And reading that work never gets old.
I am continually left in awe of his erudition, but also of the depth of his introspection and honesty. 1600 years after it was written, Augustine still speaks to me; his story resonates with me, his all-encompassing desire to find rest his unquiet heart is one that resonates with many of us.
Augustine and I have spent many, many hours together over the years. I have to admit that there are times when we disagree and argue. I am, for example, troubled by his willingness to make use of the violence of the state to bring Donatists back into the Catholic fold, as well as by his theology of sexuality. But I've no doubt that there are many aspects of my thought that trouble him as well.
And in the end, no matter our disagreements, Augustine's writings manifest so clearly to me the divine beauty and love that is God. His depiction of divine humility in book 7 of the Confessions and book 13 of De Trinitate is as beautiful as it is profound. And there are few things as beautiful as the vision Augustine shared with his mother, Monica, in the days shortly before her death, a vision that, by the very fact that it occurs for both Augustine and Monica (two people with immensely divergent educational backgrounds) in community together speaks deeply to Augustine's conviction that the Christian life is necessarily communal for it necessarily revolves around love:
We were alone, conferring very intimately. Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead, we inquired between ourselves in the light of present truth, the Truth which is yourself, what the eternal life of the saints would be like...[A]nd we lifted ourselves in longing yet more ardent toward That Which Is, and step by step traversed all bodily creatures and heaven itself, whence sun and moon and stars shed their light upon the earth. Higher still we mounted by inward thought and wondering discourse on your works, and we arrived at the summit of our own minds; and this too we transcended, to touch that land of never-failing plenty where you pasture Israel for ever with the food of truth. Life there is the Wisdom through whom all these things are made...And as we talked and panted for it, we just touched the edge of it by the utmost leap of our hearts; then, sighing and unsatisfied, we left the first-fruits of our spirit captive there, and returned to the noise of articulate speech, where a word has beginning and end (Confesssions 9.24).
Such love, and Augustine never writes more beautifully than when he writes on love, the love of two people for one another, is the kind of love Augustine suggests is to be at the heart of Christian community. For a community of selfless, humble love itself comes to image, through God, the selfless love that is the community of the Trinity.
Happy Feast of St. Augustine to all!