The Scriptural Roots of St. Augustine's Spirituality | Stephen N. Filippo | IgnatiusInsight.com
Perhaps of all the Church Fathers, none shone so brightly as St. Augustine (351-430). Augustine's spirituality has deeply pervaded the Church right up to this very day. Two great Orders in the Church (just to cite a few), the Benedictines and the Franciscans took their spirituality directly from St. Augustine. St. Augustine's spirituality came into the Benedictine Order primarily through St. Anselm (1033-1109) and into the Franciscans primarily through St. Bonaventure (1221-1274). Both these men were in themselves, also great lights in the Church.
Of course, no discussion of Church giants can be complete without mentioning St. Thomas Aquinas, who is best described as 'following St. Augustine in Theology and Aristotle in Philosophy.' In sum, the Church gets her Dogmatic Theology primarily through St. Augustine. Since Spiritual Theology is based upon the correct Dogmatic Theology, it only makes sense that one of the Church's greatest Theologians, St. Augustine, is also responsible for a great deal of her Spiritual Theology.
And for St. Augustine, as it should be for all Catholics, this means a deep concentration and constant reflection on Sacred Scripture. The scriptural roots of St. Augustine's spirituality can be clearly seen by examining one of his greatest, yet lesser known works, De doctrina Christiana, literally "On Christian Doctrine," but actually "On how to read and interpret Sacred Scripture."
In De doctrina Christiana (henceforth "DDC"), St. Augustine lays the groundwork for a good, spiritual exegesis by elucidating on the virtue of charity, and all that means. Then, in order to begin the climb to spiritual perfection, he explains a scripturally based seven-step ladder. Lastly, he gives seven rules that are helpful in reading and understanding Sacred Scripture correctly.
Charity Towards God, Neighbor And Self
St. Augustine teaches that there are four possible objects of human love: 1. The things above us, 2. Ourselves, 3. Things equal to us, and 4. Things below us. Since all men by nature love themselves, there was no need to give the human race precepts about self-love. And, since it is obvious to most men that they should not love that which is below them, namely lesser objects, but merely use them, fewer precepts are given in the Bible concerning these. But about the love of things above us, namely God and His Angels, and things equal to us, namely other men, Sacred Scripture has everything to say. Our Lord Himself tells us the two greatest commandments are: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these the whole law and the prophets depend" (Mt. 22: 37-40).
Then, Augustine makes the distinction between enjoyment and use: "Some things are to be enjoyed, others to be used, and there are others which are to be used and enjoyed. Those things which are to be enjoyed make us blessed. Those things which are to be used help and, as it were, sustain us as we move toward blessedness in order that we may gain and cling to those things which make us blessed . . . To enjoy something is to cling to it with love, for its own sake. To use something, however, is to employ it in obtaining that which you love, provided it is worthy of love." (DDC I, iii, 3. iv, 4.) And, for St. Augustine, as it should be for us, the only thing worthy of his love, the only "thing" to be "enjoyed for its own sake" is the Holy, Blessed Trinity, the One True God.
Concerning love of our neighbors, St. Augustine reminds us that "all other men are to be loved equally; but since you cannot be of assistance to everyone, those are especially to be cared for who are most closely bound to you by place, time or opportunity, as if by chance. Just as if you had an abundance of something special that you could only give enough of to one other person, yet two came asking, neither of whom deserved it more or less. You could do no more than choose by lot. Thus, among all men, not all of whom you can care for, you must consider those in your life as if chosen by lot, who, in reality, are chosen by God." (DDC I, xxviii, 29). Therefore, the second great pre-requisite of St. Augustine's for interpreting Sacred Scripture is charity to every person in your life.