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10 Augustinian Values

St. Augustine of Hippo

Ten Augustinian Values was written by Fr. Alberto Esmeralda, OSA and published on many online platforms. With permission from the author let us take a look at the Augustinians values patterned in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo.

1. Love and the Order of Love

The primacy of love, or charity, in the thought of St. Augustine is described by John Paul II in these words:

Augustine located the essence and the norm of Christian perfection in charity, because it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and the reality which prevents one from being wicked. It is the good with which one possesses all goods and without which the other goods are of no avail. ‘Have charity, and you will have them all; because without charity, whatever you have will be of no benefit.’1

Here, the Pope speaks of love as a value (‘good’). Christianity in fact takes the value of love as proclaimed in the Gospels as its central ethical principle. The contributions of Augustine in deepening our knowledge of Christian love can be outlined as follows: (a) Love and the Hierarchy of Values; (b) Love for God is verified in one’s love for the neighbour; (c) Solidarity: Identification through Love.

(a) Love and the Hierarchy of Values.

Love, for Augustine, is not a static reality but a dynamic force. It is a movement that pulls the person from within towards the object loved. “My love is my weight” Augustine says. It is like the force which draws the falling leaves to rest on the ground. This mysterious force is experienced by man as a restlessness, a longing. But there is, according to Augustine, a false love and a true love. Augustine defines true love as “charity,” that love by which we love what we ought to love2, or the “love of the thing which is to be enjoyed, and of the thing which is able to enjoy that thing together with us.” (De doc. chris. I, 35, 39). Love, to be true, must respect a hierarchy of goods (=values) wherein God alone is to be enjoyed for His sake, oneself and neighbour to be enjoyed for the sake of God (“in Deo”) and things are to be used. False love, on the other hand, is that love which does not respect this order.

Related to this is the idea that a person’s love makes him what he/she is. “I am what I love,” Augustine would say. In the end, the person’s love will determine whether he/she will belong to the “sheep” or to the “goats”:

Every community has its deepest roots in love, and love alone differentiates human beings, for only love differentiates men’s actions. It is not in speech or any other outward particular that the true criterion of that differentiation is to be found, but in the deeds and in the heart of man. Through the good they do to one another, men show their real worth. Therefore, only in trial and distress does a man show who he really is. The reason only love distinguishes one person from another is that a man “is” what he loves3.

True love therefore is a rightly ordered love, i.e. a love that is proportioned to the hierarchy of goods established in the nature of things. It is that love which the Lord commands.

(b) Love for God is verified in one’s love for the neighbour.

Augustine has been accused of having spiritualized love, reducing it to a kind of personal intimacy with God. But we know that Augustine took seriously 1 Jn. 3:17: “If anyone has a brother in need but has no pity in him, how can the love of God be in him?.” Augustine knew the demands of love:

If you want to live in love, you may be certain that love cannot be had either easily or cheaply. We cannot live in love just by being good-natured; actually this puts it too mildly, but cannot live in love by being lazy, indifferent, or negligent. Do not imagine that you love your servant because you do not chastise him; that your child is loved if you do not correct him; that you love your neighbours if you never speak to them. That is not love, but weakness.

Progress in love is actually measured in terms of one’s growth in commitment to the needs of the other, and towards the common good (see “Common Good”, below). And any sin against love is sin against God, for “God is love”. This is how Augustine puts it:

No one can assert: I sin merely against a man if I fail to love a fellow man, and this failure against another person happens rather easily; at no time would I be sinning against God. How can that be? Do you not sin against God when you fail to love your neighbour? God is love! I say this not on my own authority…Scripture leaves us in no doubt: God is love.

(c) Solidarity: Identification through Love.

The idea explained above becomes clearer if we look at the Incarnation as that process whereby God identifies Himself with man through Love. Augustine was moved especially by two biblical texts that illustrate this identification between God and Man. Matthew 25: 41.45 “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me… Whatever you refused to do for one these least ones, you refused to do to me.” and Acts 9: 4-5 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The latter is the Risen Lord’s question regarding Saul’s (later Paul) motive for persecuting the Christians of Damascus. What struck Augustine here is the identification of Christ with his persecuted community. In the former, the Son of Man (v. 31) (= King, v. 34; Lord, v. 37. 44) identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the sick, the naked, in such a way that one’s actions towards these are acts towards Him.

Augustine does not use the term “solidarity” – a word that comes from Roman Law and has come to mean, in terms of social justice

not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.4

But Augustine does render the idea – especially in its connotation in Latin American circles – in his insistence on recognizing Christ in the poor. “Turn your attention to Christ who lies in the street,” Augustine once said, “Look at Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ who is a stranger and in need!”5

2. Interiority

Interiority.6 Formation in rightly ordered love involves formation in authenticity based on a deep knowledge of self and of one’s place in the design of God. This is what scholars have come to call Augustinian interiority (or inwardness7). It is enshrined in the Augustinian imperative: Redi in te ipsum – Transcende te ipsum (Return into yourself – Transcend/Go beyond yourself). It involves, then, two movements, one negative and the other positive, that should make the person be ‘at home’ with his/her true nature as imago Dei, an image of God. Negatively, it involves a movement away from a mode of existence that is overly preoccupied with ‘having’ and ‘doing.’ Positively, it is attachment to Being itself, God, who is discovered in the depths of one’s own being.

“Return into yourself”

The first step in the process is a turning inward. The object is to encounter the self in its nakedness, symbolized by the heart. The “heart” is the place within me where I can truly say “I” – away from the masks I daily wear, away from my pretensions, away from the preoccupations which distract me from seeing myself as I truly am… The heart is the place where I ask the big questions of life: “Who am I? What am I here for? What is the meaning of my life?” It is also the place where I evaluate myself, my acts (e.g. “What have I done? What am I to do?”), the veracity of things learned (“How true is this assertion?), etc. But this return into oneself is not like introspection, or even

self-analysis, since it is but a preparation for the second step: transcendence.

“Transcend yourself”

The second step in the process is a move upwards. When I enter the realms of the ‘heart,’ I discover God’s image in me. It is this image which provides the focal point for my self-concept and of my concept of the world and of others. I am an image of God, and therefore God alone can provide the horizon of my life. To know myself, I must come into contact with the one who created me.

In a different way, Augustine would speak of the Interior Teacher: “Enter into yourself for there you find the Interior Teacher.” This is one way by which he popularizes a philosophical insight: “Truth illumines the mind from within.” Truth, for Augustine, is ultimately God in whose light all things – the world, others, myself – become intelligible. It is thus that through interiority, with its inward – upward movement, that the individual is helped to be at-home with him/herself, in a process that will end only when the I is revealed to him/herself in the full splendour of that Day without end. (see “Inner Teacher” below)

3. Humility

The present time’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person has made talk on humility as a value somewhat problematic; it has become ambiguous. Aristotle considered it a vice, while Nietzsche’s doctrine of the “Superman” does not allow a place for it, since humility belongs more to slaves rather than to free men. For Christians, however, humility is a value since the founder of Christianity describes himself as “meek and humble of heart.” (Mt. 11:29)

A Christian virtue.

St Thomas Aquinas classified humility under temperance, thus making it a virtue that tempers the irascible appetite in its tendency to excel and restrains it from presumption. This classification makes humility somewhat like modesty; this is the connotation most associated with humility now. From the perspective of the Bible, however, humility has a wider connotation. In the first place, it designates the proper attitude before God as one’s Lord, Creator and Provider. It is the attitude opposed to Adam and Eve’s desire for independence and autonomy, a desire made concrete in their act of ‘original’ disobedience. Yahweh trained Israel in humility. The journey through the wilderness, Israel’s experiences of defeat — both before their enemies and the forces of nature — in the Holy land, the Exile, were all lessons in humility intended to make Israel “the humble servant of Yahweh.” In the New Testament, the traits of Yahweh’s humble servant are found in Mary (the handmaid of the Lord) and Jesus, who is the definitive image of humility. (Jn. 13:1-17)

In the second place, humility also characterizes an attitude which builds up the Christian community. In the context of Paul’s communities, humility describes the Christian’s manner of behaving patiently and compassionately with fellow Christians. (cf. Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12)

Augustine on Humility

Humility.8 ‘Humility is Truth,’ reads a popular adage. In Augustine, humility is related to the truth and being so, holds an importance that is incomparable to other moral virtues. To Dioscurus, Augustine wrote:

I wish you would submit with sincere piety to Him and not seek any other way to abiding truth but the one shown us by him who, being God, knows our weakness. This way consists, first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility… It is not that there are no other precepts to be mentioned. But, unless humility precedes, accompanies, and follows whatever we do, unless it is a goal on which we keep our eye, a companion at our side, and a yoke upon our neck, we will find that we have done little good to rejoice in; pride will have bereft us of everything.9

For Augustine, it is important since it is the cure for pride, that vice which has introduced all disvalues. Within an Augustinian perspective, humility is seen as a moral value in at least two ways: (a) it is necessary for the Christian life (b) it is a sine qua non for the community life.

Christian life. Christian life is not possible without humility. The obedience of faith requires humble submission. If growth in God’s grace means allowing God to work in my life, then it presupposes the acceptance of one’s status as a beggar before God. Man is indigens Deo. To accept this and live out its consequences is humility. If Christian life means a life lived in imitation of Christ, then one cannot do without humility, for Christ himself taught it as the way of sonship. Humility is the mode by which God came to reach man; it will also be the way by which man reaches God.

Community life. If pride introduced the alienation of man from his fellows, humility makes possible their reconciliation. Phil. 2:6-11 was intended by Paul as the motivation for a life wherein brothers seek the good of others more than their own. “Have the mind of Christ,” says Paul to the Philippians. Christ was not arrogant and self-seeking; he was humble and lived as a servant. Quite paradoxically, the exaltation that egoism desires is not achieved by arrogance (that snatches what belongs to God) but by the ego’s self-emptying to take on the form of a slave. Thus humility is related to servanthood exercised in community.

4. Devotion to Study and the Pursuit of Wisdom

The cultivation of the mind is an integral element in Augustinian values formation. But study and learning must not be understood as mere bookishness nor the pursuit for academic excellence. The reading of books, research and study were means by which Augustine, even as a young student at Carthage, deepened his own thirst for life. After his conversion, study and learning became the venue of his on-going formation in the Christian life. The life that he shared with his friends at Cassiciacum was, in the description of a scholar, more like an academic seminar rather than a spiritual retreat. Later, when he became Bishop of Hippo, reading and study became, not only his refreshment after a day of administrative work, but also a form of service to the Church of his times and to his contemporaries.

Devotion to study must be understood within the perspective of the pursuit of Wisdom. Wisdom is the capacity to understand the world, the self and others in the light of the Ultimate Reality, God. The pursuit of Wisdom coincides with the search for Truth for which every man longs.

This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute.10

For the Christian of Augustine’s days, Wisdom was equated with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word Incarnate. This insight though ancient is relevant until now. It is in fact the basis for the Christian conviction that the mystery of man and all that it encompasses is illumined by the mystery of Christ, the God-man. In Christ, man encounters the Truth for which he longs.

The Apostle reminds us: “Truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21; Col. 1:15-20). He is the eternal Word in whom all things are created, and he is the incarnate Word who in his entire person reveals the Father (cf. Jn. 1:14.18). What human reason seeks ‘without knowing it’ (cf. Acts 17:23) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is the ‘full truth’ (cf. Jn. 1:14-16) of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore in him finds its fulfilment.11

The Augustinian’s devotion to study – whether sacred or profane – finds its place within the context of the mind’s ascent to Truth. This intellectual dimension of Augustinian spirituality has been duly noted. We will discuss this intellectual dimension as it pertains to the educational formation of students studying the secular sciences under the following headings: (a) Faith and Reason; (b) The Two Books Doctrine; (c) Virtus et Scientia; (d) The Inner Teacher.

(a) Faith and Reason.

“Believe that you may understand,” says Augustine; but he also says, “understand that you may believe.” Belief is “to think with assent.” This is a conviction that comes from a basic classroom experience: one cannot progress much in one’s studies unless one learns first to trust in the teacher’s word. Understanding – the exercise of the faculty of reason – works on data that are often received on trust. Thus, reason is complemented by faith. It is also a given experience that what one has learned on the word of another, is deepened and perfected in research and inquiry. In this second case, reason builds on what has been heard, noted and memorized. This whole learning process applies even to the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “What am I here for?” “What is happiness?” “How can I be happy?” “Why is there so much evil?” etc. To these questions, the Church – Mother and Teacher – hands on what she herself has received from the deposit of faith entrusted to her. What the Church gives is not a product of human research done according to accepted scientific principles; rather, what she gives comes from quite another source, God – the Creator of all. The reasoning of a Christian works within the ambit provided by God’s revelation regarding Himself, the world and man, as interpreted by the Church. This way, the Christian is assured of a way of looking at things that is not arbitrary but guaranteed by the authority of the Revealer Himself. “Faith” and “Science” cannot be in conflict so long as we remember that “Faith” answers the question “Why?” while “Science” answers the question “How?” This means that one can be a good scientist without ceasing to be a Christian. And, in fact, it is the Church’s conviction that real Christians make excellent scientists.

(b) The Two-Books Doctrine.

An insight that can help us situate devotion to study and learning within the ambit of the mind’s search for God is Augustine’s “Two-Books Doctrine.” According to this teaching, the Word of God is echoed in two books, the Book of Scriptures and the Book of the World. Both are offered to man so that he may search for and love Him who has inspired the writing of Scriptures and has created the world12. And it is Augustine’s conviction that Scriptures has been given to us in order to help us better understand the Book of the World. “Listen to the Book of the Scriptures; observe the Book of the World!”13

God asks us to read the book of nature laid open before our eyes and to listen to what He wishes to say through the pages He has inspired … “To listen” and “to observe/see” cannot be attitudes that are merely receptive nor purely aesthetic. “To listen” to the Word means to heed God who speaks; “to observe/see” the world is to interpret history as that “place” where God reveals his intentions. “World” therefore, means “the inhabited earth,” it is “human history” wherein God intervenes in order to save man.14

This insight is important because it tells us that dedication to the branches of learning dealing with the “World” – physics, biology, chemistry, biology etc. – has a value that is rooted in God Himself. To think that God can be encountered in creation is a Christian conviction, and it is not surprising that Christian scientists have had religious experiences as they worked in their laboratories! Augustine discusses the value of profane learning in his De doctrina christiana II, 25,38 -39,61. They are to be studied because wherever one finds the truth, there is God. The Christian however should not approach profane studies as if these have the absolute word on man and the world.

Apart from this, Christians should always remember two things: study should be done with moderation (“Nothing too much.”), and the Pauline caveat: “Knowledge puffs up; charity builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1)

(c) Virtus et scientia.

In an earlier article, I wrote that the phrase “Virtus et scientia” is absent from the writings of St. Augustine, but that it paraphrases many of Augustine’s formulations on the relationship of science and faith, wisdom and understanding, doctrine and practice.15 While it is true, the binomial virtue-science does not appear in Augustine’s works, their opposites – Concupiscence – Ignorance (Concupiscentia – Ignorantia) – do exist.

The two consequences of original sin that Augustine always associates whenever he mentions them are concupiscence and ignorance. Inasmuch as these two vices had been excluded by God from human nature as He had fashioned it, it may be said without exaggeration that human nature was changed by the first man’s evil will. Instead of the knowledge Adam enjoyed without having to acquire it, there is our present ignorance from which we are trying laboriously to emerge; instead of mastery exercised over the flesh by the soul, there is the body’s revolt against the spirit. These disorders are sins, as was the act from which they flow; they are original sin itself, carried on in the effects it has caused, effects which in this sense, are still original sin.16

Virtue and Science then are evoked in the University’s motto as remedies-by-contrary of the effects of original sin. This places education squarely within an “ascetic” context. This view is supported by Augustine himself since he does discuss “Virtue” and “Science” as steps in two separate versions of what we may call his “stages of perfection.” In “De quantitate animae (33, 70-76),” “Virtue” is on the fourth level following “Art” and prepares for “Tranquility.” In “De doctrina christiana, (II, 7, 9-11)” “Science” is on the third level between “Piety” and “Fortitude.” The motto Virtus et scientia therefore should be taken as an indication that Augustinian study and learning must be taken as integral elements in one’s growth in the Christian life.

(d) The Inner Teacher.

The student’s devotion and dedication to study, within the Augustinian perspective described above, must lead to a deeper love of God who resides in the heart’s innermost chambers as the Teacher Within. The ideal Augustinian student is exemplified by Adeodatus, Augustine’s son who, at the end of the De Magistro – a philosophical dialogue on sign-theory – says:

…I have learned … that words do no more than prompt man to learn, and that what appears to be, to a considerable extent, the thought of the speaker expressing himself, really amounts to extremely little. Moreover, … He alone teaches who, when he spoke externally, reminded us that He dwells within us. I shall now, with His help, love Him the more ardently the more I progress in learning.”17

Here, in a nutshell, is Augustine’s philosophy of education: the verbal signs we listen to (and even read) “prompt”

us for an encounter with the real Teacher who dwells within us. Study and learning – even in the most profane field of study – leads the Christian to love God “the more ardently” the more one progresses in learning.18 See also “Dialogue: Pursuit of Truth in Community,” under “Community” infra.

5. Freedom

The concept of freedom is perhaps, like “love”, one of the ideas most affected by philosophical pluralism. Despite the varied and sometimes even divergent explanations of it, one can trace at least three basic notions: (a)

self-possession, or the capacity of the subject to invest oneself in a given project; (b) self-definition, or the power of the subject to realize his/her possibilities, and (c) the capacity to choose among different options towards a goal. All these notions are found in the Catechism’s definition of freedom:

Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that (c), and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility (a). By free will one shapes one’s own life (b). (n. 1731, cf. 1744)19

Excluded is any equation between freedom and licentiousness or between freedom and “acting according to one’s whims and caprices.” Freedom after all, is related to the idea of “self-rule” inherent in the notion of self-possession. To be ruled by another, whether a person, or even one’s own drives and instincts is slavery. The Gospel proclaims freedom. St. Paul tells the Galatians: “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1) John the Evangelist proclaims: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) This freedom results from the Christians’ new status as sharers in Christ’s sonship, a new dignity received from God’s grace.

If freedom is self-rule, then what is the “rule?” By what does the self rule itself? Classical philosophy points to the natural law. Christian conviction while not denying this, responds that above the natural law, there is Christ’s commandment of love:

My brothers, you were called, as you know, to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Gal. 5:13-14)

Augustine’s experience

Augustine knew the emptiness of a libertine’s life. His escapades both in boyhood and young adulthood gave him much to lament on in his maturity about that slavery which paraded itself as freedom20. Augustine saw his possibilities as a young man and made his choices, choices that he regretted afterwards realizing how a false notion of human life and God and has led him from one dead end to another. His experience of his own sexuality made him despair of ever possessing himself to a degree that would allow him to make a commitment to marriage. He wanted so much to excel as a rhetor. But even that was a form of slavery; for in wanting that, he was in fact chained to the expectations of a society that applauded achievements while not minding “the state of one’s soul.”

“The Truth shall set you free!” (Jn. 8:31) Augustine’s experience of liberating grace mediated through an encounter with the Word of God in Scriptures made him realize that freedom is not something achieved by one’s own powers. It is a gift from the God who loves us, and loving us wants us to be free. John Paul II gives the following observation:

(Augustine) describes and celebrates Christian freedom in all its forms, from the freedom from error – for the liberty of error is “the worst death of the soul” – through the gift of faith which subjects the soul to the truth, to the final and inalienable freedom, the greatest of all, which consists in the inability to die and in the inability to sin, i.e. in immortality and the fullness of righteousness. All other freedoms which Augustine illustrates and proclaims find their place among these two, which mark the beginning and the end of salvation: the freedom from the dominion of disordered passions, as the work of the grace that enlightens the intellect and gives the will so much strength that it becomes victorious in the combat with evil (as he himself experienced in his conversion when he was freed from harsh slavery); the freedom from time that we devour and that devours us, in that love which permits us to live anchored in eternity.21

Finally, the following corollaries should be noted:

  • One grows into freedom.
  • The freedom that is given in Christ must be appropriated in union with love. Growth to Christian maturity is growth in freedom.
  • For the Christian, to be free is to be committed.
  • Egoistic freedom, closed in on itself results in loneliness and the loss of a sense of values. The subject who is free is a person who can grow only within a community. The social aspect of personal freedom cannot be neglected.
  • Freedom is a gift from God.
  • Freedom is authentic when its divine origin is recognized. Since it is from God, one’s freedom should not lead one away from God.
  • Freedom is completed by love.

Augustine would say: “Love and do what you will. If you are silent, be silent for love. If you cry out, cry out for love. If you correct, correct for love. If you pardon, pardon for love. Let the root of love be ever there within you. Out of this root, only good can come.”22

6. Community

Community.23 “The Augustinian community is basically a group of persons who live their faith, hope and love.” (RAS, n. 37) Thus, the Augustinian concept of community cannot be confused with a mere sociological one. The description of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem as reported in Acts 2:42-46 and 4:32-35 was Augustine’s inspiration. He presented this ideal not only as an example for religious but for lay Christians as well.24

“Community” is not something super-added to an individual’s life as if it were something optional. “Community” is required by human nature: the human being is social; every human life is inextricably linked to other human lives. This social dimension is also an integral element of the Christian life. The Christian is baptized into the Church – the community of disciples – which is the Body of Christ. The Church, therefore, becomes the context of the disciple’s new life in Christ. It is the ‘place’ where he, not only experiences the humanity he shares with other human beings, but also that humanity which Christ assumed and redeemed in the incarnation. The Augustinian community is the Church as localized and contextualized in the lives of men and women who are inspired by Augustine’s Jerusalem ideal.

“One mind and one heart intent upon God”

Augustinian community life is described by a statement comprising of two phrases: “One mind and one heart,” which derives from Luke’s description of the Jerusalem community, and “in Deum” (= ‘intent upon God’25), Augustine’s special phrase designating the community’s religious intentionality (and therefore, distinguishing it from any other “community”). It is interesting to note that the Lucan phrase “one in mind and heart” is closely linked with the description of the disciples not calling anything their own, selling what they possessed and placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles who would then distribute them to each as was needed (Acts 2:44;

4:32.33-34). This sharing of goods was understood by Augustine as the visible sign of oneness of mind and heart. The following selection from Augustine’s commentary on Ps. 131 serves to illustrate this point:

My brothers, how many thousands were they who believed, at the time when they brought to the feet of the apostles the price of their goods. And what does Scripture say of them? That they certainly became the temple of God. Not only each one alone, but all of them together, became God’s temple. They thus became a place for the Lord. In order that you may understand that all of them were made into one single place for the Lord, the Scripture says: “They had one mind and one heart intent upon God.” (Acts.

4:32-35) There are many persons who do not create a place for the Lord, because they look out for their own interests; they love their own advantage; they rejoice in their possessions; they seek their personal good. Whoever wants to make a place for the Lord must be content, not with private goods, but with what is common … My brothers, let us too, abstain from private property at least in a spirit of detachment, if we cannot do it in fact, and we also shall prepare a place for the Lord.

“Sharing of goods” is the same as “working for the common good.” By working for the common good, the Augustinian performs his/her duties as service to the Church and to humanity. The subjects “Common Good” and “Service” will be dealt with below (nn. 7 and 8 respectively).

Obedience as Compassion.

Community life is not possible without obedience. For Augustine, the obedience due to authorities (see

“Leadership”) is not to be understood as deriving directly from humility, but from mercy and compassion. This idea of obedience must be understood by the way one regards a designated authority within an Augustinian community. Here the ‘superior’ is primus inter pares – first among equals. In this perspective, leadership is enabling and empowering, and government is participatory and collegial. Here the ‘superior’ would rather desire to be loved than feared. Obedience therefore is to heed the voice of the one who will be held responsible on my account. It is exercised within an atmosphere of shared responsibilities and trust and carried out in sympathy for the one who will be responsible for each in the community.

Dialogue: Pursuit of Truth in Community.

Devotion to study assumes a different colour within the Community. Quite recently, John Paul II underlined the value of learning within the context of a community of friends. He writes:

It must not be forgotten that reason too needs to be sustained in all its searching by trusting dialogue and sincere friendship. A climate of suspicion and distrust, which can beset speculative research, ignores the teaching of the ancient philosophers who proposed friendship as one of the most appropriate context for sound philosophical enquiry. (Fides et ratio, 33)

It is known that while still at Cassiciacum, Augustine lived with his friends in an atmosphere of philosophical discussions and reflection. The Dialogues of this period bear witness to the fruitfulness of this period of Augustine’s life. Brian Stock, through a close analysis of the texts of the Dialogues, reconstructs for us a Cassiciacum-day with Augustine and his friends:

The dialogues were read aloud to the assembled friends before they were published. They were recorded with care; references to secretaries abound… The timing, duration, and organization of the conversations was likewise determined by Augustine’s insistence that they be recorded. Debates were broken off at nightfall and begun at daybreak so that scribes could continue their work; they were stopped temporarily when the space on the wax tablets ran out. Arguments that were taken down as notes, subsequently edited, and then made available to the group were described as ‘books.’ Sessions were postponed for the task of correspondence. The “ingenious invention” of the pen trapped evanescent words and prevented Augustine’s students’ labours from being dispersed by the wind…

Doing philosophy did not entail reasoning from positions arrived at by the debaters but discussing texts by authors long dead. The exchange of ideas required extensive reading of pagan writers, scripture, and, as the days passed, the transcriptions of the previous conversations. In the upward progress of the soul inspired by the liberal arts, Socratic ‘reminiscence’ was thus replaced by the memory of what had previously been said. De Beata Vita can be described as a Platonic banquet, but it is one that takes place in a library, or, as Augustine later described it, a museum of pre-Christian beliefs. Contra Academicos and De Ordine had recesses for meals and for wearied speakers to return to the books that they were reading for their enjoyment. Augustine’s arrangements sometimes sound less like those of a philosopher than those of a seminar instructor.26

The Augustinian community is also a place where the search for truth takes place in a climate of love and friendship. It is in community where one can experience that truth “is not yours nor mine, so that it can belong to both of us.”

7. Common Good

Rule 7, 2 of the Augustinian rule states: “The degree to which you are concerned for the common good (rem communem) rather than for your own, is the criterion by which you can judge how much progress you have made.” This passage synthesizes Augustine’s conviction regarding personal growth in Christian love. It appears in a context wherein Augustine gives the guidelines for day-to-day life in community, a life characterized by mutual service. We have already pointed out the importance of the social dimension in Augustine’s thought. Since human life is social by nature, the development of a person cannot be separated from its social context. The same applies to the new life of the believer in Christ. The new man that is born from the waters of baptism lives the commandment of love. This life of love is verified in one’s service to the brothers and sisters in the community.

Within this context, one’s progress in love is directly proportional to the intensity of one’s concern for the common good.

The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.”27 It possesses three essential elements: (a) the respect for the

person as such; (b) the social well-being and development of the group to which the person belongs; and (c) peace which is the stability and security of the just order. The common good is graphically illustrated in the Lucan description of the Jerusalem community:

The community of believers
was of one heart and one mind
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common…

There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale
and put them at the feet of the apostles
and they were distributed to each according to need.

This ideal was first lived by Augustine as a lay man with his friends in Tagaste, before he made it the ideal for the monasteries he founded. The memory of Augustine the layman living with his friends according to the “rule of the apostles” have led Augustinian lay seculars to declare:

Augustinian community consciousness urges us to do whatever we can to make the ideal of the primitive community of Jerusalem an inspirational force in both the ecclesial and the human communities, so that sharing of goods may be the sign and sacrament of unity of hearts and everyone may have what he requires, thus leaving no one in need.

Augustinian spirituality requires us to promote a fraternal distribution of goods which will show that we all believe ourselves to be friends and brothers in Jesus Christ under the fatherhood of God. It would not be Augustinian to condone arbitrary socio-economic inequality and exploitation of one’s brother, or to claim that economics is answerable only to itself and has nothing to do with universal brotherhood, unity and peace.28

Those who desire to have an Augustinian mode presence in the world take as their specific apostolate making unity and peace a reality in the Church and in human society:

This requires us to rid ourselves of narrowness and selfishness, and become attuned to a broader social love, joining ourselves to others in such wise that we may have only “one mind, the mind of Christ.” If we are to realize the apostolate of unity and peace in love, we must tirelessly defend justice and denounce injustice in accord with Gospel values. Peace which is the hoped for good of everyone is “the tranquility of order,” and therefore peace itself, cannot exist, unless we succeed in having everything in its proper place according to its nature, and unless we act according to the will of God, seeing to it that the rights of every person are respected. Every injustice no matter how small, is contrary to the cause of peace, for justice and peace cannot be separated. (Ps. 84:11; Rom. 14:17; Is. 32:7)29

Christian formation in Augustinian values, therefore, cannot prescind from an attitude that takes the common good seriously. Love, when it is true, is always directed away from oneself; it is transcendent. The two-fold commandment of love translates into working for the common good; working for the common good is service.

8. Humble and Generous Service  

Humility and charity characterize the Augustinian value of service. It is humble service because it is done in the spirit of gratefulness and in recognition that the service owed to God must be rendered to man. It is generous service because love does not count the cost. Indeed, the measure of love is love without measure. Service is love in its dynamic dimension; it is love that builds up the community by being directed towards persons. Jesus’ command: “Love one another as I have loved you” is given a concrete gesture: the washing of the disciples’ feet. This gesture is the paradigm of Christian servanthood. The spirit of humble and generous service intended by Augustine finds formulation in Rule 5,2:

No one should seek his own advantage in his work.
Everything you do is for the service of the community,
and you are to work
with more zeal and more enthusiasm
than if each person were merely working for himself and his own interests.
For it is written of love that
“it is not self-seeking (1 Cor. 13:5);” that is to say,
love puts the interests of the community before personal advantage.

Service is love in action. It is not the “service” offered in gas stations for the customers. This latter refers to the added attention given to those who patronizes one’s products. This kind of “service” is offered in the hope that customers keep coming and sales do not diminish. Augustinian service is explained by T. van Bavel thus:

As far as material provisions are concerned, a person ought not in the first place to be concerned about himself, but about the other… If a person looks after himself only, he utterly disregards the basic law of life in community, that is, love. Augustine supports this position with several references to Paul’s hymn in praise of love. “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13:5), in other words, it is not love’s aim to serve only its own interests… Moreover, “the way of love is exalted above all other ways.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Thus our temporal care for others is given an eternal value, for love is the enduring element in the alleviation of human needs on earth. The needs of human beings are transitory; either they will be alleviated in this life or they will come to an end with death.30

To serve others, therefore, is to live life in the dimension of gift, a project that one lives out in utter gratuity because conscious that life itself has been gratuitously received. “Service” is the dynamic and temporal manifestation of “community.” It is, as the old preachers would say, “the horizontal dimension of charity.”


Within the context of service, human work assumes a different meaning. The lay Augustinians explain their perception of work in the following way:

In harmony with Augustine’s thinking, we look upon work as important, as something that is an expression of one’s human nature and person.

We do not view it as a burden or simply a means of sustenance, but as cooperation with the Creator in shaping the world and serving the human community (GS 67).

We strive to be competent in our particular skill or profession, and to deal fairly and kindly with both employers and employees.

We are conscious of our civic duty and we try to live according to the social virtues of honesty, sense of justice, sincerity, integrity, courtesy and so on, because these things pertain to an authentic Christian life (cf. AA 4).

We want every action of our public life to be consistent with our faith.

Our commitment to the human and ecclesial communities ought to be visible in our generous service to both, as we carry out our duties and pursue our efforts “with greater care and cheerfulness than if each one were working for himself…”


The idea of “leadership” is derived from the social sciences. Leadership is one of the elements that shape the life of a society. Jesus gave it a new meaning; to the disciples, he said:

“You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28/ Mk. 10:42-45 ; Lk. 22:25-27)

The passage appears in Matthew and Mark as Jesus’ response to a perceived power struggle in the circle of his close associates. In the Lucan gospel, the passage has been rewritten for disciples in the Hellenic regions and appears in the context of the Last Supper. In both cases, the text settles the dispute as to who should be considered the greatest, i.e., the one who serves. It is noteworthy that in Matthew and Mark, the example of Jesus who gave up his life – in his healing and teaching ministry and in his death – as a ransom for many is the basis for this renewed idea of leadership. The Eucharistic setting in Luke somewhat adds a different dimension to the Lord’s example of leadership. During the Last Supper, the Lord distributed bread and wine to his disciples, symbolic of the death he was about to undergo. He was alluding to this when, in response to the dispute among his disciples, he added: “Who is the greater, the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table surely? Yet here am I among you as one who serves!” (v. 27) Thus, Christian leadership is not about the power of the strong, but about love and humility inspired by the example of the Lord who came to serve, not to be served.

Augustine conceived of leadership in his community in much the same way. In his Rule, the leader is described in the following words:

The one in-charge of you must not think himself fortunate in having power to lord it over you (Luke 22:25-26), but in the love with which he shall serve you (Gal. 5:13). Because of your esteem for him he shall preside over you; because of his responsibility to God he shall realize that he is the very least of all the brothers. Let him show himself an example to all in good works (Tit. 2:7); he is to reprimand those who neglect their work, to give courage to those who are disheartened, to support the weak and to be patient with everyone (1 Thess. 5:14). He should himself observe the norms of the community and so lead others to respect them too. And let him strive to be loved by you rather than to be feared, although both love and respect are necessary. He should always remember that he is responsible to God for you. (Heb. 13:17)

There are three ideas that I would like to point to in elaborating the Augustinian idea of leadership: (a) The Leader is a Companion; (b) The Leader is an Animator; (c) Leadership is a Burden of Love.

The Leader is a Companion. Augustine insists on this idea when he refers to his office of bishop. The one who presides must stay at the side. He is not one who stands at the front, separated from the rest; rather, he is at the side as a companion in the journey in Deum.

The Leader is an Animator. The Leader is not like the General of an army who merely gives orders. After all, in Augustine’s mind, the only General is Christ Himself whose command should be taken seriously. The Leader is more of an “animator” – one who “livens things up.” Augustine describes the duties of the leader as follows:

  • To be an example to all in good works;
  • To reprimand those who neglect their work;
  • To give courage to those who are disheartened, to support the weak and to be patient with everyone;
  • To lead the others to respect the norms of the community.

The Leader then is one who, by his life of service, encourages the rest of the community towards their goals and objectives “with one heart and one mind intent upon God.”

Leadership is a Burden of Love. In an Augustinian community, Leadership is more of a burden rather than an honour. It is not an added dignity conferred on someone, but a trust that comes from the esteem of one’s companions. It is a burden of love precisely because the office should be an assurance that the community becomes the place where the commandments of love are fulfilled and realized by each of the members. And it is a burden precisely because the Leader will be accountable to God who has created the community which he is called to serve.

9. Friendship

Friendship.31 “Our Augustinian life of fraternity and community leads us to the careful cultivation of the values of friendship. Friendship begets and nourishes loyalty, trust, sincerity and mutual understanding. It joins us together in Christ, for God fastens us in friendship by means of the love poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” declare the Augustinian seculars (RAS, n. 17).

True Friendship.

The idea of friendship evolved in the mind of Augustine. It is in the Confessions where he gives us a formulation that is mature and elevated: “No friends are true friends unless you, my God, bind them fast to one another through that love which is sown in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom you give.” (Conf. IV,4) Here, Augustine christianizes the idea of friendship. When he calls it ‘true’ he meant that any other type of friendship is criminal, frivolous or remains in the natural order and therefore is empty and false. For him, that friendship alone which is true is that friendship which God grants to those who love each other in Him. He considers it as a gift from God.

This is the heart of the Augustinian concept of friendship and its grand novelty: God alone unites two persons. In other words, friendship is not under the control of man; it is a gift of grace.

Biblical Inspiration

It is actually in this definition of friendship as described above where the influence of the Scriptures on Augustine shows through. The idea has a strong Pauline and Johannine flavor. True friends are bound together by the bonds of the Holy Spirit which is given by God. Paul said that the Love of God has been poured forth in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). This ‘Love’ is the Holy Spirit itself which welds friends together. The disciple receives the name ‘friend’ from Jesus himself : “I no longer call you servants”, the Lord said, “I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) Luke tells us that the disciples were also persevering “in the breaking of the bread and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42.46) In the Jewish milieu, bread was broken among one’s friends, in a fraternal atmosphere that invited trust, hospitality and openness. For the early Christians, the breaking of the bread was also a gesture by which the Resurrected Christ was known by the disciples on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke. 24:30) and reminded them of the many occasions in which the Lord made himself the friend of sinners.

What unites friends in true friendship, therefore, is not sentiments, nor mutual attraction, nor affection32 but the Holy Spirit and the memory of the Lord as celebrated in the Eucharist. In his definition then, Augustine thinks of friendship as beginning, continuing and ending in God – friendship is participation in the life of God.

Friendship rooted in God

This radical idea puts friendship above the merely natural and cements what Augustine was convinced of: that God matters in friendship. To the degree that friends are near to God, to that degree is their friendship true. Sin is the only enemy of friendship; it destroys friendship and renders the heart incapable of it. If one of two friends or both of them stray away from God, the bonds that united their hearts (the Holy Spirit) are broken. They can not be friends again – even if they should still go with each other – not until they are once more reconciled together in God.

Augustine’s idea of friendship evolved in time, but there was always an element that did not change – the idea that God and one’s standing before God matters in any friendly relationship. This is because each man is related to God in two ways: by Creation and by Redemption. It is this two-fold relationship to God that makes it possible for man to be united to other men in love and friendship. Without this relationship, any kind of friendship is not true.

Finally, true friendship is participation in the life of God and reaches its perfection in it.

10. Prayer

Prayer.33 It is not possible to synthesize all that Augustine thinks of prayer in just a few paragraphs. Let me suffice to say that Augustine’s concept of prayer does not substantially differ from the one which Catholic doctrine teaches us. However, Augustine does say certain things about prayer which need to be pointed out. For Augustine, prayer is not an imposed ritual “to be carried out daily from a sense of obligation. Rather, it is the breath of the soul, the spontaneous expression of his faith, hope and love in which he shakes off the limits placed on him by time and duties to enjoy the liberating embrace of the God who dwells in the most intimate core of his being.”34 Prayer, therefore, is not some kind of extra duty imposed upon a person; rather, it is as natural and necessary as breathing. Its necessity derives from the fact that man is indigens Deo, a being-in-need-of-God. Or to put it bluntly: to be human is to pray. Hence, the Apostle himself urges the disciples to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Augustine explains it this way:

Your desire is your prayer; if your desire is continuous, so too is your prayer. For the Apostle did not speak in vain when he said: Pray without interruption. Is it that we should always be genuflecting, always prostrating, always raising up our hands to fulfill the command to pray without interruption? If this is what we understand praying to be, I do not believe that we can pray without interruption. There is however another prayer, an interior prayer that knows no interruption, and that prayer is your desire.

Whatever you are doing, if you desire that Sabbath, you never cease to pray. If you do not wish ever to interrupt your prayer, never cease to desire. Your continuous desire will be your continuous voice. It will grow silent if you cease to love.35

“Your prayer is your desire.” Desire, of course, is that rightly ordered love which we have discussed above (see n. 1, supra). Augustine is deeply convinced of what the Apostle teaches: We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit Himself pleads on our behalf with groans that are inexpressible in words (Vulgate, Rom. 8:26).

Indeed, when we truly pray, it is the Spirit who moves us in prayer: “The Holy Spirit, then” Augustine writes, “urges the saints to pray with sighs too deep for words inspiring in them the desire for a good so great that it is as yet unknown but for which we wait on in hope.36 It is the same Spirit whom God has poured into our hearts, empowering us to love rightly and to delight in God:

He has given us Himself as the object to be loved, and He has given us the resources for loving Him. Hear from the Apostle Paul in a more explicit way what God has given us so as to empower us to love Him: The love of God is poured into our hearts. How does this happen? Relying perhaps on our own resources? No! How then? Through the action of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.37

Prayer then is like breathing, a groaning from the depths of one’s being; Augustine also describes it as a cry: “Prayer is a cry that one raises to the Lord.” (Sermon 29, 1)

The Role of Scriptures.

These descriptions of prayer that we find in Augustine’s works should not distract us from the idea that prayer is “your speaking with God: when you read (the Scriptures), God speaks to you, when you pray, you speak to God”(In Ps. 86). Christian prayer is a dialogue with God; it is a “speaking with” Him who is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, the reading of Scriptures educates the Christian on how to relate with God: forming in him the right concept of God, teaching him His ways among His people, and instructing him in the proper way to speak to Him. Father Agostino Trape describes the Augustinian way of reading the Scriptures in the following way:

(I)t is not only reading which could be called a superficial activity, it is not only that study which is only an intellectual activity, not only that meditation which can be reduced to simple internal introspection…but also and above all, it is a combination of listening and dialogue. It involves listening in faith and docile obedience to Him who is present in man and speaks to him, and reveals his love to him and invites him to respond in love…In this listening-dialogue, which is the most beautiful and fruitful form of meditation, prayer takes on, equally spontaneously, the highest forms of contemplation which are,

… wonder, admiration, gratitude, adoration, praise, expectation that faith will be replaced by vision and that the divine word of the Scripture, which sounds in time, will give way to the Word which sounds in eternity; which sounds, not through the mediation of signs and creatures, but by itself, immediately.38

Vocal prayer.

“Worded” prayers have their proper place in Augustine’s understanding of prayer as “speaking with God.” The prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, praise, supplication and petition that we use in liturgical, para-liturgical rites and in our devotional practices have value only when the words used are in harmony with the desire of the heart. Augustine gives us this rule in prayer: “When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should also be alive in your hearts.” In this way, our speaking with God becomes an expression of our desire for Him who alone is to be enjoyed and loved.


  1. John Paul II, Augustinum Hipponensem: Apostolic Letter on the Occasion of the 16th Centennial of Augustine’s Conversion in L’Osservatore Romano 15 Sept. 1986 5. Emphasis, mine.
  2. Gilson, Etienne, The Christian Philosophy of St. Augustine, (New York: Octagon Books) 1983 (reprint), p. 136
  3. Tarcisius van Bavel. “Christians in the World: Introduction to the Spirituality of St. Augustine” in John Rotelle OSA (ed.) Spirituality for Today vol. II. Catholic Book Publishing Company: NY 1980, p. 60
  4. John Paul II, Sollecitudine Rei Socialis, n. 38. CCC n. 1939 vaguely identifies it as ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity’.
  5. Cf. Serm Guelferb., XIX, 2 in Miscellanea Agostiniana, I. Rome: 1930, p. 503. Compare with Gaudium et Spes 88.
  6. cf. Esmeralda OSA, “Being Church in an Academic Setting I” in Communitas, Jan-Mar 1996, p. 7
  7. cf. Rule for Augustinian Seculars, op. cit. n. 31 where the word “inwardness” is used. The term “interiority” is the Anglicization of “interioridad” (Spanish) and “interiorita (Italian).”
  8. Augustine has not left us a definition of humility. The following definition, though coming from a contemporary author, has some ‘Augustinian’ ring to it: “Humility is the moral virtue by which the human will accepts readily the fact that all a person’s good — nature and grace, being and action — is a gift of God’s creative and salvific love, and by which one wants consequently to ‘unself’ the self radically in thought, word and deed, in order to be true to his (natural and supernatural) being.” G. Gilleman, “Humility” in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. VII, p. 235. In Michele Cardinal Pellegrino. Spiritual Journey: Augustine’s Reflection on the Christian Life. Augustinian Press: 1996, pp. 35-65 one finds an ample treatment of ‘humility’.
  9. Letter 118, 22
  10. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio. (http://www.vatican.va), n. 33
  11. Ibid. n. 34
  12. Gandolfo, Emilio. L’esperienza umana alla luce della Bibbia (Istituto Propaganda Libreria), p. 50.
  13. Liber tibi sit pagina divina, ut haec audias; liber tibi sit orbis terrarum, ut haec videas (In ps. 44, 7)
  14. Gandolfo, op. cit. pp. 50-51
  15. Esmeralda OSA, “Augustinian or Agustin yan?” in Communitas, June – July 1995, p. 4, col. 1
  16. Etienne Gilson, op. cit., p. 151. Emphasis mine.
  17. Joseph M. Colleran, CSSR (trans.) “Augustine’s The Teacher” in Ancient Christian Writers vol. 9, (The Newman Press: Maryland), 1964, p. 186
  18. Cf. Martin Nolan OSA. “Education Inside Out: St. Augustine and the Interior Master” in A Tribute to St. Augustine compiled by Dr. Felicisma Campos, pp. 71-84. The article is a presentation of Augustine’s philosophy of education for non-specialists.
  19. The description of the CCC continues thus: “Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.” (cf. 1731) The italicized phrase gives the description its Christian orientation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. ECCCE/Word and Life Publications: Manila) 1994.
  20. This Augustine called “lesser freedom.” ‘Lesser freedom’ is freedom that is merely external and coincides with an interior slavery to moral negativities (=sin) which in turn impedes the full development of the person.” Autores varios Valores Augustinianos Pensando en Educacion, Publicaciones F.A.E. p. 20
  21. John Paul II, Augustinum Hipponensem.
  22. Tract. In Io. 7:8
  23. Esmeralda, “Being Church in an Academic Setting II”, Communitas, July-Sept. 1996. p. 7.
  24. Cf. Augustine’s Commentary on Psalm 131,5.
  25. “In Deum” literally means “unto God.” The Latin “in” with the accusative is dynamic and implies directionality, intentionality. The phrase is also translated as “on the way to God” in view of Augustine’s image of the People of God in pilgrimage.
  26. Brian Stock. Augustine the Reader: Meditation, Self-knowledge and the Ethics of Interpretation. Belknap Press (Harvard): Cambridge and London. 1996, p. 131.
  27. CCC, n. 1906
  28. RAS, nn. 21-22
  29. RAS, nn. 19-20.
  30. Canning, Raymond OSA (Trans.) Tarcisius van Bavel OSA’s The Rule of Saint Augustine: With Introduction and Commentary. (DLT: London), 1984. pp. 90 – 91
  31. Cf. McNamara, Marie Aquinas. Friends and Friendship in St. Augustine
  32. As in Cicero’s definition of friendship: “The agreement on things human and divine accompanied by good-will and mutual love.”
  33. Cf.Pellegrino, op. cit.. Pp. 185-208 is dedicated to the question of Prayer and Grace.
  34. Martin Nolan, OSA A Cry from the Heart: Conversion and Prayer Today Rome:1987, p. 10
  35. In ps. 37:14; PL 36,404
  36. Ep. 130, 15, 28; PL 33, 505-06
  37. Serm. 34, 2; PL 38, 210
  38. Agostino Trape, OSA “The Search for God in Contemplation” in Searching for God, 18.
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