The spirituality that is richly expressed in St. Augustine's writings is one of warmth and of love. The heart, which artists have often portrayed Augustine holding, is a key to this spirituality. For Augustine the heart is a metaphor for all that is deepest, truest and personal in one's self. He makes frequent use of the heart to signify the affective aspect of faith in God.
Augustinian spirituality reflects the actual life story of Augustine and his experience of conversion. As a young man Augustine was restless and without direction. He pursued a long and painful search for truth that he hoped would provide him with rest. In the drama of his conversion at the age of 33 he felt his innermost heart lovingly spoken to by the Word of God. (This is represented above by the open book supporting the heart.) He wrote:"the words of your Scripture knocked at the door of my heart."
Augustine's anguish suddenly left him and he now found direction in humility, as though an arrow from God had transfixed his heart. "You have pierced our hearts with the arrow of your love, and our minds were pierced with the arrows of your words." Conf 9,2. Indeed his heart seemed to burst into flame with love for God. "Your gift sets us afire and we are borne upward; we catch this flame and up we go. In our hearts we climb those upward paths, singing the songs of ascent. By your fire, your beneficent fire, we are inflamed." Conf 13,9.
That the great spiritual events of Augustine's life took place in the company of others is of significance to his spirituality. Augustine greatly valued relationships with others. He reached out to people and touched them; he was in turn beloved and appreciated by them. Fittingly the spirituality reflected in his writings is based on love of neighbour and on community.
For Augustine only a shared, communal vision is worth having. Thus he placed before people the ideal of love: "Be of one mind and one heart towards God." They are to build up community with one another, community in which listening to others and even authority are acts of love.
In Augustinian spirituality love for God is experienced as love for one another. Where love for another person is present God is present too. "Honour God in each other". We come to God through love of one another, since love for a human being is much more concrete than love for God. In the teaching of Augustine human love has divine love running within it.
The warmth of friendship is likewise essential for Augustine."Without a human being who is our friend, nothing in the world appears friendly to us." Life shared with others culminates in friendship - the gift of loving and being loved. In his spirituality it is as important to relate to one another as it is to pray with them. Thus as we strive for union with others we do so in a shared love for God.
Augustine models for us prayer of the heart, longing to know and to see God. In prayer we progress to God who is human happiness itself. "You have made us and directed us toward yourself and our heart is restless until we rest in you." Conf 1.1
In Augustinian spirituality all good things come back to the one thing: love, the very centre of Christian existence.
Providence in the Confessions of St Augustine
You were always there - by Brian Lowery, O.S.A.
For those who feel an affinity with St Augustine, his Confessions are an immense treasury of spiritual wisdom and personal help. For in them he speaks of the ways of God as he discovered them in his own life and understood them to be part of the lives of all who seek God. The book is not an easy one to read, and many people have been discouraged when they first tried it. It is a long prayer of praise and thanksgiving addressed to God in another age by a person of extraordinary sensitivity and depth. But with certain keys to understanding its riches, even today it can help us to recognise and respond to the loving God who is calling us.