OSA Niño Logo

Dynamism of Ideal Augustinian Common Living: Friendship to Community, Community to Friendship

Augustinian Common Living

Friendship as a Necessity

Every human person, no matter how aloof or indifferent he is, will always have an innate desire to love and be loved, to belong and be accepted in a group or among a circle of friends, to go home to a family which would really feel like “home,” and to enter or be involved in certain relationships with people that he wants to be with. Every person wants to have a good life. Yet every significant memory (may they be good or bad) and every aspired or feared dream are themselves void of meaning if they are not confided to significant individuals whom one hopes to find them meaningful and noteworthy too. Significant experiences or insights, whether they are good or bad, are empty if they are just kept to one’s self and not shared to someone else. Paradoxically, every human person wants to isolate himself from others to maintain a level of peace and security, yet it cannot be denied that a part of him would also try to reach out to others whom he trusts or wants to trust. Indeed, it is already embedded in the nature of every member of humanity to enter into a social life if they want to survive and to find happiness and contentment. As St. Augustine would say, that “necessities in this world amount to these two things: well-being and a friend . . . God made man to be and to live; that’s well-being; but so that he shouldn’t be alone, a system of friendship was worked out.”[1]

Following the mind of St. Augustine, Donald Burt, OSA points out that the human race possesses and requires a higher degree of sociability compared to other species in the animal kingdom. He observes that turtles, for example, could just live without any interaction and show no concern for others when they rash to the ocean after hatching and emerging from their incubating holes near the seashores. Human beings, however, cannot survive especially in its earliest years without the care and guidance of another human being. Human beings are the most delicate species because they do not have the capacity and still need to be taught on how to look after themselves for a long period of time.[2] For that reason, some thinkers posit that the need to enter a society manifests the incapacities of the weak while the strong elates isolation but enters into a social life when they want to increase their power through combined efforts. Among these notable thinkers is Friedrich Nietzsche who maintained that an anti-social attitude exhibit the best characteristic of a human being and the ideal “Superman.”[3]

However, such view goes in contrast with the view of St. Augustine who finds social life as a part and a prerequisite for the perfection of human nature. St. Augustine points out that humanity’s common origin, by itself, teaches that it is designed to be united and to have an intimate family relationship among each other. He says, “from that one individual [Adam] a multitude might be propagated that, and that this fact should teach mankind to preserve a harmonious unity in plurality.”[4] This idea gives the theologian the conviction that the life of a wise man should be a social one.[5] Nevertheless, Augustine recognizes that human freedom allows any individual not to choose what they should be over what they should be not. Such ability grants him the capacity to live in an inappropriate way for a just society. Human beings may be designed to be sociable in nature but they can still opt to exhibit an indifferent and anti-social attitude.[6]

Social life and one’s relationship with another individual vary from person to person. Kinds of relationships differ depending on the kinds of people involved in it and according to the purpose of its formation. Generally, all types of relationships are established and developed due to either a degree of affection or practicality (or both) that the involved persons possess or want to achieve and maintain, respectively. But whatever the rationale may be for the foundation of a relationship, St. Augustine asserts that the kind of relationship that can lead to a happy life is that of friendship, the most intimate form of relationship. In fact, he insists that any form of happiness is incomplete if one has no friend. No human achievement or activity can ever be significant if one does not have a friend.[7] St. Augustine also believes that friendship is broader and therefore surpasses the intimacy present in the family because the affection being shared among every ideal family member is brought about by the kind of friendship that each of them has for one another. In fact, the first thing that a baby is conscious about is his or her parents, and his or her life or journey begins from their friendship.[8]

These being said, one can then also conclude and assert what God has once stated before: “It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18, NAB).” Man must certainly live with other human beings. In this sense, living together must not only be understood as a mere conglomeration of individuals in the same building, bus or train without knowing or caring what is happening to the one next to them. The idea of not leaving man to be alone is not to arrange diverse human beings to travel through life merely as fellow travelers but as traveling fellows. For them to be in this state, they must establish a satisfactory level of friendship with one another that requires an amount of respect, benevolence and care. In this sense, Augustine defines friendship as “the disinterested desire for good for that person whom one loves, together with a reciprocal desire on his part.”[9] The definition implies that in order for individuals to become friends, they must first love each other and reciprocally wish and to do good to each other.

Bad Friendships, Good Friendships

Aside from not traveling alone, St. Augustine also insists that the association and relationship of human beings must be brought in such a way that all its members are traveling in the right direction. Augustine is well aware how friendship can be helpful in one’s search for authentic happiness, yet he also knows very well how some kinds of friendships can lead one to detriment. He recalls and shares in his Confessions how thrilled he was when he stole some pears not for consumption but for the fun of stealing and having some adventures with his friends[10] and to share with one another the enjoyment of talking about sinful things.[11] In fact, even thieves, pirates and other types of criminals form an alliance and a certain level of friendship among themselves to better achieve their evil goals.[12] Such examples of friendship do not truly contribute to the development of a person but brings rather with it a finite and inauthentic kind of happiness.

St. Augustine describes the friendship mentioned above as an inauthentic one because it does not lead a person towards the true purpose of friendship: uniting and bringing people to God. It must be pointed out that St. Augustine does not conceive of friendship as an end for itself nor as a venue for the development of the social nature of men and merely as a means to attain a happy life on earth. Every kind of relationship, institution or association is dynamic and moves to a particular destination according to the disposition, interactions and activities of its members. For him, all our actions and dealings with one another may bring us back to God or away from Him. With that in mind, St. Augustine formulates another definition for friendship as the “agreement [of persons] on human and divine things.”[13] Agreement on human things refers to the bond that linked different individuals due to their similar or common interests, views and goals. On the other hand, agreement on divine things denotes that genuine friendship is realized if friends do the will of God together and recognize that it is by his grace that their bond exists for the purpose of being united ultimately with Him in the future. For St. Augustine, “friendship is genuine only when God binds fast together people who cleave to Him through the charity poured abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.”[14] One must love his friend, not for himself but for God.[15]

The distinction that St. Augustine makes on friendship drives home a point that some types of relationships are to be encouraged while others must be avoided. Such notion, however, should not be misinterpreted as implying that one should avoid establishing any form of connection or association with ill-reputed people. In fact, St. Augustine contends, “One must not reject the friendship of anyone who offers himself for the association of friendship . . . not that he should be received immediately but he should be desired as one worthy of being received and he should be treated so that he can be received.”[16] He even went further by exhorting that “whoever loves men should love them either because they are just or in order that they might be just.”[17] He also says,

Love all men, even your enemies, not because they are your brethren, but that they may be your brethren . . . Wheresoever ye love a brother, ye love a friend . . . If a man is not yet your brother, love him to this end, that he may be a brother. Well then, all our love is a brotherly love, towards Christians, towards all his members.[18]

Truly, his idea on friendship is very inclusive and ideal that he encourages that, as much as possible, one should love and try to embrace everyone as friends here on earth as everyone will be in heaven. One, however, should be careful that one may not fall into becoming worse by associating with other people but must observe that one helps or is helped when dealing with them.

From Friendship to Community

Aspiring for an ideal notion of friendship does not serve as a hindrance for St. Augustine to ground his teaching on the reality. He admits, “Everyone must be loved equally; but when you cannot give assistance to all, you must above all have regard for those who are bound to you more closely by some accident . . . of location, circumstances, or occasions of any kind.”[19] We must all be united and help one another so that we can altogether achieve our salvation yet as much as one may want to be totally inclusive in his own friendliness, it is just impossible to accomplish such a task in our present state-of-being and present world. Dedicated human beings can do so much but the only thing that they can only do is to form one’s own circle of friends who love and re-learn to love one another daily to be able to grow in their love for God. “This ideal of friendship gave Augustine a special interest in the development of religious community; here more than anywhere he hoped that true Christian fellowship could be realized on earth.”[20] It is then not surprising why St. Augustine has his closest family members, students and friends as the first members of his community in Cassiciacum where they intended to devote themselves to be with one another and together search for God, the Truth.

By forming one’s own circle of friends and establishing it to be a community, one may be more successful in addressing the barriers and issues that hinder people to be truly united and be intimate with one another. It is a reality that the universal ecclesial community, or the Church at large, finds it difficult to solve its problem on division yet the problem in its larger picture may be mitigated when smaller communities within the Church are formed to tackle the concerns under their jurisdiction. In doing so, unity is better promoted and the clashing of interests between individuals may be lessened in a smaller but more reachable scale. To sum it up, friendship or a just society that is difficult to establish in a bigger community may be created more easily in smaller communities. In this context, Augustine’s ideal of friendship is applied to the new context of Christian fellowship where all members of the Church are united by a common goal [to find and reach God] and need the assistance of one another to attain it.[21]

Starting as a Community of Strangers

It will be expected that a number of people will be enticed to form or join their own circle of communities when the ideals of community living is emphasized and promoted. A new situation will then arise from such phenomenon. New members will decide to join certain communities envisioned by St. Augustine. A community that initially began as a community of friends will be opened to other people who never knew each other as friends but as strangers. If it is inevitable for problems and conflicts to arise among friends who decided to live together in a community, the more shall it be when the community is composed of people who started as strangers and who never had an idea on who will they be mingling with in the brotherhood. This unfamiliarity may serve as a hindrance in achieving unity with each other. Even those who are attracted to live a holy life in the community also bring in with them their personal talents, issues, interests, struggles, weaknesses and concerns that may clash with each other. Moreover, it is possible that some of them may become friends in the future but to expect all of them to become friends later on is too ideal.

Nonetheless, though it is impossible for such reality to take place in our present world, it is still not unfeasible to aspire and work for it. To develop a disposition where they can possibly embrace everyone as friends must be the common aim of every Augustinian. It must be borne in mind that the rationale of every Christian community on earth is to serve as a preparation for the communion of saints in heaven where everyone is entirely true to each other and share the vision of God with one another. It may be impossible to bring down on earth that kind of communion that may only exist in heaven, yet it is still feasible to imitate such bliss here on earth even if it cannot be exactly duplicated.

A Common Rule for Diverse People

For that reason, St. Augustine wrote the Rule to serve as a guide for those who want to live his ideal of community living. The document contains the precepts that describe the purpose on why they are to live in the community and on how each member must live its ideals in certain situations and concerns. As Thomas Martin, OSA will also describe the Rule, “it was a way of continuing an authoritative presence and was not originally intended for publication but solely for the guidance of that little monastic community Augustine loved so dearly but now had to leave.”[22]

In the opening part of the Rule, St. Augustine explains that each of the community member’s purpose is and should be to live together in harmony (Ps. 67:7) in one mind and one heart (Acts 4:32)  intent upon God (in Deum). St. Augustine cited the Scriptural value of living together in harmony in one mind and heart because it captures his own interest and thirst for unity for the people around him and for the Church. He added the phrase “in Deum” because he also recognizes that, though inauthentic, human beings are capable of creating a bond with each other for selfish and evil purposes. In contrast to this, each person in the community must see to it that their union is not directed to collaboratively attain or reach any mundane goal but God Himself. As the Plan of Augustinian Formation elucidates “this Latin accusative, “in Deum”, deserves our special attention. It indicates dynamic movement: as a group we are striving for God. We are like travelers on the way to him.[23]

            The phrase, “in Deum” also indicates that unity and harmony is not sought among individuals and friends for its own sake but ultimately for God. If one truly searches for happiness, he must not consider friendship or association with others as an end for itself. Intimate relationships must be established in God and for God for it to become permanent. Outside God, all sorts of relationships become temporal due to distance, conflicts and death. In this statement, St. Augustine has encapsulated how every Christian community and relationship should be.

Love as the Magnet

            As to how oneness in minds and hearts can be achieved, St. Augustine reminds his members in the community to love God above all things and to love one’s neighbor, as oneself for this is the chief commandments that is given to all of us.[24] Love is a requirement in order for a community to exist and in order for it to work. It is “by love [that] man will be drawn out to himself, beyond the boundaries of his little world that is called “I.”[25] After his exhortation to follow the chief commandments of love, St. Augustine then lays down the other precepts that prescribe what every member must do in the community. The precepts are written not to serve as a manual or guideline but to serve as expressions on how one’s love for God and for one’s neighbors may be expressed in the community. St. Augustine focuses on the primacy of love when he seeks to guide, through the Rule, those who will follow his ideal of community living.

What is most distinctive about Augustine’s Praeceptum [or the Rule]: its emphasis on love as the monastic ideal – not withdrawal, not asceticism, not obedience, not even prayer; it all comes down to love, and as will be seen, this love must be practical and neighborly.[26]

In such religious community, it is presupposed that one already and is always ready to love God through one’s neighbors in and through the community. The goal for entering such brotherhood should also not be limited in maintaining such kind of love but to make it grow and improve it with everybody’s help. St. Augustine also sees that association with others especially in a community can serve as a venue to develop one’s love for God and to develop the City of God.[27] The saint explains that no distinction exists between one’s love for God and one’s neighbor. In fact, the two commandments are identical and must never be separated from one another: “For how can you love God whom you do not see when you cannot love your neighbor whom you can see?”[28] Love for God may be esteemed as the greatest commandment, yet it is love for one’s neighbor that determines its authenticity and validity. As T. J. Van Bavel also puts it, “love for one’s neighbor should take precedence, perhaps not in theory, but certainly in practice.”[29] It is not surprising, then, why most precepts in the Rule concentrate on how to develop and show neighborly love while only few mention about prayer and liturgy.

Sharing of Goods as Initial Expression of Love

In an Augustinian community, the first prerequisite that must be performed in order to express one’s love is to observe that  material properties that each member has and the community possesses must be shared in common: “Call nothing your own but let everything be yours in common.”[30] Food, clothing and any other material things are to be distributed to everyone according to each one’s needs.[31] The inspiration for this precept is taken from Acts 4:32, which describes how the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem lived. Through the sharing of goods, none of them was needy.

St. Augustine’s meditations on the way of life practiced in that early church influences him to conceptualize that this is how the Church and the society should live so that no one should also be deprived of one’s own needs. St. Augustine sees in his time the reality of the unjust allocation of material goods that caused the division between the rich and the poor. Hence, he structuralized an alternative way of living that may oppose and serve as a protest against such problem in the world. He envisioned and sought to found a community where the rich and the poor, the weak and the powerful may be able to relate with each other as equals. However, the sharing of material goods however must not be understood as minimizing the wealth of the rich to alleviate the poor. In fact, the spirit of the spirit is not to lessen the wealth of the rich but to entirely make everyone rich. As St. Augustine elaborates “If all things had remained private property, each person would have owned only what belonged to him or her individually; but when each person turned over his personal things to common ownership, he came to own what had belonged to others as well.”[32]

Nevertheless, the sharing of material goods in common does not distinctively mark the nature of an Augustinian community. It is a means to prepare the ground where spiritual goods may be better shared in common within the community. Tarcisius Van Bavel, OSA explains what spiritual goods are and its relevance as follows:

The concept ‘spiritual goods’ is very broad and very difficult to describe. But it certainly comprises one’s own talents, character, temperament, thoughts and ideas, inspiration and faith. And even though the first chapter of the Rule does not explicitly mention it, the sharing of spiritual goods does indeed seem to be presupposed where Augustine says of religious that, in their dealings with one another, their hearts should seek nobler things, not vain earthly appearances.[33]

Sharing of spiritual goods takes place when people in certain communities give to others their gifts of selves. When one readily gives to another his very self, sharing of one’s opinions, time, talents, ideas, hopes, aspirations, problems and enthusiasm will necessarily follow. At the same time, one also needs to participate in activities and occasions where such spiritual goods are shared to manifest and validate one’s desire to be united with one’s companions in the community. In this sense, it can be concluded that the sharing of spiritual goods are both prerequisites and results of an intimate relationship with others in the community. 

Material goods do not last unlike spiritual goods such as joy, wisdom and the love for God. The former usually cause the division among many groups and sharing them equally according to one’s needs cannot guarantee the unity in the community. Only spiritual goods do. Certainly,

It is only mental and spiritual riches – rejoicing with those who rejoice, sharing ideas and enthusiasms with one’s fellows – that really bind communities together. It is only when spiritual goods are treasured, and material goods put into second place, that fellowship free of envy and rivalry can develop.[34]

Each person only receives a fraction when material goods are divided among those who need them and the provision for each person lessens when the number of those who need them increases. However, unlike material goods, spiritual goods do not diminish when it is shared to others. It will even increase when shared to others. As St. Augustine will explicate,

A man’s possession of goodness is, in no way, diminished by the arrival, or of the continuance of a sharer in it. Indeed, goodness is a possession enjoyed more widely if those who possess it are united in harmonious fellowship. In fact, anyone who refuses to share this possession with others will not enjoy it at all; and he will find that his possession of it will be in precise proportion to his readiness to love his partner in it.[35]

Nonetheless, the sharing of material goods is the preliminary consideration for the sharing of spiritual goods to take place. It must be the first expression of one’s love for his neighbor in the community. As Van Bavel also explains:

Augustine’s reflection on love for one’s neighbor start from a very realistic standpoint: love begins from below, love begins with giving, with sharing what we possess. Sharing material goods in common belongs to the first phase of love. This is a first realization of openness towards others, a first form of living together.[36]

Indeed, the mutual sharing of goods defines how Augustinians view poverty as a religious vow that they all profess to be incorporated in the Order. However, voluntary poverty expressed as a religious vow must not be confused with poverty that implies destitution or the lack of necessary material goods. The former mandates that material things are to be shared equally according to one’s needs to ensure equality, unity and simplicity of life among the members of a community. It serves as an expression of one’s love and respect for other people. On the other hand, the latter is an evil that needs to be combatted and must not be taken as a value in itself.

Histories and Tendencies: Key to Sympathy and Understanding

The rest of the precepts in the Rule prescribe how a brother must bring himself in the community to progress in love for God and his neighbor and how he ought to help others do the same. They elaborate how the community must advance in prayer life, in looking after the material and spiritual needs of one another and how superiors must lead and be obeyed.

The Rule dominantly emphasizes that everyone is responsible for the improvement or demise of one’s companion in the community. A careful analysis on the Rule shows that material and spiritual goods are not the only things that are shared in the community but the physical and spiritual weaknesses and struggles of the members as well. St. Augustine understands very well that all men vary in terms of physical strengths and weaknesses and he considers that their former ways of lives may have contributed to that.[37] Hence, he exhorts the poor to be considerate and to offer aid when they find that those who are formerly rich are struggling to live austerely.[38] He also urges that special attention and care must also be given for those who are sick and weak over those who are strong in the allocation of goods. The rich, for their part, must not exalt themselves for being able to surrender or contribute a considerable amount to the common fund and the poor must not take pride in being able to associate and mingle with those who were formerly rich and powerful in their society. They must also not run after those things that they were unable to enjoy before they became a part of the community. St. Augustine carefully expounds how one’s own past and present status may affect one’s struggles in the community not to prejudge nor to predetermine the tendencies that a particular kind of people is usually subjected to, but to promote among the members the culture of being considerate, sympathy, and understanding to one another.

Building on Trust

Nor is it the intention of St. Augustine that everyone in the community should be suspicious of one another. In fact, such attitude can only hamper the development of unity in the community. St. Augustine may be viewed and portrayed in most theological literatures as pessimistic to human nature and tendencies due to his insistence on the concept of original sin in his anti-Pelagian works. However, his approach to the Pelagian controversy must not be viewed as implying that his anthropological perspective is inclined to concentrate more on the weaknesses of men over their potential to do good. The purpose of his insistence on original sin is not to be cynical to human nature but to denote and emphasize man’s constant need for God’s grace. His perspectives on man’s ideal attitude when dealing and entering into relationship with others can attest to this. He strongly maintained that every relationship (especially friendship) and every community must be built on a high level of trust with one another.

He recognizes that human beings do not have the ability to penetrate the true intentions of the heart of another individual and their perception for them may be better or worse from their actual characteristics.[39] Moreover, any process that may be undertaken to express one’s feelings, motives and actions may still be subject to misinterpretation and misunderstanding due to the limitations of human communication. If anyone is able to ascertain the true trait of another individual, there is no guarantee on what he or she can become tomorrow.[40]

The inability to pierce another person’s heart must not be exaggerated to become a reason not to trust because no one is even aware on what his or her own attitudes will be when confronted by certain situations in the future. Situations where a friend is confused as an enemy and an enemy confused as a friend are not rare happenings hence it is justifiable to be cautious in entering into relationship with others. In fact, it is very disturbing when friendship turns out to be treachery and malice.[41]  Nevertheless, trust and confidence must become one’s primary rule when a relationship is already established. Though a friend later shows himself unworthy of friendship, this is lesser evil than not to have confidence in him.[42] If one does not want to live in complete solitude, he must learn to trust others at least at some level. To be able to trust others more readily, the saint advices that one must not worry on the reality of human weakness because in trusting, you actually put your trust on God who resides in every person.[43]

Despite his authority over them, St. Augustine, in his dealing with other individuals, make it a personal rule that his companions must feel that they are trusted. He says,

I have such a good opinion of my brothers and believing the best of them, I have always refrained from making any inquiries because to make such . . . indicate I had a low opinion of them. I knew . . . and I still know that all who were living with me knew about our purpose, knew about the law governing our life together.[44]

Possidius, his contemporary biographer, also attest to this attitude:

The administration of the house attached to the church and of all its possessions he used to delegate to the more capable among the clergy, letting each of them have the task in turn. He never kept the key or wore the ring. Instead, those in charge of the house kept a record of all income and expenditures and gave an account of it to him at the end of the year, so that he might know how much had been received and how much spent, and how much remained to be spent. In many matters, he simply took the word of the person in charge and did not require detailed and documented accounts.[45]

Nothing but the Truth

For trust to take root among the members of the community, they must all be true and frank with one another in words and deeds. Truth must be spoken at all times. Everyone in the community must display their true selves by not romanticizing their individual life histories and backgrounds to be accepted or loved for whom they are not. A brother must be informed on the truth on what he is doing. Truth must never be comprised over one’s relationship with another because “no one can truly be a friend of another person unless he is first a friend of the truth.”[46] This means that friendship can be described as imperfect when friends cannot be true to each other. However, being true to one’s friend is not easy and it requires courage.[47] On the other hand, flattery or the exaggeration of positive truths must also be avoided. St. Augustine reminds that those who do so betray their friends and that it is better to have mortal enemies than to have this kind of friends.[48] However, any admonishment being made to a friend or companion must be done in a way that it does not portray bitterness, insensitivity and hate. Such act must also serve as an expression of love and concern. It must be done in a way wherein a friend or a brother can truly feel one’s love and concern in the most possible way without undermining the truth.

Not only Common Goods but Common Bads as Well

If in case a member(s) fall into committing a mistake, the Rule specifies the intricate procedures that those who noticed the act or behavior must undertake to point out, correct and convert an erring companion. Superiors, for their part, must also enforce such role among his members and must lead in an exemplary manner to his members. The intricacies of the procedures are not stipulated to develop a legalistic mentality in the community or to portray that an Augustinian community must be too rigorous and allergic to sin. The intricacies of the procedures must be understood to demonstrate how serious the community is in bringing back a member that is lost or to uplift a fallen member. The intricacies also demonstrate that the good name of an individual must be protected when his offense is pointed out and the matter should be brought out to other individuals or to the community if, at least, there really is a need. Augustinian spirituality encourages that a brother and a friend ought to be helped and understood especially when he is weak physically and spiritually.

However, the saint never ignores any evident offense especially if it incites public scandal. In such cases, he sees to it that erring members ought to be disciplined and corrected for the good of that person and of the community.

Careful consideration must be pointed out that disciplines and corrections must not be viewed as a punishment. The first two terms imply a healing, formative and educative process while the latter denotes a degrading meaning. The former acknowledges that the offender commits something bad yet the procedure implies a sense of optimism for the conversion of the offender. The latter does not leave any room for change, it immediately takes action against an individual – an act of vengeance performed by a community or a legitimate body to avenge for the order that was disturbed or offended by the offender.  It seeks to judge, impose and justify a certain demise inflicted to an individual according to what he presumably deserves for committing an offense. But is anyone really incapable of committing a mistake?

Also, a correction, when enacted or viewed as tantamount to punishment, is counter-productive. To avoid mistreatment and shame, people who are actually incapable of not committing any mistake will tend to commit them in secret and in clever ways. A community that instills order through punishments may externally manifest a harmonious society but what it actually produces are apparently good people who are only afraid of punishments but who are only waiting for opportunities to commit mistakes. This is the reason why never can we find any writing of St. Augustine where he specifies a particular punishment for a certain offense, only precepts that describe how to bring back a brother.

St. Augustine’s considerate approach to erring brothers is explained by his realistic perception that conversion is a life-long process and struggle. Hence, it is too myopic to expect that most people who reside in a religious community are holy ones. A religious community aspires and promotes holiness yet it must be pointed out that it is inhabited not by angels but by human beings. In here, sinners are still trying and struggling to become saints although others may also be pretending. It can also be a venue where saints turn into sinners. People in a religious community enter and remain in such way of life not because they are already certain that they are capable of living holy lives but because they want to know themselves more rigorously through others. In religious life, one still needs to constantly discover what one can become when they encounter, confront, or be exposed to certain situations or persons. Mindful of this reality, St. Augustine admits,

For however vigilant may be the discipline of my monastery, I am human and I live with human beings. Nor do I dare to claim for myself that my monastery is better than the ark of Noah where among eight persons one was found to be rejected . . . Nor is my monastery better than the dwelling of the very Lord Christ in which eleven good men put up with the disloyal and thieving Judas.[49]

In this regard, St. Augustine sees the community as a microcosm of the pilgrim Church, which in itself is a large community of saints and sinners, of wheat and chaff.[50]

If one will examine the Rule further, one may find that St. Augustine gives no preference to any particular group within the community. Everybody is equal despite his previous or present position or work in the community. Everyone has his own weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, and all needs to be looked after, understood and helped. To sum it up, St. Augustine envisions that every brother or sister in the community must share and carry one another’s burden. An Augustinian community must not only be marked by the mutual sharing of common goods (material and spiritual) but also of the mutual sharing of common “bads.”

Grace and Love

Being concern of the welfare of others denotes that, indeed, we are all our companions’ keeper. St. Augustine seems to press the matteras an obligation that must be fulfilled. A debt that one owes from another will later be accounted by God. But actually, it is something more than that. To be concerned for the welfare of others is everyone’s duty yet it ceases to be a mere duty when one loves the people he cares for. In loving, the one loved is unconsciously assimilated to the lover that his needs, welfare, concerns and struggles become one’s own as well. Such level of interest may only be possible for those who truly love their companions and friends and may be difficult for individuals who decide to live in a community without any idea on who will they encounter in it.

Albeit, the burden of doing kindness to others can be lightened if one recognizes that serving others is tantamount to serving God as well. But the thing is, most people in the monastery made the decision to live together in a community not as a result of their love for one another but the other way around. They find themselves living in the same community, hence, they must learn to love one another.

Moreover, it is also another thing to remain in love with a person or a group of persons when love is already learned. It is also a reality that it is difficult to love in an inclusive manner just as it is difficult to learn and relearn how to love a single individual daily. Likewise, the human heart may be inflamed with love for a time for specific persons but it can never always remain as such.

Thus, it then must be recognized that man needs the assistance of God to be truly and constantly in love. As with a lamp, man must rightly shine and enlighten others but it is God who supplies the fuel. This means that human beings need the grace of God to be able to love in a divine way—without preference, measure, condition and not limited by mood and time. From Romans 5:5, St. Augustine asserts that it is the Holy Spirit who causes an individual’s right-ordered love for another.[51] Therefore, no one must ever find merit for being able to love others because such love is not his or her own. In reality, our love for others is actually God’s love for men communicated to them through us. Love, such as this, is the only thing that can motivate a sincere kind of care and service that characterizes a true friend and brother. Nonetheless, the absence of love does not dispense anyone from performing and showing one’s concern for the other because it is a responsibility that has to be fulfilled in the community. The only difference is that carrying it out would be lighter and more bearable if it is love that moves it.

Humility, Humility, Humility

It is mentioned above that no one can ever take pride from being able to love perform good deeds for others. Another cause for not taking pride for anything is that each individual has his own weaknesses and struggles that other members in the community has to make up as their own burdens. Moreover, becoming not proud is not just a logical consequence of one’s situation in the community. More than that, it is a vice that must be avoided because it can serve as a significant impediment to unity. Pride obstructs love because a person who has it “is [actually] interested only in himself and seeks to have everyone dance to the tune of his own ego.”[52] Moreover, pride is the most destructive kind of vice because it “lurks in good works” unlike other vices which manifest themselves solely to palpable misdeeds (e.g., greed to stealing or hoarding, unchasteness to adultery, duplicity to lying, etc.). It corrupts good works and it makes every endeavour counter-productive. It drives one to consider oneself better than others and to look others with contempt.

It is a reality that, at times, good works can be performed in the community to extol one’s ego and to push one’s companions to the shadows. In such instance, acts of goodness can also serve as instruments to depict one’s superiority over others and can be a ground to subject others by making them owe something from you. Indeed, good works performed may serve as instruments to display one’s dominance over others due to the prevailing mentality that the donor will always be greater than the recipient. This is the reason why St. Augustine instructed that in doing good to others, one shall desire that others may be equal to you wherein there will be no more need to give.[53] He also clarified that it is not true that receivers of works of mercy have lower status over the giver “nobody may say: I give, he receives . . . Perhaps your need is greater than his. He needs bread, you need integrity. He is in want of a roof, you are in want of heaven. His need is for money, yours for justice.”[54]

            Sometimes, it happens that there are religious who have an insatiable need to be needed by others and by the community. They manipulate certain circumstances to make some activities incomplete or unsuccessful when they are not around or when they are not the ones handling them. In these instances, they want others to constantly learn from them. This is detrimental because it hinders the community, or at least some individuals, from developing a sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy that they can call their own. Such reality happens because there really are people who want to remain at the top and do not want others to become equal or greater than them.

The intentions of proud persons illustrate that they lack what is essential in performing good works: love.[55] To combat this vice, one needs to have the virtue of humility. If authentic good actions cannot exist without love, love also cannot exist without humility. Humility is the virtue that identifies another person as important as one’s self and hence bridges the gap that separates the “I” and “the Other.” Thus, when asked on what should be the steps that must be taken to grow in Christian life, St. Augustine answers, “that first way, however is humility; the second way is humility, and the third way is humility and as often as you ask, I would say this . . . As often as you ask about the rules of Christian religion, I would answer only humility.”[56]

            When love and humility is present, it becomes easier to think well of others and to work for their own good. With these virtues, a religious may not only seek to express his concern to his brothers not in terms of their sustenance in their material needs, in the development of their skills, talents and potentials and in the growth of virtues but more importantly on attaining one’s salvation. Indeed, there is no greater expression of benevolence than to wish and help one’s companion achieve salvation. In doing this, they must not only seek to grow in love for one another but more importantly intensify their love for God in and through one another. Helping others love God better is an act where the helper expresses his love for God by helping another become like God. As to how one may become like God by loving Him, St. Augustine explains, “each one of you is what he loves. If you love the earth, you are earth. If you love God, shall I say you are God? I would not dare to say this myself, but Scripture says it.”[57]

            This means that human beings become what they love. In connection to this, true love mandates that a lover must support the beloved realize the highest potential available to him without comprising his freedom. Hence, the aspiration of a true companion and brother is characterized by a desire to wish that the other loves God above all things so that he may become like God. To wish that one’s friend would love God is actually what loving one’s neighbor as one’s self means. It instigates in a person the desire that both he and his beloved should reach their common final goal.[58]

Yet human beings can only do so much. They may do so many things for their friends but the most effective thing that they can do is to sincerely pray for them and entrust them to God who knows and will do what they need and are best for them.[59] When friends and brothers truly love one another in God, they may be saddened when death and distance separates them from one another. At the same time, they are also consoled of the fact that their separation is only temporary because their friendship is permanent in God.[60] In heaven, our friendship with those we have loved on earth will live forever.[61]

Possible Obstacles to the Development of Friendship in the Community


Authority may serve as a possible obstacle to the development of friendship in the community. It is because friendship presupposes that friends must be equal to each other, or at least, see themselves as equals. Moreover, it has been the aim of every Augustinian community to promote equality among its members, yet it is unthinkable for St. Augustine to conceive a community that has no authority. For St. Augustine, authority is a consequence of original sin that has to be maintained to preserve order: “This however is penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids it disturbance; for if nothing had been done in violation of that law, there would have nothing to restrain by penal servitude.”[62]

This implies that someone has to facilitate, lead and be in charge for every community to be in order. Someone has to be in authority to make it work. In a complex group of people, members who recognize themselves as equals may state their differing opinions and an authority must exist for the community to arrive at a decision. At the same time, it must be recognized that there are urgent situations that require immediate decisions, while on the other hand, consolidating the consensus of the body requires a period of time. Moreover, the validity of the decisions reached through consensus is itself limited because it presupposes that the majority of the members of the community are concerned for the common good, which actually is not always the case. Hence, “the so-called democratic principle of “one person = one vote” cannot be applied to the religious community.”[63] The kind of authority exercised in a religious community must be what Van Bavel describes as a “representative democracy” which he describes as:

Trust is placed in people who are more specialized in a certain area, in a charismatically gifted leader, or in a small group (if necessary, in minority group), of whom it can be seen that they represent important values . . . This form of democracy is not intended to be a dictatorship that requires blind obedience, but the communal living of partners who accept their limitations and base themselves on faith and trust.[64]

The presence of authority in the community does not undermine but, in fact, promotes equality if it serves its purpose: service and not domination. In fact, the Rule is very clear that superiors must serve with love and not by fear.[65] With love, superiors are able to impose their commands gently and the burden and obedience expected from subordinates become light and almost negligible:

Where charity is not present, the command of the authority is bitter. But where charity exists, the one who commands does so with sweetness and the charity makes the very work to be almost no work at all for the one who is commanded, even though in truth the subject is bound to some task.[66]

Authority elevates a superior over others in terms of office but not in dignity. St. Augustine points out that a superior’s position exposes him to more peril and burden than anyone in the community because he is responsible for both the spiritual and material needs and the standing of his members, aside from his own. He must also demonstrate himself as a good example to others more in deeds than in sermons and lectures. Moreover, he must seek to be loved and respected than to be feared.[67]

The subordination of the rest of the members must not be viewed as a defect on the part of the subordinates. They have to bear in mind that they are equal in dignity with their superiors and their subordination to lower roles is a means for every member of the community to fulfill tasks according to one’s gifts for the benefit of the entire body.

Two Extreme Forms of Community

Van Bavel asserts that there are two extreme forms of community. These are the functional, goal-oriented community and the community of persons.[68] The former stresses that the value and purpose of every community is determined by its activity and work. The latter solely emphasizes the value of common life itself. These two extremes are detrimental to the formation of friendship in the community because the former seeks to undermine friendship itself by viewing it in a utilitarian way and ceases to have any value when it can no longer contribute to the accomplishment of a task. It views people merely as pieces in the chess board or a cog in the machine. The latter exaggerates the value of friendship to a point that it hampers friends to be concerned with those outside one’s own circle of friends and thereby promotes exclusivity.

Religious must check that they do not fall either to any of these extremes by observing a balance and equilibrium: “It is clear that an active community, to a certain extent, must also entail common living, and that a community, stressing personal relationships, unless it wants to degenerate to senseless inactivity, must work.”[69] As St. Augustine will also say, “No one ought to be so leisured as to take no thought in that leisure for the interest of his neighbor, nor so active to as to feel no need for the contemplation of God.”[70]


Unity is not tantamount to uniformity. Although the former can easily be manifested through the latter, there is actually no unity in the strict sense of the term if it is only based on uniformity. To live in one mind and one heart does not entail that members of a community must be similar in almost all things. The Augustinian way of community living never values any idea that may destroy a person’s uniqueness. It seeks to help a person become better by respecting its individuality at the same time. Indeed, “the person forms the community and the community forms the person.”[71] At the same time, “neither may a community crush the person, nor may the individual aspects of the personality destroy a community. Each exists by the engagement of the other.”[72]

Moreover, even conflicts, which are a result of diversity, must seen as a gift to the community. Conflicts hamper predictability and stagnation in religious life. It allows people to agree and disagree at some point, to learn and relearn new things, to accept or give in to another’s opinion and not to impose one’s own, to admit defeat and one’s mistakes (without feeling bad) while allowing others to commit them as well, and it provides a venue for conversation where people may speak and listen reciprocally. However, when conflicts between some companions in the community goes out of hand, one must not take any side but rather help that their relationship be restored.[73]

Diversity enables people to know that no one is in monopoly of the truth. These things will never be possible if people think in the same way. Indeed, “true contact with another person is possible only if I recognize him or her otherness, and if I am allowed to be completely myself.”[74]

Community Living in and for the Church

Community living is not an essential characteristic for religious life given that there are individuals who lived and practiced it through isolation even before the time of St. Augustine.[75] However, St. Augustine sees that it is better to seek God with the presence of others especially with one’s friends. Although he was not the first to introduce religious life in a community setting, he was the one who pioneered and promoted the idea of emphasizing intimacy and friendship among members of a religious community. While asceticism through cutting one’s connection and relationship was the prevailing characteristic in religious life (even in cenobitic communities) during St. Augustine’s time, he finds it unthinkable for himself to search for God detached from his friends from whom he can find solace and feel God’s love. St. Augustine was not the only one who feels that they do not need to be alone or be austere in intimacy and friendship if they have to live a religious way of life. For that reason, his religious ideal of community living has attracted and enticed many people to join his community even if they were outside his own circle of friends. Religious life through an intimate community living still finds relevance and continues to attract even centuries after St. Augustine’s times.

Even a good number of religious orders, institutes and associations that are founded for certain apostolates and ministries but do not originate from the Augustinian tradition finds Augustine’s view of community living very appealing that they adapted his Rule as the norm on how their members must relate with one another. Whatever their respective charisms may be, all religious communities must see to it that they are able to maintain at least the minimum requirements to make it intimate and vibrant (or shall we say “Augustinian”). For Van Bavel, these are the four minimum requirements or manifestations of such community: there is a minimum physical presence, dialogue, communicativeness and responsiveness in daily life, and sharing of goods.[76] These four are adjusted and stressed according to the charisms and objectives of the congregations. But as for the Augustinian Order itself, it has been a standard operating procedure to perform any relevant apostolates and ministries in and through the community.

Religious men and women who follow the ideals of St. Augustine must recognize that their communities are also a part of a larger community, that is, the Church. For that reason, Augustinians are always reminded not to be exclusive in their approach to community living but to constantly determine what their communities can do for a particular time, situation and location in the Church. To this regard, the greatest thing that they can do with respect to their religious identity is to provide, through their communities, a model or witnessing to Christians that this is what the Church have been and should be – to be of one mind and one heart on the way to God. Augustinian communities may not be perfect just as the Church is, yet it is already a great thing when people can always be reminded that it is not impossible and senseless to help, uplift and be intimate and optimistic with one another in working for perfection. In this sense, people may see what every Christian communities should be, may it be a family, school, clubs, business institutions, etc. In looking at these communities, an individual may learn that most of the world is made up of strangers yet it is not pointless to make everyone his friends by starting to embrace the people closest to him.

Such is the reason why St. Augustine opted not to adapt the prevalent mindset of fuga mundi that is characteristic to religious life before and during his time. For that reason, Martin describes the communities inspired by St. Augustine as follows:

Both lay and clerical monastic communities founded by Augustine of Hippo Regius were urban communities, visibly inserted into the social fabric of the city. While these servants of God were certainly distinctive in their lifestyle and form of life, they were, nonetheless, closely bound not only to the wider Christian community but to the entire urban population . . . its community prays with the wider community and mingles in secret in street and shop with that same community, even going to public baths.[77]

While living in this paradigm, Augustinian spirituality constantly interacts and enters into dialogue with the world and the Church to determine what it can do for them while at the same time learning how it can better enhance and guard itself.

Through St. Augustine’s teaching on friendship and community, everyone is encouraged to enter into fellowship with another to develop the bonds of mutual love and common hope, and thereby journey through life with somebody who may carry you and you may carry at the same time. Indeed, it is easier and more fun to travel in groups. It is exciting to meet fellow travelers along the way, but it is better to journey as traveling fellows. (Fray Reo G. Cabahug, OSA)

[1] Augustine, Sermon 299D, 1.

[2] Donald Burt, OSA, Friendship and Society (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 56.

[3] Burt, Friendship and Society, 56.

[4] Augustine, City of God XII, 28.

[5] Ibid.XIX, 5

[6] Ibid.XII, 28.

[7] Augustine, Letter 130, 4.

[8] Augustine, Sermon 9, 7.

[9] Augustine, Eighty-three different Questions 31, 3.

[10] Augustine, Confessions 2, 16.

[11] Ibid.6, 26.

[12] Augustine, City of God 4, 4.

[13] Augustine, Against the Skeptics 3, 6, 13.

[14] Augustine, Confessions 4, 4, 7.

[15] Augustine, Christian Instruction, 1,22, 20-21.

[16] Augustine, Eighty-three different Questions 71, 6.

[17] Augustine, Trinity VIII, 10.

[18] Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John 10, 7.

[19] Augustine, Christian Instruction 1, 28, 29.

[20] Richard Price, Augustine, (London: Fount Christian Thinker, 1996), 79.

[21] Ibid., 83.

[22] Thomas Martin, OSA, Our Restless Heart, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2003), 58.

[23] Plan of Augustinian Formation, Ratio Institutionis Ordinis Sancti Augustini, Roma 1993.

[24] Augustine, Regula 1.

[25] Tarcisius Van Bavel, OSA, Christians in the World v. 2, (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1980), 59

[26] Martin, Our Restless Heart, 61.

[27] Augustine, City of God 19, 5.

[28] Augustine, Homilies on the First Letter of John 9, 10.

[29] Tarcisius Van Bavel, OSA, The Rule of Saint Augustine, translated by Raymond Canning, OSA, (New York: Image Books, 1986), 59.

[30] Augustine, Regula 4. Emphasis mine.

[31] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[32] Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms 131, 5.

[33] Bavel, The Rule of Saint Augustine, 50.

[34] Price, Augustine, 82.

[35] Augustine, City of God 15, 5.

[36]  Bavel, The Rule of Saint Augustine, 51.

[37] Augustine, Regula 6-8.

[38] Augustine, Regula 17.

[39] Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 77, 4.

[40] Augustine, City of God 19, 5

[41] Ibid.19, 8.

[42] Sr. Marie Aquinas McNamara, OP, Friends and Friendship in Saint Augustine, (New York: Alba House, 1964), 224. De Fide Rerum II, 4 op. cit.

[43] Augustine, Letter 73, 10.

[44] Augustine, Sermon 355, 2.

[45] Possidius, The Life of Sain Augustine, edited by John Rotelle, OSA, (Villanova, PA: Augustinian Press, 1988), 24, 1.

[46] Augustine, Letter 155, 1.

[47] Augustine, Sermon 87, 12.

[48] Augustine, Letter 73, 4.

[49] Ibid.78, 8.

[50] Theodore Tack, OSA, If Augustine Were Alive, (Makati: St. Paul Publications, 1990), 140

[51] Augustine, Trinity 15, 31.

[52] Bavel, The Rule of Saint Augustine, 56.

[53] Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John 8, 5.

[54] Augustine, Sermon 239,4.

[55] Bavel, The Rule of Saint Augustine, 56.

[56] Augustine, Letter 118, 22.

[57] Bavel, Christians in the World, 71. Homilies of the First Letter of John 2, 14. Op. cit.

[58] Augustine, Christian Instruction 1,22,21.

[59] Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms 54, 8.

[60] McNamara, Friends and Friendship in Saint Augustine, 230.

[61] Augustine, Confessions 4, 4.

[62] Augustine, City of God 19, 15.

[63] Augustine, Tarcisius Van Bavel, OSA, The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life, (Villanova, PA: Augustinian Press, 1996), 218.

[64] Ibid., 219.

[65] Augustine, Regula 46.

[66] Burt, Friendship and Society, 74. Homilies on the First Letter of John 9, 1. Op. cit.

[67] Augustine, Regula 44-47.

[68] Bavel, The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life, 135.

[69] Ibid., 136.

[70] Augustine, City of God 19, 19.

[71] Bavel, The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life, 147.

[72] Ibid., 145.

[73] Augustine, Sermon 49, 6.

[74] Bavel, The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life, 144.

[75] Ibid., 133.

[76] Ibid., 141.

[77] Martin, Our Restless Heart, 60.

Share the Post:

Related Post