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 Eight of the Rule of Augustine brings the Rule to a close, leaving some special insights to carry with us.
A Prayer for the Brothers
48. The Lord grant that you may observe all these precepts in a spirit of charity as lovers of spiritual beauty, giving forth the good odor of Christ in the holiness of your lives: not as slaves living under the law but as men living in freedom under grace.
There are a lot of important points contained in this number of the Rule. Let’s try to unpack what he has put into such a small space.
Remain in a Spirit of Charity
He has already spoken to us about charity on a practical plane. Now he goes to a higher one. The word he chose here is dilectio, cum dilectione. This word in Augustine’s vocabulary is right alongside charitas and amor as words for the important reality of Christian love, but it goes a little further. There is more MOVEMENT in it. It connotes delight, attraction, and reaching out. It also communicates well the dynamic of GIFT.
Become Lovers of Spiritual Beauty
“Lovers” he called us, amatores. We’re back to the theme of enthusiasm and excitement again. This time it is love of spiritual beauty that he says excites us. Augustine liked to speak of God as beauty: “O beauty ever ancient ever new”, he said in his Confessions (X, 27, 38). He even told his people in his homelies that the person who loves God in some way shares in God’s beauty (Commentary on I John 9, 9). Today some people might prefer “wholeness” to “spiritual beauty”. But I must admit I still prefer “beauty” when I want to be moved.
In any case, this is the way Augustine wanted to leave us as he drew his Rule to a close: excited like lovers. His hope was that the attraction men and women have to such beauty will bring about an enthusiasm similar to that of the community of Jerusalem and an excitement like what he and his brothers felt in their first monastic experience in Tagaste. The beauty he is thinking of is the beauty of a love that can grow and deepen in an individual person, but I believe it also refers to the beauty of brothers or sisters living together in harmony.
Give Forth the Good Odor of Christ
This may seem to be an odd image, but it hints at something important. A pleasant aroma draws people to it. The smell of coffee first thing in the morning and honeysuckle flowers on a summer evening do too. A community united in one mind and one heart draws people as well. They are happy to see it and to sense its fragrance. Those who look on ask who or what made it that way.
That’s what it means to be the good odor of Christ. Christ is in some way made more tangible, smellable if you like. (That’s a way of speaking Pope Francis has gotten us used to.) The community Augustine envisioned in his Rule doesn’t stop at the door. It has an ecclesial dimension to it, by which Christ can be sensed as the true source of unity and communion in the Church. The community is a witness to the grace of Christ in the lives of men and women who are like everyone else. A rich community life as laid down by Augustine’s Rule thus becomes our GIFT to the Church and to the world around us. No one else can offer a gift quite like this one.
In Augustine’s famous work, The City of God, he explains how in the world we live in, the City of God and the Earthly City are mixed together. The City of God is where love of God (and love of neighbor) prevails even to the forgetting of oneself. The Earthly City is where love of self prevails even to the forgetting of God (and neighbor). When community living based on love of God and neighbor is a success, it draws others to want to be part of that City of God, to seek the common good together in the world, and to live in forward-moving hope. That is the gift we said consecrated life gives which all those Chuch documents spoke about.
“I am counting on you to wake up the world”, Pope Francis said to us. … “Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love”. (nn. 2 and 3)
Live Not As Slaves Under the Law but In Freedom Under Grace
The last thing Augustine wanted us to be was slaves. So he says outright “not as slaves.”
What he wants is for us to know that we are free. And so he adds “living in freedom under grace.” What would happen to the excitement and the enthusiasm if we felt merely duty-bound? That doesn’t sound very exciting. Where would the spontaneity be? So he says “living in freedom under grace.”
There’s much one could say about what grace meant for Augustine. For our purposes at this point as we end our reading of the Rule, let me just say that for Augustine the words “freedom” and “lover” are intimately connected. It is not by necessity nor by obligation that we are drawn to the Lord, but by the delight of love. He once said:
Give me one who loves; he will know what I mean. Show me one who is full of longing, one who is hungry, one who is a pilgrim and suffering from thirst in the desert of this world, eager for the fountain in the homeland of eternity; show me someone like that, and he knows what I mean. But if I speak to someone without feeling, he does not understand what I am sayingSaint Augustine (In lo 26, 4)
The love that the Spirit pours into our hearts (Romans 5) makes us free. Living in community is not meant to be a burden as it calls us to our very best. Augustine liked to say that when people love, they don’t feel the effort it takes to do what love requires, or if they do feel it, they love the effort. Love of God and neighbor are like what wings are for a bird, he said. They do indeed have a weight to them, but that weight is just what enables the birds to fly. (cf. sermon 68, 12; in Ps. 67, 18)
Use the Rule as a Mirror
49. And that you may see yourselves in this little book, as in a mirror, have it read to you once a week so as to neglect no point through forgetfulness. When you find that you are doing all that has been written, give thanks to the Lord, the Giver of every good. But when one of you finds that he has failed on any point, let him be sorry for the past, be on his guard for the future, praying that he will be forgiven his fault and not be led into temptation.
As we saw at the very start of the course, living in religious community is a GIFT. First of all, it is a gift from God. Then it is a gift religious make to each other. Still more, it is a gift God makes to the world and a gift the religious community makes to the world.
When we find that we have been successful in making this gift, we should thank God, says Augustine. When we find that we have not been so successful, we should, do what the closing words of the Rule and the prayer of the Our Father say: ask for forgiveness and pray not to be drawn into temptation. With this prayer we will be given the GIFT of forgiveness. And that means a new beginning, a fresh start, new MOVEMENT again.