The 28th of August is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 358-430). This North African saint is one of the most important theologians of Western Christianity. Augustine was a brilliant orator and rhetorician who received one of the finest educations possible in his time. By his own admission, he lived a wild and disordered life, first not caring for any belief in God and then getting tangled up in a cult. Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and prayed for him every day. In his late 20s, Augustine moved from Northern Africa to Milan, Italy. At age 31, he became a Christian when, inspired by the music and preaching of the Church in Milan, he encountered a Bible and heard a quiet voice saying, “Take, Read.” He opened the Bible randomly to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and through reading became convinced of the truth of Christianity. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose who was the bishop of Milan at the time. In 391, he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Hippo in what is now Algeria. Later, he became Bishop of Hippo and remained in that position until his death. Augustine was an incredibly prolific and popular writer and preacher. We have nearly 350 of his sermons, and dozens of treatises and theological essays. His most influential works include his Confessions, the City of God, and De Trinitatae, his treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity. However, Augustine was first and foremost a preacher and teacher, speaking during the liturgy to a congregation of regular folks. Below is an excerpt of one of Augustine’s sermons on 1 John 4:4-12.
“All who do not love God are strangers and antichrists. They might come to the churches, but they cannot be numbered among the children of God. That fountain of life does not belong to them. A bad person can have baptism and prophecy. King Saul had prophecy: even while he persecuted the holy David, he was filled with the Spirit of Prophecy, and began to prophesy. [1 Sam. 19] A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself…
“Could we love [God], unless he first loved us? Though we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return…This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love…
“Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.”
Happy Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo this week! However you celebrate, celebrate in love.