Easter for Saint Augustine

Q.- What did Easter signify in the life of Saint Augustine?
It is the moment when he enters the Church on the 24th of April 387, and was baptized in Milan by Bishop Ambrose. On one hand, his awareness of what Easter signifies for the Christians has goaded a great part of the enormous pastoral task of Augustine. During Lent, he used to give instruction on the faith to those who were preparing themselves to receive baptism. He used to preach daily for eight days after Easter to let the members of the Church discover the treasures and task of their being Christians, and to move them to live their lives accordingly.

Q.- How many writings does Augustine have on Easter and what are the most relevant among them?
We have preserved sixteen Augustinian sermons preached during the Easter vigil. We know another twelve sermons delivered on Easter Sunday. Added to these are 59 sermons presented within the first week of Easter. These can be read in the 24th volume of the Obras completas de san Agustín, published in Madrid by BAC. In addition, some paragraphs of Letter 55 explain the sense of Christian Easter. On another part, in the introduction to his ten homilies on the first letter of Saint John, Augustine confesses to his pilgrims that «the joy of the days of the Easter week» has moved him to preach about it. Then, this writing commends, most especially, charity, the reason and source of joy. During the first week of Easter of 407 AD, between the 14th and 21st of April, he delivered eight homilies. This commentary can be read in the 18th volume of the Obras completas de san Agustín, in the aforementioned edition.

Q.- What does Augustine say about Easter?
He refers to the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday as the «mother of all vigils». In Sermon 223A, preached during Easter vigils, he recalls the call of Moses and the revelation of the name of God. In this aspect and upon preaching that God has created everything that exists, Christian faith is heir of the Judaic belief . . .

In the sermons cited, he reviews that which charaterizes the Christian faith. The Word, through which everything exists, or, the Son, is anterior to everything. The creation narrative leads Augustine to talk about death and life, obscurity and light. His preaching underscores the fact that death is a consequence of the disobedience of man to God. The incarnation and passion of his Son are the source of new life, which is not irreparably subjected to death. The Eucharist nourishes in the Church that life. Since this life is always threatened, Augustine, in his sermons during the Easter vigil, invites the people to vigilance. While man has at his disposition a certain degree of freedom, he is responsible of his actions. If these actions are not that which God expects of man, he ought not despair, and then he relies on the defense of Christ before God. With this certainty, the Christian awaits the final judgment.

I consider Sermons 228B, 229 and 229A to be outstanding. In these sermons, Augustine clarifies the baptismal and Eucharistic rites. Regarding the Eucharist as body Christ, he says in Sermon 229A, 1: «You are the body of Christ by being members of the Church; you are what you receive in the mass. »

«We walk, then, in the experience of fatigue, but in the hope of rest; in the flesh of old age, but in the faith of newness»
Q.- How does Augustine exhort us to live Easter?
We are persons who walk towards the end, which was put forward by the resurrection of Jesus. The certainty of attainment encourages us not to lose contact with reality, which is so demanding and not always pleasing. In my opinion, it is thus deduced from his Letter 55, 26, as he writes: «We walk. » And he describes the two feet with which the Christians move forward: the daily «fatigue», common to all men; and the «the hope» ensured by the promise of the Lord; the experience of aging and human collapse, and the faith in a new life. «We walk, then, in the experience of fatigue, but in the hope of rest; in the flesh of old age, but in the faith of newness».

Q.- What would be the key word in order to live out Easter according to the Augustinian way?
«Passage». Augustine explains it this way: «The passage of Christ and ours; from here to the Father; from this world to the kingdom of heaven, from mortal life to the definitive life, from earthly life to heavenly life, from life that deteriorates to that which does not, from the experience of tribulations to perpetual security» Commentary on the Psalms 68, 1, 2., which was preached within the end of 414 AD to the beginning of 415 AD in Tagaste, the birthplace of Augustine.

Q.- Did the fact that he was baptized in the Easter eve leave any special significance to his life?
At the time of Augustine, to be baptized during Easter vigil was customary. Therefore, it is not surprising that he does not give any precise importance on the date of his baptism. He recalls in the Confessions 9, 14: «I was reborn. . . We were baptized and the preoccupation for the past life fled from us». And in Sermon 229D 1 and 2, he says: «Our quotidian celebration of Easter is a constant reminder of that which Jesus has done for us». The adjective «our» allows us to affirm that Augustine tried to carry out this Easter way of life.

Q.- Can it be said that the Augustinian Spirituality is paschal?
It is possible to give an affirmative response, if we take into consideration the motives of the way and passage of which I have spoken before.

Q.- In your opinion, what words of Saint Augustine synthesize his experience of Easter and his doctrine regarding it?
«During the Pascha, a Hebrew name which means passage, does not only recall the death and resurrection of the Lord, but also we pass from death to life . . . The Church, the body of Christ, awaits their definitive participation in the victory over death, a triumph manifested already in the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ». (Letter 55, 2)

José Anoz Gutiérrez

He was born in Calahorra, La Rioja, and Spain on the 19th of October 1943.

He professed as an Augustinian Recollect in Monteagudo, Navarra, Spain on the 16th of September 1962, and was ordained to the priesthood in Marcilla, Navarra, Spain on the 23rd of October 1966.

He obtained his Licentiate degree in Sacred Scriptures at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome.

Since 1984, he has been working in the Institute of Augustinology of the Order of Augustinian Recollects and he is presently a member of the editorial board of the journal AVGVSTINVS.

Among his published works, we highlight the following:

– San Agustín. Sermones nuevos, Madrid 2001.

– «Los sacramentos», en El pensamiento de san Agustín para el hombre contemporáneo. II. Teología dogmática, Valencia 2005, 899-958; «Las virtudes teologales», en Ibíd. III. Teología práctica, en prensa.

– Obras completas de san Agustín. Edición bilingüe. XIV. Tratados sobre el evangelio de san Juan 36-124. Traducción, cronología, notas e índice bíblico, Madrid 2009.

– «Tres sermones nuevos de san Agustín. ‘Sermones’ Erfurt 1, 5 y 6. Traducción y notas», en Augustinus 54 (2009) 13-32.

– «Hablar del Inefable. Agustín y el lenguaje religioso», en Augustinus 54 (2009) 63-89.

– «Tres sermones nuevos de san Agustín sobre la limosna. ‘Sermones Erfurt 2, 3 y 4. Traducción y notas», en Augustinus 55 (2010) 9-29.