Augustine on our lives as an “Alleluia”

In the entry on the old Augustinian adage "He who sings prays twice", someone asked about a phrase which I hadn’t heard before: "A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to toe" which, according to the inquiry, is also attributed to Augustine.  I did a very rapid check and found only one thing that seemed to me anywhere close to that.  Maybe another patristiblogger can do better.  Anyway, here it is:

In Sermon 362,29 (PL 38:1224) I found "tota actio nostra, amen et alleluia erit"… "Our entire activity will be "Amen" and "Alleluia".
  However, Augustine is in that paragraph talking about what our lives will be like in heaven.  He explains that all that we do will be encompassed in "Amen" and "Alleluia" before the throne of God and how this will never become boring for us, even though it is all we do. 

Augustine speaks to the fact that we will in heaven have "rest" and "leisure" (requies), that is, time without pressing worldly matters that take us away from the contemplation of heavenly things.  Augustine in his whole life as a bishop talked about the tension of otium ("leisure, freedom from pressing cares") and negotium ("business to take care off, pressing matters").  He was ever trying to find a balance, to find his otium in negotio, "freedom from cares for contemplation within the daily duties of life".  This was a constant theme for the busy bishop, who wanted more than anything to be able to have peace and quiet so that the hours could be filled with study of the deeper questions rather than busy pressing things of the world that came from his burdensome state in life as a bishop. 

For Augustine, this was all part of his understanding of the active and and the contemplative life, which are in tension as long as we are in this world.  Augustine in his preaching will contrast pairs of figures, such as Peter (the apostles who love Jesus more than the others) as a symbol of the active life and John (the apostle whom Jesus loved more than the others) as a symbol of the contemplative life.  While there is a distinction between them in this life, there is not division between them in heaven, where our activity is simultaneously contemplation without any tension between the two dimensions. 

In a fragment of a sermon, Augustine brought the words requies, otium and Alleluia together.  Here is the Latin by itsself.  I will try for a translation later when I have a little more time:


quae erit ergo actio nostra? amen, et
hic enim agimus aliud, ibi aliud, non dico die et nocte, sed die
sine fine: quae modo potestates caelorum Seraphim sine taedio dicunt:
sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, dominus deus sabaoth [Is 6,3]. hoc dicunt
sine taedio. numquid modo fatigatur pulsus uenae tuae? quamdiu
uiuis, pulsus habet uena tua. aliquid facis, et fatigando fatigaris, et
requiescis, et redis ad opus, et uena tua non fatigatur. quomodo uena
tua non fatigatur in salute tua, sic lingua tua et cor tuum non fatigatur
in laudibus dei, in inmortalitate tua. audite testimonium negotii
uestri. quid est negotii uestri? hoc negotium, otium est. otiosum
negotium, quid? laudare dominum


[Added later]

So, what will our activity be?  "Amen" and "Alleluia".  For here in this world we are doing one thing, and there we will be doing another, not day and night, so to speak, but during the day which has no end: which is way the heavenly powers the Seraphim are saying without wearying of it: Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Sabaoth.  They say this without weariness.  The pulse of your veins doesn’t wear on you, does it?  As long as you are alive, your bloodstream has a pulse.  Do something, and you tire yourself out in your slogging and you rest, and you get back to work, and your course of blood isn’t worn down.  How is it that your bloodstream isn’t over-taxed in the matter of your health, and just so your tongue is over-wearied and your heart stressed out in the praises of God, in your immortality?  Listen to the testimony of your own pressing job.  What is your pressing job?  This job is a state free from pressing business.  Leisurely careless pressing care?  What is that?  Praising God.


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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Response to Augustine on our lives as an “Alleluia”

  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    The Augustine “alleluia” quote I often heard from a certain SSND in college was “We are an Easter people; Alleluia is our song.” I wonder if that’s rooted in the same passage.