Thursday, August 28, 2014

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and Doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

A seminary professor, accustomed to lecturing sitting down, said that when teaching today’s patron saint, “I stand for Augustine”!  There is certainly reason for such propriety.  More than any other thinker, St. Augustine shaped Christian theology.  He was to the Church what the Federalists -- Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison, combined -- were to the government of the United States; that is, the chief commentator of its ideals.

Augustine’s achievement may be attributed to several contingent factors.  He lived a long life during a period of many challenges to the faith.  Of course, he was a genius, but also he had an excellent humanistic formation.  His writings were formative because they were directed toward the great theological controversies of the time.  He refuted Manicheanism, a belief system which attracted Augustine as a young man, that denied the value of material existence.  He also waged a theological war against Donatism, an error holding that the value of the sacrament depended upon the holiness of its minister.  The end of his life was given to fighting Pelagianism, which held that a person can achieve salvation with human power alone.  Beyond these controversies Augustine commented brilliantly in seminal works on the Trinity and the Christian’s role in the world.

Besides being the greatest theologian of the first millennium other than the New Testament writers themselves, Augustine also distinguished himself as a bishop, which occupied the majority of his time. His sermons, four hundred of which have been preserved, are a testimony to Scriptural insight, theological acumen, and rhetorical eloquence.