Editors Note: This post is part of a class given by Fr. Brian Lowery, OSA titled “The Spirituality of the Rule of Saint Augustine” in March 2018 as part of the Augustinian Spirituality Course. Some minor edits have been made to fit the content of this site.
Chapter Two of the Rule is about prayer. This chapter can be a little disappointing if you are looking for some of Augustine’s deeper thoughts on prayer. However, the short chapter does contain a few pointers that he will pick up elsewhere in his letters and in his sermons to his people gathered in his church.
10. Be assiduous in prayer at the hours and times appointed.
Here we can see the importance he felt for the practice of common prayer in the community and the practical importance of setting fixed times to make sure it happens. In our times it has become a question again when we look at how much the active apostolate and a pervading computerized culture can cut into what Augustine saw as essential to common life. There was a time when we went through endless discussions over this. Have we arrived at a consensus of how much we would lack without common prayer?
11. In the Oratory no one should do anything other than that for which it was intended and from which it also takes its name. Consequently, if there are some who might wish to pray there during their free time, even outside the hours appointed, they should not be hindered by those who think something else must be done there.
This is another example of honoring people and their different needs. The passage clearly reflects Augustine’s respect for one who desires a quiet place for prayer. It is said that he is the first monastic founder to have insisted that there be a place in the house dedicated to prayer and prayer only. Nothing else should be done in that place so that a person can pray when he or she wishes.
Augustine is also suggesting that there is more to one’s life of prayer life than common prayer. This would fit with his contemplative nature and ours, as he said to the Lady Proba about both forms of prayer:
We always pray with a continuous desire filled with faith, hope and love. But at certain hours and moments we also pray to God in words, so that by those signs of things we may admonish ourselves, realize how much we have advanced in this desire, and arouse ourselves more intensely to increase it.Saint Augustine (Letter 130, 9)
12. When you pray to God in Psalms and hymns, think over in your hearts the words that come from your lips.
This is the first example of a tecnique Augustine frequently used in writing the Rule, namely moving from the exterior realm to the interior, from the outer to the inner. Here the words that the lips pronounce aloud represent the outer realm and their being pondered in the heart represents the inner life of the person who prays.
We are all aware of the struggle with distractions and the difficulty of arriving at harmony of lips and heart. Augustine too was aware of this. He once wrote:
I have often experienced in myself as well as in others that the words that we utter differ from the things we think … which frequently comes over me in the singing of a hymn (Mag 13, 42, cf. van Bavel p. 129).
He added elsewhere:
I see where the body lies, but ask me whither the mind flies … The mind is dragged along, as it were, by a tidal wave, and cast up here and there by a storm. (In Ps 140, 18, cf Van Bavel p.131.)
He felt one with his brothers when he wrote these words which give me great consolation. He also exhorted the faithful gathered in his church with these other words
Praise the Lord, my soul. But do we need that admonition, brothers and sisters? We do praise the Lord, don’t we? Don’t we sing a hymn every day? Don’t our lips sing and our hearts bring forth praise to God, as far as our puny strength allows? He whom we praise is very great, but our competence to praise him is still inadequate. … A person stands there praising God, perhaps for quite a long time. And often enough, while his lips are moving in song, his thoughts are flitting to and fro among all kinds of desires. (In Ps 145, 6)Saint Augustine (In Psalm 145, 6)
13. Chant only what is prescribed for chant; moreover, let nothing be chanted unless it is so prescribed.
I know Augustine is credited with coining the phrase “He who sings prays twice,” but no one has ever found that gem in his genuine works. In any case, it is a very nice idea. This passage could seem irelevant or a leftover from another time, much like references in the Rule to the public baths. Maybe it would be better to skip over it. However, just for a moment let’s take a look at Augustine’s appreciation of music in liturgical prayer and the need to set limits.
In his Confessions Augustine tells us that he knew of hymn singing in Milan before his conversion and how it strengthened the determination to resist in the people being beseiged by the arian emperor, Valentinian II, and his mother Justina (cf. Conf IX, 7, 15).
In Book Ten he says: Nowadays I find some peaceful contentment in sounds to which your words impart life and meaning, provided the words are sung sensitively by a tuneful voice.
Later he adds that he sometimes tended to overdo his enjoyment of the beautiful music and to neglect the words it contained: At times, it seems to me that I am paying the melodies more honor than is their due (Conf. X, 33, 49).
I can relate to this. The same thing happens while listening to Mozart’s Missa Solemnis or Gabriel Fauret’s Requiem. Thus there is a need for discipline in liturgical msic as he mentioned in the Rule.