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

Written by Fr Richard Peers, posted on Saturday, November 7, 2020

Day Two

1:3. Do not call anything your own; possess everything in common. Your superior ought to provide each of you with food and clothing, not on an equal basis to all, because all do not enjoy the same health, but to each one in proportion to his need. For you read in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘They possessed everything in common’, and ‘distribution was made to each in proportion to each one’s need.’

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

 

It might appear that Augustine has changed the subject here, moving abruptly from the spiritual, talk of love and harmony to the physical. Looking at John 17 will help us realise that in fact this is the natural place to go next. In John 17 Jesus prays “all mine are thine, and thine are mine” (the archaic language of the RSV produces a powerful effect here which is lost in more contemporary translations). Jesus is talking to God about the disciples but it is a powerful reminder that Jesus is constantly non-possessive, kenotic (self-emptying) he is always letting go. 

The pooling of goods has always been a feature of monastic communities, looking back to that life of the Jerusalem church which Augustine refers to, but it is also, of course a feature of married life, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow” (BCP Marriage service). Traditionally monks and nuns did not take a vow of poverty (the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are a later development associated with Franciscan friars). Augustine is not concerned with poverty, for him the pooling of goods is an outpouring of love. It is just what we want to do with those we love and it includes the spiritual and the material. 

“to each one in proportion to his need” also probably needs some thought. It is not that everyone received the same. This can easily lead to resentment and envy. However, it is characteristic of Augustine, as we shall see later that he respects difference. he recognises that human beings are diverse, and this is important, the Christian life never imposes uniformity, it does not destroy personality. When we love someone we want them to flourish as themselves. 

Probably the best known Psalm is the shepherd psalm The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23) and it is much loved for its pastoral imagery and the recognition that life contains dark valleys through which we will pass. However, the second line contains a strong challenge to human acquisitiveness: “There is nothing I shall want.” Perhaps more than any other of the great theologians of the church Augustine is aware of desire. We want, we desire things, experiences all the time. But if our restless hearts are fully satisfied, find their rest, in God that need to acquire will be satisfied too. 

This pooling of possessions is one of the toughest challenges facing us in our society and in any community. Perhaps a start can be made in looking at the language Augustine uses “Do not call anything your own.” Whether it is physical goods, spiritual experience, time or talents they are gifted to us for a season, our ownership is transient.

 

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. 

Amen.

 

You can find the full text of the Rule of saint Augustine by clicking here