Augustinian spirituality is based on the life, writings, and teachings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, located in present-day Algeria. The root of Augustinian spirituality can be traced to Augustine’s dramatic conversion to Christianity. In his Confessions, Book Eight, Chapter 12, Augustine speaks of hearing the voice of a child while sitting under a fig tree: “And suddenly I heard a voice from a neighboring house in a singing tune saying and often repeating, in the voice of a boy or a girl: ‘Take and read, take and read!’ [‘Tolle lege! Tolle lege!’]” Immediately, Augustine returned to the place where he had left the book of the Apostles, opened it and read in the silence of his heart the first passage that met his eyes: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision of the flesh in concupiscence (Romans 13:13).”
The basic principles of the Augustinian spirituality of religious community life can be found in Augustine's Rule. This brief document presents Augustine's vision of the values that underlie the life of a vibrant and holy religious community.
The Rule of St. Augustine was written around the year 400. It is the oldest monastic rule that we have today. The Rule of St. Benedict came approximately 120 years later. The Rule of St. Francis of Assisi was composed more than 800 years later.
In spite of its ancient origin, the Rule of St. Augustine endures because it expresses enduring principles and manifests an understanding of the human condition. It is not concerned with regulating small details such as the daily schedule, the arrangement of furniture or the kinds of food that may or may not be consumed at meals. Rather, Augustine’s Rule outlines what is essential for a religious life in community which is guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In reading the Rule, one must occasionally make allowance for references to certain time-bound customs of Augustine's fifth-century culture. These include, for example, attitudes about bathing in the public baths of Roman Africa (which, in Augustine’s time, had become centers of immoral activities), and the “one-size-fits-all” clothing style that was the norm (see Chapter Five).