Van Bavel

Tarsisius van Bavel OSA: Comments on the Rule of St Augustine

What I wish to say here is not new, but perhaps it is important for our relation as Augustinians to the modern world. Many aspects of the Rule of Augustine may have a meaning for our time. His Rule – as well as all other Rules – is an interpretation of the Gospel. There are in the Rule of Augustine thirty-two citations of the Bib1e, or which twenty-eight are from the New Testament. Most of them deal with the ideal of brotherhood. This ideal gives a special character to our Rule.

Firstly, it is striking that there are so few details in our Rule. The Rule of Augustine does not legislate for details. Augustine is a man of the heart. He is always seeking for the essence of things. No less than seven times in these pages he summons us from the exterior to the interior world. Is this not a good basis for a dialogue with our time our time dislikes a too juridical conception of the people of God, which is on pilgrimage here. Our time prefers the way of the heart just as Augustine did.

Secondly, there is the democratic character of our Rule. Just as in his Pachomian model (and by this I mean the first Rule of Pachomius) a community of brethren does not fit in with relationships which are too hierarchical. Hierarchical relationships are an obstacle to friendship. Authority in Augustine means service just as obedience according to his mind means service. Therefore in the modern world today we can see The Rule of Augustine as inspiration for fighting against all kinds of discrimination.

The third point important for our times seems to me to be respect for the individual personality: unicuique sicut cuique opus fuerit (“to each one according as one has need”). I wonder if this may not be a good basis for the modern desire for pluriformity?  Pluriformity means not destruction, but respect for local and regional circumstances and for the persons living in these concrete circumstances.

So we have at least a good source of inspiration in our Rule on these three points. Of course, all this can remain theory. It asks to be really lived.

The Actuality of Augustine

Augustine himself was a man of his time who took part in all important questions and controversies of his time. To do this, he must have been a very open man.

1  For us today this means: we have the task to actualise the Gospel, without prejudices of any kind. We must reinterpret the Gospel for our day, just as Augustine did for his day in an outstanding way.

2. Augustine was not intransigent and immobile in his way of thinking. He could not be so, otherwise he would never have been able to bring in new ideas. His sense of relativity and historical evolution is still very important in our day. Just as the period in which he lived was a period of change and development, so too ours is one of movement.

3. Augustine was always looking for the very essence of things. Details and accidental things were never the focus or his attention. Young people today go this same way: they are in search of essential values. Many protests against the structures of our society rise from this desire and have to be interpreted in this way. Modern man wants to know what man is.

4. We do not have to prove that Augustine had a very social character. Of great importance for our day is his opinion that love or God is expressed in love for human beings. In the practical life, Augustine says, love of our fellow human beings precedes love of God. Here we may find a lot of points of contact with the positive aspects of the process or secularisation.

5. Our times are once more ripe for enthusiasm and charismatic thinking. In many modern ways this phenomenon can be seen, e.g. the Jesus people, a new sense for the irrational elements in modern art, in structuralism and the philosophy of language, etc.. But this enthusiasm can also be found in Augustine. May it become ours too!

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