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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Day Thirteen

4:4. When you see a woman, do not fix your eyes on her or any woman. You are not forbidden to see women when you are out of the house. It is wrong, however, to desire women or to wish them to desire you. Lust for women is mutually stimulated not only by tender touches but by sight as well. Make no claim to a pure mind when your eyes are impure; an impure eye is the herald of an impure heart. Unchaste hearts reveal themselves by exchanging glances even without any words; people yield to lust as they delight in their passion for each other. Chastity takes to its heels, even though their bodies remain unsullied by unchaste actions.

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


Chapter 4 is the longest section of the Rule, taking up about a quarter of the text. Augustine moves naturally from food to clothing. He is discussing the essentials of life. We should not allow ourselves to be influenced by images of later monastic communities, there is no evidence that the members of this community wore anything like the ‘habits’ of later monastics. In fact Possidius says this about his clothing:

“His clothing and footwear were modest, but fitting, neither too refined, nor too shabby or slovenly.”
(Life of Augustine, 22 quoted in Bavel p.73)

Bavel goes on to quote one of Augustine’s sermons where he talks more about clothing:

“Give what you will. From the gifts made to the community each person will receive what he needs … I too receive from community property, and whatever goods I have I wish to have as only belonging to the community. therefore I do not want you to bring gifts which I alone can use because, so to speak, they are more appropriate to my standing. If, for example, someone were to give me a costly garment, it may well be the thing for a bishop, but not for Augustine. For he is a poor man and a child of poor parents. Otherwise people would soon be saying that i have received expensive clothes such as I could never have had in my parental home or of I had pursued a profession in the world. that would not be proper. My clothes should be such that i can also give them to my brother if he is without. I will accept clothes that can be worn by priests, deacons and sub-deacons, because I accept them for the community. If someone gives me better clothing than this I sell it … I sell it and give the money to the poor … Yes, I admit that I am ashamed to wear expensive clothing, because it is not in keeping with my religious state of life.
Sermon 356, 13 (Bavel p 73-74)

I think the point that we can take away from this in our time and lives is the importance and significance of possessions including clothes. They matter. 

The community of priests I belong to (the Sodality) has the Archbishop of York as our patron. Speaking to us a few months ago he said that the one of the key disciples we should develop is showing our bank statements to our Spiritual Directors. How we spend our money matters. We can see what we really value by what we buy. Too often in Spiritual Direction people want to talk about ‘spiritual’ matters and their prayer lives and not enough - or indeed at all - about some substantial elements of our lives that also matters.

In counselling it is sometimes said that Money, Sex, Food and Power are where all our conflicts and difficulties lie. My experience is that when we reach moments of crisis one of these is always involved (alcohol being included in Food).

The members of the community are not to travel alone. this flows naturally from the single purpose to be of one heart and mind. Community living merely expresses the Christian truth that we are not alone; we belong; to the Body of Christ; to our community.

Finally in this section we see that Augustine recognises the importance of the body. Far from hating the body he knows that it is who we are. We are incarnate beings. We express who we are through our postures, gestures and movements. In more casual times such as ours it is hard to remember the significance placed on the body in almost every culture. As Head teacher of an inner city school I introduced the teaching of Mindfulness meditation as a key element of the life of the school. Mindfulness cannot be practiced without an acute awareness of the body, to allow breathing to be free and easy shoulders need to be back; the head upright. Almost the exact opposite of how most teenagers would choose to sit. It was like watching sunflowers lifting their heads to the sun. As posture improves so does mood, courtesy and self-image. The body matters.


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