Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Commemoration of our St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius

Today (new calendar), June 15, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates (at least some of it does) our father among the saints, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius. In the west, his feast day is celebrated on August 28 and with much greater solemnity and feasting than the East. Many Eastern churches (I'm talking about individual parishes and jurisdictions) will flatly refuse to commemorate St. Augustine today. In fact, his name is not even found in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery Great Horologion which has become standard use among many Orthodox churches of various jurisdictions in this country. Other jurisdictions give him only a passing notice. Consider St. Nicholiai Velimirovich's entry from the Prologue of Ohrid:

Augustine turned from paganism to Christianity, thanks to the counsels, tears and prayers of his mother Monica. He was a great teacher of the Church and an influential writer but with certain unapproved extremes in his teaching. As bishop of Hippo, he glorified the Lord for thirty-five years and lived a total of seventy-six years on earth (354-430 A.D.).

A lot of saints have this much said about them, but mainly because there are so few details about their lives that it warrants only a few words. Other Orthodox churches will commemorate him but will give him a different honorific, preferring to call him "blessed" (Latin, beatus; Greek, makarios) which shows the apprehension that many Orthodox show to him.

For me, Augustine is a saint. I think to call him less does a great disservice to what God did through this man. Was he incorrect in some of his teachings? Absolutely, but what great father of the Church is completely free of some error? St. Isaac of Syria had a Christology that was near Nestorian; St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that even Satan would be saved, a universal salvation! That's only two notable examples, but we have no problems commemorating these two men on the calendar.

Every year, during Great Lent, I try (operative word) to get through Augustine's Confessions. Truly, it is a masterpiece of Latin literature. The reason I like this work so much (I've read it many times since I first picked it up in my junior year of college for a seminar) is that this autobiography is the story of what kind of life man must live--the life of repentance. For all his defective theology on grace and free will, show me one Church Father who writes as much, who preaches as much, who lives as much repentance as Augustine? I will bet you would be hard pressed to find one, though I'm sure there are a few.

Sainthood has never meant perfection. We venerate those men and women as saints who fought the good fight and ended their lives in fervent repentance for the sake of what Christ did. Augustine was not perfect, nor was St. John Chrysostom, nor was St. Seraphim of Sarov, nor were the Emperor saints like Constantine or Justinian. The problem is not so much about Augustine's writings as much as it is about how his writings have been used (and distorted) by the Roman Catholic Church to perpetuate dogmas and doctrines which are clearly outside of the consensus patruum and the deposit of the faith, handed down, once and for all to the saints (Jude 3). St. Augustine, in many ways, is guilty then by association.

There are some Orthodox writers such as Fr. John Romanides and Dr. Rev. Michael Azkoul who will absolutely show no quarter to Augustine, going so far as to call him an arch-heretic. But others have shown a more balanced treatment. One of the few books I would ever recommend of Fr. Seraphim (Rose) is his book The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church (There we go with "blessed" again!).

Augustine will probably be forever vilified, glossed over, ignored or paid only lip-service in the Eastern Churches, but, though I am saddened by that, I don't think he is losing sleep over it nor ceasing in his intercessions for us to come to that life of repentance. Through his intercessions, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us!


  1. In the Russian tradition, the title "Blessed" is not congruous to the Latin term, but refers to 1) an acknowledged Saint who had some questionable theological beliefs or interestingly 2) a holy fool. On the other hand, the Greeks unrestrainedly refer to the saint as "St. Augustine the Great."

  2. John,

    I think that the only Greeks who venerate Augustine as the Great are generally Old Calendar Greeks. The icon whose image is on the lead of this entry is a 20th century Old Calendar Greek icon.

  3. He appears in the Romanian calendar as well, as "blessed" ("fericit"), but, as far as I know, he has no office in the menaion.
    Jerome is also called "blessed", as is Theodoretus of Cyr.

  4. Anonymous,

    Thedoret of Cyr is given "blessed" status in the Romanian Menaion? Considering his place in the Nestorian controversy (Though I know of no council specifically anathematizing him), I find that very interesting.