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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Monday, November 9, 2020

Day Four

1:6. Nor should they put their nose in the air because they associate with people they did not dare approach in the world. Instead they should lift up their heart, and not pursue hollow worldly concerns. Monasteries should not provide advantage for the rich to the disadvantage of the poor. Such would be the case if the rich become humble and the poor become proud.

1:7. But on the other hand, those who enjoyed some measure of worldly success ought not to belittle their brothers who come to this holy society from a condition of poverty. They should endeavour to boast about the fellowship of poor brothers, rather than the social standing of rich relations. They are not to think well of themselves if they have contributed to the common life from their wealth. Sharing their possessions with the monastery ought not to become a greater source of pride than if they enjoyed these goods in the world. As a matter of fact, every other vice produces evil deeds with a view to doing evil, but pride sets a trap for good deeds as well with a view to destroying them. What benefit is there in giving generously to the poor and becoming poor oneself, if the pitiful soul is more inclined to pride by rejecting riches than by possessing them?

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


Augustine is carefully laying out the foundations for community living, being clear about purpose, the sharing of goods, valuing difference, meeting of needs. So it is interesting that he turns next to humility. Clearly for Augustine humility is one of the key fundamentals of being able to be in community with other human beings. the clue as to why humility is so important comes in 1:7. While other vices straightforwardly produce ‘evil deeds’ pride (the opposite of humility) doesn't simply produce evil deeds but can set a trap for us when we perform good deeds.

As we saw at the very start of the Rule Augustine sees love as the foundation and goal of community living. Tarsicius Bavel in his commentary on the Rule ( Image Books, 1986) shows how humility and love are linked in Augustine’s mind, he quotes his work On the Trinity (*,8,12), where St Augustine writes:

“To the extent that we are freed from the malignant swelling which is called pride, we are filled with love.”

This is typically strong imagery for Augustine. Pride gets in the way of love, only to the extent that pride diminishes is there any possibility of love. Bavel also quotes one of Augustine letters (118, 3, 22), that makes the point just as strongly:

“I would wish that you place yourself with all your love under Christ, and that you pave no other way in order to reach and to attain the truth that has already been paved by him who, as God, knows the weakness of our steps. this is in the first place, humility; in the second place, humility; in the third place, humility … As often as you ask me about the Christian religion’s norms of conduct, I choose to give no other answer than: humility.”’

To the modern reader it might seem that Augustine is overly concerned with material wealth here. there are, after all, plenty of grounds for pride other than wealth. Augustine is perhaps best known for strong attitudes about sin and specifically sex. I would rather see him simply as someone who understands the vulnerability of human nature particular in the areas of money, sex, food and power. Money takes its place alongside these other areas in which we so easily find ourselves out of balance.


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