Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church
(I Corinthians 1:1-9)
It has been proposed that the three most important persons in early Christianity were Jesus, Paul, and Augustine. Some might wonder why Jesus’ name is put on this short list that does not include the Blessed Mother or St. Peter. But the proposition concerns the formation of a great religion. Jesus, of course, started it all. Paul propelled the Christian movement forward with his work among non-Jews. And Augustine gave Christianity, in the West at least, a solid theoretical basis.
There are many comparisons to be made between Paul and Augustine beyond enshrinement in Christianity’s hall of fame. Both experienced famous conversions. Paul, of course, was persecuting Christianity when the Lord turned his life upside down on the road to Damascus. Augustine’s conversion, on the other hand, was subtle and gradual. He had leaned for a long time toward a heretical Christian sect. Also, a promiscuous relationship hindered him from pursuing where his intellect was leading him. Finally, however, he could not deny God’s calling from within and was baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan. Another comparison is that both Paul and Augustine worked tirelessly for Christ after their conversions. Paul’s preaching extended beyond Asia Minor, throughout Greece as we note in the first reading today, and at least as far as Rome. Augustine’s enormous output of books and sermons eloquently testifies to his exhaustive work.
Perhaps most importantly both Paul and Augustine can be considered together for their work developing the concept of grace. Paul understood that we humans were doomed to sin when God sent His son to save us. Augustine made it clear that salvation is not a little bit God’s offer and a little bit our response. No, Augustine taught, even the inspiration to respond to God’s offer is a movement of divine grace within us.