By the Jerusalem ideal is meant the description of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem as reported in Acts 2:42-46 and 4:32-35. This ideal was an inspiration to Augustine for Christian living. The same texts provide us not only an image of the Church, but also a pragmatic mode of how Augustine envisioned that the Christian life should be lived. In fact, Augustine presented this primitive ideal not only as an example for his community of priests at Hippo but also for lay Christians as well.
The description of the primitive Christian community in the Gospel of Luke can be summarised into three points: (a) Fraternal sharing and distribution of goods; (b) fidelity to the memory of Christ; and (c) cultivation of Christian friendship.
(a) Fraternal sharing and distribution of goods (Acts 2:44; 4:32.32-34).
It is interesting to note that the phrase used by Luke, 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 a more fraternal distribution of goods.
(See Secular Augustinians: Rule of Life and General Statutes: Augustinian General Curia: Rome, 1980, n. 24 – henceforth abbreviated as RAS).
"Sharing of goods" is the same as "working for the common good." Human labour, 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).
(b) 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 proclamation of the Church on the mystery of Christ as it is contained in Scriptures and Tradition.
For the Augustinian in the modern 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.
Augustine said, "The Gospel is the mouth of Christ ... which never ceases to speak to us." (Sermon 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" (Sermon 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).
(c ) 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 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:
"The Augustinian life of fraternity and community leads 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. Confessions 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)."
(This article is an edited extract of a talk given in the Philippines in February 1996 by Very Rev Miguel Orcasitas O.S.A. while he was Prior General.) AN2235