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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Sunday, November 8, 2020

Day Three

1:4. Those who owned anything in the world should freely consent to possess everything in common in the monastery.

1:5. Those who had nothing should not seek in the monastery possessions which were beyond their reach outside. Allowance should be made for their frailty, however, on the basis of individual need, even if previous poverty never permitted them to satisfy those needs. But they should not consider their present good fortune to consist in the possession of food and clothing which were beyond their means elsewhere.

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


We are only a few paragraphs into the Rule and already, once again, we are seeing Augustine’s respect for difference. The fact that he included these paragraphs tells us something very significant about the nature of his community, and therefore of the wider Christian community from which its members came. members came from many sections of society included the richest and the poorest. Augustine is showing that the Christian life involves being in community not just with the like-minded, those similar to us, but also those opposite in every way to us.

Another striking feature of 1:4 is the use of the phrase “in the world”. In Augustine’s Latin “in saeculo” from which we get our word secular.  It is a word Augustine uses frequently in his more famous book the Confessions (well worth reading if you haven’t read it previously). Scholars believe that the Confessions was written at the same time as the Rule in either 397 or 399.

The use of the term world has its origins in the New testament and in his Confessions Augustine comments on three places where it is used: John16:33, Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 2:2. 

John 16: 33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Ephesians 2:1-2: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

In recent decades this division of the church from the world, and even St Paul’s separation of flesh and Spirit, have been unfashionable as if they were somehow world- or body-hating. Sister Agatha Mary of the Society of the Precious Blood at Burnham Abbey in the Diocese of Oxford wrote a powerful commentary on the Rule of Saint Augustine and reminds the reader that ‘world’ can stand for all that wearies us, she quotes Wordsworth’s Sonnet XXXIII:

The world is too much with us; late and soon
getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

Other important words in the first of the sections we are looking are willingly (translated in our translation as consent) and freely (Latin: libenter … velint). There can be no element of compulsion in the giving up of goods. This is true of the whole of the Christian life. we give ourselves as a free gift. We know that we often do things with mixed motives, we volunteer to do something and then feel resentful when nobody thanks us. We believe we are offering to serve but hope to get attention by doing so.

Augustine is a wise soul he recognises that mixed motives can work in many directions. Joining a monastery might be for selfish reasons, seeking levels of comfort and stability not otherwise available to the poor. But rich and poor are equally welcome, and mixed motives are not going to go away, we have to work with them.


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