Today, 28 August, we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Augustine, one of the great founders of Monasticism in the Western Church, Bishop, Theologian, Preacher, Writer and Doctor of the Church. None of these titles, though accurate, would please him, however, as much as the simple one he used to describe himself: ‘Servant of God.’ For, whatever we achieve in life, whatever gifts and talents we have been given, are of little value unless they lead us, as they did Augustine, to know, love and serve God ever more deeply.
“Augustine, numbered among the four great Doctors of the Western Church, possessed one of the most penetrating minds of ancient Christendom. He was the most important Platonist of patristic times, the Church’s most influential theologian, especially with regard to clarifying the dogmas of the Trinity, grace and the Church. He was a great speaker, a prolific writer, a saint with an inexhaustible spirituality.
His Confessions, a book appreciated in every age, describes a notable portion of his life (until 400), his errors, his battles, his profound religious observations. Famous too is his work The City of God, a worthy memorial to his genius, a philosophy of history. Most edifying are his homilies, especially those on the psalms and on the Gospel of St John.
Augustine’s Episcopal life was filled with mighty battles against heretics, over all of whom he triumphed. His most illustrious victory was that over Pelagius, who denied the necessity of grace; from this encounter he earned the surname “Doctor of grace.”
As an emblem Christian art accords him a burning heart to symbolise the ardent love of God which permeates all his writings. He is the founder of canonical life in common, therefore, Augustinian Monks and the Hermits of St Augustine honour him as their spiritual father.” … Excerpted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Pius Parsch
St Jerome wrote to Augustine in 418:
“You are known throughout the world;
Catholics honour and esteem you
as the one who has established anew the ancient Faith.”
If I wanted to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ
An excerpt from his Sermon 47, De ovibus (On Sheep)
“This is our glory – the witness of our conscience.
There are men who rashly judge, who slander, whisper and murmur, who are eager to suspect what they do not see and eager to spread abroad things they have not even a suspicion of. Against men of this sort, what defence is there, save the witness of our own conscience?
My brothers, we do not seek, nor should we seek, our own glory even among those whose approval we desire. What we should seek is their salvation, so that if we walk as we should, they will not go astray in following us. They should imitate us if we are imitators of Christ and, if we are not, they should still imitate Him. He cares for His flock and He alone is to be found with those, who care for their flocks, because they are all in Him.
And so we seek no advantage for ourselves when we aim to please men. We want to take our joy in men—and we rejoice when they take pleasure in what is good, not because this exalts us but because it benefits them.
It is clear who is intended by the apostle Paul – If I wanted to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. And similarly when he says – Be pleasing to all men in all things, even as I in all things please all men. Yet his words are as clear as water, limpid, undisturbed, unclouded. And so you should, as sheep, feed on and drink of his message; do not trample on it or stir it up.
You have listened to our Lord Jesus Christ as He taught His apostles – Let your actions shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven, for it is the Father who made you thus. We are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hands. If then you are good, praise is due to Him who made you so, it is no credit to you, for if you were left to yourself, you could only be wicked. Why then do you try to pervert the truth, in wishing to be praised when you do good and blaming God when you do evil? For though He said – Let your works shine before men, in the same Sermon on the Moun,t He also said: Do not parade your good deeds before men. So if you think there are contradictions in Saint Paul, you will find the same in the Gospels but if you refrain from troubling the waters of your heart, you will recognise here, the peace of the Scriptures and with it you will have peace.
And so, my brothers, our concern should be not only to live as we ought but also, to do so in the sight of men; not only to have a good conscience but also, so far as we can in our weakness, so far as we can govern our frailty, to do nothing which might lead our weak brother into thinking evil of us. Otherwise, as we feed on the good pasture and drink the pure water, we may trample on God’s meadow and weaker sheep will have to feed on trampled grass and drink from troubled waters.”