Augustine on prayer

Saint Augustine believed that prayer should constantly flow through the life of a Christian, expressing our constant desire for God.

Praying from the heart

It is important to realise that in his texts and in everything that Augustine says, the term ‘heart’ is used in the Scriptural sense, in which it indicates our whole interior and spiritual life, and all its faculties. It signifies, then, not only the heart but the mind as well. 

Prayer is the loving reaching out of the mind to God, it involves mind and heart, thought and desire, knowledge and love - the entire person. As Augustine says: 

‘The cry of the heart is a solemn earnestness of thought which, when given vent to in prayer, expresses the profound yearning of the one who prays.’

Prayer and the interior life

We cannot enjoy the satisfaction of true happiness except in God, because we are made in his image and likeness. We are his image for the very reason that we are capable of possessing him and able to share his being. 

Through sin, the image of God is obscured in us, but not destroyed, and through grace, it is renewed.  This image will be more readily refashioned in us if we proceed by way of the interior life. Augustine says of interiority:

‘Do not go outside yourself, but turn back within; truth dwells in the inner man; and if you find your nature given to frequent change, go beyond yourself. Move on, then, to that source where the light of reason itself receives the light.’

Led by the voice of creation itself, we must continually turn back into ourselves. This means entering into the depths of our being and diligently working towards perfecting our hearts, so that by praying with the continuous desire of our hearts, we may come to God. 

Prayer is the articulation of love

Deep within our hearts, He is to be found. The desire of our heart is our prayer to Him. There He is to be found, there he speaks to us and there the yearning of our hearts speaks to Him even before any words are uttered. Augustine says again: 

‘He who prays with desire sings in his heart even though his tongue be silent, but if he prays without desire, he is dumb before God even though his voice sounds in the ears of men.’

According to Augustine only the heart’s cry, only the longing of the heart makes prayer genuine.

‘Prayer is not the reverberation of sound; it is the articulation of love. It is with the heart rather than the lips that we pray... Therefore, whether we cry to the Lord with the voice of the body - where occasion demands it - or in silence, we must cry from the heart.’