Searching and Confessing: Augustine of Hippo’s Quench for Wisdom and Truth

Here in Malta, on January 13th, there will be the launching of a book about Saint Augustine of Hippo named: Searching and Confessing. Augustine of Hippo’s Quench for Wisdom and Truth. Malta: Augustinian Province, 2023 (ISBN: 978-9918-0-0430-0).

Searching and Confessing is a recent publication of the Augustinian Professor Fr Salvino Caruana. The book of 255 pages consists of five main chapters on an extremely detailed and well documented elaboration of various themes from Augustine of Hippo’s oeuvre. In the opening chapter the author delineates Augustine’s journey, and inner travail, until he was conquered by the grace of Christ. Thanks to the insistence, and incessant prayer, of his saintly mother Monica to accompany her to the basilica where the saintly Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, preached. Although he was never able to meet the saint much to Augustine’s dismay, he was, however, convinced to abandon the Manicheans and embrace the Catholic faith in which Ambrose baptized him on the 24th of April 387.

All along this New Way of life, Augustine acknowledges a series of conversions, which he describes as confessions too. A confessio peccatorum, a confession of sins; a confessio humilitatis, a confessions of humility; a confessio infirmitatis, namely, a confession of weakness, infirmity; and a confessio laudis, a confession of praise of God, his Maker and Creator. All four kinds of conversion he marvellously described in the very first paragraph of the first chapter of The Confessions, a masterpiece of Early Christian literature. Augustine eventually confesses: Give what You command, and command what You will (10,29,40).

According to Fr Salvino, there is yet another, a fifth kind of conversion, namely, a confessio pastoralis, the unquenchable desire, and power of words, with which the Saint strived to carry along and convert his hearers in Hippo Regius. In one particular sermon, the Bishop confessed: I will not save myself without you (17,12). Augustine contrasted four major streams of false doctrine, namely, that of the Manicheans regarding the True Faith; that of the Donatists regarding the True Church of Christ; that of the Pelagians with regards to spiritual endeavours and the Grace of Christ; and, finally, that of the Semipelagians, regarding the merits of the good actions (spiritual) of some Monks of the monastery of Hadrumetum.

Fr. Salvino then proves how mistaken one would be should one consider Augustine’s whole pastoral activity in Hippo as primarily directed towards the spiritual well-being of the Catholic population of the saint’s diocese. In the fourth chapter the author considers in detail Augustine’s relentless and unflinching efforts in order to alleviate the severe consequences of a number of social injustices to which his community in Hippo Regius was daily subjected by dishonest and wicked local political administrators. He set up the renowned matricula pauperum (Letter 20* (Divjak) 2), from where all kinds of goods and daily needs were distributed freely to the poor. Augustine also saw to the setting up of a sort of hospital, known as a Xenodochium (Sermon 10), where everyone could receive medical care and cure gratis. This, Fr Caruana, describes as another form of confession, namely, a confessio caritatis.

The apex of Augustine’s spiritual march the author considers in the fifth and final chapter. In it Fr Caruana describes in detail the Person and work of Christ, the Christus Medicus, the Divine Doctor. Augustine understood very well the necessity of cure in the body’s unending struggle for survival. Christ had seen to this in His mission for the Jews first, and then for all His contemporaries. He cured miraculously all the sick that were brought to Him, and in a few cases, raised them back to life from the clutches of death. According to Augustine, Christ was thus not just the divine Doctor but also the divine Medicine that cures all. He alone, and no other medical doctor, was able to cure all kinds of ailments, as He alone knew from which stuff man had been created and He alone therefore knew best where to place His curing hands on our sick bodies. He was the Creator and Saviour of all, and knows also man’s weaknesses and sins, and whom he considered as the poor traveler who fell victim of some highway robbers.

Augustine understood very well the depth of the wound which the evil one had caused, namely pride. It was in order to heal us from this wound that Christ had come as our Doctor, unique and humble. The Sacred Scriptures define Christ as the heavenly sent Medicine to cure man’s pride and help him on the way towards health; all this is revealed and considered, according to Augustine, in the account of the Eight Beatitudes according to Matthew.

The book Searching and Confessing. Augustine of Hippo’s Quench for Wisdom and Truth by Professor Fr Salvino Caruana OSA is another valid instrument in bringing into life the great Father of the Church Saint Augustine, which the Church as well as society badly needs his intellectual and pastoral insights.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.