That’s it, isn’t it? Those two points
are what we’re used to finding emphasized, aren’t
they? They’re emphasized so much that it seems
this is exactly what moved Augustine to take the next
step of conversion to a moral life in Christianity.
What we miss, each time we hear or read or learn
about that passage, is the middle point: “Put
on the Lord Jesus Christ”! This, Fr Martin points
out, is the key.
And from what he, among others, helps us see about
Christ in St Augustine’s life and thought, we
cannot but agree. The point is Christ – “put
on the Lord Jesus Christ”!
It’s All Christ
Christ is not an object among others in Augustine’s
thought, but something deeper and more pervasive;
Christ is “the source and method for [Augustine’s]
philosophical and theological thinking” –
“the condition, the author and the method of
all his thinking,” Fr Martin adds (p.
28, quoting Hubertus Drobner, “Studying Augustine:
An Overview of Recent Research” in Augustine
and His Critics, ed. Robert Dodaro and George
Lawless (London: Routledge, 2000) p. 29.).
Christ is thus “constitutive” of Augustine’s
thought – really of who Augustine is (p. 28).
That is, if you leave Christ out, you don’t
Christ is “source and method” for Augustine:
Christ is where Augustine gets his ideas from and
Christ is even the way Augustine wants to think about
everything – about life, death, being human,
knowing, willing, working, speaking, writing, praying,
An Understandable Error
Fr Martin, however, is kind. He lets us off the
hook – at least up till now – for ignoring
something so central.
He says its very fundamental and thorough-going
importance can mask its presence; in addition, selective
reading of Augustine (Remember, Augustine’s
biographer Possidius said there was too much of Augustine’s
writing for any one person to read it all!), and the
tendency to downplay the theological importance of
Augustine’s sermons in favor of his “more
formal theological writings” (p. 29), help account
for our past mistakes in this matter.
I appreciate my confrere’s much accustomed
kindness here, for I am one of the people he is generously
excusing. But I wonder if other, less excusable faults
are part of our passing too quickly over that absolutely
key center point in the Romans passage. A moral fault
and an intellectual one come to mind.
A Morally Mistaken Focus
Leaving the dissipation, rioting and drunkenness
behind and refusing to make provision for the desires
of the flesh are moral actions that, if they happen
at all, are things that we do; these could be seen
as our efforts – just as they could be seen
as Augustine’s efforts. There’s the rub:
it’s all our action; we do it! We can be emphasized
here: in these first and third points, we seem to
be in the spotlight.
In that second, center matter, Christ is in the
spotlight, not us. And now that I think of it that
way, I am forced to acknowledge that Augustine would
insist that’s the whole point: not me, not even
Augustine, but Christ – Christ is the issue.
An Intellectual Laziness
An intellectual weakness plays a role here, too.
We know – perhaps we don’t like it, but
we know it – what leaving debauchery or dissipation
behind means; we understand that idea. It’s
really quite clear. We know also what we would have
to do to quit making provision for the gratification
of the flesh; that’s very simple – simple
idea, I mean. We may wish we didn’t know what
it would mean to do that, but we do know.
But “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”?
People don’t know what that means right off
the bat. And we are used to clear directions, used
to naming definite actions. We are told – and
we’ve come to think – we mustn’t
We’re accustomed to advertising that tells
us to go straight out and buy this or that. People
don’t have time for thinking about these things,
puzzling them out. We’re plain-dealing, down-to-earth,
ordinary people. We “just do it!” “Don’t
give me choices! Tell me ‘Do this’ or
We often seem to be allergic to thinking. Even in
a land where we prize democracy so highly, we don’t
want to be bothered by figuring out what our choices
Even in our sermons, we don’t want to be incited
to think. “Keep it short and simple.”
Something to Think About, Something to Live
Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is not short, simple,
immediately clear. It has to be a way of life, not
a sound-bite – that is, if we really want to
do it and not just shout it like a slogan that can
be bent to mean anything we want it to.
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” –
the meaning is not immediately clear, so we pass over
it as though it had no meaning, and we run on to things
that require less thinking.
But for Augustine, this was the key, the center.
Christ is the whole point. We ought to think