St. Augustine’s Self-Criticism

It took me a long time to appreciate St. Augustine of Hippo, whose Confessions were assigned to us a few times through college and graduate school.

Here was a man who was clearly holy, writing with singular insight about the journey to know God, and, in the same volume, wrote a fantastic amount about how imperfect he was.  This appeared to me, at first blush, to be indulgently self-critical.

But some years ago, I heard someone remark that an inescapable part of the journey to holiness is knowing that precious little separates us from truly destructive behavior and self-dilution.  And the ability to see this reality clearly liberates us to approach others with deep compassion.  We are not, in fact, any better than that person we may feel superior to.

I think that this is what Augustine knew, and why he wrote so much about his imperfection.  He knew the particularity of his interior life, his capacity to be self-destructive, and, ultimately, the experience of amazing grace.  I believe that it is this completeness of vision that undergirds his holiness and his life of erudite service.