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Posts Tagged "St Augustine of Hippo":

The Glory of God: Thought for 20th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24)

Whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God1 Corinthians 10:31

Today’s theme of glory is such a deceptively familiar concept – so many of our prayers and hymns are about the glory of God that the word ‘Glory’ can very easily become just part of the church wallpaper, like the stained glass in the windows. We’re so used to saying it liturgically that it hardly occurs to us to analyse it theologically. But the idea itself has multiple layers of meaning.

The Hebrew word for glory comes from a verb – kabed – which means ‘to be heavy’. And there are a string of contexts where the word is used with various overtones of heaviness, where it is used with connotations of wealth and substance and permanence and severity… And then, connected with the images of wealth and gold and so on, there is the dimension of visible splendour and magnificence: the glory of Solomon; the glory of God that descends on the tabernacle; or the glory that shines from Moses’ face. As well as heaviness there is that second element of radiance and brightness. And thirdly, there is the more metaphorical use of the word, to mean something like honour or reputation.

But glory is a dangerous concept. Martin Luther said the basic problem with Medieval Catholicism was that it was not a theology of the cross but a theology of glory:
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general good to bad. These are the people whom the apostle calls ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’, for they hate the cross and suffering, and love works and the glory of works‘Heidelberg Disputation’, 1518 

Summarised from an address given by David Starling

However beautiful the cathedrals we build or the music that we write, we cannot make God more glorious than He already is and always has been. When we are told in the bible to magnify the Lord, we are meant to acknowledge, declare and value the glory that is already there…

You can magnify with a microscope or with a telescope. A microscope magnifies by making tiny things look bigger than they are. A telescope magnifies by making gigantic things (like stars), which look tiny, appear more as they really are. God created the universe to magnify His glory the way a telescope magnifies stars. Tom Ascol

For most of us, we feel the reality of the glory of God when the glory of his world breaks through into our lives:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying…
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush: to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R S Thomas ‘The Bright Field’

In September 1941, in the darkest days of the war, Pilot Officer John Magee made a test flight of the new model of the Spitfire. Once back on the ground he wrote a letter to his parents, saying he had started the poem at 30,000 feet and finished it soon after he landed. He was killed just three months later.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God
John Gillespie Magee, Jr., ‘High Flight

These are moments of exhilaration. But there are also quieter, more reflective times. Many of us learnt the next poem at school, but its sheer wonderment at God’s creation stays with us down the years:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what ar
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee? 
William Blake

But we also need to look at ourselves in wonder and awe: we need to remind ourselves that the Divine is within us in all his glory. In his ‘Confessions’, St Augustine complained:


Men go abroad to wonder at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the sea,
at the long courses of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars:
but themselves they pass by without wondering


Finally, remembering Arthur Campbell Aigner‘s well-known hymn:

Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea,

Let us pray:
O God, great and wonderful, who hast created the heavens, dwelling in the light and beauty thereof, who hast made the earth, revealing thyself in every flower that opens; let not mine eyes be blind to thee, neither let mine heart be dead, but teach me to praise thee, even as the lark which offereth her song at daybreak. Amen
St Isidore of Seville

O holy God, we behold thy glory in the face of Jesus Christ: grant that we may reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world may know his power to change and save, though Christ our Lord, Amen




Grateful thanks to the Revd. David Starling for permission to quote him as shown.

“Occasions for Alleluia”: David Adam


After the hurly-burly of General Synod (or, for our Episcopalian friends, General Convention), I offer you the perfect antidote: a dose of Celtic spirituality, under the familiar and wise guiding hand of the celebrated David Adam.

The Reverend David Adam, now in his late seventies, has been a lifelong priest in the Church of England. The volume of his published work vies with that of Agatha Christie, and much is still in print. (Anyone asked to lead intercessions would do well to begin with his three ‘Glory‘ books).  His appeal is much wider than simply to Anglicans – people from all Christian denominations as well as spiritual searchers as a whole are drawn to the deceptive simplicity of Celtic prayer and meditation.

Deceptively simple‘ because, though the poems look as simple as nursery rhymes, they in fact have more in common with haiku. As Daniel Barenboim said of music, ‘it is the silence between the notes‘. Adam quotes a friend  saying to him about his use of the psalms and Celtic prayers: ‘You remind me of hitting a nail with a hammer. You cannot drive it home at once, but by regular repeated actions and love you arrive where you want to be’.

‘Occasions for Alleluia’ is structured round the prayer of St Augustine of Hippo:

We shall be Amen and Alleluia.
We shall rest and we shall see.
We shall see and we shall know.
We shall know and we shall love.
We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end, which is no end.

David Adam, like many writers, thinks in metaphors and images. He begins with the striking image of an archer’s bow (p.3). We are all so busy with the business of living that the bow becomes ever more tightly strung ‘and a bow that is always bent will snap, as people who are always tense tend to do’. This sounds positively Zen-like, but Eastern philosophy and religion have no monopoly on this kind of metaphor, in fact lessons about bows come from the 4th century Desert Fathers. Subsequent chapters cover resting in God, seeing with the eyes of the heart, knowing God, loving God and finding joy in life and God.

I read this book in a matter of hours. Yes, I will want to re-read it, and I am sure I will find more treasures with each reading. I love the eclectic choice of quotations – Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’ (one of my favourites), Wordsworth, C  S Lewis, Alexander Carmichael, Teilhard de Chardin, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Dostoevesky, Emily Dickinson….(I could go on).

If Jonathan Clatworthy is a hippogriff, then David Adam is the archetypal seer and hermit living in a cave on top of a mountain. He continues to act as a spiritual director, and it is easy to see why. People are very drawn to him from his writing and there is a hint that he has discovered the secrets of the universe. Hindus believe in the spiritual value of darshan, or being in the physical presence of someone holy. But, while not a recluse, he is not known for appearing at festivals or book-signing tours. He values his privacy and we value it on his behalf for what it allows him to be and do.

The secret that he has discovered, of course, is hidden in plain sight. He concludes:

We shall praise: Come each day into his presence with thanksgiving. Rejoice in God’s love and salvation. Rejoice that you are one with him: that he dwells in you and you in him. Rejoice in his Creation and in all the relationships you have with it. Each day give praise and thanks to God for something in your life or in the world, something new. Behold our end, which is no end, to celebrate life: to celebrate God and his love. Let all be ‘Amen and Alleluia’, until all of life is an occasion for alleluias.



“What the publisher says about the book:
In this captivating book, David Adam aims to help us recognize that there are moments in each day of our lives that are cause for thanksgiving, when we may pause and praise God. The author explores in turn our natural ability to rest, to see, to know, to love and to enjoy – first in relation to our surroundings, and then in relation to our Creator. By the end of the volume, his hope is that a deepening awareness of the glories of the world around us will lead us, time and again, to delight in uttering ‘Alleluia!’

Illustrated with ten original watercolours by Monica Capoferri.”

The Grace of God: Lent 4


In moments of stress, all humans look to help from outside themselves. The pagan looks around for some wood to touch. Alfie, in ‘My Fair Lady’, says: With a little bit o’ luck, with a little bit o’ luck…

Mindful that Man proposes, but God disposes, devout Christians used to pepper their speech with DV (Deo volente) or D G (Deo Gratias), recognising God as the ultimate arbiter of events.

The Islamic equivalent is obligatory at moments that seem odd to a Westerner. Gulf Air announces ‘thanks God we have landed at Abu Dhabi airport‘, which rather begs the question of whether the pilot is due any share of the credit as well.

I prefer another Arab saying: Trust in God, but tie your camel first..
Islamic fatalism nearly led to the deaths of our family in the 1950s when we were being driven in the foothills of the Himalayas. The brakes failed, the driver threw up his hands and recited the Qu’ranic prayer before death, committing us into the hands of Allah.  Luckily for us, my father (a true Anglican) preferred to take his fate into his own hands. He grabbed the wheel and swerved into the hillside, thus postponing for us all the no doubt interesting moment when we meet our Maker. You will understand why, in the circumstances, I am glad to be an Anglican.


What is the grace of God? There are hundreds of pages on the internet attempting a definition. ‘Unmerited pardon’, as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:18-24) is a favourite but the grace of God is wider than this and the Greek word charis cannot always be used in the sense of forgiveness. Perhaps the essential thing is that we can all recognise it when we see it.


One aspect of grace is strength given to us by God. This is the basis of many fables – think of the ring in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Popeye’s spinach, and the greeting in Star Wars, May the Force be with you!: I return, as so often, to the Christian allegory of Narnia:

Lucy buried her head in Aslan’s mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up. “I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”

During Joan of Arc’s trial, she was asked if she knew herself to be in God’s grace. By asking her this, her inquisitors hoped to draw out an answer that they could use against her. The Catholic Church teaches that because God’s grace is a gift from God, and because humans cannot know the mind of God, then we cannot know if we are in a state of grace. Joan’s accusers thought that, because she was an uneducated peasant, she would reply yes or no, thereby falling into their trap. But Joan’s answer was this:

If I am not, God put me there, and if I am, God keep me there!

Expressing only the desire to be closer to God, this was essentially a perfect answer.

Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is traditionally celebrated as Mothering Sunday, with its accompanying readings. If you look at the second reading for Lent 4, however, you will find Ephesians 2.1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Two other sages:

For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them. St Augustine of Hippo

Evelyn Underhill summed up:
Grace is God himself, his loving energy at work within his church and within our souls.

In ‘The Shell’, Amy Carmichael has a vivid metaphor:

Upon the sandy shore an empty shell, beyond the shell infinity of sea;
O Saviour, I am like that empty shell, thou art the Sea to me.
A sweeping wave rides up the shore, and lo, each dim recess the coiled shell within
Is searched, is filled, is filled to overflow by water crystalline.
Not to the shell is any glory then: all glory give we to the glorious sea.
And not to me is any glory when thou overflowest me.
Sweep over me thy shell, as low I lie. I yield me to the purpose of thy will,
Sweep up, O conquering waves, and purify and with thy fullness fill.

The poem ‘Grace’ by George Herbert is one of his deceptively simple ones that repays reading several times to get all the nuances of meaning:

My stock lies dead and no increase doth my dull husbandry improve:
O let thy graces without cease drop from above!
If still the sun should hide his face, thy house would but a dungeon prove,
Thy works, night’s captives: O let grace drop from above!
The dew doth ev’ry morning fall; and shall the dew outstrip thy dove?
The dew for which grass cannot call, drop from above…
O come! for thou dost know the way. Or if to me thou wilt not move,
Remove me, where I need not say, ‘Drop from above.’

The author of ‘Out of Africa’, Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), wrote in ‘Anecdotes of Destiny’:

We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short-sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!

Finally, Laurence Housman, from ‘Brother Sun’:

‘O hearken, for this is wonder!
Light looked down and beheld Darkness.
‘Thither will I go’, said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld War.
‘Thither will I go’, said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
‘Thither will I go’, said Love.
So came Light and shone.
So came Peace and gave rest.
So came Love and brought Life.
And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us.’

The illustration of the sky is by Audrey Hogan via 12Baskets and of the shell is by Elena Moiseeva, via Shutterstock.

Temptation: Thought for the First Sunday in Lent

 The collect for today is:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Temptation, like the teenage term of approval ‘wicked’, gets rather a good press these days – if you put the word in your internet search engine, you will get page after page offering you the delights of assorted temptations. The process of overcoming your misgivings to yield to the seven deadly sins of anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and pride is presented as at least as enjoyable as the ‘sinful’ (term of approval again) pleasure itself. Advertisers capitalise on this trend to market everything from fast cars to chocolate.

All of the deadly sins (with the notable exception of envy) give at least momentary pleasure when merely sipped, as it were, and in homeopathic quantities could scarcely be described as sinful (no doubt the Archbishop of Canterbury himself is occasionally tempted by a teeny- weeny glass of sherry or a spoonful of chocolate mousse and he is obviously neither a drunk nor a glutton). And without a modicum of lust, the human race would be extinct.


The risk is the one taken by the young lady in the limerick:

There was a young lady of Riga
Who went for a ride on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

Mick Jagger summed it up:
It’s all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.
In other words, who is in control: the temptee or the tempter?

In the words of Thomas JeffersonDo not bite at the bait of pleasure till you know there is no hook beneath it.

Or, as we read in the first letter of St Peter: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

Not that the Devil has it all his own way, as Hilaire Belloc tells us. Sometimes he too is in the position of the lady from Riga:

The Devil, having nothing else to do,
Went off to tempt My Lady Poltagrue.
My Lady, tempted by a private whim,
To his extreme annoyance, tempted him’

The Bible repeatedly warns us of the dangers:

Let no one say when he is tempted ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15

The problem is the relative strength of the temptation concerned versus our consciences. As La Rochefoucauld said:

If we resist our passions, it is more because of their weakness than because of our strength.

Edmund Cooke warns us:

So you tell yourself you are pretty fine clay,
To have tricked temptation and turned it away.
But wait, my friend, for a different day;
Wait till you want to want to!

If we repeatedly overrule our conscience when it pricks, it will eventually wither away, like a muscle that is never used. Books of quotations are full of one-liners on this subject. Some recommend giving in at the first hurdle:

I can resist anything except temptation Oscar Wilde;


I deal with temptation by yielding to it.  Mark Twain

Or you can regard all attempts as doomed in advance:

Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a moveable body : H L Mencken.

Just saying ‘no’ may be difficult, but it is not impossible:

I count he who overcomes his desires braver than he who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self : Aristotle.

Or this, by C S Lewis:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is….A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Mere Christianity Book 3 Chapter 21

The corollary is that each successful attempt at overcoming temptation strengthens the sinews:

Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.
William Butler Yeats

John Bunyan makes a similar point:

Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.

Of course, what makes resisting temptation difficult for many people is they don’t want to discourage it completely. As St Augustine of Hippo famously said:

Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.

Franklin P Jones suggests: 

Nothing makes it easier to resist temptation than a proper up-bringing, a sound set of values – and witnesses


But, joking apart, being in the grip of temptation, unable to resist, is no laughing matter, as Danzae Pace knew:

Being out of control is one of the worst feelings in the world, sometimes even worse than pain. It is its own kind of pain.

Clarissa Dickson Wright describes the searing pain of the alcoholic, trying to climb back to the light after having descended into the pit:

After my father’s retirement from hospital, there was a huge upsurge of violence. From then onwards my mother and I… were bashed about on a weekly basis, sometimes just bruises, sometimes broken or cracked ribs, and always verbal abuse…when my father had gone it was as if a gale had stopped blowing or a great black cloud had passed away…sometimes people for various reasons, particularly grief, will drink heavily for a while, but then come to their senses and stop. This is not the way for us alcoholics: once the illness has kicked in there is no way we can go back to controlling our drinking. …there is a saying that religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there. The (AA) steps are all designed to focus on a power greater than yourself, whether it is God or the power of the group…just so long as it isn’t you.
‘Spilling the Beans’

But the most tempting temptation of all must be the one that appears to Christ: to do something that is in the interests of those he came to save:

After forty days in the desert, Christ is first tempted with bread. To use his divine power to satisfy extreme hunger seems reasonable enough. What use will he be in God’s service if he is physically weak? The second temptation sees the tempter…turning the words of scripture back upon him. ‘It is written…’ so surely it must carry divine approval if he demonstrates his confidence in God’s protection? The third temptation is also carefully angled. Surely it is in the interests of those he came to save that he should control the world as soon as possible? Each temptation seeks to justify the means by the end. Jesus’ rejection of these temptations commits him to a life of hardship and self-denial, to patient trust in his heavenly Father’s care and to achieving God’s mission by God’s means. 
‘The Ministry of the Word’, by the Rt Revd David Stancliffe

O Lord, we have no strength against those multitudes of temptations that daily assault us: be thou pleased either to restrain them or to assist us, and in thy faithfulness suffer us not to be tempted above that we are able to overcome. Amen.
Prayer of Richard Allestree

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The illustration is a photograph taken by masyras and downloaded from wikimedia under CCL of ‘Temptation of Christ and Satan in the desert’ at Chora Church in Istanbul.

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