Augustinians are, first and foremost, a community. Saint Augustine believed that God could be best discovered in the company of friends, and that is how we have chosen to serve God. Order of St. Augustine Link.
Our community life is built on the same qualities as friendship: mutual acceptance and respect, a willingness to listen to others and to open oneself to them, kindness and concern, a spirit of forgiveness. It is a way of life that puts far less emphasis on rules and regulations than on personal responsibility and decisions made together.
Part of our life is spent in contemplation and prayer, and part in ministry. We go where the needs of the Church call us—to the inner city, to rural and remote areas, to the campus, to foreign lands—and we serve in many ways: as preachers of the word and presiders at the sacraments, as pastoral ministers and missionaries, as chaplains and social workers, as teachers and scholars, as writers, professional counselors, musicians, and artists.
Whatever form our work takes, we bring with us our personality as Augustinians. Among those we serve, we try to create what we seek in our Order’s own houses: a community of love and respect, where the presence of God can be recognized in each member. Our hearts strive to be on fire with the experience of God’s love, and we desire always to share that fire with others.
Augustinians are the spiritual descendants of Saint Augustine, who is generally regarded as the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity and Western intellectual thought.
Augustine, named Aurelius Augustinus, was born in 354 A.D. of middle-class parents in the North African town of Thagaste. A brilliant and passionate scholar, he taught rhetoric in Carthage and later Rome and Milan until his early 30s, living the Roman life to the fullest. A dramatic conversion to Christianity at the age of 32 set his life on a new course: He returned to North Africa and was ordained bishop of Hippo, where he was to spend the remaining 44 years of his life.
The scope of Augustine’s intellectual and apostolic achievement is staggering. He wrote 113 books, among them two classics of world literature: Confessions and The City of God. Over 800 of his sermons have been preserved. As priest and bishop, he traveled thousands of miles in the Church’s service and fought tirelessly against the people who were dividing Catholics to the point of physical violence. But in the midst of these demanding activities, Augustine’s life had a very different side: He was, at heart, a monk.
After his conversion, Augustine had established a monastic community for himself and his friends in his parents’ home, in Thagaste, and he had devoted a joyful three years to study, dialogue, and prayer. It is at this time that Augustine wrote his famous Rule for the monks who lived with him. Out of this tradition stems the emphasis on the part of the early Augustinians of the thirteenth century and us today on fraternal life in community.
When he became a bishop, he was determined not to abandon a way of life that he had found so fulfilling. He set up a monastery for priests in his bishop’s residence and lived the Rule he wrote as a guide for living in a religious community.
Augustine’s monastery took monasticism in a new direction. Monks had pastoral duties, and they could not abandon those duties for a life of contemplation. But Augustine had come to believe that a monk could, and should, lead both a contemplative life and a life of action, as he expressed it in his work The City of God. A monk’s first responsibility, he felt, was serving the Church—but study and contemplation would make that service all the more meaningful.
Since its beginnings in the thirteenth century, the Augustinian Order has been characterized by a style of life that is, like Augustine’s, both active and contemplative. For Augustinians, it is perhaps the most distinctive feature of our community and the challenge for us Augustinians and society at large.
The Rule of Saint Augustine
One of Saint Augustine’s most important legacies is his Rule: a brief set of principles, fewer than a dozen pages in length, for the guidance of those living in a religious community.
Augustine advised his followers to “see yourselves in this little book, as in a mirror.” The oldest of its kind in the Western world, the Rule has been chosen by the Augustinians—and by more than a hundred other religious orders and congregations—as the pattern for their daily lives.
The Rule’s most fundamental message is this: Love—love of God, love of neighbor—is the center of Christian life. By their love for one another, by their ability to live together in harmony, a religious community’s members embody the truth of Christ’s teachings. They make Christ’s love visible to others.
The Rule addresses, concisely and in the plainest of language, what Augustine saw as the major elements of monastic daily life: prayer, moderation and self-denial, chastity, the sharing of goods, the care of the sick, obedience to authority, friendship. Though the occasional detail reminds us that Augustine was speaking at a different moment in history, the Rule’s lessons are timeless. For Augustinians, this “little book'” is as powerful a model of conduct as it was when Augustine wrote it more than sixteen centuries ago. The challenge for those who wish to follow Augustine is twofold. We seek God not in philosophical speculation alone, but in careful observance of the guiding presence of a loving, personal God always at work in our life’s journey. At the same time, we strive to be dedicated servants of the Church in the ministries of word, sacrament, and justice.
Charism, a word and a concept of special importance to Augustinians, means gift—the gift, or gifts, that are given to us through the power of the Spirit.
In a religious community, charism is the particular contribution that each religious order, congregation, or family and its individual members embody. Normally, such a charism originates with the community’s founder, or with its founding document or rule. While charisms differ among religious groups, there is a sameness to all, for all follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The charism of Augustinians is love of God and love of neighbor, which are the foundation of the gospel of Christ and which Saint Augustine enunciates time and again in his writings, especially in his Rule. For Augustine and Augustinians, the interior manifestation of this charism is the life that his followers lead in common and the bonds of friendship that hold them together. It is externalized by the hospitality that Augustinians extend to others, our service to the world, recognizing that each member of our community and each person with whom we come in contact is a temple of God. Dii estis, “You are gods,” is Augustine’s famous phrase, quoting Psalm 82:6.
And so the gospel imperative of love of God and neighbor—which Augustine sees as one, since we love our neighbor in God and our God in our neighbor—becomes for the followers of Augustine their particular charism in friendship and hospitality. No human being is a stranger to an Augustinian.