Panting Faith: St Augustine of Hippo

By Tom Neal, PhD

Today is the Feast of St. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace whose influence on Western thought can hardly be underestimated.

This famous quote from Confessions 20, one of my favorites, offers us a look at vintage Augustine:

Let truth, the light of my heart, speak to me in the dark, and not my own darkness! I fell away and I was in the dark, but even from there, even from there I loved you. I went astray and I remembered you. I heard your voice behind me, calling me back, and I could scarcely hear it for all the noise made by those without your peace. And now, look, I return thirsty and panting to your fountain. For when I seek you, my God, I am seeking the happy life.

At the heart of this autobiographical colloquy with God is this: even when we flee God and immerse ourselves in the dark corners of this fallen world, the very structures of mind and heart cannot help, by their very inner dynamism, but seek the living God from whom we came and toward whom all things will return.

And more, this dynamic quest, this restless desire, when it finally finds its Object finds happiness and the Sabbath rest that comes only with fulfillment in love.

Inscribed Love

The God of Augustine, who is the God of Jesus Christ, is no divine Crutch, but rather is the very inscribed meaning and ultimate fulfillment of all existence.

The good things of this world become ‘noise,’ become an obstacle to God only when we set the good things of this world as the final fulfillment of our desire and relegate God to the periphery. But when our love for the wonderful goods of this Creation are rightly ordered, love of God is not in competition with the love of the goods of this world any more than love itself is in competition with my relationship to my wife. It’s love that gives right order to my relationship with my bride, just as it is loving God that gives right order to my love for the good things of this world.

Augustine famously said in his commentary on 1 John, Ama Deum et fac quod vis, ‘love God and do what you will.’ Why? Well, if you love, then you possess all of the virtues and so all you do will be in harmony with the God whose love for us in Christ is the source, exemplar and end of all good.

St. Augustine, pray for us.

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