This trend continued under Vatican I. The Church was still defending itself philosophically and theologically at this point against rationalists, fideists and modernists and it wanted guides that the opposition cannot put up as their own. The universal appeal of Augustine addressed itself even to those who were unorthodox in the eyes of the Church. The First Plenary Council of the Philippines was held under the shadow of Vatican I. If nothing of Augustine is echoed in the documents of the Council, it is due more to the spirit of the times rather than to Augustine himself. The friars themselves who evangelized here in the early years of Christianity in these islands (16thc.) were thinking in the lines of the Tridentine reform.

Vatican II gave back St. Augustine to the Church. The two most significant Popes of the Vatican II era, Paul VI and John Paul II, have on many occasions pointed to the significance of Augustine’s thought and spirituality and his relevance for the modern man. Even scholars non-sympathetic to Augustine are now finding out, sometimes to their dismay, how much of Western thought and Catholic doctrine owes itself to the Bishop of Hippo. It is also at this time that the Order of St. Augustine, to some extent alienated to its tradition due to the reforms made in Trent (remember that the man that occasioned the strong pronouncements of Trent was Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar before he broke up with the Church), rediscovered its heritage through Vatican II. Indeed, when the Church looked to the future and asked herself how she would be for the men and women of the Third Millenium, she turned her gaze to that moment when she was still young, vibrant, daring and creative. She looked back to the time of the Fathers of the Church and found there the kind of Church she was when she was yet untrammeled by too many political undertakings, when she was still in a way, small. And from among the Fathers, she chose the language and the insight of St. Augustine in expressing many of the things she wanted to say, making the Bishop of Hippo, representative spokesman of the Fathers in many of her documents. When John Paul II published the new Catholic Catechism, the voice of Augustine continues to be heard. In fact, even in the new Catechism, he is the most quoted Father of the Church. Truly, this renewed interest in St. Augustine is merited, for he someone has rightly concluded is the first Modern man. At a time when people are rediscovering the emptiness of a fast and a highly technological existence, they are becoming more and more aware of the human heart’s desire for inwardness and transcendence. To these men and women, the Church once more presents the one who has expressed in unforgettable language the stirrings of the human heart: “Our hearts were made for thee O God, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.”

  1. With the recent closing of Geocities, this website is no longer available.