Here is recording of the guest lecture I gave yesterday at the Church of Saint Paul in Ham Lake, MN: “Sts. Augustine and Monica, the Head and the Heart.” The talk follows the annotated outline below:
This talk will introduce St. Augustine’s Confessions by making a somewhat bold claim: St. Monica is the sine qua non of the book, the character without which there is nothing at all. This claim asks us to imagine Augustine confessing to Monica, a story of a son confessing to his mother. Framing the Confessions in this way, we encounter Augustine as a son; not only a son of God and the Church, but, additionally: a son in the simple, (extra)ordinary sense of having a mother. This particular approach to the Confessions will be of use to us in the sections to follow. However, this simple picture of the book—as a story about a son confessing to (and through) his mother—cannot be lost. It must remain our starting and ending point. Hopefully, it renders the book into a narrative we might more readily relate to our ordinary, daily lives.
This opening claim about the book brings us to a parallel concern about life: the relationship between the head and the heart in the life of the human person, and the proper order therein. At this point, whether we realize it or not, we—you and me, in other words—enter the story: we are human persons, made in the image and likeness of God, living in the era when the imagus Dei has been discarded for the ego cogito, the human person as a purely cognitive being, the Man of reason and knowledge, the modern Man. One result of this era is this: our sense of what life is (and who we are) is in a state of serious disrepair. I think anyone with religious sensibilities can feel this reality, even if we lack words to describe it. We understand that things are unbalanced and out of tune, even though we may not know much more than that. Augustine’s complex struggle to reconcile his head to his heart—in tension with, and emulation of, his mother—shows us a mirror-like image of our own, present-day predicament and the truth the human person made and ordered by the ordo Amoris, the order of Love.
“Nemo est qui non amet”—“I am nothing without love.” This dictum from Augustine completes our progression. The head and the heart are not equal or competing aspects of the Confessions or the person. Love, the cause and effect of the heart, is primary, superior, and sufficient. Augustine’s Confessions reveal a man of reason, kin to our modern selves, struggling to submit his head to his heart, to be faithful to Love. Fidelity to love: submitting reason and intellect to the ordo Amoris, the order of Love; knowing because we believe, not believing because we know. The following, contrasting quotes show what has been said: in the opening paragraphs of book one, Augustine prays, “‘Grant me Lord to know and understand’ (Ps. 118: 34, 73. 144) which comes first—to call upon you or to praise you, and whether knowing you precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon you when he does not [first] know you?” In book nine, dedicated to the death of Monica, we hear her final, dying words, “Nothing is distant from God, and there is no ground for fear that he may not acknowledge me at the end of the world and raise me up.” Amen.