Friday, August 28, 2009

St. Augustine, Chastity, and Clarity

Today, August 28, is the feast day of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

The 1962 Roman Missal summarizes the life of St. Augustine as follows:
“Augustine, born at Tagaste (Africa) in 354, was the son of St. Monica and of a pagan father, Patricius. His mind was ensnared by errors and his soul and body corrupted by debauchery and impurity. Converted by the prayers of his mother, he became one of the most famous Doctors of the West and a Father of the Church. He died after an episcopate of 36 years at Hippo (Africa) in 430.”
Augustine is well known for his Confessions, in which he tells of his sinful past life, his conversion, and his deep love for God. In Book II, Chapter 1, he relates:
“I want to call back to mind my past impurities and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them; but so that I may love you, my God. It is for the love of your love that I do it, going back over those most wicked ways of mine in the bitterness of my recollection so that the bitterness may be replaced by the sweetness of you, O unfailing sweetness, happy sweetness and secure! And gathering myself together from the scattered fragments into which I was broken and dissipated during all that time when, being turned away from you, the One, I lost myself in the distractions of the Many.”
What St. Augustine is saying in the quoted passage, simply put, is that impurity fragments a person, damaging his intellect, will, and ability to govern himself. Chastity, on the other hand, re-integrates the individual who has been broken into “scattered fragments” by sexual sin.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of these words of St. Augustine for our time, when many -- young and old alike -- are so damaged by the wantonness that pervades 21st century life and so deluded by the media that they are unable to think clearly enough to recognize their condition, much less its cause.

Reflection on the life of St. Augustine brings consolation, since chastity and God’s grace produced in Augustine such intellectual clarity that he became one of the greatest Doctors of the Church.

Martini’s “Augustine” (1325), from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

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