Augustine on Christian Worship

In Book 10 of City of God, Augustine explains what Christianity teaches concerning God that separates it from the more monotheistic Greek philosophies. It serves furthermore as a summary of his theology of worship.

To Him we owe the service which is called in Greek λατρεία, whether we render it outwardly or inwardly; for we are all His temple, each of us severally and all of us together, because He condescends to inhabit each individually and the whole harmonious body, being no greater in all than in each, since He is neither expanded nor divided.  Our heart when it rises to Him is His altar; the priest who intercedes for us is His Only-begotten; we sacrifice to Him bleeding victims when we contend for His truth even unto blood; to Him we offer the sweetest incense when we come before Him burning with holy and pious love; to Him we devote and surrender ourselves and His gifts in us; to Him, by solemn feasts and on appointed days, we consecrate the memory of His benefits, lest through the lapse of time ungrateful oblivion should steal upon us; to Him we offer on the altar of our heart the sacrifice of humility and praise, kindled by the fire of burning love.  It is that we may see Him, so far as He can be seen; it is that we may cleave to Him, that we are cleansed from all stain of sins and evil passions, and are consecrated in His name.  For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires.  Being attached to Him, or rather let me say, re-attached,—for we had detached ourselves and lost hold of Him,—being, I say, re-attached[1] to Him, we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end. For our good, about which philosophers have so keenly contended, is nothing else than to be united to God.  It is, if I may say so, by spiritually embracing Him that the intellectual soul is filled and impregnated with true virtues.  We are enjoined to love this good with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength.  To this good we ought to be led by those who love us, and to lead those we love.  Thus are fulfilled those two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul;” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

[1] Augustine here remarks, in a clause that cannot be given in English, that the word religio is derived from religere, literally “to bind back.”

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Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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