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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Saturday, November 14, 2020

Day One

Chapter Three

3:1. To the extent that your health allows, subdue your flesh by fasting and abstinence from food and drink. If anyone is unable to fast, let him at least take no food between meals, unless he is sick.

3:2. Listen to the customary reading from the beginning to the end of the meal without commotion or arguments. Food is not for the mouth alone; your ears also should hunger for the Word of God.

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


Fasting has strong biblical support where prayer os often mentioned in connection with fasting (Acts 13:3 for example). we often associate monastic life with strict asceticism but in fact Augustine’ prescriptions on fasting are very moderate and allow for many exception, for health reasons, or even just an inability to fast. Fasting is good if it has the outcome of subduing the flesh but it is not an end in itself.

Augustine’s biography was written by his friends Possidius in that he states:

“At table Augustine had a greater liking for the reading and the conversation that for food and drink.” (Life of Augustine, 22). This illustrates that there was reading at meal times but it also suggests that time was allowed for conversation as well. 

In Benedictine monasteries now that reading may be some Scripture but is also likely to be history, current affairs, travel or biography. The Anglican Benedictine monastery at Mucknell publish their recent reading on their website. For Augustine’s community it is certain that the reading he refers to is the reading of Scripture he references Matthew 4:4 and Amos 8:11:

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”

We have been reading Augustine’s Rule for just over a week. The reference to Benedictine monasticism suggests a good point to think about the use of Augustine’s Rule in the following centuries. For this I am indebted to  Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopaedia ed. Allan D Fitzgerald, Eerdmans1999. Western, Latin monasticism has been massively dominated by the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict was born in 480, fifty years after Augustine died. In that intervening period the Rule of The Master was written, a monastic Rule which was much used by Benedict. The Rule of the Master knows Augustine but the possible references are scant. the Rule of St Benedict has at least a dozen references to Augustine Rule. But it was the Rule of St Benedict that became massively influential. It was only in the eleventh century that there is evidence of the Rule of St Augustine being used by communities.  Pope Gregory VII set about a reform of the church. Groups of clergy began to live communal lives at cathedrals and other churches, becoming ‘canons regular’, looking around for a suitable rule to follow it was to St Augustine that they turned.Over the next two centuries new communities began to emerge, best known the Franciscans and Dominicans. It was the Dominicans who also turned to Augustine and alongside them less well know orders such as the Servites. For communities that led mendicant lives and tended not to live in large monasteries, the lack of detail in the Rule of Augustine was a definite advantage over the Rule of St Benedict. Many groups of women also adopted the Rule, the Bridgettines, Ursulines and Visitation nuns among them as did some of the mixed communities of men and women, most notably the English Gilbertines. Kevin Madigan in the Encyclopaedia’s entry on the Rule states:

“It is … hard to disagree with the judgement of R.W. Southern, who pronounced it “the most prolific of all medieval religious Rules”. Given the abiding influence and size of the medieval orders who observed it, and of the congregations who adopted it in the early modern period, it may well be the most widely observed rule in the history of the church.”

For Anglicans the Rule of St Augustine is important  as the Rule adopted by many of the newly emerging communities in the nineteenth century Anglo Catholic revival. The Society of the Precious Blood at Burnham Abbey near Windsor following this Rule and living at the site of a medieval Augustinian House. Even closer to us at Christ Church the Community of St Mary the Virgin at Wantage live the Augustinian rule. Wikipedia lists the following Anglican communities as keeping the Rule:


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