Augustinian Spirituality

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The spiritual legacy associated with augustine of Hippo can be considered from a twofold perspective: the actual thought and teaching of St. Augustine, and subsequent traditions of spirituality associated with and based upon the figure and thought of Augustine. The saint himself represents an approach to what will subsequently be called spirituality that is thematic rather than systematic. Subsequent traditions associated with Augustine will highlight, emphasize, and accordingly systematize aspects of his spirituality.


There are a variety of specific characteristics associated with Augustine of Hippo which, when taken together, constitute his distinctive spiritual vision. They find expression in all his writings, but are particularly noteworthy in the Confessions, his preaching on John's Gospel and the Psalms, the Trinity, and his Sermons. The following are considered the most important.

Christological. Christ as the Way, Christ as the Homeland (Via and Patria )this is one of many Christological titles used by Augustine both to affirm and to explore the central place and role of Jesus Christ in the Christian life. To affirm the centrality of Christ is likewise to affirm the centrality of the Trinity for Augustine's spirituality, since it is Christ who reveals the Father and promises the Spirit, it is the Father who sends the Son, it is the Spirit who inflames the hearts of the followers of the Son. Every dimension of Augustine's vision of the spiritual life is vitally linked to and grounded in his profound sense of the identity and work of the Son of God, expressed in key affirmations such as Christ-Physician (medicus ), Teacher (magister ), Word (Verbum ), and the uniquely rich Christus totus the whole Christ.

Grace-centered. From his earliest writings to his final work Augustine provocatively placed God's gratuitous initiative (grace) at the center of the divine-human relationship. This emphasis on grace is both profoundly Christological and deeply anthropological, since it reveals both God's gracious initiative in Christ and total human dependence upon this initiative. "Without me you can do nothing" is equally, for Augustine, an affirmation of God's absolute sovereignty in the process of salvation and a confirmation of the total incapacity of human nature without this sovereign initiative.

Inner-directed. Drawing upon the affirmation of Genesis that humans are created in God's image (imago Dei ), Augustine continually calls the Christian to turn within to discover that divine presence, seal, and identity. The heart (cor ) becomes for Augustine a key term and symbol for the profound and challenging depths every human being finds and faces within. However, "Return to yourself" is never for Augustine a selfish movement of escapism but a true opening to and discovery of authentic human identity.

Scriptural. The New and Old Testaments provide the vocabulary, ideas, and content of Augustine's spirituality. Sharing with all patristic authors a profound sense of the centrality of the Word of God for worship, prayer, and daily living, Augustine's spiritual writings are so filled with Scripture that it is often difficult to know when Augustine ends and Scripture begins. Key texts occur over and over again in Augustine's writings and provide his thought with coherence and continuity (e.g., Gn 1:27; Jb 7:1; Is 7:9 [LXX]; Jn 1:14; Rom 5:5; 7:2425a; 11:3336; 1 Cor 1:31; 3:67; 4:7; Gal 5:6; etc.). This profoundly scriptural spirituality finds its apex in the Confessions, where scripture text and Augustine's voice are blended together indistinguishably.

Communal. The community of Adam and Eve in the garden of Paradise is profoundly emblematic for Augustine of humanity's communal nature. "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." Augustine's own human make-up was decidedly social, poignantly portrayed in the Confessions as he shares both grace and sin. Augustine took a communal key text from Acts 4:32, describing the early apostolic community in Jerusalem, as a guidepost for not only his monastic community but the church as a whole.

Love-motivated. Both enthralled and terrified with the scriptural affirmations that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16) and Christ's own description of the Final Judgment in terms of love of the poor Christ (Mt 25), Augustine saw love as the central command of Jesus that summed up the whole Christian life. "Love and do what you will" was, for Augustine, an affirmation not only of the centrality of love but of its nature as guarantor of the Christian life.

Progressive. The "restless heart" that Augustine places within every true Christian marks his spirituality with a fundamental dynamism and vitality that is expressed in his frequent use of the word "pilgrimage" to describe the life of the Christian. Following Christ is always a matter of ongoing conversion, taking up new challenges in response to God's call. Conversion, progress, ascentAugustine's model for the Christian life demands an ongoing journey of transformation.

In the Augustinian monastic-religious tradition these characteristics find principal expression in the Rule of St. Augustine. Augustine's teaching on prayer, especially noteworthy in his Letter 130 to Proba, embodies all of these characteristics. His preaching turns again and again to these themes.


Though a number of particular groups and movements have explicitly considered themselves Augustinian in character, the spirituality associated with the Order of St. Augustine (the Augustinian Order) will be highlighted here. Despite medieval attempts to prove direct descent from Augustine, it is clear that the Augustinian Order's links to the bishop of Hippo are best seen as a deliberate embrace of his spirituality and an explicit attempt to embody his monastic vision. These efforts begin to emerge most clearly in the 14th century, in the writings of henry of friemar and even more particularly in the Liber Vitasfratrum of jordan of saxony. Jordan's highlighting of the common life as what is most distinctive about Augustine's vision of religious life ensured that the Rule of St. Augustine would remain the charter document of the Augustinian Order's understanding of Augustine's spiritual vision. This understanding prompted a centuries-long tradition of Rule commentaries, with the 16th-century commentary of Bl. Alfonso de orozco emerging as a key guide down to the 20th century for the efforts of Augustinian communities to live the spirituality of Augustine. This commentary tradition has seen a particularly fruitful expansion in the years since the Second Vatican Council, as the Augustinian Order's embrace of the council's call to rediscover their charism placed a great deal of emphasis on the foundational character of the Rule for a vision of Augustine's spirituality.

The Augustinian Order has likewise sought since the 14th century to spread knowledge of and devotion to St. Augustine. The Milleloquium S. Augustini (Lyons 1555) of bartholomew of urbino (d. 1350), accompanied by numerous medieval Vitae Augustini that highlighted the miracles attributed to devotion to Augustine, found a strong artistic complement in iconography. Botticelli, Gozzoli, Carpaccio, Mantegna, Nelli, and Piero della Francesca are just a few of the masters called upon to portray and present in painted form the spiritual ideals of the bishop of Hippo.

The Augustinian Order throughout the ages seemed well aware that the spirituality of Augustine flowed from a distinctive theological understanding of Christ and the Christian life and accordingly sought to give specific attention to an articulation of Augustine's theology. Beginnning with giles of rome (d. 1316), continuing with figures such as thomas of strassburg (d. 1357), giles of viterbo (1532), Jerome seripando (d. 1563), henry noris (d. 1704), and Giovanni L. berti (d. 1766), the Augustinian Order saw emerge from its ranks leading theologians who both synthesized and defended the distinctive theological vision of Augustine which the order saw as the wellspring of its own spirituality. This continued in the twentieth century in the writings of recognized Augustinologists such as L. Verheijen, A. Trape, T. van Bavel, and A. Zumkeller.

Contemporary revival of Augustinian spirituality has laid great emphasis on Augustine's image of the restless heart and the importance of the first apostolic community in Jerusalem as a continuing model for true Christian community: one mind and one heart on the way to God.

[t. martin]

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Augustinian Spirituality

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