Augustine's Spiritual Formation through Delight in the Sovereignty and Grace of God

Augustine's Spiritual Formation through Delight in the Sovereignty and Grace of God

by Nolan Helder

     Augustine's path of spiritual formation was much different than most, especially today, but even among his peers. His mother was a strong Christian who wanted nothing more than for him to delight in God above all else, while his father was a pagan who wanted nothing more than for him to be a classic Greek intellect. Early on, he succeeded in his father's eyes because he sought spiritual formation through the attainment of wisdom in route to achieving a mixture of Plato's ideal with a gnostic sense of Christian spiritual perfection. However, after his conversion and baptism he finally realized he could not attain these ideals of spiritual perfection in this earthly life. Like Paul, he finally realized that there would always be a tension between his flesh and his spirit and that he would still do things he did not want to do and not do things he did want to do until that tension was finally gone when this life was over. Prior to this realization, he felt like his free will and determined intellect could achieve perfection in this life, but he finally came to see that he was not truly free because of the flesh still alive within him.

     As he grew spiritually, he came to see that it was not free will and intellect alone that determined his actions, but more importantly, it was his affections and desires. He came to see that no matter how hard he tried, he could not force his desires to always be for God. He realized that the desire for God came from God himself, and so it was through the use of his great intellect in searching himself and his past that he saw the key to spiritual maturity not as perfection in this life, but as an ever-growing desire for God. His spiritual formation occurred as he realized more and more that it is God who gives that desire as He wills, so he spent the rest of his life submitting to God, being in awe of His grace and sovereignty, and desiring Him above all things rather than trying to reach God and God-like perfection through the use of his free will and intellect. Augustine's spiritual formation occurred through his realization of the importance of delight and affection for God and His grace and sovereignty. When he also realized that that delight can only come from God rather than from his own self-willing he was able to say, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." (Lib,1 1-2, 2.5, 5: CSEL 33, 1-5)