We cannot let this august (in every sense) day pass without some small tribute to one of the greatest Doctors, Fathers, Bishops, and Confessors of the Holy Catholic Church: Saint Augustine of Hippo. Below is a particularly moving chapter from Book XIX of On the City of God, where the author is speaking of the hardships of being a social animal. I could not help thinking of Saint Catherine of Siena's later remark that God made us dependent on each other in order to learn all the virtues, especially humility, patience, and charity, at one another's hands, as we suffer one another and bear one another's burdens. And I also couldn't help thinking about the tendency of orthodox Catholics, especially in this confused and confusing age, to fissure and fragment into factions when we should be banding together to fight our common foes. The opening prayer of today's Mass in the Ordinary Form gives utterance to what our prayer ought and our aspiration ought to be: "
Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord, the spirit with which you endowed your Bishop Saint Augustine that, filled with the same spirit, we may thirst for you, the sole fount of true wisdom, and seek you, the author of heavenly love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Without further ado, here is the text from Saint Augustine.
BOOK XIXChapter 5Of the Social Life, Which, Though Most Desirable, is Frequently Disturbed by Many Distresses
We give a much more unlimited approval to their idea that the life of the wise man must be social. For how could the city of God (concerning which we are already writing no less than the nineteenth book of this work) either take a beginning or be developed, or attain its proper destiny, if the life of the saints were not a social life?
But who can enumerate all the great grievances with which human society abounds in the misery of this mortal state? Who can weigh them? Hear how one of their comic writers makes one of his characters express the common feelings of all men in this matter: “I am married; this is one misery. Children are born to me; they are additional cares.” What shall I say of the miseries of love which Terence also recounts—“slights, suspicions, quarrels, war today, peace tomorrow?” Is not human life full of such things? Do they not often occur even in honorable friendships?
On all hands we experience these slights, suspicions, quarrels, war, all of which are undoubted evils; while, on the other hand, peace is a doubtful good, because we do not know the heart of our friend, and though we did know it today, we should be as ignorant of what it might be tomorrow. Who ought to be, or who are more friendly than those who live in the same family? And yet who can rely even upon this friendship, seeing that secret treachery has often broken it up, and produced enmity as bitter as the amity was sweet, or seemed sweet by the most perfect dissimulation?
It is on this account that the words of Cicero so move the heart of every one, and provoke a sigh: “There are no snares more dangerous than those which lurk under the guise of duty or the name of relationship. For the man who is your declared foe you can easily baffle by precaution; but this hidden, intestine, and domestic danger not merely exists, but overwhelms you before you can foresee and examine it.”
It is also to this that allusion is made by the divine saying, “A man’s foes are those of his own household,”—words which one cannot hear without pain; for though a man have sufficient fortitude to endure it with equanimity, and sufficient sagacity to baffle the malice of a pretended friend, yet if he himself is a good man, he cannot but be greatly pained at the discovery of the perfidy of wicked men, whether they have always been wicked and merely feigned goodness, or have fallen from a better to a malicious disposition.
If, then, home, the natural refuge from the ills of life, is itself not safe, what shall we say of the city, which, as it is larger, is so much the more filled with lawsuits civil and criminal, and is never free from the fear, if sometimes from the actual outbreak, of disturbing and bloody insurrections and civil wars?