“We can never really minister to our brothers and sisters when we are unwilling to deny ourselves in order to create the space where the God who dwells within us can work. How can we really be of help to others if we keep concentrating on ourselves? How is it that we are so preoccupied with our own lives, our own concerns, and our own interests that we can never really concentrate on the life and plight of another?" – Henri Nouwen1
The tradition of incarnational witness stemming from Augustine’s emphasis on communal charity is embodied in an ancient order. The Rule of St. Augustine, which may or may not have been penned by the bishop of Hippo, is derived from Acts 4:32 which depicts the first Christians as being united in heart and soul, devoted to the Apostle’s teaching, sharing meals and possessions, helping those in need. The Rule of St. Augustine promotes charity as a response of love for God towards others.2 The structure of the Rule encouraged devotional consistency, behavioral accountability, and warm fellowship all performed as an outward expression of the selfless love of Christ at work within each member of the community. A sampling of the Rule guidelines reveals this pattern:
❊ “First and foremost, my very dear Brothers, you are to love God, and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us.”3
❊ “We urge you who form a religious community to put the following precepts into practice.”4
❊ “Above all, live together in harmony (Ps 67:7), having one mind and one heart (Acts 4:32), intent on God, since that is why you have come together.” 5
❊ “Do not call anything your own but share all things. Food and clothes should be distributed to each one of you by your superior, not to all equally, but to each one according to his need, since all do not enjoy equal health. For this is what you read in the Acts of the Apostles.”6
❊ “Live, then, all of you, ‘one in mind and one in heart’ (Acts 4:32), and mutually honor God in one another because each of you has become His temple (2 Cor 6:16).”7
❊ “In walking, standing, and in all your actions do nothing that might seem offensive, but do that which befits the holiness of your way of life.”8
Sheldrake notes that the “fundamental spiritual emphasis” in the Rule of St. Augustine “is on community.” It does not attempt to offer a complex systems or governmental structure. In fact, the language of the Rule “stresses love more than obedience” and emphasizes equality among people of varying social backgrounds.9 The prominence of charity in the Augustinian tradition is the natural outworking of a response to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. As God so loved, so shall we. As Augustine taught:
“We have explained to you, if you remember, that all those who violate charity deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. There would have been no reason for Jesus to come except for charity. Indeed this charity which is recommended to us is that which He Himself recommends in the Gospel: ‘Greater love than this no one can have than to give one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15.13).”10
1 Nouwen, Henri. Creative Ministry. New York: Doubleday, 1971, 57.
2 See Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, xix.
3 Augustine, “The Rule of St. Augustine,” Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, 485. Clark’s footnote states that “this first sentence is not contained in the critical text established by L. Verheijen, O.S.A., but it is found in many versions.”
4 This first Rule pertains to “Mutual Love: Expressed in the Community of Goods and Humility”. (Ibid, 485)
5 Ibid., 485.
6 Ibid., 485.
7 Ibid., 486.
8 The Fourth Rule pertains to “IV. Community Responsibility in Good and Evil”. Augustine goes on to encourage purity in how a man looks at a woman and encourages considerable accountability among the community in holding people to proper conduct for their own sake. (Ibid., 488)
9 Sheldrake, 51.
10 Augustine. “Treatise Seven on the First Epistle of St. John,” Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, 300.