Augustinian Values

December 3, 2009

Summary

  • Introduction
  • Ten Augustinian Values and the Augustinian Imperative “Be Church”
  • Love and Its Purification
  • Freedom and its Investment in Love
    • Service and the Common Good
    • Community and Communion
    • Friendship
    • Spiritual Direction: A Note on Freedom, Love and Interiority
  • Prayer
  • Notes On Core Values
    • Virtus et Scientia
    • Caritas, unitas, veritas
    • Interiority, Community Life, Service

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Introduction

Click for the GalleryWhen I first wrote about the Ten Augustinian Values, it was in response to the need of an educational institution.  With a changed assignment, I have begun to realize that those ten values can also help focus one’s reflections on areas specific to lay Christian formation. My involvement in the building up of Christian communities has helped me reach this realization.  I have been closely following the growth of one particular community in our parish and I have seen how the members are slowly developing values that are similar to what I have called “Ten Augustinian Values.”  The members of that community, each in their own way, have begun to adapt a lifestyle characterized by those ten values as a result of their weekly contact with the Word of God, “discussed, broken and shared,” as Augustine would say, among friends.  The community began as a bible study group.  A weekly meeting was set up every Saturday afternoon so as to study the Gospel passage as a preparation for the following day’s Sunday mass.  I explain the Bible passage and I allow the members to ask questions and discuss what they understand to be the message of the Gospel.  Then when possible resolutions are formulated so that members can truly live out the gospel message during the rest of the week.

 After about two years of those weekly meetings, I’ve seen particular members becoming more and more involved in the life of the parish, moving up from mere observers, to active participants in the decision-making of the parish.  Not only that, but the kids who just used to accompany their moms to these meetings have also begun to participate in Church as acolytes and to take part in our weekly meetings as readers (I just explain the gospel reading; I ask for volunteer gospel readers for each meeting).  Some of the members of that community have also begun to help build up other communities and I’ve heard the personal testimonies of some who say that the bible study sessions have helped them improve not only in knowledge but also in making decisions in their daily lives.  Actually, I would say it is not the bible study session alone but the mixture of camaraderie in those meetings, the lively discussions, the Eucharist of the following day and each member’s desire to live out the message they’ve heard and the prayers said for the members of the group have contributed to what each has become after two years of our weekly meetings. 

It is because of this new experience that I have written this article.  It is not meant to replace the previous article on the Ten Augustinian Values; I wrote it so as to help others see those values as “Christian” not only “Augustinian”.  In addition, I’ve noticed that the original “Ten Augustinian Values” is now being used in our educational institutions — as well as in others — as a working paper for the formulation of the school’s core values.  One of the difficulties I had when I first explained those ten values to our lay collaborators in the schools was Augustine himself.  To people who have been educated outside seminaries, “Augustinian thought” seemed strange.  Quoting his words to people who appreciate him as a kind of slogan maker didn’t help since quotations already thought to be familiar when read as they appear in the context of a particular sermon or book sounded different from how these were understood and remembered.  I have written this article to put the “Ten Augustinian Values” within a more general framework.  I hope that this article when read with the original article can help those unfamiliar with Augustine’s thought understand how Augustine deepens and does not change the basics of Christian spirituality.

The Augustinian Imperative:  Be Church

Values are lived within a particular life-context.  A programmer or an office employee may live by the value of professional competence, and this would be worth pursuing in the work place and can even become one of the values he teaches to his children.  The Ten Augustinian Values that we have enumerated and explained there are lived and realized within a specific life-context:  the life of a Christian. This life can be described in different ways; for the Augustinian it can only be lived as a response to the imperative “Be Church.” (see note below)

The command — “Be Church” — is the direction to which the baptized are called as they are built into Christ come to full stature, the “Total Christ” that still needs to grow to its fullness.  Each is to contribute to the realization of a community where the two-fold commandment of love is carried out.  The Ten Augustinian Values aid in realizing this commitment.  These are values that empower the baptized to respond to the imperative to be Church.   Below is a graphical illustration of how the ten Augustinian values are related to Christian life understood under the aspect of “Being Church.” Click on the image for a bigger view.

Love and Its Purification

The problem with love is the problem that derives from concupisce and ignorance, the two effects of original sin against which all the baptized will have to struggle.  And the problem is precisely with regards the question:  “What do you love?” 

Everyone loves, but there is “ordered” love and “disordered” love.  It is for this reason that love must be purified.  An ordered love is according to Augustine that love that is directed to God as the Supreme Good, to human beings in God, and to things insofar as these are useful for the attainment of the Supreme Good and to the proper valuing of human beings.  In other words, right loving puts God above all, men under God and things under both God and men.

It is obvious from the above that ordered loving is love that needs to be instructed and trained.  The two effects of original sin — concupiscence and ignorance — will have to be cured by their opposites: virtue and science.  Or to be more exact:  the purification of love will require training in virtue and formation in “scientia”. 

Love directs all knowledge; one knows what one loves.  The proper object of knowledge is the Truth and Truth, for the Christian, is not “data” nor “information”.  Truth is the Word of God, in whom is the Light that shines on all men.  The pursuit of Truth bears fruit in wisdom, the capacity to see men, events and the world as these hang together in the Logos, the expression of the Divine Mind.

Since all knowledge can only be gained under the light of Truth, and grasped as reflections of the Logos, interiority is required.  Interiority is not a set of activities that one performs in order to be in touch with Truth.  It is the characteristic of a lifestyle that allows one to be constantly watchful of oneself — of the way one thinks, of one’s motivations — so as to remain constantly directed to an ordered way of loving. 

The pursuit of Truth and Wisdom also requires training in humility.  The Greeks and the Romans never considered it to be a virtue.  For the Jews, humility is required for obedience to the voice of God and fidelity to the covenant.  For Christians this kind of humility becomes a lifestyle, since their Lord presents Himself as “humble and meek.”  In the struggle against concupiscence and ignorance, both of which are by-products of pride, humility becomes the first spiritual medication to be applied:  in the humility of the Son who obeys the Father even unto death, and in the humility of those who live in His Body, the Church. (cf. Phil. 2:6-11)

Freedom and its Investment in Love

Freedom is a quality of the will.  It is the ability to choose what is good.  It is not the ability to do what one likes.  This is caprice, not freedom.  Christian freedom, St. Paul tells us is not being enslaved to sin.  This is the negative description of freedom.  The positive description of freedom is being in the service of ordered love.  Love’s purification leads to freedom that is invested

  • in service
  • for the common good
  • in communion
  • with friends and brothers/sisters in Christ

Service and the Common Good

The human condition is characterized by work. It is, after all, by the sweat of one’s brow that one eats.  One works so as to live; the object of one’s work is to sustain life, not money.  Work done in view of the common good is service.

What we call “Common Good” is subject to varied interpretation.  It can and does have a social nuance as the sum total of the conditions that make for a human and dignified lifestyle.  Seen from another perspective, the “Common Good” is the Supreme Good that all in a commuity strive after.  From this perspective it becomes easy to understand why those who strive after the Common Good are built up into a community of those who love in an ordered way. 

Community and Communion

Human beings are not first “individuals” and then “members of a community.”  Each human being is rather a being-for-community who has to deal sometimes with loneliness and isolation, rather than someone habitually alone who has to be integrated into a society. Aristotle called man a “social animal” since the qualities of a human being equip him for life in society.  Each man, in addition, is by nature “connected” to someone.  It is for this reason that — apart from Adam and Eve — all men have a navel.

Equipped for a life in community, one must still choose to be in community. One’s choice to be in community is to be in communion with this and that person.  “Community” is not “society in general” but “this or that community” as it opens up to a widening circle of men and women who are themselves members of other communities.  “Communion” is this and that member of the community making an investment of his time and talent for sustaining the life of the community.  And if the Supreme Good is regarded by all members of the community as their Common Good, then communion becomes commitment to unity, since the Supreme Good is only one and the only One that when shared remains whole.

Friendship

“Friendship” acquires a new meaning for the Christian since he is called “friend” and “brother” by his Lord and Master.  To be a friend (amicus) of someone is to love (amare) him/her.  But to love as a friend and brother/sister of Christ means to love as He loved.  Benedict XVI describes how this is done in Deus Caritas est.  Christian friendship is to love someone unselfishly and with a heart that has been formed in the love of God.

Spiritual Direction:  A Note on Freedom, Love and Interiority

When is freedom so mature that it can already be invested in love?  The answer is “never”.  To be mature in freedom, one must invest it in love — in unselfishness, in generous service, in pursuit of the common good, in a life of communion and friendship.  To train in freedom is like being trained in swimming:  one jumps into the water and should learn to struggle to keep afloat immediately.  It is for this reason that an interior lifestyle has been an integral element in any kind of Christian formation.  Interiority is a constant in Christian life, it is watchfulness over what goes on in one’s mind and heart.  And since it is difficult to determine what is to be watched and examined, training in interiority has always involved what we now call “spiritual direction.”  One learns to “listen” inside oneself by first letting somebody else “inside” oneself and talking to him.  In much the same way as one talks with someone older in matters of love and life decisions, so too, the Christian commitment to love and freedom will require a co-listerner to the motions of one’s heart and mind.

Prayer

Training in ordered loving is a requirement for those afflicted by concupiscence and ignorance.  To be cured of this affliction, one must first admit the need for healing.  This is the first act:  an act of humility.  It is the act of those who admit they need to be taught and to be morally strengthened.  And since it is God who says “I am your Healer”, the humble man’s response is prayer.  The Catechism uses as the theological basis of prayer an insight of Augustine:  “Man is a beggar before God.”

Prayer is not so much an act as a life-style.  When Augustine wrote that prayer is one’s desire for God he was referring to it as a life-style.  It is like interiority in that it is a constant in Christian life.  As a human being constantly breathes so as to remain alive, so too should he pray.  Thus St. Paul would urge his christian communities to pray unceasingly.  But unlike interiority, prayer does not always require withdrawal.  When Augustine writes that the words one utters in prayer should reverberate in one’s heart, he was saying that even interiority must be practiced in prayer.  In other words, the life of prayer should also become a characteristic of one who intends to truly love God.

In Deus caritas est, Benedict XVI explains how the human heart is trained to love as Christ loved in a life of prayer.  To love as Christ loves is to be friends with Christ first.  Friendship with Christ –  this is the basis of a life of prayer. When Augustine writes in the De doctrina christiana that a fellow human being is to be loved “in God” he was making two assertions:  first, that friendship can survive death, and second that the immortality of friendship, like that of the soul, will depend on the graciousness of God who does not will that anything should perish.  Thus prayer also sustains friendship unto eternity.  In other words, ordered love for a human being requires prayer, not affection and intimacy alone.

Since man is a beggar before God, he should also pray for the fruits of his labor, for it is God who “blesses His devotees even as they sleep. (cf. Ps. 127)”  In fact, all the aspects of human life — whether work or play — and even one’s vital energy derive from God.  Since this is so, there is no area of one’s life that one cannot pray for.

Finally, all Christians have been incorporated into the Body of Christ as living stones of the Temple of God.  It is from this Temple that petition, thanksgiving, adoration and praise should rise up to God as sighs of longing from a people in pilgrimage to their homeland.  Thus is prayer the expression of the heart’s desire for the Supreme Good  until the time faith gives way to vision, hope to possession, and love ceases to be desire but becomes delight in eternity’s embrace.   

Core Values:  Some Notes

Virtus et Scientia

A requirement for the accreditation of our schools is the formulation of core values that reflect the Mission-Vision of the institute and a program for implementing them as an integral part of the school’s  educational activity.  Our school’s already have a “motto”:  Virtus et Scientia, roughly, “virtue and science”.  In essence, a “motto” is a pithy saying that expresses one’s life-direction.  Before mission-vision statements came to vogue, there was the “motto.”

In a footnote in the original article, I explain that “virtus et scientia” while not recurring among the binomials in Augustine’s works, the opposite ” concupiscentia et ignoration” (concupiscence and ignorance) does.  To me, this indicates that the Augustian friars who established our schools intended education to be formation in the Christian life as well as enabling Filipinos to be productive citizens of their country.  It was I think Leo XIII’s expressed conviction that the Christian who seriously lives out his baptism will contribute to the progress of his society.  And it is a conviction that Benedict XVI has expressed too in the present pontificate.  What I am saying is that the motto “Virtus et Scientia”  need also to be considered in the formulation of our schools’ core values.  It may not directly derive from St. Augustine, but surely it is an expression of how Augustinians understood an aspect of his thought.  In other words, the motto “Virtus et Scientia” forms part of the Wirkungsgeschichte (the history of influence) of Augustine’s thought as applied by our friars to the history of education in these islands.  And I mention this not only in behalf of the non-Filipino friars who initiated what we now sustain but also because it is one of the ways of understanding and interpreting Augustine himself.  Our generation is not the only one privileged to understand and interpret Augustine;  Augustine has been interpreted by other generations of Augustinians.  And those interpretations now constitute the wealth of what we call “Augustinian thought”.  To disregard those contributions is to close our eyes to a possibly more valid way of understanding Augustine. [See the article: Caritas, Virtus et Scientia, A Contribution to the Discussion on Core-Values]

Caritas, Unitas, Veritas

During my last visit to the University of San Agustin-Iloilo, I heard that the school’s core values were formulated as “Caritas, unitas, veritas” — charity, unity, truth.  The one who informed me about it noted that I didn’t include unity in the original article.  I didn’t because the idea of “unity” in Augustine is subsumed, not under “community” (correct me if I’m wrong, but “comunitas” does not seem to be a keyword in Augustine)  but under “Common Good”.  And for Augustine the “Common Good” is also the Supreme Good.  In other words, unity results from the members of a community clinging to the Supreme Good in ordered love.  In other words, “unitas” is not a primary value but a subsidiary one. 

Interiority, Community Life, Service

The Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod website has an article  on their formulated core values and how other Augustinian values are derived from them.  The list of the Augustinian values follows the one enumerated in “Ten Augustinian Values“.  Here is a snapshot taken from the webpage itself

Any form of schematization can lead to distortion.  While I will not question the choice of Interiority, Community Life and Service as core values ( after all this will depend on the way the schools’ educators understand their mission and vision), I would make the following comments on the related values

1.  “Love” is not an associated value in Augustine. It is the foremost value.  The schema reduces “love” into something “social”.  For Augustine, it is the main driving force in a human being’s life:  “My love is my weight” he writes.  Love is about the direction of one’s life. To say that “love is basically benevolence” may be in accordance with Augustine’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 13, but that is not the whole idea especially when the same word is encountered in the first book of the De doctrina christiana.

2.  “Prayer” may be associated with the “interior life” as understood in a book like Dom Chautard’s “The Soul of the Apostolate”.  But “interior life” as understood by these later writers (especially influenced by Teresa of Avila) is not the same as Augustine’s “interiority”.  “Interiority” is the label Augustinologists use for those ideas in Augustine that express the notion of withdrawing from exterior distractions to that place in the inner man — memory, mind and desire — where one encounters the Light that shines on every man and from there to encounter God.  What today’s spiritual writers have referred to as “interior life” is life in sanctifying grace — God’s life in the soul — that is nourished in prayer and sacraments.  In other words, associating “prayer” with “interiority” may be resulting from a confusion between the word “interiority” with a notion of “interior life” that is not directly from Augustine.

3.  “Humility” is the first of the moral values that Augustine insists on.  For him, it is a sine qua non of the Christian life.  Humility derives from self-knowledge, a “vision” of oneself before the gaze of the immensity and beauty of the Creator.  It is not a value like “professional competence” which one can and should associate with “service”.


What we call the “Augustinian charism of community life” is the imperative “Be Church” defined for persons consecrated under the Rule of St. Augustine. 

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