Ted Tack OSA: If Augustine Were Alive Today

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The late Fr Ted Tack OSA

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A second lecture by Fr Ted Tack OSA is also available on this website. Go to Augustinian Reflections on the Spiritual Life.

Another booklet by the Augustinian Historical Commission (Australia) is published on this website: Augustine – a Biography.

Fr Tack died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.A. in February 2013.

A humble confession, it is said, is good for the soul. Allow me then to open my mind to you and make just such a confession. First of all, I must confess that, though I fully recognize my limitations in this regard, it is always a pleasure for me to speak about the particular person who will be the subject of my thoughts. Secondly, since I am no expert, what I am about to present to you is in no way intended to be a scientific study, much less an exhaustive one. It is, rather, only a humble attempt to answer some questions, my own and perhaps those of some others,  hoping thereby to arouse a deeper interest in this unusual man, this converted Christian, this very human saint who is Aurelius Augustine, native of a small town of fourth century Roman North Africa, one time university professor of rhetoric in Rome and Milan, and finally, during the last thirty five years of his life, bishop of the important seaport city of Hippo, known today as Annaba, in Algeria.

Very few people have succeeded in attracting attention more than fifteen hundred years after they breathed their last and returned to the dust from which Scripture tells us we were formed. There have been still fewer people whose works may be classified as classics, or much less as best sellers, after so many centuries. Examples almost cease when it comes to finding a small few about whom literally hundreds of articles and books are written year after year. But just such a man is this Augustine about whom I speak. At least one of his books, his Confessions, is not only a classic but still in many respects a  best seller, and it is an unenviable task to have to collate, let alone consult, the imposing mass of literature written every year about this man or his works. This is the same man who in the Catholic Church has given inspiration to so many Ecumenical and Regional Councils in his own time, in the middle ages, and even recently in Vatican Council II, as is so evident from its documents. This is the man who is constantly quoted and lauded by the Popes and whose authority is unquestioned on so many points of dogma.

The question that keeps coming to mind is, Why? Why all this interest, this attraction, this literature, these praises, these quotations? What does Augustine have to offer after so many hundreds of years that other famous authors do not have? What is the secret of his appeal? Is it perhaps that he has in his wisdom the answer to our many modem-day difficulties? Is it that his depth of theological or philosophical thought makes him particularly meaningful to so many men? It would be unrealistic to think that Augustine had an answer for all our problems today. Many of them he could never have imagined, others would have been beyond his interests. Nor do I think that it is his theological acumen and philosophical penetration that have made him so appealing to the majority of those who have come to know him. Rather, I would suggest that Augustine exerts a strong fascination on people because he was so human, because he gives us valuable psychological insights into ourselves, because his odyssey is that of so many of us, because his thirst for God, and his difficulties in finding and holding on to Him, relate to a basic human need. To put it briefly, he has bared his soul, his mind, his feelings and his Christian heritage in such a way that almost any person who is honest with himself can find therein some reflection of his own being.

Augustine, moreover, is particularly attractive to me – and I believe also to others who like myself have made a profession of living the Religious Life as he proposes it - because we find in him a model, a guide, a soul in search of Christ that was filled with many of the same tensions, concerns, feelings and struggles that affect us today, and yet, in the midst of all this, he did not allow himself to grow discouraged. He kept moving forward, making progress, placing his complete trust in God, confident that he would not be abandoned. I am convinced that Augustine has very much to offer our generation from the point of view of growth in the spirit, perhaps much more than from a purely theological or philosophical point of view. It is interesting to note how his vision for community life, for example, proposed anew since 1965 in so many ways through conciliar and post-conciliar documents, is basically one to which religious everywhere are now aspiring, a vision which embraces among other things: a common search for and praise of God, the primacy of a deep interior life, genuine friendship, true respect for the individual even while the common good is emphasised, a restless pursuit of the truth, leadership which is founded on mutual service and mutual love rather than on fear and imposition, pastoral service directed towards the Christian people which comes not just from one or the other person but from the entire religious community. Many of these aspects are also being sought by men and women who do not live the Religious Life; they are being accentuated in our society as never before.

In fact I have heard it said by those who know Augustine well that we are living in truIy “Augustinian" times, that the very things stressed by Augustine are becoming, or have become, ever more important in our day. To give one example that comes quickly to mind, Pope John Paul II has continually underscored the dignity and intrinsic value of the human person, the integral man, man in all his complex relationships with God, with others and with himself, a theme which was certainly dear to Augustine.

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