Augustine on community

In the year 397, Augustine wrote a rule of common life for lay Christians where he shares a model for Christian community.

Reflection, prayer and mission

An Augustinian community is basically a Christian community living, reflecting on and proclaiming the message of Jesus. The life of the community is characterised by reflection, prayer, and mission. 

The Spirituality of Saint Augustine offers some attitudes for this life: a spirit characterised by friendship, interiority, the search for truth, community experience, sensitivity towards the disadvantaged, valuing and respecting the dignity of all human beings and loving service. The interior self was one of the most important discoveries of Augustine for his own benefit.

Encountering God in the interior life

Saint Augustine chose the way of interiority to know God, know himself and contemplate reality. He found that we meet God at the centre of our beings, and in that encounter, we come to know ourselves also. It had never occurred to him to begin and end with the inner self to be happy, and in this way, to achieve satisfaction based on spiritual realities more than on realities of this earth.

Augustine emphasised the importance of the interior disposition. He said, 

'When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should be alive in your hearts.'

Augustinian Spirituality encourages the individual to search for God inside of the self, to 'separate ourselves from ourselves', to discover oneself and in finding oneself, to find God, the Maker of all. 

Living in communion

The Augustinian idea of community is assisted by charity, friendship, prayer in common, and humility. By the intention of Augustine, the communion of life resembles in its spirit that of the apostolic community described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42-48. This Scriptural passage is virtually paraphrased in Chapter 1 of the Rule of Augustine, where it says, 

‘First of all, since for this reason you have come together in community, live in the house in harmony and have one mind and one heart intent on God.’

This Augustinian Christian communion is fourfold:

a) of living together under one roof 

b) of spiritual union 

c) of common possession of earthly goods

d) of proportional distribution of goods

Among these four, priority must be given to spiritual communion, or otherwise living together would avail nothing. Augustine stated, 

"Many bodies, but not many spirits; many bodies, but not many hearts." (Ennar. In Ps 132,6), and "Our souls should not be many souls, but one soul, the one soul of Christ." (Letter 243, 4)

Mission and work

Augustine emphasised that the apostolic work must be a free service in love, and not undertaken by the force of necessity. It was a call for assistance from one's mother, the Church. He wrote, 

‘It is by the grace of God that the friars love together. It is not the result of their own doing or their own merits; rather, it is a gift of God.’ (Exposition of Psalm 132, 10: PL 41, 647)

This is what the Rule of Augustine means in stating that all obligations should be observed in a sort of charity ‘as lovers of spiritual beauty… not as slaves living under the yoke of law but as persons living in freedom under grace.’ (Rule, Chapter 8). For Augustine, the duties of the external apostolate and of interior prayer are to be integrated and mutually reinforcing. He wrote that both should carefully be made to happen so harmoniously "that neither the joyous taste of truth and contemplation is lost, nor the demands of love and the apostolate made burdensome." (City of God, 19, 19: PL 41, 647)

Through ministry, Augustinian communities find new strength and incentive, for apostolic works are an expression of and an increase in the love of the Christ who is not only encountered in the faces met in ministry but also in the friar's own heart during his times of prayer. For an Augustinian, therefore, the apostolate (the ministry undertaken for the Church) is an exterior activity springing from a deep interior life. Neither apostolic activity nor prayer make the greatest sense nor offer the greatest benefit if both are not vigorously practised.