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Wonder List #3
Augustine's Rule of Life
According to James K.A. Smith, in On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, Saint Augustine spent his entire life living with other people. When he was conferred as Bishop of Hippo and his life “on the road” came to a screeching halt, he established a monastic community in Numidia, Roman North Africa. During that time, the Rule of Augustine—what Smith says is “the oldest monastic rule in the Western church”—was developed.
“The Rule is another example of Augustine’s spiritual realism: it is an honest, unsentimental guide for the challenges of living in community, well acquainted with the heart’s crooked bent toward selfishness, snobbery, greed, and exclusion,” Smith writes.
Below are eight “commandments” in the Rule, one from each chapter, that are as relevant for us today as they were at the end of the 4th century.
from Chapter I | Purpose and Basis of Common Life
“Let all of you then live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring God in yourselves, whose temples you have become.”
from Chapter II | Prayer
“When you pray to God in Psalms and hymns, think over in your hearts the words that come from your lips.”
from Chapter III | Moderation and Self-Denial
“When you come to table, listen until you leave to what is the custom to read, without disturbance or strife. Let not your mouths alone take nourishment but let your hearts too hunger for the words of God.”
from Chapter IV | Safeguarding, Chastity, and Fraternal Correction
“Whenever you go out, walk together, and when you reach your destination, stay together.”
from Chapter V | The Care of Community Goods and Treatment of the Sick
“In this way, no one shall perform any task for his own benefit but all your work shall be done for the common good, with greater zeal and more dispatch than if each one of you were to work for yourself alone. For charity, as it is written, is not self-seeking (1 Cor 13:5) meaning that it places the common good before its own, not its own before the common good. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity. Thus, let the abiding virtue of charity prevail in all things that minister to the fleeting necessities of life.”
from Chapter VI | Asking Pardon and Forgiving Offenses
“You should either avoid quarrels altogether or else put an end to them as quickly as possible; otherwise, anger may grow into hatred, making a plank out of a splinter, and turn the soul into a murderer. For so you read: Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 Jn 3:15).”
from Chapter VII | Governance and Obedience
“The superior, for his part, must not think himself fortunate in his exercise of authority but in his role as one serving you in love. In your eyes he shall hold the first place among you by the dignity of his office, but in fear before God he shall be as the least among you. He must show himself as an example of good works toward all. Let him admonish the unruly, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient toward all (1 Thes 5:14). Let him uphold discipline while instilling fear. And though both are necessary, he should strive to be loved by you rather than feared, ever mindful that he must give an account of you to God.”
from Chapter VIII | Observance of the Rule
“The Lord grant that you may observe all these precepts in a spirit of charity as lovers of spiritual beauty, giving forth the good odor of Christ in the holiness of your lives: not as slaves living under the law but as men living in freedom under grace.”