The Dispatch: More from CWR...

The Essential Augustine

In Augustine’s sermons and letters, we see his great love of the Lord and his fellow Christians. We, in turn, love him because we can relate to him so well.

Detail from image of statue of St. Augustine, carved by Gian Lorenzo Bernini [c.1650;]

On the 28th of August, we celebrated the feast day of the great St. Augustine, the anniversary of the day he died in the year 430 A.D. His name providentially points to his august status in the Church as one of the greatest theologians in her history. We love him for another reason, however. More than any other figure in history, we can follow Augustine’s inner life, tracing the steps of his conversion, thinking through his doubts and questions, feeling his moral anguish, and following the ascent of his soul into God. His Confessions — one of the most essential texts of intellectual and spiritual history — is a must read for any Catholic.

No other work has given such an exact account of what happens in the soul as it discovers God, struggles to overcome sin, and opens the heart completely to his love. After reading this account of his conversion, you might wonder, “How do we get to know Augustine even better?” He produced a massive corpus, consisting not only of major theological tomes but also a voluminous correspondence and extensive sermons. Facing his vast corpus, St. Isidore of Seville even said that if anyone claims to have read all of his works, he must be a liar. New City Press has at least given us a fighting chance by publishing his work in 44 volumes.

For those not quite that ambitious, New City Press also has provided a unique way of getting to know the great doctor of theology more personally as a preacher and correspondent with the Augustine Essentials Collection. Essential Sermons condenses 11 volumes into one, while the Essential Expositions of the Psalms draws together excerpts of his great six-volume commentary on the Psalms. Likewise, Essential Letterscollects his correspondence from four volumes. These essential volumes open up an important access point into such a vast body of writing.

Augustine did not confess to God in his famous autobiographical work simply for his own sake. He sought to emulate how every Christian should confess God’s greatness, while also confessing our sins to him so that we can share in his goodness. Augustine hits both of these aspects of confession in his 29th sermon: “So, Confess to the Lord since he is good. If you want to praise, what can you more safely praise than the Good One? If you want to confess your sins, to whom could you more safely do it than the Good One? You confess to a man, and because he is bad you are condemned. You confess to God, and because he is good you are purged … Run away from yourself and come to him who made you, because by running away from yourself you follow yourself up, and by following yourself up you stick fast in him who made you” (Essential Sermons, 52).

Confessing God’s greatness in praise, while also confessing one’s sins to him, should become an abiding state, as Augustine relates in his meticulous unpacking of Psalm 121: “To confess your name, O Lord. No more glorious motive could be envisaged. As pride makes one presumptuous, so does humility prompt confession. As a presumptuous person tries to pose as something he is not, so a confessing person has no wish to appear other than he is but loves what God is” (Essential Exposition of the Psalms, 104).

In order to live this life of confession, Augustine recognized the need to abide within the communion of the Church. In his letters, he exhorts fellow clergy, lay people, and monastics to preserve the unity of the Catholic Church against heretical and schismatic movements. For instance, in writing to a Roman official, Eusebius, he exhorts him: “God, who sees the secrets of the human heart, knows that, as much as I desire peace among Christians, I am troubled by the sacrilegious actions of those who persevere in its disruption in an unworthy and impious fashion. God knows that this attitude of my mind is directed toward peace and that I am not trying to force anyone involuntarily into the Catholic communion, but to reveal the plain truth to all who are in error. Then, once our ministry has been made evident with God’s help, the very truth may be enough to persuade them to embrace and follow her” (Essential Letters, 150).

Augustine still serves in this ministry of truth, continuing as an essential teacher for the Church today. In his sermons and letters, we see his great love of the Lord and his fellow Christians. We, in turn, love Augustine because we can relate to him so well. That is why it is so wonderful to hear his voice speaking clearly in his letters and sermons, which can help us to get to know Augustine as an essential teacher and model Christian even better.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Dr. R. Jared Staudt 65 Articles
R. Jared Staudt PhD, serves as Director of Content for Exodus 90 and as an instructor for the lay division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option (Angelico Press), as well as editor of Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press). He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.


  1. In St. Faustina’s ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul’, Jesus is continually guiding St. Faustina on how to make a good confession before His ‘Representative’, a Catholic Priest. Well, If Jesus is right there in locution with St. Faustina, why doesn’t Jesus simply absolve St. Faustina of her sins directly? Jesus does not absolve St. Faustina of her sins directly. Instead Jesus Himself guides St. Faustina to where Jesus will absolve her of her sins, which is in His ‘Tribunal of Mercy’, which is Jesus’ Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is through Jesus’ Sacraments on earth, through which Jesus’ Divine Mercy, flows to earth.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1448
    Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). There the greatest miracles take place (and) incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no (hope of) restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late.

    • Steven: Excellent. IMHO this quote from Devine Mercy is a great start that priests should lead with any homily on the need and importance of confession, which should be given at least quarterly.

      • I overwhelmingly agree with you Mike! Jesus has told us, through St. Faustina, to prepare the earth for His Second Coming. What Jesus wants us to do is to get as many people as possible to receive His, year 2000, Gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday, in which Jesus’ ‘Tribunal of Mercy’ and the Eucharist take center stage.

        I have my link below to my ‘Jesus is Getting Married’, which looks at Jesus’ Rescue mission, in which He is Second Coming to ‘Deliver us from the evil one”. If there were any time in history where Jesus’ Church needed rescuing, it is now! The Blessed Mother tells us Jesus’ Second Coming is on its way. We are to prepare the earth by getting as many people as possible to receive Jesus’ Divine Mercy, in preparation for His arrival.

        Divine Mercy in My Soul, 699
        I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.

        Divine Mercy in my Soul, 635, The Blessed Virgin Mary :
        you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day

  2. We read: “No other work has given such an exact account of what happens in the soul as it discovers God, struggles to overcome sin, and opens the heart completely to his love.” Yes, but then 1,100 years later we do have a partial similarity (“the soul as it discovers God”). Here’s what Augustine says, followed by a very similar tidbit from St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila):

    Augustine: “…not such was that light, but different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows it knows eternity” (Confessions, Bk 7, Ch. 10:16).

    Teresa of Jesus “…I wish I could describe, in some measure, the smallest portion of what I saw; but when I think of doing it, I find it impossible; for the mere difference alone between the light we have here below, and that which is seen in a vision,–both being light,–is so great, that there is no comparison between them; the brightness of the sun itself seems to be something exceedingly loathsome. In a word, the imagination, however strong it may be, can neither conceive nor picture to itself this light, nor any one of the things which our Lord showed me in a joy so supreme that it cannot be described, for then all the senses exult so deeply and so sweetly, that no description is possible; and so it is better to say nothing more” (The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, Ch. XXXVIII:5).

    **St. Augustine in his book The City of God wrote about the Will to Dominate Other People, which he, in Latin, wrote as “Libido Dominandi.”
    **St. Augustine, as a follower of Christ, did not approve of the Will to Dominate Other People.
    **Now we live in an age in which the Will to Dominate Other People has become the new moral ideal.
    **The Will to Dominate Other People is sometimes semi-disguised as the Pursuit of Excellence, or the radical liberatarian philosophy of Individualism, or the Pursuit of Personal Greatness.
    **I believe we can see Libido Dominandi flourishing in the fanatical popularity of spectator sports, in the obsession that many have for the game of national politics, and in the lives of “high rollers” and wheelers and dealers in the worlds of Big Business and Big Government.
    **The popular philosopher from the 1800s, Nietzsche, called this the “Will to Power” and he said this was the purpose of life. Nietzsche also called himself the Anti-Christ.
    **St. Paul describes the old Christian ethos that is no longer acceptable in our modern world: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
    **St. Augustine wrote a great deal, and, as this article describes, it is all worth reading.
    **But, if you have time or inclination to read only one of the works of St. Augustine, may I recommend his book The City of God.
    **One source describes Augustine’s The City of God thusly:
    **“The book presents human history as a conflict between what Augustine calls the Earthly City (often colloquially referred to as the City of Man, but never by Augustine) and the City of God, a conflict that is destined to end in victory for the latter. The City of God is marked by people who forgo earthly pleasure to dedicate themselves to the eternal truths of God, now revealed fully in the Christian faith. The Earthly City, on the other hand, consists of people who have immersed themselves in the cares and pleasures of the present, passing world.”
    **“The book was in response to allegations that Christianity brought about the decline of Rome.”
    **In our nation at the present time, there are many people who operate on the premise that the authentic, self-sacrificing, brotherly love Christianity is no longer feasible in the world of modern economics and modern politics.
    **Such modern people think that we cannot achieve and maintain national greatness and personal greatness if we take seriously teachings of Jesus such as “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are the just,” “Blessed are the pure of heart,” and “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Essential Augustine | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. The Essential Augustine – Catholic World Report – Catholic World Report – Bold News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.