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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

Brian Lowery OSA: Providence in the Confessions of St Augustine

This is a lecture by Fr Brian Lowery OSA (Prior and Director at Convento Sant’Agostino, San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy). He delivered it at Saint Kieran's Church, Manly Vale, Australia on 12th September 2003, and at the Parish of Saint James, Brisbane, Australia on 15th September 2003.

This lecture is now available in full here on apacweb, by the generous consent of Fr Lowery. It is one of four articles he has made available on this website. They may be downloaded for non-commercial, private and educational uses.

Since 1995 Fr Lowery has led the historic Augustinian monastery (founded there soon after the year 1280) at San Gimignano, which is near Siena, Italy and made it a retreat centre. From there he also travels to give talks and lectures especially on the Confessions to St Augustine, including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Korea, Japan and Australia. He is a native of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

For those who feel an affinity with St Augustine, his Confessions are an immense treasury of spiritual wisdom and personal help. For in them he speaks of the ways of God as he discovered them in his own life and understood them to be part of the lives of all who seek God. The book is not an easy one to read, and many people have been discouraged when they first tried it. It is a long prayer of praise and thanksgiving addressed to God in another age by a person of extraordinary sensitivity and depth. But with certain keys to understanding its riches, even today it can help us to recognise and respond to the loving God who is calling us.

About twenty miles outside of Rome lie the ruins of the imperial port of Ostia, where the Tiber River met the sea. Old Ostia is a fascinating place to visit with the Confessions in hand. For some of the most important action of the book actually took place there. It was in Ostia where Augustine first arrived from his native Africa at the age of twenty-eight on his way to taking up a teaching position in Rome. His mother, St Monica died there four years later with him at her side. It was there, shortly before her death, that the two of them experienced their famous ecstasy together. And at Ostia, after his conversion in Milan, Augustine re-embarked for the shores of Africa with the intention of giving himself to the service of God in community with his friends of like mind.

Upon arriving at the excavations, the first thing you encounter are the original paving stones that make up the ancient road connecting the port with the city, and which Augustine walked over on his way to Rome in the year 383. At this point you can ask a first question of the book: what made Augustine come to Rome in the first place and so pass by this very spot? In Book Five you would find a curious two-track answer that is typical of the spiritual insights of the Confessions. Augustine had his reasons, personal and precise. God had reasons, too, mysterious and salvific. He says:

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