The Scriptural Roots of St. Augustine's Spirituality
Stephen N. Filippo IgnatiusInsight.com
Perhaps of all the Church Fathers, none shone so brightly as St. Augustine (351-430). Augustine's spirituality has deeply pervaded the Church right up to this very day. Two great Orders in the Church (just to cite a few), the Benedictines and the Franciscans took their spirituality directly from St. Augustine. St. Augustine's spirituality came into the Benedictine Order primarily through St. Anselm (1033-1109) and into the Franciscans primarily through St. Bonaventure (1221-1274). Both these men were in themselves, also great lights in the Church.
Of course, no discussion of Church giants can be complete without mentioning St. Thomas Aquinas, who is best described as 'following St. Augustine in Theology and Aristotle in Philosophy.' In sum, the Church gets her Dogmatic Theology primarily through St. Augustine. Since Spiritual Theology is based upon the correct Dogmatic Theology, it only makes sense that one of the Church's greatest Theologians, St. Augustine, is also responsible for a great deal of her Spiritual Theology.
And for St. Augustine, as it should be for all Catholics, this means a deep concentration and constant reflection on Sacred Scripture. The scriptural roots of St. Augustine's spirituality can be clearly seen by examining one of his greatest, yet lesser known works, De doctrina Christiana, literally "On Christian Doctrine," but actually "On how to read and interpret Sacred Scripture."
In De doctrina Christiana (henceforth "DDC"), St. Augustine lays the groundwork for a good, spiritual exegesis by elucidating on the virtue of charity, and all that means. Then, in order to begin the climb to spiritual perfection, he explains a scripturally based seven-step ladder. Lastly, he gives seven rules that are helpful in reading and understanding Sacred Scripture correctly.
Charity Towards God, Neighbor And Self
St. Augustine teaches that there are four possible objects of human love:
1. The things above us,
3. Things equal to us, and
4. Things below us. Since all men by nature love themselves, there was no need to give the human race precepts about self-love. And, since it is obvious to most men that they should not love that which is below them, namely lesser objects, but merely use them, fewer precepts are given in the Bible concerning these. But about the love of things above us, namely God and His Angels, and things equal to us, namely other men, Sacred Scripture has everything to say. Our Lord Himself tells us the two greatest commandments are: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these the whole law and the prophets depend" (Mt. 22: 37-40)... Lastly, St. Augustine constantly reminds us to pray to God for help in understanding Sacred Scripture. For in these books of Holy Scripture we read: "Pray unceasingly," (1 Thess. 5:17) "because the Lord gives wisdom: and out of His mouth comes prudence and understanding" (Prov. 2:6). Praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever; the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the ages. Amen. This article originally appeared in the January/February 2000 issue of Catholic Faith magazine. Mr. Stephen N. Filippo, MA., SYD., teaches Theology and Philosophy on both the high school and college level.