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Nourished by Our Roots - the Rule of Saint Augustine: Day Eleven

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Monday, November 16, 2020

Day Eleven

3:4. If food, clothes, a mattress, or blankets are given to those who come to the monastery from a more comfortable manner of life, the more robust individuals, to whom such things are not given and who are on this account more fortunate, ought to recall how much affluent people have altered their lifestyle in order to embrace the present one, even though the frugality practised by the stronger brothers continues to elude them. No one should desire the extras given to a few, more out of tolerance than out of deference. Deplorable disorder would occur, if the monastery provided a setting, to the extent that it is possible, where the wealthy become workers, while the poor become pampered.

V.       You have made us for yourself, O Lord. [Alleluia].
       Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you.  [Alleluia].


This is one of the sections of Augustine’s rule that indicate what a different world we live to his. It also, perhaps, reveals something of his social world and the type of people joining his community.  peter Brown in his 1967 biography of Augustine names a whole Chapter ‘Friends’ and begins it with the sentence “Augustine will never be alone.” In his Confessions he writes eloquently and movingly about his friends:

“What restored and re-created me above all was the consolation of … friends … There were … joys to be found in their company which still more powerfully captivated my mind - the charms of talking and laughing together and kindly giving way to each other’s wishes, reading elegantly written books together, sharing jokes and delighting to honour one another, disagreeing occasionally but without rancour, as a person might disagree with himself and lending piquancy by that rare disagreement to our much more frequent accord. We would teach and learn from each other, sadly missing any who were absent and blithely welcoming them when they returned. Such signs of friendship sprang from the hearts of friends who loved and knew their love returned, signs to be read in smiles, words, glances and a thousand gracious gestures. So were sparks kindled and our minds were fused inseparably, out of many becoming one.”

(Book IV, 13 tr. Maria Boulding New City Press 1997 p. 100)

This is such an attractive passage and reveals how attractive a personality Augustine must have been. His friends followed him into heresy but they also followed him into orthodoxy. No doubt many in his community would be attracted in this way as friends. ‘out of many becoming one’ reflects the precise purpose, the aim of the community as Augustine described at the beginning of his rule, ‘one heart and mind’.

Augustine was from a well to do family. His friends as leisured intellectuals would have reflected this social milieux. But it is also clear that his community was joined by those from a very different social class. What is refreshing here is to see that this Christian community was reflecting the breadth of those coming to faith. Christian communities at their best are places of diversity. But living with that diversity is not easy. Augustine is realistic about the work that needs to be done and also about the resentment that might be caused by treating people differently. Sister Agatha Mary reflecting on this passage quotes a significant section of Augustine’s City of God:

“The peace of the household is ordered agreement of those who dwell together, whether they command or whether they obey; the peace of the city is ordered agreement of its citizens, whether they agree or obey; the peace of the heavenly city is the fellowship of enjoying God and enjoying one another in God, a fellowship held closely together by order and in harmony; the peace of all created things is the tranquillity bestowed by order; order is the arrangement of equal and unequal which assigns to each its proper place.”

(City of God XIX, 13)

Augustine shows real understanding of human nature in his Rule. However, much we aim for clarity in rules every human institution requires flexibility. That will only be harmonious if all recognise differing needs and capacity.

Finally it is worth noting that the final sentence of this section makes it clear that in this community there is work to be done and all will work to some extent. Perhaps through the lens of the ‘Protestant work ethic’ which is so much of our cultural inheritance it is hard for us to realise that Greek and to some extent Roman culture was not favourably disposed to physical work. The highest ideal was a leisurely scholarship. That work is so clearly built into Augustine’s community life is more revolutionary than might be apparent in this passing reference. 


May the Lord
grant that we may observe all these things with love,
as lovers of spiritual beauty,
radiating by our lives
the sweet fragrance of Christ,
not like slaves under the law
but as free persons
established in grace.
Through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord. 



You can find the full text of the Rule of saint Augustine by clicking here