The present article is a rewriting of “Being Church in an Academic Setting II” originally published in Communitas and partly published on the web at [http://www.geocities.com/agilawan/mission/layspir.html]. It was written as a commentary on a talk given by the Prior General of the Order of St. Augustine, the Very Reverend Fr. Miguel Orcasitas, OSA, to the members of the University of San Agustin academic community in February of 1996. References to the Rule for Augustinian Seculars (RAS) are outdated.
During these past fifteen years or so, we have been hearing so much about Augustinians sharing their “Augustinian heritage” to the laity as a something owed. During this time also, we have seen groups of lay Augustinians cropping up in the different circumscriptions of the Order. Groups of lay people who try to live the charism of the Augustinians is not a new phenomenon. We have had them since the fourteenth century. These lay groups however should be distinguished from the religious organizations which bear some Augustinian elements deriving from the institution that gave them birth. The lay Augustinian groups we are referring to are those groups whose members consciously take up the Rule of St. Augustine as the main guideline of their Christian life and take on some special “Augustinian” bonds in addition to their baptismal vows as a particular way of expressing their Christian commitment. Such groups I think are envisioned whenever the invitation to share the Augustinian heritage to the laity is voiced out.
But what do we mean precisely by “Augustinian heritage?”
We mean two things by the term “Augustinian heritage.” The first is Augustine’s experience of God as he understood it under the light of Scriptures and which he made public through his works. It was an experience that he shared with his immediate family and friends in a life of communion based on the Jerusalem ideal of Luke-Acts. The second meaning derives from the particular way by which the members of the Order of St. Augustine have lived Augustine’s Jerusalem ideal as outlined in the Rule and their contributions to the deepening of the philosophical and theological insights of their Spiritual Father in their life of prayer, work and study. In other words, when the Prior General offered the Augustinian heritage to the lay members of this academe, he was offering not just a philosophy, nor a way of thinking, but a way of living out the Christian vocation: a spirituality.
Fr. Orcasitas (General of the Order of St. Augustine, 1992-2004), in an address to the lay people who work in the University of San Agustin, once offered Augustine’s heritage as a help for living out one’s lay Christian vocation. In this, he was just being obedient to the desire of the Church which has singled out as one of the principal tasks of the Order to make known the richness of Augustine. John Paul II once said: “Your Order has as a principal obligation the task of keeping alive and attractive the fascinating quality of St. Augustine also in modern society: a stupendous and stimulating ideal, because the examct and heartfelt knowledge of his thought and life excites the thirst for God, the attraction of Jesus Christ, the love of wisdom and truth, the need for grace, prayer, virtue, fraternal charity and the yearning for the happiness of eternity” (Address to the Augustinians, 25 August 1983). Secondly, Augustine’s heritage was offered to the members of the academic community of the University of San Agustin because it is owed to them. The Church document “Lay Catholics in School: Witnesses to Faith” states that because the concrete characteristics of a Catholic school most often corresponds “to the specific charism of the Religious Institute that founded the school and continues to direct it … lay Catholics should try to understand the special characteristics of the school they are working in, and the reasons that have inspired them. They should try to identify themselves with these characteristics that their own work will help toward relaizing the specific nature of the school (n. 39).” To my mind, however, there is a deeper reason behind the Prior General’s offer, a motive that derives from the Augustinian Order’s understanding of its historical roots, and it is this: Augustine’s heritage is a gift which the Order itself has received from the laity; and it is offered to them because it, too, is rightfully theirs.
St. Augustine is venerated today as a Bishop and Doctor and one of the West’s monastic founders. Even his Jerusalem ideal (cf. Acts 2:42-46; 4:32-35) has been identified with a particular way of living the religious life. Only a few realize that he first conceived of a program for a community life intended for lay people and to try this out, while he was still a lay person. It was at Cassiciacum, before and immediately after his baptism, where he, together with his mother, son, friends and students had some experience of this life of communion, which later on in Tagaste, upon his return from Italy — as St. Possidius narrates to us — he formally tried out with his friends. Jordan of Saxony, one of the earlier historians of the Order of St. Augustine correctly judged that “the life which St. Augustine led in Tagaste during some three years was not the monastic or religious life as such. It was there where he began “to live according to the manner of the holy Apostles.” Indeed, it was then that the layperson Augustine tried out the Jerusalem ideal of “one mind and one heart” with his friends.
Even the historical roots of the Order of St. Augustine is traceable to the flowering of a hermit movement (which included monks,priests and lay people) between the 11th and the 13th centuries in Europe. Surely there must have been lay groups among the Tuscan hermits who were brought together to form the Order of St. Augustine in 1244! One perhaps can even say that Augustine’s heritage is the product of a lay spirituality that was deeply lived and the subsequent development it underwent in a monastic and religious context. When therefore, the Prior General, speaking in behalf of the Order, offered to the lay academic community the rich heritage of St. Augustine, he was giving back to the laity what the Order has received from them: a way of life, colored by the bright hues of a deep and personal experience of God and of “being Church” tested and proven by history and recommended by the Church.
As the fish is to the sea, so there is a connaturality that binds lay spirituality and Augustinian spirituality: Augustinian spirituality comes from lay spirituality. This is not surprising since the Augustinian ideal of common life is inspired by the life of the primitive Christians who were neither religious nor ordained ministers of the priesthood. Hence, the Spanish friar, St. Thomas once exclaimed during a Pentecost sermon:
El divino Agustin conformo su religion en la imitacion de estos. Juzgo suficiente que sus frailes siguiesen la forma de vida y regla de aquellos primitivos seculares.
It is because of this connaturality that Augustinian spirituality can be enriching for lay spirituality and that a lay Augustinian spirituality is possible. A living proof of this is the “Secular Augustinians” a group of lay people (and also diocesan priests) who, with special bonds, live their baptismal vows inspired by Augustine’s Jerusalem ideal of “one mind and heart intent upon God.” But what precisely does this connaturality mean?
Christian spirituality ultimately has one source: one’s consecration to God in baptism. It is from this consecration that the life in the Spirit which the apostle Paul describes in his letters come forth. The unique ways in which this life show its colors as through a prism is filtered through the multi-faceted life of the Church itself. The many gifts of the Holy Spirit, the diversity of its charisms, are like so many ornaments that the Church is adorned with. Those whom we regard as the founders of a way of life are those who in their life and work have made this or that charism of the Church sparkle and show its particular beauty. It is due to this fact that the charism and gift that one sees in a way of life approved by the Church derives from the Church itself. The fact that this way of life is “Augustinian” or “Franciscan” or “Dominican” is a historical and institutional characteristic that is secondary to the fact that all gifts derive from the one Spirit that breathes through the Church.
Having said this, however, one needs to note further that the particular origins of what we now call as “Augustinian spirituality” has roots deriving from the laity. In this sense, it is similar to Franciscan spirituality in that this latter was originally a movement of lay people who wished to live a particular gospel-imperative, that is, the poverty of the poor Christ.
After his conversion, Augustine resolved to live the life of the primitive Christian community in their family house in Tagaste. The original Augustinian community therefore was made up of people who have resolved to live their baptismal vows with the addition of celibacy as the expression of a commitment to an ideal: the ideal of one heart and one mind intent upon God, “the rule of the apostles.” Celibacy was adopted because it was only through this, Augustine discovered (and he tells about it in his Confessions), that the sharing of goods is made feasible. The program of this ideal was modest: living in one community and sharing all they have in common, this community of friends (for so they have been even before their baptism, with Augustine as the point of reference for such friendship) were to deepen their knowledge of Christ through the study of Scriptures. The first Augustinian community was in a way like the philosophical communities of old (e.g. the Epicureans) but with this one difference: their center was not the philosophical Logos but the Logos in John: In principio Verbum erat…
When Augustine was ordained priest and then consecrated bishop later, this community also changed colors. When Augustine transferred his community to the bishop’s house, it became some sort of “seminary” for from it the fifth century North African Church got its supply of priests and bishops.
The founding of the Order of St. Augustine in 1244 — the “small Union” — parallels this shift from lay to “religious”. In 1244 hermit groups in the area of Tuscany were brought together by a Papal Bull and on their observance was imposed the Rule of St. Augustine. One of the reasons given is that the Church wanted to bring these small groups together to better harness them for the benefit of the Church. The Pope at the time must have seen how the Dominicans and the Franciscans were benefitting the Church and so he wanted these heremitic groups bound together under one Order and one Rule to further enhance the effects that the mendicants are already bringing about in the life of the thirteenth century Church.
The heremitic movement of Tuscan Italy was lay in character. The origins of Franciscan spirituality can be traced to this heremitic movement. This heremitic movement was characterized by five elements:
- it was a movement from the grassroots (largely lay folk, although there were some priests)
- it was characterized by the embrace of poverty
- its practitioners were above all penitents
- and they practised their devotions in a shrine to which they went on foot (pilgrimage)
- they treated each other as friends, that is, as “socius” — companions along the way
When these eremitic groups were brought together in 1244, the Church was bringing together into just one Order, a heremitic spirituality that was a product of Tuscan mysticism. Before these hermits took on the special characteristic of a mendicant religious, they were first lay people who were seriously living out their baptismal consecration through a life of penance. When in 1256 the Holy See added to this core group of hermits other more or less established religious communities, the Order of St. Augustine began to take on the characteristics of a mendicant Order that will be described in the Liber vitasfratrum (14th century) until its present form today.
What we have described above is not complete unless we also give a description of the Jerusalem ideal that touched the heart of Augustine and became his consuming desire. It must be noted that the City of God that he describes finds its primordial earthly reflection in the Jerusalem community of the first apostles.
The description of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem as reported in Acts 2:42-46 and 4:32-35 were Augustine’s inspiration. The same texts provide us not only an image of the Church, but also a pradigmatic mode. Of how the Christian life should be lived. In fact, Augustine presented this primitive ideal not only as an example for religious but for lay Christians as well. Luke’s description of the primitive Christian community can be summarized into three points: (a) Fraternal sharing and distribution of goods; (b) fidelity to the memory of Christ; and (c) cultivation of Christian friendship.
Fraternal sharing and distribution of goods (Acts 2:44; 4:32.32-34). It is interesting to note that the Lucan phrase “one in mind and heart” is closely linked with the description of the disciples not calling anything their own, selling what they possessed and placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles who would then distribute them to each as was needed. This sharing of goods was understood by Augustine as the visible sign of oneness of mind and heart. At the same time, the ideal that it presents is, for the Augustinian in the world, an impetus for the promotion of amore fraternal distribution of goods (cf. Secular Augustinians: Rule of Life and General Statutes. Augustinian General Curia: Rome, 1980, n. 24).
“Sharing of goods” is the same as “working for the common good.” Human labor, understood within this perspective, ceases to be a “burden or simply a means of sustenance, but as cooperation with the Creator in shaping the world and serving the human community “(RAS, n. 23). It is thus that by working for the common good, the Augustinian performs his/her duties as service to the Church and to humanity (RAS,n. 24).
Fidelity to the Memory of Christ (Acts 2:42). Luke reports that the multitude of believers “were persevering in the teaching of the apostles.” By the “teaching of the apostles,” he meant the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. For us it means the totality of the Church’s proclamation on the mystery of Christ as it is contained in Scriptures and tradition. For the Augustinian in the world, this means, not a mere “passive” fidelity to the teaching of the Church, but an “active” one which leads to a progressive appreciation of one’s faith and a deeper knowledge of Christ. This “active fidelity” flows from the essence of discipleship: a disciple is one who learns from and knows Christ. Thus, fidelity to the memory of Christ also means the commitment to the study of Scriptures, especially the Gospel. “The Gospel” says Augustine, “is the mouth of Christ … which never ceases to speak to us.” (Serm. 83, 1, 11).
Christ is also known in the Church, for it is His Body, and especially in the poor. “Turn your attention to Christ who lives in the streets!” cried Augustine. “Look at Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ who is a stranger and in need” (Serm. 25,8). The Augustinian in the world shows himself faithful to the teachings of the apostles when he, not only participates actively in the liturgical life of the Church, but also in its apostolic endeavours. It is thus that, faithful to the memory of Christ, the Augustinian is inspired “to enter enthusiastically into the liturgical, spiritual and missionary life of the parish community, and of other apostolic communities and movements” (RAS, n. 31).
The cultivation of Christian friendship (Acts 2:42.46). Luke tells us that the disciples were also persevering “in the breaking of the bread and in prayers.” In the Jewish milieu, bread was broken among one’s friends, in a fraternal atmosphere that invited trust, hospitality and openness. For the early Christians, the breaking of the bread was also a gesture by which the Lord made himself the friend of sinners. For the Augustinian, community also means friendship. Thus it is rightly professed:
Our Augustinian life of fraternity and community leads us to the careful cultivation of the values of friendship. Friendship begets and nourishes loyalty, trust, sincerity and mutual understanding. It joins us together in Christ, for God fastens us in friendship by means of the love poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (RAS, n. 17).”
For Augustine, friendship cannot be true unless God is the one who fastens friends together, as they cleave to Him by that charity which poured forth by the Spirit (cf. Conf. 4.4.7). Such friendship can only be possible within the ambit of a community that prays, i.e., open to the power of the Spirit (RAS, n. 18).”
Originally posted 2009-12-03 01:08:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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