Saint Augustine: Sacra Theologia -"Sacred Theology"

St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church
Feast Day: August 28
St. Augustine is known for many great works in apologetics, exegetics, sermons, letters and treatises. His most well-known works are City of God, On the Trinity, and of course, his Confessions, which gives a personal testimony of his life of conversion.  One particularly striking passage from his Confessions is presented for us in the Office of Readings on August 28:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.[1]

St. Augustine presents to us a life of philosophical and theological thought that is centered on Christ, centered on prayer, and not simply an academic exercise. He has a saying, Crede, ut intelligas (“believe, so that you may understand”), on the relationship between belief and reason; we must not seek understanding to believe, but believe in order to understand.[2] Faith precedes reason in the sense that it gives access to these things. This is similar to the famous formulation of St. Anselm, fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.” The intellectual pursuit of philosophy and theology centered on this principle is one where the center point is faith in God, and study flows from the believer’s desire to come to know Him more deeply.

Liturgically, this is expressed in the Collect at Mass on Augustine’s feast day:
Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord,
the spirit with which you endowed
your Bishop Saint Augustine
that, filled with the same spirit,
we may thirst for you,
the sole fount of true wisdom,
and seek you, the author of heavenly love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son…[3]

In artwork, St. Augustine is often shown holding a book, as well as depicted wearing the pontificals of a bishop: wearing a miter and pallium, holding a crozier. As a Doctor of the Church, he holds a book inscribed with the symbol IHS, an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ (a Christogram) from the first three letters of the Latinized Greek spelling of his Holy Name. On each of the side panels, in the background behind the angels, we see architectural references to the seminary chapel. Perhaps this gives pause for reflection on the proper orientation of the student of theology. The chapel is a place of prayer, the place of the personal encounter with our Lord, on which the rest of our activities rest. The story of Augustine’s life, and this depiction of him, show us that our theological studies are not directed by the lures of this world, and that they do not stem from any other subject area. Theological studies, and ultimately, our lives as believing Christians, are oriented by Christ, and rest only in God.

(*A brief note about the location of this triptych: This artwork currently hangs in the choir rehearsal room, although its original location was above one of the apsidal altars behind the main seminary chapel. Until a time when it can be restored to its first place, it serves as a gentle reminder to those who sing. Not only did he pen a significant treatise on the metaphysics of music, but his theological writing leads us to a deeper understanding of why we sing. Oft-quoted is this adage by St. Augustine: Cantare amantis est. “Singing belongs to the one who loves,” or, “the one who loves, sings.” [4]Rehearsing and paying attention to little details, especially theology expressed in music, is an expression of love: the love of the eternal Beauty. How fitting it is that St. Augustine reminds us of this daily.)

Written by Alexis Kutarna (Music director for St. Mary's Seminary)

[1] The Confessions of St. Augustine, Lib. 10, 27. Excerpt from The Liturgy of the Hours, ICEL, 1975.
[2] Tractates on the Gospel of John, XXIX on John 7:14-18.6
[3] Excerpt from The Roman Missal, ICEL, 2011.
[4] Augustine, Sermon 336, 1.6: PL 38 [edit.1861], 1471-1472.1475


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