Friday, August 28, 2009

St. Augustine

I have a hunch that almost anyone who either claims Augustine as their champion or repudiates Augustine out of hand doesn't have the whole story. He's just too prolific for most of us to claim to know what he thinks. "His surviving works (and it is assumed that the majority did not survive) include 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons," according to James Kiefer's terrific biographical sketch.

It seems no matter where you are on the theological scale, there's going to be some quotation from Augustine that supports you. And no matter where you are on the theological scale, he's going to say something that refutes you.

Take the body. There are those who say, "Oh, Augustine hates the human body." Well, then, what about this: "Your self, your body, your soul, this is all God's work," from his commentary on Psalm 147.

Or take, say, the importance of tradition in the midst of changing times. Augustine might tell you, "Right reason demands a change in what was right to do at some earlier time if the time or circumstance is changed. Therefore, when objectors say it is not right to make a change, truth answers with a shout that it is not right not to make a change," as he wrote in a letter to Marcellinus.

Both of these are quoted out of context. But the truth is, I don't know what Augustine would say in our contemporary context. Whatever it is, though, I suspect it would be supple and persuasive. What would he think of our current controversies and catfights?

You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times.

The times have never hurt anyone. Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed.

Yes, Augustine. I guess we're going to have to figure this out ourselves, aren't we.

No comments: