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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Day Nineteen

Chapter Five

 5:1. Keep your clothes in one place under the care of one or two, or as many people as may be needed to air them out and prevent damage from moths. Just as a single storeroom furnishes your food, so a single wardrobe should supply your clothing. Pay as little attention as possible to the clothes you receive as the season requires. Whether each of you receives what he had turned in or what was worn by someone else is of little concern, so long as no one is denied what he needs. If arguments and grumbling occur among you, and someone complains that he has received worse clothing than previously and that it is beneath his dignity to be dressed in clothes which another brother was wearing, you thereby demonstrate to yourselves how deficient you are in the holy and interior clothing of the heart, arguing as you do about clothes for the body. Even though one caters to your weakness and you receive the same clothing, you are to keep the clothes you are not wearing at the present time in one place under common supervision.

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


After quite heavy discussion of the ultimate sanction of expulsion from the community it is somewhat of a relief to come to something easy to get our heads round like clothing. However, though this might seem an insignificant subject I suspect it is very important. Working in schools for over twenty years I know that two subjects came up in every School Council, Parent Forum or any discussion with pupils and parents about what we needed to change: toilets, toilet paper and school dinners. Practical matters such as clothing can be of the utmost seriousness in any community. Minor irritations can easily become deep seated resentments.

Clothing is highly significant. We are very concerned about what we wear and what it says about us as well as comfort and warmth. We easily become attached to clothing. I am hanging on to a fleece top that I have had over 20 years. It is my comfort item. I like to think that I am not particularly worried about clothes and I certainly don’t spend much money on clothes (compared for instance to what I spend on books). But in fact I have worn the same shoes (Doc Martens), the same coats (donkey jackets) and  black jeans with collarless white shirts as the mainstay of my wardrobe since I was a sixth former. Tell me I have to change and I would not be happy. In fact it  is just the losing of such liberty that probably held me back from a monastic vocation when I was younger. Choice is high on the list of importance for us and our contemporaries. To be deprived of choice is a hard thing for us, and for human beings of any time.

The word monk is usually described as having its origins in the Greek monossingle. The monk, the monastic is the person who is single-mindedly seeking God. But this section of the Rule reminds us of Augustine’s determination that his community be of one heart and mind. The single wardrobe is an important part of that.

In John 17 (as we noted earlier) Jesus prayed the (now famous in Latin) phrase ‘that they may be one’ (ut unum sint). it is a fairly low level - though clearly enormously difficult to achieve - interpretation to regard this as fundamentally about ecclesial/institutional unity. What is clear is that for Jesus this is of salvation level importance. To be saved is to be incorporated into Jesus, to become part of his body, part of him. To be united heart and mind with our fellow believers isn't just about making the church a more pleasant experience,. It is ontological, about our very being. Christians can never succumb to the most extreme forms of existentialism.  When we confront apparent meaninglessness we don’t experience nausea but the deep compassion and connectedness that is God and our incorporation into the life of the Trinity by baptism.

As already said, clothing may be more significant than we think.


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