"Your word is my joy": St Augustine's thoughts on contemplative life

In the context of celebrations on the occasion of the Fourth Centenary of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino, in November some publications on the contemplative aspect of the Augustinian-Recollect Family are being offered on this website. In this publication we go to the Augustinian Recollect Enrique Eguiarte, specialist in St Augustine, to explain to us Augustinian thinking on contemplation.

"Your word is my joy": St Augustine's thoughts on contemplative life

In the context of celebrations on the occasion of the Fourth Centenary of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino, in November some publications on the contemplative aspect of the Augustinian-Recollect Family are being offered on this website. In this publication we go to the Augustinian Recollect Enrique Eguiarte, specialist in St Augustine, to explain to us Augustinian thinking on contemplation.
News | 2020 Nov 20

St. Augustine was always a lover of contemplative life and despite his multiple occupations as Bishop of Hippo, he never abandoned his contemplative project, and sought moments and hours for an in-depth encounter with God.

Upon returning from Rome to Tagaste he founded his first monastery, in which his desire was to devote himself to contemplation of God's eternal truths, the composition of his works, community life and manual labor, and this was the same as he proposed for those who shared his manner of life.

The "otium"– as a dedication to study, especially of the Holy Scriptures, without rejecting the field of philosophy, dialogue with friends on topics of a philosophical and theological nature, and prayer – was the ideal for the Augustinian monk,in the face of the "negotium" he had to understand in matters of the practical nature of physical or social life.

And in this line Augustine would have followed his whole life had he not been forced to ordain himself as a priest and later as a bishop.

These desires and contemplative project of Augustine explain that his works are full of references and reflections around contemplation, starting from his own platonic and neoplatonic schemes in his first works, up to the same Christian schemes of his last works.

In the reference article Eguiarte, to present to us the thought of the Bishop of Hippo on contemplation is fixed on the figure of Mary of Bethany as a symbol of contemplative life and of the person engaged in contemplation within the Church. Following the scheme of the three verbal words –vacabat, sedebat, audiebat– which St Augustine uses in Sermon 179, 3, to refer to Mary of Bethany, the author offers some reflections on these three verbal words, applicable to contemplative life.

With regard to the first verb, vacabat, lived in holy rest, the importance of avoiding dispersal is highlighted in the first place, contrasting the figures of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, as well as the commitment to relativize the things of the earth, knowing how to love what must be loved and not to love what should not be loved.

The challenge of building unity is also underlined. Those who live contemplative life are called to live a deep union with Christ, and at the same time with their own community and with the community of the whole Church. For St Augustine contemplation does not make the person alien to the events of the world, but on the contrary the same contemplation unites him and all human beings in the body of Christ.

Finally, Eguiarte reveals the eschatological elements pointed out by St Augustine in referencing Mary of Bethany as a symbol of contemplative life.

In the reflections on the second verb, sedebat, humility is highlighted as a necessary condition for contemplation, as well as perseverance in the life of contemplation, as a grace that must be asked daily from the Lord. Thirdly, it is pointed out how Mary was satisfied within her by the doctrine of Christ,and how those who live contemplation must not only hunger and thirst for the word of Christ, but also to become aware of how God's wisdom and the light of truth come from her.

Finally, in relation to the third verb, audiebat (listening as a disciple) first points out the importance of silence as a condition for welcoming, listening to and scrutinizing the Word of Christ. Likewise, Eguiarte refers to Mary of Bethany’s great desire in her heart to listen to Christ, a vehement desire that she must be present in every contemplative. Thirdly, it is pointed out how St Augustine emphasizes the joy that every contemplative must find in the word of God, so that what St Augustine expressed in the Confessions can really be fulfilled in a real way: Vox tua gaudium meum,"your voice is my joy".

St. Augustine was always a lover of contemplative life and despite his multiple occupations as Bishop of Hippo, he never abandoned his contemplative project, and sought moments and hours for an in-depth encounter with God.

Upon returning from Rome to Tagaste he founded his first monastery, in which his desire was to devote himself to contemplation of God's eternal truths, the composition of his works, community life and manual labor, and this was the same as he proposed for those who shared his manner of life.

The "otium"– as a dedication to study, especially of the Holy Scriptures, without rejecting the field of philosophy, dialogue with friends on topics of a philosophical and theological nature, and prayer – was the ideal for the Augustinian monk,in the face of the "negotium" he had to understand in matters of the practical nature of physical or social life.

And in this line Augustine would have followed his whole life had he not been forced to ordain himself as a priest and later as a bishop.

These desires and contemplative project of Augustine explain that his works are full of references and reflections around contemplation, starting from his own platonic and neoplatonic schemes in his first works, up to the same Christian schemes of his last works.

In the reference article Eguiarte, to present to us the thought of the Bishop of Hippo on contemplation is fixed on the figure of Mary of Bethany as a symbol of contemplative life and of the person engaged in contemplation within the Church. Following the scheme of the three verbal words –vacabat, sedebat, audiebat– which St Augustine uses in Sermon 179, 3, to refer to Mary of Bethany, the author offers some reflections on these three verbal words, applicable to contemplative life.

With regard to the first verb, vacabat, lived in holy rest, the importance of avoiding dispersal is highlighted in the first place, contrasting the figures of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, as well as the commitment to relativize the things of the earth, knowing how to love what must be loved and not to love what should not be loved.

The challenge of building unity is also underlined. Those who live contemplative life are called to live a deep union with Christ, and at the same time with their own community and with the community of the whole Church. For St Augustine contemplation does not make the person alien to the events of the world, but on the contrary the same contemplation unites him and all human beings in the body of Christ.

Finally, Eguiarte reveals the eschatological elements pointed out by St Augustine in referencing Mary of Bethany as a symbol of contemplative life.

In the reflections on the second verb, sedebat, humility is highlighted as a necessary condition for contemplation, as well as perseverance in the life of contemplation, as a grace that must be asked daily from the Lord. Thirdly, it is pointed out how Mary was satisfied within her by the doctrine of Christ,and how those who live contemplation must not only hunger and thirst for the word of Christ, but also to become aware of how God's wisdom and the light of truth come from her.

Finally, in relation to the third verb, audiebat (listening as a disciple) first points out the importance of silence as a condition for welcoming, listening to and scrutinizing the Word of Christ. Likewise, Eguiarte refers to Mary of Bethany’s great desire in her heart to listen to Christ, a vehement desire that she must be present in every contemplative. Thirdly, it is pointed out how St Augustine emphasizes the joy that every contemplative must find in the word of God, so that what St Augustine expressed in the Confessions can really be fulfilled in a real way: Vox tua gaudium meum,"your voice is my joy".

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