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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Thursday, November 12, 2020

Day Seven

2:3. When you pray to God in psalms and hymns, the words you speak should be alive in your hearts.

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


People often worry about praying. I often meet people who tell me that prayer is ‘difficult’.  This seems to a modern problem, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence in the New Testament that Christians found praying difficult. This is the fundamental teaching of Augustine’s rule on prayer, and there isn’t much of it. I have come to the view over the decades of praying myself and working with other people on their spiritual and prayer lives that only two things are necessary: Eucharist and psalms. This is clearly Augustine’s experience too.

The daily prayer in our Anglican Book of Common Prayer is probably the most successful and widely practised forms of daily prayer in Christian history. There is a simplicity about the monthly cycle of psalms, and their frequent use that is very easy to use. Learning psalms off by heart, repeating them, is the foundation of a strong prayer life.

The psalms are of utmost importance to Augustine. He preached on all of the psalms and these sermons are available in good modern translations (in six volumes) by Maria Boulding. I read parts of one of these sermons every day. They are Augustine at his best. I recommend the sermons (or Expositions) on the psalms as the best place to begin reading Augustine. His attractive character and deep personal faith are profoundly evident in them. 

Rowan Williams has written an excellent book On Augustine, Chapter two of that book is all about Augustine’s use and understanding of the psalms. Williams writes:

“The church’s worship, then, is not accidental or marginal to the church’s very being. Obviously Augustine has much to say about the Eucharist as the prime locus for discovering ourselves as the Body; nevertheless, the singing of the Psalms becomes the most immediate routine means of identifying with the voice of Christ.”

If you don’t have a daily practice of praying psalms, if you think that praying is difficult, now is a good day to begin reading a psalm out loud and as Augustine tells us making sure that the words live deeply in our hearts. The word used in the Latin ‘versor’ is perhaps best translated as ‘meditate’ (rather than ‘alive in your hearts’). Like the good person in the first psalm we flourish, we find happiness, we are truly alive, we are blessed when we meditate on the psalms, when we ponder them day and night:

1 Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingers in the way of sinners
nor sits in the company of scorners,

2 but whose delight is the law of the Lord
and who ponders his law day and night.

3 He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper.

4 Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
shall be driven away by the wind.

5 When the wicked are judged they shall not stand,
nor find room among those who are just;

6 for the Lord guards the way of the just
but the way of the wicked leads to doom.

Psalm 1 Grail translation
“Any reader of the Confessions will be aware that, for Augustine, the reading of the Psalms was more than simply a ‘devotional’ reading of a holy text, let alone reading to inform or instruct. The psalmist’s voice is what releases two fundamentally significant things for the Augustinian believer. It unseals deep places, emotions otherwise buried, and it provides an analogy for the unity or intelligibility of a human life lived in faith. Here is a conversation with God that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in the course of that conversation, the human speaker is radically changed and enabled to express what is otherwise hidden from him or her. Augustine speaks of what the Psalm he is discussing (Psalm 4, Cum invocarem) ‘makes of him’: the act of recitation becomes an opening to the transforming action of grace (conf. IX. 4.8).”


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