Fr. Dawid Burza OSA, PhD: The spiritual crisis of the Church - the vision of St. Augustine.

The biography of St. Augustine, his works, writings, documents, contributions to philosophy and theology are so well known that they do not require extensive presentation. However, it is worth looking at the times in which St Augustine lived. Augustine of Hippo lived between 354 and 430 A.D. This period is regarded by some as ancient and medieval by some others. From the theological point of view, Augustine should be placed at the end of antiquity. He is counted among the Church Fathers and early Christian writers. He verifies importance through the following criteria: "orthodoxy of doctrine, sanctity of life, antiquity, and approval of the Church”. Augustine's work had a major influence on the theology of the following era, the Middle Ages. Regardless of the ultimate whereabouts of St. Augustine, it can be said with certainty that he lived in a time pivotal and difficult in every aspect.

The fourth and fifth centuries were a turbulent period for the entire Roman Empire in which Augustine lived. The first crisis to be discussed is the economic crisis. The monetary crisis caused a return to the natural economy. Tributes for soldiers, salaries for officials were often paid in natural goods. Which increased the value of cultivated land, which was owned by a very small number of people. In this way great latifundia were created. There was also a shortage of workers. Relative peace resulted in the suppression of slavery and a change in the social status of slaves. The so-called servi casati were created; these were slaves who owned land. The spread of the crisis inhibited the development of cities, and consequently of crafts. People often moved from cities to the countryside. Eventually, in Augustine's time ,the state weakened. Rich landowners took over, leading to an erosion of the state. An interesting phenomenon from St. Augustine's time was the migration of population. The influx of barbarians changed the social structure of the empire. Barbarians infiltrated the army, depriving it of the character of a Roman army. In 388, the Empire suffered a great defeat in the battle against the Visigoths at Adrianople. Therefore, when the mass migration of people began, the defence against barbarian attacks was not effective. The great crisis was further aggravated by the division of the empire into East and West in 395, which resulted in an internal struggle for the inheritance and primacy in the empire.

Economical, political, military, and migration crises undoubtedly affected the functioning of the young Church in the Empire. During the first four centuries, the position of the Church changed. Under the edict of Emperor Constantine in 325, the Church structure was allowed to develop freely. The Church developed it’s charitable activities, taking over the function of reign in this area. A loosening of the moral and religious life among the faithful and the clergy could also be observed. Christianity became a mass and popular religion. It no longer exposed people to persecution and martyrdom, though receiving baptism could be associated with social advancement.

Heresies were extreme reactions to moral relaxation. An example of such a heresy might be Donatism. Donatists advocated that liturgical rites should only be performed by sinless priests. Donatism was particularly popular among the rural population, especially in North Africa - the area of St. Augustine's work - and was revolutionary in nature. The extreme Donatists fought against the power of the Empire, against the exploitation of the peasantry. Due to the Church cooperation with the reign, it became a natural enemy for the Donatists. Another extremely important heresy that influenced the shape and structure of the Church was Manichaeism. Started in the third century by a Persian priest named Manes, Manichaeism was based on extreme dualism. Manes and his followers proclaimed that the principle of existence is constituted by two opposing and eternally warring elements of good (light) and evil (darkness). The good soul is associated with spiritual values, while the evil soul is associated with corporeal values. Man also has two souls, one associated with good and the other with evil. There are also two kingdoms in the immaterial world, one ruled by God and the other by Satan. The followers of Manichaeism therefore sought liberation from the influence of evil by following the principles of Mani. They considered the institutions of the state as the work of Satan, they were forbidden to eat meat or drink wine, and some were obliged to live celibate life. Another major heresy was Pelagianism, which arose in the fifth century. Pelagians rejected belief in original sin, preached extreme poverty, and believed that man could save himself through good works. Furthermore, the purpose of Christ's mission was not to save man. Jesus's life was only to be an example to people of how to act. Pelagius, the founder of the this heresy, was extremely popular among the Roman elite. When the fall of Rome occurred in 410, Pelagius fled to Africa. Eventually Pelagius's teaching excommunicated in 418, and in 425 his teaching was cursed at the Council of Ephesus. A different heresy, very popular among the barbarians, was Arianism. Arianism was professed by the Visigoths, Vandals and Ostrogoths. The followers of Arianism denied the divinity of Jesus. Christ did not remain equal to God, the was not co-equal, but of a similar nature. The heresy of Arianism was extremely dangerous to the integrity of Christianity. It undermined it’s most important foundation.

The numerous heresies were a reflection of the state of Roman civilization - it was in decline. Some residents of the empire accused Christians of the fall of(usuń to) and rejection of the ancient polytheistic cult. So the Church had to find an answer to the moral and social crisis. To show the faithful a new way to salvation. It should be recalled that in the first centuries of Christianity martyrdom, or perseverance in the face of persecution, was held in the highest esteem among the faithful. People who persevered in their faith despite the threat of death were called believers. Those who denied Christ were called Lapsis. When Christianity became the state religion, all the so far popular persecution ceased. Church people began to look for possible ways to radically follow Christ. When St. Augustine first heard a story from an Agentus in Rebus about Anthony the Hermit and also about the nearby monasterios which were under the custody of Bishop Ambrose , he was both delighted and surprised. The story contributed to his personal conversion. It was also a reflection of his dream of community life. In fifth century, many believers found living in the desert or in a monastery (as) a new way of radically following Jesus Christ.

For St. Augustine, the monastic life was a specific response to all the so far crisis). The great theologian sees saw) a proposal for an existence close to the ideal in the imitation of Christ (in the life of a monk. Augustine was convinced that ultimate happiness could only be found in God. One should not be afraid to propose such an ideal of life to people .The basis of the life proposed by St. is that all the brothers would consecrate themselves and would build a relationship with God through service to others and sharing all their goods, while perfecting themselves through the gift of God’s grace. St. Augustine emphasized on the idea of fraternal love, which should be manifested in the equality of all brothers, without singling anyone out because of his social or financial condition. St. Augustine stressed in his teaching that all the brothers have a moral obligation to bring into the community all their material goods and their own personal potential. Poverty and equality were the foundation of life for Augustine. When he became a bishop, he required all his priests to divest themselves of their possessions. If any of the presbyters refused to do so, they had to move to another diocese. Augustine's example of living a poor life and equality among his confreres was his response to the entrenched social and financial inequalities in the Roman Empire. Poverty was also a very important argument in the fight against heresies. Many sacts of the time accused church of total lack of poverty and in this way gained popularity especially among the poor.

According to St. Augustine, community life in the monastery should be devoted to prayer and the search for God. Augustine instructs that the monk should constantly strive for the otium sanctum, desiring only to love God who dwells within every person with constancy of heart - and when he recognizes that he himself is the image of God, he should go beyond himself to get united with God. This form of otium sanctum,however, must not make it unnecessary to love one's neighbor - for, according to Saint Augustine's thought, love of God and love of neighbor form an inseparable unity.

For St. Augustine, an important field to combat the crisis was the preaching of pure doctrine, the pursuit of Christian unity. Therefore, he courageously undertook an intellectual polemic against all the heresies that existed in the Roman Empire at that time. The attempt to understand the crisis of the world at that time finds a special place in the work The State of God about which Benedict XVI, during the general audience on 20.02.2008 , said: "This great book shows the history of humanity guided by divine providence and now divided by two loves. And this is Augustine's essential image, his interpretation of history, which is a struggle between two loves: self-love, "to the point of indifference towards God," and love of God, "to the point of indifference towards oneself." (De civitate Dei, XIV, 28), up to full freedom from self, for others, in the light of God. It is, perhaps, the most important book of St. Augustine, retaining unchanging validity" This treatise was written after Rome was invaded by the Visigoths in 410. For many, the fall of the world at that time was linked to the Roman’s rejection of pagan worship. St. Augustine wanted, by showing the two orders of civitas terrena and civitas Dei, to strengthen Christians and repel the attacks of pagan reaction. St. Augustine points out that even if the modern world is falling, ultimately the triumph of the Kingdom of God is the most value to the Christians. "Although there are so many great people living in the world, with different customs and habits and a great variety of languages, weapons and clothing, yet among them there have arisen no more than two varieties of human society, which, applying our Scriptures, we may rightly call two states. One, naturally, is the state of men desiring to live according to the flesh; the other, the state of men desiring to live according to the spirit. Men desire to live in peace that would suit themselves; and indeed, they live in such peace when they attain what they desire. The prescription for the crisis of the world at that time for Augustine was to live according to the spirit.

St. Augustine lived in liminal times, times of crisis. However, he did not refer to them as bad times "Bad times, difficult times - people keep saying that; but let us live well and the times will be good. The times are as we are." St. Augustine, in the face of the crisis, proposed living according to the Spirit, i.e., according to the principles of the Gospel. He was deeply convinced that in this way man would experience the victory of the state of God - salvation. Despite the fact that the world was surrounded by conflagration, he courageously proposed a new ideal of life - white martyrdom. It’s the life according to the evangelical counsels in the male and female monasteries, founded by Augustine, in which man through prayer, work, and the pursuit of knowledge of God through Otium Santum achieves a happy life. St. Augustine reminds us that even though Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we should not forget that the message of the Gospel is prior and foremost spiritual. The Christians should mostly focus on spiritual matters.

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