"Let all of you then live together, one in mind and heart, mutually giving honour to God in yourselves, whose temples you have become." - The Rule of Augustine of Hippo
In the year 397 Augustine wrote a rule of common life for lay Christians.
Upon his return to Thagaste in North Africa after his baptism by Ambrose in Milan, Augustine founded a new community of laymen with whom he shared life and prayer.
His sister formed a similar community for women.
Apparently in the lifetime of Augustine himself his Rule was adapted for use by an African female community.
A copy of this adaptation was then attached to a letter (Letter 211) which he wrote to a community of nuns at an uncertain date, but apparently after the year 411.
The Rule which he wrote, if not specifically for one or another of these communities, certainly expresses his ideas about living in such an intentional religious community.
According to present evidence, the Rule of Augustine is the oldest monastic rule in the Western Church.
Compared with other monastic rules such as the Rule of Saint Benedict, it is very brief. Even so, its precepts get to the very basis of community life.
The Rule spread quickly as a guide for communities of Christians wishing to live out the Gospel together in mutual support.
It was in use across Europe from the fifth century onwards by small groups of hermit monks and nuns, as well as by diocesan priests living - as had Augustine and his priests in Hippo - in cathedral communities with their bishop.
In the tract, De religionum origine ("On the Origin of Religion"), written by an anonymous Carthusian monk in the year 1480, it declares that Augustine, "faithfully following the example of the Apostles, composed a Rule that is full of discretion and very brief in words, though not in merit, for it contains everything that pertains to eternal salvation and the state of perfection, so much so that, if well observed, it will suffice for those who are perfect. And for those who are imperfect and timid it hardly involves anything very difficult, if they are of good will."
The Rule of Augustine insists that the community must live in harmony, "being of one mind and heart on the way to God."
The most fundamental message of the Rule is this: Love -- love of God, love of neighbour -- is the centre of Christian life.
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