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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Thursday, November 26, 2020

Day Twenty

5:2. In this way, let no one work for himself alone; all your work shall be for the common purpose, with greater zeal and more concentrated effort than if each one worked for his private purpose. The Scriptures tell us: ‘Love is not self-seeking. ’We understand this to mean: the common good takes precedence over the individual good, the individual good yields to the common good. Here again, you will know the extent of your progress as you enlarge your concern for the common interest instead of your own private interest; enduring love will govern all matters pertaining to the fleeting necessities of life.
5:3. Consequently, whenever anyone brings anything to sons or relations who reside in the monastery, an article of clothing, or anything else that is considered necessary, the gift is not to be pocketed on the sly but given to the superior as common property, so that it can be given to whoever needs it.

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


It is interesting that it is not worship or spirituality that is the locus of Augustine’s interest here but work. We tend to think of ‘one heart and mind’ as purely spiritual. But it is the common task that really matters for Augustine. Christians have not always been good at seeing work as sacred, as the place where most of our lives are spent and the focus of our Christian living. Herbert’s ‘seven who days not one in seven’ has real force. I very much like a technique I have seen in some churches of interviewing a different member of the congregation each week starting with the statement ‘This time tomorrow.’ “this time tomorrow I will be at work in … doing … with …”. We can too easily meet fellow members of the congregation week after week without having much idea what they do in between.

Despite the English translation we have here as ‘zeal’, the Latin text actually says ‘studio’. This is more evocative of “single-minded concentration” (Sr Agatha Mary). Of careful study and attention to the task at hand.

Augustine’s mention of progress here is also interesting. The Christian life has sometimes been compared to a ladder which is climbed. There is a simple measure in Augustine’s Rule for how we are doing. Not how many prayers we have said, how long we spend in prayer, nor even the extent of our fasting. Quite simply, progress is measured by the extent of our commitment to the common life. 

In the second part of today’s text there is a note of realism. When gifts are brought it would be easy to hang on to them ‘on the sly’ and keep them for ourselves. Again the test of virtue is the freedom we show in placing them in the common pool. Over and over again the Rule returns to this fundamental aim, task, and measure. It is a high challenge to the individualistic culture we live in and the relatively low levels of commitment to the common life of a congregation or church group.


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