Today I have been thinking about the impact of Augustine. (Actually, I think about that nearly every day.) This morning in a chat with a friend who is a true scholar of Augustine, I gleened something. If you want to put a quick and simple frame around Augustine try this. Augustine teaches better than any other saint, except perhaps for St. Paul, that there is no charity without a deep concern for truth.
This has monumental importance for the life of the Church.
The paring of the words veritas and caritas are found very often in Augustine’s works. One of the truly moving pairs is found in s. 358 preached in Carthage on Friday 19 May 411, during the Pentecostal Ember days. It concerns the schism of the Donatists (sort of ancient Lefebvrites… sort of). There is about to be a meeting of bishops in Carthage and the Lefebvrites … er… um… Donatists are on the agenda.
Augustine addresses his listeners in the congregation often as "your Charity" or in this case…
1. May your holinesses’ prayers come to the aid of us bishops in the responsibility we carry for you, and for our enemies and yours, for the salvation of all, for public order, for the common peace, for the unity which the Lord has commanded, which the Lord loves. Help us at one and the same time to speak about his to you, and to rejoice over it together with you. Of course, if we love peace and charity, we ought to talk about them always. Much more so therefore at this time, when peace is being loved in such a way that those people are real danger of loving it and holding onto it themselves, those to whom we do not render evil for evil, and with whom, as it is written, "though they hate peace, we are at peace" (Ps 120:7), and because we speak peace to them, they wish to overwhelm us. So those people, being of that nature, are caught in a deadly trap between love of peace and the shame of humiliation, and since they refuse to acknowledge defeat, they are taking no steps to be undefeated. Those, you see, who refuse to be defeated by truth, are defeated by error.
Oh, if only charity rather than animosity could overcome them! We for our part love, cling to and defend the Catholic Church, not on the strength of human arguments, but of divine testimonies; and we are inviting its enemies to be reconciled with it and enter its peace. What am I to do with someone who pleads for a part and brings an action against the whole? Isn’t it good for him to lose the case, because if he loses he will hold onto the whole, while if he wins, he will be left with the part – or rather if he appears to win, because it’s only truth that ever wins. The victory of truth is charity. (Immo si vincere sibi videbitur, nam non vincit nisi veritas: victoria veritatis est caritas.)
Above, I compared the Lefebvrites with the Donatists. In certain respects that sticks. They are indeed guilty of setting up their altars against the altars of the Catholic Church, as a Church of the "pure".
At the same time, is not what Augustine says above also applicable to the progressivists and even the somewhat acquiescent majority in the Church who have at times and in various places treated the Church’s Tradition and also "traditionalists" themselves with neglect or contempt? If once in ancient N. Africa the Donatists were actually in the majority and Catholic the minority, and Catholics were afraid of being overwhelmed and forced into the void, today the situation is reversed; the traditionalists are in the minority and fear going into the void.
How great is the need for truth and charity on both sides?
There is no victory without truth. This can be applied to every aspect of our life.