Archive for April, 2014

Augustine, Grace, and the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, St Peters, Vatican City, Rome, Italy (Wikicommons)

Holy Spirit, St Peters, Vatican City, Rome, Italy (Wikicommons)

We sometimes hear people speaking of the Holy Spirit teaching them, providing guidance, or interpretation of scripture.  In recent decades such language is often used in Charismatic church traditions.  While the specific terms differ, I believe this is what Bishop Augustine of Hippo (circa 400 ce) spoke of as Grace working in our hearts.

Augustine speaks of the importance of Grace a great deal.  This is capital-G Grace, meaning Divine Grace.  Whenever St. Augustine uses capital letter terms describing aspects of God, these are to be understood as the very same thing as the Essence of God.  Examples of these Divine attributes include:  Grace, Faith, Hope, Love, Good, Reason, Understanding, Justice (which is exactly the same thing as Righteousness:  in English, both words derive from the same word in both Latin and Greek).

The logic goes something like this:  God the Creator is Uncreated;  Uncreated in the sense God always exists, and is outside of time;  thus, God is eternal (meaning, outside of time;  which is different than something which is ever-lasting, yet residing within time).  Everything within Creation is a “creature” having been created, be this salt, a tree, a person, or an angel.

But these Divine attributes all reside within the Divine Mind of God, and are of exactly the same Essence of God.  These are perfect “forms” which also reside outside of time;  they are as eternal as is God, and they are understood as being held in the Mind of God;  and because they are of the same Essence as God, they too are Uncreated.

This reasoning finds its roots in Platonic philosophy, and is directly related to Platonic Forms.  In the West, Augustine may be the most important writer outside the New Testament;  and one of his primary life works was to bring together Platonic philosophy and Christian theology.

That’s the back ground.  So, when Augustine speaks of Faith, Grace, Hope, and Charity/Love, he is speaking of aspects of God;  which are, for Augustine, every bit “God” as “God” is God.  And the basic Augustinian formula of how God works in our hearts follows from this understanding:

  •   Faith ->  Grace  ->  Hope  ->  Charity/Love

We begin the transformative process by taking the step of choosing (through an act of our will) to have faith in God, which God rewards by imbuing us with Faith.  (There are differences in opinion about the role faith and Faith play in our lives.  Are we really able to initiate this process?  If we are not, do we in fact have free will?)

Then through the entry of Grace (what I argue many name the Holy Spirit) into our lives, we (1) gain Hope for our continuing spiritual transformation, and (2) are assisted in leading our lives in greater affinity with God’s Charity/Love (remembering that “magnetic” attraction, or the “weight” of Love pulling us toward that which we Love, spoken of in the previous essay).

  •   A note about Charity:  Charity is God’s Love.  But more specifically, it is the marriage of the two greatest commandments:  Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength;  and love other’s as yourself.  And as Augustine interprets this, we are to Love ourselves so as to bring ourselves ever-closer to God;  thus, Loving other’s as ourselves, is to Love them so as to bring them ever-closer to God.  Our Love is our weight;  in Loving God we are drawn inexorably toward God.


Feeding Grace in our Heart

For Augustine an important part of facilitating or “feeding” this Grace at work within us, is reading and studying scripture.  Augustine is among those who says a given passage may have many interpretations.  So long as they draw you toward God -whether an inch or a mile- they are Good interpretations.  While there may be some interpretations which may offer deeper insights or more profoundly effect our lives, *all* interpretations which draw a person toward the Divine are desirable interpretations.  The longest journey begins with the first step, and is completed through a series of countless steps;  and each step is important in it’s own right.

Augustine further says that the struggle to understand difficult passages of scripture is important.  It is through such struggles that we grow and learn;  it us through such struggles that Grace/Holy Spirit teaches us.  Thus, such struggles are formative;  critical;  vital.

As we struggle with an interpretation of scripture, as we seek deeper meanings, and compare and contrast alternate possible interpretations, we provide an opportunity for Grace/Holy Spirit to work in us, to transform our mind, our understanding, and our heart.

How, specifically, do we do this?  

We begin by praying for perception and understanding.  Then we read, ponder, debate, and “think on” various possible meanings:  we struggle internally.  As I read Augustine, he speaks of three interactive aspects of this process of struggle:  Prayer;  Scripture (reading of);  and Grace (Holy Spirit).  It is implied that we are mentally and emotionally engaged in striving to come to a solution to the difficulty;  mindful there may be a variety of “good” answers to our question of interpretation;  some better than others.

I find I agree with these views offered by Augustine.

Offered with blessings,


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