Here are the basic ideas in the spiritual tradition of Augustine. Acknowledgment is made to scholars of Augustine, Adolar Zumkeller O.S.A., Tarsisius van Bavel O.S.A., and Edgar Bourque A.A., all of whom are now deceased.
1. The search for God
2. Love as the centre of Christian life
3. Love of God as love for each other
4. The parable of the Last Judgement
5. Christian community and friendship
6. The love of Scripture
8. God Himself
9. Faith, Hope, and Love
10. Grace and freedom
A longing for a deeper meaning to life, a kind of desire for God is present in our lives. Only when a person enquires about God, seeks him, desires him, and goes towards him, does he find meaning and fulfilment for his life. If Augustine were alive today he might say, 'A religious person is a person who has determined to seek God and the kingdom of God in everything.' Augustine once prayed: "Let me not grow weary of seeking you ". (De Trinitate XV 28, 51)
The spiritual tradition of Augustine is characterised by the fact that the light, in which he views the whole Gospel, is love, the New Song of the New Testament. Everything can be reduced to love. All forms of evil are to be reduced to a false love of self.
The opposite to this love of self is 'agape', the love that justifiably enjoys what is really enjoyable, both human and Divine. Every virtue can be reduced to love - if we are happy, is it not because we love someone? Love provides us with an orientation in life. For Augustine, true virtue consists in ordering love properly.
3. Love of God as love of each other
A change of vision for Augustine from a sharp distinction between love of God and of people, to, 'authentic love for a human being is at the some time love of God'. 'Respect God in each other' is the worship of God. God is love; and love is the same as our human love. Our love for a human being is far more concrete than our love of our God. It is harder to delude ourselves here because we become more conscious of our failures.
4. The parable of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25)
For Augustine the Christian Adventure consists in experiencing love of God as love for each other. Love of neighbour is the sole norm. We meet God in people. Building up community among people becomes the most important motif in the spiritual tradition of Augustine.
5. Christian community and friendship
Poverty means 'community of goods' or 'sober living' for Augustine - to share with the other person, both material goods and spiritual goods. Sober life helps the community to contribute to helping those in need who are outside of the community. Celibacy is seen as being totally available for the Other.
Obedience, or willingness to listen, are acts of love, listening is an act of compassion, authority is the serving of a group. The highest ideal of community is reached in friendship which, second only to the love of neighbour (does not ask for a response), is the highest form of human relationship (mutual love, loving and being loved.)
One of the great services Augustine renders to the spiritual life of his followers is to bring them to Scripture and to help them develop a thirst for the Word of our God. Paul and John are the focus of much of the challenge to Augustine from Scripture. The words of Paul, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ," burned within him.
7. Interiority (going inwards to meet God)
Augustine saw himself as a guide from without. The real teacher was within. "To me your ears, to Him your heart, that both may be filled." [John 1.7 ] It was the conviction of Augustine that a person must return to his heart if he hopes to find God. Coming back to your heart has different shades of meaning. First, it is a return to your senses and stop bad behaviour. Secondly, it has to do with the image of God within. Generally it deals with not being able to find God if one does not find oneself. The God who dwells within is an active God.
8. The Total Christ
Augustine never stopped searching for the Christ he found a first time in so dramatic a way as the moment of conversion when he "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." Augustine continued to find Him, to be possessed by Him more fully. If Augustine can speak of Christians as being other Christs, it is because he looks beyond the birth of the Child Jesus for the full meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus into the human race. Every Christian shares in the Incarnation. They are carriers of Christ in every aspect of their lives.
To know of the sense of wonder in Augustine for the "Whole Christ" is to be ready to understand that his great drive in his life was to understand humanity and to know God. To know humanity was, in fact, to know our God. His theology of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love is really the key to the entire spiritual tradition of Augustine. He sees these three virtues as both gifts and actions of God, the Almighty acting in people in ways they are incapable of acting on their own.
Through faith, God makes Himself present to human beings. This faith is bound up with hope and love. These three virtues or powers are divine actions that have their origin in the eternal realm and their effect in time. They allow mere humans to be transformed and achieve an initial union with God while continuing to live in and be limited by the world.
10. Grace and Freedom
Perfect love gives perfect freedom and both are the result of grace. Augustine taught that every aspect of the spiritual life, every step of the way, is a gift of God. This is the first meaning of grace (in Latin, gratia) for him. The second is that grace is a person: Christ given to us that we may live. Freedom comes to the faithful through grace. Christ makes people free. He is the love of God made present to men and women. The more that God is allowed to take hold in the lives of Christians, the more free they become. For Augustine this freedom supersedes freedom of choice. For him, the greatest freedom is to have no choice at all. AN2244