Augustine is dramatically enlightened by God with his closest friend Alypius beside him, who is converted in the same event. He is baptized with Alypius and his own son, and he immediately lives in a group – a community. Augustine lives in a community for the rest of his life (43 more years). This is the origin of Augustinian community. He later wrote guidelines on how to live together in a community, called his Rule.
As well as interiority, Augustine thus is also deeply interested in what binds us to one another. The seeds of community and friendship that were in his life before his conversion germinate in the conversion of his heart, so that he believes both in (a) interiority and (b) in community. He believed that we find God not only in our own self but also in others and with them. Augustine realized in his own life (especially 12 years after his conversion) that the search for ourself (and God) is through love of one another. This is the ultimate mystery of our being: we come to God through love of one another. He went beyond the aloneness of his conversion search, and realized that love for a human other is in fact love for God. This doesn’t mean that he abandoned interiority or the instruction to “be near to yourself” or “go back to yourself, go back to your heart, go back to God,’.
Augustine shows us that human love has love for God “running within it” – like a stream within a stream. He says “if you love your brother or sister whom you see you will at the same time love God who you do not see” This he says is how we experience God as love for each other. In his Rule for community Augustine mentions love for God only once, whereas he refers to human relationships in every sentence. He instructs us to discipline ourselves to enable human relationships and human closeness. In learning to love each other we are learning to love God.
STEPS IN THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
How does loving God in community work out in practice? The kind of community we know of is Augustinian community where we relate to one another with love.
- Seek harmony with all. “Before and be of one heart” yes one heart with all. “God wills to dwell in the unity of us all.” Augustine touches our desire for unity with others. No one truly wants to be isolated from human nature. “The person who will not have peace with others will not have it at all.”
- It is as important to relate to one another as it is to pray together.
- “Forgive each other promptly when conflict or offence arise and forgive from the heart”. Any human group is liable to disruption and conflict but the angry person is better than the one who is slow to forgive. And intend forgiveness from the heart.
- Bear each other’s burdens. “If defect in another a fault or defect which you yourself do not have, relate to it as though it were your own.”
- Community respects our individual talents and gifts and keeps us from jealousy or comparison. “The one who loves in another what he does not possess, himself possesses it.” “Believe in the good of others that you cannot see and you will strengthen the good in yourself which you know about by love”.
- Love of each other in community does not necessarily involve the emotion of love; often it means being patient, putting up with, being gentle, working for peace (we might be struggling with angry or hurt feelings), loyal, refusing to criticise another behind their back. Struggling to honor others in spite of their defects is to “Honor God in each other whose temple you have become,” accepting others who remind us of the side of our self that we reject, are ashamed of, or which we have learned to despise. Community involves work for the community, and at times work to bring together those who are divided. Not everyone was Jesus friend but nevertheless He loved everyone.
In community we make friends – ones who can mutually trust and grow close to each other. This is so important. Says Augustine: Only two things are necessary in this world: life and friendship.” “When a person is without a friend not a single thing in the world can appear friendly to him.”
Augustine was timid and at first found it difficult to give his confidence to others. He knows how difficult it is to enter into communication with others. He experienced reluctance to disclose, but with a friend he says we find the courage to share our inmost thoughts.
HOW FRIENDSHIP BEGINS
In his understanding friendship begins by sharing what we have. Augustine would say, “Don’t keep yourself for yourself. Share ideas, thoughts, attitudes, feelings, ideals, character, and faith. Share your material possessions as a symbol sharing yourself. Make yourself available to others.
We become free in life only through mutual participation in each other’s lives. We do not make ourselves free.
For Augustine, only an increase in friendship could heal his wounds. Friendship he believed makes us more human, renews and gives our heart to us and balances us. What has become old in us is made new in the other. A person can only be known through friendship. We only know those we love and we are only truly known by those who love us.
To focus exclusively on our own self, being self-centred, is not the true way to joy and life. Selfishness in fact isolates and shrivels us. Augustinian community, which has a spirituality of relationships and coming to love God through love of one another, is the means available of overcoming our self-centredness.
PROGRESS IN LOVE
Augustine asks: How do we know if we are going well and making progress in community? He answers: If we prefer the common good to our own individual interests so each can work with greater effort for the common good than if for their own private purpose. This is the victory over selfishness. We are to seek the good of the community and its unity.
UNITY IN CHRIST
Community we know is a place where there is a living out of love, with forgiveness and without exclusion. Love brings about unity, and the unity of the community is Christ. The whole community is gathered around the Gospel listening to Christ who is the inner teacher of each. We’ve spoken about returning to our hearts, disclosing and giving our hearts to each other, and we’ve heard Augustine teaching us to be of one heart but he elsewhere says, “Jesus the Man bears your heart.” Augustine gives us an image of the community as united in Jesus He bears our heart. This image of the heart evokes the complete image of one body. There is a dynamic unity between Christ and alt who believe in him with love a unity that is as intimate as that between the head and the rest of the body’s members. And this Body, head and members, Augustine calls the “whole Christ.” It is made up of Jesus and all who believe in Him. He says, “Not only have we become Christians, we have become Christ.”
CHRIST IN THE COMMUNITY
In community we all “ask forgiveness of the Lord of All who knows our hearts and the love we have for each other.” Christ, who knows our love for each other, is affected by our love for each other. In community we are still divided people, we still disappoint ourselves. We are fragile and others disappoint or trouble us. But, Augustine says “It is better to limp slowly and painfully along the right road than to run swiftly and easily along the wrong road.” We can love the community and the unity of all.
Augustinian Community the vision or dream of community that we have received and lived out these days is a dream that actually embraces all of human kind. This is what the human family is really for. Augustine believed that the human family has a unity, a unity in Christ. So he did not believe in divisions, distinctions or rank among people. For God loves our association with one another. God created and is creating the human family that it may find a unity, a love, justice and peace in Christ, and make one body with Him, having one mind and one heart. What a joyous vision!
The author Fr Laurence Mooney OSA, has been a presenter in a number of APAC Augustinian Spirituality Conferences in India and the Philippines, and previously chaired an APAC Spirituality Commission. For a number of years, he was a team member of the St John Stone Augustinian Centre of Spirituality, Greystanes, Sydney, Australia. He served two terms as the Australian Augustinian Provincial, beginning in 1990. Still based in Sydney, he has continued his writings on Augustinian spiritually and Augustinian educational values. (This article was originally published in the apacwebsite but is now deleted.)