A while back someone asked me what I thought of St. Augustine. I wasn’t quite sure what the questioner wanted, but I said the following: What I like about St. Augustine is he’s just this guy trying to figure things out as he goes along. That he is willing to admit when he’s wrong, that his struggle is so public – in the form of his voluminous writings – and that he is among the first individuals to offer us a glimpse of his psyche (in the modern rather than Aristotelian sense) says much about his lack of ego. Both his Confessions and Retractiones offer us, when read alongside all the other things he wrote, a prime example of someone growing in the faith, stumbling on occasion, but refusing to stop just because it’s hard.
Augustine was not perfect and he knew it. Nor was he without the occasional error in his theology, usually committed out of his deep love for God. That the neo-Platonism of his youth never quite left him, even as he struggled to overcome it; that this patina of classical philosophy has left a stain upon Christian thought we are still trying to scrub away; that’s all true enough. Who of us, however, can say with any confidence that our thought isn’t so far inside one system of thought or another we can’t recognize how we’re staining the faith in our own special way. After all, Christian theology is like all else in this existence between the times: it is both justified and sinful. Unless we are confident enough in our own sanctification that we can proclaim our thought free from the taint of sinful love, I would suggest we offer Augustine just the kind of grace he struggled so hard to define even as he experienced it in his own life.
In other words, I like Augustine because he’s human. While I have little doubt that he was very much the minor aristocrat, particularly after being raised to the Bishopric of Hippo (which he detested; who really like being promoted to administrative positions?), I would suggest the one way Christian theologians just don’t follow our greatest Church Father is the simple humanity we are willing to offer the world. Everything from Church offices through our professionalized, secularized academy training to the special charism of ordination offers far too many the temptation to exult and extol themselves over others. We have become enamored of titles. Far too many people believe receiving an education and a piece of paper entitle them to positions of authority, not to say power, to which others should automatically defer. Still others wish nothing more than to be a voice of authority.
What has always been implicit is now explicit. This is all I am, and what I have to offer are just bits and pieces that folks can take or leave as they wish. It actually goes for the other two sites as well; those, however, are specialized while this one is general whatever-is-on-my-mind-after-I’ve-read-or-seen-something. It is neither false humility nor self-deprecation. It is, as always, exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less.
So the changes are more about clarity than any change of tone or subject matter.