Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church
(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)
It has been said that the three most influential persons in Christianity are Jesus, St. Paul, and today’s patron, St. Augustine. It is a plausible selection. Jesus and Paul are natural choices, and much can be said to defend Augustine’s placement in the troika. His prodigious thought lent coherency to biblical teaching. And his long service allowed him to comment on most aspects of theology and church life. He wrote books, theological tracts, and sermons. His best known work, The Confessions, is found on most lists of great books of Western Civilization. He certainly fulfilled the demand articulated in today’s first reading.
The Second Letter to the Thessalonians like most New Testament epistles emphasizes the urgency of holding to faith traditions. “…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,” it says. Unlike other religious systems Christianity understands itself as a religion with a fixed theological tradition. Proper understanding of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit more than anything else makes one a Christian. Morality, particularly love of God and neighbor, is also essential but in a real sense not so much as firmness of belief.
Today, as in biblical times, there are many odd ideas that pretend to be Christian. The “prosperity gospel” provides a relevant example. Of course, Christ never preached the desirability of riches, quite the opposite. Endeavoring to understand our faith will help us to practice as he taught and lived.