Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fr Z on Augustine

Fr Z presents a tour-de-force post about the great Bishop of Hippo:
Each year Augustine’s presenceand importance is brought into focus by literally hundreds of new monographs, scholarly articles and books. Students at nearly every level of mature learning encounter him in some way, often in his works The City of God or his autobiographical prayer to God called Confessions. There is virtually no field in the liberal arts or many of the sciences that does not owe something vital to the Augustinian tradition, extending through Boethius, John Eriugena, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, Dante Alighieri, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz and a myriad of others. His anti-materialist philosophical and theological writings even stand up to the challenges of modern physics, such as the Uncertainty Principle elucidated by Werner Heisenberg.
Augustine has particular relevance today. As do many of the Fathers of the Church, they can teach us again to read Scripture, freed from the over emphasis on the often sterile and text killing historical-critical method which gripped the Church like a vice for so long, liberated from the “hermeneutic of suspicion” by which so many priests and scholars were taught to assume that what Scripture said was false unless provable with critical tools. Most of the central doctrine and formulas describing what we believe as Catholics, indeed as Christians, were hammered out in the crucible of those turbulent centuries and no one made a greater contribution than Augustine. Augustine could help enormously with a revival of doctrinally sound and useful preaching. Always practical, the great and lofty orator shunned any style of discourse that went over the heads of his flock. He thought that being understood, and helping people to love God and live properly through the living sermon of your own holiness was paramount. Augustine wanted his clerics and the bishops he trained to be holy more than they were erudite.
As the scholar of Augustinian monasticism Fr. George Lawless, OSA told me recently, invoking the bible image of old wine in new skins, it was once thought that a sermon without a citation from Augustine was like having wine cellar without wine. The widely published Fr. Lawless, who teaches in Rome at the “Augustinianum”, one of the sites chosen for the exposition of the saints relics, also shared with me something he will have given in a conference by the time this goes to press, and it is entirely to him that I owe credit for this marvelous insight he recalled from the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, namely, that post-Reformation doctrine had become so many bones without flesh, while pastoral practice and spirituality was now flesh without bones. Fr. Lawless sees in Augustine’s gifts to us, these bones and flesh together. This is a marvelous image to reflect on while the bones of Augustine were present with us all in Rome, near for the first time in 16 centuries to the mother who, by her cooperation with God, brought to light of the world this towering figure who took flesh and bone from her. May we take spiritual and doctrinal flesh and bones from him in the years to come while we await the unification of the same in the coming of the Lord.

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