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A Theology of the 'Augustinian Heart'

A Theology


A Theology

Of an 'Augustinian Heart'
by: Fr. John Melnick,S.S.A.


We must clarify for just what an ‘Augustinian’ vision might be.  This is accomplished by first articulating an Augustinian spirituality and “reason for being”.  This then, is a theological overview of the “Augustinian”.


  The principle of victorious delectation (delectatio victrix) was formulated by St. Augustine and used effectively by Augustinian theologians to explicate the central plan of the Augustinian way of considering Christianity.  The concept of victorious delectation could be translated as "triumphant desire".  Fundamentally this is a principle to describe man's essential being, that man is an infinite nothing seeking for infinite being, that man is infinite impotence searching for omnipotence, fulfilment.  "Our hearts are restless till they rest in You."  This principle sets up the basic orientation of Augustinian theology and spirituality.


       AUGUSTINIAN SPIRITUALITY is about concrete experience not abstract theory.  Man as he lives and struggles in life and history is the focus of concern.  We try to decipher our human condition so that we can change and improve it.  We discover the truths of living to live better.  Consequently the criteria of verification are in our experiences as experienced not in some ideology or thought system.  We search for personal goals and personal vision and personal happiness for real.


       The beginning of our search and journey is inside, in our own subjectivity.  We need to know ourselves first.  We need to discover our needs and wants and fears.  And the interior is also the place of fulfilment and completion.  Therefore the intrinsic is superior to the extrinsic, the mysterious to the merely problematical, reality to appearance, the soul to the body.  Man is his interiority, this is the place of life and the place to quest God.


       Because we are infinite wanting and desire and the finite cannot grasp the infinite therefore we must continuously change.  To live we must be constantly going beyond ourselves., our achievements, our satisfactions to new realizations of joy insight and love.  To "grasp" the infinite is an infinite process, a dialectical process, a ceaseless process.  We never stop learning, developing love and friendship, deepening our experience.  We are in permanent change, constant growth, continuous conversion.  Our delectation, our desiring is again and again.  This is the nature of historical concrete man.


       Our delectation expresses itself in searching to know and understand, to see value so that our heart and will can love and rejoice in it.  Augustinian thought defines a perfect correlation and interdependence of knowing and loving.  Thus good doctrine is good piety and good piety is good doctrine.  True teaching is that which successfully motivates the heart.  The heart motivated seeks true learning, insight, vision which will in turn re-activate the heart.  This interplay is the nature of happiness.  That is why Augustinian theology and spirituality are identical.  Theology is simply making conscious my belief, my values, my love.  This understanding is primarily intuitional and secondarily conceptual.  Faith is more important and prior to articulation.  Though articulation is a help to faith and to believing more eagerly faith, opens the mind to that which is beyond itself and therefore calls the heart to love more passionately.  For the totality of man is needed and called for in the experience of God.  Man's mind, heart, emotions, will, body, soul, all is for happiness in God.


       It is because we personally fail to discover the path to God or get lost by bad choice (sin) that we need others to help us learn the truth which sets us free.  So it is knowledge of our fallibility and needfulness that we turn to each other for mutual education, inspiration, encouragement and enlightenment.  To develop interiorly we need to be prodded by one another.  We need actually, to support each other in the quest that knows no cease.  So we form community on the basis of our common need.  We are indeed equal in our need for help.  Recognizing this finds our brotherhood in humbleness, in humanity.  Therefore we are brothers who are poor together and need to share to grow toward God.



       Community is shared interiority.  We discover our inwardness and begin to share our inwardness, our helplessness and our insights with each other.  Community then is really intimate communication.  Where there is intimate communication there is community.  We experience revelation of our personal insights, dreams, visions, hopes, philosophies.  In sharing these revelations we get to know ourselves and each other on a deeper more personal and adequate level.  Even though this process cannot be perfect ever, it leads to the formation of interpersonal relationships because persons really and experientially and intellectually know each other's thoughts and beliefs and value systems.  This is obviously risky because to expose one's values is to become vulnerable.  This discipline is the price of community.  Dialogue about beliefs, favourite ideas, dreams etc. causes mutual education and mutual concrete comprehension of each other.  In this way a real person gets to understand another real person and therefore both can deal with each other more intelligently and successfully.  Opportunities for such dialogue and revelation must be built into the Community life.  Theological discussions, dialogues about spirituality should be regular experiences in the life of the community.  We are never done understanding ourselves, each other, or God.


       The seeking and searching, the delectation, which we are is victorious in Christ and through Christ.  The Gospel is simply that we work, that we get can get what we want out of life, that we can reach God in growing love.  God who is Grace and gracious, efficaciously calls us to Himself and to happiness and joy in Christ.  Therefore there is more to be happy about than sad, more positive than negative.  Though both are present in every life, the Gospel means that there is an existential preference.  God wins.  Therefore our outlook must be more optimistic than pessimistic.  In the Augustinian tradition Grace is supreme, God is supreme, not free will or man.  So we celebrate the victory of grace in Christ's resurrection and in our growing toward our happiness. 

      And so Augustinian Spirituality values intrinsic motivation above extrinsic motivation, love above fear.  "Not as slaves under the law but free under grace" (Rule).  The rights of conscience over extrinsic law are paramount.  God rules the conscience, man makes the law. 


       As we realize then the great gifts we share and receive we rejoice in our happiness in God and want to share our joys with others.  Only happy people can make other people happy.  One can only give what he's got.  So we Augustinians try to find ways of sharing our blessings, our discoveries.  The apostolate is this sharing.  But the primary activity should be passing on the word, through conversation, counselling, teaching, preaching, discussing etc..  Other supportive activities though somewhat useful must be secondary.  Hopefully we can support ourselves through gifts and stipends received for working in the direct apostolate.  The other activities should be curtailed. 

  Because of our particular penchant communal apostolates should be preferred to single or simply individual apostolates.  Team work is better, more like a community.  It produces a better effect and draws those working together closer.

   For the Augustinian, spiritual goals are supreme.  Otherwise our life will be disordered and unhappy.  People to people apostolate is preferable to all others.  Worshipping together is a dynamic apostolate for spreading the Good News, both worshipping together as a community and also as an apostolate, that is helping others to worship better by giving example and assistance and participation that is qualitative.


   As we live out our seeking toward the infinite fullness we make friends along the way.  We consolidate gradually and become a community of shared faith, destiny and hope.  We are working toward the ultimate experience for the whole human family.  We look forward too the climax when God is loved most appreciatively, most affectively, most intensively.  This is our ideal, our goal.  In moving toward this objective we love each other and transform our social relations, we make them happier and more cooperative and loving, and we consider then consider the need to improve the social conditions of those we love.  So we promote the liberation of our brothers and sisters from poverty, disease, injustice and unhappiness.  Thus Augustinian theology is a kind of liberation theology looking forward to establishment of the final City of God, where God is all in all.  Then our victorious delectation shall be complete, fulfilled, actualized perfectly.  Then shall ultimate Resurrection come and we shall be transfigured eternally.

  Then shall our burning desire (delectation) for knowing and loving God together, be victorious.

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