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Memory of the First Colegio

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The following article was written in view of the fortieth anniversary of the Colegio San Agustin-Bacolod back in 2002. It was originally published in one of Bacolod’s daily newspapers. The original carried with it a short commentary on the Augustinian Principles of Education of 1996 formulated by the Province of Sto. Niño. I repost this article here because I think it is still relevant today as it was eight years ago when it first came out on the press. Currently the Augustinians run four Colegios de San Agustin in the Philippines. The first was established in a swampland in Iloilo in 1904; it is now called the University of San Agustin. This was followed in the 1960s by another Colegio in Bacolod when the friars purchased the Casanova School. After this the friars established the Colegio de San Agustin in Makati. This latter is under the supervision of the friars of the Vicariate of the Orient. Finally, the Province of Sto. Niño established the Colegio de San Agustin of Southwoods, Biñan, Laguna.

Augustinians like to remember, not because of nostalgia but because they know that the key to the future as well as the present, lies in the past. So they look back, not as if from a plow, so as to lose the kingdom of God; they look back, rather, as if from a ship moving away from the pier in the manner of the man who looks to the place of one’s origins so as to reach the place of one’s destination. Ang hindi marunong tumingin sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.

So they look into the past. But how far into the past? To forty years ago, when the former Casanova School was renamed Colegio San Agustin? Nay, farther back into history, to the first Colegio San Agustin, ever: Cassiciacum, in the vicinity of the Milan, where the foundations were laid, and after that, as extension, in Augustine’s family estate in Tagaste, North Africa. The first Colegio San Agustin did not come to the Philippines already finished from Spain. The first Colegio was tied up with a man’s dream for a place where he, his family and his friends can come together and share their delight in the Truth, that is Christ.

St. Augustine of Hippo has been popularized as the playboy turned saint, although he never was a Don Juan. Many have heard the story of his conversion: of the garden, of the man torn between the call of his libido and God’s summons, of mysterious voices chanting in the night, of the passage from a letter of Paul, of the triumph of God’s grace, of the restoration of a lost son to his waiting mother… For many, the story ends there. The truth is, the exciting part — the part where the seeds of the future Colegios de San Agustin are planted — is yet to begin.

Between the time of his conversion at the garden, and the moment when Ambrose of Milan officiated at his baptism, Augustine spent some time with his mother, son and friends in a villa named Cassiciacum (now Casago Brianza) outside Milan. It was there where he produced his early Dialogues and his Soliloquies, works that were derived from the discussions he held with his friends and at the same time students. A scholar reconstructs a Cassiciacum day in the following manner:

The dialogues were read aloud to the assembled friends before they were published. They were recorded with care; references to secretaries abound… The timing, duration, and organization of the conversations was likewise determined by Augustine’s insistence that they be recorded. Debates were broken off at nightfall and begun at daybreak so that scribes could continue their work; they were stopped temporarily when the space on the wax tablets ran out. Arguments that were taken down as notes, subsequently edited, and then made available to the group were described as ‘books.’ Sessions were postponed for the task of correspondence. The “ingenious invention” of the pen trapped evanescent words and prevented Augustine’s students’ labours from being dispersed by the wind…

Doing philosophy did not entail reasoning from positions arrived at by the debaters but discussing texts by authors long dead. The exchange of ideas required extensive reading of pagan writers, scripture, and, as the days passed, the transcriptions of the previous conversations. In the upward progress of the soul inspired by the liberal arts, Socratic ‘reminiscence’ was thus replaced by the memory of what had previously been said. De Beata Vita can be described as a Platonic banquet, but it is one that takes place in a library, or, as Augustine later described it, a museum of pre-Christian beliefs. Contra Academicos and De Ordine had recesses for meals and for wearied speakers to return to the books that they were reading for their enjoyment. Augustine’s arrangements sometimes sound less like those of a philosopher than those of a seminar instructor.

Thus the first Colegio San Agustin was born: it was homely, friendly, intensely philosophical, Christian and filled with the aroma of St. Monica’s cooking.

After Augustine’s return to his hometown in Tagaste from his Italian sojourn, the Cassiciacum experience was continued in the family estate. Augustine never got married after he decided to live a celibate lay man’s life. He continued to be some kind of Head Master to his growing school of Christian Wisdom whose enrollees, at one time, included his own brother Navigius, his dear friend Alypius, and his son, Adeodatus. From September of 386 AD (the date he first came to Cassiciacum) to 391 AD, the first Colegio provided the intellectual climate which helped Augustine develop a Christian liberal arts curriculum (now to be seen in the classic, De ordine). In 391 AD, however, the first Colegio started to become a Seminario; for it was then when, surprised once more by grace, Augustine was physically carried by an enthusiastic crowd to Bishop Valerius of Hippo for priestly ordination.

Thus ends the story of the first Colegio de San Agustin. It didn’t cease to be a School of Christian Wisdom; it simply started functioning on a different plane — as a monastery that would later on provide the North African Church with holy pastors, priests and deacons.

Colegio de San Agustin Then and Now

The first Colegio de San Agustin was, more than a set of buildings, a group of persons fired by a common thirst for Truth. They all rejoiced in the name “Christian” and delighted in the knowledge that they live a life guaranteed by the rule of the Apostles, with one mind and one heart intent upon God. Their life was by no means academic in intent; but when the more modern Colegios de San Agustin were put up and established, the memory of the students and teacher of the Cassiciacum and Tagaste days was like a vision that guided the Augustinian friars in programming and directing their schools. What was in the first Colegio that the friars wanted to reproduce in Colegios that they established in the Philippines? There are, to my mind, three important elements:

  1. That it was first and foremost a community of faith;

  2. That it was a community which proved itself available to respond to the needs of the greater Church; and
  3. That the men it produced were able and competent to render service, not only for the good of the Church, but also for the good of society as well.

Cassiciacum and Tagaste, the sites of the first Colegio, were for Augustine, his family and friends a venue for cultivating a philosophical culture that was permeated by the Light of God’s revelation. True, it was still a far cry from the cultural centers that the Benedictine monks will develop in the sixth century and onwards and farther still from the Cathedral schools that will in the 11th and 12th centuries become the first European Universities. But all these were already present there in nuce, as it were, in the conversations of Augustine and Adeodatus about signs and what these signify, or in the debates and discussions on the problem of evil, on the powers of the soul, and in the question-and-answer forums held on knotty exegetical issues. But all these were done in the spirit of faith seeking understanding, of knocking at the door of Wisdom until Wisdom is beheld. Academics was not an issue there; but it did inspire the friars to build faith communities within an academic setting.

Although the first Colegio was set up as a kind otiose environment where Wisdom can be easily contemplated, it was however ready to make its members available to the needs of the greater community, the Church. The first to go was the Colegio’s founder, Augustine, who had to take upon himself the task of at first assisting Valerius as pastor in Hippo, and later on taking up the Bishopric itself when the See became vacant. After Augustine, others — like Alypius and Possidius — also came out of the first Colegio to become pastors of the North African Church, leaving behind their holy leisure to answer the Church’s call for service.

But that is not all. For given the political situation of Northern Africa at the time, bedeviled as it was by a schism that divided Christianity into factions, the work of these men for the cause of peace and unity proved beneficial to the Church in particular and to society as a whole. The products of the first Colegio were the men who set the course of the North African Church to unity making that Church all the more memorable for the future development of Western Catholicism. They were men of competence; just the kind that every age buried in the quagmires of its own doing, needs for itself to be pulled out onto safer grounds.

Faith-Community, Availability and Ready Competence. These were the hallmarks of the first Colegio. When the Augustinian friars built their own schools patterned after that of Augustine, they set before their eyes a program for the creation of academic centers of faith and communion, that will be training grounds for competent men and women who will, as professionals, serve the needs of the Church and the human family, with unselfish love and generosity.

Originally posted 2010-08-27 00:57:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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