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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Friday, November 20, 2020

Day Fourteen

4:5. The man who directs his attention towards a woman and enjoys her similar token of affection should not think others fail to notice this mutual exchange. He is certainly observed even by persons he thinks do not see him. But if his actions escape the notice of men and women, what will he do about the One who keeps watch on high, from whom nothing can be hidden? Is God therefore blind, because he looks on with patience proportionate to his wisdom? The holy man should fear to displease God, lest he desire to please a woman sinfully. So as not to look upon a woman in a sinful manner, let him bear in mind that God sees everything. Fear of the Lord is recommended in this matter too where we read in the Scriptures: ‘The Lord abhors a covetous eye.’

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


Bavel in his commentary on the Rule provides two versions of his translation, a masculine one for male communities and a feminine one for communities of women. Our own knowledge of same-sex attraction aside it is good to see these sections translated man/woman and a reminder here that Augustine is not writing with any misogynist intent but simply about sexuality. 

Augustine is frequently regarded as being anti-sex and passages like this one certainly stand out for us. I have already referred to the insight from secular counselling that our deepest vulnerabilities are found in Money, Sex, Food and Power. The Christian vocabulary for those vulnerabilities is ‘sin’.  Over and over again we see how people behave in apparently out of character ways in these areas. 

As citizens of a post-Freudian world and more recently the #MeToo movement we should be all too aware of the ways in which care is needed in personal relationships.   Money, Sex, Food and Power are themselves powerful elements in our human lives. Augustine deeply understand the importance of desire for each of these. the older. get the more I believe Augustine’s insights and intuitions to be helpful. It is hard for us to be honest and true about desire in these areas and the human capacity for self-deception is well known. Augustine is not, it seems to me a pessimist but a realist.

All Christians are called to chastity and there is a chastity that is essential to protect the faithfulness of Christian marriage. Care in interpersonal relationships is needed for the married, the celibate and the single equally and right to the end of life. Augustine’s insight that the desire to be desired needs as much caution as desire itself is illustrated by many examples. 

Realism about our vulnerabilities in these areas should not stop us recognising them as gifts. Great care is needed because they are not only powerful but precious and fragile. Like life itself.


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