How Augustine Wishes His Works to be Read

Lenten Reflections 2015: Readings from Augustine

When you are reading my works, my holy Paulinus, don’t let the things that Truth speaks by me in my weakness so carry you away that you don’t take careful notice when it’s just me who is speaking. Otherwise, while you eagerly drink in the things good and true which have been given to me as a servant, you forget to pray for the pardon of my errors and mistakes. For if you observe anything that justly displeases you, it is just me you are seeing; but in everything in my books that you justly approve through the gift of the Holy Spirit you received, He is to be loved, He is to be praised, with whom is the fountain of life, and in whose light we shall see light, not darkly as we do here, but face to face (1 Cor 13:12). When, in reading over my writings, I discover in them anything due to the working of the old leaven in me, I blame myself for it with true sorrow; but if anything which I have spoken is, by God's gift, from the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (see 1 Cor 5:8), I rejoice in it with trembling. For what have we that we have not received? No one doubts that a person’s portion is better whom God has endowed with larger and more numerous gifts than his on whom smaller and fewer have been conferred. True enough; but, on the other hand, it is better to have a small gift, and to give God due thanks for it, than to have a large gift and claim it as one’s own. Pray for me, my brother, that I may acknowledge this sincerely, and that my heart may not disagree with my tongue. Pray, I beg you, that I not desire to be praised, but that I praise and call upon God so that I shall be safe from mine enemies (see Ps 17[18]:4-5).

There are other passages in which Augustine speaks of the temptation he feels to take delight in other people’s praise. Bishop Sheen’s recent biographer says that he was very aware that vanity was one of his besetting temptations. It’s good to know where one’s weaknesses lie.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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