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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Saturday, November 21, 2020

Day Fifteen

4:6. Mutually safeguard your purity, when you are together in church or wherever women are present. God, who dwells in you, will protect you in his way too by your mutual vigilance.
4:7. If you notice in any of your number this roving eye referred to above, immediately admonish the individual and correct the matter as soon as possible, in order to curb its progress.
4:8. If, after this warning, you observe him doing the same thing again or at any other time, whoever happens to discover this must report the offender, as if he were now a wounded person in need of healing. But first, one or two others should be told so that the witness of two or three may lend greater weight and the delinquent thus be convicted and punished with appropriate severity. Do not consider yourselves unkind when you point out such faults. Quite the contrary, are not without fault yourselves when you permit your brothers to perish because of your silence. Were you to point out their misdeeds, correction would at least be possible. If your brother had a bodily wound which he wished to conceal for fear of surgery, would not your silence be cruel and your disclosure merciful? Your obligation to reveal the matter is, therefore, all the greater in order to stem the more harmful infection in the heart.

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


Although these passages might well be used in building a case against Augustine, criticising him as being against sex and pleasure, I find that there is a helpful humanity here. He never pretends that sex and sexuality doesn’t exist. There is no false angelism as if we were dis-incarnate being; spiritual entities. Augustine writes about sex because chastity is a struggle for him. Just as it is a struggle for every human being, certainly for every human being who has sought to live a celibate life. In a life of celibacy there are many moments of crisis. Falling in love with someone. Agonising loneliness. Mourning the children never conceived. Simple desire for the warmth of another body. And one of the vocations of the celibate and single life in the church is to warn married people to be honest about these failings too. It is a rare marriage in which there are never any issues, in which a partner does not feel attracted to, or even act on attraction to another person. There will be times when sex is rare and intimacy difficult. Augustine writes openly about his difficulties with memories of past sexual pleasure in his Confessions:

“There yet live in my memory the images of such things as my ill custom there fixed; which haunt me, strengthless when I am awake; but in sleep, not only so as to give pleasure, but even to attain assent, and what is very like reality.”

(X, 41)

The Roman poet Ternce famously wrote: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”. I am human, and nothing human is alien to me. We are unwise if we judge others too harshly for their sexual offences and do well to remember that there but for the grace of God … We are unwise if we deal harshly with Augustine’s difficulties around sex. Rather we would do better to admire his honesty and be more honest with ourselves about which of our desires binds us and draws us away from God. It will almost certainly have something to do with Money, Sex, Food or Power.


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