(1) The director as a student.
The spiritual director is not the person with all the answers, as much as a more experienced fellow-student at the feet of Jesus, the Master. About the year 395 a young woman named Florentina was dedicated to the Christian faith. She wrote to Augustine to seek his spiritual guidance. Before offering her any, he first wanted to make clear what he saw his role as being - the role of the "spiritual director."
In Letter 266 to Florentina, Augustine wrote, "I am not offering myself as an accomplished teacher (doctor perfectus in Latin)." Rather, he regarded himself as one who should progress along side those whom he is called to enlighten. He continued, "Because the teacher must necessarily hold a higher position, he or she must necessarily avoid pride." He held that such an attitude was necessary in the director, for it would be lamentable if the act of directing another gave an entrée for the sin of pride to grow within the director.
By a conscious effort, the director needed to be a listener, and pride renders a person incapable of any real listening. Augustine saw the role of spiritual director involving a special call to humility (umilità in Italian) - the antidote to pride. Humility (umilità) is knowing one's own truth, which prevents a director placing himself or herself in a role that does not allow the other person to seek the deepest truth within himself or herself. Only to the extent that this was limited by differences in age or life experience, Augustine sought the person directing and the person being directed to be equal in the eyes of one another, as they were in the eyes of God.
(2) Spiritual Direction: a movement towards freedom.
In what we now call spiritual direction, Augustine wanted to avoid the hierarchical relationship of a teacher and a student. In his Letter 266 in reply to Florentina, from the outset Augustine wishes her to be aware that he will be doing all in his power to ensure that his role of directing her spiritually will become redundant. He does not want to have her become dependent on him for anything. He wishes, rather, that she grow out of any need of him.
He wrote to her in his Letter 266, "Certainly, in the very matters I happen to have knowledge of, I would desire to have you already acquainted with them, rather than for you to be in need of me. For we should not wish others to be ignorant so that we might teach them what we know. It is better if we all are students and disciples of God (John 6:45, Isaiah 54:13)." Augustine advises Florentina that his goal for their relationship is her freedom. This is his intention so that she can become free enough to be directed directly by Christ. She thereby will be not a student of Augustine, but a student of the Lord.
He looks ahead to this freedom as being a point of maturation in her spiritual life, one that makes her free to respond directly to the Lord without any human guidance. As spiritual direction proceeds, Augustine anticipates that the directee should become more and more capable of listening to and depending on the Holy Spirit that guides from the interior of the person. Often when talking about his pastoral role, Augustine contrasted two Latin words, praesse and prodesse. The former means to be "over" someone, and the latter to be "for" someone. Clearly Augustine saw the latter, and not the former, to encapsulate the pastoral relationship. From his letter to Florentina, it is obvious that he would anticipate the same of himself and others when functioning as a spiritual director.(3) Spiritual Direction: The prime role of Jesus.
If the term "spiritual director" had been used during the time of Augustine, he would have been one to use it very sparingly in referring to himself or any other human being in that role. For Augustine there was only one spiritual director, and that person was Jesus Christ. When referring to the action of Christ within the heart of a believer, he often described Jesus as the magister interior, the Interior Teacher, the Master within.
In his Tractates on the Gospel of John 26, 7, 1, he said, "Even when people are listening to the voice of a human being, what they are understanding comes from within them, is revealed within them. What does a person do when he proclaims something to you from outside of you?" "What am I doing now as I am speaking to you? I am simply sending my words to strike your ears. If He Who is within you does not reveal what I have said, what has been the point of my speaking? The farmer who cultivates the tree is on the outside of it; inside is the creator."
In his Letter 266 to Florentina Augustine wrote, "Take it for sure that even if you can learn something from me that is good, your true Master will always be the Interior Master of your interior person…. It is He Who enables you to understand in the depths of your being the truth of what is said to you. For he who does the planting is nothing, not he who waters, because everything comes from God Who gives the increase."
For Augustine, the human spiritual director is simply the instrument guiding the person more and more effectively towards the real spiritual director, Who is Christ. Therefore the spiritual director must always be trying to discern what Christ wants him or her to say, so that he or she says what the Lord wants said, and teaches what the Lord wants taught. "What we offer you is not our own. We draw it from the harvest of the Lord." (Augustine, Sermon Guelferb 9, 4)
Augustine says that the spiritual director must not get in the way, but regard himself or herself as secondary to the more fundamental relationship that the directee is developing with Christ. This is not to deny that Augustine could - and did - related well to many people, yet in this spiritual realm he knew that his impact on people was the work of the Lord, and was always meant to be at the service of the Lord and the individual.
(4) Spiritual Direction: Jesus is the Interior Teacher.
As the equivalent of a spiritual director to Florentina or to any other directee, Augustine saw spiritual direction more as their meeting with Christ than as their meeting with him. Augustine invited Florentina to go into the depths of her being in order there to meet Christ, her Interior Master. This would require of her an inner confidence and a silence, and with that would come an honest sense of self and an openness.
This openness and receptivity is not enhanced by a "listen to me" style of spiritual director, but by one who can demonstrate, "Let us together listen to the Lord." Augustine is aware that he is called to the same openness and receptivity as is required in the person receiving direction. The commitment to be a spiritual director is as much a commitment for the director himself or herself to grow spiritually as much as it is a commitment to travel beside others on their spiritual journey towards God.
This is a similar sentiment as the one that the Rule of Augustine expresses in summarising the purpose of religious community life, i.e., that persons be of one mind and one heart as side-by-side they travel spiritually ad Deum ("towards God"). In summary, the suggestions of Augustine for spiritual directors are that they be far less directive and authoritative that generally recommended by other Church Fathers (scholars).
Whereas these others generally focused on the interior disposition required within the directee, Augustine in contract dwelt more upon the interior dispositions within the director. Augustine left no more detailed advice about spiritual direction than what appears in his Letter 266, addressed to Florentina. In that this adds up to a few hundred words amidst almost six million words of his writings, sermons and letters that still exist, what he did write to Florentina is all the more precious indeed. AN2246